Friday, July 13, 2007

Pneumanauts & Vertical Adventurers

(I don't think I have time to spell-check... )

It is interesting that a fair number of my readers are Christians of the "unproblematic" variety -- that is, people who were simply raised Christian or who became Christian at a young age, and that was the end of their spiritual search -- if indeed it was a search at all. This is so far from my experience, that we might as well be living in parallel universes. Please, this is not a criticism. I often wish things could be so simple and straightforward for me. Not only did I feel as if I were on a search, but a frantic one -- shirttails on fire, looking for the water.

As I have mentioned before, it was only after my book was actually written and the manuscript submitted that I had a vivid moment -- think of Alec Gunness in Bridge On the River Kwai -- in which I exclaimed, "My God, what have I done?" Not only had I included some things that would needlessly alienate Christians -- and more traditionally religious people in general -- but at that very time, I had found myself being drawn to Christianity in a deeper way than had ever happened before. Thus, I had to rewrite much of the book in the space of a few short weeks.

I suppose I could reconstruct the timeline if I gave it some thought, but that's probably not important. I can, however, more or less reconstruct the exact sequence of books that opened my eyes to the "yogic depths" -- no offense -- of Christianity, and it was this: Inner Christianity --> A Different Christianity --> Gnosis (three volumes) --> Meditations on the Tarot.

I keep some of these books in the sidebar, in the permanent overmental liberary of foundational raccoomendations. In particular, Meditations strikes me as the last word in Christian hermeticism from a universalist Western perspective. I don't include Gnosis, because although Mouravieff is rooted in Eastern Orthodoxy, he's nevertheless rather unorthodox, as he gets into a lot of occult speculation that is closer to the spirit of Gurdjieff. Not that there's anything completely wrong with that, but at least for my taste, I find that universal precepts can be twisted too far in an idiosyncratic or personal way, so that the universal appeal is lost. I think one of the purposes of dogma is to channel the religious imagination within certain constraints, but it's always somewhat of a fine line between being a visionary and heretic.

Meditations may at times push the envelope, but in the end, I believe Anonymous achieves his goal of "vivifying the body" of tradition -- not by being "superior" to it, i.e., the "head" -- but by providing it with a "beating heart." He exemplifies the spirit that "interiorizes" as opposed to the letter which "exteriorizes." Someone such as a Rudolf Steiner has many deep and useful things to say about Christianity, but they are often couched in such a personal vision that they become problematic. They are too interior.

In fact, once I read Mouravieff -- who was strongly influenced by the early Fathers -- this spurred me to go back to the very beginnings of Christianity. I became fascinated with the question of exactly what transpired between the time of the death of Jesus and the elaboration of Christian theology. Originally, Christians didn't even call themselves Christians. Rather, that was a designation of the Roman authorities.

Early Christianity was markedly experiential, to say the least. It is critical to point out that a uniform doctrine only emerged with the first Council of Nicea in 325. It is rather difficult to imagine, but that means some three hundred years, during which time the followers of Jesus were having these pretty wild experiences with the Holy Spirit before they decided to try to get everyone on the same page. It's easy to forget, but the attempt to come up with a creed was definitely a case of O-->(k), not vice versa. In other words, in hindsight, we might look at dogma as something cold and inflexible, but at the time, it was thoroughly rooted in experience.

But once experience is "stored" in dogma, the trick is how to "unpack" it again. This was the main problem I had with Christianity as a child. You're just presented with this "finished product," which is essentially (k) about O -- that is to say, a kind of rigid formulation about ultimate reality. But what if I want to figure things out for myself? After all, this is what the first Christians did. The desert fathers didn't go to the library to learn about Christianity. Rather, they left civilization altogether, went out to the remote desert, and lived in caves in order to have a direct encounter with O.

Again, we can scarcely imagine. In fact, I'm not sure if we can imagine it at all. First of all, imagine the strength of the "call" to do something so radical. Why? What was the lure? Is there anything analogous in our day and age to such a wholehearted plunge into the mystery of being?

Well, yes, I suppose there is. I eventually found a number of important Christian figures who didn't so much initiate a "Christian-Vedanta dialogue" as become totally committed to exploring and living out the reality of their unity, including Swami Abhishiktananda (Fr. Henri LeSaux) and Fr. Bede Griffiths.

Interestingly, the desert fathers were not fundamentally dissimilar to the Vedantic seers who rejected the world as "maya," who wished to have a direct encounter with O, and who left us the Upanishads. Or look at it this way: don't flatter yourself, little Raccoon. The folks who had that kind of commitment -- to turn their back to the solid but illusory world in favor of an uncertain adventure into the ocean of consciousness -- have much more in common with each other than with you or I.

