Monday, March 06, 2006

The Adventure of Consciousness

Recently we've had a number of readers who sometimes vehemently disagreed with my conception of God, based upon an experience that they have had of "the one God," specifically the Christian God. Now, I do not doubt their experience, and at no point have I (or would I ever) argue that someone's experience is not their experience.

I used to be very interested in such "peak experiences," thinking that they must represent the sine qua non of spiritual development. But as I have seen my own life and mind become gradually transformed over the years, I have become much more interested in the issue of altered traits rather than altered states.

When I first began my spiritual practice, I assumed that I was looking for some sort of dramatic experience, an exalted spiritual rubicon that I would cross and never look back, like the sudden satori of Zen or moksha of Hinduism. True, I did have some such experiences, but I now think of them more as "lures" to demonstrate the validity of my search and keep me on the path, as opposed to being some kind of final deustination. (For those who have the book, I use the symbol (!?) for these experiences that most anyone, even the most hardened atheist, will have at least once in their life--when the veil is rent, so to speak, and you are offered a "metaphysical freebie" that conclusively shows you that the apparent does not exhaust the real.)

Now, if I criticize "fundamentalism" or literalism, please realize that I do so from a friendly and sympathetic position. For example, I happen to believe that a fundamentalist who thinks that the world was created by God in six days is actually much, much closer to the truth than any doctrine that leaves the divine mind out of the equation.

But as you know, in contemporary America there is much talk of the "born again" experience. You were a fallen creature wandering satan's horizontal playground, had a personal experience of the risen Jesus, and were saved. End of story.

I see at least a couple of serious potential pitfalls with this view. First of all, it reduces what I believe is an ongoing evolution to an either/or situation, with no clear appreciation of the unfolding nature of spiritual growth, and how difficult it is: that one must engage in spiritual warfare with body, mind and spirit, not just once, but every day.

Moreover, the individualistic experience of being "saved" can and does easily lead to a paralyzing narcissistic inflation. You know God's will. You are saved. Others are not. Having once been a leftist, I can testify as to how irritating such talk is to them. It is actually an invitation to not be taken seriously. Which is fine. Jesus said that Christians would be persecuted in his name. But I think there's a better way that doesn't in the least compromise Christian teachings.

In fact, I believe this notion of sudden and permanent salvation is a modern twist that often involves a bit of frank heresy. Spiritual satisfaction actually risks drawing one further away from God. For me at least, there must always be a sharp line between creator and created. It is because of the dynamic tension involved in inhabiting that middle position, or "transitional space," that spiritual growth can take place: blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. But when our point of departure is an intellectual certitude of absolute salvation, truly, that is just an invitation for unresolved personal issues to rush into the breach--issues that have never been properly dealt with through the type of "spiritual warfare" exhaustively described by the ancient fathers and such modern luminaries as Theophan the Recluse.

How else to explain how so many "saved" people continue ot behave so badly? They were given an altered state, but it did not necessarily lead to any altered traits. Of course I am not talking about everyone. But I would certainly suggest that it is a majority. I would bet that very few Christians understand just how sophisticated are the ancient techniques of spiritual warfare, or even that such a thing exists.

Again, as I have mentioned before, traditional metaphysics teaches that human beings are composed of no less than three distinct parts: body, mind (or soul), and spirit. Each of these is subject to constant growth and change. Obviously that applies to our bodies. And we can also see that it applies to the mind, in that this is what conventional education and self-improvement are all about. But since the enlightenment, we have tended to conflate soul and spirit, with disastrous consequences; spirit has actually been reduced to soul, so that there is no recognition that spiritual growth runs along its own track. Most people stop learning anything truly new by the time they are 25 or 30. Worse, the vast majority experience no spiritual growth at all. Even the best of them are stuck in the lower intellect, as if that is all there is.

