Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Truthsong to Love

I'm a little tired this morning, so I don't know if a post will appear, and I don't want to force anything. Not a problem. The Intellectual Life is so filled with pithy little maxims, that I can just rebleat some of them without having to comment. Or, maybe one of them will provoke a post, and off we go.

I'm going to organize them in such a manner that the essence of a full-service "Christian gnana yoga" emerges:

Know that "Every study is a study of eternity.... keep yourself in the state of eternity, your heart submissive to truth." Slacken the tempo of your life.

Next, "Plunge every day of your life into the spring which quenches and yet ever renews your thirst.... The soul is that secret spring: do not try prematurely to clear up its mystery.... impatience is a revolt against Him." (Here again, this is the meaning of "To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one.")

Begin by laying your foundation "according to the height you wish to reach. Broaden the opening of the excavation according to the depth it has to reach."

"There are books everywhere, and only a few are necessary.... In ourselves also there are volumes and texts of great value that we do not read."

More importantly, "the value of a book" is limited by "what you are capable of getting out of it." Our task is to find "a way of entry through them into a new domain." Thus, "The source of knowledge is not in books, it is in reality, and in our thought. Books are signposts; the road is older, and no one can make the journey for us...."

"We think too little of the privilege of this bond with the greatest minds.... Next after men of genius come those who can recognize their worth."

"Every truth is life, direction, a way leading to the end of man.... one is fully oneself in surrendering to what is above self."

To paraphrase, we should turn our eyes toward first causes and our hearts toward supreme ends: "[I]ntellection passes from God to God, as it were, through us. God is its first cause; he is its last end."

In order to "properly to regulate the intelligence..., qualities quite different from intelligence itself are required."

"Love is the beginning of everything in us.... Truth visits those who love her, who surrender to her, and this love cannot be without virtue.... This submission to truth is the binding condition for communion with it."

"Truth is, as it were, the special divinity of the thinker.... By practicing the truth that we know, we merit the truth that we do not yet know."

"No branch of knowledge is self-sufficing; no discipline looked at by itself alone gives light enough for its own path.... There is a great revelation in discovering the hidden links that exist between ideas and systems the most dissimilar.... Each truth is a fragment which does not stand alone but reveals connections on every side. Truth itself is one, and the Truth is God.... "

"Everything is in everything, and partitions are only possible by abstraction.... Those who rest satisfied with provisional answers to problems that in reality remain unsolved, warp the answers given to them" (and thereby warp themselves, I might add).

"Hence, for the fully awakened soul, every truth is a meeting place.... Everything that instructs us leads to God on a hidden byway. Every authentic truth is in itself eternal, and its quality of eternity turns us towards the eternity of which it is the revelation."

Theology inserts "a divine graft into the tree of knowledge, thanks to which this tree can bear fruits that are not its own. It loses nothing of its sap thereby, on the contrary, the sap circulates gloriously."

As a result of "human effort [and] the collaboration of heaven" (↑↓), a "soaring impulse is given to knowledge," all branches of which "are vivified and all disciplines broadened.... Everything makes one harmony in the concert of the human and the divine."

However, on a discordant note, "he who is united to men and to nature without being hiddenly united to God... is but the subject of a kingdom of death.... [S]uch are those... who are out of their element in any higher region," and "who would like to reduce others to their narrow, elementary school orthodoxy."

The setting of our knowledge is the cosmos; and this is itself organization, structure.

Serve truth!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Psychic Catastrophe and the Repression of God

Some readers were a little unclear on Sertillanges' statement that "To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one." I suppose I was thinking of Bion's theory of thinking, one aspect of which he calls PS<-->D, which is "the emotional experience of a sense of discovery of coherence."

Bion references Poincaré, who wrote of how a new scientific discovery unites "elements long since known, but till then scattered and seemingly foreign to each other, and suddenly introduces order where the appearance of disorder reigned. Then it enables us to see at a glance each of these elements in the place it occupies in the whole. Not only is the new fact valuable on its own account, but it alone gives a value to the old facts it unites" (emphasis mine).

The passage is worth quoting in full: "Our mind is as frail as our senses are; it would lose itself in the complexity of the world if that complexity were not harmonious; like the short-sighted, it would only see the details, and would be obliged to forget each of these details before examining the next, because it would be incapable of taking in the whole. The only facts worthy of our attention are those which introduce order into this complexity and so make it accessible to us" (emphasis mine).

Thus, the "D" in PS<-->D refers to what Bion calls the "selected fact," and we can see how in psychic development, one selected fact becomes a part (PS) of a new whole (D), as in metabolism (discussed yesterday). Indeed, this is why you are what you eat, and why you should think twice about what you shove into your head.

Hinshelwood elaborates: "In the creative process, thinking involves the dismantling of previous views and theories, with the development of new views. In changing one's way of thinking, the container has to be dissolved before it is reformed.... When this happened, Bion thought, it caused intense emotional experiences -- so intense that he used the term catastrophe [to refer to] the mental event of having a new thought." We must tolerate disintegration (catabolism), but more importantly, integration (anabolism).

Why integration? You don't need to be a licentious coonical pslackologist to understand this. All you have to do is observe the maturational process in your child. Every significant development is fraught with ambivalence, as it represents a catastrophic departure from the familiar.

Watch how a young child who is exploring the world will constantly look back and "touch base" with mother. In fact, they've done studies in which mothers are instructed to reflect a proud smile or a worried frown back to the child. Those with the frowning mothers immediately cease their explorations and scurry back to her arms, because the unknown becomes too frightening without the background of psychic "support."

When a patient comes in for therapy, it is always because, in some form or fashion, he has not found the "selected fact" of his life. More problematically, this Fact can be forcibly prevented by not allowing its constituent parts to come together.

Indeed, sometimes the Fact is unconsciously attacked and dismantled, which Bion called "attacks on linking." It's a more sophisticated way of accounting for the same phenomena as repression. Repression is a very linear and three-dimensional way of looking at it, when the mind exists in more dimensions than just three or four.

In mother worlds, it's not like taking the unwanted fact -- imagine, say, a balloon -- and just shoving it beneath the surface of the water. Rather, the balloon is first rendered into bits, which makes repression unnecessary, since you've "un-Known" the thing that needs to be repressed (and bear in mind, of course, that you must already have some inchoate awareness of the truth in order to have to deny it; you might say that only the Lie requires a thinker).

This is what I call a "dimensional defense," because another way of doing it is to simply live one's life in a mental space of fewer dimensions, where none of the unwanted meanings can coalesce or be consciously available. No mind, no problem, so to speak (although this usually causes problems for other people due to acting out the unKnown thoughts).

I hope this isn't abstract, but rather, quite clear and even experience-near. All of us have done it at one time or another. If I were a more literate or even more caffeinated fellow, I'm sure I could make reference to famous characters in literature. Sometimes the whole plot can revolve around That Which Must Not Be Known by the character(s). The one fact that is desperately needed in order to grow and move beyond the psychic impasse is the one fact that is denied.

But denied does not mean forgotten, so the fact nevertheless has a kind of shadowy, persecutory existence at the periphery of local being. It is like a thought in search of a thinker who will host it. It is "out there" wanting to come together, so it requires a considerable outlay of psychic energy to forcibly separate its constituents. It's just like your body, which has a powerful "tendency to wholeness." Cut or injure it, and it "wants" to heal and revert to wholeness (indeed, heal and whole are etymologically related).

Your mind and soul quite obviously run along the same lines, since the soul is the form of the body. It wishes to be whole, to such an extent that you might say that this is its earthly mission.

But there are various degrees of wholeness. There is material wholeness, say, a rock or crystal. There is biological wholeness, i.e., the living body, and there is psychic wholeness, the true self.

There is also spiritual wholeness. However, like psychic wholeness, it cannot be given "all at once." Why not? Because we do not exist in only three or four dimensions, like material objects. Rather, it requires at least a single lifetome to compose the book of "who we are," so to speak. This becoming is a ceaseless process of PS<-->D -- of psychospiritual metabolism -- which is why "To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one."

Think of the difference between a rock and the simplest body, even that of a single cell. Both are "one." But what a difference! They tell us that the cell contains more information than what, the entire New York City Library or something? A humanly inconceivable degree of multiplicity, and yet, a harmonious one.

And it only becomes more multiple -- and therefore more richly one -- the higher we move up the cosmic food chain. At the very top we find this thing called God or O, which is -- you guessed it -- the simplest thing imaginable, since it effortlessly unifies all this mayaplicity. Or, all of it is re-solved, as it were, in God.

