Friday, October 22, 2010

Just How Low Could a Logos Go if a Logos Could Go Low?

More on the point/cross deustinction: "Geometrically speaking, the Absolute is like the point, which excludes everything that is not itself" (Schuon). It is Yahweh, Brahman, Tao, the One without a second, the Not Two Shabbas.

In contrast -- or complementarily -- "the Infinite is like the cross or star or spiral, which prolongs the point and in a sense makes it inclusive." Thus, it represents the Son of the Principle, bearing in mind that there can be no father without a son and vice versa.

Now, "Freedom in the last analysis coincides with possibility." If the Father is All Possibility, the Son is the first Actualization of the possible.

For creatures, freedom consists of willing in conformity with our nature or essence -- our real (true) possibility. Thus, willing against our nature is the possibility of the impossible. It looks free, but it is not. It is the opposite. It is slavery. And in all of creation, only humans can do it.

Importantly, the cross, star or spiral of the Infinite travels in both directions; it is both ascending and descending. Not only did Christ descend from heaven to earth to hell, but the latter was a "necessary" part of the package, so to speak.

In a footnote, Schuon compares it to Jacob's Ladder, which is "an image of the Logos," what with the vertical energies and entities going up and down the cosmic telovator.

But how Lo can it go, you ask?

At the very least, it goes from All Possibility at the toppermost of the poppermost to every lost possibility at the bottom of the manifestation -- or from the One, to the many, to the too many, to the It wasn't funny the first time, to the Enough already!, to the Don't make me come down there! (which is why he had to come down there).

Now, the manifestation is always in the principle, thanks to the spiraling cross. But is the principle in the manifestation? Ultimately, yes, but relatively, no.

In other words, it is our choice. Again, human beings can choose to live in conformity with the Principle or choose to go our "separate" way, even though it is strictly impossible to detach oneself from the Principle on pain of being nothing at all.

In other words, even the most middling relativity must spend some timelessness in the Principle's office:

"For Manifestation is not the Principle while nonetheless being the Principle by participation because of its 'non-inexistence'; and Manifestation... is the Principle manifested, but without being able to be the Principle in itself" (Schuon).

To say Truth is to say Principle, so even the most confused atheist confesses his faith in the Principle, so long as he is speaking truthfully. Hence Eckhart's wise crack to the effect that the more they blaspheme the more they praise Him. Way it is.

Diversity is outward, unity inward (or in-word). No act of perception can apprehend the inner unity of things, perception itself being the knowing subject turned "inside out," so to speak. Conversely, perception turned outside in -- or right-side up -- is the transcendent Subject.

The senses represent the terminal moraine of the ponderable cosmos, which is why to be an empiricist is to be a terminal moron.

But equally to be a rationalist is not only to be a mere pencil-pushing geek, but to have no lead in one's pencil. Reality is always empirical, rational and more. You cannot write the world with physics, only describe an abstract version of it. Physics is only possible because of the Logos. God is not a mathematician. He is a mythsemantician.

Ever wonder where all the darkness comes from? Well, not only is the Light self-evident, but we couldn't even be aware of the darkness without it.

In other words, "to say radiation is to say increasing distance, hence progressive weakening or darkening, which explains the privative -- and finally subversive -- phenomenon of what we call evil" (Schuon).

Thus adam shame it is, but the gardenall sin is ineveateapple: Radiation → Distance → Weakening → Darkening → Privation → Subversion.

Or, Creator → Inalienable Rights → Founding Fathers → Constitutional Republic → Limited Government → Liberals → Left → Roosevelt → Inversion → Carter → Subversion → Obama → Perversion → Unlimited Government → Hell.

But again: the vertical energies travel in both directions, to hell and back. There is expiration. And there is inspiration. And Obama has reached his expiration date. (Not literally, of course. Eleven more days to go.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Point of the Cross and Cross of the Point

In case you're wondering, I've just been riffing along with Schuon's misleadingly titled Sufism: Veil and Quintessence -- misleading because, like all of his books, it's truly about "everything" -- in the most literal sense of that word. Every. Thing. And more.

