Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death!

Before going off-road and venturing into the higher bewilderness, let's begin with a little invOcation by Eckhart, shall we?

One must here come to a transformed knowing, and this unknowing must not come from ignorance; rather, from knowing one must come into an unknowing. Then, we will become knowing with divine knowing and then our unknowing will be ennobled and clothed with supernatural knowing. And here, in that we are in a state of receiving, we are more perfect than if we were active.

Bolton makes a lot of fine points in Self and Spirit, but it seems to me that the ultimate one is the somewhat paradoxical idea that twoness, or dualism, is higher than oneness, or monism; or perhaps that One is intrinsically two and therefore three, the latter of which is "higher" than both, since, to put it mythematically, the infinite + the finite must (in a manner of speaking, of course) = more than the pure infinite alone. (As I said, I'm just going to be thinking out loud here, so don't mind me.)

We could also say that love is higher than union; or, that true union is a unity in which differences are preserved and bound together by love -- which becomes, or reveals, their inner unity. I mean, if I have to completely obliterate myself in order to be in union with God, what kind of union is that? Isn't that a little like being married to Alec Baldwin?

Bolton falls within the traditionalist camp, but he is clearly deviating from Schuon and most of his clones in hewing to a dualistic metaphysic.

Bolton feels that Schuon, in order to harmonize all of the diverse revelations -- and one of our commenters has made this point in the past -- basically assumed the truth of the pure nondualist metaphysics of Advaita Vedanta, and then crammed the rest of the religions into that framework, even if it occasionally involved some tendentious reasoning, and gave short shrift to the actual beliefs of this or that religion. In short, both Guenon and Schuon "assume that the Hindu wisdom as interpreted by Shankara is the medium in which the different traditions are [to be] reconciled."

This obviously has a certain superficial appeal, for there is no question that on some level "all is one." But the question is, what kind of One? For when you say "all is one," you might just as well say "all is none." Not only is it a meaningless statement, it is unmeaningable -- no different than saying "all is all" or "one is one."

Furthermore, what is the ontological status of the entity that knows "all is one?" As Bolton says, "Any such answer must include some proof that the self is a reality in its own right, and not just a collective name for a succession of more or less related phenomena with no integrating principle." For if the self is not in some sense real, then there is nothing it can objectively say about anything, let alone, God.

This is a critical question, because on it hinges not just the reality and the dignity of the personal self, but the entire possibility of any intrinsic meaning at all, since meaning can only exist in reference to something else. If all is simply one, it is another way of saying that life is completely meaningless -- which some Vedantins and Buddhists come close to saying, i.e., that the world is maya (illusion) and nothing else.

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Sri Aurobindo was completely opposed to this idea. You could even say that he was the polar opposite of Schuon, in the sense that he attempted to "Christianize" Vedanta, as opposed to Vedanta-izing Christianity. He regarded the realm of maya as a conscious power that can be easily reconciled with a Christian logo-centric conception of reality. He felt that the world was worthy of our being in it, and vice versa. The cosmos is not just one big freaking mistake.

If the personal self (we are speaking of the soul, or psychic being, not the ego) is a pure illusion, then so too is the personal God (which Schuon ultimately conceded, placing God on the side of cosmic maya). Again, as Bolton emphasizes, "the importance of this is far from being merely of personal interest, because all metaphysics and religion would be reduced to nothing if the self were not an objective reality."

Here we can see that "extremes meet," in that the implications of strictly nondual monism would be identical to those of gross materialism: that you are nothing in a world of absolute meaninglessness -- a double nothing. One could hardly regard life as a "gift," but a kind of curse, or a nuisance at best -- "a cancer on the body of nothingness."

Now, interestingly, both Buddhism and Vedanta speak of "liberation," whereas Christianity speaks of salvation, something very different. I think this goes to the heart of the matter, not just for the individual, but for all of creation, for Christianity also speaks of somehow salvaging the whole existentialada. What did Paul say? The creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage and corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (Rom 8:21). Can't get more clear than that.

Here we cannot avoid a discussion of eschatology, for eschatology is none other than the study of the last end of things, i.e., their ultimate meaning -- again, for both self and cosmos. As Bolton writes, "the true nature of a being cannot be understood without a knowledge of its last ends. The very question as to whether or not salvation is a possibility for the self makes a fundamental difference to what we think the self is." To put it another way, "misunderstandings of the self lead to misunderstandings of everything else."

So, what is the personal self, the individual as such? Here again, the materialistic and nondual conceptions converge and agree that it is squat. But What about Bob?! What difference does it make to Bob if Bob ultimately reduces either to matter or to God, and disappears in the process? I say, give me immortality or give me death! (in the immortal words of Firesign Theatre).

