Friday, June 15, 2018

Father, Son, and the Holy Post

This post is all over the place. Welcome to my mind!

As often happens with the blog, the subject under discussion is provoking an acute case of Baader-Meinhof syndrome, in that I'm seeing it everywhere, thus making it difficult to reduce to order. It reminds me of when I run into one of those apparent cosmic dead ends, but then bump into an author who opens up so many potential avenues that I have to read his entire output.

The same thing happens with music. I no sooner discover a new artist than I need to hear everything. This just happened a couple days ago, as a result of reading the Leonard Cohen bio. He is by no means a new discovery, but until now I thought a "best of" collection was sufficient. The book prompted me to order the complete works (although he fooled the record company and recorded three more after this came out). $21 for eleven CDs is an offer I couldn't refuse. "My only weakness is that I'm weak" (H. Simpson).

The problem is, everything about Schuon mirrors everything else. He even alludes to this in the foreword of another collection I'm re-re-reading, The Play of Masks. In it he points out that the book consists of "small independent treatises" that nevertheless "often summarize the whole doctrine." Boy and how. Fractal is what it is: each thread unravels the whole area rug.

I was actually trying to divert myself into a new subject while blogging about the present one, but this book is only aggravating the Baader-Meinhof. Turns out that "the play of masks" is just another way of looking at "little big self." In other words, little self -- the ego -- is of course a mask, but it turns out that God himself is a master of disguise, if I may put it that way. I'll explain as we proceed.

No, maybe I'll jump ahead to the explanation right now. I'll paraphrase, but Schuon maintains that the "reality-appearance" dialectic or reciprocity or complementarity may be followed all the way up and into God; it is "in divinas" before it is down amongus, and it is only amongus because it is first in Him. Without question -- in my opinion -- this is a mystery at which the doctrine of the Trinity is trying to hint.

Wait. Are you saying there is "appearance" or "illusion" or "contingency" in God? Well, yes and no. Let's just say "in a manner of speaking." But if you speak in this manner, it explains a lot; it clears up a great deal of pneumababbling yada yada that tends to deepak over the chopra just when you need more light.

The next paragraph of the foreword repeats what I just said in plain Schuonese:

Without a doubt, metaphysics aims in the first place at the comprehension of the whole Universe, which extends from the Divine Order to the terrestrial contingencies -- this is the reciprocity between Atma and Maya -- yet it offers in addition intellectually less demanding but humanly crucial openings; which is all the more important in that we live in a world wherein the abuse of intelligence replaces wisdom.

Metaphysics is like a map of the sky which includes holes so as to escape the limitations of the map. Light streams into the cosmos from above -- like pure light through a prism. The prism is metaphysics, spreading out into the spectrum of colors we perceive herebelow. A color is an "appearance," but nevertheless not other than the primordial light.

With that image in mind, compare with this passage by Schuon from a book we were plagiarizing with yesterday: "it is equally true that pure Intelligence exists and that its nature is to tend toward its own source." Maybe you don't see it that way, but here is some aphoristic backup:

Thought can avoid the idea of God as long as it limits itself to meditating on minor problems.

Meditating on minor problems is one way to remain locked into vertically closed Little Self. It's one of the main reasons I can no longer relate to my profession, in that so much of psychotherapy involves nothing more than exchanging one mask for another -- perhaps less painful, but a mask nonetheless.

Christianity does not deny the splendor of the world but encourages us to seek its origin, to ascend to its pure snow.

"Splendor" is really none other than the divine light alluded to above, shining through phenomena.

Only God and the central point of my consciousness are not adventitious to me.

For the Rio Linda contingent, "adventitious" means continent, or relative, or extrinsic. We could say also that it is Maya, or appearance. Thus, in the whole wide world, only two things are not Maya, which is to say, God and Big Self, the latter a prolongation of the former. So really, it comes down to the eternal dance of O and ʘ, or player, playmate, and holy game.

