Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's Getting Better All the Time

Either that or worse. I forget which.

I would like to post on a subject that just came up again this morning, but which is actually a perennial problem that I (and perhaps you) have to face time and time again. I'm not sure if I know how to resolve it; perhaps I already have -- to the extent that it can be resolved -- at least in practice if not in principle.

In fact, in a certain sense, both my book and the blog represent an ongoing attempt to resolve this issue, which ultimately comes down to the question of how we are to forge a truly Unified Theory of Everything which accounts equally for both the vertical (subjective, interior) and horizontal (objective, interior) worlds -- i.e, the Whole Existentialada.

The other day I mentioned the idea that the vector of cosmic evolution occurs along a gradient of deepening coherence and meaning, so that in the long run, time reveals the achievement of increasingly comprehensive interior unities (which would also be Whitehead's general idea). The reason I believe this is that it best accounts for the available evidence. In other words, this is more of an empirical than a religious belief. I have no reason to doubt that the cosmos banged into being 13.7 billion years ago, or that life appeared on earth some 3.85 billion years ago, or that recognizable human consciousness began to flower about 50,000 years ago.

But to the extent that this scheme is true, then religious doctrine shouldn't contradict it. Not that religion needs to fit itself into a scientific paradigm; rather, the reverse: the world is the way it is because it reflects timeless metaphysical principles articulated in the perennial religion.

The essential dilemma arose again the other day in the context of discussing my rejection of Schuon's strict traditionalism, or at least two central aspects of it. But in rejecting these two pillars, most if not all of his initiates and followers would say that I have rejected his central doctrine -- which I probably never understood to begin with. It would be analogous to saying that I really love Christianity with the exception of that resurrection business, or that I'm a big fan of Judaism except for the idea that the Torah is divinely inspired.

Now, because I am a Raccoon, and Raccoons are by nature sort of gay and lighthearted -- some would say frivolous -- one might gain the impression that when I disagree with Schuon, I do so lightly -- that I dismiss this or that idea with the impudent wave of a hand. Nothing could be further from the truth -- just as I tremble slightly at my deviations from Aurobindo, or from Tomberg, or from J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, or from anyone else who knows better than I do about these things.

I suppose it goes without saying that I am what I am, but it may not go without saying that I also can't help it. Likewise, Schuon was who he was. The question is, how much of this temperamental isness (or wasness) shapes how we see the world? Furthermore, is it even possible to truly stand outside ourselves and mind someone else's isness? Perhaps doing so is as impossible as trying to imagine what it would be like to be a dog, or a cow, an insect, or Joel Stein (if you're a man). We can't really do it, because we merely project our own consciousness into the other.

In other words, is it possible that my differences with Schuon are temperamental and not doctrinal? He would answer with an unambiguous "no."

Perhaps I should get to the nub of the gist of the essence of the heart of the bottom line of the matter, which is this. Trad-Coon Joseph addressed it in a comment the other day, asking how it was possible for me to reconcile the "metaphysical dreams" of Schuon and Mead -- which ultimately comes down to the question of whether the world is evolving or degenerating. In Schuon's view, the "golden age" was in the past, so that time can hardly reflect "a gradient of deepening coherence and meaning"; rather, the reverse. In a handbag, I might add.

Here's how Schuon would respond to the "idiotic and dishonest circumlocutions" of somebob who suggests that he may have had an irrational nostalgia for a past that never really existed: "Those who look back longingly at some past age because it embodied certain vital values are reproached for adhering to these values because they are found in the past, or because one would like to situate them there 'irreversibly'; one might as well say that the acceptance of an arithmetical proof is the sign, not of the unimpaired functioning of the intelligence, but of a morbid obsession with numbers. If to recognize what is true and just is 'nostalgia for the past,' it is quite clearly a crime or a disgrace not to feel this nostalgia."

Now, before you reject Schuon's gnostalgia out of hand, it does have some explanatory power. Because of my basic optimism, I try not to dwell on it, but the modern world is in many respects a pretty awful place. I'm lucky, because I've been able to forge a little shelter from it, and work at avoiding letting it get its hooks into me. I don't go out much, but last night, for example, I attended a wedding in Los Angeles and was once again struck by just how ugly the place is. Not all of it, of course, but as you drive along the 101, your eyes encounter such jarring ugliness that it's difficult to realize that it was intentionally produced by human minds.

The same can obviously be said of television. Hundreds of stations available at any given time, but comparatively little that isn't vile, stupid, crass, vulgar, corrupting, or generally infrahuman. Schuon's theory has no difficulty accounting for this. It's because time runs in degenerating cycles, and we happen to be in the Kali yuga, the last cycle before the whole thing goes up in flames. I'm the one who must explain how things are getting better when they look so much worse. How, for example, to account for the 20th and most bloody century of all?

Everything seems to be degenerating before our eyes, from the establishment news media, to motion pictures, to literature, to visual art, to education, to male-female relations. I have witnessed this cultural decline during my lifetime, but I attribute it mainly to two factors, 1) man's falleness, and 2) the cultural dominance of the Left, an ideology which essentially glorifies the Fall and undermines its vertical counter-movement. (I guess I have a third explanation as well, that our unprecedented affluence allows more people than ever before the "luxury" of acting out their psychopathlogy.)

