Friday, March 14, 2008

E Pluribus Nusquam: Pomographic Liberalism and the Parsing of Nothing

Since leftism is the political expression of nihilism, it is appropriate that the vacuous campaign between Obama and Clinton involves ever finer degrees of nullity on the dark road from nowhere to nothing. From American Digest:

Obama: (Just throwing it out there): This should be the campaign.

Hillary: What?

Obama: This. Just arguing. Arguing about nothing.

Hillary (Dismissing): Yeah, right.

Obama: No I'm serious. That sounds like a good idea.

Hillary: Just arguing? What's the campaign about?

Obama: It's about nothing.

Hillary: No real policies?

Obama: No, forget the policies. --The Pitch.

What is the ultimate basis of the "culture war," and by extension, the conflict between conservative classical liberals and illiberal leftists? What is it's deep structure, the "either/or" at its foundation that is the cause of all the diametrically opposed attitudes on the surface?

The culture war is in fact a "war between the states," the existential states of nihilism vs. theism. For while the left would like you to believe that it is simply a battle between right-wing religious zealots and "free thinking" secular liberals, you can conceptualize it in more subtle ways -- for example, a belief in absolute Truth vs. mere opinion, moral absolutes vs. moral relativism, cultural progress vs. multiculturalism, a complex spiritual hierarchy vs. simplistic "flatland" materialism, meaningful existence vs. existential meaninglessness, teleonomic spiritual evolution vs. the mere random shuffling of Darwinian "evolution," etc. But what is so especially annoying about these hardcore nonbelievers is that they want to impose their new atheocractic testavus on the rest of us.

A while back I mentioned the book Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from the Exorcist to Seinfeld, by Thomas Hibbs. He believes that in America, most of the purveyors of popular culture are in fact nihilists of one sort or another (in the sense alluded to above). You might say that nihilism is an unnaturally natural implication of certain strains of our liberal individualism.

That is to say, liberal individualism divorced form any deeper spiritual impulse does indeed tend to degenerate into a debased, antisocial shadow of itself. You might call it pomographic (as in postmodern) vs. classical liberalism, the latter of which has always recognized the need to cultivate a virtuous population, with the understanding that the whole system breaks down if responsibilities aren't at least equally emphasized along with rights. But why are there no "civic responsibilities activists," and why do we call the champions of irresponsibility, impulsivity, narcissism and sloth "civil rights activists"?

Pomographic liberalism is obsessed only with rights, entitlements, and the unearned specialness of the oppressed victocrat. As Hibbs writes, nihilism does not simply usher in an era of chaos and disorder -- rather, it "involves a simplification of human nature, a reduction of its complexity and range, and an abridgment of its aspirations." In short, it reduces hierarchy to a crude spiritual leveling, and replaces the telos of spiritual aspiration with the mundane enforcement of material equality. The nihilistic left is comprised of Nietzsche's pathetic Last Men, who "have a calm indifference to all elevated aspirations." In their puffed up vanity and pseudosophistication, they have lost even the capacity to despise themselves, so they certainly have no reason to aspire spiritually and surpass themselves.

In a piece entitled Literary Hoaxes and the Proletarianization of Culture, Roger Kimball notes that "where Americans once looked up the social scale for their ideals, many now look to the gutter. He quotes Charles Murray, who observed that “one of the consistent symptoms of disintegration is that the elites... begin to imitate those at the bottom of society”:

“The collapse of old codes leaves a vacuum that must be filled. Within the elites, the replacement has been tenets, broadly accepted by people across the political spectrum, that tell us to treat people equally regardless of gender, race, or sexual preference, to be against poverty and war, and to be for fairness and diversity. These are not bad things to be against and for, respectively, but the new code, which I will call ecumenical niceness, has a crucial flaw. The code of the elites is supposed to set the standard for the society, but ecumenical niceness has a hold only on those people whom the elites are willing to judge -- namely, one another. One of the chief tenets of ecumenical niceness is not to be judgmental about the underclass.

"Within the underclass, the vacuum has been filled by a distinctive, separate code. Call it thug code: Take what you want, respond violently to anyone who antagonizes you, gloat when you win, despise courtesy as weakness, treat women as receptacles, take pride in cheating, deceiving, or exploiting successfully. The world of hip-hop is where the code is openly embraced. But hip-hop is only an expression of the code, not its source. It amounts to the hitherto inarticulate values of underclass males from time immemorial, now made articulate with the collaboration of some of America’s best creative and merchandising talent."

