Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Cosmic Slacktuary

Without a doubt, Spiritual Perspectives & Human Facts (SPHF) is Frithjof Schuon's most dense and compact work. This is a new translation of his third major work, originally published in Paris in 1953. I've probably been working on it for a month or so, but I'm only up to page 48. This is not because the book is more difficult than his others -- in many ways, it's his most accessible work -- but because it's so rich. He writes with such gem-like precision over such an extraordinary range of philosophical, religious, and spiritual matters, and yet, does so in a remarkably unsaturated manner, so that your own thoughts are provoked rather than foreclosed. He puts you in a timeless frame of mind, and timelessness takes time.

And when I say "gem-like precision," that naturally sounds like a cliché. But I don't know any other way to express it, because I mean it literally. What in my opinion places Schuon head and shoulders above most theologians -- there are a few others -- is that just where they become vague, wobbly, or sentimental -- or the converse (which amounts to the same thing), rigid, jargony, and authoritarian -- he writes with the utmost clarity, rigor, and exactitude. And yet -- and this is the key -- the "certitude" he conveys in his writing has nothing in common with the oblivious certitude of those inappropriately confident "fundamentalists" (including some of his own prominent followers!) who also speak with precision, but in such a way that they simply superimpose dogma on reality, or (k) on O.

In this regard, it is possible to be right for all the wrong reasons. Where Schuon cranks out little handmade gems, these spiritual counterfaithers simply reproduce giant monuments -- like cheap facsimiles of Michelangelo's David. But I don't think that O can be gotten "on the cheap," which is what makes it so much more tricky and difficult than merely obtaining empirical scientific knowledge, which most anyone with an average IQ can acquire.

You might say that Schuon is "undogmatically dogmatic" in the same way that math is, which also combines the maximum of universality and abstraction. This is an ideal I am usually aiming for in my writing. Of course, in order to appreciate that fact, you have to read it in the proper spirit. It's not at all like normal reading, which for most people is simply for pleasure and distraction when it isn't for extracting information -- the bottom line -- as rapidly and efficiently as possible.

If you approach Schuon in this way, you're wasting your time, because you'll miss the essential personal experience (is there any other kind?) without which the writing is like a skeleton with no flesh or blood. With Schuon's writing, it's always BYOB, or bring your own blood. (Speaking of which, have you noticed the common trait shared by all of our bloody incomprehending trolls, which is to say, their bloodlessness? This is an example of a precise observation that will inevitably sound vague to the bloodless.)

SPHF is a collection of writings that differs from Schuon's other books, in that "instead of articles as such it consists of extracts from letters, notes from our reading, and reflections arising independently of outward circumstances and organized only later in the form of chapters." He concludes the preface by reminding the reader that truth "belongs to no one while belonging to everyone; it is an immanent gift as well as a transcendent one," which is another way of saying that transcendent truth can only be activated, assimilated, and internalized in an individual mind that somehow already possesses it -- which is why real vertical learning always involves equal parts remembrance and forgetting.

In whatever Schuon writes, he is equally mindful of the form as he is of the content. This is not just for purposes of aesthetics -- unless it is understood that aesthetics is, as he says, "nothing other than the science of forms." This is another thing that sets him apart from most theologians, in that the very form of his writing conveys the content of whatever it is he is discussing -- similar to the manner in which music is a form that is indistinguishable from its own content.

Not only is form "an important part of intellective speculation," but the rightness of proportions "is a criterion of truth or error in every domain into which formal elements enter." Which is why real truth must be beautiful -- although beauty is not necessarily true, being that it is possible to idolize beauty, which is what distinguishes aesthetics from mere aestheticism, or the "unintelligent cult of the beautiful."

Spiritual beauty is "limitlessness expressed by a limit," which is why perfect beauty cannot surpass itself. Elsewhere he writes that sacred art allows "spiritual influences to manifest themselves without encumbrance." At the same time, it allows man the possibility of "seeing what he should be" -- which implies the dangerous corollary of deviant art, which carries for humans the risk of being what we see.