In short, I believe that ideas have consequences, and that we are under the dominance of bad ideas which transform well-intentioned people into agents of evil. I do not for a second believe that most leftists are bad people. But I do believe that they are under the influence of a truly satanic -- or, if you prefer, anti-evolutionary -- ideology. That being the case, I believe there is a solution, at least to problem #2. I know this solution exists, since I used to have that problem and now I don't. Therefore, "evolution" is possible, at least on a retail basis.

Furthermore, I think that the only way to create widespread change is to present people with an alternative ideology that is better -- which explains more -- than their present one. Frankly, there is no way Schuon's total system could ever appeal to a mass audience. For one thing, in my opinion, it is a system of complete and total pessimism about the world and its future, and is totally incompatible with intrinsically optimistic "Americanism" -- without which the world cannot be saved.

I think about this all the time -- where I fit in to the scheme of things, since I don't exactly follow one established religion and reject major parts of my most revered teachers (and I do consider Schuon to be an incomparable spiritual genius), and yet, could never have the hubris to consider myself some sort of independent spiritual authority. To a certain extent, I think of myself as simply conducting original spiritual research. If, say, I were to join the Catholic church, I fear that that would be the end of my "original research," since I would be bound by church doctrine. Furthermore, I'm afraid it would cut me off from other important sources of spiritual information at this point in my journey.

To cite one example, with regard to the spiritual education of Future Leader, it looks like we are settling on Catholicism, after considering Judaism and yoga. The latter was sort of a non-starter, because there's not much that can be conveyed to a child, plus he would be a permanent cultural outsider, cut off from our common "religious language." I couldn't really choose Judaism either, in part because I think you have to grow up with some of their traditions in order to really "get" them. Plus, I would be intrinsically cutting myself off from Christianity, something I could never do, whereas Christianity does not cut itself off from Judaism.

But only in a formal sense. In point of fact, Judaism and Christianity "open up" spiritual worlds that are quite distinct, even though there is overlap. For example, last night's wedding was a Jewish ceremony. Although I wasn't happy about having to fight the traffic to get to downtown Los Angeles (Mrs. G would add, "to say the least"), I found myself extremely moved, as always happens to me in any Jewish ceremony. I closed my eyes as it was going on, and felt the descent of a great spiritual force and presence in the building, no doubt blessing the couple. And I don't know how to describe it, but it is a distinctly "Jewish" force, very different in tone from the "Christian force" that I also feel. So to me, it's a little like having to choose between Bach and Mozart, or in my case, Duane Allman and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Both men played the Truth, and Truth cannot surpass itself.

Anyway. I've started to ramble. I'll just have to continue this line of thought later. Hopefully this will stimulate some provocative comments.


julie said...

"To a certain extent, I think of myself as simply conducting original spiritual research."

Certainly, I think you've been acting as a very high quality conductor in transmitting your research to many here.

The draw for me personally has been that you've taken a good hard look at many of the world's religions, and submitted them to a fairly rigorous amount of Reality testing. And while of course no matter how careful you are, as a human your results will be distorted by your personal lens, it is still (compared to my own lens) the difference between viewing the stars through a backyard telescope and viewing them with the original Hubble mirror.

Somehow, I suspect that if you are meant to join a specific church you will be guided to the right one when the time is right.

As to the worldview of Mead vs. Schuon, in some ways I suspect they are both correct. Just like paranoia isn't crazy if they're really out to get you, nostalgia must be gnostalgia if what you remember is True.

I think perhaps the world is simultaneously getting better and worse - like we're in a centrifuge, causing everything to separate out into layers. The lowest is refined, compounded and "purified" just as much as the highest. Thus, this century may ultimately be just as murderous or even an order of magnitude more than the last, but even as that happens miracles are taking place at just as fast a pace. We just don't hear as much about them, because the miraculous seems commonplace these days, and Truth, Beauty and Goodness don't bring in advertising dollars.

Gagdad Bob said...


That is a critical idea, i.e., complementarity. Whenever we are presented with such a dualism, it's generally not a question of either/or but both/and. I agree that the world is always simultaneously getting better and worse.

Sal said...

I'll throw this out FWIW:
In the little reading of Schoun I did, it seemed that he was fitting the major religious traditions into a Procrustean bed to fit his universal theory.
I know you've discussed how his Sufism colored his view of Islam.
Thus: he saw Christianity (the one tradition I can speak about with some authority) as a somewhat local religion, suitable for the West, but nowhere else and Islam as the suitable religion for the Middle East.
Obviously, any orthodox Christian would strenuously object to this, for Scriptural reasons- see the ends of the Gospel of Luke and Mark for example. Ditto any fundamentalist Muslim, for the opposite reason.
He seemed to be unwilling to let Christianity be its ownself, if that makes sense, because key elements of it contradict his theory.
But a theory that isn't dealing with the reality of what you're talking about: not much good.

And for any Christian: I know he's a genius and all, but Jesus trumps Frithjof every time.

walt said...

Bob -
I am not the one to clear up your dilemma, but let me toss a couple of ideas into the circle.

You wrote,
"I think about this all the time -- where I fit in to the scheme of things, since I don't exactly follow one established religion and reject major parts of my most revered teachers ...I think of myself as simply conducting original spiritual research."