Now, here is another irony: it is the monistic conception of the world that leaves us with an irreconcilable dualism, in that one side or the other of the dualism must go -- for the materialist, spirit; for the Vedantin, matter. The result is "an almost exact parallel of the Cartesian conception of soul and body where neither has anything in common with the other." The Cartesian says, "I think, therefore I am." The Vedantin says "I am, therefore I think." But the Raccoon says, "God is, therefore I am. And that's why I can fruitfully and objectively think, to boot."

In other words, to say "I am one with God," is a kind of truism, but with important implications, for as Bolton says, "union in this context must mean what it says, and not simply the elimination of one side of the relation." Otherwise, we are simply avoiding a serious inquiry into the exceedingly strange situation of the Incarnation, both His and ours.

[R]ealizing the birth of the Word in the [soul's] ground is inseparable from the Incarnation of the Divine Word: the ground that we seek to attain is nothing other than the ground of Christ. --Bernard McGinn


Anonymous said...

I think I'm gonna hurl! Best new age blog?

Aloysius said...

An interesting (but trivial) link describing the effect of belief.


Anonymous said...

Oh, One Cosmos? What, is that like pantheism?

Anonymous said...

No, puntheism.

julie said...

New Age?!? Puhlease.
The trouble is, though, that you are rather uncategorizable. Thank goodness; Otherwise, what would be the point of Bob?

NoMo said...

All I can say is...thank God for dualism!

(and Firesign Theatre)


(cool wv: mobvion)

Anonymous said...

Alistair Cookie-Monster of MonsterPiece Theatre was totally into Oneness when it came to cookies.

David R. Graham said...

Fine job! A scatter shot of problems and related inquiries.

The ontological content of the materialist "squat" and the ontological content of the adwaithin "squat" are not the same. The former is non-being. The latter is the Ground of Being.

In Adwaitha Philosophy, personality is vivid, spotlighted. In Logos Theology, which is the Greco-Christian correlate of Adwaitha Philosophy, it is the same.

What could be more vivid than the Crucifixion, the siege of Lanka, the fury of battle raging about a Charioteer and his heavily engaged master, the swoon at Alverno?

The genius of Logos Theology is use of the same word, Logos, to indicate the divine abyss, the structure of being and nature and the structure of the human personality, including especially its cognitive abilities.

This makes adwaithin discussion in Christian terms relatively easy and precise.

Monism is not a proper term for either Adwaitha Philosophy (Vedantha) or Logos Theology.

The reason is the same one that makes "we are all one" a meaningless -- and, by the way, hubristic -- assertion.

The word adwaitha itself provides the answer. It means "not two." The statement "we are not two" is meaningful.

Surely the epistemological method of neti or via negativa is familiar in these parts.

The word monism is acceptable so long as indication is provided that it is used knowingly -- and therefore in awareness of its potential for inciting misunderstanding -- from an epistemological condition at least one step removed from direct participation.

The phrase "not two" is nearly always preferable to the words monism, monistic, one-ness, etc. "Not two" falsifies far less than "monism" does the content of the intended communication.

It seems to me that underneath this discussion of the last several days is the problem of types of maya, the beneficial type and the destructive type, vidya maya and avidya maya, respectively.

In Christian usage these are learned ignorance (docta ignorantia) and ignorance (ignorantia), respectively. That articulation is by the great Christian Sage and Cardinal, Nicolaus Cusanus.

Ultimately, vidya maya / docta ignorantia remains maya /ignorantia and destructive after its use is fulfilled.

There is no salvation or liberation -- take your pick -- wallowing in docta ignorantia.

Examples of this tendency are apparent in, for example, the radical individualism which today is rampant and, paradoxically but predictably, along with fraud, poised a falange of aggressive collectivists ("liberal fascists" is Goldberg's description) to lay hands on the mechanisms of federal, state and local government.

I am uncomfortable asserting that the contents of Christian salvation and Adwaitha liberation are dissimilar, or especially, not the same.

Certainly the words have different meanings (health and release or escape from bondage) but the content of the estate indicated by those words ... that I am most comfortable expressing as not-two.

The reasons for my predilection in this regard are self-evident.

Yes indeed, this scatter of problems drives towards the question of eschatology.

The end state is given already in the Eckhart quote, in the word "received." The end state of life is having been brought to relaxation in the Divine Personality.

Existence is dialectical and salvation/liberation intransitive, is it not?

Gagdad Bob said...