Schuon writes of sacred art that it "is made to serve as a vehicle for spiritual presences," whereas wholly profane art "exists only for men and by that very fact betrays them." He points out that a true sanctuary for man is any place that "is constructed to facilitate resonances of the spirit, not oppose them." On the one hand, man has an inveterately searching, restless intelligence that seems never satisfied. And yet, there is also "something in our intelligence that wants to live in repose." Thus, a spiritual sanctuary is a "place" where our soul and intelligence are able to find comfort and rest (which is the true meaning of the sabbath).

I guess I like to think of One Cosmos in that way -- as a sort of virtual spiritual sanctuary where weary travelers can find active rest for their soul and restful slacktivity for their intelligence. Where you can relux and call it a deity.

... out from under the toilsome tablets of time, reverse worldward descent and cross the bridge of darkness to the father shore. Floating upstream alongside the ancient celestial trail, on your left is the dazzling abode of immortality, on your right is the shimmering gate of infinity.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Orthoparadoxical Mystic Soul Jazz

A number of readers have mentioned that stumbling upon G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy was instrumental to their spiritual coonversion. It is one of the many books I raced through in the course of writing my own book. Only after the book was published was I able to go back and reread the ones that seemed particularly deep and important, such as Meditations on the Tarot, which I've now read from cover to cover three or four times.

I don't remember when I read Orthodoxy, but it must have been about seven or eight years ago. It didn't make a huge impression on me at the time, probably for a couple reasons. First, it's not at all systematic, almost a sort of free-association. But now I can see that this is a big part of its charm. The man would have been a great blogger, if that's not too vulgar a compliment.

Second, it's not outwardly "mystical" or "esoteric," but I've subsequently come to understand that this is a superficial complaint (if that's even the right word). As Schuon emphasizes, Christianity is already an esoterism; to be precise, it is an esoterism masquerading as an exoterism. It's a profound mystery, but unlike, say, the Greek mysteries, it divulges the mystery at the outset rather than making you patiently work your way up through the various degrees of initiation until, say, like Petey, you finally become Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler of the West San Fernando Valley Chapter of the Transdimensional Order of the Friendly Sons and Daughters of the Cosmic Raccoon, and then you're finally handed the key to the inner sanctum where they store the sacred Water Balloons.

As Chesterton writes (with my symbols inserted into the text), "The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything (O) by help of what he does not understand (o), (---). The morbid logician (•) seeks to make everything lucid (k), and succeeds in making everything mysterious, ø. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious (O), and everything else becomes lucid (¶)."

Since I've been pretty busy with the mishpocha (they just left on Monday), I gave my new intern, Dupree, the task of outlining the book and helping me reduce it to a post or two. He's a rather slow reader (I can see his lips moving), so he's only about halfway through, but I think we have enough to work with.

Although the book was published in 1908, what is so immediately striking about it is how fresh and coontemporary it is. Not surprisingly, Dupree is most impressed with Chesterton's pungent and witty eviscerations of his ideological opponents. Many of the names mean nothing to us now, but you can get the gist by simply inserting a contemporary name that will mean nothing in the future, such as "Dennett," "Dawkins," or "Maher." As Dupree put it, the book has surprisingly high insultainment value.

It is perhaps critical to point out that Chesterton came of age at the very peak of 19th century atheistic scientific materialism, before that philosophy had been thoroughly discredited. It was widely believed by most intellectuals at the time that science had discovered not just the secret of reality, but the secret of human happiness and progress.

That didn't really begin to change until after the trauma of World War I, which obliterated the fantasy (except among leftists) of a perfectible mankind grounded in the application of pure reason. The primitive unconscious came roaring back with a vengeance, just as it did after our historical snooze between 1989 and 2001. But instead of learning their lesson and returning to the Christian roots of the West, post-war intellectuals lurched into existentialism, romanticism, Marxism, scientism, paganism, nationalism, deconstructionism, multiculturalism, fascism, new-age "realizationism," and other weird and/or sinister isms and ologies -- anything but Orthodoxy (and by "Orthodox," Chesterton simply means the Apostles' Creed).

