Saturday, December 10, 2005

Eternal Life in Three Easy Steps!

Virtually all spiritual practices, from whatever tradition, may be broken down into the three-part process of purification, illumination, and union. The first part, purification, is referred to in Christianity as "metanoia," or repentance. Repentance has taken on some unfortunate connotations, but the literal meaning of metanoia is to "change one's mind," specifically, to turn away from the surface world of illusion to the world of the Real. It means to turn toward another world that now is, about a micron or two away from the surface world. This other world "shimmers through" the familiar world, but we must purify ourselves in order to reliably see it. When the Bible talks about the "light shining in the darkness," this is the light it's talking about--it is similar to the noetic light that shines through a great poem or painting, and which cannot be detected by our Darwinian eyes.

Before purification or metanoia take place, we live in a kind of horizontal freedom that is in reality a form of imprisonment. We are actually locked inside our own mind. To be perfectly accurate, a psychologically healthy person is not an entirely closed system, but is an open system with other minds. But still, the mind as such forms a closed system unless it is open to vertical energies that transcend its limitations. Purification is necessary because our purely mental conceptions interfere with the ability to see what transcends them. This is why it is said that the wisdom of God is folly to the Greeks--to the rational mind.

Richard Smoley, author of Inner Christianity, describes it thus: "In ordinary life, attention is directed outward, toward the world of sensations, thoughts and feelings. With a certain shift in attention, the mind is directed within, toward the center of being, beyond all thoughts and representations, where God meets the individual self. Such 'repentence' may indeed involve a change in one's way of life, but from an esoteric point of view, such changes are likely to develop organically out of an increase in consciousness. As you see and understand more of the inner worlds, love, kindness, and compassion become more spontaneous and natural." So technically, we can "repent" on the way to illumination, or repentance and the positive character changes that follow can flow naturally from a deepening of consciousness.

Contrary to what scientific materialists believe, with purification, one actually begins to see the world as it is. In other words, the world disclosed by science is fine as far as it goes, but we must never forget that it is an abstraction from the fullness of reality--it is not the thing itself, but an abstract representation of it. The Real Thing is so impossibly rich and multifaceted that it could never be "contained" by the linear categories of science.

There are many ways to practice purification--meditation, contemplation, prayer, ritual, certain types of reading (lectio divina), etc. If successful, you should be able to experience a bit of "levitation," as you are lifted from this plane and offered a glimpse of the adjacent World. You may not be able to fully inhabit that world, but you can certainly know of its existence, as it becomes increasingly clear, luminous and transparent. This is called "illumination," "awakening," or being "born again from above." It signifies the breakthrough of vertical energies, an awakening to higher truth, love and beauty. This may be confusing, because it doesn't mean to posit two entirely different worlds. Rather, it is to see another world within this world (actually, "around" this world; this world is contained within it).

In this regard it is somewhat similar to modern conceptions of the unconscious in psychoanalysis. In Freud's older model, the unconscious was literally thought of as a sort of separate realm, with a horizontal line between the ego--the conscious part of ourselves--and the unconscious "below." But now we understand that there is more or less of the unconscious in every conscious thought, emotion or act. It is more of a "holographic" model, in which various dimensions of the psyche are copresent and interpenetrating.

The same is true with respect to the logic of Divine presence. In one respect it is "above," in the sense that it is ontologically and developmentally higher. Nevertheless, it is an immanent, "embodied above" that interpenetrates the "below." That is why, as I said above, it is just a micron away--just a tiny shift in perception brings it out, like a small movement of a kaleidoscope brings a new pattern into view.

Illumination can be a lifelong process, since the realm of spirit is literally inexhaustible. We use language and other symbols to translate it into a local representation, but this is simply going to the river with a bucket. Don't confuse your little bucket with the boundless River of Light.

The promise of the final stage is union, known in Eastern Orthodox Christianity as "theosis," in Vedanta as "moksha" or "samadhi," or in Kabbalistic Judaism as "Yecidah" ("single one"). It's what happens when you die. Of course, if you arrange to die before you die, then you can experience it while you live. Or so we have heard from the Wise. But in any event, there's nothing to worry about. One way or another, you'll get there, either heart first or feet first.