Very good. I especially appreciate the subtle point of seeing the link between radical individualism and aggressive collectivism.

Anonymous said...

You beat me this year, Bob, but I'll be back. You can count on it. (in a non violent way, of course)

James said...

Posts like these remind me I have a lot of Truth yet to learn.

Gagdad Bob said...

Join the club.

julie said...

Posts and comments like these; some days, I feel like a kindergartener by comparison. Actually, most days.

NoMo said...

I'm always having to remind myself of the club motto...

"There is a God, and you are not Him."

robinstarfish said...

I like kindergarten, especially nap time.

Aloysius said...

It is no longer New Age. It has been changed to esoteric and/or Christian.

funny enough my word verification is nithor

walt said...

Yes, now I'm remembering how it was when you "did Bolton" the last time: I hold my head and just lurk.

Anonymous said...

Lurky loo!

Anonymous said...

speaking strictly for me, i wish BoB and Zoltan would include a few..."In other words....."

kindergarten never seemed so challenging before.

Happy New Year, all

Anonymous said...

Bob wrote commentary on dualism:

"...We are simply avoiding a serious inquiry into the exceedingly strange situation of the Incarnation, both His and ours."

Yes, now what about that exceedingly strange situation? What the heck are we up to here? We had arrived at some conclusions on a previous thread:

The cosmos is emanated by God because he simply must express the qualities of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. It is an unavoidable/irrepressible act.

Another view is that cosmos is emanated for reasons that correspond to "entertainment" or "flow" or "enjoyment" in human terms. God is at play.

Still another view is that the crushing pain of loneliness is the aboriginal prime mover: to avoid it God has split himeself up and blinded some elements in order to enjoy the company of the lost parts as if they were separated entities.

Or some combination thereof, or something altogether different? Employ your imagination recklessly. The answer to this question drives right action and thought.

If God is lonely, provide company.

If He is bored, provide drama.

If He is is needing expression, express.

In any case, try not to be contrary.

Dougman said...

Above all, have an honest relationship with the Truth.

WV:hashesan... Ha, she's an.....Angel!

Warren said...

A post for the ages today, Doc - coongrats! You're really getting down to the place where the cheese binds, metaphysically speaking.

I still remember what a shock it was when, after studying Eastern metaphysics for about a quarter of a century, I realized that their spiritual monism led to exactly the same cul-de-sac of absurdity and meaninglessness as did modern Western materialistic monism. Philosophically speaking, monism is monism is monism, whether it calls itself Advaita (pace Zoltan), or naturalism, or whatever. If the doctrine is true, there is no such thing as truth, so why should anyone care (especially since there isn't anyone to care in that case)? If the doctrine isn't true, again, why should anyone care? Either way, why are we even discussing it?

Of course, strict dualism makes no sense either. So we seem to have narrowed down our options for making sense of the universe quite dramatically....

julie said...

(Ha - I like the new comment policy)

Apropos my dream about the rope ladder on Sunday, this afternoon I came across this passage from The Adventure of Consciousness:

The future does not move only from below above, otherwise there would be no hope for the earth, it would finish by bursting into mid-air in a supreme psychic tension or by falling back into its night...

WV says "unlingle" - I think it approves of your unconscious posting...

julie said...

By the way, it sucks donkey balls that you need to moderate comments now, but after this past week it's probably necessary.

Fucking trolls.

Feel free to block this; it's just a PO'd observation.

Also, sorry if this comes through twice; posting is getting tricky.

Fucking trolls.

Anonymous said...

Nothing is fucked here, Julie. Come on, you're being very un-Dude.

Anonymous said...

Today's post, and Zoltan's comment sparked one of the best talks my wife and I have had for years. She is a Buddhist of over thirty years practice. I have moved from belief in the nebulous "a god" to faith in God which means that the path that I have followed has led to the Torah, to the Gospel, and, of course, the cross. And me sometimes wondering how I got here, and what it is I am to make of all this. She isn't comfortable with- well, she's got the Jesus willies. I tried the Buddhist practice for a year. Couldn't do it. So we've been kind of at odds. Today we had a good talk.

I have a question for Zoltan, if he's reading. Yesterday you remarked that the analogy of traveling a path did not fit with your spiritual/religious experience. If not the path, then what would be your metaphor of choice?

And it's not all the trolls, Julie. I'll confess that I, for one, let my temper get the better of me, and threw a totally inappropriate flameball over the weekend. If Bob nuked the post, so much the better. WV is PIA, but it forces you to give a second thought.

(snist) In case you start to throw one.


julie said...