Now, being that I am someone who, like Chesterton, explored and eventually rejected all of the philosophical and spiritual cul-de-slacks of his day, I think I understand why. It has to do with the distinctions between O, (k), and (n), as outlined in my book.

I'm guessing that most people who read the book will be mystified by these symbols, but they are critical to my whole mission and enterprise. To put it in a nutshell, you can hand someone the Apostles' Creed on a silver platter, but unless they have a personal experience of its interior truth, i.e., O-->(n), it's not going to form the basis of a very robust belief system. I mean, I went to Sunday School. I was dutifully presented with the ground-floor Truth of Western civilization. And yet, like Chesterton I rejected it in favor of all the "idiotic ambitions" of our day: "I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it."

Chesterton coonfesses that he too tried "to be original; but I only succeeded in inventing all by myself an inferior copy of the existing traditions of civilized religion.... I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy."

Now, I too briefly considered founding a heresy of my own. But like Chesterton, I eventually discovered that it was both wholly unnecessary and unholy narcissary. However, the operative word is discovered. Again, the whole point is that this is something that must be discovered for oneself. On the other hand, the discovery could have been made much sooner if I hadn't been brainwashed with so much nonsense during the course of some 23 years of secular miseducation. All of that had to be systematically dismantled in order to make a space for the (re)discovery of truth.

As I mentioned the other day, Schuon maintains that the world would be a better place if we could somehow return to the Middle Ages -- for he believes that even the Renaissance was a huge mistake and disaster -- and go back to a time when everyone was tightly swaddled in primordial Truth, and that was it. No one was actually free to discover it, which is to say, decide for oneself.

But in my view, man, because of his very theomorphic nature, has a built-in epistemophilic instinct that is responsible for leading him to science, reason, and humanism. And because these were "discoveries," they ended up being more "robust" -- at least for a time -- than the top-down religious ideologies they displaced.

But time marches (or spirals) on, and in subsequent centuries scientism has come full circle and now become the new orthodoxy, so it is no longer "free" to discover reality. So now, if you wish to investigate the Real, you must "rebel" against materialism, just as the early materialists had to rebel against religious orthodoxy.

This again goes to my point that the only way to make religious truth truly "secure" is through O-->(n), because once you do so, the arguments of atheists and materialists are "so much straw," not so much wrong as just irrelevant. No blind man is going to tell me that I don't see what I can see with my own eyes. As Schuon says, myopia and blindness are not just diverse ways of looking, but defects of vision. Scientism, materialism, and reductionism all elevate a terrible disability to a virtue.

But even Schuon, despite his insistence upon eternal truth, implicitly allows for the theological jazz improvisation of O-->(n). As he put it, "it is by reestablishing links with ancient truth that one comes to understand it and to find a new and spiritually legitimate originality." Chesterton says much the same thing when he writes of man's need of an "active and imaginative life, picturesque and full of poetical curiosity." Therefore, a proper theology should engage man's imagination and allow him to play theological soul jazz -- which requires the greatest discipline accompanied by the absence thereof, of simultaneous remembrance and I-amnesia. This is what Chesterton calls a life of "practical romance,"

the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome.

Now, scientific materialism creates a sort of deadened cognitive security that moves in such a narrow circle that it simultaneously explains everything and nothing. But religious dogma can do the same thing, for as Chesterton points out, just as the danger of science is a "narrow universality," the danger of religion can be "a small and cramped eternity."

The trick is to make the Cosmos as large as the World -- to re-divinize both Cosmos and Man, so that the former becomes a sacred space, or place of active rest and restful activity, for man's infinite intelligence and eternal soul. This is the ongoing task of a Raccoon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

America and the Transcendental Beat: Let My People Groove

A typically contemptuous European once wrote of American society that "it's half judaized, and the other half is negrified."