As you know, one of my favorite places to study left wing secular pneumapathology is It offers such a wealth of the varieties of spiritual illness that it is irresistible. A couple of days ago there was an article by Cenk Uygur, entitled The Liberation of Meaninglessness that exemplifies what it is like to be of reasonable--probably above average--intelligence, but to be absolutely enclosed in a spiritually primitive, animal-like existence. Truly, like an ape with a slightly more sophisticated brain, suffering from a sort of invincible blindness to any reality that transcends his immediate senses. In fact, most Darwinians would have no objection to the characterization of being glorified apes.

Bear in mind that this most certainly represents "sophisticated" contemporary leftist thought. It is the kind of thought that makes them feel so confidently superior to the religious. Uygur asks, for example, "What are we waiting for? What--heaven? Hell? You have got to be kidding me. Please don't tell me that you are wasting the one precious life you have waiting around for the fairytales of our ancestors. Our ancestors thought the stars were holes in the sky. They thought the Earth was flat, that the Sun revolved around us and that there is a man with a gray beard up in the sky."

Fascinating. On the one hand, he recognizes that life is infinitely precious. Few people are so spiritually blind that they cannot see that. But in the next breath he says that "We are infinitesimally small. We are miniscule animals on a tiny planet circling a small star in a giant galaxy. There are at least 200 billion stars just like ours in our galaxy alone. And there are anywhere between 10 to 100 billion other galaxies. When you zoom out from a single person to the Earth to our sun to the 200 billion other stars in our galaxy and to the billions of other galaxies, you realize we are entirely irrelevant."

Do you see the confusion? Once you collapse the realm of the soul and the spirit, you inhabit an impoverished "flatland" in which everything is equivalent to everything else. Life--which is clearly higher than matter--is violently reduced to mere matter, no different than one of the billions of stars--or atoms or rocks, for that matter.

Uygur confuses what is more fundamental with what is more significant, which is exactly what his metaphysic condemns him to do from the outset. The conclusion is loaded into the premise, and the premise results from his own spiritual blindness, now elevated to a form of great intellectual courage. He assures us that human beings are "a cosmic joke." (Odd that these people are called "humanists.") Our brief presence in the cosmos "doesn't even qualify as a hiccup in time.... The insignificance of that period time within 15 billion years cannot be overstated. Our lives go by quicker than a cosmic second. We are so small as to be nearly nonexistent. Yet we are led to believe that we are the center of the damn universe. Everything we do is so important. We lead these careful, guilt-ridden, cautious lives only to die abruptly and disappear into cosmic insignificance."

Do you see how this man is promulgating the first incorrect philosophy that the yahoos who wrote the Bible dispensed with on page one? It is called cosmolatry. That is, this man is suggesting that the material cosmos is the highest and greatest, just because it preceded our arrival. It is ultimate--in its wake we are completely insignificant.

In fact, it was in order to prevent human beings from going down that primitive and spiritually vapid road--cosmolatry is hardly a modern or postmodern philosophy, but a very primitive one--that the Bible states "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In other words, the rug is pulled out from primitive cosmolatry right from he outset: there is something higher and greater than the material cosmos, as awesome as the comsos may appear to the untutored senses. It is just another creation of something greater, something far transcending it. To coin a phrase, it is "one cosmos under God," not equivalent to God.

As I have mentioned before, it is ironic that secular atheists are even more fundamental than the most fundamental fundamentalist. Thus Uygur contemptuously dismisses religion by reducing it to its most base understanding. If we could talk to one of the writers of the Bible today, they would say "We wrote that woman came from the rib of man because we had no fucking idea where women came from. You've traced back the origin of life and you're still wondering if we knew something you don't know? We were practically cavemen. We knew less science than your average third grader now."

Although the cosmos is entirely meaningless, Uygur presumes to instruct us how to have a meaningful life, not realizing that his metaphysic rules this out a priori. He says, "There is something liberating about meaninglessness. We are cosmically insignificant, so who cares what we do?.... For the love of God, just please live the life you want to live, not the one you think you should live." "Enjoy yourself without infringing on others. Hedonism is not the answer [hmm. why not?]. But a stodgy, unadventurous life isn't either."