And this, don't you know, is what we were driving at in our book, which begins in the multiplicity of Cosmogenesis and ends in the unity of Cosmotheosis, or the conscious divinization of all reality, both vertical and horizontal (again, that Rich One).

The principle difference between theists and atheists is that the latter cling to the absurd belief that there is no nonlocal sponsor of all of this dynamic wholeness within and without, no ground and no end, no origin and no destiny. Again, this is strictly absurd.

This is why philosophical time has been moving backward since the great synthesis of Thomas Aquinas, who, suffice to say, wanted to develop a philosophy that excluded nothing, whether horizontal or vertical; in other words, the richest One man is capable of attaining. Pieper:

"... [H]e was intrepidly affirming the whole of natural reality, not only with regard to objective existence, but also within man himself.... [I]t was his life's task to join these two extremes which seemed inevitably to be pulling away from one another."

One cosmos under God, as one wagdaddit:

We are Ones again back by oursoph before the beginning, before old nobodaddy committed wholly matterimany and exhaled himself into a world of sorrow and ignorance. Back upin a timeless with the wonderfully weird Light with which everything was made, a Light no longer dispersed and refracted through so many banged-up and thunder-sundered images of the One. Back at the still point between the vertical and horizontal, where eternity pierces the present moment and we are unborn again (p. 248).



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Developing Spiritual Strength and Flexibility with Verticalisthenics

We're discussing The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods. Again, although the word "intellectual" is perfectly acceptable if you already know what the author means by it, a more precise title -- at least for our time -- might have been something like Knowing and Being: Conditions and Methods for the Realization and Transmission of Spiritual Truth.

A key point is that if you are not living the truth, then you aren't really knowing it. It would be analogous to knowing all about light but still living in darkness.

Note that one of the two or three central principles of Christianity is that ultimate truth is a being, a person. This places it in direct contrast to, say, Islam, in which the central principles are God and Koran. The Koran is the word of God -- literally -- whereas the Bible is only word about God, who is a person.

The ontological implications could hardly be more dramatic. Just ask yourself: what kind of knowledge is a person? You could spend your whole life trying to answer it. And even then, the point is not to know the answer but to become it -- or to participate in the being of personal (or personal being of) Truth.

The beingness of this Truth could never be explicated in the linear form of a book, not even the Bible, especially if one approaches it with the wrong (intellectual) being.

Recall what we were saying yesterday about the cultivation of vertical memory in order to attune ourselves to the Divine. Sertillanges writes that it is necessary to be "receptive in every direction, and in a state of perpetual discovery. In its content there is nothing 'ready made'; its gains are seeds of the future, its oracles are promises."

In short, you simply cannot obtain real theo-logy "off the rack." If you try, then it will be either too loose or too tight, or the fabric will not breathe, or it will chafe just where you need some extra growing room.

In a way, you could say that tradition provides you with the material -- the fabric -- but it is still up to you to make it into an appropriate suit of clothing. Importantly, you could never manufacture the fabric yourself, but no one else can make the suit for you. Another man's suit just won't look right on you, even if it looks great on someone else.

Now, about this vertical recollection, or turning our third ear to the Ground. Sertillanges says that "Listening to oneself is a formula that amounts to the same thing as listening to god." It "is revealed to us only in the silence of the soul," which necessarily involves some means of excluding and shutting out all that pulls us away from this center. (Please note that the "center" is anywhere the vertical is, which is everywhere, but only if one is aware of it; it is always at a right angle to the present.)

There are two forces that take us out of this center, or ground. They essentially fall under the headings of dispersion and compression, which can in turn take on endless forms.

Think, for example, of the numberless varieties of dispersion, which, you might say is the opposite of con-centration. There is nothing wrong with dispersion as such, as it is a natural part of the rhythm of being. In its absence we would be in a permanent state of frozen attention, nor would we be capable of growth.

Think of the relationship between catabolism (destructive metabolism) and anabolism (constructive metabolism) that makes metabolism as such possible. In other words, metabolism -- or, let us say, life -- could never be a result only of building up, for this would make us more like a crystal or a fungus than a man. And more minds than you know are a kind of crystalized fungus.

It is more clear that life and mind could never be a result of pure catabolism. Nevertheless, without a little death tossed into the mix, life would be strictly impossible.

Down here there is life and there is death, but only continuously. Just like the complementarity of anabolism <---> catabolism, the two are a function of a higher third which we might call Life. Yes, it is Life, but again, it is also Person. If it weren't the latter, then human persons simply wouldn't be possible. No. Way.

So, human beings can become too hard or too loose. We may even caricature the two types and not be too far from the truth, i.e., the typical loose and lazy liberal with a mind so open that his brains fall out; or the dry, desiccated and up-tight conservative church lady.

Our founders were well aware of this existential/ontological dichotomy, which is why they were so careful to steer a middle course between a loose and anarchic democracy and a sclerotic and entrenched oligarchy.

It is the same with capitalism, which is constantly creating and destroying. It "works" simply because it mirrors living reality.

And the irony, of course, is that the application of loose and lazy liberalism eventually leads to its own sclerosis and institutional deadness, as embodied in the dead-from-the-neck-up and chest-in Obama. No one is more fearful of change than a progressive. A classical liberal is simply someone who steers this middle course in order to properly metabolize reality at every level: physical, psychological, intellectual, economic, political, and spiritual.

Here is a pithy little wise crack by Sertillanges that goes to exactly what we're talking about: To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one. Say it again: To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one.

Do you see why? You don't want to be only multiple, but nor do you want to be only one. "Unity at the starting point is a mere void," but so too is multiplicity at the endpoint.

I was once one of those "loosely crystalized" leftists, and all I can say about that is -- let's sing it together -- "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

For "higher than the brain is the object of its devotion," which "carries the mind into vast spheres that it would never of itself have known" (Sertillanges). And this requires a great deal of flexibility, but also strength. Which yoga provides.

For we demand of knowledge that it shall unite; the knowledge that divides must always be a partial knowing good for certain practical purposes; the knowledge that unites is the knowledge. --Sri Aurobindo

Monday, September 27, 2010

Human Knowing and Human Being: Come for the Truth, Stay for the Ecstasy

I'd like to continue on the theme of "Christian yoga" by delving into a book called The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods, by the Catholic priest A.G. Sertillanges. It was recommended to us by the mysterious reader Joseph, who swept in, alerted us to the book, and promptly disappeared, his work here having been done.

But as the rabbi said, God spends most of his time arranging meetings and marriages (which is why God has been so much more busy since the rise of the internet), and the former can have an influence that long outlives their fleeting nature. You just never know where a good deed may lead -- nor, for that matter, how doing one may come back to haunt you. In a good way.

I guess this is on my mind because I was just explaining how it works to Future Leader yesterday. He put together a box of toys he no longer wants, in order to send them to Afghan children. Our military are able to forge ties with the community by giving them to the children, who otherwise have nothing to play with but a Koran. I tried to explain the principle of "what goes around comes around" to FL, and that eventually someone else would do him a good turn. He said, "but I don't want a Koran."

Okay, that last sentence was a joke. But the rest is true.

The Intellectual Life is really a meditation on the internal and external conditions necessary for what I would call a "Christian gnana yoga," or yoga of knowledge -- knowledge of God, to be be precise. These conditions are obviously quite different from those of a profane intellectual life, which pretty much don't matter. Anyone can do that, so long as they are a conformist with a good memory who can parrot back the current truth of the tenured rabble.

This book has nothing to do with that type of vulgar intellectual, who should really be called an "intellectualist," or someone who reveres and bows down before a disembodied intellect that is neither grounded in any transcendent reality -- which is to say reality -- nor bearing upon anything higher than a sack full of genetic copying errors that can accidentally "think."

But if errors could think, they would produce only error, not the least of which being errors about what intelligence is, where it comes from, and what its purpose is. Human intelligence severed from its sacred roots will eventually become demonic, because the intelligence in question is no longer human. Or, perhaps more problematically, all too human.

I have a note to myself at the back of the book: all true thought is a prayer, a link between being and existence.

I'm not even sure if I can usefully trancelight this book, since it is already so full of pithy insights that there's not much to add to it. But I'll try.

In the foreword, James Schall writes of "the intimate relationship between our knowing the truth" and "ordering our own souls to the good."

There you go: Christian yoga. Real knowledge is not only rooted in being, but orders our own being. Which necessarily implies that someone with an obviously disordered soul -- say, oh, Paul Krugman -- is inevitably going to spew a kind of "knowledge" that reflects that fact. He has no earthly idea that the much deeper question about an economic system is the type of person it shapes and facilitates. And socialism simply produces an inferior man -- narrow, selfish, petty, greedy, envious, entitled, lazy, and misanthropic.