And as always, it's full of pithy little gems and asides. For example, here's a little footnote that could be the basis of a whole post... who knows, maybe even this one: "The total Universe can be compared to either a circle or a cross, the center in both cases representing the Principle." Reminds ʘne of the ʘ in cʘsmos and cʘʘnvision, doesn't it?

With regard to the point-circle, "the relationship between the periphery and the center is discontinuous, this being the dogmatist perspective of theology, analogically speaking."

In contrast, in the cross-circle "the same relationship is continuous, this being the perspective of gnosis." The former perspective (ʘ) takes phenomenal reality into consideration, whereas the latter "takes account of the essential reality of things and the Universe." (Indeed, look at how the cross is planted right in mother earth.)

Or, you might say that the point-circle considers things from the relative reality of man (and creation), whereas the cross-circle is from the absolute perspective of God, in whom there can be no discontinuity. Viewed from the bottom up, there is simply no way to overcome the ontological fissures and discontinuities we perceive, absent a flight into reductionism -- which only aggravates the apparent absurdity of the world, converting mystery to mystification.

Thus, the cross-circle is clearly the more "real" of the two symbols, although, at the same time, it necessitates the point-circle, because the latter represents the relative reality of a creation separate from the Creator. We are at the periphery. God is at the center (or origin). And man himself -- i.e., under his own natural powers -- is powerless to return to the center. Rather, only an act of God can facilitate that. Only God can bridge the gap between point and periphery. How? Through the Cross!

Coincidentally -- or perhaps not -- this is one of the central themes of Borella's The Sense of the Supernatural. He is a French Catholic esoterist, completely orthodox in his thinking, as far as I can tell. He points out that it has only been in the last two or three centuries that we have developed this strict demarcation between "nature" and supranature, which means that the point-circle is taken to be the ultimate reality, instead of the cross-circle.

In other words, because of the impact of the scientistic worldview, the radical discontinuities of the world are taken to be real, not merely a phenomenal residue of the creative principle as it proceeds from God to world, Creator to created, Center to periphery. But then, the two domains became radically separated, so that scientism becomes the religion of the periphery, while religion becomes the science of the center, with no meaningful communication between the two.

Borella mainly faults the Protestant rebellion, which, because it abolished the hierarchical intelligibility of the world, left the field open to be colonized by the cognitive predation of materialistic science. Looked at this way, scientism (not science, mind you, which is Christian through and through) is really just another form (or side) of Protestantism!

Another especially baleful effect of Luther on the West is his extreme devaluation of man. We can all agree that man is fallen, but for Luther, the fall is absolute. Here again, man is hopelessly condemned to the periphery, to the point that there is literally nothing he can do to participate in his own salvation. He is predestined, so that, as in Islam, past, present, and future are all predetermined. Ironically, there is no cross with which to get across!

But I believe Borella is correct in equally emphasizing man's theomorphism. Without in anyway forgetting our fall into ignorance, sin, and contingency, we are nevertheless "in the image of the Creator," so that the same cross that lives within the Trinity is now within us -- at least in potential.

Is it not obvious that man is incomplete? Not even the most boneheaded atheist considers man in the state of nature to be a "finished product."

Rather, we all recognize that man is charged with completing and perfecting himself, which immediately implies transcendence. If man is complete in himself, or if his progress is actually just arbitrary, then his life consists of nothing more than circling around the periphery of that circle. There is no center, no essence, no progress, and no point to existence. Only with the cross does man's life have a point.

In his preface to the book, Wolfgang Smith suggests that the supernatural is first intuited on the basis of what is lacking in man. We know we are incomplete, and that there is something about our existence that is not in accord with this vague sense we have of our intrinsic dignity and nobility. This is not the same as pride, which merely elevates the periphery to the center, and then presumes to dominate it. Rather, it is the recognition that there is nothing in the natural world that "is worthy of this transnatural miracle that is our spirit":

"To have the sense of the supernatural is to understand that 'man infinitely surpasses man,' and that there is nothing in nature that corresponds to the spirit." A man who is fully "at home" in the natural world is an animal. Only when man is properly at home in God does the world then become a comprehensible weigh station for his sojourn.

