Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Combining Western Know-How with Eastern Be-Who

As the two world-historical streams -- the Abrahamic and Brahmanic -- meandered and ramified, they took very different courses before arriving at oddly parallel conclusions. In the West, science pursued the material world down to the atom, eventually passing beyond it to discover an implicate realm of unbroken wholeness flowing beneath our misleading perceptions of duration and solidity. Vedanta proceeded in the opposite direction, tracing the illusory contours of our world-representation down to the explicate self, and then smashing it to discover another vast realm of unbroken wholeness and unity beneath our contingent and transient egos.

In the West, Kant and later Schopenhauer (his biography by Magee is outstanding) took metaphysics as far as the Western dualistic paradigm would allow, to the threshold of the noumenon, the unknowable ultimate reality that lay hidden behind our evolved perceptions (or what we like to call O). Kant maintained that we could only know the phenomenal world, the one revealed by our senses and categories of thought. Whatever lay outside those categories was utterly unknown and unknowable for us.

Schopenhauer went further than Kant, in that he realized that fleeting glimpses of the noumenon could be experienced, for example, in sexual union or in moments of aesthetic exaltation, especially through music. By the way, note that noumenon must be singular, not plural; there can be no "noumena," because that already presumes an egoic standpoint detached from it. In Coonskrit, it would be analogous to suggesting that there could be more than one O, when we all know there can onely be (n)one.

Schopenhauer never imagined that we could actually evolve beyond the neuropsychological walls of the ego and know the noumenon directly. That is, until he discovered the Upanishads, which you might say was the first point of reconnection between our two search parties, the Abrahamic and Brahmanic.

(Although there is, of course, much interesting, perhaps kooky, speculation as to how much Jesus was influenced by Eastern ideas, and why not? First century Palestine was an extraordinary melting pot of religious influences, and we can really have no idea what Luke exactly means by the statement that Jesus "grew in wisdom and stature" (2:52) or how he did it, for what does the Son of God need to learn in order to grow and become wise, and from whom does he learn it? Very early on, Jesus began to be officially "Helenized" at the same time he was de-Judaized, which is perhaps why some of the early fathers who gave Christianity more of a Vedantin twist are still regarded with suspicion, e.g., Denys -- who seems to have been familiar with Eastern ideas -- and his greatest acolyte, John Scottus Eriugena.)

After Schopenhauer had already completed his magnum opus, The World as Will and Representation, he discovered one of the first available copies of the Upanishads to appear in the Western world, a poor Latin translation of a Persian translation of the original Sanskrit. And yet, he immediately recognized that the Vedic seers had come to the identical conclusion about the world that he had -- except that they had found a way to pass beyond it, not through thought, but by somehow transcending thought.

For the rest of his life, Schopenhauer read a few pages of the Upanishads every night before going to sleep. He called it "the most profitable and sublime reading that is possible in the world; it has been the consolation of my life and will be that of my death." It is one of the ironies of Western civilization that its elites -- often for good reason -- rejected Christianity, only to rediscover some of its buried truths in a form more acceptable to them in Eastern religions. Obviously the same thing occurs today among the non-elite, with countless people embracing pseudo-forms of Eastern religion (i.e., "realizationism"), since big-box Christianity continues to bury much of its own mystical and intellectual Light under a bushel of divine salesmanship.

In any event, the problem that developed in India was that, in recognizing the illusory nature of the phenomenal world, they focussed only on escaping it. The only true reality was Brahman, transcendent, immobile, unchanging, beyond this world of illusion and suffering. It is fair to say that this dismissive attitude toward the world hindered economic and political development in India for hundreds of years, for the world is real, just not ultimately real -- or, if you like, it is illusion, but not only illusion.

In the West, we enthusiastically plunged into the external world, and yet, we are in danger of being marooned there in a spiritual wasteland of material abundance and sensory pleasure. Throughout history, human beings have been dreaming of the amenities we take for granted, and yet, it is never enough.