Here's a passage from Alan Watts that has a certain 'flavor' to it:
"... the multitude needs solitaries as it needs postmen, doctors, and fishermen. They go out and they send, or bring, something back -- even if they send no word and vanish finally from sight. The solitary is as necessary to our common sanity as wilderness, as the forest where no one goes ..."

Perhaps it is just the way it is that all real Teachers don't appreciate "original" research, since they are possessed of (their part of) the Unitive Vision. But the independent researcher, inventor, or creative artist goes ahead anyway, slightly mad, as he or she is. As you said, you can't seem to help it. Raccoons likely can sympathize!

Ask three questions about your research:
1- Is it useful?
2- Is it important?
3- Does it help?

If "yes" to even one of the three, you have enough reason to carry-on.

Gagdad Bob said...


Yes, that's a good point. Schuon obviously interpreted the major religions in a way that they would never interpret themselves, so who says I can't interpret Schuon in a way he never would? What's good for the nous is good for the coonder.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Very open, and sincere, Bob.

I don't think your spiritual research would have to stop once you've entered the Church, if you did. I think we've been "told" by general society that this is the case, and it may appear that way to many people, but if you think of some of the greatest saints and minds in the Church (Augustine or Aquinas, say), they were ones who set about to unpack more of the Truth in their times which had not yet been known in those respects, but which the Church came to recognize because they were true. Like you said,though,there are certains Truths that are non negotiable. But this isn't just a Christian ideal or narrowness, but true of of our universe with regards to mathmatics, physics, etc...

I could ramble on, but I won't.

I would love to see you get a hold of some of these saints writings, to see what your perspective and God given talents of diving to the depths and coming up with adequate words to describe it would be.

John of the Cross
Theresa of Avila
Thomas Aquinas

God bless!

ps. just started into your book. so far, i love it.

Robin Starfish said...

Great exploration today, Bob. I get the sense that you're ripping open a new box and there's lots more inside!

I've been revisiting Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's wonderful little book The Sabbath this weekend. It tangentially touches on the world getting better and worse simultaneously as a function of our approach to time.

Some excerpts -

"Time is the process of creation, and things of space are results of creation. When looking at space we see the products of creation; when intuiting time we hear the process of creation. Things of space exhibit a deceptive independence. They show off a veneer of limited permanence. Things created conceal the Creator. It is the dimension of time wherein man meets God, wherein man becomes aware that every instant is an act of creation, a Beginning, opening up new roads for ultimate realizations. Time is the presence of God in the works of space, and it is within time that we are able to sense the unity of all beings...

...A world without time would be a world without God, a world existing in and by itself, without renewal, without a Creator. A world without time would be a world detached from God, a thing in itself, reality without realization. A world in time is a world going on through God; realization of an infinite design; not a thing in itself but a thing for God...

...We cannot solve the problem of time through the conquest of space, through either pyramids or fame. We can only solve the problem of time through sanctification of time. To men alone time is elusive; to men with God time is eternity in disguise.

This is the task of men: to conquer space and sanctify time."

As the breath of God through the holiness of time becomes forgotten, especially on the Sabbath, we devolve as a civilization. But as it is explored and rejuvenated by 'original spiritual re-search' as here in Bob's cosmic laboratory, I am discovering my personal tools for rebuilding my cathedral of time where true worship resides. The tools are old and trustworthy and have been there since Genesis; I just have to rummage a little deeper into my overstuffed rucksack to reach them.

Me used to be angry young man
Me hiding me head in the sand
You gave me the word, I finally heard
I'm doing the best that I can


dilys said...

AS to

If, say, I were to join the Catholic church, I fear that that would be the end of my "original research," since I would be bound by church doctrine. Furthermore, I'm afraid it would cut me off from other important sources of spiritual information at his point in my journey.

Like anonymous, I do not find original research limited by doctrine. As an epistemological anchor, staying with, returning to, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount, and the ancient Liturgy and action of the Sacraments, trying to squeeze out one's own and the inherited deadening saturation, for me at least there are very few barred doors. Occasional investigation outside the boundaries, ideas having consequences, have led to the conclusion that there be in some spots Dragons, well-avoided. Virtue=vice and vice=virtue is an example.

The variety of the Saints shows the Required Core Curriculum to be small, the moral demand and commitment to radical self-transformation immense. Although many adherents collapse their own conscience and inquiry into group-think, it is not necessary, though the institution encourages it.

As to other sources of spiritual information, for sure I've given up on finding sophisticated counsel from within the institution. Necessary to simmer it down at home and find out by tasting if it is a useful condiment to the Main Dish. There are respectable orthodox thinkers who would maintain that anything true, from any religious approach, finds a place in the Christian Truth like holiday hangings on a Christmas tree. The crunch arises in determining its truth. Not everything is.

And who the dickens isn't nostalgic for ages of more beauty, order, rhythm, and depth. My questions are,
[I keep asking, and no answer is forthcoming]:
--how do we know, if we haven't lived in them, we are not projecting onto them (cf Shakespeare's comedic glades with living in the horse-manured streets of London);
--how much of the imagination depends on being nearer the top of the social heap, than the bottom (a slave's fifth illegitimate daughter, concubine to an ignorant farmer or soldier, churning out a soon-to-starve baby every year)?