I've never actually read Mein Kampf, but I do believe that Hitler was inadvertently correct in this respect. First, we are the only explicitly Judeo-Christian nation on earth (see here for many wonderful examples). Second, as Van der Leun (can't find the link) might have said to Hitler, you just hate us because we've got the groove. And because it's such a drag to be you. But that's a separate issue.... then again, maybe not, since a famous Jew once zonged a positively zimmilar zinger.

Both of these influences have contributed to the uniqueness and the greatness of America. It is sad to me that so many American blacks wish to be called "African American" -- as if America would even be recognizably American without their influence. The other day, someone mentioned to me that he wasn't sure if he liked the genre of "southern rock."

But as a startled Gregg Allman once said in a similar context (and it's not very easy to startle someone with that much opium in their system), the adjective "southern" is wholly redundant, analogous to saying "rock-rock," since rock came out of the American south and could never have come from anyplace else on earth: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, etc., etc. The list is endless.

And of course, it came out of the south because of the proximity of its early practitioners to forms of musical expression wholly invented by American blacks: jazz, blues, gospel, and rhythm and blues. Elvis never thought he was doing anything new. Rather, he was simply attempting to copy some of his musical heroes, most of whom were black (he also had some white musical heroes, such as Dean Martin, which accounts for his later affinity for grooveless schlock).

Now, what do blacks and Jews have in common, culturally? Yes, they are the most persecuted peoples in history. That might come up later. We're not talking about that for the moment. What else?

Well, I can only speak as an outsider, but the Jewish wedding I attended last Saturday night once again reminded me that Jews have their own whacked-out version of the groove, and that it is as earthy and over-the-top as any black gospel performance before an audience of fervent worshipers, or by some R & B combo playing at 2:00AM before a crazed audience on the "chitlin' circuit" in 1962.

Let me put it this way: I am very white. But I probably didn't realize the extent of my whiteness until I married into a Jewish family. Interestingly, being that they are largely secular Jews, they have no idea just how Jewish, which is to say ethnic, which is to say, non-white, they are. But for me, it has been an ongoing culture shock. (By the way, when I say "white," "non-white," and even "black," I assume you realize that I'm not talking about race, much less, "genetics.")

As I was watching the celebrants dancing with insane abandon to the bone-jarring rhythm of hava nagila -- which must have gone on for half an hour -- one thought came to mind: the idea of my parents ever engaging in such a frenetic celebration devoid of cerebration is literally inconceivable. Way, way too white.

But to see the men of all generations holding hands in a circle while kicking and jumping to the pounding beat -- true, they had the grace of a sleep-deprived and disinhibited Jerry Lewis lurching around the set at around hour 23 of the telethon -- but that's not the point. It was the complete absence of self-consciousness combined with the complete and joyous bypassing of the mind and immersion in the senses.

As we touched on yesterday, there has always been a certain life- and body-denying strain in Christianity. While it's not necessarily intrinsic, you have to admit it's there, a sort of distrust, sometimes verging on disgust, toward the human body and toward sensual pleasure in general. I constantly encounter this attitude among saints and mystics that I otherwise revere. In fact, it is also often present in Eastern religions as well -- is if physical pleasure is in the realm of "maya," and is to be shunned and transcended.

It is interesting to me that so many of the early and middle-period jazz greats who weren't black were Jewish: Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Andre Preven, Shelly Manne, Buddy Rich, and many others -- not to mention many of the great songwriters whose music became the basis for jazz improvisation, e.g., the Gershwin brothers, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Lerner & Loewe, Rodgers & Hart, etc. The greatest jazz label, Blue Note records, was founded in 1939 by a couple of jazz-loving European Jews, Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff, while the greatest R & B and soul label, Atlantic, was co-founded by Jerry Wexler. And I am reminded of the fact that Louis Armstrong wore a Star of David around his neck in honor of the Jewish family that often took care of him as a child, even giving him the money to buy his first trumpet.