Or just say man is in the image of the Creator and have a nice weekend.

The universe is important if it is appearance, and insignificant if it is reality. --Dávila

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Lazy Man's Way to God

Speaking of Little Big Self, a coincidence -- in the Leonard Cohen bio, his Zen teacher, Roshi, summarizes the doctrine in six words: "Destroy particular self and absolute appears."

Well yes, I suppose. I don't want to knock another fellow's merchandise, but is there a less... austere way? It reminds me of an aphorism:

I do not want to conquer serenity, like a Stoic, but to welcome serenity in, like a Christian. --Dávila

I might have said "like a lazy man," but I like the way Dávila puts it. It elevates my indolence to a virtue. Besides, I don't know if it's really laziness per se, more like an appreciation of the magnitude of the enterprise. How many birds on fire for Zen actually cross the phoenix line?

Analogously, if I don't become a nuclear physicist, it's not just because I'm a slackcentric gentleman loafer. There are also questions of aptitude, passion, and sustained will. It's hard to pretend to be interested in something that disinterests us, even if it's in our interest to be interested.

Now I'm reminded of the whole question of self-power vs. other power. Zen might be the quintessential case of the former. This is from a previous post on the subject:

The “power of oneself" is "that of intelligence and of will seen from the point of view of the salvific capacity which they possess in principle," such that "man is freed thanks to his intelligence and by his own efforts..."

Conversely, "other power" "does not belong to us in any way," but "belongs to the 'Other' as its name indicates... in this context, man is saved by Grace, which does not however mean that he need not collaborate with this salvation by his receptivity and according to the modes that human nature allows or imposes on him" (Schuon).

So, even the lazy man must cooperate with the Other, which, ironically, is more difficult for a certain type of person. Some people just don't like to submit or surrender to or even acknowledge a higher power. Others can't help it. Yokes and folks. Vines and branches.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Me? I gave up long ago. Of his own, Lil' Bob can do nothing. I wouldn't give him the slightest attention.

Getting sidetracked. I suppose this whole line of thought was triggered by a passage in an essay called The Two Paradises:

[T]here are in man two subjects -- or subjectivities -- with no common measure and with the opposite tendencies, though there is also, in some respect, coincidence between the two.

On the one hand there is the anima or empirical ego, woven out of objective as well as subjective contingencies, such as memories and desires; on the other hand there is the spiritus or pure Intelligence, whose subjectivity is rooted in the Absolute, so that it sees the empirical ego as being no more than a husk, that is, something outward and foreign to the true "my-self," or rather "One-self," at once transcendent and immanent.

This mirrors the primordial distinction between Creator and creation, or Absolute and relative, in that man has a subject (or subjectivity) corresponding to each. In the book, I symbolize these two subjectivities as (¶) and (•); the former relates to -- and is ultimately a prolongation of -- O, while the latter takes "the world" as its object.

Thus, in a broad sense, we can say that the dialectic between (•) and world is the realm of science, while that between (¶) and O is religion. The image of the first is concentric circles around a point, while the latter is the domain of continuous radii from the same central point.

So yes, Roshi is correct: destroy (•) and O appears. In other words, eliminate the concentric circles -- via self-power -- and only the Absolute is left. But there is always the other path of simultaneously radiant and attractive grace drawing us upward and inward, toward Celestial Central.

Along these lines, in another book Schuon says that "humility" is "awareness of our metaphysical nothingness," and that "to have a sense of the sacred is to be aware that all qualities or values not only proceed from the Infinite but also attract towards It (emphasis mine).

Back to The Two Paradises. Schuon notes that "pure Intelligence exists," and "its nature is to tend toward its own source."

Indeed, what is the alternative? Either the intellect is a prolongation, or radiation, from and to that central point, or it can do no more than chase its tail in one of those concentric circles. This latter is a vertically closed system from which the purpose of religion is to save us.

To be continued...