IMO the better part of wisdom is to release the certainty of evolution (better'n'better) or devolution (worse'n'worse), letting Reality unfold and teach the observant. Pursure the better and abjure the worse, help where possible and be ignorant as to the rest.

The vital metaquestion in these matters is to know what it is we can know, and what we cannot. Both Kabbala and Orthodoxy have strong statements on this matter. TOE's may be as dangerous as immanentizing the eschaton.

Van said...

“The question is, how much of this temperamental isness (or wasness) shapes how we see the world? Furthermore, is it even possible to truly stand outside ourselves and mind someone else's isness?”…” So to me, it's a little like having to choose between Bach and Mozart, or in my case, Duane Allman and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Both men played the Truth, and Truth cannot surpass itself.”

Doesn’t your arithmetic example sum it up? It’s that old debate in different robes, between quality and quantity, both hubristic enough to think it higher than the other, neither realizing that there is a higher One, of which both only attempt to describe.

There are those who think that theorems and mathematical principles exist in and of themselves. Then you’ve got those who think that numbers, answers that plot a section of the globe as theirs and are all there is, or the slightly better sort who think that the principles are only there to get them their numeric plots staked out in the sphere of their awareness.

Neither grasps that there is a whole that can be see from the inside of the whole sphere as numbers, and from the outside as principles, but IT exists as neither, but as both together.
Some authorities are content with algebra, and enjoy tiring of explaining its principles to those who barely grasp arithmetic. But those same algebraics are threatened by the idea of those seeking higher principles that fall under trigonometry, as if trigonometry obsoletes algebra. It doesn’t, but is higher than algebra, as calculus exists higher up than trig, and so on... lots still to be discovered, just not in the preceding textbook.

And it’s fine to look back and point out how all was well when algebra was understood to be all there was. And perhaps it was – it just wasn’t all there could be. And Schroedinger’s cat would plead that there is still much that we need to discover, and people who need to stretch towards that higher understanding of vision. To mix my metaphors with liberal amounts of salt and pepper, as you advance towards the unknown, what you discover first and foremost is the unknown chaotic dragons, looong before it becomes a mass produced $17.99 Rand McNally globe.

What do you call the person noticing that Algebra isn’t all there is, who is searching for the principles that will be come Trigonometry? You can’t call, contain, him an Algebraic, but that doesn’t mean he’s refuting it. And you certainly can’t call him anti-mathematics.

I suppose you call him a learner involved in research.

But again, those higher principles don’t exist as themselves, but are a particular perspective used in seeing a portion of the whole sphere, the entirety of which will always be beyond our vision and ability to perceive – but quantity and quality are one from the point of view of the sphere which comprehends itself just fine as One. And I don’t think it minds our trying to map it. Probably tickles.

Gagdad Bob said...

Perhaps "theory" is the wrong word... more like an "operating system" to comprehend things. Then again, theory is derived from the Greek "theoria," which I believe has to do with "vision." So a "theory of everything" simply involves taking as much of reality as possible into our spiritual field of cOOnvision, knowing at the same time that it can never be complete.

And I certainly agree about the multitude of saints and other various spritual geniuses who have emanated from Orthodoxy and Catholicism. There's obviously a soul-infusing grace at work that operates in a non-deterministic way, and with the person's own basic personality type -- the universal infinite inflected through the particular finite individual, like white light through a prism.

dilys said...

Pretty much on-thread, cum expansion: interesting review by Spengler of a book on the Catholic nexus between doctrine and The Inexpressible, the importance of the insitution with all its failings, and its relevance to the current historic moment.

Explores what intellectual coherence / doctrine is at the service of, described as "nuptial mysticism."

Van said...

Ah. I see everyones already gotten there before me.

And then of course,

"Furthermore, I'm afraid it would cut me off from other important sources of spiritual information at his point in my journey."

really like that.

Gagdad Bob said...

Good quote at LGF by Richard Feynman:

"There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts."

dilys said...

Looking around further in the Spengler file, and Franz Rosenzweig's approach to revelation which may be of interest (it was to me!) R. was decisively spiritually ravished by that palpable experience of Judaism Bob reports.

In another vein of thought, Rosenzweig implies that hard and pugnacious nostalgia for antiquity by "post-antique" individuals is a solecism precisely because there was in pagan/Islamic antiquity no [or very rare] experience of oneself as an individual. It is probable no modern can imagine that from the inside, without the questionable assumption he would have been an exception.

Rosenzweig also examines how radically -- to the root -- Islamic hostility runs toward the West. Not our mores, or our bikinis, or our beliefs: the very existence and experience as "me" and "you." Compliance from an individual perspective would not be good enough for the spirit and imposition of sharia.

Yet the individual is out of the historic bag. That may be one of the learning edges of certain outposts of institutional Christianity, as well. One aspect of Bob's question: how much individuality and intellectual initiative would be lost by acceding to a doctrinal universe? Rosenzweig is a player in walking around the territory of an answer.

OK, done now for awhile....

Gagdad Bob said...


I was thinking just that as I was putting Future Leader down for his nap: didn't Schuon realize that he was looking at religion from the vantage point of a critical and individualistic consciousness that did not exist 500 years ago?