A stodgy, unadventurous life. That's what Uyger's life would represent to me, an awful imprisonment in maya, in the world of the animal senses and the lower mind, with no possibility of exodus into vertical liberation. In reality, the spiritual life is the only adventure that is: the awesome adventure of consciousness into God. There are ways to miss out on this adventure, both religious and secular. And that, my friends, would be a wasted and meaningless life--a celestial abortion, if you want to know the truth.


As a consequence of the inability to distinguish between the higher and lower, the secular liberal temple of the Oscar ceremony confers one of its highest awards upon the infrahuman. From the invaluable American Digest, via larwyn):

"With the THREE 6 MAFIA scheduled to serenade the clotted cream of our culture tonight at the Oscars with their moving ode..., "You Know It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," one wonders exactly what songs THREE 6 MAFIA might be called upon to perform as an encore at the after parties should they win.

"Checking the group's impressive catalogue it could be one, or more, or perhaps all of the following masterpieces:

Blow A Nigga's Ass Off
Fuck That Nigga
Fuck Dat Shit
Get Buck Muthafucka (Original)
Long And Hard (Original)
No I'm Not Dat Nigga
Hoes Can Be Like Niggas
From Da Back
Fuck Y'all Hoes
Mafia Niggaz
Weak Azz Bitch
Jealous Ass Bitches
Beatem To Da Floor
Put Cha D. In Her Mouth
Pussy Got Ya Hooked
Slob On My Knob
or the immortal,
Slob On My Knob (Pt. II)
[Because there was so much more to say.]

"Given the climate of the Academy today, any one of these might indeed be Oscar material in and of itself. But given the proclivities of the Academy today, my money's on either one of the last two as the songs much in demand wherever our glitterati gather tonight after the show."


Fascinating. We know that liberals are obsessed with race. No one seems to consider that this might be a reaction formation or unconscious attempt to "undo" feelings of condescension and superiority. Thus, racial superiority returns through the back door in the form of racial quotas, hate crime legislation, speech codes--and in awards such as this, elevating the bestial to the sublime.

It reminds me of George Clooney's moral grandstanding last night about how enlightened the Hollywood nitwiterati have always been in the fight against racism. In point of fact, a film like To Kill a Mockingbird might more accurately be described as a self-congratulatory exercise in trying to atone for the degrading way that Hollywood had generally depicted blacks prior to that. In a return to form, they once again joyously celebrate their portrayal of blacks as subhuman gutterati. Liberals used to fight for abolition. Now they fight for the Abolition of Man.


Anonymous said...

I have become much more interested in the issue of altered traits rather than altered states

could you give an example of a trait you have changed as a result of your explorations

what altered traits would you recognize in an evolved person ?

Anonymous said...

I have been reading this blog with interest for some weeks now, after being much impressed with "One Cosmos...". I might jump in with a quick altered trait that has been significant in my life, mainly the knowing that the line in the St Francis prayer is true for me: For it is in giving that we receive. This is the exact opposite of the hedonism mentioned in the post today and might be a early landmark issue separating those on a spiritual versus a secular path.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes--I think I'll refrain from answering Anonymous #1's question and drawing attention to myself. However, I would invite any readers to discuss the very real and permanent ways that they have changed as a result of spiritual practice, as per Anonymous 2. When these things happen, they transcend any merely psychological explanation.

hoyden said...

Thank you for another great explanation of your spiritual path. I find a lot to relate with: evolution not revolution. My world didn't change but how I relate to it has. I don't have the same problems and the problems aren't so much problems anymore but the "salt" that spices my life.

primal_john said...

Bob, on occasion the "jolt cure" wrought by a born-again experience can seal-off the "issues that have never been properly dealth with."
True, all psychoviruses may not have been adequately defended against.
I hope you'll be writing about the "ancient technique of spiritual warfare" against these lingerers. Sounds interesting!