As I put it in One Cosmos, we owe much to "these inward explorers -- eccentric psychonauts mostly unfit for conventional existence, or simply unwilling to accept the slave wages of normality," who "identified a trap door into a vertical dimension," finding there "a return route to the forgotten country from which humans had set out Before the Beginning. Venturing across the Great Divide separating man from the incorruptible sphere of the gods, our virtual adventurers then found themselves pulled into the orbit of the Great Attractor, the very ground and goal of existence, the unseparate Source of all being, a mostly uninhabited region at the outskirts of consciousness, the Final, Absolute Reality where cosmos flowers into deity and Bang! you're divine."

Sri Krishna Prem, another westerner who left the comfort of the modern world to found an ashram in India in the 1920s, wrote that "the real purpose of all the ancient cosmogonies" is "to invite us to turn our gaze inwards to the source and origin of both the 'outer' universe of phenomena and of the 'inner' universe of consciousness, to find there the ever-present and eternal simultaneity of what is here seen as a flow of separate events in time; and above all, to fathom the ultimate mystery of our selfhood."

Flat out of time. To be continued.....


gumshoe said...

i've been dragged recently
(by my native curiosity)
into the messy area of
"gnostic christianity",which somewhat relates somewhat to your thread,Bob.

it's almost too "Dan Brown",
but the conflict for (earthly?) authority between the religious orthodoxy of the Christian faith and the "western" ideals of individualism,free inquiry and free thought,liberty,rationalism,etc.
seems to be the elephant in the room,at least from my current perspective.

can you elaborate on what you call
"Christian Hermeticism",Bob,
keeping in mind i've not read"Meditations".

how is is separate from
"Gnostic Christianity",
ie "Dan Brown"??


Gagdad Bob said...

Gotta run, but there's no parallel at all. No time to elaborate.

River Cocytus said...

gumshoe : AFAIK, gnosticism is based on, more or less, considering the physical corrupt and evil and temporal and the soul perfect and good and eternal. 'Christian' overtures aside, it is a philosophy that has no more need of God than does any transmigrating immortal...

Imagine God reaching down through Jesus, and Man reaching up through free inquiry, free thought, liberty, rationalism - at their best.

That's my view of the whole mess.

Gecko said...

" I often wish things could be so simple and straightforward for me. Not only did I feel as if I were on a search, but a frantic one -- shirttails on fire, looking for the water."
Great post, Gagdad. This is the way it was for me as well , back in the sixties when I was coming of age , which led me to the practice yoga on and off throughout my life. Meditations and Schoen, who I never would have heard of or stuck with had it not been for your ability to communicate so effectively and consistently. Your oasis, well, I am so grateful for it that it is almost embaressing as I am not so adept with words.

Robin Starfish said...

Vision Quest

lost in the desert
reading signs to guide me home
revelator john

Anonymous said...

B'ob -

I've been greatly enjoying your mini-autobiography over the past few days.

I've seen recently that you appear to be stuck in the same place I was a few years back - namely, the inherent contradiction and irreconcilability between Aurobindo's "progressive evolutionary" views, and the Traditionalists' anti-evolutionary metaphysic. And meanwhile, the Great Koan that is the mystery of Jesus Christ lurks in the background.

I also have been driven urgently, for very many years, by a similar kind of urge for transcendence. Having had no religious training whatsoever (my family was composed almost entirely of atheists), my road jas taken me through Leftism and radical alienation, psychedelics, Theosophy, New Age, parapsychological research, Advaita Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, Kashmir Shaivism, and eventually to Aurobindo and Schuon, where I got stuck. There was a period of great suffering and grieving in my life, and I found that the religion I had spent decades inventing for myself crashed to the ground. It was only when I realized that I was utterly helpless that the true direction I was meant to go in was revealed to me. Be afraid, B'ob - be very afraid - because the very next step in my case turned out to be the Catholic Church (cue organ music....)

I hope you decide to keep blogging, because I've been reading for a couple of years now, watching with fascination and unspeakable empathy as the Great Koan did its work in you. (Plus, you're funny as hell - what a grand funferal!)

Roo said...

Um, Bridge On , not Over, the River Kwai.

gumshoe said...

river -

thanks for the reply.

my thoughts on the topic are poorly formed at the moment,
and i question the quailty
of some of the readings that have prompted the thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Another anonymous -

As far as I know, Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and some of the other original churches such as the Ethiopian church, are the only ones in which the religion of the desert fathers, i.e. Christianity, is still practiced. That's why I think it is a misnomer to call what Americans call Christianity, Christianity. It's just not. While I think the RC provides the disciplined environment needed to enact the inner Christianity, I think the doctrines can be a stumbling block to the modern mind. I strive to submit to the discipline and practise while bracketing the doctrine.