We cannot escape from the fact that we have escaped from the collective myths that kept everyone in the past from escaping. That cat's long out of the toothpaste tube, and it's impossible to herd cats back into it. Whether he likes it or not, Schuon was actually engaged in post-critical, not pre-critical, religiosity.

Gagdad Bob said...

That's a great article about Rosenzweig. Interestingly, Aurobindo used the same symbol of the upward and downward pointing arrows, one signifying the involution of God into creation, the other the return home from man toward divinity.

Susannah said...

Sal's last comment reminded me of something I read in Dallas Willard:

"All these things [Jesus' supernatural power, etc.] show Jesus' cognitive and practical mastery of every phase of reality: physical, moral and spiritual. He is Master only because He is Maestro. 'Jesus is Lord' can mean little in practice for anyone who has to hesitate before saying, 'Jesus is smart.'

He is not just nice, he is brilliant. He is the smartest man who ever lived. He is now supervising the entire course of world history (Rev. 1:5) while simultaneously preparing the rest of the universe for our future role in it (John 14:2). He always has the best information on everything and certainly also on the things that matter most in human life. Let us now hear his teachings on who has the good life, on who is among the truly blessed." [A discussion of the Beatitudes follows.]

I have to read Emma's Cubbies book to her, or I'd think out loud a little myself.

River Cocytus said...

Funny how so few understand either science or faith at all. Faith is not blind, but rather sight. Science does not turn questions into cut and dry answers, but lets you ask questions and do things you never could before. It does add, just as faith does.

I think our solution is in the puzzle of Abraham's visitors. Come to his door are three men (are they men? They seem like angels.) The first is the God-bearing Father. The second is the All-mighty Son. The third is Ever-present Helper.

The Father says, "I am the Ground, return to me."

The Son says, "I am the Word spoken from on high. Attain victory!"

The Helper says, "Let us come all together that we may help all."

Only where these three meet is the dwelling of Abraham, from where the promise comes...

Actualize the doctrines?

River Cocytus said...

Cryptic-ness aside, I had an insight (which I'm going to relate to one of my Orthodox friends tonight) and it is this:

All three (as I say) major branches of Christianity - the Orthodox, the Roman Catholic and the various Protestants all have one characteristic in great amount while lack the others. The Orthodox focused on (and were quite successful at) maintaining a very pure understanding and record of the doctrine. The Catholics split off because of power - the Orthodox were too 'weak' in temporal force. Eventually the Orthodox were no longer the chief religion of any nation of any great strength. But the Roman Catholics had to distort certain doctrines to get away with this. The result of this was keeping now-literate people from reading the scriptures, which inhibits individual spiritual growth. In some sense, I think that Anglicans are really Roman Catholics. These Protestants all protested because they wanted individual spiritual development of some kind - Lutherans are somewhere between German Roman Catholics and Protestants. The Restoration Churches are the same. So you seem to have three 'hypostases': The first is sophia, the second is strength, and the third enterprise.

Maybe I'm getting it a little wrong, but is this helpful at all?

Ricky Raccoon said...

Great post, Bob. Thank you.

You said,

“If, say, I were to join the Catholic church, I fear that that would be the end of my "original research," since I would be bound by church doctrine. Furthermore, I'm afraid it would cut me off from other important sources of spiritual information at this point in my journey.”

I’ve read this a few times now and I wonder if by “bound” you mean you know that it wouldn’t be the church binding you, but by your own dedication to it.

Favorite line from the post:
“Both men played the Truth, and Truth cannot surpass itself.”

Two travelers arrive at the base of a mountain sense the beauty in their own way but cannot explain it to the other. They think they should be able to because they feel it so strongly. Failing does not change the mountain or its beauty or to either one of them.

Leslie Godwin said...

I am sure you're onto something important. That felt very real.

I was thinking (if you want to call it that, what with my 3 remaining brain cells and all) that if I can have a direct relationship with God as a Catholic, I won't be limited. I might be missing something critical. But that takes into account the saints and mystics others have referred to in their quest for the Truth and their experience of the Grace on that path.

Mrs. G

ps-If any of you guys are ever in L.A. when Bob needs a ride through some of the uglier parts of L.A., please get in touch at your earliest convenience.

Anonymous said...

After re-reading this, I found it to be a bit of a ramble.
Bob, I continue to appreciate your explorations!

