Monday, October 11, 2010

Drunk on Truth and Lit Up From Within

I try to read a little Schuon every day. Why? Because there is simply no other author who in-spires and speaks to me the way he does: straight through the peripheral bobscurities and directly to the center. My center, anyway. Obviously I don't agree with everything he says. But that's no different than not liking every performance of a musical artist I otherwise love.

He speaks with such clarity and force about matters that are unclear to -- or at least expressed unclearly by -- others. For example, he states that any cosmos -- which is to say, any ordered totality -- "reflects the homogeneity of the principial order," but that the manifest universe "is woven of necessity and liberty, of mathematical rigor and musical play, of geometry and poetry."

Come to think of it, most theologians tend to give you one or the other, but any discussion -- or "performance" -- of (or in) O clearly requires both: words and music, melody and harmony, spirit and letter, rhythm and surprise.

Revelation is both "systemic" and beyond any system. Somehow one needs to balance both. He writes that a particular religious doctrine is like "a crystal that captures the divine Light, refracting it in accordance with a language that is at once particular and universal."

How precise! The Light is one thing, the form another. The Light descends and vivifies the doctrinal form from within, a within that can only be seen with the eyes of faith. Faith is like the light that causes a reflector on the back of a bicycle to become luminous in the dark.

As we have said before, religious literalists at both extremes -- atheists on one side, "fundamentalists" on the other -- cannot see this. But "in reality, a theoretical expression can only be an 'allusive indication,' the implications of which are endless" (Schuon).

It's quite the opposite of the linearity of science -- which is not to criticize science, which has every right and duty to be so. But it has overstepped its rightful bounds when it suggests that religion should reduce itself to the cognitive modalities of science.

And this is hardly to say that science is objective and true theology isn't. Rather, as Schuon says, objectivity is not only the true essence of intelligence, but its moral imperative: to see and describe something "as it is" is to be objective, whatever the domain.

Conversely, to see something "as it isn't," is a kind of lying, or bearing of false witness. But how easy to see a rock or tree as opposed to seeing God!

Note also that God is by definition "in the rock," even though we can still speak of rocks as if they have some sort of independent existence. But if we forget this -- if we separate intelligence from its ground and source -- it devolves to mere cleverness, which is in turn conformed to pride, power, or some other passion.

In short, intelligence detached from its principle and sufficient reason is no longer objective at all. Which is why scientism, atheism, and materialism are all pure subjectivity. Only the mystic or sage is truly objective, since only God is necessary. All else is contingent in his Light.

Another subtle point: as we have discussed in the past, language cannot possibly be what bonehead Darwinians and other materialists imagine it to be. Not only does it usher us into a world that is above and beyond the call of matter, but it is an emanation from that world. Truly, the medium is the message and the message is Truth!

According to Schuon, the prototype of language as such is "universal Existence," so that we are ontologically "enclosed," so to speak, in both.

Wish all you like, but you cannot wish yourself out of Being, short of suicide. Nor can you wish yourself out of language and remain human, short of cluelesside.

Thus, to undermine the foundations of language -- as do deconstructionists and other postmodernists -- is to attack the basis and possibility of human being itself. In other words, to injure language is to damage being (not Being, of course, which is impervious to the petty insults of the tenured).

Think about that: we are enclosed in truth by virtue of being enclosed in language, which is enclosed in Being. This is precisely in conformity with the existence of a logoistic principle that is prior to manifestaion and "with God" from before the beginning. Every thing is made of it, and not a thing can be made -- or thought -- without it. Man is condemned both to be and to know, but these are just two sides of the same coin: He exists -- or I AM -- therefore we think.

Everything short of God is woven of essence and contingency. Only God is pure essence with no accident. Thus, although we have an essence, or essential being, it is necessarily veiled and obscured by layers of contingency, and not just mind parasites.

Rather, there is the time into which we are born (since we are not eternal), there is culture, there is our particular language, there is our family of origin, and there are genetic quirks. Man is a "fragmentary totality" (•••) on the way to totality. To paraphrase someone, our task and duty is to heal the inevitable wounds made by history.

Thus, it is our earthly duty to realize our essence, which is to simultaneously realize our origin, our destiny, and our vocation. It is to realize the soul, which is to realize God, the one being literally un-thinkable without the other. To know the soul is to know that God exists, and vice versa.

It is not just love, truth, and beauty that connect us to our source, but pleasure too. I don't think it is accurate to say that animals experience pleasure in the way human beings do. There is analogy, of course, but not identity. For example, no animal knows the pure joy of learning, or the tingle of aesthetic arrest, or the unalloyed bliss of coming into contact with truth.

For Schuon, any normal pleasure "is a kind of reverberation and therefore anticipation -- quite imperfect, no doubt -- of a celestial joy..." This is the ananda of pure being. In Vedanta, the oneness of God, or ultimate reality, breaks into the trinity of sat-chit-ananda, or being-consciousness-bliss. Or, one could say existence-truth-joy. Or Father-Son-and the Love that flows between. It's all Good.