America: good constitution, easy to dance to.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get too far into this post, and now it's time for work. I'll just have to leave you with an obscure Petey-ism from the Cosmobliteration section of the book. If it means what I think it means, then you could say that gospel music (and its derivatives) really puts the body back into the body of Christ.

Do the monkey bone, do the shingaling, get your slack back & take a trip, slip, lose your grip, & turn a backover flip and say: not the god of the philosophers, not the god of the scholars!

Monday, November 19, 2007

The World Series of Theological Questions (11.08.10)

... God, freedom, unity. Three things which are one, for you cannot realize freedom and unity unless you realize God... --Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle

Yesterday we discussed the question of whether mankind is degenerating or progressing, which inevitably touches on other issues, including the conflicts between evolution and "creationism," authority vs. personal experience, tradition vs. modernity, science vs. religion, timeless principles vs., er, "personal research," and ultimately time vs. eternity. I argued for a dialectic, or complementarity, between the two poles, which creates a sort of "space" where what Mead calls "dynamic (or evolutionary) religion" may take place.

Another way of saying it is that the One breaks out of eternity into the static two (i.e., duality), but that duality is resolved (and progress occurs) within a dynamic and "transitional" trinity. Thus, history can be seen as a sort of rolling catastrophe in hyperspace, as the many make their winding way back to the One. History is ultimately the straight book that God tries to write with crooked liars.

That made a lot of sense, Bob!

Look at it this way. History either has a direction -- and therefore a purpose -- or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then there's no point to anything, including religion. It would be like an endless baseball season with no World Series. Instead of 162 games, the season would never end, with a new game every day, day in, day out. Eventually, players would stop scratching their crotches and begin scratching their heads and asking, "why are we doing this? Why are we playing all these stupid games?"

So the Gods of Baseball bifurcated the teams into a duality (the American and National leagues) and invented this third thing called a "World Series" in order to create a sense of purpose and finality. When you win the World Series, you have reached the highest peak, the "absolute," the baseball equivalent of enlightenment.

But just like religion, there is apparently more than one Absolute, since there is a new champion each year, and it is not as if the new champion surpasses all the previous ones. The 2007 Red Sox are not better then the 1927 Yankees. Baseballically speaking, both went as high as it is possible to go in this world. Sure, you could argue over which team is better, but that's like arguing whether Shankara or Eckhart was a better hitter.

But in the case of the World Series, deep down some of us realize that it is something we merely invented for the purposes of finality. We simply superimpose it on the individual games, in order to give them a "higher meaning," so to speak. Since there is finality to the season, it creates intensity and drama, very much as does death (the playoffs are exciting because teams are always facing "sudden death"). If you knew you weren't going to die, it would be analogous to an endless baseball season. No, worse than that. Like an endless soccer season. No, worse. An endless soccer game. Just a bunch of people running around in circles.

In a way, if history has no purpose, then it is bound to get worse, i.e., to degenerate. This is for the same reason that the quality of professional baseball would degenerate in the absence of a World Series. No one would bother acquiring a player to improve their team at the trading deadline, since there would be no deadline. Standings wouldn't matter, since there would be no point to them. Wins and losses would be just like Monopoly money, a symbol of nothing.

To the extent that things are getting worse in the world, could it be linked to the widespread belief among our elite that history has no purpose, no direction, no telos? Interestingly, this is where the secular far left and traditionalist far right converge. As an anonymous commenter mentioned yesterday, given his 'druthers, Schuon, the hardcore traditionalist,

"considered a 'totalitarian' [in the traditional religious sense] 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 (Lincoln's temporary measures during the Civil War are clearly those of a monarch)."