Hibbs notes that the Last Men in our midst are not the courageous rebels of their narcissistic imaginations, but "timid, enervated, self-enclosed, and self-satisfied," conforming with "the dictates of common opinion.'' Fourteen billion years of cosmic evolution, and what has it wrought: spiritually withered New York Times Man, so insular and hermetically creedbound in his views, and yet, like a pinched little sulzberger, so confident of his childish superiority!

These Last Men hate to be reminded that there is something higher or deeper, something transcending their own rootless and self-generated meaninglessness. They are all sheep and no shepherd. And they don't believe in wolves at all. Brawndead leftists with no mametary glands hate the notion that the work -- the manly work, not just the endless party on mom's government teat -- of history is incomplete, that there are real enemies and real heroes -- superior men like General Petraeus who will name and kill the enemy so that the Last Men may sleep soundly in their beds. They believe that there is nothing to be afraid of but the hero!

In a way they are right, for the hero is a painful reminder of their own existential shrinkage. The society of the Last Man "is adept at satisfying nearly all desires for pleasure, but it cannot satiate, indeed it positively frustrates, the will to excel, to prove oneself superior to others" (Hibbs). They are afflicted with spiritual envy, the Satanic Eucharist of secular fundamentalism. Kill the hero is their motto. The victim is the new God, Master of our domain is their creed.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Celestial Force and God's Scorched-Birth Policy (3.12.10)

People argue about Jesus -- it is easier than to let yourself be scorched by contact with him. -- Swami Abhishiktananda

All that is true, by whosoever spoken, is from the Holy Ghost. --St. Ambrose

In Christ the Eternal Tao, Hieromonk Damascene makes the claim that "we today are given much more than those who were born before Christ, for while pre-Christian prophets and sages were united with the Tao after their death, we have the potential of experiencing a foretaste of that eternal union during our earthly life. During his life on earth, Christ gave special means -- physical 'channels' of immaterial, Uncreated Teh -- by which to help effect this union." (Teh refers to the uncreated power of ultimate reality, or what we call O.)

Yes, the Christian message is universal, but it seems an unavoidable conclusion that it possesses an exoteric side and an esoteric side -- an outer teaching and an inner teaching, a primarily informational component and a more transformational component. Obviously, this can lead to charges of elitism, but in reality, it seems that the inner teaching is surrounded on all sides by cherubim with flaming swords who only allow those with sincere humility and childlike innocence to pass through: amen for a child's job!

And while I would certainly never denigrate the informational, or dogmatic, aspect of Christianity, I guess I agree with Abhishiktananda, who wrote, "let us not confuse the vessel with the treasure it contains.... as long as man attempts to seize and hold God in his words and concepts, he is embracing a mere idol." Thus, "in every religious experience there is a beyond, and it is precisely this 'beyond' that is our goal." (The book on Swami Abhishiktananda is highly recommended; it has Petey's imprimatur, in that it is 90% Coon-friendly, with only the usual heavy-handed attempt by Traditionalists to squeeze everything into the Schuon/Guenonian framework and to polemicize against "evolutionists".)

In Matthew 13:10, the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks in parables to the multitude, the implication being that he doesn't speak that way to them. "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.... I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand." Evidently, teaching to the converted is different than preaching to the perverted.

Of course, everything Jesus said was provocative and well worth pondering. But it would appear that the exoteric teaching -- the parables -- are there to instruct those who can discern their meaning. But they are also vague and ambiguous enough to serve as a sort of protective covering over the esoteric side -- like the shell of a seed that surrounds and protects the kernel. In fact, Jesus proceeds directly to a parable involving a seed. When this seed is planted in "good ground," it "indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matt 13:23).

In Mark 4:33, it says the same thing: "And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it.... And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples." This in itself has an inner meaning, for who is a disciple? And what does it mean to be alone with Jesus?

Exoteric teaching works from the outside in. But esoteric teaching works from the inside out. Clearly, this is where the third person of the trinity comes in, the "helper" promised by Jesus. There is no way to reconcile this helpful uncreated energy with anything found on this side of nature. It is intrinsically esoteric. Aligning oneself with it is perhaps the principle aim of the Christian life.