Gotta run.

Friday, October 08, 2010

What is Life? Life is What?!

Just as today's armies are equipped only to win yesterday's wars, we cannot expect contemporary physics to successfully cope with problems other than those with which it has already coped. --Robert Rosen, Life Itself

As we were discussing yesterday, it is very unlikely -- impossible, really -- that the cosmos could be a machine. Rather, it is much more like an organism -- or even a mind -- than it is a machine. And once we understand this, it makes the so-called "emergence" of life and mind much less problematic, based upon the Principle of principles, as above, so below.

Conversely, if we begin with the scientistic quaxiom "as below, so above," we really can't ever leave the bottom floor, or barking structure, of the cosmic telovator. It is a world intrinsically devoid of values, progress, hierarchy, or even evolution (as opposed to mere change).

Based upon a proper meta-understanding of reason, it is the work of a moment to arrive at the logical necessity of God. To put it another way, I have never heard any version of atheism that isn't shot through with unjustified premises, illogical conclusions, and metaphysical nul-de-slacks.

However, to merely posit the existence of a creator tells us nothing about what this creator is like, for example, whether he is even good or worthy of worship. Indeed, how did this idea of "worship" slip in, anyway? Suppose physicists eventually discover a mathematical "theory of everything." It is highly unlikely that they will spontaneously bow down and worship it, even if it is their ultimate icon of scientistic gnosis. So why should we worship our Ultimate Principle? We'll get to that later.

If the Creator exists, it necessarily follows that he is "like us," without being limited to being like us. This is true of any level in the cosmic hierarchy. For example, life is "like matter," without being limited to it. Likewise, human beings are "like primates" without being limited to that. Or, to put it another way, if we turn the cosmos right side up, and begin at the top, we can see that each level of reality is a diminution, until we reach the realm of dense matter.

And in fact, all esoteric cosmologies continue down beyond matter, which makes perfect sense, since the "ray of creation" proceeds from the cosmic center (or top, if you like), and continues on "forever," so to speak, to the threshold of nihilism, or blind nothingness. In this regard, we can see that matter is actually superior and has more nobility than, say, the nihilists of dailykos, even though we must never treat them as such, out of respect for their still human potential.

I realize that some readers think Schuon is difficult or obscure, but really, the following cannot be said with any more adamantine precision. The difficulty probably results from trying to read what he is saying while sitting upside down. Basically you're out of your tree. Once you properly orient yourself to reality, feet firmly in the air -- roots aloft, branches down below -- it makes perfect sense:

"The diverse manifestations of the Good in the world clearly have their source in a principial and archetypal diversity, whose root is situated in the Supreme Principle itself, and which pertains not only to the Divine Qualities, from which our virtues are derived, but also -- in another respect -- to aspects of the Divine Personality, from which our faculties are derived" (emphasis mine).

Recall Jesus' ironic and extraordinarily soph-aware remark, "Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God." What this means is that if we begin "at the top" -- which is to say, with the Absolute -- then we must conclude that only it is absolutely good: "He alone possesses, for example, the quality of beauty; compared to the divine Beauty, the beauty of a creature is nothing, just as existence itself is nothing next to the Divine Being" (Schuon).

But God, being absolute, is necessarily infinite. As such, his absolute transcendence is matched by his infinite immanence which extends everywhere and into every thing -- and which ultimately is another form of transcendence! It is why, for example, God is intuited in the very large -- e.g., Mount Everest or the Grand Canyon -- and the very small -- e.g., an infantile or even infinitesimal quantum of life or energy.

Because of the immanence of the Absolute, it can be said that "the beauty of a creature -- being beauty and not its contrary -- is necessarily that of God, since there is no other; and the same is true for all the other qualities, without forgetting, at their basis, the miracle of existence" (ibid).

Yesterday we were discussing how these principles may be applied to life, not just biological life, but to Life as such, of which biological organisms are a trans-lucent revelation and reflection. For clearly, as I mentioned in the Coonifesto, God is obviously alive; but just as obviously, not a biological organism. In fact, if animals could speak to biologists, they might say something like, "Why do you call me alive? There is none alive but one, that is, God." Then again, animals say this all the time. But in order to gnosis it, you must be an animal lover, for love is the "link" or "channel" for such pneumatic information. That or beauty.

Rosen -- who was a "hard" scientist, and, to my knowledge, not a religious man -- wanted to know "what it is about organisms that confers upon them their magical characteristics, what it is that sets life apart from all other material phenomena in the universe. That is indeed the question of questions: What is life? What is it that enables living things, apparently so moist, fragile, and evanescent, to persist while towering mountains dissolve into dust, and the very continents and oceans dance into oblivion and back?"

