Friday, March 31, 2017

Reasoning is Believing, Seeing is Knowing, Being is Loving

Where are we? As mentioned a few weeks ago, I've been rereading some of Schuon's late works, which strike me as quite compressed and concentrated, as if he wanted to summarize his life's work as concisely -- and precisely -- as possible.

It appears that this one, The Transfiguration of Man was his last. Another collection followed, The Eye of the Heart, but it contains material written much earlier. After that he wrote nothing but poetry, until they moved him to that tower down the tracks. Which is to say, he became even more concise before slipping off to go looking for Shankara in 1998.

In reference to the book's title, he observes that "The image of man presented to us by modern psychology is not only fragmentary, it is pitiable."

To which I can only add a simultaneously enthusiastic and resigned darn tootin'. It has been many years since I related to "psychology" as anything other than a relatively enslackened way to make a living. This is very much in contrast to the way I came in, which was full of passion, idealism, and enthusiasm. Now I can't even.

Of course, I still have the same p, i, and e, only transposed -- transfigured? -- to a higher key. Psychology as such is just a more or less distant shadow of a higher and more fundamental reality.

For really, there are only two possibilities: either man is a kind of upward projection of animality; or a downward projection of divinity. He cannot be a purely "lateral" phenomenon, but is ultimately reducible to one or the other; or better, either reducible or... expansible.

But "modern thought," writes Schuon, "admits only animality, practically speaking."

When you think about it, so many arguments could be stopped in their tracks by bearing this in mind. Most opinions are nothing more than an animal making noises. Take, I don't know, Bill Maher. If he imagines himself to be something more interesting than a braying animal, then he undercuts his entire philosophy, such as it is.

The irony here is that people such as Maher explicitly regard themselves as Darwinian animals, but (like all leftards) implicitly as gods superior to the rest of us. Think of Animal Farm, where all the animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

The title of the book notwithstanding, Schuon would be the last to make a god of man. Rather, "we intend simply to take account of his true nature, which transcends the earthly, and lacking which he would have no reason for being."

That is a Big One: no reason for being. How could there be? "Reasons" are situated above, not below; the question is whether they are anchored above, or just suspended, as it were, in mid-air. If the latter, then they are again reducible to ashes and dust. And if that's the case, then to hell with it. Why bother?

What is called "philosophy" is scarcely better than psychology, and often worse. Indeed, many philosophies are nothing more than the formal articulation of the psychopathology of their developers. But philosophy once meant something, or referred to something real; it was real knowledge of real things.

Philosophy is of course the "love of wisdom." It is not the love of being wise in one's own eyes, which is nothing more than vanity and tenure. Nor is love of wisdom the same as possessing it -- or her, rather.

In any event, note the irreducibly relational structure, irrespective of pronouns.

Properly speaking, philosophy "is the science of all the fundamental principles; this science operates with intuition, which 'perceives,' and not with reason alone, which 'concludes.'"

Darn tootin'. The latter would indeed involve a kind of "possession." In contrast, perception occurs in the space between two realities, in this case, two subjects.

Not to bag on Edward Feser, who is certainly on our side, but I've read several books of his, most recently on Thomas Aquinas. What is it about them that leaves me a bit cold?

Now that I'm thinking about it in the above context, it's because they lack the relational / love / perceptual / mystical in favor of the "possession of conclusions," so to speak. Not my style. No doubt both approaches are needed, but I prefer plunging heartland into the wild godhead and seeing if I can bring back any useful reports.

All the reasoning in the world cannot lead back up to its source, or at least make that final leap. For man has "recourse to a source of certitude that transcends the mental mechanism, and this source -- the only one there is -- is the pure Intellect, or Intelligence as such."

This can easily be misunderstood, again, if we think in terms of possession as opposed to relation. Reason can never contain what contains it, obviously.

Not sure if this post ever got off the ground. Too many distractions. To be continued....

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Roads to Hell & Heaven

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. If this weren't the case, then the Democratic party would be out of business. But this hardly implies the opposite: that the road to heaven is paved with bad intentions.

In the previous post we touched on the complementarity between inwardness and outwardness, or verticality and horizontality, and how they relate to being and doing. In the subsequent chapter, Schuon highlights a related complementarity between action and intention, the former more exterior, the latter interior (and situated on the same vertical scale that in our view leads back to God).