Hieromonk Damascene quotes a number of eminent authorities on this matter, for example, St. Seraphim of Sarov, who says that when Christ assures us that "The Kindom of Heaven is within you," he is "referring precisely to this seed of the Grace of the Holy Spirit implanted in the human soul."

Of course, we would all like to purchase a luxury corps at pentecost, but there's no such thing as a free launch. For it is like a treasure hidden in a field: "In order to acquire it, one must sell all that one has, buy the field, and then patiently and diligently dig." Apparently, no one's vehicle crosses the phoenix line unless it is first repossessed and amortized.

But if aligning oneself with the Holy Spirit is the principle aim of the Christian life, "digging" into ourselves is the principle method -- tilling the ground, planting the seed, nurturing it, and, especially, watching over the field. For, according to Hieromonk Damascene, "we still carry within ourselves the inclination and habit to return to our former condition." It is a law of embodied existence that, no matter what, we still fall downward 32 feet per second per second. It seems that the lower self digs itself so much, that it creates its own existential hole and then jumps in.

Another way of expressing it is to say that there is an inevitable circularity, or "curvature" to our worldly existence. That is, if we make an initial step in the right direction, that is not enough. Without a second step, a third step, a fourth step, etc., a certain inertia will set in that returns us to the place we started.

This inertia is a force that must be constantly countered. In order to alter its inevitable course, it must be acted upon by a force external to it. Repeatedly. This is why being "born again" just once will not cut it. Rather, one must pent and repent as necessary.

Hieromonk Damascene calls this "continuous metanoia." In order to achieve it, the ancient Christian ascetics developed the idea of "watchfulness," which involves "a state of inner vigilance, attention and sobriety." This kind of "inner attention" has very obvious parallels with raja yoga and Buddhist mindfulness meditation.

Jesus did not just say "pray." Rather, he said to "watch and pray." It's easy. First watch. Then pray while watching.

Watching what?

Hieromonk Damascene quotes one of the greatest authorities, St. John Climacus. In his The Ladder of Divine Ascent, he wrote, "Close the door of your cell to the body, the door of your tongue to speech, and your inner gate to evil spirits. Ascend into a watchtower -- if you know how to -- and observe how and when and whence, and in what numbers and what form, the robbers try to break in and steal your grapes.... Guarding against evil thoughts is one thing, keeping watch over the spirit [nous] is another. The latter... is far more difficult to attain. Where thieves see royal weapons at the ready they do not attack the palace lightly. Similarly, spiritual robbers do not lightly try to plunder the person who has enshrined prayer within his heart."

Hieromonk Damascene eliberates on this point, writing that watchfulness involves pulling our awareness "back into an objective state of observant mind, thus keeping watch over [the] spirit or 'higher mind'." In essence, it is a reversal of our primordial fall -- our worldward descent into distraction, fragmentation, and dissipation -- or, alternatively, congealing, thickening, and hardening. "Attention" and "distraction" are opposites. In the words of Christ, our eye must again become "single," so that the "whole body will be full of light."

Man is a microcosm, and only by opening up in a man the foundation of his being can the Spirit transform and spiritualize the cosmos to its depths. --Swami Abhishiktananda

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Truth: What is it Good For?

Well, I started writing this post, but then Mrs. G. was too sick to care for Future Leader, so childcare responsibilities were unexpectedly thrust upon me before I could finish. Consider it a spontaneous and undisciplined ramble from Bob's Unconscious, not a proper encyclical bearing the authority of Petey .... I finished up with a previous post that seemed to fit in with the general topic (below the asterisks)....

Now, reader Episteme asks, to put it bluntly, what Raccoons get out of these silly verticalistenics and gymgnostics. What's in it for us? What advantage do we gain?: "What exactly are the fruits produced by this capacity of awareness that I, and many others it seems, apparently lack? What great advantages do you have being aware, as you think you are, of Truth? If you really see this whole part of reality that I can't see, what is it that you can do that I can't?"

While not unreasonable questions, they are posed in a tone that betrays a lack of sobriety, sincerity and receptiveness. Nevertheless, for readers who may be just on the other side of the membrane with their nouses pressed against the glass darkly, but who are willing to open their hearts, this is for their benefit. We know ahead of time that Episteme's intellectual pride, at least at this time, fills the space where grace might otherwise flow, and as we know, while nature abhors a vacuum, Spirit requires one.