I actually like wordveri, both for the entertainment and Rorschach aspects (for instance: briess - a cheese served at a bris?). It's the actual moderation, though as I said after this weekend it's probably narcissary.

But Walter's right - nothing is fucked here; I probably just need to chill on a nice rug, listen to some strikes or whale songs. And besides, she probably kidnapped herself, man.

Just, uh, leave the marmot at home, 'kay?

Van Harvey said...

I'm standing back with Walt, still digesting... but after Julie's advertisement I did want to get... um... moderated.

(I was thinking sorta along the same lines, but I don't want to be too forward about it.)

Warren said...

"she's got the Jesus willies"

How come nobody but me ever gets the Buddha willies?

Anonymous said...

"[I]f I have to completely obliterate myself in order to be in union with God, what kind of union is that?

Ecc 4:11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?

Anonymous said...


I think the Taliban in Afghanistan has a bad case of Buddha willies. To the point of blowing up a couple HUGE statues, possibly a few decapitations etc...
Since this blog's category was re-categorized does that mean we missed out on yet another troll deluge?
Seriously intricate post today Bob.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Excellent post, Bob!
I'm glad to see that it's nigh impossible to categorize the OC.
Of course, that doesn't make it easy to explain, but I reckon if you hafta explain the joke then it's doubtful anyone will get the punch line anyway.

At least they didn't use "quantum".
Ha ha!

Now, if I only had an Oquelator to instantly figger out the mythematical Omulas I wouldn't hafta coontemplate so much.

Not that I mind coontemplatin', but try to explain to your wife that doin' the dishes is cuttin' into your coontemplation time and see how far you get.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Aloysius said-
Funny enough my word verification is nithor.

Ha! The OC is the only blog I know of that one could easily write a book just tryin' to categorize.

Anonymous said...

Another year has passed and I stand humbly beside James here.

Cheers to Bob and all you who makes this blog to the amazing place it is and still has to become.

Follow the Truth and you will walk with God.

Happy New Year!


NoMo said...

I have the "Jesus willies" willies!


Buttercup said...

The coonclusion that the truth "all is all" can still leave the essential charACTORistics of each and "all" intact is brilliant! One can know that "all" is from the same "stuff" and yet remain distinct. Union creates a whole instead of a hole.

I may just need more coffee to wake up. I drink in order to think.

Van Harvey said...

"This is a critical question, because on it hinges not just the reality and the dignity of the personal self, but the entire possibility of any intrinsic meaning at all, since meaning can only exist in reference to something else. If all is simply one, it is another way of saying that life is completely meaningless -- which some Vedantins and Buddhists come close to saying, i.e., that the world is maya (illusion) and nothing else. "

Hmmm... Monist... Dualist... MayaMommaMaya....I think I'm going to have to go with something more like Shrek & Donkey's Onion Boy theory.

I'm forever stuck on an integrated One perspective, which includes the perception of several sides, whether front and back, top and bottom, left half and right half, interior or exterior... that are all valid appearances from your perspective, but from the perspective of the Onion, it's One Onion, through and through.

As you peel the layers, something new is revealed, but it is not other than what was there before, only deeper. And yeah, the process of peeling produces tears, but that's the way it works.

Note, warming up the onion, and wetting it (perhaps with the tears?), makes the outer layer translucent and enables you to see through into deeper layers of the onion than that which you can touch, without having to peel it further - but even then, it's One Onion.

"Here we cannot avoid a discussion of eschatology, for eschatology is none other than the study of the last end of things, i.e., their ultimate meaning -- again, for both self and cosmos. "
And of course, the ultimate end of Onions... is to contribute to the taste of the soup. Just because we learn all about the Onion, doesn't rule out a cook. Hmmm... I think I just lost my footing....

(Hey! Ogres have feelings too, ya know!)

David R. Graham said...

JWM - Not a metaphor, per se, but a a description of an activity, implied in the fact that the words think and thank are cognate and essentially synonymous and interchangeable.

I am uncomfortable with any metaphor for what in some classical mystical expression is referenced as "the inmost movements of the soul."

It is a movement of thankfulness, far, far beyond words. And equally a movement of cynicism, which is to say thinking, far, far beyond doubt.

And if any of that has pretense of metaphor, dismiss it as rubbish.

David R. Graham said...

I beg leave to amend this:

It is a movement of thankfulness, far, far beyond words. And equally a movement of cynicism, which is to say thinking, far, far beyond doubt.

to this:

It is a movement of thankfulness, which is to say confidence, far, far beyond words. And equally a movement of cynicism, which is to say thinking, far, far beyond doubt.