In One Cosmos Under God, I tried to capture some of what we're talking about here in a more poetic and metaphysically humorous form, at the very end of the book. Here is some of it, rendered in verse instead of prose*:

If your powers of deception were cleansed
Then nothing would appear as it isn't.
No body crosses the phoenix line
Lest it be repossessed and amortized.
Some by fire, some by flood,
But all buy the farm & bury the form.
Eloha, that's a good bye
For the Love that removes the sin and other scars
(speaking allegheirically).

*(If anyone can decipher all of the puns and literary allusions packed into this little snippet, I hereby grant you one indulgence for any past or future foible, peccadillo, or indiscretion.)


Gagdad Bob said...

Get back to politics. Life's too short to think about how short it is.

Bryan said...

Speaking of eternal life, I finished your book yesterday (so it wouldn't be fair for me to explicate the allusions; I've already seen your footnotes :) ). I was deeply moved by it. Although my own meditation practice has been disciplined and consistent, reading your book helped to infuse even more passion into it. You also got me interested in looking into Christian mysticism, since my own path took me from the fundamentalist Christianity of my parents to Hindu Tantra and Tibetan Buddhism.

I also loved the quatrain buried in "Cosmobliteration":

Unborn body of the bodiless one,
Dark rays shining from a midnight sun,
Your phase before you were bearthed & begaialed,
Empty tomb of a deathless child.

If you take requests on your blog, something I'd enjoy seeing you write more about are the "mind parasites," particularly as you see them affecting the progress of serious spiritual seekers. In other words, while you've written fascinatingly on how mind parasites affect politics and history, I would be interested to know what you commonly see as the biggest psychological problems facing people who want to realize spirit and are on some sort of authentic path.

Gagdad Bob said...

Thank you Bryan--that's an excellent idea for a topic. I'll get on it right away, although it would take another book or two to begin to do it justice. As a Buddhist, you may think of the mind parasites as our earliest and most stubborn "samskaras" ("samskara monsters"--see p. 14). Of course, I suppose there could be samskaras which antedate our birth... which, come to think of it must be true. For even if you don't believe in reincarnation, your DNA brings its own samskaras).

Gagdad Bob said...

Oh, and Bryan--feel free to post a positive review on amazon, if you are the kind of person who does such things. Even a sentence--or single word or two--would be sufficient, like "Wo, dude!," or "I declare!," or "That's hot!"

Bryan said...

Done. My review is posted to Amazon.

I look forward to your thoughts on this topic, and if they lead to another book, you can be sure that I will read it with interest.

Gagdad Bob said...

Thanks! That's hot!

jwm said...

I have had transcendental experiences several times in my life. I have caught a glimpse of synchronicity at work in the turning of events as well. I have watched my thoughts and feelings on things religious get switched without quite being aware of making any consious effort to switch them. At the same time I feel like I can get only so close to religion before the red lights and siren go on, and I need to move back and get away.
There is God.
There is an afterlife.
And I believe that God holds us accountable for what we do here.
Beyond this I'm just not sure.

The Bible, and certainly all Christians say that you have to believe in Jesus to achieve salvation. I'm not trying to be cute here, but I don't think I quite understand what that means. Do I believe he was real? Yes.
Do I believe he was who he said he was? On the one hand, I have no reason to doubt it. On the other hand I think there is a level of belief here that goes far deeper than acknowledging that this or that is factual. I would answer the Question, "yes", but I don't think it's the same "yes" that a professed Christian would give.
Same with the Buddha...

This story has bothered me for a while. Remember about a year ago- the music director for the Crystal Cathedral barricaded himself in the church office, and then shot himself. Horrible. But here's what stuck in my head about it: I would imagine that a man who choses to work for a church would be a man of faith. I understand that Faith doesn't exempt you from life's troubles. It doesn't matter how religious you are, if a shark bites off your foot, you're going to go through life without a foot. But it would seem to me that Faith should be effective against one's inner demons. Clearly, in some cases it is not. Insufficient faith? Too easy of an answer.