We begin with one of those metaphysical bobservations that we know is true because it cannot not be true, on pain of eliminating the very possibility of truth. It is this: truth is the adequation of knowledge to being, and this adequation is the sufficient reason for man's intellect. In other words, our intellect was made to know the Absolute, otherwise it makes no sense that we possess it. That is to say, on any Darwinian grounds, it is absurd that monkeys could one day harbor an ability to know truth -- not to mention love and beauty. For where was this truth before the monkeys discovered it, and how did it get there?

Another unavoidable truth is that the existence of truth imposes an obligation on man to know it. Can I prove this? Only to those who already "know" it implicitly -- who bear this eternal truth within their soul (which we all do, only for some people it is buried under so many layers of ice and rock, that it is inaccessible).

Now, the need to know this truth can be more or less pressing, depending upon the architecture of the particular soul. For some -- say, "vital beings" who essentially live a sensory, quasi-animal existence -- they are not aware of this need. But for others, the need is acute, and it forms the motive passion of their lives. To paraphrase Augustine, the soul of man cannot rest until it rests in God. Or as Schuon writes, "metaphysics satisfies the needs of intellectually gifted men" (and please bear in mind that Schuon is not using the words "metaphysics" or "intellect" in their modern, debased, and profane sense understood by Episteme). "Metaphysical truth concerns not only our thinking, but it penetrates also our whole being; therefore it is far above philosophy in the ordinary sense of the word."

Now, adequation to the Real cannot be achieved by the ego, which is only adequate to a certain narrow band of the reality (both interior and exterior) to which it is an adaptation. Man is a "bicentric" being, in that he has two subjectivities, the local ego and the nonlocal, uncreated intellect. The relative corresponds to the ego, while the Absolute corresponds to the intellect. It is not that the intellect itself is absolute, but that it represents a "mirror" of the absolute within the relative plane. The Great Mystery is that, in the words of Schuon, "the Absolute has made Itself relativity so that the relative may return to the Absolute." Man is an inverted shadow of God, which is why our vocation is to invert the inversion and receive light into the shadowy world of the fallen ego: "Soul, instead of contracting and hardening in its natural selfishness, must open itself to Heaven and to the Divine Influx."

But why? What do we get out of it? Well, one thing we get is the awareness that the cosmos is not a oppressively closed circle but an infinitely open spiral -- that God has not just "opened a gate in the middle of creation," but that this gate is Man himself. Furthermore, "to slip through the human state without being truly Man, that is, to pass God by," is to reject our own soul and our very existence. It is "a waste and a suicide," especially when the brevity of temporal life is contrasted with the depth of eternity.


One of my favorite little books on Jewish mysticism is The Thirteen Petalled Rose, by Adin Steinsaltz. He writes that "The physical world in which we live, the objectively observed universe around us, is only a part of an inconceivably vast system of worlds. Most of these worlds are spiritual in their essence.... Which does not necessarily mean that they exist somewhere else, but means rather that they exist in different dimensions of being. What is more, the various worlds interpenetrate and interact in such a way that they can be considered counterparts of one another, each reflecting or projecting itself on the one below or above it."

I like this description because it is exactly analogous to the way the unconscious -- the lower vertical -- operates in psychoanalytic theory. The unconscious is another world that operates along different logical principles, but it is not "someplace else." It is not literally located in space, "below" the ego. Rather, it is right here, right now, interpenetrating everything we think and do. To "see" it, it is merely a matter of shifting your perspective. Like right now, if I open my ears, I hear a bird chirping in the backyard. In the distance is the "hoo hoo" of an owl. There's the very quiet humming of the computer. These things were always there, but it's a matter of paying attention to them.

In another way, it's analogous to these progressive bifocals I just got, which change the focal point depending upon where you point your eyes. Look up, and things that are near become out of focus, but look down, and the distant becomes blurry.

Steinsaltz discusses the differences between the vertical and horizontal, which for me is the essence of any spiritual metaphysics. Again, in speaking of the vertical, of higher and lower, he is not speaking of an actual physical location. Vertically speaking, "to call a world higher signifies that it is more primary, more basic in terms of being close to a primal source of influence; while a lower world would be a secondary world -- in a sense, a copy." Thus, viewed horizontally, we may trace the material cosmos back to a primordial event some 13.7 billion years ago.

