Monday, May 05, 2008

Highlighting the Highest Light

For when the light of God shines, the human light sets. --Philo

By light we lose light. --Shakespeare

Nothing in particular popped into my head to write about this morning. I was just flipping through The Spiritual Ascent, trolling for an inspirational germ of an idea for an idea, and in so doing, a few thoughts occurred to me. At this point, I'm up to page 521, or about halfway through. I've completed Book One, which --

D'oh! Just spilled my coffee. I guess someone doesn't want me to post this morning. Got some on the book, too. Symbolic, perhaps -- an alchemical procedure to activate and "wake up" the dormant knowledge in a book about waking up.

Anyway, I've completed Book One, which has -- here, I'll count -- two main subsections, Sacrifice-Death and Combat-Action; in turn, those two subsections have seven and nine categories, respectively; and then each of those categories has at least half a dozen additional topics. As I said, it's organized like a fractal, in that it exhibits "pattern across scale," just like the living cosmos itself. Wheels within wheels within wheels.

What's my point? Well, first of all, some of these topics naturally interest me more than others. Some sections are thick with my highlighting, while others were passed over without provoking much of a response in me. In fact, there were some topics I didn't care for at all, mostly the ones on damnation, hellfire, and that sort of thing.

Still, I would estimate that a good 1/3 of the book is highlighted so far. I have a sort of informal coding system, in that some passages have asterisks, others have exclamation points, and some have a mark in the upper left corner of the page, which means REREAD LATER! THIS IS IMPORTANT! This allows me to rapidly distill the essence of a book for later coonsultation.

My first point is this. If an atheist were to read this book -- well, first of all, I don't see how an atheist could get through it or why they would even try, anymore than I could get through a calculus textbook consisting of nothing but esoteric equations. I could flip the pages, but I would just be pretending to understand. It would contain no highlighting, because nothing beyond the dedication page would mean anything to me. (Which reminds me of an unintentional joke; a while back, a famous mathematician died, and one of his colleagues eulogized him by saying that "his contribution to mathematics was incalculable." Somewhere, Gödel is laughing.)

But just because I couldn't understand the calculus book, it hardly means that a qualified person couldn't, including, of course, the author. So, let's say I picked up a used copy of the calculus book, with someone else's highlights. This would prove to me that the book not only made sense, but that it made sense to someone in particular. Or, I could be like an atheist and write a review of the book, in which I explain how it actually makes no sense at all, regardless of whether anyone else thinks it communicates deep meaning to them.

Now, I buy a fair amount of used books, and sometimes they contain the highlights of the previous owner. Without fail, I am always surprised by what they highlighted. Sometimes I think, "why did he highlight that? Everyone knows that." Other times I will think, "why did he think that was important? He missed the whole point of the passage." It's even worse when there are marginalia. That's when you really gain insight into the former owner's mental make-up. That's when you say to yourself, "what a moron. No wonder they sold the book."

Anyway, as I was saying, The Spiritual Ascent is full of my highlights. But in virtually every instance, the highlight signifies that "this is something I already know to be true," but perhaps expressed in a particularly beautiful, novel, or effective way. Other times I am struck at the manner in which a truth from one tradition is precisely mirrored in another. And other times I might be astonished at how what I thought was an original idea of my own, was actually thought by someone else 1,000 or 2,000 years ago.

In short, it is much more an exercise in vertical recollection than anything else, of reinforcing what I have independently discovered to be true. This is always the case in genuine spiritual truth, where there can be no true novelty or innovation, only an increasingly adequate grasp of the pre-existent Real, as it successively reveals more of itself.

But the main point is that I understand. And I understand not just this or that particular passage, but I understand the entire realm from which the passages emanate. Please, don't get me wrong -- I am not suggesting I am omniscient, or anything like that. I am not Petey. Rather, I am making a much more modest claim, which is really no different than when one of you readers out there think to yourself, "I understand what Bob is writing about." It means that, to the extent that you understand, there is something real that corresponds to your understanding, both external to you, and, more importantly within you.

In other words, let's say an atheist rifles through my liberary, plucks The Spiritual Ascent from my bookcase with his grubby, heathen fingers, and flips through it. Naturally, none of it makes any sense to him, any more than the calculus book makes sense to me. As such, the book should properly contain no highlighting, since it is literally void of any valid knowledge to be had. In that regard, even the Bible, or the Tao, or the Upanishads are "empty sets," so to speak, just elaborate linguistic parentheses around nothing.

So the atheist will have to be a bit puzzled to see so much highlighting in a book about nothing. In order to maintain his atheism, what are his options? Somehow he will need to devalue or invalidate my understanding, and show that I haven't really understood anything at all. Rather, I might think I understand, but that is strictly impossible, since you can't have valid knowledge about something that doesn't exist, i.e., transnatural reality. But then, I could say the same about him -- that he is simply elevating his ignorance to a virtue and calling it knowledge.

An additional problem for the atheist is that much spiritual writing is intentionally obscure (even while being luminously so), in order to protect it from being misused and misinterpreted by the unqualified -- which the atheist is, by his own proud admission. Therefore, it makes it all the easier for someone to reject it as nonsense. In fact, The Spiritual Ascent (naturally) anticipates this, as it has a whole section devoted to this problem, i.e., Give not that which is holy unto the trolls, neither cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet...

Epicetus: The written doctrines of philosophy, if poured into the dirty and defiled vessel of a false and debased mind, are altered, changed, and spoilt, and turn to urine or anything fouler than that. Indeed, do our trolls not teach us the lesson of King Midas in reverse?