Look at Bill Maher, one of the left's other leading philosopher-comedians, along with Stewart, Colbert, Garofolo, Franken, and Krugman. The other day I heard him say that Democrats were only unpopular because they weren't campaigning on their healthcare reform monstrosity. Larry King asked him why people don't like the bill, and he said it was because "Americans are stupid."

This is an admirably honest description of exactly how the left feels about us. But as a general rule, I would say that one should be suspicious of powerful strangers who express open contempt for you, and who want to diminish your freedom in order to impose lifetime obligations on you that you yourself would impose if only you weren't such a retard. Look, not only are you stupid, but you are racist, sexist, homophobic, and Islamophobic, so why wouldn't you rally behind people who aren't any of those things, and who know better how to run your life?

Really, it's a mystery why liberals are so unpopular.

Back to Schall's point about the relationship between knowledge and the order of the soul. Oddly enough, I was predisposed to believe this based upon my own non-religious education in psychoanalysis. Long story short, I initially approached it like any other intellectual endeavor, as if it were just a matter of reading enough books and memorizing all the theories. But soon enough I realized that no amount of knowledge would make one a "healer of souls."

Rather, there first had to be a transformation in one's own being. Truly, all the "knowledge" was only a residue of that deeper reality. This is why, for example, there are so many different schools of psychoanalysis, because the actual theory one uses doesn't matter nearly as much as the state of one's own soul.

I'll never forget a conversation I had with a certain professor who remains the most deeply brilliant man I have ever actually personally known. I asked him which psychoanalytic program I should apply to, and he said, "first, pick a good analyst. Then just flip a coin." In other words, the only thing that really mattered was healing oneself. The rest was just icing on the cake. Besides, without the proper grounding in being, you wouldn't know which knowledge was true anyway.

Much of what Sertillanges says bears upon this idea of being prior to knowing. For example, he says that you must begin -- begin! -- "by creating a zone of silence, a habit of recollection, a will to renunciation and detachment which puts you entirely at the disposal of the work." In other words, he doesn't direct you to particular books, theories, or thinkers, but to silence.

Why silence? In order to recollect. But recollect what, if I haven't even memorized anything? Just tell me what to know, and I'll rewordgitate it for you!

Sorry. We're talking about vertical recollection, or "re-membering" the living above, not the dead past. This is why we must "acquire that state of soul unburdened by desire and self-will which is the state of grace of the intellectual worker. Without that you will do nothing, at least nothing worthwhile" (emphasis mine).

This immediately goes to the trinitarian nature of things, and the communion that is prior to, and a condition of, knowledge: "The intellectual is not self-begotten; he is the son of the Idea, of the Truth, of the creative Word, the Life-giver immanent in his creation. When the thinker thinks rightly, he follows God step by step; he does not follow his own vain fancy."

Thus, the knower is a function of Truth, not vice versa, as the typical superstitious secularist believes. Indeed, if Truth isn't prior, then there is simply no accounting for the knower, for how could knowledge be possible in the absence of truth?

The intellectual worker-be has the great privilege of taking part in "the truth conveyed to him by the universe." This "miraculous encounter" -- and it is miraculous -- is a kind of ec-stasy (which literally means to be outside, beyond, or beside oneself), "a flight upwards, away from self," a kind of self-forgetting "in order that the object of our delight may live in our thought and heart."

Christian yoga, baby. Miracles, ecstasy, delight, -- or sat-chit-ananda, being-consciousness-bliss, as they say in the East. Sounds good to me. And true.

All spiritual seeking moves towards an object of Knowledge to which men ordinarily do not turn the eye of the mind, to someone or something Eternal, Infinite, Absolute that is not the temporal things or forces of which we are sensible, although he or it may be in them or behind them or their source or creator. It aims at a state of knowledge by which we can touch, enter or know by identity this Eternal, Infinite and Absolute..., a knowledge that is not what we call knowledge but something self-existent, everlasting, infinite. And although it may or even must, since man is a mental creature, start from our ordinary instruments of knowledge, yet it must necessarily go beyond them... even if through mind and sense there can come a first glimpse of it or a reflected image. --Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga (Part II, The Yoga of Integral Knowledge)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

When Bad Songs Happen to Good Artists

GE linked to a video of the musical miscegenation of Willie Nelson singing A Whiter Shade of Pale -- or in his case, A Paler Shade of White -- and that got me to thinking about other odd musical couplings that are just wrong, wrong, wrong.

For example, how about Waylon Jennings' game attempt at MacArthur Park?

Love Waylon, but you can't be singing about cowboys one minute and crying over a melted birthday cake the next. At least he gets the title right -- it's MacArthur, not MacArthur's, as incorrectly sung by Richard Harris in the hit version of 1968. I know it's MacArthur, because when I was a young 'un, my grandmother used to take me there to feed the ducks. She still called it Westlake Park, even though they renamed it in 1942.

That's just how she rolled, especially after dementia set in. She actually met her second husband there on a park bench. Turned out the bench was his home. He was an unemployed (technically never employed) actor who called himself Rudy Rudaché. My only real memory of him is of sleeping on the couch in his briefs. He also had a very hairy -- even furry -- back, which was his best feature. He would probably call it "luxuriant" if he knew the word.

Here's one of the strangest couplings, both literally and figuratively, Gregg Allman and Cher (says the embedding link is "disabled by request" -- everyone's). Did Cher ignore some red flags before diving into this marriage? Probably. Like the time they were at an Italian restaurant and Gregg was face-down in a plate of spaghetti. But what doesn't kill you makes you stranger.

Ironically, or maybe not, her first husband, Sonny, became a right-wing populist, but he died as a result of planting his face into a pine tree while skiing on vicodin and valium. But Gregg -- who is still shambling strong -- could have told him: leave it to the professionals.

What's Christmas without Bob Dylan doing a zydeco Christmas song? At least it has some weirdness value, but I wouldn't want to hear it more than once:

This is just sad -- the Kinks doing a disco song back in the late '70s. In their defense, it was beginning to look like disco would never go away. What can one do but adapt to the new musical environment? The Stones also had their disco moment with Miss You, but they were always musical opportunists anyway. Ray Davies had some artistic integrity.

Keith Moon -- who went to his grave believing that he should be the lead singer of the Who -- released a solo album in 1975. He was a huge fan of surf music, and here he mangles Brian Wilson's classic Don't Worry Baby:

I wish I could give you a link to James Brown's version of Mona Lisa, but it's probably for the best.

It's things like this that make people forget that Buck Owens was one of the great Cosmo-American artists:

But this only proves that even the greatest Cosmo-American artists can make mistakes:

Even better -- Frank's version of Mrs. Robinson, with improved lyrics, such as: So how's your bird, Mrs. Robinson / Mine is fine as wine and I should know / ho ho ho. ("Bird" was Frank's universal term for genitals, which opens up a whole new dimension in his music. In fact, John Lennon's song And Your Bird Can Sing makes reference to just this fact. And now you know the rest of the story.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Wanderer

Woke up with Dion DiMucci on the brain. Why? Who knows. It's Music Saturday, so maybe I'm supposed to write a post about him. But this is an open threat, so feel free to run away from it and comment on any other subject.

Now 71, he's the only one of the first wave of 1950s rock stars still breathing (the hard part), still performing (the easy part, especially when it's pledge drive time and PBS needs to shake down the Boomers), and still artistically growing (the hardest part). He recently released an album of blues covers, and proved himself to be an entirely credible bluesman:

A couple of early favorites, but there are many. The only song that rhymes "Donna" with "Donna" (maybe because Roy Orbison had dibs on Lana), but it swings nonetheless:

He thought he had a friend once, but the bastard kicked out his teeth:

Anyway, he's had a rather interesting spiritual journey, having started out a nominal Catholic in an ethnic Italian neighborhood in the Bronx, converted to mainline heroin in the 1960s, moved on to evangelical Christianity in the 1970s, and finally full circle and back home again:

"... [M]y biggest moment was to come. On December 14, 1979, I went out jogging, like I did every morning. It was a time when I could be alone with my thoughts.... There was a lot going on in me then, a mid-life crisis, or something. My emotions were everywhere . In the middle of that confusion, all I could pray was 'God, it would be nice to be closer to you.' That’s all it took.

"I was flooded with white light. It was everywhere, inside me, outside me — everywhere. At that moment, things were different between me and God. He’d broken down the wall. Ahead of me, I saw a man with His arms outstretched. 'I love you,' He said. 'Don’t you know that? I’m your friend. I laid down My life for you. I’m here for you now.' I looked behind me, because I knew I’d left something behind on that road. Some part of me that I no longer wanted. Let the road have it; I didn’t need it anymore.