I am anything but a free-market basher, but our material abundance has become spiritually problematic for many -- who are like those bleating last men prophesied by Nietzsche, wallowing in their pitiable comfort. Obviously, most Americans still hunger for spiritual experience, and yet, all too often they don't seem able to make religion "work" for them -- something seems to be missing, some key that would unlock the inner significance of religious belief and practice. If a religion is working, it should lead to real knowledge and real change. It shouldn't just come down to simply accepting this or that doctrine and hoping for the best.

In my view, the Judeo-Christian and Esoteric Hindu traditions are the missing parts of one another, at least in form if not in substance. In exploring and conquering the material world, the former extends from the center to the periphery, or from the One to the many. Vedanta proceeds in the other direction, from the periphery back to the center, from the many back to the One. In reality, neither approach is completely valid or invalid. Rather, the Real would be a dynamic synthesis (not mere blending) of the two, a "transcendent position" that unifies the Eastern and Western hemispheres of the global brain, allowing us to live in a third dialectical or "transitional" space between the external world and the mysterious Subject that is the source of both the world and ourSelves.

V. Madhusudan Reddy writes that "Mankind has benefitted broadly by the two central spiritual streams which were complementary to each other. The one that watered the West has been essentially the aspiration for the salvation of the world, the emancipation of humanity [through] the descent of God's grace.... The [stream] that was perfected in the East and especially in India was the liberation of the individual through his ascent into the Divine himself. An exclusive stress on the first results in preoccupation with the material world, whereas the all too exclusive preoccupation with individual liberation leads to complete disregard of the world of humanity. An integration of these two ways, a wider and luminous fusion of their insights, will provide a tangible and enduring basis of spiritual life on the earth."

In the last 6,000 years, human beings have undergone various revolutions. The agrarian revolution involved learning how to grow things, while the industrial revolution involved learning how to make things. The current information revolution involves knowing things. The coming onto-noetic revolution will involve learning how to be something. Or more simply, knowing how to be (which is to say, unKnow and non-do in order to grow into no-thing).


Robin Starfish said...

4-Wheel Luge Track
what would jesus do
drive around the mountain or
tunnel straight on through

Ricky Raccoon said...

Great post, Bob.

You said,

“It is fair to say that this dismissive attitude toward the world hindered…”

Jesus didn’t float above the ground, he walked upon it, and on the water.
When he helped the blind man see, he mixed his spit with the dirt to make mud and placed this “mixture” (his spit and the earth/world) on his eyes.

River Cocytus said...

'Course, the Dude came before both search parties - so it would make sense that you'd detect a hint of Brahmanism in his Abrahamisms.

Sami said...

Nice post. Unfortunately, the beasts of materialism and consumerism have been unleashed throughout the world, and India, despite its tradition on inner development, has also succumbed to these twin temptations in its drive to be a global power. Watch any Bollywood movie and you'll see the emphasis on materialistic goals and worldly achievement.
I agree that we don’t need a synthesis of Abrahamic and Brahmanic traditions as much as a rediscovery of the inner and outer dimensions of each tradition itself. Each tradition has integrity in itself. Those who subscribe to one tradition need to make their tradition whole and healthy while respecting that other traditions are also valid and even dazzling. Many paths, one journey.

kaffepaus said...

Very good post, Bob.

If I may ask, have you tried the esoteric path of the Brahmanics your self? If so, how far (deep) did you go/reach? Will you tell us a little Upanishad of your own some day?

/Johan, got the Upanishads on the nightstand (tran. ny Eknath Easwaran)

NoMo said...

I am compelled to say -

God’s great desire is that we, the ones made in His image, each come to have a personal, deep, and real relationship with Him by way of the faith that He graciously provides. That may be the most significant systematic revelation of the Bible. He says “I Am” and we respond, “You Are”. Is this not radically different from any other religious tradition?

God is not us. We are not Him. He is absolutely holy. We are corrupt from birth – as it is our fallen nature to be. The Bible validates our “total depravity” by making it clear, again and again, that no one can keep the Law, that “there are none righteous – not even one”. In fact, that is the Lesson of the Law - that only by God’s grace, extended to us and received by faith, can His righteousness be credited/gifted/imputed to us.

If we seek Him, it is only because we are drawn by His desire for relationship with us. Abraham saw it that way, but I have no indication that “Brahman” ever did.