Because of the cross within the otherwise closed circle of existence, there is an "opening" set in the heart of creation, through which the upper waters may penetrate and vivify -- or an artery through which the supernatural blood may ʘxydize and circulight.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

All Men Are Drunks and Hobos

Continuing our little discussion of caste and clue, Schuon notes that the priest/sage and knight/warrior share the common capacity "for spontaneously placing oneself above oneself," the former through wisdom and disinterested intelligence, the latter through heroism and self-sacrifice. In both cases, the person simply responds to "the nature of things" in order to provide what is needed in the moment, whether in the field of intellect or of action.

The third caste discussed yesterday -- the merchant, artisan, or craftsman -- may have more of a challenge in this area, in that it is possible for the mercantile mentality to dominate, thus reducing everything to quantity -- to know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Nevertheless, it shares with the sage and warrior "an inward incentive toward the good," in contrast to the fourth caste, which "cannot maintain itself in the good except under a pressure coming from outside and above," the reason being that "this human type does not dominate itself and does not like to dominate itself" (Schuon).

Now, is this a generalization? Of course. In the absence of generalization it is impossible to think. The question is whether it is useful in illuminating an aspect of reality. In my experience, I find it to be perfectly accurate, allowing, of course, for inevitable exceptions.

For example, I was a card-carrying member of the laboring class for at least 12 years, when I toiled as a retail clerk. While I was very comfortable with my fellows, there is no question that these were not people who dominated themselves or who enjoyed doing so. To the contrary, they -- we -- not only frowned upon dominating ourselves, but systematically employed every chemical means to unmoor ourselves from the tyrannical dictates of right reason.

In other words, we drank a lot. In fact, here's an autographed photo of me from the Great Strike of 1979. Why autographed? Because I was drunk!

Actually, I was always on strike, mainly against authority, consequences, and adulthood. Yes, we were members of a labor union, but the notion that there was any kind of nobility or higher purpose associated with this is a sham. Rather, we simply wanted more money and benefits, combined with something approximating lifetime tenure.

Not that there's anything wrong with this. But to conflate this naked self-interest with heroism -- as in the left's hagiographic attitude toward the labor movement -- is pure hooey. The reason why this country has always rejected socialism is because of the common sense of our labor class, which never fell for the bogus wisdom of our tenured caste of pseudo-disinterested Marxian scholars telling them how to think. Plus they're usually drunk.

Only the first caste is truly lacking in "worldliness." The warrior caste obviously must deal with the world -- and mankind -- as it is. But the priestly caste is aware of the distinction between celestial and terrestrial things, and doesn't allow the Is to obscure the Ought.

Note that our secular class of tenured priests also trucks in the Ought, but this Ought is purely terrestrial and marxmade. It involves what Voegelin called the "immamentization of the eschaton." It also must redound to coercion, since it is not a "truth" that lies outside or above man. God vouchsafes his truth and lures men to it. Man can only enforce his.

Extremes meet, so it is quite possible -- especially in our day and age -- for our sages to actually be outcastes, in particular, if they are in contact with no reality higher than themselves. As Schuon explains, the outcaste lacks a homogeneous center, and is "unbalanced" or "mixed" with all sorts of incompatible and contradictory impulses. For example, imagine a university professor who doesn't believe in objective truth. Such a person cannot be helped, and yet, here he is presuming to help others!

Schuon goes on to say that the two higher castes are "noble," in the sense that their spirit is "free," or "'sovereign,' for it is naturally conformed to the universal Law, whether in 'heroic' or 'sacerdotal' mode." A man is noble "to the extent that he carries the Law within himself," but he is ennobled "to the extent that his obedience is perfect," at first "quantitatively" but eventually "qualitatively."

In other words, obedience is gradually interiorized -- or, as the interior is awakened, the obedience becomes spontaneous.