On the question of Schuon's "fitting the major religious traditions into a Procrustean bed to fit his universal theory", this seems to be more of an appropriate critique of Rene Guenon, than Schuon. Schuon's key idea is that there is an underlying religion, a religio perennis, that is the essence of all the revelations of God. For him, this key idea was fundamental to a deepening coherence of Reality. In other words, how does one account for the clear evidence that there is sanctity, beauty, piety, metaphysical genius, etc. in so many different religions? How can one, in the face of Shankara, Ibn Arabi, Rumi, Sidartha, St. John of the Cross, and on and on, imagine that only one religion (insert here) is authentic? It simply defies credulity. This religio perennis is not an ancient religion, and, in fact, has never been on the planet. Guenon, on the other hand, posited a "primordial tradition" that existed and then transformed into the various religions. Any movement that did not fit his preconceived paradigm was discounted--like Buddhism, for example.
One should not see Schuon's Sufism as clouding his view of Islam. It is one thing to simply disagree with someone, but there is no point to imagining that Schuon was clouded about Islam. He was simply right or wrong. He lived for short times and travelled fairly extensively in Islamic worlds, had native Muslim disciples, etc. He was certainly critical of aspects of manifestations of Islam (as with all religions), but he absolutely understood it inside and out and simply recognized it as salvific.
His "Sufism" was simply a question of initiatic possibilities and access. While it is true that most of the Islamic world would consider his views heretical, Islam has no "pope", so it is really a mute point. If he had become a Catholic for the sake of his initiatic need, that would have been a very different story indeed, as he would have been speedily excommunicated. In fact, he considered Islam useful for his for much of the same reasons Bob suggests embracing Catholicism would place express limits on his quest. Since Islam has no real authoritative body, every person is free (if he can fun fast enough) to interpret his religion however he may. Now, quite clearly, Schuon resolved to not live in the Islamic world because of its stifling cultural milieu, but as a religious form, he fully accepted it, as with all the major religions.
Of course, one is free to interpret, reject, accept, etc. any or all of his teachings. One does wonder, though, how could he be so right in so many areas, and, yet, be so wrong about something quite fundamental to his message.

Gagdad Bob said...

"Schuon resolved to not live in the Islamic world because of its stifling cultural milieu."

Isn't the whole point that there is a stifling cultural mileau in the Islamic world because of its intrinsically totalistic nature, i.e., the lack of separation between religion, culture, and politics?

I say people vote with their feet. In Schuon's case, you will notice that his feet were in Switzerland and eventually America.

Cousin Dupree said...

Or "free your ass and your soul might have a sporting chance to follow."

Cousin Dupree said...

Yes, I stole that line from Ben Franklin.

Petey said...

Asking how someone such as Schuon can be right in so many areas and yet wrong in others is the equivalent of asking how he can be human. It goes with the errotory.

Anonymous said...

Good point. I should not have used the word "areas", but rather religion. The truth or falsity (is that a word?) of Islam is fundamental to Schuon's "dream". Many cards fall--most cards--if he is wrong about that.

Schuon considered a "totalitarian" society preferable to a secular society. Religion, culture, science, art, and soccer, should all be under one heading, if you will. He was obviously opposed to secular totalitarian regimes, like the Nazis or the Soviets, but not religious totalitarian regimes. One can also see this in the leaders he writes positively about--Charlemagne, Napolean, Franco, and even Lincoln (Lincolns temporary measures during the Civil War are clearly those of a monarch).

Anonymous said...

A clarification: Schuon preferred "traditional religious totalitarian" societies. The Islamic world of today, in his view is a very bad mix of secular and religious--worse than Europe or the USA.

Petey said...

Well then, that's where we differ. I'm for dynamic unity (which involves separation and synthesis), not the reversion to static oneness.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (above) says, "Schuon preferred "traditional religious totalitarian" societies. The Islamic world of today, in his view is a very bad mix..." This is the problem. Like Dylis said, people can imagine what they want. The "very bad mix" is where the plant has grown right now.

Gagdad Bob said...

Evidence of aesthetic decay.

Ricky Raccoon said...

It may be bad …but I’ve seen worse.
This one, eh, may not be my taste but I can look at it. It’s the “embracing the ugly” art that I really find hard to take. And especially how it attempts to make other people think it’s ok to like it, or worse, that they are wrong for not liking it.

Ricky Raccoon said...

Someone should have told the artist that it looks like a roll of toilet paper – told him before it was installed. I take back what I said. The part about being able to look at it. Not only that I believe it is a hazard to navigation.

hoarhey said...

Bob said:

"Furthermore, is it even possible to truly stand outside ourselves and mind someone else's isness? Perhaps doing so is as impossible as trying to imagine what it would be like to be a dog, or a cow, an insect, or Joel Stein (if you're a man). We can't really do it, because we merely project our own consciousness into the other."

To follow up what Susannah said;
If even one tenth of the New Testament is true, I believe that Jesus proved it possible, at least for him.
He was able to see through people like a laser beam, (actually better than) to aspects of themselves hidden so deep in the subconscious as to be unreachable and actually have those people instantaneously understand and repent or go into such denial that they would see him killed. Hmmm, sounds like nothing has changed.

Mrs. G said:

"ps-If any of you guys are ever in L.A. when Bob needs a ride through some of the uglier parts of L.A., please get in touch at your earliest convenience."

And deny Bob the opportunity to practice the virtue of patience? Never. ;^)

Van said...

Anonymous said "... and even Lincoln (Lincolns temporary measures during the Civil War are clearly those of a monarch)."

Yeah... in a constitutionally elected sort of is typical of monarchs… exercising the powers of the executive branch within a constitutional republic of democratically elected representatives during a time of war, and during which he stood for election again - as is known to be the common practice among monarchs... yeah... that's the ticket... sure... sure.

hoarhey said...

Of course you'll need your Glock handy during "patience practice" in a several of those neighborhoods.

Bob said...

To put a twist on an analogy from C.S. Lewis: You don't really suppose Hamlet's pondering whether he preferred William Shakespeare or Francis Bacon as his author would have actually mattered, do you?