It suddenly strikes me that, even when our relationship with God continues after our death (assuming there is a relationship to continue), faith will remain a part of that relationship forever –since He will forever be farther beyond the reaches of our comprehension. However you understand the story of Adam, Eve and the fall, note that they too were asked to have faith that if they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die. Even though they had an unimaginably personal relationship with God – walking and talking together in the garden (however you picture that) – still they failed to believe what He said (instead believing and acting on what someone else said) - and regretted it.

What other theology or religious tradition comes close to this perfect circle? Knowing how and being who, knowing how and being who...

code red said...

If you'd like to see a Christian book that reads like Yoga, try "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren.

You'd think it was an intentional repackaging of Aurobindo until it occurs to you that Warren is probably not using any references except the Bible and his own intuition in his book. He's re-invented the wheel; his Yogianity (Christoga?) it will take a Christian as far Godward as any Yogin can get.

All of that in language that is extremely accessible.

The only funky parts are christian doctrinal peculiarities like the division between believers and non-believers, which is made out to be a dealbreaker for the Godseeker. In other words, Warren says it's his way or the Highway (to hell).
That to me is not very likely.

walt said...

You wrote that this is your view:
"...the Real would be a dynamic synthesis (not mere blending) of the two, a "transcendent position" that unifies the Eastern and Western hemispheres of the global brain, allowing us to live in a third dialectical or "transitional" space between the external world and the mysterious Subject that is the source of both the world and ourSelves."

This has also been my sense, though arrived at by a different series of experiences. Thanks for putting it into words!

I also agree with the progression you mentioned at the end, from growing to making to knowing and now ----> the onto-noetic phase of "being" -- if we can, of course! Seems to me a huge leap, and my own opinion is that it is a subject (meaning, being) that is often mentioned, but not at all understood in any kind of practical way, nor aimed-at particularly. To paraphrase your quote from McKenna, "If only 10% of what we hear about it is true, we've got to do something about it!"

Anyway: fine information!

Gagdad Bob said...

I just sampled a few pages of Rick Warren on amazon. Seems like boilerplate fideism aimed at the double-digit IQ crowd. There was not a sentence that made me want to read the next one. Suffice it to say, he's no Abhishiktananda.

And Nomo.... never mind.

Gagdad Bob said...

By the way, Walt -- you'll love the new book on Abhishiktananda in the sidebar. A remarkable person, because he actually accomplished at the very deepest level what we're discussing.

walt said...

Amazon will be shipping it soon! Also ordered the Upanishads you said you liked, and one that Prabhavananda wrote on the Sermon on the Mount.

I have my computer block ads, and unfortunately that includes your book list! I forget to check on it!

Thanks for the recommendation.

NoMo said...

I know. Dirty Harry said, "A man's got to know his limitations." I do.

walt said...

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi left.

Gagdad Bob said...

Oh well, someone's gotta say it. I'll let Schuon:

"The errors of the Mahesh Yogi movement are patently obvious. In reality the goal of meditation is not to have access to 'limitless energy, heightened efficiency of thought and action, and release from tensions and anxiety leading to peace of mind and happiness!' None of these advantages has any spiritual value, for it is not happiness that matters: it is the motive and nature of the happiness. [Maharishi] says nothing of this, the sole important question, and this is what condemns him.

"But there are also extrinsic criteria: the complete lack of intelligence and barakah [i.e., grace], the propagandistic triviality, the modernist pseudo-yoga style, the quasi-religious pretension.... I suppose [Maharishi] is not a very intelligent man but is endowed with some psychic power; he may also be ambitious.... False masters are a danger because they are a mixture of good and evil, and they seduce with the good....

"And what can one say about the infinite naivete of believing that a method of meditation suffices 1. to change man and 2. to change humanity, hence politics as well?"

A previous commenter compared Rick Warren's trivialization of Christianity to Yoga. Well, yes.....

Nevertheless, R.I.P.

coonified said...

"The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren."

My dad has that book on his stack of other shallow childish books. Now you kind of know where I'm coming from Bob. I really am trying to get out of this. Have been for years; and you've been a great help.

coonfied said...