There is also a hidden relationship between the priestly and mercantile, which recalls Somebody's wise crack to the effect that few things make a man more peaceable than when he is occupied at making money.

Think of the natural contemplativity of the artisan or farmer: "It is easy to see the peaceful character of the peasant, the craftsman, the merchant; none of them has any interest in coming to blows, and each of the three functions possesses an aspect that binds or unites human groups rather than placing them in opposition" (ibid). Which is why capitalist countries are more peaceful within and with each other.

The warrior may fall if he forgets his higher purpose and descends into ambition or mere quarrelsomeness; this results from "an intelligence with too little contemplativity" (ibid). In contrast, the merchant can be afflicted by a "contemplativity with too little intelligence," whereas the intelligence of the priestly caste may become "narrow and pedantic," thereby becoming flaccid and ineffectual. In other words, it is possible for the elect to suffer from electile dysfunction.

In the ultimate sense, the priest/sage should either be "without caste" or encompass the qualities of each of them. Think of the heroic martyr-priests, or those who patiently and lovingly (not to say beautifully) transcribed and preserved all those ancient manuscripts prior to the invention of the printing press.

In another sense -- and a very important one -- all men are outcastes and bums, especially in our post-edenic, fallen state. Just as "the totality of truth demands the totality of man," his complete inversion results in priests like Deepak Chopra, sages like Paul Krugman, rulers like Obama, warriors like Osama, merchants like Countrywide, and deranged celebrity outcastes such as Keith Olbermann or Sean Penn.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Builders Rejected by the Stoner in Chief

I didn't intend to spark a controversy with yesterday's post, not even a trivial one. The main point is that, say, communion (or any other group service) takes only a few minutes. What about the rest of the week? What shall be the focus of your spiritual life and activity, since you only have one soul and one life?

As for the extreme ascetical and penitential practices of Pope John Paul II, any pope is in a unique position, representing a billion souls in particular, and mankind in general, before God, and conversely, God before man. Who knows what kind of insopherable energy flows in both directions through that focal point of cosmosis?

Whatever it is, it is intense. But if no one but the president can really know what it's like to be president, this is even more true of the papacy. Part of being Pope involves no longer being the man, but the office, and all it implies.

It is, of course, analogous to Jesus, in which both the divine and human natures are copresent. But I'm guessing that the Pope has a much different (and unsettling) appreciation of the general human nature, similar to how the guru takes on the karma of the disciple.

Just a guess. But as a psychologist, I can tell you that it can be an overwhelming burden to have a single patient with primitive, borderline issues. It is impossible to imagine having millions upon millions of them. Or, imagine having a dozen ex-wives. Who can really know such torture but Larry King?

Since we live in a spiritually hostile world in which the aliens have taken over, it requires an act of conscious will to think properly. In other words, if one abandons oneself to the general intellectual ambience, there is virtually no chance of undeviated thinking. For obvious reasons, the situation is only worse for the tenured and for those who succumb to their influence.

In a way, the Pope is at a distinct advantage here, since he gets to live in the intensely sacred ambience of the Vatican, where one can hardly open one's eyes without being lifted by the vertical energies. Everything there points up, whereas in the world of the secular west, so much tends to point down. Thus for the rest of us, we must create our own interior cathedral, so to speak, or at least "recall" the archetype from which the physical one takes its measure.

This interior cathedral is where the soul finds its rest. Schuon speaks of "the humble serenity of pure intellection, humble because impersonal and serene because conforming to That which is."

Note that the impersonality assures, or at least promotes, the humility. For example, if I am saying something "new," not only is the focus inappropriately placed upon me, but I am probably wrong to boot: error squared. Intelligence without humility inevitably betrays itself, whereas humility is a kind of deep existential intelligence, if only the vivid awareness that one is not God (and dependent upon God for right thinking).

It is difficult to express it more clearly than this: "God requires from each man what each man can and must give; but from the intelligent man He also requires intelligence in the service of truth, for which it is made and through which it lives" (Schuon). And if one's intelligence is strictly in the service of truth, this is a kind of intellectual karma yoga, since one must constantly "forget the self" in order to be in conformity with the truth that transcends it.