Of course, he looked for (and found) a scientific answer, but it is an answer that ultimately "must be," for the very same reason that the Creator must be. Rosen foreshadows this Reason in the Prolegomena of the book, where he observes that, "Ironically, the idea that life requires an explanation is a relatively new one. To the ancients, life simply was; it was a given; a first principle, in terms of which other things were explained."

But life "vanished as an explanatory principle with the rise of mechanics," even though machines -- which are created for a purpose -- are much more "like life" than life is "like a machine." It is as if scientists abstracted some quality from life, and then re-projected the abstraction onto the concrete reality, thus conflating the two. Frankly, scientists do this all the time, which is why one must make a conscious effort to escape the influence of the cramped and banal models of reality proffered to us by scientism.

One thing atheists and other materialists habitually do is to naively take their abstractions for real reality. However, the cosmos is not a machine, the genome is not a map, the brain is not a computer, mountains are not triangles, and love is not a baseball game. But I am a Raccoon, a foolblooded schlepson of Toots Mondello, a mystery for you to ponder until I continue this thread later.

Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me. --John 15:4

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Problem with Solutions and the unKnown God of the Godless

Atheism is not a philosophy. It is not even a view of the world. It is simply an admission of the obvious…. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs. --Sam Harris

Science is and must be exciting, since it relies on largely unspecifiable clues which can be sensed, mobilized and integrated only by a passionate response to their hidden meaning.... This is the unaccountable element which enters into science at its source and vitally participates throughout, even in its final result. In science this element has been called intuition. --Michael Polanyi

Continuing our little raiding party on the wild godhead, Schuon writes that on the natural plane -- i.e., the horizontal world of empirical reality -- it is sufficient "to have at one's disposal the necessary data and then to reason correctly."

As it so happens, the same rules apply to the suprasensible world, with one important difference, "that the object of thought then requires the intervention of intellection, which is an inner illumination" (emphasis mine). However, the difference is not really as stark as one might suppose, for as Schuon adds, "if natural things may require a certain intuition independent of reasoning as such, then supernatural things will a fortiori require intuition of a superior order, since they do not fall within the reach of the senses."

Polanyi most adequately expresses this idea of "lower intuition," so to speak, being critical to the evolution of scientific understanding, and therefore progress into the great unKnown. It's not so much that the "intuition" is lower, only that science applies -- and then arbitrarily limits -- it to a lower order of reality, i.e., the natural/horizontal world. But to point out that the material world cannot be understood in the absence of intuition is to affirm the obvious principle that the world is not material (or that matter is not ultimate).

Theists often argue that most of the world's greatest scientists have been religious, and most serious philosophers of science now understand that science as we know it could only have arisen in Christendom (Whitehead was one of the first to notice, in his Science and the Modern World).

In any event, science cannot operate without certain functions that most people would regard as spiritual or quasi-religious, certainly not "mechanical" or empirical. Even to digest the most alimentary fact, "reason requires data in order to function, otherwise it operates in the void." Therefore, something transcending reason must supply the material on which it operates, or else you are truly trapped in a closed universe from which there is no escape, not even into knowledge -- including the knowledge that you are trapped.

In a way, this mirrors the philosophical problem of the ontological status of mathematics. That is, the most perfect mathematical account of the cosmos will never account for three things, 1) the mysterious existence of invariant mathematical operations that map the inner workings of the cosmos, 2) the "substance" to which the mathematical equations apply (in other words, no abstract mathematical equation can create the concrete reality on which it operates, only provide a description of it), and 3) the existence of mathematical subjects and the mysterious reciprocity between (and inner unity of) the objective world, the mathematical world, and the subjective world.

In reality -- which is where we want to be (and can only be, since it is Being) -- the data required by reason can only come from four sources, 1) the world, which is objective, 2) experience, which is obviously subjective, 3) revelation, which is, as Schuon explains, objective, since it enters from outside the world-system, and 4) intellection, "which is subjective since it is produced within ourselves" (Schuon).

Four sources of knowledge: exterior world, interior experience, exterior revelation, and interior intellection.

But it is the work of a moment to see that each of these implies and even "contains" its complementary opposite.

For example, the fact that we may comprehend the "inner workings" of the exterior world indeed suggests that it has an interior, as Whitehead immediately grasped almost a century ago, based upon the (then) new findings of quantum physics.

Likewise, the fact that we may objectively understand reality must mean that there is something of the unwavering object inside the human subject. Of the animals, only man is capable of objectivity, detachment, and disinterested consideration.

And revelation, save for the most fundamaliteralist (who may be a theist or atheist, it doesn't matter) is like a veritable interior cathedral that ultimately discloses the mind of the Creator (not completely, of course, any more than any text could exhaust the mind of its author).

Reason and Experience: both are far more mysterious than the weak and secularized mind can appreciate (and it is because of its all-too-human weakness that it is so easily secularized).