But this is only the horizontal explanation. Traditional metaphysics deals with the vertical causation of the cosmos, which is what confuses people. From the vertical standpoint, this world is indeed a copy, as are human beings, of a divine prototype. The "logos" might be thought of as the model of all things, the nexus between the divine mind above and the creation here below. Looked at in this manner, the inexplicable beauty of the world is not somehow the outcome of horizontal cause and effect. Rather beauty is the cause of the cosmos (among other nonlocal causes, such as Love and Truth).

Because of the ubiquitous vertical and horizontal influences, every aspect of human existence is made up of both matter and spirit, of form and essence. While we are fundamentally spiritual, we are unavoidably material, which sets up a host of interesting tensions and conflicts. The fall --or exile, if you like -- is indeed a vertical one, a declension from the divine repose of celestial bliss, down to this world of toil, conflict, uncertainty and ambiguity.

In the past, I have posted on the inner meaning of "angels," which -- now, don't be too literal here -- are nothing more than vertical beings that travel in only two directions: up and down. Have you ever had a brilliant insight that came out of nowhere? That would be the gift of a vertical emissary. The more you reconcile yourself to the process and accept it on its own terms, the more messages you get. What about those lower promptings? Yes, we'll get to those momentarily.

Now that I've lost most of my readers, I'll ask the question: Did you know that you can create an angel, a vertical being? I know I do all the time. According to Steinsaltz, every mitzvah you perform -- every good deed -- is not just a horizontal act in the material world. It also has an effect in the vertical world. As a matter of fact, a holy act creates an angel, a new spiritual reality that will then go on to have its own vertical life and influence.

Let's just consider a banal but highly illustrative example, the first one that came to my mind -- Oscar Schindler. One flawed man nevertheless trying to do the decent thing in a hopeless hell of utter depravity. But how many countless angels did he create, angels that continue to bless the world in demonstrable ways!

Let's jump ahead to the shadow side of this spiritual economy for, as Steinsaltz explains, "just as there are holy angels built into and created by the sacred system, there are also destructive angels, called 'devils' or 'demons', who are the emanations of the connection of man with those aspects of reality which are the opposite of holiness." Thus it would follow that, just as good deeds create beneficent vertical beings, other actions create vertical beings "of another sort, from another level and a different reality." In so far as it is possible to do so, I try to create angels with this blog. I don't know if I am successful, but I do know that I attract demons.

Here again, you can take this literally or you can take it figuratively. But think, for example of just one awesome conjurer of demons, say, Karl Marx, who belched his new anti-revelation from the vertical depths of darkness. Could you even begin to count the number of devils, demons, and other agents of the nether world who are still being created and still making mischief as a result of falling under his sinister spell? You do see them, don't you? They're everywhere! Some things are metaphors, some are not. The term body snatcher is not a metaphor. Petey says that it explains all you need to know about the left.

If you have stayed with me this far, then you will understand that, just as there are evil beings, there are evil worlds. These are simply the "space" inhabited by the evil beings. Wisdom is a space, or "mansion." So too, creativity, love, beauty, peace. You can sense it when you enter one of those mansions. You can also sense it when you are near one of those haunted mansions where the dark ones reside.

The closest I like to get to one of these mansions is, which makes the Islamic darkness visible to us on a daily basis. Can you not feel and sense the utterly dark abyss of that black hole, where light neither enters nor escapes? If not, you may want to contact an exorcist, for something has hijacked your moral vision. There are many such vertical abysses in the world. Bottomless pits of anti-Truth and anti-Beauty.

Enough malevolent wishes and wicked deeds, and pretty soon you have created a closed world, cut off from the divine influence. As Steinsaltz describes it, "the sinner is punished by the closing of the circle, by being brought into contact with the domain of evil he creates.... as long as man chooses evil, he supports and nurtures whole worlds and mansions of evil, all of them drawing upon the same human sickness of the soul.... as the evil flourishes and spreads over the world because of the deeds of men, these destructive angels become increasingly independent existences, making up a whole realm that feeds on and fattens on evil."