"God changed my life that morning, and things have never been the same. I started writing and recording these wonderful gospel songs in the 1980s and started touring again.... But in some circles, I started hearing attacks on the Catholic Church and anti-Catholic teachings which confused me.... Sometimes, as we’d sit in the pew at our latest evangelical church, [Susan would] lean over and whisper in my ear, 'I wonder what this church is going to look like in 2,000 years'....

"[W]ith a new church opening every week with a little different doctrine, it became increasingly difficult and confusing to know what the truth really was....

"Little by little, God helped break through my defiance and ignorance. My misconceptions about the Church were falling away fast. All the questions I had as a Protestant were being answered, as I finally felt those deep parts of me satisfied.

"And so I went back to Mount Carmel Catholic Church — where it all began. I went to confession and let it out to Father Frank. I told him where I’d been and what I’d done. When I finished, he stood up, stretched his arms out and said, 'Dion, welcome home.' I tried to be a man, I tried to stifle myself, but I couldn’t do it. I broke down right there. At last, I met the God who is a Father — a Father who is strong, but loving; tough but gentle. I met a Father who took this wanderer in His mighty arms, and led him home."

Don't care for the video, but this is a post-conversion meditation on Fathers, Sons, and the Truth between:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Christian Yoga: Different Yokes for Different Folks

Yesterday we spoke of the mystery of comm-unication, which is actually a reflection of the even deeper mystery of comm-union. I don't want to rehearse the whole argument here (see previous 1500 posts for details), but in our opinion "ultimate reality" is communion, and communion is another way of saying love -- not in some vulgar sentimental manner, but quite objectively and "scientifically."

Nature always transcends itself; or, we might say that the transnatural cannot but spill over the boundaries of the natural. Man is nature transcended, while religion is man transcending himself. And truth of any kind, whether sacred or "profane," rests on a foundation of love and communion.

Objects can know nothing of one another -- or of themselves, for that matter. Only the subject may know, and the subject may only know via participation in the being of another (whether object or subject). Either this participation is real, or it is not. If it is not real, then science is impossible. And if it is real, then science is intrinsically rooted in something that transcends itself.

This would be consistent with Abhishiktananda's experience, through which Christianity and Vedanta are reconciled in love. For him, the Trinity reveals Being as "essentially a koinonia of love" (SA, in (Oldmeadow). (Koinonia means "communion by intimate participation.")

Thomas Aquinas said that "the thing known is in the knower according to the mode of the knower." Thus, if we change the knower, then a different reality comes into view -- not, it should go without saying, a reality "invented" by the knower, but disclosed to him.

This disclosure -- or unveiling, ooh la la -- is a result of deeper communion and "in-timacy" (fr. L intimus innermost). Thus, truth is the innermost perception of the Real. Given these intimate circumstances, it should not be surprising that this disclosure is often accompanied by tears of joy and gratitude. Looked at impersonally, Truth is a very personal thing.

Now, yoga is one of the six orthodox schools of "Hinduism" (which I place in quotes, because there really is no such doctrine as "Hinduism"). The classic formulation of yoga was given by Patanjali, and for those who don't know, the Bhagavad Gita is a fictional account in the form of a conversation between Arjuna and the godman Krishna about the different types of yoga.

Now, the idea of yoga has some overlap with what we said above about communion, since the ultimate purpose of yoga is to obtain "unitive knowledge of the Godhead," not through ordinary learning, but through experience.

In fact, the word yoga is often translated as to "unite" with or "yoke" oneself to the Divine -- which immediately brings to mind Jesus' remark that "my yoke is easy" -- which it is, by the way, in the sense that Jesus has already done the heavy lifting for us. This is very much in contrast to religions which require us to do most of the work, without the indispensable assistance of grace.

Thus, Christianity is often interpreted as a bhakti yoga. That is to say, yoga as such is an all-purpose pneumatechnology that takes into consideration individual differences. Because each of us has a different gift, a unique personality, a particular style of learning, and a different hat size, a one-size-fits-allah type religiosity will not do.

To take some obvious examples, there are emotional types and thinking types; extroverts and introverts; sensualists and intuitives; doers and be-ers, or men of action and men of contemplation; warriors and priests; sages and administrators; merchants and laborers; respectable people and Raiders fans; loons and Coons. So if you have just one religious message delivered in one narrow manner, it will inevitably be addressed to a particular "type," and thereby exclude and marginalize the others. There will be no testavus for the rest of us.

This is especially problematic for the tiny minority of Raccoons, who are "outsiders" but surely not "rebels." But one can well appreciate the chaos that would ensue if the religious message were addressed to the Raccoon population instead of the average mentality, for if that were to occur, there would be no Raccoons, precisely. Religion, in order to survive, must at the very least be addressed to man as it finds him, not the man already transformed by religion, for "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."

I am reminded of something Schuon said, which is no doubt autobiographical but nonetheless true and not the least bit self-aggrandizing: "The pneumatic is in a way the 'incarnation' of a spiritual archetype, which means that he is born with a state of knowledge which, for others, would be precisely the end and not the point of departure; the pneumatic does not 'progress' to something 'other than himself,' he remains in place so as to become fully himself -- namely his archetype -- by progressively eliminating veils or husks, impediments contracted from the ambience [e.g., mind parasites] and possibly also from heredity."

This is a potentially dangerous and destructive doctrine, and one can well understand why wholesale religion could never express itself in this manner, for if the message is assimilated by the wrong type -- especially disreputable ones -- soon enough he will be deepakin' the chopra in the most egregious and self-serving ways imaginable.

So to even say "Christian yoga" in the wrong company is to invite either suspicion (from the fundamentalist type) or absurd self-flattery (from the new age type). Nevertheless, it is clear that the Christian message may be tailored to different psychic types, who in turn will practice it in different ways, e.g., bhakti, raja, tantra, gnana, karma yoga -- or the yogas of devotion and prayer, meditation and contemplation, virtue and good works, etc. In truth, each yoga not only contains the others, but the practice of one form should nourish and bring the others forward.

Which is why we can say, for example, that the highest knowledge is love, something that the bhakta already knows intuitively. But Raccoons are just a little slow. Oh well, bhakta the drawing board...

to be continued....

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Pneumatic Bleat

I should start calling this the Pneumatic Bleat or something, but I wouldn't want to pee on another man's spot. Things proceed much more smoothly if I write as if it's just an informal diary, not a term paper -- maybe call it a "web log," or even "blog" for short. Then I don't put any pressure on myself, but more importantly, it helps to assure a kind of schuontaneous discovery -- or the suspension of memory, desire, and understanding that Bion called "faith."

That was no joke, because if you look at Schuon's corpus, you will see that his primary mode of expression was the brief and luminous Blast from the depths of O. He never sustained this for the course of an entire book, because no man could. Rather, his books are (almost) all collections of these simultaneously epic and miniature Depth Charges, which is one reason why they don't sell particularly well, for I have been told that books of essays never do.

But to call them "essays" is like calling... something... a something, or something (coffee hasn't kicked in yet). Really, it's a new spiritual form of expression. Well, maybe not new. The prophets obviously didn't write any books, nor did Jesus, Buddha, or even Bob Dobbs.

In fact, nor did Aurobindo write any books, the 35 volumes of the complete works notwithstanding. Come to think of it, this was one of the first things that intrigued me about him, in that he produced all of this material in a relatively brief period of time by merely downloading it from beyond, so to speak, with no real plan or preconceptions, and certainly no eye on the book-buying public.

Rather, he just sat there in his little room and banged it out. I don't think he had any idea what "he" thought -- or he "thought" -- about this or that or all this is That! until it came out of him. They say that jazz is "the sound of surprise." I guess this mode of writing is the... something of surprise (what, is this decaf?!).

Let me look it up and see if I can find some more explicit details about the process, as this post meanders along and tries to implicitly demonstrate it.

Says here that "in the four years of his stay in Pondicherry, he had filled many notebooks with brief annotations and essays on the Vedas and Upanishads, comparative linguistics and a lot of other subjects -- all the while involved in the intensive yoga which he was practicing constantly." (I've seen these notebooks, and they're legible but indecipherable.)

Someone came up with the idea of publishing a periodical, and almost all of his important works were serialized during the seven years of its existence. Van Vrekhem says that they "were not destined for the general public, but for the few for whom the world, as it is, is no longer livable and who, from the bottom of their heart, long for something else, something more worthwhile."