For Schuon it is always a question of returning to first principles. Naturally, modern leftist liberals will reject this idea out of hand. But for you traditional readers out there who object to my understanding, I wonder how you square this circle, for it seems to me that you have only three choices. You can go along with Schuon that timeless and total truth has already been revealed to us, and that it is only for us to conform to it. Alternatively, you can be a member of what I call the "psychospiritual left" (of which their politics is just a reflection) and maintain that history has no meaning except that which we impose on it (which is no meaning at all).

Or, you can be a neurocosmological Raccoon, and maintain that timeless truth does exist, but that for our purposes it exists in the future, not the past. Primordial man does indeed walk above the clouds on the sacred ground of the cosmic mountain, but not in the past.

Rather, these intimations of paradise are just that -- they are what Bion called memoirs of the future. Being so, they are the vector that guides history and gives it meaning: the arc of salvation, through which you are given the uppertunity of a lifetome to dwell in time but to aim your eros at the heart of eternity. Your days are measured, guided, and given meaning by a sense of growing proximity to this sacred, nonlocal ground. Mine are, anyway. But perhaps I'm just living in my own racocoon.

If this dimension is in the "past," then each day that passes is simply a measure of how far we have fallen from the ideal -- a meaning, to be sure, but an "anti-meaning." Again, what's the point except to wait to die? I have read certain world-denying church fathers who said as much; I believe the Orthodox Father Seraphim Rose said something similar. Basically, conform yourself to Truth and wait for death, since it's only eternity that counts. As Schuon worote,

"One who has received the treasure of spiritual truth and the Divine Name finds himself, so to speak, at a crossroads: for now he must take up a new attitude in relation to the world and to life; he must renounce all worldly ambition and he must not expect anything but death, whatever be his outward activity."

Coonversely, for a member of the psychospiritual left, what's the point except to deny death and lose oneself in the senses? In this view, a Bill Maher or Hugh Hefner are the wisest men on earth.

Now obviously, Christianity has struggled with this dialectic, hence the argument between faith and works. If eternity is all that counts, then faith is all that matters. But if history has a purpose, then works take on much more significance.

And as a matter of fact, this relates to what I was saying yesterday about my experience of the very different spiritual worlds of Judaism and Christianity. At the moment I'm in a bit of a rush, so it's difficult to find the words to precisely describe the difference. But more generally, Judaism is very much focused on this world, not the next. In fact, if I am not mischugen, it is very unkosher to even speculate about the next life, since we are here for a reason, and that reason is more than sufficient to occupy our time and attention. In short, we are here to both enjoy and help repair the creation (tikkun, or as we call it, "ticoon"), so that our works are much more important than our faith. As I have learned from Dennis Prager, a proper Jew doesn't care what you believe, only how you behave. (BTW, this also explains why de-Judaised Judaism immediately devolves into worldly leftism.)

Furthermore, because of its worldly focus, I find that Judaism, among all the major religions, probably has more practical wisdom about how to conduct one's life than any other. The Talmud contains priceless wisdom about male-female relations, about the family, about raising children, about how to deal with others. Also, the "spiritual locus," so to speak, of Judaism is the family (within a community, of course), and even more specifically, children. Jewish life is almost inconceivable in the absence of family and children.

And what do children represent and symbolize? More than anything else in creation, they are a hope-filled arrow shot from the present into a better future.

And we are His children.

We'll meet again. Up ahead, 'round the bend. The circle unbroken, by and by. A Divine child, a god'send, a touch of infanity, a bloomin' yes. --Petey

Manifestly, the unrestrained use of individual illumination or judgment without either any outer standard or any generally recognizable source of truth is a perilous experiment for our imperfect race.... [T]he whole tendency of development of an individualistic age of mankind [goes] back to the one dominant need of rediscovering the substantial truths of life, thought and action which have been overlaid by the falsehood of conventional standards no longer alive to the truth of the ideas from which their conventions started.... [M]an has to circle back towards the recovery of his deeper self and a new upward line or a new revolving cycle of civilization. --Sri Aurobindo

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.

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