In an essay entitled The Unaccountable Element in Science, Polanyi explains how it is not possible in the practice of science to replace unspecifiable acts of personal judgment -- AKA, intuition -- with the operation of explicit reasoning, as if our minds operate like machines. This applies not only to scientific discovery, but to "the very holding of scientific knowledge."

Based upon his own extensive experience as a working scientist, he knew that "into all acts of judgment there enters, and must enter, a personal decision which cannot be accounted for by any rules." In other words, "no system of rules can prescribe the procedure by which the rules themselves are to be applied." This is particularly obvious in my own racket of psychology. You cannot unambiguously convey to another person the "rules" for apprehending the unconscious mind. Rather, this ability can only be gained through experience, even though it is still "rule bound."

To bring it down to a more mundane (or sophisticated, depending on your point of view) level, when Sidney Crosby and I watch a hockey game (today happens to be opening day), we "see" entirely different realities. What may look like mere noise to me, will constitute a field of extremely significant facts to him. And what looks important to me, may be just noise to him -- a sort of diversion that obscures the real action.

So right away, we can see that one of the indispensable skills of the scientist -- or, shall we say, the expert in any field, from theology to hockey -- is to distinguish between noise and information. The expert is able to convert what is foreground to the untrained eye into background, so as to attend to hidden clues that only the expert can intuit -- which is to say, appreciate as clues. In psychoanalysis it is referred to as "listening with the third ear," while in trolling it is called "listening with the middle finger." But every discipline or field of study must have something similar, whether it is quantum physics, wine tasting, or biblical exegesis:

"This gift of seeing things where others see nothing is indeed the mark of the scientific genius." Atheistic flatlanders such as Sam Harris see simplistic answers to the world enigma everywhere. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why the liberal mind sees a simple solution for every complex problem and a complex solution for every simple problem. In short, they lack depth and therefore wisdom. And when they do try to be wise, they replace intuitive wisdom with a kind of inappropriately mechanical thinking that is simultaneously linear and convoluted (as in the healthcare monstrosity).

In contrast, what the subgenius or even mere genius sees is a problem where others don't: "All research starts by a process of collecting clues that intrigue the enquiring mind.... The knowledge of a true problem is indeed a paradigm of all knowing. For knowing is always a tension alerted by largely unspecifiable clues and directed by them towards a focus at which we sense the presence of a thing -- a thing that, like a problem, embodies the clues on which we rely for attending to it" (Polanyi).

So don't give me this "God is just an intuition" business. For reality itself is nothing but an intuition. And atheism is indeed "nothing more than the [silly] noises [merely] reasonable people make in the presence of [their own] unjustified [ir]religious beliefs."

Or, to put it another way, God is not the solution. He is the problem. But only if you can give up your childishly simplistic solutions and are sophisticated enough to intuit the clues within the noise of the world. In short, to see God, you must quiet the noise -- especially in your fat head -- and get a clue. Otherwise you'll be stuck down in the paradorksical realm where truth lies -- or where "the answer is the disease that kills curiosity."

Why, on what lines will you look, Socrates, for a thing of whose nature you know nothing at all? Pray, what sort of thing, amongst those you know not, will you treat us to as the object of your search? Or even supposing, at the best, that you hit upon it, how will you know it is the thing you did not know? --Plato, Meno

Now -- if you haven't got an answer
Then you haven't got a question
And if you never had a question
Then you'd never have a problem
But if you never had a problem
Well, everyone would be happy
But if everyone was happy
There'd never be a love song
--Harry Nilsson, Joy

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Okay, So Reality Exists: Now What?

Another item from several years back. In addition to being tweaked and recalibrated, it was the best one of about thirty I scanned & canned, the only one worthy of the eternal distinction of being tossed up and rewordgitated...

Let's suppose reality exists. If it does exist, then it is not sufficient to merely think or talk about it. Rather, we will want to be in conformity with it, no?

To put it another way, to not be in conformity with reality will result in death, injury, disease or dysfunction in one form or another.

For example, if you are not in conformity with the reality that walking into a speeding bus can be harmful to your health, you won't live very long. Likewise, if you aspire to be a world-class mathematician, you won't get very far if you refuse to conform to the dictates of basic math. Your career will die, as it were.

And if you wish -- or even don't wish -- to know God in the absence of conformity to the divine reality, you will undergo spiritual death. But only again and again.

So there obviously exist different environments -- a vertical spectrum as it were -- to which man must adapt. Unlike other animals, it will not do for man to only adapt to the physical world, for if he were to succeed, he would be an animal, not a man.

Now obviously, it is possible -- common, actually -- to have thoughts that do not conform to reality, and not just if you're frankly crazy. Leftists are proof of this. Nor does intelligence help. Our universities are proof of that. And good intentions are of no help at all. The Democrat party proves this year in, year out.