Regarding action and verticality, it reminds us of the old gag about the yeshiva student who traveled a great distance in order to meet a particular rabbi, not to hear him discourse on the Torah, but to watch him slice bread or tie his shoes. It seems that the most mundane act discharged by an elevated soul becomes elevated along with it.

Have you ever known anyone like that? If I'm not mistaken or just making something up, I believe the word "graceful" derives from this common experience. Obviously graceful means full of grace, and the source or ground of grace is not horizontal, rather, a transparent and experience-near expression of verticality.

Likewise with any art form. An art that forgets its religious source devolves to... what is today called "art."

In a way, it all goes back to the karma yoga referenced in the previous post: the practice of any art should be just an elevated and more conscious form of karma yoga, of "performing every action sacramentally, and being free from all attachments to results."

There is a beautiful little book that collects all of Schuon's writings on the subject of Art from the Sacred to the Profane. Let's dig it out and see if he has anything to say about the so-called direction of today's post.

From the foreword: "We can think, speak, and produce works of art," and these unique qualities enable us to "contemplate and realize the Infinite."

As such, the very structure of art involves the exteriorization of the interior, a crystallization of the eternal or a flash of infinitude; it is the bisection of horizontality by verticality, or, to coin a phrase, word-made-flesh. Such works "take us up through the hierarchies of the earthly states to the angelic sources of inspiration" (Critchlow).

The existence of these flashes and crystallizations "means that we have access to Eternity at any moment" (ibid.). And there is no "seeing" art without a seeing into, or in-sight. Just the fact that we have this peculiar ability to see-into things tells us a great deal about man's vocation. How do we manage this trick -- at either end, i.e., production or consumption of art?

That wasn't a rhetorical question, for I think it takes us back to the trinitarian structure of the cosmos. Just as the Father "sees-into" the Son, and vice versa, human beings herebelow see intersubjectively into one another and into our "prolongations" represented by art. You might say that the ultimate source of art is the Beautiful radiated out and down and then refracted through the artist.

I was thinking about this last night while viewing a documentary on the late jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani, one of my favorites. First of all, if you are ever tempted to feel sorry for yourself, he's your man. I read somewhere that he broke every bone in his body merely as a result of being born. And yet, for me anyway, his music is characterized by joy, exuberance, flight, playfulness, lyricism, and other qualities that "defy gravity" (in both senses of the term).

Interesting too that he didn't allow his disability to interfere with romance. One relationship started with his asking the candidate if she wouldn't mind carrying him up the steps to the club -- no doubt his favorite pick-up line.

From the profane back to the sacred. Here is one of my favorite definitions of art: "It is the interference of the uncreate in the created, of the eternal in time, of the infinite in space, of the supraformal in forms; it is the mysterious introduction into one realm of existence of a presence which in reality contains and transcends that realm and could cause it to burst asunder in a sort of divine explosion" (Schuon).

Orthoparadox, you see: for it is essentially the presence of the container within the contained. Now, what might be the Ultimate Instance of this phenomenon? The answer is obvious, but I'll give you a moment...

What could it be but the presence of Christ in Mary's tummy? This goes to the whole mystery of Christianiy, of the Container (and thereby uncontainable) nevertheless giving itself over to containment, so to speak.

To vary the old patristic crack, "the container becomes content so that the content might become container." Note that man is contained in space and time, or by body and death. But Christ overrides both -- or bursts them asunder -- via the resurrection body.

We're getting a little far afield. Back to where we started, in paragraph two, with the distinction between action and intention. Schuon points out that the identical action "may be good or bad according to the intention," but that the converse does not hold: "an intention is not good or bad according to the action."

But among the Many Lessons Liberals Will Never Learn is that bad or imperfect actions cannot "be excused by supposing that the intention was good or even by arguing that every intention is basically good or merely because it is subjective..."

This must be why virtually every liberal idea is described by its purported intentions, never its results, e.g., the Affordable Healthcare Act. "[I]t is not enough, in such cases, for the intention to be subjectively good, it must be objectively so..." (Schuon).

Well, good luck with that, since liberalism rests on the principle of wayward subjectivity, for with multiculturalism and moral relativism, everyone is always right -- at least if one is a member of the approved victim group. Others, like Trump, are somehow always wrong, despite good intentions and positive results.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Misbegotten Duties and Vital Irresponsibilities

Programming alert: probably no posts tomorrow and Wednesday. In addition to my regular responsibilities, I am the substitute home schooler, since the wife is on a ski trip with friends. In short, I have no time for my vital irresponsibilites such as the higher non-doodling memorialized by the blog.