Everything was based on, and rooted in, experience. Thus, it would be incorrect to call it "theology" in the western sense of the term. Again, it is more like a spiritual diary, or an ongoing record of O --> (n), as we call it in the book:

"I was never satisfied till experience came and it was on this experience that later on I founded my philosophy, not on ideas by themselves. I owed nothing in my philosophy to intellectual abstractions, ratiocination or dialectics; when I have used these means it was simply to explain my philosophy and justify it to the intellect of others.

"The other source of my philosophy was the knowledge that flowed from above when I sat in meditation, especially from the plane of the Higher Mind when I reached that level. They [the ideas of the Higher Mind] came down in a mighty flood which swelled into a sea of direct Knowledge always translating itself into experience, or they were intuitions starting from an experience and leading to other intuitions and a corresponding experience" (Aurobindo, in a letter to a sadhak).

I don't know about you, but I'm relating to this description. Let's continue: "This source was exceedingly catholic and many-sided and all sorts of ideas came in which might have belonged to conflicting philosophies but they were here reconciled in a large synthetic whole."

Thus, it would also be an error to refer to this as "philosophy" in the modern sense. In fact, "there is very little argument in my philosophy.... What is there is a harmonizing of the different parts of a many-sided knowledge so that all is united logically together. But it is not by force of logical argument that it is done, but by a clear vision of the relations and sequences of Knowledge."

A little more. Van Vrekhem says that "this enormous 'mental' activity" actually "used as its instruments a completely inactive brain and fingers that typed directly on a prehistoric Remington what was inspired into them, including the corrections" (with no coffee, either). It might be 110 degrees in the summer with, of course, no air conditioning, but there he would be, "concentrated in his work, though according to eye witnesses he was perspiring so much that his sweat dripped on the floor."

Now, "a synthetic, non-linear way of thinking or seeing is very complex and difficult to formulate in language," especially when "one wants to express oneself adequately and completely throughout... " (Van Vrekhem). Note also how the following description of Aurobindo's writing by Satprem accords with our own recent discussions of how language may be a vehicle of (≈): "it contains the vibration of the experience, almost the quality of light of the particular world it touches, and through the words... one can come into contact with the experience."

This may sound mysterious, which it is, but actually no less mysterious than the human capacity to transmit any thought between two minds. Sertillanges discusses this in The Intellectual Life, where he writes that....

Wait, before getting to that, I just found another passage, in which Sertallanges describes (≈): "Contact with writers of genius procures us the immediate advantage of lifting us to a higher plane," which confers "benefit on us even before teaching us anything. They set the tone for us; they accustom us to the air of the mountaintops. We were moving in a lower region; they bring us at one stroke into their own atmosphere," or atmasphere.

Also, "he gives us claim to the domains that he has conquered and cleared, sowed and tilled. He invites us to share at the hour of harvest." He gives access to "an unsuspected light, in the heart of a connected system which is a sort of new creation -- that reality which was there, obvious, and which we did not see." For this reason it's probably safe to say that you learn more from the errors of a genius than the "truths" of an idiot.

Back to that quote about the mystery of communication: "strictly speaking, thought is incommunicable from man to man." "The idea does not reach us from without." Rather, "it is necessarily within us that it must come to birth." Thus the orthoparadox that we must read with the soul in order to awaken the soul.

In any event, all we're really trying to do here is have a genuine encounter with O and then memorialize it in language. That's it. But that becomes inherently stressful if you begin making demands on it, or, more to the point, when the process is turned "outward," toward an audience.

Come to think of it, I'll bet that's one reason why Van Morrison has such an ambivalent relationship to his audience. In a way, he's trying to produce something for an audience that won't happen if he "tries" or if he is too focussed on the audience. So to criticize my writing is kind of beside the point, because all you're really saying is that it failed to awaken the Idea in you. All comments are inadvertent autobiography, or pneumatic bleat.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ghostchords From the Cosmic Frontier

Back to the Catholic yogi, Swami Abhishiktananda (SA). What follows will be rather free-form unless and until something specific comes into focus.

Here's a cooncise way of putting IT: "diversity harmonized in love, multiplicity transcended in union." I like this because it expresses another clear but orthoparadox, for instead of saying that diversity and multiplicity are just maya, or forever separated from the Principle, it emphasizes that they are consecrated in love and union.

Thus, reality is not One, or a monad, but nor is it two. You could say that it's "not-two," but why not just say love? For love can only exist where there is an Other. This invests a new value in both the world and the person, because we are not just more or less distant emanations of the One, but intimately connected to it.

This reminds me of a plausible explanation I once read for the filioque dispute that still divides eastern and western forms of Christianity. In the east, they say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, whereas in the west they say that it proceeds from the Father and Son. I believe it was Balthasar who said that the eastern version implied a kind of linear emanationist metaphysic, in which "All things are derived from the first reality or perfect God by steps of degradation to lesser degrees of the first reality or God, and at every step the emanating beings are less pure, less perfect, less divine."

But to say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son implies a more Trinitarian outlook, in which the Persons are co-equal, and again, unified in love. If emanationism is correct, then the world-denying mysticism of a Plotinus (or Buddha) would be our only hope of "salvation," in that it revolves around reversing this situation and ascending up and out. For Plotinus there is still a trinity -- the One, the Intellect, and the Soul -- but the relationship is strictly linear and descending.

But if the world is Creation -- and recall our post from yesterday, about how Creation is the Master Key -- then salvation is a very different matter, because it includes the cosmos. And us. Which is nice.

I'm sure there's an Orthodox rejoinder to what I've just laid out, but I'm going to move on. I'm humble enough to say that we're not going to resolve a 1,500 year old argument in a blog post.

Anyway, I think we can see the implicit relationship between creation, multiplicity, love, harmony, and transcendence. In fact, harmony is another critical notion. Think of how a harmony is composed of individual notes, so there is no harmony in the absence of the notes. But thanks to harmony, notes aren't only notes, but get to participate -- i.e., transcend themselves -- in the harmony. Please note: there is not something "higher" than harmony -- as if playing every note simultaneously in a single blob of sound would be more musical. No: if ultimate reality is Trinity, then Trinity is "harmonious love," so to speak.

This is all another way of saying part/whole, but again emphasizing that this is not an emanationist metaphysic -- as if the notes are only a distant and degraded residue of the chord.

Note also the irreconcilable difference between this and the Muslim view. The first and last principle of Islam is that "there is no God but God." Sounds like a tautology, but the purpose is to emphasize the absolute distance between God and man (which is why Trinity would be unthinkable in Islam, much less Incarnation). Instead of being a unity in love, man and God are only "unified" to the extent that the former utterly abases himself before the latter by surrendering to the Law (Islam, of course, means "surrender"). There is obedience, but not what we would call love. You can say that you prefer one over the other, but please do not pretend that the metaphysic doesn't embody values that lead to vastly different cultures. (It certainly implies very different conceptions of parenting and therefore governing.)

The Koran charmingly puts it as follows: "They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them." Stay classy!

SA expressed a Coonism when he wrote that spiritual experience "is the meeting-place of the known and the not-known, the seen and the not-seen, the relative and the absolute." I should hope that a spiritual practice results in, and revolves around, "spiritual experience," or experience of the spiritual.

How do we know whether the experience we are having is spiritual? SA implies that we shall know it by its fruits, one of which will be a kind of literal "living on the edge" -- the edge of an expanding circle, as it were, where the circumference shades off into the not-known, the not-seen, and the Absolute.

But another orthoparadox enters here, for in this case, the edge is simultaneously the center. This actually makes perfect nonsense, so long as one understands that alpha and omega, origin and destiny, source and goal, are one, -- or simply the ancient Christian formulation that God became man so that man might become God.

The latter can only occur if man lives at the edge of himself, which is again simultaneously the center (or movement toward it). Or, as I have expressed it before, we acquire a new and higher psychic "center of gravity" (or levity). The essence of repentance, or metanoia, is simply this shift to a new center of gravity which is death and birth all in One. For to say the first shall be last is to say that birth shall be death.

So to say that the Raccoon prefers to live at the edge of the Cosmos is simply a truism. This cosmic edge is located in each man, however far he can push into it and colonize the space. As I've mentioned before -- probably in the book -- man left Africa, colonized Europe, crossed the sea, landed in the New World, and then pushed west until there was no more space to colonize by the conclusion of the 19th century.

But that was only the end of horizontal frontier. The exploration of the vertical frontier continues inward and upward, as it always will, for if it didn't, there could be no frontier. In other words, this evolution is only endless because there is an end (see yesterday's post for details).

Once we push into the frontier, we notice paths, footprints, and other signs of human life. It's not as if the area is as populated as a major urban center. However, it soon becomes obvious that other people have preceded us and cut through some of the major obstacles. It's still not easy to climb Mount Everest, but at least you know that it's possible because some people have done it already.