As we have discussed before, in order to have a cosmos at all, there must be a synapse between subject and object (we call this synapse "spacetime"). But no sooner do you have this differentiation, than you have a distinction between reality and appearances. The human vocation is to bridge this gap and to act upon it. The former is wisdom, the latter morality. Beauty is the creation of objects through which this reality is transmitted and reflected, i.e., the higher shining through the lower.

In the words of Schuon, "He who conceives the Absolute... cannot stop short de jure at this knowledge, or at this belief, realized in thought alone; he must on the contrary integrate all that he is into his adherence to the Real, as demanded precisely by Its absoluteness and infinitude."

Therefore -- and here's the point -- "Man must 'become that which he is' because he must 'become That which is.'" Which is why the new and improved "first commandment" is to love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

In other words, it takes all four -- heart, soul, mind and body -- to achieve this vertical conformity. Leave out one, and you leave a "hole" in the Divine reality, the fullness of which is deveiled only in our adequate mirroring of it.

In man, the big three transcendentals -- the Good, the True and the Beautiful -- are reflected in the form of Will, Thought, and Love, respectively. In other words, we must will the Good, know the True, and love the Beautiful. For who would want to will the bad, know lies, and love ugliness?

Okay, besides the left.

Just as wisdom is beauty of mind, virtue is beauty of will. And beauty itself reveals the intelligence -- not to say, love and will -- of creation, and therefore the Creator.

The point is that our Thought, Will, and Love are not merely isolated functions that arose through some sort of Darwinian magic. Rather, they specifically function in a vertical-teleological manner toward their appropriate ends. It is impossible to coherently argue otherwise. People will the bad all the time, but it's only because they confuse bad and good, as does, say, the U.N.

Likewise, people regularly teach and learn falsehood, but only because they either conflate it with truth, or deny the existence of Truth. If the latter, then "thought" will simply meander in a meaningless way over the blandscape of the mind, going from nowhere to nothing and then back again. It takes approximately four years to complete this round trip at a major university.

To quote Schuon, "Without beauty of soul, all willing is sterile, it is petty and closes itself to grace; and in an analogous manner: without effort of will, all spiritual thought ultimately remains superficial and ineffectual and leads to pretension."

Let's think about that one for a moment. Are there beautiful souls?

Who would have to even pause to answer something so obvious? What I don't understand is how the bonehead atheist can get through life and not be in conformity with this simple reality, i.e., the existence of beautiful souls, along with the naturally supernatural desire for one's own soul to attain to such beauty. But if beauty is just an illusion and the soul doesn't exist, I guess that's their only real option.

Again, such madness is analogous to wishing to develop one's mind even while denying the sufficient reason for its development, which is Truth. And who doesn't love Truth?

Okay, besides the tenured.

It's quite simple, really, because the Real is simple: There is something that man must know and think; and something that he must will and do; and something that he must love and be (Schuon).

Notice the invariant in these three statements about human reality: must.

Therefore, Man is the unnecessary being who must Must, in conformity with the Being who Must Be, since we didn't have to be.

In other words, human beings are contingent -- which is to say, relative -- not necessary, or Absolute.

And yet, religion is here to teach us how to travel the perilous path from contingency to Necessity. The secret lies in the Must, which is that little portion of necessity we share with the Creator. But, in keeping with the gift of free will, it is necessary for us to "activate" the divine Must, for only in conformity to this potential reality are we necessarily free.

Or, the crucifixion of the contingent is resurrected in the Absolute.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Are You Living in a Counterfeit Cosmos?

Where does the idea of a universe, or “cosmos,” come from, anyway? Why do we assume it exists? Animals don’t know anything about a cosmos, for they can't escape or transcend their sense impressions.

Whatever we imagine it to be, for the vast majority of human history, it was imagined very differently. Here I don't want to get into the quaintness of those old images and models. Rather, I want to emphasize two things, one, that human beings cannot help creating a wider cosmic context for themselves, and second, that these will always be human projections. Therefore, the premodern, modern, and postmodern cosmoses have much more in common with each other than they do with, say, the cosmos of a cow, which doesn't extend beyond its pasture and its senses (nor can the cow reflect on its cosmos, so it doesn't even really exist as a thing in itself).

Humans imagine there is a cosmos, but what do we really mean by the word? Is the universe the sum of things, or the whole of things? -- for these are two very different ideas. If it is merely the sum of things, there’s really no way to understand it, because each part is more or less independent of the other parts. But if it is the whole of things, that must mean that there is an underlying wholeness that somehow transcends and yet participates in each of the parts. Thus, to say "cosmos" is to say "unity" -- which is to say "the One," no matter how you say it. And to say that everything is one is to say that everything is internally related in such a manner that everything is within everything else.