Romans: Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man...

Udana: ...[T]he mighty ocean consorts not with a dead body; for when a dead body is found in the mighty ocean, it quickly wafts it ashore, throws it up on the shore...

Get it? The secret protects itself, always. O deflects the living dead and turns them to Ø. Only the dead-and-reborn may swim in the living waters of O.

For it is absurd that a man should be forbidden to enter the temples save after bathing and cleansing his body, and yet should attempt to pray and sacrifice with a heart still soiled and spotted. --Plato

If the cask is to hold wine, its water must first be poured out. --Meister Eckhart

He must increase, but I must decrease. --John 3:30


Namu Amida Butsu said...

Metaphysical Truth has no need to protect itself since it cannot be harmed, defiled or obstructed.

One can be ignorant of this Truth, and therefore behave in absurd, irrational ways, but this ignorance has no effect on Truth nor does it keep the Reality which this Truth reflects from being itself, truly itself, only itself.

Jesus said...

My bad.

River Cocytus said...

Bob, namu proved your point quite nicely.

Ricky Raccoon said...

It’s not protected for its sake, but for our sake.
In fact, it’s so little protection you can’t even see it. Yet, it's all the protection it needs.

Anonymous said...

Even being married and having a child, I can attest to the secret protecting or concealing itself. The truth about marriage, having children, or God is out there always being preached or written about (along with the detractors), but it isn't until you are in these relationships yourself with a sort of self surrender does the flower of its Truths begin to unfold.

Don't know if that makes any sense, but maybe somebody can help me out here.

rabid said...

How would Metaphysical Truth come to know itself if it didn't have earthly receptacles to contain it, and therefore, know it? If Being wants to know itself then the obscurities and vagaries of revelation are necessary and even intensional; and this is so because it is in His best interest.

I mean, Reality always will be, and was, but who will be there to know if Being opened itself up totally to the diseases of the world? We would all just self-destruct, and Being would float off into ecstasy, and no one would even know, because there would be no boundaries and echoes for Being to locate itself in relation--companionship--to us.

Really, it's just that samsara and nirvana are not two, but both true.

Robin Starfish said...

future note to self
don't sell my highlighted books
a seinfeld sitcom

"Sometimes I think, "why did he highlight that? Everyone knows that." Other times I will think, "why did he think that was important? He missed the whole point of the passage." It's even worse when there are marginalia. That's when you really gain insight into the former owner's mental make-up. That's when you say to yourself, "what a moron. No wonder they sold the book."

Ha! I apply that to myself, in re-reading passages (particularly Bible verses) I highlighted decades ago. At times I find gems that now shine more brightly, but at other times wonder how I missed the target so widely. And twenty years from now I'll likely be looking back at my present 'wisdom' with the same humor. I am my own fool.

Anonymous said...

Just don't use a black highlighter! (grad school/ Aggie joke)

julie said...

Off topic, but today's sign of the apocalypse: Plant Rights (via Rachel Lucas)

Van said...

boy named sue, said "One can be ignorant of ...Truth, and therefore behave in absurd, irrational ways..."

Thank you demonstrating this so well.

Lisa said...

Believe it or not, Coolio has actually hit the nail on the head with his song Sumpin' New and the lyrics "Gotta, gotta get up to get down"!

Couldn't remember who wrote that song and in the midst of my research came across a funny Onion piece entitled "National Funk Congress Deadlocked On Get Up/Get Down Issue"

Here's the link, sorry I suck at tags!

Anonymous said...

have fun with this y'all

mushroom said...

Yes, marriage is a good example. Everybody know how it works but the real part isn't "making it work". The real part of marriage is being married. What could be more obvious, cliched even? Yet there are plenty of people who are married -- at least temporarily -- who never seem to get it.

With kids it is even more obvious in hindsight. I have grandkids now. I would recommend having grandkids instead of kids -- they are lots more fun.

Van said...

" "why did he think that was important? He missed the whole point of the passage." "
That's why I use a red, blue, green pen, not a highlighter, and write in the margins. Another benefit, is if you scribble real illegibly, future browsers won't be able to read it, and will always be thinking 'hmm wonder what he was writing?' never suspecting that it was 'lksd oiaj;oiaw khfs ;asjkndf ;alj ;!'

" That's when you say to yourself, "what a moron. No wonder they sold the book." "
Exactly! (hope my kids keep mine in the family... I'd kind of like being the crazy great, great Grandpa in the margins)

"And other times I might be astonished at how what I thought was an original idea of my own, was actually thought by someone else 1,000 or 2,000 years ago. "

Yep. And in the beginning, not a few times of seeing my brilliant insight used as an example of common errors people make. Told to sit in the corner by a 2,000 year old man. Sheesh.

What I find interesting here, is the number of times that people will notice what went right on my be, Magnus & Will constantly make me wonder if we read the same post, and on going back, sure enough there it was, patiently waiting for me to come back for it, or on rereading it I will be struck by different ideas from the same post. Dante's four levels of depth to be discovered and revealed by the previous level, I suppose.

It's interesting that often your mind is able or set to sift through just that size thought your ready for - or more interesting, when the tip of a larger thought gets caught in the screen, poking through, and you tug on it and it is pushed through, expanding the screen and sending your mind into a swirl. Love it.

Anonymous said...

There is no God on Shakepeares stage.

Just the mortal human drama and all of its dreadful consequences.

Petey said...


Petey said...

Also: Shakespeare's Window into the Soul: The Mystical Wisdom in Shakespeare's Characters.