LiquidLifeHacker said...

When Clooney said---

"And finally, I would say that, you know, we are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while. I think it's probably a good thing. We're the ones who talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects. This Academy, this group of people ! gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I'm proud to be a part of this Academy, proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch. And I thank you so much for this."

I absorbed this as he was implying that it was a good thing to be "out of touch" with the conservative America and I thought it was really arrogant of him to give Hollywood all this "credit" as being on the front line of social issues as if the American people's mouths have always been ducted taped prior to seeing any of Hollywood's biased films on any given topic! OMGOSH it was like follow Hollywood because we can show you the way!!! The icing on the cake for me though of his narcisstic bloated speech was when he used Hattie McDaniel, because he fails to mention the actual stereotype part of a maid that that Hollywood had cast her into. "McDaniel and many black actors and actresses were criticized for playing in what people consider demeaning roles. McDaniel reportedly said she’d rather be paid $700 a week to play a maid than be paid $7 a week to be a maid." I only bring up this point because I bet it would suprise people to investigate the amount of money that Clooney's good old Hollywood academy (that he implies is on the front line before all of the rest of us on social awareness) was paying it's "white" actresses during that time! Hmmmmm...guess it's another subject they choose to either not bring up or just hope that those of us "out of touch" might not ever put a fingerprint on! I just roll my eyes at how these leftist live in a coccoon!

Bro. Bartleby said...

"traditional metaphysics teaches that human beings are composed no less than three distinct parts: body, mind (or soul), and spirit."

I would say the human being as body/mind/soul. As Augustine illustrates, our soul the conduit between our mind and the Spirit. Or Holy Spirit, or as John called it, the Spirit of Truth. John further names Jesus (in the flesh) as the Advocate with the Father. Many interesting terms used, Holy Spirit, Advocate, Intercessor, Paraclete (parakletos). All acting as conduit between individual humans and God. As Hebrew scripture makes know, humans are incapable of standing before (touching) God, we like a tiny moth fluttering into the burning Sun. So through Jesus/Holy Spirit/Advocate/Intercessor/Paraclete we can know the ways of God. And to be "born again" or turned around, turned toward the light of God, we surrender that "voice in our head" over to God, and God allows the Advocate to speak and teach and guide our thoughts. And as John says, the Paraclete is teacher as well as accuser (teaching us right from wrong).

Kahntheroad said...


I'm curious about the sequence of attempting a spiritual pursuit. You've proposed before that psychoanalysis is an important, if not essential, element for spiritual growth. Is it a prerequisite?

Is it fruitless to even bother seeking out the vertical when one is still bogged down with mind parasites and other unresolved horizontal issues? And to what extent must these be resolved, or tempered?

Or is it possible for an intense spiritual experience to turn the tide, so to speak?

One thing that has always bothered me about conventional Christianity is this whole notion of waiting around for a savior. I think the appeal of it makes sense ('don't worry, this friendly guy with a well groomed beard and flowing white robe will pick up the slack'), and it offers a way to project our desire to be 'saved' onto a metaphor instead of other people.

But is it the other way around: that you've got to clean the house first before 'Jesus' comes over? Is there anything to the idea of praying/leaning on 'God' to help you through? Or is that just an appeal to your higher self or inner strength?

Are there life changing epiphanies? Or is the only true epiphany the one where you realize that there are no short cuts?

Bob, when you treat a patient who comes in with a 'barrier to spiritual growth' what methods do you apply? Obviously, every case is different, but, in general, what is the process look like?

Bryan said...

"In contemporary America there is much talk of the "born again" experience. You were a fallen creature wandering satan's horizontal playground, had a personal experience of the risen Jesus, and were saved. End of story.

I see at least a couple of serious potential pitfalls with this view. First of all, it reduces what I believe is an ongoing evolution to an either/or situation, with no clear appreciation of the unfolding nature of spiritual growth, and how difficult it is: that one must engage in spiritual warfare with body, mind and spirit, not just once, but every day."