Speaking of which, it turns out that the following touches on the idea of "vital irresponsibilities," or at least doing things for no reason other than doing them. Pointlessness has a point, you know.

"The idea of original sin," writes Schuon, "situates the cause of the human fall in an action" -- which suggests by implication the erroneous idea that if we simply refrain from the forbidden action, then we are sinless.

But the story is supposed to embody and convey a metaphysical idea, not enjoin any particular action per se.

So, what's the big idea? For Schuon, it is "the presence in our soul of a tendency to 'outwardness' and 'horizontality,' which constitutes, if not original sin properly so called, at least the hereditary vice that it is derived therefrom."

I would say that it's not just outwardness and horizontality, but rather, these two divorced from the inwardness and verticality that are their complements.

And although they are complementary, one side of a complementarity is always primary, in this case verticality and inwardness, the reason being that verticality could never derive from horizontality, nor inwardness from outwardness.

Which for practical purposes means that the "pole of attraction which is the 'kingdom of God within you' must in the final analysis prevail over the seductive magic of the world" (ibid.). We must be master of our own domain before we are safe running loose in the world, what with its virtually infinite supply of temptations and seductions.

It reminds me of an article linked on Instapundit yesterday, What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life? It's not particularly deep or well written, but it does make a valid and even vital point about detaching oneself from what amount to worldly idols. It's really a plea for being -- or for a life of inwardness and verticality over the converse.

Now, properly speaking, being is not necessarily located in "doing nothing," so to speak. As Schuon explains, "it expresses above all an attitude of the heart; hence a 'being' and not a simple 'doing' or 'not doing.'" One can always do as an extension of being, which is the basis of karma yoga (and one can certainly practice a Christian karma yoga).

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna reminds Arjuna that "in this world, aspirants may find enlightenment by two different paths. For the contemplative is the path of knowledge: for the active is the path of selfless action."

Furthermore, as alluded to above, "freedom from activity is never achieved by abstaining from action. Nobody can become perfect by merely ceasing to act." Therefore, one should "perform every action sacramentally, and be free from all attachments to results."

Or, as we've said in so many ways, the True, Good, and Beautiful are not "for" anything other than themselves: one wants to know truth because it is true, and for no other reason. Likewise, action should converge upon the Good for its own sake, not for some extrinsic reward, whether in this life or the next.

So (godsplains Krishna), "Do your duty, always; but without attachment. That is how a man reaches the ultimate Truth; by working without anxiety about results." Therefore, wise up: "Shake off this fever of ignorance. Stop hoping for worldly rewards. Fix your mind on Atman. Be free from the sense of ego. Dedicate all your actions to me. Then march forth and fight."

How exactly is this different from Christian yoga or yogic Christianity? Parallels are too numerous to mention, for example, in the distinction between Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Bear in mind the One Thing Needful, and let the dead bury the tenured.

"If the requirement of the supreme Commandment is to 'love God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind,'" then "the contrary attitude is the supreme sin," with various degrees in between. Again, one doesn't have to take it literally to get the message, which is probably impossible to carry out in any event, for even Jesus asks "Why call me good? None is good, except one, that is, God."

The expression may sound polemical, but it conveys a practical reality that there is no mere action one can accomplish in order to earn salvation. Jesus is essentially putting forth an impossible standard, so we don't fall into the trap of elevating ourselves to our own savior by some meritorious action.

"To be 'horizontal' is to love only terrestrial life, to the detriment of the ascending and celestial path." And "to be 'exteriorized,' is to love only outer things, to the detriment of moral and spiritual values" (Schuon).

One-sided horizontality is "to sin against transcendence, thus to forget God and consequently the meaning of life," while exclusive exteriority and outwardness "is to sin against immanence, thus to forget our immortal soul and consequently its vocation."

Truth and presence. God manifests as one or the other, the former being transcendent, the latter immanent. Actually, God manifests as one and the other, as the presence of truth and the truth of presence.

Just as Hell is simply the last word in God's respect for man's freedom, one might say that sin is the first word in his commitment to the same. "Eve and Adam succumbed to the temptation to wish to be more than they could be" -- or, to be precise, more than they could be in the absence of being grounded in God. Their usurpation equates to a claim "to be equal to the Creator," which "is the very essence of sin."

For "indeed, the sinner decides what is good, counter to the objective nature of things." What happens next is simply "the reaction of reality," which always gets the last word.