And how can the ego get puffed up with pride, when there is no question of the ego inventing or possessing this truth? Of course it happens, but the moment it does, error has effaced the truth and introduces a kind of passional toxicity.

One intuits this in the case of all of those self-styled spiritual teachers who cannot but help promulgating deviant doctrines to their followers, since there is only one doctrine equally available to everyone, albeit in different modes for different spiritual types. Thus, the more necessary these teachers imagine themselves to be, the more unnecessary they actually are.

Schuon discusses the various spiritual types, which are classically divided into ruler, priest, sage, warrior, merchant, laborer and outcaste. Each can be sanctified in its own way save for the latter, which can only be saved.

Consider Schuon's description of the merchant caste, which includes the craftsman and farmer: there is a "love of work well done -- both the result and the performance -- and of wages honestly earned; an emotional accent on the fear of God and on meritorious works conscientiously and piously accomplished."

Please note that he is not being the least bit condescending. Imagine, for example, if American capitalism were dominated by this mentality -- which it actually is, far more than people realize. Indeed, this is why it "works," because of the American "civil religion" so accurately described by de Tocqueville.

My father was of this caste -- a very pure businessman. In this regard, it is impossible for me to imagine him engaging in any kind of unethical or dishonest business dealing, even though he was in no way conventionally religious. Nevertheless, one can see how his work was a kind of karma yoga, since it was always "elevating." And people loved doing business with him for it. Is living the truth not a kind of implicit knowing it? Or is it actually explicit?

Schuon goes on to say that such individuals can appear superficially "horizontal" and conventional, but there is nothing wrong with being conventional in a just and rightly ordered society. Indeed, it can be "a protection against the lack of a sense of proportion for those not sufficiently endowed with discernment."

For example, consider an Obama, who clearly imagines himself to be of the priestly/intellectual caste, but who is so lacking in humility -- not to mention discernment and conformity to the real -- that he falls far lower than any upstanding merchant in the Chamber of Commerce. It is no coincidence that he so contemptuously attacks the latter, just as he belittles all normal Americans and the civil religion that has served us so well.

We don't hate Obama. But he sure despises us. Intellectually speaking, the most meagerly endowed tea-partier knows more about America than Obama and his doubtcaste rabble of unrepentant dementors. And the former is certainly more spiritual, at least in the positive sense of the word.

Reminds me of that biblical story of how the productive builders were rejected by the stoner in chief...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Healing the Sick, Raising the Dead, and Flattering the Self

This is good to know, and not just because it's convenient and self-serving: that is to say, "there are ascetical and disciplinary measures that make no sense except for passional men given to ambition and vanity, not to say pride, and therefore disqualified for gnosis" anyway (Schuon).

What this means is that the full-blooded Raccoon -- to the extent that he actually is one -- needn't concern himself with all those spiritual techniques aimed at eliminating the ego with extreme prejudice, since his being is already pretty much in conformity with his highest aspiration. Just as, for the Raccoon, having to go to school interfered with his education, conventional religiosity may hinder his spiritual development.

Or, put it this way. Most Americans are now officially overweight. They eat too much and exercise too little because they lack self-discipline. Therefore, the many thousands of studies, diets, books, and Oprah programs dealing with this issue have no relevance to those of us who are already disciplined and fit.

It reminds me of diabetes, which is now a pandemic in the developed world. When there isn't enough food -- and there is plenty of physical labor -- people needn't worry about disciplining their appetite. But the plague of type II diabetes simply reveals the fact that most people have no control over their mouth and no discipline over their body.

I have adult onset type I, which is a different beast entirely, unrelated to lifestyle. However, it does require the same degree of self-discipline to control. I can't eat so much as half a pretzel without being conscious of the immediate effect on my blood sugar. But I have evaluated hundreds of type II diabetics, and thus far I haven't encountered a single one who exerts the level of self-discipline I would consider acceptable. And it's not just because I have "high standards," unless you call wanting to avoid blindness, stroke, cognitive decline, impotence and amputation an unreasonable standard.