Hitler. Stalin. Bin Laden. Yasser Arafat. Kim Jong-il. Ahmadinejad. Detached worlds of pure evil as an end in itself. Who could say it isn't so?

That would be the Old Serpent's vast team of useful idiots. He's got a very deep bench.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

And God Said, Keep it Simple, Stupid (3.10.10)

When philosophy uses reason to resolve a doubt, this proves precisely that its starting point is a doubt which it is striving to overcome, whereas... the starting point of a metaphysical formulation is always something intellectually evident or certain, which is communicated, to those able to receive it, by symbolical or dialectical means designed to awaken in them the latent knowledge which they bear unconsciously and 'eternally' within them. --F. Schuon

Our recent guest once again proved the soundness of Schuon's rule of metaphysical formulations and the impossibility of communicating them to those unable to receive them. The Mysteries aren't intended to be vulgarized and dispensed to any yahoo with an open hand and empty head, and they certainly weren't meant to be eagerly groped and pawed over by the grubby fingers of new age barbarians who reduce the most sublime knowledge to its ego (or usually sub-ego) level equivalent.

History is littered with caricatures of spirit. I have in my hand a hideous but typical example, in the form of a catalog I received in the mail a couple of days ago from company called Sounds True. I bring this up not just for valid purposes of mockery and ridicule, but to emphasize that there is actually great spiritual danger in treating these matters so lightly. The Mandala Healing Kit: Spark Your Sacred Geometry (for people who can't spark euclidean geometry). Loveland: Music For Dreaming and Awakening (dreaming or awakening? Make up your mind!). The Advanced Manifestation Program: Upgrade the Way You Think -- And Live (upgrade only works if you start off really stupid). Take Charge of Your Life at The Quantum Level (since you obviously can't deal with reality on this level). Explore Non-Ordinary Reality with the Wisdom Tool of the Shaman (step one: bend over).

The hucksters who propagate this debased nonsense have nothing whatsoever to do with authentic spirituality. They are poseurs, flatterers, con men and unCoonmen pretending to be as dense as their followers so their followers can strive to feel as clever as they are. A real teacher is more likely to drive you away than to make outrageous promises and ask for your money. This is why it is best to work within an established religious framework. Sure, it's less glamorous, like indexing instead of trying to find some exotic or risky way to beat the stock market. Yes, there are some people who can do that, and there are some spiritual practitioners who are able to operate outside the lines. But doing so requires an abundance of caution -- not less discipline, but more. As Bob Dylan sang, to live outside the law, you must be honest. You must know your own limitations, because Reality will eventually bring you to heel.

Ronald Reagan once said words to the effect that "the solutions are simple, but not simplistic." As a matter of fact, simple is hard. Complexity is easy. Most people are very complex, especially the intelligent ones. Their intelligence just gives them more skill at pulling the wool over their own eyes (speaking of, er, complicated people, I read yesterday that Elliot Spitzer obtained a score of 1590 on the SAT and a perfect score on the LSAT, something only achieved previously by Satan himself, the "perfect" lawyer). People are full of unconscious wormholes, psychic envelopes, secret lives, hidden compulsions, ulterior motives, and auto-hypnotic delusions. While they may appear deep, their complexity tends to conceal their essential shallowness. For mysticism is nothing more than the art of living with one's whole being at a deeper level.

Macarius, a fourth century church father, discusses the problem of mind parasites weaving their way into the unconscious in a most vivid and arresting manner: "When the prince of wickedness and his angels burrow there, and make paths and thoroughfares there, on which the powers of Satan walk into your mind and thoughts, are you not in hell, a tomb, a sepulcher, a dead man towards God?"


Before we can enter the pneumatosphere, we must begin by clearly recognizing the hopelessly fragmented, dispersed (or hardened) and fallen situation in which we find ourselves, and sincerely wish to turn it around. Everything else depends upon this first recognition, for this is the "gap" through which grace enters (interesting point today at American Thinker about how leftists are always looking for a replacement for original sin, most recently, man's Environmental Badness). It is to realize, as written by Gregory Nazianzen, that we are "an animal en route to another native land," "halfway between greatness and nothingness." Call it repentance, metanoia, or just plain disgust, but it is the beginning of the process of reorienting our life around an altogether different center of gravity. We begin to detach from the local ego and objectively observe our thoughts and emotions, which is the opening salvo of spiritual warfare. It is to formally declare war on the forces in your psyche that pull you down and drag you out, from the depth to the surface, from the center to the periphery.