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Little Big Self

The subject of this post strikes me as absolutely fundamental, bound to appear or reappear in some fashion, whether explicitly or implicitly, in any analysis of our existence, whether secular or religious.

Our subject is the "two selves" or subjectivities of every person; to be perfectly accurate, I should say "no fewer than two," but the multiple subselves that populate the psyche are generally on the same plane, and this post is more concerned with the dialectic of planes as opposed to the content of the fragmented selves of a single plane, i.e., with verticality rather than horizontality.

As alluded to in the first paragraph, everyone knows they are more than one self, because they experience the different selves from day to day and moment to moment. For example, our professional self is different from our family self, and this is different from our private self. There is no one to whom we say everything we are thinking, any more than civilization could exist if everyone walked around naked.

Speaking of which, I remember an essay by Schuon that describes our different subjectivities in terms of bodily location; here it is, in an essay called The Message of the Human Body. In it he describes various forms of our subjectivity, such as masculine and feminine, or adult and child. More generally,

The human body comprises three fundamental regions: the body properly so-called, the head, the sexual parts; these are almost three different subjectivities.

Indeed, think of how a good deal of "maturity" involves learning how to get these three on the same page and interacting harmoniously, both vertically and horizontally. As said in the bʘʘK, the vector of maturity is always toward actualization and integration. What's the alternative, regression and fragmentation? Sure. But this post is not about the left.

Note that you need both: actualization without integration leads to a kind of protean expressiveness with no center (a great many artists fall into this superficially open-ended but ultimately blind alley), while the converse would be a kind of static and repressive sclerosis. The first is all wet, the latter all dried up. You need both fire and earth. Not to mention wind.

Regarding the sexual center, Schuon makes the point that it manifests, "quite paradoxically, a dynamic subjectivity at once animal and divine, if one may express it thus." Yes you may, because it certainly helps explain the deep pain and confusion -- to oneself and others -- that can result.

As it so happens, I'm reading a biography of Leonard Cohen, and this is certainly one of the central themes of his life. I'm only about halfway through, and he's not close to sorting it out, i.e., integrating the two. You can't say he didn't try, as he later spent many years (when he was in his 60s) in a Zen monastery. That is a way of detachment from various subjective centers in favor of identification with the One Center, i.e., the Big Self (which for Zen is No Self).

I'm not sure if this is the best way, but we'll return to the question as we proceed.

At any rate, an essential ambiguity is introduced into the subject because all selves are in relation, and to a certain extent determined by the relation. Who would you be if you had had a different mother and father? Or a different spouse? Or a different culture, i.e., different cultural objects available to discover and express oneself?

Impossible to say, but you would certainly be different, and yet, somehow the same. We are always woven of chance and necessity, or music and geometry, or freedom and determinism, and that's just the way it is down here. It's why the future is always different from the past, and yet the same old same old.

Who am I now?

Well, when I blog, I am definitely interacting with Big Self, however you wish to conceptualize it. I like to call it O, since we can posit its existence without necessarily knowing a thing about it until it manifests through us, which is to say Lil' Self.

What we're really attemting is a kind of open, dynamic, and flowing Center-to-center communication. But isn't that just another name for "religion" -- or better, religiosity? I think it is what we're doing when we do religion. I'm just doing it in a certain way with the blogging.

As usual, Schuon describes what's going on with adamantine clarity and precision:

[H]uman nature is made of centrality and totality, and hence of objectivity; objectivity being the capacity to step outside oneself, while centrality and totality are the capacity to conceive the Absolute.

As far as the blog is concerned, "totality" is the integration of the One Cosmos, interior and exterior, subject and object, vertical and horizontal. The Absolute is O, while objectivity is detachment from Lil' Bob. "Centrality" is the ongoing process of metabolism and assimilation of O, in the dialectical space between it and (¶). (This latter might go by the name of Intermediate Bob.)

This was just the first blast at the subject, so don't expect any final integration. We'll continue blasting tomorrow. For now I have to revert to Lil' Bob and get on with the day.

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