Insofar as the universe is a whole, science cannot speak of it consistently. In other words, science, in order to be science, must treat the universe as a collection of objects, and simply assume their underlying unity -- if only to separate the scientific observer from what he observes. Like the mind itself, wholeness cannot be observed, only inferred. This leads me to believe that there is some hidden relationship between the mysteries of consciousness and wholeness. In short, the one cannot exist without the other. And for the Christian this is, of course, axiomatic, since he lives in a logoistic cosmos in which intelligence and intelligibility are just two sides of the same coin of the realm.

Every sense perception is an act of division within prior wholeness. Only the particular is ever observed, and there is no knowledge at the level of the senses. But every mental act is an act of synthesis and integration -- of bringing particulars together into a wholeness that reveals their meaning. Thus “the cosmos” is the ultimate mental act of material synthesis, analogous to the metaphysical synthesis of conceiving of God -- who also represents an absolute integrity and cohesion that we can never perceive in its a priori fulness with our senses or our mind. You might say that God is to the intellect as cosmos is to the senses.

For this reason, we can say that the physical cosmos is a kind of exteriorization of God, while God is the interiorization of the cosmos (while not limiting God to that). Conceiving of either is only possible because human beings are able to intuit both the wholeness and withinness of things. We are able to conceive the Absolute not because it is a fanciful wish, but because it is the inner reality that subtends everything; in other words, the Absolute is the necessary condition for conceiving of it at all. This is not a tautology, nor is it a repetition of Anselm's ontological argument. It is analogous to saying that without light we couldn't see anything, including light.

All bad philosophers -- which is to say, almost all modern philosophers -- take the cosmos utterly for granted, without getting into the prior question of why they believe there is a thing called “cosmos,” that is, the strict totality of interconnected objects and events (much less how we can know that it exists).

The religionist doesn’t have this problem. Judeo-Christian traditions affirm that “in beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In other words, there is a prior supra-unity called “God” underlying the apparent division between the celestial and earthly realms -- the vertical and the horizontal, consciousness and matter, whole and part, knower and known, yin and yang, guys and dolls. Religion teaches: where there is apparent duality there is wholeness and unity, whatever the duality. Even life/death. Woo hoo!

The Mundaka Upanishad says something similar, affirming that “Out of the infinite ocean of existence arose Brahma, the first-born and foremost among the gods. From him sprang the universe, and he became its protector.” In other words, the creator God -- Yahweh, Brahma, the Father -- is himself an aspect of an even deeper unity, called Brahman, the Ground (by Meister Eckhart) or the Ain Sof (in Judaism), for even God (like the youman beastlings who mirror him) must possess a relative outside but an infinite inside. God turns his face to man, which is the part we may know through revelation. But I think everyone would agree that even if we somehow knew everything of what God has revealed to man, it would be just a drop in his Ocean.

In the absence of revelation -- either explicitly given or implicitly intuited -- there is no way to know about either the cosmos or its "parent," or source. Reduced to natural reason, human beings are like spiders spinning concepts out of their own substance and then living in and crawling about on them, catching the occasional meal. In fact, if the secular black window spider is going to be honest, he will have to admit that the noumenon is a black window, and that all he may ever really know is his own web, which was Kant’s point. Kant took profane philosophy as far as it could go, which is why most philosophy since has merely been a footnote on Kant.

For you have a choice that you must make at the outset: either we live our lives in an illusory, phenomenal universe, cut off from the noumenal reality. Or, because we are made in the image of the Creator, we can know the absolute in both its material/natural and immaterial/transnatural modes. The former side of the absolute subtends science, while the latter makes it possible to know transcendentrialities such as love, truth and beauty, being-conscousness-bliss, Father-Son-Holy Spirit, Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, kether-hokmah-binah, or Tinkers to Evers to Chance.

Thus, secular philosophers create a problem where there is none. First, they exile us from the cosmos, and then they complain that we can never get back in! True, we are exiled in maya. But that is only to warn us that our senses do not disclose ultimate reality. Revelation goes to great lengths and heights and depths to explain this, including how to overcome the temptation to absolutize the relative. Scripture fully anticipated Kant and all of his followers in the allegory of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Yes, you have free will, so you are therefore free to nourish yourself from the tree of duality. Just don’t be surprised if you end up with a bad case of spiritual malnourishment.

Of course, this doesn’t stop scientists from talking about the universe and making all sorts of absolute claims about it. In fact, science has hijacked the universe concept, and will permit no one else to make statements about it on pain of ridicule, ostracism, and ACLU lawsuits. As the philosopher of science Stanley Jaki writes, it is as if all of the central banks had been taken over by counterfeiters. So much of scientific epistemology and ontology is based on intellectual funny money that is not fungible into any underlying reality. The Raccoon says: bring back the Gold Standard! -- which is to say, the Absolute.