A few days ago I made a comment about how the conflict between esoteric and exoteric Christianity was what had driven me away from Christianity altogether and into Buddhist practice, and the issue you raise here provides another perspective on that.

Christian doctrine, as I understand it, asserts that faith in Jesus is a necessary condition for salvation. In the Lutheran and Calvinist views, faith in Jesus is also a sufficient condition for salvation. "Salvation" is understood as salvation from an afterlife of separation from God and eternal torment, represented in the Bible as damnation in penal fire.

Now, if one holds such a view, which I believe was the view of the major architects of Christian doctrine (Anselm, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin), then the role of spiritual practice (such as contemplative prayer) becomes questionable, all the more so if one holds to the protestant radicalization of the idea of salvation through faith alone. If faith in Jesus is what saves you, then practicing contemplative prayer or any other form of spiritual discipline as a means of drawing closer to God could be understood as a form of blasphemy, in that Christ is supposed to be your mediator to God, not some form of works.

And this is not just some tension that I have made up but was felt even by such an advocate of contemplative prayer as Thomas Merton, who explicitly says that faith in Jesus, not the practice of contemplation, is the primary thing needful.

I believe that this is the primary reason that Christian mysticism had to go underground and that the exoteric church frequently persecuted it. If one does a discipline like contemplative prayer seriously, soon it becomes apparent that the practice is effecting the transformation that one's previous faith did not.

And this is clear heresy. Damnable heresy.

I believe that Merton made the statement that he did not because he actually believed it, but because he knew that Christian doctrine required him to believe it, and he wanted to force himself to believe it, despite the evidence of his own experience to the contrary.

I would welcome any thoughts and responses on this issue from Dr. Bob or any Christian readers here.

Gagdad Bob said...

Kahntheroad and Bryan--

Your kung fu is too strong today. I cannot answer your excellent questions by way of a brief comment. I will do so in tomorow's post, nausea permitting.

Bryan--One important point to bear in mind is that, from the Orthodox standpoint, Protestantism is a modern deviation from an earlier deviation (Catholicism). Christianity as it originally developed in the first millennium was quite esoteric and interior. That especially changed when the Roman church split away from the east and became much more imperial and outward looking in its orientation. The tradition of "unseen warfare" has always been emphasized in Orthodoxy. I will discuss more tomorrow. But I'm talking about a different strand of development that includes Origen, Pseudo-Dionysius, the Philokalia, and St. Theophan, plus the incomparable Meister Eckhart, who was Catholic but ran afoul of the church hierarchy for his deviant teachings.

Bryan said...

Dr. Bob,

Regrettably, I am largely ignorant about Eastern Orthodoxy, my knowledge of Christianity being confined to Catholicism and Protestantism. I look forward to your comments tomorrow (and hope that the nausea is better).

LiquidLifeHacker said...

bro--"And to be "born again" or turned around, turned toward the light of God, we surrender that "voice in our head" over to God, and God allows the Advocate to speak and teach and guide our thoughts. And as John says, the Paraclete is teacher as well as accuser (teaching us right from wrong"

Beautifully described Bro!!


Khan--"One thing that has always bothered me about conventional Christianity is this whole notion of waiting around for a savior. I think the appeal of it makes sense ('don't worry, this friendly guy with a well groomed beard and flowing white robe will pick up the slack'), and it offers a way to project our desire to be 'saved' onto a metaphor instead of other people.

Khan, I know you didn't ask me, but here's my two cents worth since I like to share...

God put eternity on all of our hearts, and for me, I believe that Jesus has already "picked up the slack" when He suffered on the cross for our sins. I believe that when we humble ourselves and reach out to seek God via prayer with honest desire then we start to knock on the door. In Luke: Jesus said, "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."