Now, as SA says, To go beyond the sign is not to reject the sign, but to reach the thing signified. Someone said that the purpose of crutches is to not need crutches, which is a nice way of expressing it.

One final thought from SA. He discusses grace in terms of "the Presence of the Absolute, the Eternal, the Unborn, existing in the heart of the realm of becoming, of time, of death and life." This is what we call (↓), which ultimately facilitates "the irresistible drawing of the entire universe and its fullness towards the ultimate Awakening to the Absolute...." It is "the raft by which man passes over to the 'other shore.'"

It is the RIP tide that pulls us into the Great Attractor.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

This Post is Only Knowable to the Extent that it Isn't

Some or perhaps all readers say or think to themselves, "why the made up words? It just makes it more difficult to understand what you're going on about."

Well, let's take an example: orthoparadoxical. Do you know of an existing word for something that is entirely orthodox and yet weirdly paradoxical? I can't think of one.

Here are some examples of orthoparadoxical statements. Each one is 100% true, and cannot be expressed in any less paradoxical way. After listing them, I will explain how and why they are true:

--There is only a Way because we cannot get there. If we could, there would be no Way to get there.
--Things are only knowable to the extent that they aren't.
--It is only possible to affirm the non-existence of God in a cosmos which he created.
--If we could completely know God, then he couldn't exist, but if God didn't completely know us, then we couldn't.
--We can know things because they exist, but they can only exist because they are known.

Each of these was inspired by Josef Pieper's The Silence of St. Thomas, which I read a few months ago and have been meaning to discuss.

Pieper begins with the subtle point that "what is self-evident is not discussed." Why should it be, when it is taken for granted? In the past, we have poked fun at atheists for naively harboring implicit assumptions that undermine their whole argument -- for example, the intelligibility of the world and man's ability to comprehend its truth. First they need to explain how these properties are possible before they can say anything else. You can't just assume such monumental principles and then forget about them, on pain of explaining away precisely what is most in need of explanation.

All arguments are either to or from first principles. As I've said before, if you want to trip up an atheist, leftist, or radical secularist, just ask them to explain their first principles. You'll usually find that they are either absurd or impossible to take seriously.

As Pieper says, our task is "to grasp those basic assumptions which, remaining unexpressed, nevertheless permeate all that is actually stated; to discover, so to speak, the hidden keynote that dominates whatever has been explicitly said."

The major way liberals get around this problem is by making their hidden assumptions sacred, inviolable and even "un-examineable" through the mechanism political correctness. As you know, you can never make a liberal squeal more loudly than when you have pulled the veil away from one of these squalid assumptions and shown it in the light of day.

For example, Glenn Beck recently violated one of these implicit assumptions by suggesting that liberals do not own black Americans. To even assemble where Martin Luther King once did was worse -- much worse -- than Muslims building a giant mosque for the purpose of exploiting 9-11.

There are two reasons why this is such a threat to liberals, one personal, the other political. First, it undermines their sanctimonious self-image of being the noble patrons of black Americans who would be helpless without them. And second, if they fail to garner some 90% of the black vote, liberals would be unelectable in most states. Obviously, they pretend that blacks need them in order to conceal the deeper truth that liberals desperately need blacks (just not the independent and successful ones).

We're getting a little sidetracked. Here is the paradox: "that the doctrine of a thinker is precisely the unexpressed in what is expressed." If we limit ourselves to understanding only what is explicitly expressed, we will very likely miss the whole point.

For example, there would be no way to understand what I'm writing about by reading only a few essays. Rather, by constant exposure to them, I'm guessing that another reality begins to come into view -- the reality from which the essays flow, i.e., O. Obviously I don't want people to be like dogs, and sniff my finger instead of looking at the moonbat to which it is pointing.

Note therefore a paradox: that is it quite possible to completely understand what is said at the cost of misunderstanding what is unsaid.

Conversely, it is quite possible to understand what is unsaid by ignoring the superficialities of what is said. The former is the position of our trolls, who never understand what I'm talking about, even when they do. The latter is the meat and potatoes of my racket, in which the therapist tries to discern the unconscious meaning -- and even author -- of what is said in the session.

This is all prelude to Peiper's examination of what is left unsaid in virtually everything said by Thomas, without which the rest won't make sense -- or, more problematically, will only make sense.

This fundamental idea, or master key, is creation -- "or more precisely, the notion that nothing exists which is not creatura, except the Creator Himself, and in addition, that this createdness determines entirely and all-pervasively the inner structure of the creature."

In my opinion, this is actually a two-way proposition, so that one could equally affirm that because existence both is and is intelligible, there must be a Creator, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Suffice it to say that there is a principial division between Creator and created, and which literally illuminates everything (for it is the only Light that is).

For Thomas, existence and truth are synonymous terms. Thus, only what is real may be known, but also, only what is known (or knowable) is real. This is a somewhat subtle point, but once you get it, it should become obvious and then impossible to not know: "Only what is thought can be called in the strict sense 'true,' but real things are something thought.... Further, because things are themselves thoughts and have the 'character of a word,' they may be called 'true,'" in the same way as one would call a thought "true."

It comes down to this: is reality true? Of course! What is truth if not reality, and vice versa? But what are the conditions that permit us to say that reality is intelligible and that we may know it?

It is because "a natural thing is placed between two knowing subjects." If we were to trace it schematically, it would be something like O --> Existence <--> Intellect. This is the minimum condition for real knowledge, or knowledge that is both real and true, or conforms to reality.

How is it possible for things to be true? How is it that there is truth in them, and that we are able to unpack it? In both cases we are dealing with truth, but from different ends. That is to say, we can know the truth of things because truth is known by someOne. Thus, "Do not think that it is possible to do both," to dispense with "the idea that things have been creatively thought by God," and then insist that they can still be known by the human intellect. We know because God knows (or, God is that which knows reality).

This is where much of the paradox enters the picture. First, as Thomas said, "Knowledge is a certain effect of truth." Thus, because things are real they are true, and we can have valid knowledge of them.

However, there is no possibility of us exhausting the truth of reality, "for it is part of the very nature of things that their knowability cannot be wholly exhausted by any finite intellect because these things are creatures, which means that the very same element which makes them capable of being known must necessarily be at the same time the reason why things are unfathomable" (emphasis mine).

Now you understand one of the orthoparadoxical statements at the top of this post, that "Things are only knowable to the extent that they are not." It is simply a truism that man cannot fully comprehend the essence of single fly, and yet, there is no end -- literally -- to what we may know about one.

And this cannot mean that the fly has no essence, or we wouldn't be able to know so much about them. Indeed, we couldn't even recognize or name them, again, because what is real is true, and vice versa. Anything that exists is knowable, and what is fundamentally unknowable cannot exist.

We might say that knowledge therefore begins and ends in God, from infinity to finitude and back. But can we ever arrive at the final deustination? Of course not! Thus the orthoparadox that "There is only a way because we cannot get there. If we could get there, there would be no way."

Indeed, "It is only possible to affirm the non-existence of God in a cosmos which he created," since we couldn't know anything of a non-created one, not even error (for error presupposes truth). And "If we could completely know God, then he couldn't exist, but if God didn't completely know us, then we couldn't." By now that can pretty much be left unsaid, and silence goes without saying.

Monday, September 20, 2010

This Post is Literally Out of this World!

Let's continue our ride-along into the night of O with Swami Abhishiktananda (SA), the Catholo-vedantin priestmonk and honorary Raccoon. Please keep your head and heart inside the post until it has come to a complete flop.

We left off with a comment about the function of the guru, which is essentially to arouse (≈) in order to awaken (¶). I realize this sounds... whatever, but it's true.

Or, if it's not true, I need to see a neurologist. But in any cerebrovascular event, this formulation has the virtue of eliminating reams of unnecessary pneumababble and logorrhea, and getting straight to the point of it all -- a point that cannot be communicated per se, only awakened.

But what is (≈)? And what is (¶)?

That's for << insert chosen saint or sage here >> to know and you to find out.

Here it is critical to point out that words are undoubtedly capable of arousing (≈), but not through any conventional linguistic understanding. In other words, with everyday profane language, there is a signifier and a signified, i.e., the arbitrary mouth-noise and the thing or concept to which it is attached.

But spiritual language does not point to a concept or thing. Or, to be precise, not only a concept or thing. Why, just yesterday I was reading of how Thomas Aquinas tried to make this clear some seven or eight centuries ago. It's distressing that people still quarrel over it, more distressing still that so many religious mythofolkers do.