Like leftists who are only concerned with the distribution of wealth rather than its creation, secularists are only concerned with the propagation of "truth" rather than the specific metaphysical principles that make Truth itself knowable.

For example, science assures us that their model of the cosmos truly accounts for the strict totality of interacting objects and events. But how can the model contain the proof of its own claim, since it is part of that totality, not outside of it? The question is, can we take a scientific dollar bill and cash it in for real Truth? We can, but only if we realize that there is indeed a central bank that ensures the value of each of those scientific bank gnotes. Science divorced from God is a classic bubble that must eventually burst, since it is analogous to economic activity divorced from real value.

Yes, there is a cosmos. For the same reason there is a God: you can't half one without the underOne. As a matter of fact, the same thing holds true of biology. Say what you want about natural selection, but it presupposes something that its theory cannot account for: the wholeness of the genome and the organism, which is a reflection of the primordial wholeness of Being. Natural selection operates on entities that are living benefactories of a prior wholeness, without which Life itself could not be.

Knowledge is simply adequacy of subject to object. We can know the Reality because our intelligence is a sonny mirrorcle of the Abba we salute.

The subject as such takes precedence over the object as such: the consciousness of a creature capable of conceiving the starry heavens is more than the space and the stars so conceived.... It is precisely in virtue of the dimension of inwardness, which opens onto the Absolute and therefore the Infinite, that man is quasi-divine. --F. Schuon

Monday, October 04, 2010

Brief Innermission

An open thread while I wondergo another short hiatus until further gnosis, since I don't feel like just rewordgitating the olden pneumagain precogitated bloggerel from the remurmurtory.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Reality and Other Figures of Speech

No burning absence of desire to post anything, so I grabbed this one from three years ago and rethunk it:

Metaphor is "a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in the place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them" (Webster's). In short, it is figurative language, which is to say, language, for all language is ultimately a "figure of speech," is it not?

How then does the B'ob differ from deconstructionists, who also believe that reality is made of language? Fair question.

Human beings communicate through symbols, and all symbols are ultimately metaphors. Language as such is nothing but an endlessly interlocking series of metaphors, but where I differ with naughty deconstructionists is in affirming that human language is woven out of the universal Logos that necessarily subtends it.

In other words, for the deconstructionist, there truly is no there there, no ultimate ground or referent for language. But I am quite certain there is a therethere, which we call the Logos. Without it, all language really would be about "nothing," and life would be a long and tedious Seinfeld episode.

There is nothing you can say about anything that isn't laden with implicit or explicit metaphors, which is one of the reasons why it is so absurd for the materialist to object to religion, since the idea of solid matter is itself a sort of airy metaphor, just a fanciful concept based upon the illusions of our nervous system, illusions like "solidity" or unambiguous "place."

Scientists often conflate the abstract and the concrete, and essentially extend the concretions of the nervous system into an abstract worldview. Which is fine, so long as you don't confuse them with metaphysical truth, or with the Ultimate Real.

For their part, so-called fundamentalist religionists often do the opposite, which is to say, concretize the abstract. But only God can really do that, since the cosmos itself is nothing but a concretion or coagulation in a small corner of the Divine Mind.

As mentioned a couple of days ago, one of the purposes of scripture -- which employs countless metaphors and other seemingly concrete images -- is to follow it back upstream to its hidden source, the "place" from which revelation perpetually flows like a spring from the ground; indeed, the place from which language itself flows.

It's not that scientists don't use metaphor in most every statement they make about reality, just that the metaphor has generally become dead, or saturated in Bion's terminology. Often, advances in science cannot be made until a new metaphor is deployed.

For example, the so-called Newtonian worldview regarded the universe as a giant mechanism. Seeing it as such is undoubtedly useful, and applying it to our experience discloses a range of additional "facts" to ponder. But pushed too far, the metaphor is eventually confronted with facts it cannot explain.

That happened with the development of quantum and relativity theories, way back in the 20th century. There is simply no way to understand the quantum world with the machine metaphor. Rather, it is much more like an ocean, a roiling cauldron of ceaselessly flowing energy that tosses up explicate forms from the implicate order.

Or better yet, it's like the infinitely complex global weather system. We see things like distinct clouds, but we cannot see (with our eyes) that the cloud is simply an outwardly visible residue of an inconceivably complex global weather system. Only Al Gore and his co-religionists think they can see the latter, but of course their heads are up their assumptions. As Michael Crichton has written, Gore's linear paradigm is so last millennium.

This is one of the things Joyce was up to in Finnegans Wake, which is a veritable sea of metaphor constructed out of dozens of languages. It is as if the usual solidity of language has "melted" and we are left with only the quantum realm, so to speak, from which it emerges. Throughout the book, various intrinsic complementarities clothe themselves in time and space with the dream logic of the night -- just like the thing we call "history." You might say that Joyce shows us the complementarity of his & herstory, or Myth & Myster E.