"He says “I Am” and we respond, “You Are”. Is this not radically different from any other religious tradition?

This is the one thing that distinguishes monotheism from the eastern religions of essence, two of which are Buddhism and Taoism--devotion to the 'you' aspect of God; but God also must be present within the I (self) and the it (object), or else there is no integral relationship to him. If there is no integral relationship, then there are necessarily holes within ones awareness, so to speak. The methods of the East are really good at getting at the 'it' and the 'I', but historical are lacking in the you/we, devotion, something that also implies the communion of multiplicity around the One. If there is a part of you who actually "sees" the subject of devotion present within the things around you, like raindrops falling on the leaves outside, or the wind in your face on a midsummer afternoon, the beauty of a sunset, or the times when the psychic being flashing across other peoples faces when they think that no ones looking, then the part necessarily coincides with the substance (subject) with whom it communes.

"The Bible validates our “total depravity” by making it clear, again and again, that no one can keep the Law, that “there are none righteous – not even one”. In fact, that is the Lesson of the Law - that only by God’s grace, extended to us and received by faith, can His righteousness be credited/gifted/imputed to us."

By my understanding of what you just said, no one can uphold the law--that's a general truth--, but we can by way of his grace, and implicitly by way of 'process' through time, come to fulfill the law. That's why he came, is it not? He came so that our natures may change, right?; and so that we may uphold the law?, right?

I'm actually not asking you, just telling. You're midlife, though, and I suspect that whatever habits have crystallized throughout are there to stay.

"If we seek Him, it is only because we are drawn by His desire for relationship with us."

Explain the "we" that seeks and I'll bow down to it.

Gagdad Bob said...

I might add that it makes no sense to think of oneself as totally depraved, if only because one cannot think of the part of oneself that thinks one is depraved as equally depraved. To the contrary, one is absurdly elevating this voice in the head to quasi-divine status. Ironically, more often than not, this persecutory presence is the depraved part, which is to say, a tyrannical and suffocating superego (one common variety of mind parasite). Naturally, many people with a harsh superego are drawn to punitive religion, as it allows them to externalize their superego and feel normal.

Petey said...

"Heresies always arise from a terrible lack of any sense of proportion."

NoMo said...

Coonified -
"I'm actually not asking you, just telling. You're midlife, though, and I suspect that whatever habits have crystallized throughout are there to stay."

Midlife - and then some. "Crystallized"? Perhaps a little. At least what's important, I hope. But, I do keep coming back to OC for a little "regrooving".

The "we that seek" is any that respond to the call. Don't bow down to the one who seeks, but to the One who calls.

GB said, "I might add that it makes no sense to think of oneself as totally depraved..." etc. etc.

Perhaps we should explain away the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans as the mad rant of some mind parasite (and Psalms 14 and 53as well). Hey, I don't "like" it any better than you do - but there it is.

Elephant said...

A half-congealed comment -

I think I have an inkling of what gb is getting at about the depravedness.
My mom has such a strange perspective as to think that man is so depraved that even once saved, there is not any evidence of that person in any good way. It is difficult to communicate this. In her case I believe it is a symptom of "splitting."

So in other words she is beyond saving, and herself after salvation has nothing to do with the person beforehand. It is probably a very basic mistake. The reason why she thinks it is a little less simple.

Elephant said...

I think it comes partly from an exposure in her teens to TULIP and Presbyterian theology. She is no longer involved in it but it influenced her pov on God, man, and the Bible.

Elephant said...

The other part of it probably has to do with the tough life she had growing up.

NoMo said...

BTW, sorry for sometimes taking up too much time and space here - this is Bob's place. I can get a little carried away sometimes.

Elephant said...

I for one really enjoy your posts, nomo. And Riv, Van, Julie, Coonified, Ricky R, Robin S., RSS Ben, smoov, (and others)...

Thank you for the references nested within them as well. They are refreshing, contextualizing, and give light and truth (for lack of better phrase). Must head out so can't dwell on wording too much.

Van said...

I'll take the long way around here.
Most know I can't take kant. The core of the reason why, ties in with the core of your post, the One in the many, and the many into the One.