Here is how the Angelic Docta' expresses it: "So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science [theology, the divine science] has the property that the things signified by words have themselves also a signification."

Did you catch his meaning, the jive he was signifyin'? Instead of a one way signifier --> signified, or word --> object relationship, it is a two-way signifier <--> signifier relationship -- very much similar to Matte Blanco's description of the symmetrical logic that prevails in the unconscious -- and we say supraconscious -- mind (i.e., the upper and lower vertical).

Thomas says that it is our "spiritual sense" (¶) that allows us to penetrate and unpack the deeper layers of scripture, which he (and others before him) calls the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical. In no way does this devalue the first sense (the literal) since the latter prevents the other senses "from becoming uncontrolled and irresponsible" (Kreeft) -- or prevents the disciplined man from just deepakin' the chopra in some floridly unhinged but lucrative manner.

In other words, thanks to the literal, revelation can't mean just anything. Rather, it places "a sober and strong control on this imaginative aspect of interpretation, like putting a strong rider on a strong horse" (Kreeft).

The literal is analogous to a strong foundation, but we do not limit ourselves to the foundation, do we? Rather, the purpose of the foundation is to build, is it not?

So we want the pillars of this foundation to be plunged far into the depths of the Real, so that we can build something truly grand -- a mansion fit for the human soul, intellect, and spirit. No disrespect, but we have no use for the one-storey ranch-style house of the flatlanders, but nor do we want some elaborate castle built on a swamp of newage sewage. We want some real estate, baby.

At the very minimum, this is a four-storey cosmos consisting of matter, life, mind and spirit. Just as no discerning person would rely on materialism to explain and govern his life, we shouldn't rely on it to exhaustively disclose the meaning of scripture.

Another way of looking at it and listening to it is to say that revelation consists of words about the Word. Scripture is not the word of God, but word about God.

But again, God can in no way be signified -- which is to say, contained -- by language. Rather, he bursts out of any attempt to capture him in our little nets, whether it is language, history, or even the human form (cf. how the body could in no way contain Jesus, whether one is speaking of the Transfiguration or Resurrection). This explains how God can "become man" without in any way being limited by it, for he is always both immanent and transcendent.

In an analogy I have used before, think of a three-dimensional object -- say, your hand -- passing through a two-dimensional space. Place your fingers on a sheet of paper. The inhabitants of flatland will know nothing of the hand. Rather, they will see only five distinct and unconnected points. But then the points will change into circles, and then disappear altogether as they join at the hand and wrist.

Now just imagine a hyperdimensional subject-object passing through four-dimensional spacetime, and you get the picture which can't be drawn. We only see what is on our neurological screen -- Christ "passing" through a particular body at a particular point in history. We cannot see everything that is going on behind the veil of manifestation, i.e., the whole hand. The hand -- which we might call the Cosmic Christ -- is vastly larger then the individual finger -- or the "historical Jesus."

Now, what does this have to do with Abhishiktananda? I would say that his whole life consisted of a sustained effort to know the Hand of God. But not just know. Rather, to be. In order to do this, he himself had to stop identifying with his little finger, and to instead colonize and inhabit a much wider consciousness.

And please do note that even the average man, the vulgar tenured man, spills out everywhere from his human form. Imagine if we actually were limited to sensual knowledge, like an animal! The most important thing to remember about man is that our mind conforms to reality in all its modes and degrees, not just to the material world. But extremists meet, so that the scientific and religious literalist have more in common with each other than they do with a Raccoon.

In Coonspeak, we say that (•) is an adequation to "the world," while (¶) is an adequation to reality. This is hardly to say that (•) is unnecessary, for it is every bit as necessary as the literal aspect of scripture. It is that firm foundation, or better yet, the horse upon which we ride up, in, and out -- to infinity, and beyond!

Yeeeee haw!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Theology and Autotheography

Mystics such as Abhishiktananda (SA) have always had an uneasy relationship to doctrine, especially in Western Christianity. In the West, it seems that doctrine is emphasized over experience, whereas in the East, the relationship is reversed (not to say that Orthodoxy minimizes the importance of dogma).

For example, a number of truly great theologians who are central to Orthodoxy have had almost no impact on Catholicism, at least until the latter half of the previous century, for example, Denys, Maximus the Confessor, Gregory Palamas, and Symeon the New Theologian.

In fact, speaking of theologians, East and West have a very different conceptions of who qualifies as one. In the East, they never really bothered to develop an intricate system of rational theology, and I believe I am correct in saying that Thomas Aquinas has had no influence at all.

Interestingly, they would probably say that he only became a full-fledged "theologian" when he put down his quill for the last time in late 1273. After all those years of contemplating God, he had finally "snapped," going on a permanent summa vacation and telling his faithful scribe Reginald that "I can write no more."

"Er, why's that, master? You've been working on this Summa thing for what, seven years? We're up to 3,000 pages, and you're gonna quit on me now? Are you telling me I developed this nasty carpal tunnel syndrome for nothing?!"

"Well... I suppose in a way... you see, all I have hitherto written seems to me nothing but straw."

"Nothing. But. Straw? Is that what you're telling me?! Because...."

"I mean compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me."

"Ohhh, that's just great. Pope's gonna love this. Helloooo, paging Dr. Chopra."

Fortunately for us, we don't have to choose. We have a left brain and a right brain, and both are equally "spiritual" after their own fashion. And they are even more spiritual when they work gland in gland to excrete the "transcendent third" of which we have spoken in the past.

So Thomas Aquinas is the most important theologian in the West, while in the East it would be -- I don't know, perhaps one of the folks referenced above. For example, Symeon (949-1022) affirmed "the primacy of the spiritual experience," specifically, "communion with the Incommunicable One and knowledge of the Unknowable One, made possible by the Incarnation of the Word who draws the creature out of sin and grants him a divine life."

In fact -- not unlike Abhishiktananda himself -- "The whole life of Symeon illustrates the conflict between Prophet and Priest, between Experience and the Institution, known by many other saints...." Nevertheless, he "had an undeniable grasp of theology and profound knowledge of the Bible," and Gregory Palamas would later come along and clarify his teachings "on a doctrinal level."

Just had a jarring interruption, getting Future Leader ready for picture day at school. Love the uniforms. I wish I could wear one to work. One less thing to think about. But now I've lost the thread. Back to SA, I suppose...

Oldmeadow (HO) quotes SA, who wrote in his book on prayer that no religious thinker "wants to develop and feed his mind simply for the mind's sake alone." Rather, "there is no knowledge that should not pass into love."

To put it another way, the mind must always be fixed on its proper object, whatever it is thinking. God is the context of all (true) thought, which properly bears on eternity. Clearly there is something higher than the mind, and that is the object of its preoccupation, its devotion, and yes, its love, for one must love truth before it will come around and begin sniffing at your door.

In any event, SA's own writings are a bit of a jumble, because he was not a theologian in the Western sense. Rather, he felt that his primary vocation as a monk was to be, only secondarily to know. I think he would agree that what we in the West think of as theology is more a means than an end, somewhat like the function of the guru, about which he wrote (and bear in mind again that his sadguru was always Christ),

"What does it matter what words the guru uses? Their whole power lies in the hearer's inner response.... When all is said and done, the true guru is he who, without the help of words, can enable the attentive soul to hear the 'Thou art that" (in HO), or the old I AM.

A Raccoon simply calls this well known phenomenon (≈), but in my experience one should not minimize the capacity of words to be potent carriers of (≈). This is "the divine Shakti which somewhat resembles the shekinah of Jewish tradition" (ibid), to say nothing of the divine energies of Symeon and Gregory Palamas.

Gotta run. I'll just end with another passage cited by HO. SA is writing about himself in the third person:

"The guru's words rang bells within him in a way no one else's had ever done. It was as if, deep in his own heart, profound secret mysteries were coming to light, which till then had been buried in unfathomable depths. What the guru said vibrated through his whole being and the harmonies thus evoked were incomparable."

Here again, the Raccoon just calls this "pickin' up God vibrations."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cosmic Theophany and Natural Religion

Theophany. I didn't make that one up. It's a real word, and an important and underutilized one, too. It refers to a visible manifestation of the divine. But looked at in a certain way, everything is a manifestation of the divine, however distant, so is this a tautology?

No, because it has more to do with the development of our vision -- our cʘʘnvision. What you see is what you beget, and some of us just live in a more fertile cosmos. It's similar to what Magnus said in a comment yesterday about how love ultimately trickles down from the one source, winding its way through all the cosmic arteries and capillaries by which we are spiritually nourished, and thus maintain contact with the Real.