I have had many people ask me about my choice, they have asked, "Why Jesus?" and I tell them, that when I pass over to the "other side" and leave this body behind, I truly believe that I will stand before my maker. So on this day when I will be held accountable for everything I have said and done in my life on earth, the only thing for me that will save me is having Jesus as my savior and my "lawyer" so to speak because I have asked for His blood that was shed on the cross to cover my sins.

Who else has sacrificed so that we can have everlasting life? What other choices out there offers us any good news for support and hope by a sacrifice for our salvation on that day concerning our sins? Some will say it can be done through good works, but I cannot lie to myself, there is no good work that can cover my sins that I could offer up myself. I have sinned in the past and continue to sin in the present. (I learn from my sins and feel remorse each time but I can't say I have long term sinless days. I keep trying! We all keep trying!) So I know that personally 'I alone' will have nothing of value to offer in defense of my wicked heart and tongue which have done and said such wrong things and I know in my heart that saying "I am sorry" or "I didn't mean to do it or say it" or "I didn't know how serious it was" on that day won't really help me, as we know that 'all' have sinned and 'all' fall short of the glory of God and that includes the souls out there that believe and those that choose not to believe. It includes us all!

I feel strongly that I have to work on repent within my heart now through prayer "much like a client does with a lawyer for an upcoming date" Prayer for me has become not only a close up and personal place to change my thoughts and work on my behavior, but it has also become a place to tell God my desires and my hopes. The more I am there (in the vertical or in prayer or whatever you want to call the type of meditation) I realise that the desire for what is in the other world with my maker that awaits us all is greater than the desires I have for this world. I catch myself dreaming less of all the coveting in these fleshly bodies that we have temporary time in and I catch myself desiring less the material things here I always thought I had to have and I more and more I start to step over and wonder with more open eyes on how I will compare 'over there' on the other side! I know that I will fall short and although many people would rather think on the afterlife punishments or wrath, my heart weeps deeply more on not being worthy for all my potential inheritence as there will be a time of rebuke and rewards!

Many people continue to deny that they will ever have to be accountable one day...but I believe we will all be held accountable. In my heart, God has shown me a way home and offered me His only Son as a gift on that day. I know it sounds really over simplified in the way that I am trying to share it here, but I understand that death is the wage of sin, but the good news for me, is that through Christ, I have a chance to live again and live forever if I choose to by accepting the greatest gift of love ever offered.

Bro. Bartleby said...

For all those who have had less than positive experiences with the various dogmas of Christianity, I would suggest that you do as the early Church fathers did, seek out the original text. Now after two-thousand years of "spin" we have many confused preaching to the even more confused. So as an exercise/mediation in "rebirth" I would seek out a book store with a selection of Bibles, and if you are in a hurry to be "birthed" then find a Bible with all of the words of Jesus in red print. Then spend a weekend reading only the red print. Ponder on that awhile, and if possible, let not all the "stuff" that good hearted (yet often misguided) Sunday school teachers put into your head, let it go, and with keen ears listen only to Jesus.

Sal said...

A couple of points:
if we're using "consciousness" as another term for "mysticism", consider that in the Christian tradition, not everyone is called to be one. This isn't a matter of Gnostic snobbery - "oh, that's much too rarified knowlege for you" - but one of vocation.
(See the 12 Chapter of I Corinthians.) Or, caste, as Bob explores in previous posts.
So, level of mysticism may not be the best criteria for judging the claims of Christianity.

Too, there is a pendulum effect at work here - the Church is continually swinging between the active and the contemplative, if you like. Chesterton compares this to a man drving a chariot between two walls, trying to keep to the middle and avoid crashing into either.

I am having a fine time kicking around the idea of everything as language.

I'd like to see the constancy of human nature discussed, sometime.

Feel better.

Anonymous said...

One of the traits is realizing man's limitations and not taking everything personally. Understanding what Jesus mean't when he said "Father forgive them, they know not what they do." And then apologizing to God a lot for being an asshole anyway. :)

Jenny said...

LiquidLifeHacker, I totally agree with what you have said above.