By all means keep doing your "original spiritual research", but don't be too surprised if you (like Lewis) someday look back and find that you were not the One doing the choosing. (Happily married men can all relate to that statement.)

I believe (and I have the support of Scripture in this), the answer to the question of whether humanity is evolving or devolving is found in how each one of us answers the question: "Who is perfecting me, the creature or the Creator?" Entropy (physical, cultural, social, spiritual,...) rules over all that's in this world, but the God who rules over entropy has reached out His nail-pierced hand.

As I say, don't be surprised if that hand touches you. I urge you to let it lift you from the muck of this world.

-- BobW

Van said...

Ricky said “I take back what I said. The part about being able to look at it.”

Yeah. I think the 'artist' should be forced to use it as toilet paper.

IMHO, Art is primarily to inspire, to help focus and help reintegrate the soul by focusing on The Good, The Beautiful and The True. To deliberately direct attention to, to focus upon the ugly as if it were soul worthy (not to say that what is ugly can’t be represented within proper Art – Caravaggio did that to a ‘T’ – quite the paradox, rendering the ugly(such as a severed head) in a beautiful fashion, but as such it is serving beauty), is something that only a horribly corrupt philosophy would lead to.

Still, I wonder if maybe even using Art for the purpose of drawing attention to, focusing upon, holding up as something worthy of the faculties of Art, somehting that is less than ugly, that is mundane, insignificant, meaningless… I wonder if that might be an even worse thing to do.

Susannah said...

I've always thought of humanity as rather static, apart from God--as in, "There is nothing new under the sun." Biblically speaking, God got fed up with the whole deal pretty early on, so people must have gotten about as bad as they can get, even 'way back then.

On the other hand, we live every day with wonders *totally unprecedented* in history. So much has happened in the last two centuries that really is brand spankin' new. People are still what they have always been, that hasn't changed, but our technologies have pushed us to the extremes of existence. It's like things are somehow winding up tighter, or maybe more like the centrifuge's effect, as Julie said I know every generation seems to have a sense of "the end [i.e., consummation] is near," but in our case it seems nearer than ever before.

Our knowledge has increased exponentially, but then perhaps so has our corresponding culpability for our self-inflicted spiritual blindness. So maybe in that sense things are getting better and worse at the same time. I happen to believe in a happy ending, myself, whatever may precede it.

NoMo said...

Circling, cirling, circling, always circling. What is it there at the center that we only peck at tentatively? What is it that has preserved the Truth down through the ages? That has only become more and more accessible with time, more universally available to all who reach out for it? What is it that provides us with a picture of the One and our place in the cosmos that even the simplest among us can comprehend? What is it the describes True religion - and a Church not built of stone but of believing hearts? What is it that the greatest of intellectual and spiritual minds have quoted countless times over the ages?

From here at the back of the Raccoon den, I once again would simply point to the Bible and advise all to spend as much personal, thoughtful, and prayerful time there as possible. It's all there. It will draw you to the One.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with BobW...I, too, thought of Lewis when it comes to your journey...don't know why. I believe your research will either lead you to the Truth and you will "bite down" on it with all your will (as Chesterton once said), or it will take you round and round in circles. In the end, it isn't knowledge that is the pinnacle of life or the spiritual life, but Love which is the Word of God. Like BobW, I urge you to let it (Him) lift you. Thomas Aquinas had written many volumes of books about God, theology, etc...when he one day had a vision of Heaven. Afterwards, he broke his pen, and declared that everything that he had written was "as straw".

By the way, living in LA, I've had the same feeling many times as I drive the jam packed 101 in the morning. : )

Tusar N Mohapatra said...

[Narad’s Five Songs and the Theme of Evolution in Savitri
by RY Deshpande on Sun 18 Nov 2007 09:01 PM PST | Permanent Link
In the Book of Fate with which we are presently concerned, there is almost at its beginning a description of the evolutionary destiny of this creation. Narad is on his way from his home in Paradise and during the course of his journey to earth he sings five great sings, as to how things began, and about the cherished expectations of the divine glory and marvel taking birth here. We have already seen this theme in some details earlier, but let us have the complete passage for comparison with other passages connected with the concept of evolution that appears with different suggestions in different places in Savitri: (pp. 416-17)...]

Anonymous said...

It would seam that all of us seek the answer to the Ultimate question of 'life, the universe and everything'.

After much pondering and otherwise navel gazing, I discovered that the answer is 42. Do not bother to ask what the question was. I forgot.

We either know the question or we know the answer. We ain't suppost to have both nuggets at the same time. Not enough disk space and all that. Seems to be a issue with the fiddly bits in the main frame.

Either that or I missed the last few OS upgrades.

Sal said...

Speaking from extensive personal experience, Anglicans can pile on the Catholic practices 'til the world looks level, but there still remains that nugget of non-submission.
Though to the outside eye, they may look very similar, so that it appears that it's just a step from one to the other- you want to watch that first step. It's a killer.
There's a very good quote on the subject. Let me see if I can find it.

You said:
The result of this was keeping now-literate people from reading the scriptures, which inhibits individual spiritual growth.

But if you asked a Catholic how they achieve individual spiritual growth, they would answer: through prayer and the sacraments, spiritual reading, which would include the Scriptures, penance and good works.