River Cocytus said...

anonymous - what you're calling 'not Christianity' is definitely Christianity - this coming from one who has known and experienced it. If you have ever been in Charismatic circles you might come upon the same experiential Christianity that Bob describes. But it is the devotional, emotional Christianity; not the Christianity of duty and works nor the Christianity of intellect and knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Another Anonymous - What you said! I am on the same page with you. Although true submission also means, I believe, submitting the intellect to revealed doctrines which seem, at least initially, to be incomprehensible and/or meaningless. We believe in order to understand, not the other way around.

River C - Charismatic Christianity is certainly "real" Christianity, it's just not the complete package. Christianity had liturgies, rituals, sacraments, etc, before the New Testament was even written. If a first century Christian was taken to a Charismatic church, he would probably say, "This is great! But where's the rest of it?"

River Cocytus said...

Anonymous - have you attended any of these? Or is this merely a judgment based on anecdotes?

'With the measure ye mete, the same will be meted unto you.'

The form of intercessional prayer that is done with music is kind of sacrament that rivals the solemnity of the others with its devotional passion.

Lisa said...

Wow, I thought you guys were just talking about Christians with really good personalities. Didn't realize there is an actually stream of Christianity called Charismatic. Do tell....

Alan said...

Lisa: There are several streams that carry the "charismatic" label everything from the Toronto Blessing (I witnessed it and it freaked me out), Pentacostalism, to Roman Catholic Charismatics.

It isn't for me (at times I can be about as emotionally demonstrable as a rock) but I have lots of friends involved in the Charismatic Catholic stream.

River: There is also an experiential Christianity that could be best called "psychological" (ie. re: the psyche) as exemplified by many of the early Church fathers and best continued (IMHO) in the Eastern Orthodox tradition (and discussed directly or indirectly in many of the books Bob mentioned) To me, it fuses all three methods (yogas) Devotion (bhakti), action (Karma), and knowledge (jnana) into what would be parallel to Raja yoga in the hindu tradition.

For my yoga is easy, and my burden is light - Matt 11:30.

Lisa said...

Thanks for the explanation, Alan. As another wise person said, I may have egg on my face but the yogas on you!

maineman said...

Hi all. I'm back from sitting by a lake for two weeks (Somebody had to do it.), during which I read and re-read the River of Fire article that somebody brought here a couple of months back, and some of it seems to relate to the discussion here.

I took a main theme of that piece to be that rationalism is actually a form of narcissism, a projection of the human perspective onto the Cosmos and thereby a form of paganism that carries with it destructive implications. This would include the notion that God sits in judgment, behaves punitively or otherwise in response to human deeds, and is subject to very human emotions such as vengeance.
The author clearly makes the point that this perspective breeds resentment of, and turning away from God, to the grave disservice of the modern West, and he thinks that such paganism is alive and well in established Christian churches.

I just found this very clarifying in that it explains secular leftist rants about how God is just too stupid and capricious to possibly exist, as well as the magical thinking of the save-the-planet-
salvage-The-Grid folks, and finally the alienating thrust of the fire and brimstone version of Christianity.

So I'm not sure how clear I'm being, but I think this perspective implies, Gumshoe, that the conflict between rationalism, Western ideals, and Christianity is a man-made trap, a preoccupation with the horizontal conflict between two projections: reason/nature and codified religious dogman.

It seems to me that the impulse to avoid traditional Christian pathways to increased awareness -- at least in my case -- often derives from a sense that the notion of a God who created us just to have someone to control and occasionally smack around is just too silly to be true. When I read Dawkins and Hitchens, that seems to be a lot of what they have to say, but that's really a reaction to Greek and Roman style gods.

But -- back to River of Fire -- if you see God as constantly loving and available, and see much of our pain and suffering (all of it?) as a result of turning away from God, then such seeming contradictions melt away as just another self-punitive impulse, the flip side of our narcissistic grandiosity. That is, God's got no problem with reason. There's no elephant in the room unless we bring one in. I suppose I'm just taking a long time to agree with River.

As for experiential Christianity, if you've ever held the hands of a Pentacostal during prayer, it's easy to cozy up to the notion that God is constantly breathing life into everything and it's our resistance that keeps our radios from being on all the time.

Susannah said...

(I witnessed it and it freaked me out),

LOL! DH went there too. (Research for dissertation.)

ximeze said...

Ran across a nifty conversion story (for those of us who like to read them) while doing some Foodie reseach into Coconut Oil. It's titled "How I Found Peace With God"

phil g said...

"But once experience is "stored" in dogma, the trick is how to "unpack" it again. This was the main problem I had with Christianity as a child..."

yes, yes, yes...that was exactly my experience, just did not know how to express it until you said it so perfectly.