Sunday, February 28, 2021

Fun with God and Man

Lately I've been pondering the question of esoterism, about which I've developed a certain ambivalence since I began blogging 2005. Back then I was just a kid with a crazy dream. Now we're living in a crazy dream with the kids in charge. 

Since 2005, I've become more conventional in my thinking, partly because I've discovered how unconventional Christianity is. Truly, it already is an esoterism, especially compared to the other monotheisms, or to Vedanta or Buddhism, which are more like metaphysical-therapeutic doctrines with a religion attached.

Schuon calls Christianity a "relative esoterism" expressed via its symbols, dogmas, and rituals. You might say that these are one degree removed from a pure esoterism, but for this reason can run up against certain contradictions. 

But the average person needn't worry about these loose ends, nor would he even care. Rather, not only is faith sufficient to carry him over the divine-human abyss, but faith itself is a kind of gnosis par excellence (as in the old gag about believing in order to know).

(Backing up a bit, Schuon equates esoterism with nothing more than [lower case] gnosis, which is to say, knowledge of higher realities.)   

Anyway, while trying to figure out just what it is that bugs me about Thomas in general and Garrigou-Lagrange in particular (this despite the immense, indeed, priceless light they furnish), I came across a letter from Schuon that precisely describes my sentiments. I won't quote the whole thing, but he first briefly summarizes his metaphysic before observing that 

if one says all of this to me, then I pay attention, I understand something, I feel happy. I feel attracted to God, I attach myself to the Divine.

That's me: I get it, it makes me happy, and I feel drawn into the vortex of O. 

Now, happiness is not the measure of truth. Then again, they say that happiness is a consequence of a desire meeting its end, and that's what it feels like to me: intellection resting in peace, which is to say, extinguished in union with its proper object. 

Conversely -- and this goes to my trouble with more conventional approaches -- 

When on the contrary I am told: a God, who owes me nothing because He is almighty, gives me this or that command, and that my intelligence is only there to carry out this command as well as possible, and other things of this kind -- when I am told this, I do not understand anything, I feel unhappy, I do not feel attracted to religion, I no longer know what I am, nor why I am a human being. But this is what theologians too often reduce religion to, as if they could please God thereby! They underestimate God just as they underestimate men.

Bing! This uncharacteristically personal disclosure rang my nonlocal gong. It reminds me of when we were scouting guitars for my son. We saw a video that recommended purchasing a beautiful instrument, because the beauty would provoke the desire to hold and play it. Somewhat like choosing a wife. 

Come to think of it, way back when I was around ten years old, my mother forced me to take piano lessons. Even she could see that I was musically inclined, so it seemed like the proper bourgeois thing to do. I don't recall how may lessons there were -- maybe half a dozen at most -- but I hated it. 

Now, if she had handed me a starburst Rickenbacker electric like George Harrison played, then I'm sure things would have turned out different. I'd have been a rock star, and long dead by now. Thanks mom!

Back to what Schuon said above: the irony is that the conventional (non-esoteric) approach underestimates man and God. I think we can stipulate that if you're on the esoteric path and you're not humble, then you're not only wrong, but probably dangerous -- certainly to yourself, but to others as well if you presume to instruct them.

Humility as at once a cause and consequence, or pre- and post-requisite.  

In that same letter, Schuon asks himself why he's dwelling on this subject: possibly because of 

the constantly recurring confrontation with the moralistic one-sidedness of exoterism and its exaggerations, which one encounters at every turn, but which, God be praised, one can also forget.


Now, if exoterism can be annoying and sometimes tedious, esoterism has its own dangers and pitfalls, as alluded to above. 

In fact, this may be part of the reason why Schuon always emphasized the necessity to situate esoterism within exoterism, and to give oneself to a legitimate tradition; for the former is a deepening of the latter (or conversely, one could say that exoterism is a divinely authorized and instituted prolongation of esoteric principles onto a more approachable plane). 

For exoterism is nonetheless -- to put it mildly -- not only wholly legitimate on its own plane, but a God-given means for man to know the essentials, even (and especially) if he isn't cut out for gymgnostics and verticalisthenics.   

Which is not grandiose, just objective, no different from seeing that this person is cut out for music or math or baseball, but for that person it's sufficient to enjoy music, balance his checkbook, and participate in a softball beer league. 

There are degrees of everything, nor is the esoterist better or even necessarily more intelligent, God forbid. I mean, it would never occur to me that I am more brilliant than St. Thomas! I wish. 

Perhaps you've noticed that in the best theological authorities there are "incidental openings to gnosis,"  but at times frustrated by the need to contain or rein them in by doctrine. 

Thus, "elements can be found in their teaching which in fact transcend it." Isn't this precisely what happened to Thomas at the end of his life, big time? Or Big Timeless, rather.  His exoteric efforts were crowned by an experience that utterly transcended, but by no means negated, them, since they provided the launch pad.

That's about it for today. We're not close to finished with this subject.  


Anonymous said...

I think esoterism should be defined as those esoteric few who actually enjoy debating about esoterism. As such, I see this place as a small early-50’s jazz bar with a trio playing in the corner consisting of bassist, xylophonist and drummer. Occasionally a pianist shows up (River C), but it’s becoming less since his arthritis has been flaring up. The regulars include a mysterious group of unknowns who occasionally get a little drunk and pat the waitress on the hiney but the graffiti they leave behind in the bathrooms is easily cleaned off. Fortunately, when the aphorists show up to do some aphorizing, they’ll snap their fingers with the others which lends an air of bohemian-beatnik to the joint.

Anyways, might someone be so kind as to define “esoterism” for the outsider who’s bereft of such an experience?

Louis Armstrong said...

If you have to ask, you'll never know.

julie said...

There are degrees of everything, nor is the esoterist better or even necessarily more intelligent, God forbid. I mean, it would never occur to me that I am more brilliant than St. Thomas! I wish.

Heh - probably just as well, being more intelligent than St. Thomas would probably just be enough intelligence to really get oneself in trouble.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous 1:05, I liked your hip comment.

Google the term esotericism and you will see what that means. Don't google esoterism or esoteric, those won't yield the right response.

Why does esotericism matter? It is a choice as to how to approach God.

Roughly, exotericism means reading scripture and hearing sermons from clergy and then thinking about and following the tenets set forth in "the religions of the book." It is an outward looking practice, and includes the study of historic people and events.

Esotericism means meditation done solo. The practitioner approaches the throne of God naked and alone, so to speak. It is an inward looking practice and transpires in the present moment.

Versatile people generally do both as suits their temperament. Both are effective spiritual practices and indeed complement each other well.

BTW another outstanding post, Dr. Godwin. You are bringing the fire.

Anonymous said...

Claws sharp, Anon @2/28/2021 05:24:00 PM. (...snaps fingers...)

Carmel caruana said...

Just as long as one remembers that Christ is THE LOGOS. Forgetting that makes all esotericism just clever mental games. Union with Christ is the highest form of sanctity, like that of St Padre Pio, whose sanctity dwarfs the deepest form of esoteric realisation.To rephrase Aristotle "Amicus schuon, sed magis amica veritas Christi"