I can understand that to others, it looks as if we're neglecting the one main resource they have. To us, it's one resouce among many.

River Cocytus said...

Sal, I'm talking about the medieval church. Different things.

I also understand that spiritual growth does not require the reading of scripture (obviously, since otherwise the illiterate would be blocked...)

In those days it appeared as though the church was selectively teaching the scriptures and neglecting others. When I say 'Anglicans are basically r. Catholic' I mean they have the same idea. Of course they won't submit! You would have to submit to them. (Like that's gonna happen!)

We live in different times surely.

Part of the riddle, problem, etc, i that: The church of strength requires submission. The church of wisdom requires caution. The church of enterprise requires freedom. The church is all three; but all the requirements if taken to their extreme exclude the others and become hinderances.

If we see division we're looking in the wrong place to see the church.

Difference in theology... the Orthodox say that we know of the church primarily through the lives of the Saints.

Also, I don't mean this as an attack. I am telling what I've observed. I apologize if I came across insulting; that was not my intent.

Anonymous said...

about your concern as to whether we (the earthly "we") are getting worse or better: bad news, I skipped ahead and read Revelation......likewise, I can't tell you how God created everything (I, sit in good company) but I don't think that should deter your searching because the big Kahuna doesn't fear truth in any form, heck, He created continue. After all, HE gave you the talent so don't waste it. Go for it! just keep us informed and check in before you leave the known universe..........

Ricky Raccoon said...

Hi Van,
What I said about that sculpture was not quite right. What I meant to say was that I can’t look at it the “same way” - now that it looks like a toilet paper roll to me. It didn’t at first. Which is sort of the risk involved with some abstract art.
You might enjoy this similar true story: My sculpture professor told me

You may be right about elevating the mundane. What I don’t like about that is it gives the impression that all abstract art is just as mundane. I used to think so. But I generally agree that art shouldn’t need to be explained, really great Art has that instant impact that defies explaining – especially I think great abstract Art. That’s my opinion of course. But this particular piece of art may have a back story that is inspiring. I can use my imagination to come up with one, so it may be possible that is has one. I don’t know the artist. He may have been inspired and just wasn’t able to pull it off. I can’t say. But you are right that it seems to lack the expression of an inspiration. I think the Caravaggio you linked too, to me, maybe to even a greater degree, needs a little back story. Without the title I’m not sure what it’s about. Although it is a powerful image, I find it much harder to look at than this public piece - especially, at this moment in time. I have a very hard time looking at decapitation anything, no matter whose head it is. I think you know what I mean.

But this public piece doesn’t make me angry when I see it - unless taxpayer money was involved :-) You know I don’t care for that sort of thing. Not because I’m anti-tax (which I am of course beyond a certain degree) but because it influences the art in a ways it doesn’t need to be.

I think half this one’s “problem”, for lack of a better word, is its setting and choice of material. A better thing they could have done is to have placed in the median some trees or flowers so that if someone lost control of their car they wouldn’t be impaled on this hazard. But it is a hazard on the horizontal plane. Not necessarily on the vertical…because I don’t know why the artist made it. He may have had good, inspired reasons but couldn’t pull it off. I think that happens a lot. RE setting and material, I think this sculpture could be a stunner if it was made of chrome and say placed in a beautiful grove of aspen – the beautiful mirrored geometry reflecting everything around it – just as there is certainly beautiful geometry within the aspens projecting out to those who wish to “see” it.

Van said...


Possibly just my bent, but I really can't bring myself to think of 'abstract' art as Art. I'm not talking about something like Salvadore Dali, but the drek of the likes of Picaso (wow - millions offended with six words!), and the concrete toilet roll - I can't rate them as anything more than, at best, 'artistic' - as are the whirls or geometric shapes in a picture frame. That, or possibly you could say it has editorial content, but I just can't bring myself to call it Art.

Then of course when you get into the motivations of the prime movers of the abstract art movement, you usually find a deliberately anti-conceptual or nihilistic intent behind it all.

Then again, I should admit that a borderline guy, Van Gogh, catches my eye and plugs a 220 volt electrical cable directly into my wetworks - can't look away.

BTW, the painting I linked above 'Judith Beheading Holofernes' is from the book of Judith in the Bible (depending on your version). Holofernes was an Assyrian general of Nebuchadnezzar, besieging and invading the Jews. Judith worked her wiles on him, got him drunk and adiosed his head, saving the day.

Van said...

hmm... original post:
"Furthermore, I'm afraid it would cut me off from other important sources of spiritual information at his point in my journey."

updated post:

"Furthermore, I'm afraid it would cut me off from other important sources of spiritual information at this point in my journey."

hmmm the secret wisdom of typos, surely future food for "...amazing secret meanings of the OneCosmos Gnostics! Revealed at last!"

Ricky Raccoon said...

I’m not offended Van. I’m not a fan of Picasso or Dali :-) We’re thinking of different pieces when each of us thinks ‘abstract art’. I’d bet we have similar dislikes :-) I’m not saying I like all of it – not even near it.

Van said...

Oh, I wasn't thinking that of you Ricky,
"I’d bet we have similar dislikes :-)",

a few well placed similarities in high places, allows a vast amount of dissimilarities in low places to exist without any real affect other than sparking interesting coonversations.