In an entry from his diary, Abhishiktananda (SA) implies that this state of being is the very goal of the universe, which is to say, "the consciousness of being, the final unveiling of the intuition that constitutes the human being." Of the Cosmic Covanant, he says that it "does not emerge only at one particular stage of man's civilization or cultural development. Rather, it is written into the very nature of things and is embedded in the consciousness of mankind."

Note that specific religiosity would be strictly impossible in the absence of this more general religiosity, or without our intrinsic theomorphism -- just as we must have the general capacity for language in order to learn any particular one. We may only know of God because we first sense God.

Thus, there is is a kind of "natural religion" accessible to most anyone, those few cynical doubtliars notwithstanding. And even then, they're usually just hawking their own private religion in another deusguise. In other words, physics too is a theophany par excellence.

SA agrees that "every man discovers something of it, even if confusedly, the moment he awakes to and becomes present to himself, to the world, and so to God."

But just as in any other human activity, from physics to basketball, some men are "endowed with a greater capacity for spiritual things," and, with the assistance of divine grace, may "penetrate more deeply into the mystery and unveil its secret to their brothers" (ibid).

But none of these wise guys "has ever received or taught anything substantially new. All was given from the beginning." Rather, "the task is only to recognize that which is and to decipher more and more of its mystery." (Again, we are speaking of the Cosmic Covenant, not of any particular contract with the divinity.) Another name for this ground floor of religion is the sanatana dharma, or eternal law.

Oldmeadow (heretofore HO) has a chapter entitled The Cosmic Theophany. Let's see what he has to say about it.

He -- HO -- ha! -- defines the cosmic theophany as "the revelation of the Divine in that tissue of time-space relativities which make up the whole cosmos." He cites Coleridge, who wrote of "the transcendence of the Eternal through and in the temporal," and Eliade, who observed that "nature always expresses something that transcends it."

How very true! It is simply an unavoidable fact that nature herself is supernatural, or she could never be, let alone be intelligible.

How is this not obvious? "Intelligibility" is not some concrete fact, but a necessary condition for knowing anything of our cosmos. And to say "intelligible" is to immediately say "knower," so this transcendent dialectic is woven into the very fabric of reality. You are free to disagree, but anything you say (assuming it makes sense) simply confirms it.

You could say that intelligibilty is the residue of God's immanence, while understanding is grounded in God's transcendence. Thus, "to imagine one without the other would be akin to envisaging a circle with no center" (HO). To paraphrase a rabbinical formula cited in the book, God is not in the universe so much as the universe is in God.

Note also that we could not be here without a physical form. But more importantly, matter could not be here without the divine substance that infuses it: "the world of phenomena is held together by a numinous spiritual presence," without which "the world of 'matter' would vanish instantly and utterly" (ibid). It is impossible to imagine or conceive of an unknowable world -- and again, knowability is transcendent in its immanence.

For HO, one of the purposes of myth and ritual is not just to remind us of this ontological fact, but to allow us to participate in it. But the same reality can be revealed in those random moments we call (?!), "where the membrane, as it were, between the worlds of matter and of spirit is especially permeable" (ibid). It matters not whether we break on through to spirit (↑) or spirit breaks on through to us (↓), for the result is the same, whether it is the guffah ha! experience, the holy smoke!, or the sacred WTF!

Hereagain this speaks to man's function as cosmic mediator in the herebelow. Please note that, since we are in the image of the Creator, it can truly be said that we too contain the cosmos, for to know something is to contain it. Being that there is no such thing as an unknowable cosmos, and there is nothing knowable that man may not potentially know, it is literally true that man contains the cosmos, just as God contains man (i.e., he knows us all right down to the last harebrain).

This is good: HO cites St. Paul, who says in Romans that "the invisible things of him" may be "clearly seen" and "understood by the things that are made." Thus, "Nature is a teaching, a primordial Scripture" (HO). Elsewhere, I remember Schuon saying that the exterior world was one kind of revelation, while the human subject was another. Really, they are two inseparable sides of the same revelation -- like God himself, in whom there may be distinction but no division.

So, where does this cosmic tree leaf us? We've grown as high as our naturally supernatural reason may take us, but we're still in the terrestrial arbor, well short of the celestial sonflower planted in the father shore.

What? How's that?

Yes, Abhishiktananda would like to remind us that Christ in his function as cosmic mediator is a "Column of Light and Fire" that has "one pole penetrating the heavens and the other plunged into the earth..."

And I would add that he contains us that we may contain him.


Children are one of the more obvious theophanies, are they not?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Your Cosmic Rights and Responsibilities

"God alone is noun," says Bishop Ware. "All created things are adjectives." From this we infer that God is Is, whereas you and I are types or modes of Is.

But as we know from God's own testimony, his isness is not some sort of indefinable blobby business. Rather, it is I AM, which implies that we are the infinitely diverse manifestations of I AM. This makes sense, since we can't all be I. It reminds me of the two psychotic patients who both believe they're Jesus Christ. How can two beings occupy the same space? Or, how can one being occupy two people?

How can He not?

In an analogy Alan Watts used, we are like pinpricks in a lampshade, in which there is only one source of light -- the central bulb -- but from the outside will look like many individual sources. In short, there is one Light "behind" or "beneath" or "above" -- however you wish to characterize transcendence -- all light. I AM is the Word from our eternal sponsor.

Now, as far as I can see, you can't just say I AM and leave it at that. Rather, I AM immediately implies YOU ARE too. Does this mean I AM two? Yes and no. As we have heard from the wise, God is Love. Thus, I AM and YOU ARE are really the minimal conditions for the instantiation of LOVE. So the Light would appear to be Love, and vice versa.

Bishop Ware beats another conundrum, noting that "We have always existed for [God]; creation signifies that at a certain point in time we begin to exist also for ourselves."

Here again, it seems that Love is the motive force that sponsors the transition from AM to I AM. Thus, "Creation is not an event in the past, but a relationship in the present" (emphasis mine). Creatvity, love, intimacy, uniqueness, relationship, identity -- all are thoroughly entangled in the one metacosmic law or principle, i.e., I AM. One might very well say that they are horizontal prolongations of it. Indeed, "Man is a finite expression of God's infinite self-expression" (Ware).

But since we exist for ourselves as well as for God, it is possible -- to say the least -- to focus on the former to the exclusion of the latter. Indeed, to a certain extent, our notorious fall from the latter ladder is really just this: separation and alienation from our metacosmic source.

For this vertical ladder "leads to the kingdom," but is also that circular snarecase "that goes down to a dank and snake-infested cellar." Sin may be wrongdoing, but more to the point, it is wrongbeing, or being on the wrong rung.

I had -- or have -- no conscious intention of venturing down this particular path, but here we are -- or here I am -- so might as well push ahead. It must have something to do with Abhishiktananda, although I don't yet know what it might be.

Anyway, Bishop Ware expresses the coonologically correct doctrine that "Man stands at the heart of God's creation." And, "Participting as he does in both the noetic [i.e., vertical] and material realms, he is an image or mirror of the whole creation, imago mundi, a 'little universe' or microcosm. All created things have their meeting place in him." We are the living combo plate of the whole existentialada, not just the dead worm resting at the bottom of the cosmic tequila bottle.

In order to try to explain away the big bang (since it necessitates a creative intelligence), some physicists are positing the fantasy of multiple universes -- as if they wouldn't just be the manifestation of an even higher law, or metauniverse. But in truth, as mentioned above, there are already multiple universes. They are called human persons, and each one is unique, at least in potential.

But as with the multiple universe theory just mentioned, these microcosms do not and cannot stand alone. Rather, as Ware says, man is not just microcosm but mediator.

Thus, it is our God-given vocation "to reconcile and harmonize the noetic and the material realms, to bring them to unity, to spiritualize the material, and to render manifest all the latent capacities in the created order."

Ware emphasizes that the key is "to manifest the spiritual in and through the material," to such an extent that one could say that "Christians are in this sense the only true materialists" (although to be fair, there are others; for the most part, only materialists aren't materialists, since they reify and inhabit their abstract fantasies and I-AMputate matter from its source).

So we are microcosm, which is obvious enough. What about mediator? Ware summarizes it this way: as microcosm "man is the one in whom the world is summed up." But as mediator, "he is the one through whom the world is offered back to God."

This is what in coonspeak is known as the punway round trip, the absurcular argument, the endless circumnavelgazing, the deustination of our salvolution. It simultaneously starts where science ends and ends where science begins, i.e., the alphomega or bigending -- or, in the words of the poet, Before the beginning and after the end.

And what might that be? Peaking Allegheirically, it is the Love that removes the sin and other scars.

... two lovely is better than to leaf alone...