I think that our grasp of the One is begun through our noting some few of the Many illuminating the outlines of the One, and then our clarifying of the One enables us to grasp more of the many, more clearly, more substantially, and in the process the One is made more clear and substantial to us as well.

When you seek answers only, you travel in only one direction, one to many, or many to one, in either way, the one is only technically grasped, but it is never One. When you seek and do the grasp the Truth, not just the facts, you travel both directions, inwards-outwards and heigth-deph, like the difference between a musician who plays the notes well, and a musician who plays the music through the notes, so too the facts to the Truth, and the Truth of the facts.

If your intent is towards Truth.

If your intent is towards another agenda, no doubt with a means you've justified as being important, that truth is obscured and disintegrated.

Kant came with his head full of Rousseau, and with fears of that and his anemic grasp of religion being threatened by the skeptic Hume (how anyone who didn't actually believe Hume, could fear him... I can't see, but that's another rant), so Kant set out to devise a philosophic system that would remove 'things as they are' from our grasp, indeed from even our attempt to grasp fact or truth, in his words from the preface to his “Critique of Pure Reason”, Kant declared just that “I have found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith”, and through a masterful use of convoluted equivocations, assertions and sheer length, he did it. And we have him to thank for enabling Hegel, the pragmatists and Marx, and all that followed from them, by giving them a philosophic base for obscuring reality, denying the world, and ignoring even the concept of truth.

Read him and weep.

River Cocytus said...

Total depravity, I don't remember which scripture that is. But suffice it to say that we are not God, precisely because our corruption (which is to say, anything less than perfection) will be consumed by his holiness. Our filthy rags are a result of our limitations. Even if we wanted the best for all, we would never be able to achieve it all on our own; we are simply too limited on one hand and on the other we are selfish and ignorant.

Total depravity is ridiculous and most likely a Calvinistic construct built off of certain exaggerations that Saint Augustine made. (piously.)

In fact, if we consider ourselves totally depraved we rob ourselves of the ability to do (which is part of salvation.) For then we can not even trust what we know - even if we know the truth. If there is any thing we should doubt it is our ability to achieve anything without God's help. If we are honest with ourselves we will realize how separate we must be from God, who is love, and yet how clearly he is still reflected in us in our ability (though limited) to know the true, do the good and love the beautiful.

We can not bow down to 'we who seek' - for instance Angels look to God, and they always warn not to worship them (a fellow-servant) and worship God alone. The closest we can get to what you want, Coonified, is the veneration of the saints (whom we venerate the image of God in, which is I think what you are really referring to, anyway?)

We greet each other with a holy kiss, and bow to one another in honor, because of God borne within us. If that is the we that seek, that veneration is the closest we will get. It's because of the fallen world, no doubt, that we can not fully separate the error from the correct, and thus we must always honor with caution.

Nomo, we are not totally depraved, though obviously if you come into the presence of God it will feel that way - who is as perfect as He?

We must ultimately recognize and negotiate the separation we have from God. That is the reason why the first step is metanoia. No amount of prayers, exercises, beliefs, readings or rituals mean anything without the right direction and state of heart.

It is my belief that it ultimately comes down to whether or not when we are confronted with him who is our exemplar at the judgment, whether we will be capable of being honest with him and all of creation what we have done and what it is we really need to do. Those who insist that they were good people when they were not will find that they are enemies of God. God will call us to account for what we have done, and we will be free to face all of it; and those who dare face him and repent - he will forget their errors because in metanoia they step beyond (if only for a moment) their egoic waste and into or towards God.

If we assume that we must first be right before we can face God, then we will be ever driven from his face. We must be prepared to face him with all of our errors and faults. If we lived as a saint we would be able to say to him, "Was there a time when you were hungry and I did not feed you?" And he will confirm us in the truth of this, if it is really true. But the prideful and moralistic will say, "Oh, we helped the poor! We're good!" And he will say, "No, clearly you do not see me at all."

In some sense, we must expect be shattered and torn asunder, ground into dust, for as Chesterton said, if you truly love something you will be willing to tear it to its very foundation to reform it.