Indeed, one of the central philosophical ideas to emerge from quantum theory is that of complementarity. That is, we can never affirm one thing about the quantum realm without "para-doxically" (which literally means "beyond speech") affirming its complementary opposite. Therefore, is the world made of particles? Yes. Is it made of waves? Yes. But these are opposites. Of course. Well, not really. They are complementary, co-arising simultaneously.

Other important irreducible complementarities in the manifest world include mind/matter, subject/object, unity/diversity, form/substance, individual/group, time/eternity, space/time, male/female, and Lennon McCartney.

Incidentally, one might be tempted to think that Democrat/Republican (or liberalism/leftism) represents a true complementarity, but it doesn't. The true complementarity is within conservatism itself (as always, I am speaking of the classical liberalism of our founders, the closest we have to a "perfect" political philosophy).

Among others, the latter embodies the dynamic complementarity between liberty and order, permanence and change, static truth and catabolic capitalism. Leftism is not complementary to liberalism, any more than disease is complementary to health. Leftism explicitly denies many of the most important human complementarities that drive change and progress; for example, the complementarities between male and female, child and adult, sacred and profane, equality and liberty.

Furthermore, leftism imposes false complementarities such as good/evil. Only in this way can the left maintain that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Evil is not a complement of the Good, but its deprivation.

Nor are freedom and property complementary, the former being rooted in the latter; which in turn is rooted in the 2nd Amendment, which is to say, "don't steal my stuff or I'll squeeze this trigger, because when you steal property you are undermining liberty, and therefore the ground and basis of human life and dignity."

Perfection/imperfection aren't complementary, either. Rather, imperfection is again a deprivation, a declension from the Absolute, as the celestial rays proceed from the vertical cosmic center to the periphery, which, as Schuon has written, "tends" toward a nothing that can never actually be realized. But the hardcore leftist feels a sort of frisson in riding the winds of the ray of creation all the way into the darkness of nihilism. The thrill of the fall, so to speak.

If you don't realize that imperfection is a necessary deprivation, you may be tempted to try to impose perfection from the herebelow, which is one the left's specialties. But as Russell Kirk wrote, conservatives well understand that human nature "suffers irremediably from certain grave faults":

"Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent -- or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. But if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose: 'the ceremony of innocence is drowned.' The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell."

A leftist-integralist blogger was impressed by the following quote from Ken Wilber, which is about as good an example of the need for buddhaflaw correcting as I could imagine:

"Spirit is not the good half of the opposites, but the ground of all the opposites, and our 'salvation,' as it were, is not to find the good half of the dualism but to find the Source of both halves of the dualism, for that is what we are in truth. We are both sides in the great Game of Life, because we -- you and I, in the deepest recesses of our very Self -- have created both of these opposites in order to have a grand game of cosmic checkers."

Please. This attitude, if applied to real life, would end in leftist horror. It is another false complementarity based upon partial understanding. For as Schuon writes,

"Assuredly it can be said that the Divinity is 'beyond good and evil,' but on condition of adding that this 'beyond' is in its turn a 'good' in the sense that it testifies to an Essence in which there could be no shadow of limitation or privation, and which consequently cannot but be the absolute Good, or absolute Plenitude."

The idea that conservatives "don't want change" is also preposterous. We do, and desperately. But we don't want to accomplice it by renaming evil good. And we want to evolve toward the Good, not have it imposed by leftist elites with their own peculiar ideas about how we should live. The conservative, according to Kirk, feels

"affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism [read: denial of complementarity] of radical systems. For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality. The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation. Society requires honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality."

The so-called "progressive" fails to consider one of the truly enduring complementarities in governance, which is that whenever government does something for you, it does something to you. Which is why, according to Kirk,

"When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects. The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces..., its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate."

In other words, progress and permanence are complementary, not opposites: "the intelligent conservative endeavors to reconcile the claims of Permanence and the claims of Progression. He thinks that the liberal and the radical, blind to the just claims of Permanence, would endanger the heritage bequeathed to us, in an endeavor to hurry us into some dubious Terrestrial Paradise. The conservative, in short, favors reasoned and temperate progress; he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old."

Clearly, "Change is essential to the body social, the conservative reasons, just as it is essential to the human body. A body that has ceased to renew itself has begun to die. But if that body is to be vigorous, the change must occur in a regular manner, harmonizing with the form and nature of that body; otherwise change produces a monstrous growth, a cancer, which devours its host. The conservative takes care that nothing in a society should ever be wholly old, and that nothing should ever be wholly new. This is the means of the conservation of a nation, quite as it is the means of conservation of a living organism" (Kirk).

Which is why I say that leftism is truly a death cult. Hey, don't believe me. Just judge it by its fruits. And nuts. And flakes. Speaking literally.

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).

Mama?

Remama?

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....