I don't mean to rag on these people. The point is, they are average, just as the man in need of serious spiritual self-discipline is average. I recall another wise crack by Schuon, to the effect that the superior man dominates himself, and loves doing so. He doesn't have to be whipped into submission to properly order his soul and his life. Rather, it just comes supernaturally naturally.

Elsewhere Schuon wrote that "the world is miserable because men live beneath themselves." The fundamental -- and inexcusable, for it is diabolical in its effect -- error of every variety of liberalism, is that it pretends it can "reform the world without having either the will or the power to reform man." It only results in the absurdity of attempting "to make a better world on the basis of a worsened humanity."

Followed to its conclusion, secular leftism inverts the cosmos, ending "in the abolition of what is human, and consequently in the abolition of happiness too." For genuine improvement, man requires re-ligio, or an authentic and efficacious means of binding him to his source and destiny.

Having said that, it is obviously quite easy to deceive oneself in these matters, unless one understands that the burden is heavier, not lighter, for the self-disciplined. Or at least the responsibilities.

For example, if you are at the base camp of the mountain and something goes wrong, it's not going to be fatal. But if you are up there scaling a rock wall at 8,000 feet, you have to be very cautious, because errors will be magnified there.

This is one of the reasons why I have no patience with, or tolerance for, all of those self-styled new age spiritual teachers, as the great majority of them are no more advanced than their followers, only clever -- or sociopathic -- enough to make a career out of it. But suffice it to say, no person of genuine spiritual attainment makes a business out of it. Indeed, it is a kind of proof that the attainment is bogus. The spiritual life is its own reward -- that and the joy of passing it along to others.

In a more spiritually balanced world, all of the above would qualify as truism. But again, as we were saying last Friday, the Christian West emphasizes the penitential path, not the path of knowledge or metaphysics. In this regard, Schuon makes a subtle but crucial point, that "the great question that arises is knowing whether metaphysical ideas act on the will of a given man or whether on the contrary they remain inoperative abstractions" (emphasis mine).

As I am always at pains to emphasize, nothing I write about can be of any use if it is just "knowledge" (k) that is not realized (n). Unrealized spiritual knowledge is less than worthless, because it can be so deceptive. Not only must this knowledge be realized, but, if properly expressed, it should facilitate its own realization, or mysteriously actualize what it signifies. It should, according to Schuon, "unleash interiorizing and ascending acts of the will and affective dispositions of the same order."

If this takes place -- and only if it takes place -- then "there is no need to seek to create a distaste in the person in question for a world that already hardly attracts him or for an ego that already has no more illusions or ambitions." You can't kill what is already dead, so "it is pointless to impose attitudes on the 'pneumatic' that are meaningless for him and that instead of humbling him in a salutary fashion can only bore and distract him."

Naturally, we are speaking of degrees, not absolutes. But at least in my case, no one has to convince me to lead a quasi-monastic life focused on spiritual interiorization. However, please note that the form without the content would be a kind of perversion.

For example, there are numberless tenured drones who perhaps have the monastic temperament, but use it to obsess over some tiny, irrelevant corner of the cosmos. In my case, I have a passion for the eternal, which animates everything I do. To the extent that I discuss some small corner of existence, it is only in the context of how it bears upon the eternal. We're always talking about the divinization and sanctification of the cosmos, or cosmotheosis. This, we hope, is what distinguishes us from the acadanemic and infertile eggheads of the tenured henhouse.

I should also hope that it goes without saying that "intelligence" is not at issue. There are plenty of brilliant people who spend their lives propagating error, and plenty of average ones who live a truth that is much higher and deeper than themselves. Prior to intelligence -- for intelligence alone cannot know of it -- is "a sense of the sacred," and "all the moral and intellectual consequences it implies." For a sacred world demands a kind of knowledge in conformity with it. And it excludes systematic knowledge that is unaware of the sanctity of the world and of man.

In order to have a sense of the supernatural, one must either be above nature, or the supramundane must infuse nature with its presence. Same difference, which is none.