The reality of it is actually that severe. But weirdly, in this it agrees with what is true in any tradition.

Gagdad Bob said...


Cooncur. There is so much more one could say, but this demonstrates the problem of reading literally instead of for understanding. I agree with Schuon that there must be something in man that remains intact after the fall, which is to say, the uncreated intellect discussed by Meister Eckhart. As Schuon writes, "The element in man that becomes aware that he is despicable cannot itself be what is to be despised." Not only that, but there is a subtle kind of reverse-pride that can attach itself, i.e., "unholier than thou."

There's a good Jewish joke about this:

On Yom Kippur, Mr. Shapiro, one of the synagogue's wealthiest congregants prostrates himself before God. "Dear God, You are so mighty and I am but a piece of dust in the vast desert of your countenance. I am nothing."

Mr. Weinberg, another wealthy synagogue member, won't be outdone. "My Lord, you are omnipotent and I am just a speck on the face of the sun in comparison to your greatness. I am nothing."

Finally, Mr Fishbein, a poor but pious man, gazes to heaven and proclaims, "Oh, God, I am your lowliest servant; but a drop of mud under your feet. I am nothing."

Shapiro, gestures at Fishbein and whispers to Weinberg, "Hah! Look who thinks he's nothing!"

Van said...

"Hah! Look who thinks he's nothing!"

I really LOL that one.

It seems to me that there's a vast difference between depraved, and missing the mark, which if my memory isn't on strike with the writers, was more to the original meaning of sin. To say that what we, as parts, are able to grasp of other parts, is short of, and forever missing the mark of the One, is just the way it is.

You're choice is to either accept it, and while seeking to grasp the One, realize that you don't, and gratefully accept corrections, or declare that because you aren't as grand and glorious as the One, you are nothing... you cannot even attempt the grasp, which seems to me a bit of a backhanded way of insulting the One, and through distancing yourself from the One, elevating yourself, "Hah! Look who thinks he's nothing!".

River Cocytus said...

Yup. And this is one of the reasons why I am not so 'determined that people know the Jesus' (though I am, which is one of those paradoxes) because I know we all face the same judgment. If the part of us (the nous) which is truly the image of God, which is probably what the halo on saints really represents - is active, (which might, MIGHT be the psychic being discussed by some Hindus) then we have a fighting chance.

Note that I said, a chance. Who truly knows which athletes will not falter before the race is done?

And- who are we fighting against? Ourselves.

The book, "Till we have faces" by C.S. Lewis has a vivid, visceral vision of the judgment: The main character arises to pass judgment on God for being unfair and cruel. But what comes out is just a childish rant. The reality is that we are our worst enemy and our only hope.

It is this understanding, or the approximation of it, that agrees with all of the seemingly-conflicting visions of God's judgment on man and his wrath, as David expressed it. If we understand that God is not mocked, that he is not subject to petty fallen passions, why should man's sin cause God's dignity to be smirched? God created us perfect; but we were 'too perfect' for ourselves - I suppose; we were so good that we were, like God, allowed to choose wrong. Entirely free to do so. Sadly, unlike God we chose (and choose) evil. I guess in order for us to truly be like God we had to be able to choose. Otherwise we would not be a perfect creation. (I.e, not in the likeness of the Perfect, that is, God.)

A strange, strange paradox, too.

Anyhow, as far as our heart's ice is melted, it must be God's eye that sees what is fallen in us; and it is that eye within our heart which may grok, in truth, what we are.

River Cocytus said...

also, though paradoxical, I think this is the simplest vision of the judgment, that is, we come before God and have to account for what we've done. That's it.

As for when we say, 'there is no salvation outside the church', we understand the church to be eternal, consisting of those in heaven and on earth, thus the idea of being saved and being in the church are the same thing. So if one, after having passed and not having joined the church militant comes to see their error at the judgment and truly repents, it is the same as having joined the church, or being saved, or coming to know Christ. For all of those things are one and the same.

Which is why you don't see the evangelistic furor in many orthodox; we don't know whose names are and are not written in the book of Life. We'd love it you would come to know The Dude, but everyone'll have to have chat with him eventually - whatever form that may take.