Denys the Areopagite wrote that "the higher we ascend, the more our words are straitened by the fact that what we understand is seen more and more altogether in a unifying and simplifying way." As "reason ascends from the lower to the transcendent, the more it ascends the more it is contracted, and when it has completely ascended it will become completely speechless, and be totally united with the Inexpressible." From lower complexity to higher simplicity. True science - -including spiritual science -- is the reduction of multiplicity to unity.

Have you ever met a simple, straightforward person with no agenda? Someone who is honest, transparent, and grounded, and doesn't change from day to day, depending on their mood?

Achieving this is actually the preliminary spadework of spiritual practice. You might say that it is both alpha and omega, because it is both cause and outcome. To put it another way, it begins as an efficient cause but eventually becomes a final cause. You begin by pushing, but eventually you will feel yourself pulled. What might be called the "spiritual dynamic" involves a combination of our own ceaseless efforts and the recognition that our unaided efforts will get us nowhere. As Bishop Kallistos Ware writes, "without God's grace we can do nothing; but without our voluntary cooperation God will do nothing."

Here's one for you to ponder. Basil the Great, a fourth century church father, said "A mind which is not dispersed among external things, returns to itself, and from itself ascends to God by an unerring path." Was it not Matthew who wrote, "if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light"? Yes, if thine "I" be single, many felicitous things follow. Somehow, verticality is a function of centration, of getting all of your I's on the same page.

Just to show you how much overlap there is over the vertical horizon, I will leave you with a couple of quotes from Sri Aurobindo: "What we are now, or rather what we perceive as ourselves and so call, is only an ignorant partial and superficial formulation of our nature. It is not our whole self; it is not even our real self; it is a little representative personality.... There is a secret soul in us that is our true person.... to unveil that soul and that self is one of the most important movements of Yoga."

The lower mind consists mostly of "a complex mass of mental, nervous, and physical habits held together by a few ruling ideas, desires and associations -- an amalgam of many small self-repeating forces with a few major vibrations." A person fixated at this level "respects what belongs to the domain of mind mostly for its utility for the support, comfort, use, satisfaction and entertainment of his phsyical and sensational existence." He regards the higher as "a superfluous but pleasant luxury of imaginations, feelings and thought-abstractions, not as inner realities...."

But "Mind is a passage, not a culmination": "Destiny in the rigid sense applies only to the outer being so long as it lives in the Ignorance.... But as soon as one enters the path of spiritual life, this old predetermined destiny begins to recede. There comes in a new factor, the Divine Grace, the help of a higher Divine Force other than the force of Karma.... It is here that the hostile forces playing on the weaknesses of the past nature strive to prevent the rapidity of the progress and to postpone the fulfillment."

In short, while the initial task is to turn from complexity to simplicity, from fragmentation to unity, there are forces within us that naturally wish to preserve their prerogatives and maintain the status quo. Hence the need for spiritual warfare -- for inner vigilance, for watchfulness, for facing oneself, for separating from those things that separate us from spirit, for building the Inner Citadel and abiding in your own personal slackatorium.

One commences with a method, but the work is taken up by a Grace from above, from That to which one aspires or an irruption of the infinitudes of the Spirit. --Sri Aurobindo

Monday, March 10, 2008

Cosmolinguistic Wordploys (3.06.10)

A science of the finite has need of a wisdom which goes beyond it and controls it, just as the body needs a soul to animate it, and the reason an intellect to illuminate it. --F. Schuon

I definitely could have slept another hour this morning. In any event, we'll do our best with a hypnopompic ramble from Bob's unconscious.

We intuitively and routinely use language in such a way as to imply that the mind is a space. But what kind of space is it? If it is holographic and multidimensional -- which it is -- then we need a language that parallels that fact, or else it will simply mislead, as the mind will appear to take on reified properties of the language used to describe it. It will be like trying to represent a three-dimensional cube on a two-dimensional piece of paper. Something vital will be lost. One thing lost will be the dimension of "depth."

What does it mean to say that something is "deep?" That it partakes of multiple dimensions, even if we are not consciously aware of all of them. Authentic scripture is a kind of language that is deep and resonant. Inexhaustibly so. It can never be fully explicated, since it partakes of the Absolute.

The problem with religious language is not so much the literal/symbolic divide, but the question of whether or not language is being used in a generative or a static way. If it is static -- as so much religious talk is -- then it is not really about religion, but simply about language, about saturated words pointing to each other. It is like a glorified case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is tied up in an entirely closed and circular neural knotwork. It is safely on this side of the ego, or of consensus reality, and therfore part of the problem -- a nice painting on the prison wall, or a fanciful story about life outside the prison gates.

Properly understood, a religion is just like a scientific paradigm, in that it is a "frame of reference" that allows us to “see" religious facts it iluminates. Otherwise this inexhaustible bounty goes unseen. Even in science it is understood that "percept follows concept," i.e, "Never trust a fact without a good theory to support it."

A fact is a relation between two events. We are one of the events. God is the other. Thus, in order to think about God, we must move from epistemology to mystepistemology. For if your ontology is wrong, your epistemology will follow.

When spiritual communication is generative, something magical is taking place, as it somehow serves as the translating function that makes the translinguistic "religious object" present in the form of energies or theolougomena. As such, there is always a performance aspect involved. It is always words + music. To speak religiously -- to use language in such a way that it actually mirrors and partakes of the the domain of spirit -- there is a certain rhythm and a certain felicity of phrasing that must be achieved. Not to merge with the ocean but to use language as a bucket. Language must be unsaturated enough to either "bite" into spirit, or "lure" spirit into it. Yes, grace "blows where it will," but it's always better if you don't use language in such a way that you're fighting against it.

This is my objection ot fundamentalists of any kind. Yes, they are dogmatic, but it is not so much the content of the dogma but the form in which it is presented that is troubling. Language is used in such a way that its life-giving qualities are squeezed dry, so you are given merely the husk of the words, not the kernel. They cannot trans-form, only in-form. They do not draw out, but push their way in.

To speak of spirit, one must have one foot firmly planted in reality. But not both feet. One foot must be equally planted in trans-reality, in the world that is prior to the material. You have to catch it before it quickens and congeals into the illusion of solidity. As I get older -- especially now with a child -- I am more deeply entangled in the world than ever. But at the same time, I am more deeply rooted in the other realm as well.

It reminds me of looking into a placid lake with a tall tree on the other side. On the lake there will be a mirror image of the tree, going in the opposite direction -- one up, one down, one exterior, one interior, meeting at the Crossroads where life must be lived. Similarly, when I look into my son's eyes, it is like gazing into an eternity that extends infinitely in two directions -- into him and into me. Growth is growing in both directions, not one or the other; the soul penetrates God just as God penetrates the soul.

Reality is logos, absolute word and infinite grammar. But language is always communication. It is to someone. It is from someOne. Why spend your life decoding the message but never ask who is speaking?

Sufficient language for talking about God has yet to be perfected. I take that back. The language has been perfected, but few remember how to speak it any longer. We've run out of trancelighters who are able to demonstrate it while speaking it. An evolving logos will evolve the consciousness of the person who contemplates it. That's not quite right, for the logos itself doesn't evolve, but causes evolution upon contact with matter, so to speak. This is why religious doctrine "has an aspect of system and an aspect of indeterminacy," for if it didn't, it would simply be God, and no communication would be possible between the Absolute and his annoying relatives, or between God and man.

How to speak of the Omninameable One? It is not that we can say so little about it, but so much. As Schuon writes, the problem is "not through a lack, but through a superabundance of light." Language does not contain it, but it contains language, absorbing words like a sponge or shedding them like water off a duck's back. It cannot be done without paradox, symbolism, wordplay, myth -- all the tools available to half-awake language-bearing monkeys.

Well, that's it for this morning.

To be able to combine the religious symbolism of Heaven with the astronomical fact of the stellar galaxies in a single consciousness, an intelligence is needed which is more than just rational.... The tragic impasse reached by the modern mind results from the fact that most men are incapable of grasping a priori the compatibility between the symbolic expressions of tradition and the material discoveries established by science.... Man, when he trusts his reason alone, only ends by unleashing the dark and dissolving forces of the irrational --F. Schuon, Stations of Wisdom

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