METANOIA

Why dost thou prate of God?
Whatever thou sayest of Him is
untrue.
Meister Eckhart

The further one travels, the less one knows.
Lao Tzu

In religious literature the word ‘truth’ is used indiscriminately in at least three distinct and very different senses. Thus, it is sometimes treated as a synonym for ‘fact’ as when it is affirmed that God is Truth meaning that He is the primordial Reality. But this is clearly not the meaning of the word in such a phrase as ‘worshipping God in spirit and in truth.’ Here, it is obvious, ‘truth’ signifies direct apprehension of spiritual Fact, as opposed to second-hand knowledge about Reality, formulated in sentences and accepted on authority or because an argument from previously granted postulates was logically convincing. And finally there is the more ordinary meaning of the word, as in such a sentence as, ‘This statement is the truth’ where we mean to assert that the verbal symbols of which the statement is composed correspond to the facts to which it refers. When Eckhart writes that ‘whatever thou sayest of God is untrue,’ he is not affirming that all theological statements are false. In so far as there can be any correspondence between human symbols and divine Fact, some theological statements are as true as it is possible for us to make them. Himself a theologian, Eckhart would certainly have admitted this. But besides being a theologian, Eckhart was a mystic. And being a mystic, he understood very vividly what the modern semanticist is so busily (and, also, so unsuccessfully) trying to drum into contemporary minds namely, that words are not the same as things and that a knowledge of words about facts is in no sense equivalent to a direct and immediate apprehension of the facts themselves. What Eckvhart actually asserts is this: whatever one may say about God can never in any circumstances be the ‘truth’ in the first two meanings of that much abused and ambiguous word. By implication St. Thomas Aquinas was saying exactly the same thing when, after his experience of infused contemplation, he refused to go on with his theological work, declaring that everything he had written up to that time was as mere straw compared with the immediate knowledge, which had been vouchsafed to him. Two hundred years earlier, in Bagdad, the great Mohammedan theologian, Al-Ghazzali, had similarly turned from the consideration of truths about God to the contemplation and direct apprehension of Truth-the-Fact, from the purely intellectual discipline of the philosophers to the moral and spiritual discipline of the Sufis.

The moral of all this is obvious. Whenever we hear or read about ‘truth,’ we should always pause long enough to ask ourselves in which of the three senses listed above the word is, at the moment, being used. By taking this simple precaution (and to take it is a genuinely virtuous act of intellectual honesty) we shall save ourselves a great deal of disturbing and quite unnecessary mental confusion.

The subject matter of the Perennial Philosophy is the nature of eternal, spiritual Reality; but the language in which it must be formulated was developed for the purpose of dealing with phenomena in time. That is why, in all these formulations, we find an element of paradox. The nature of Truth-the-Fact cannot be described by means of verbal symbols that do not adequately correspond to it. At best it can be hinted at in terms of non sequiturs and contradictions.

The history of all the religions is similar in one important respect; some of their adherents are enlightened and delivered, because they have chosen to react appropriately to the words which the founders have let fall; others achieve a partial salvation by reacting with partial appropriateness; yet others harm themselves and their fellows by reacting with a total inappropriateness either ignoring the words altogether or, more often, taking them too seriously and treating them as though they were identical with the Fact to which they refer.

Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy.

ONE, TWO

1936. Aldous Huxley, by Cecil Beaton.

Behold but One in all things; it is the second that leads you astray.
Kabir

That this insight into the nature of things and the origin of good and evil is not confined exclusively to the saint, but is recognized obscurely by every human being, is proved by the very structure of our language. For language, as Richard Trench pointed out long ago, is often ‘wiser, not merely than the vulgar, but even than the wisest of those who speak it. Sometimes it locks up truths which were once well known, but have been forgotten. In other cases it holds the germs of truths which, though they were never plainly discerned, the genius of its framers caught a glimpse of in a happy moment of divination.’ For example, how significant it is that in the Indo-European languages, as Darmsteter has pointed out, the root meaning ‘two’ should connote badness. The Greek prefix dys-(as in dyspepsia) and the Latin dis- (as in dishonourable) are both derived from ‘duo.’ The cognate bis- gives a pejorative sense to such modern French words as bévue (‘blunder/ literally ‘two-sight’). Traces of that ‘second which leads you astray’ can be found in ‘dubious,’ ‘doubt’ and Zweifel – for to doubt is to be double-minded. Bunyan has his Mr. Facing-both-ways, and modern American slang its ‘two-timers.’ Obscurely and unconsciously wise, our language confirms the findings of the mystics and proclaims the essential badness of division- a word, incidentally, in which our old enemy ‘two’ makes another decisive appearance.

Here it may be remarked that the cult of unity on the political level is only an idolatrous ersatz for the genuine religion of unity on the personal and spiritual levels. Totalitarian regimes justify their existence by means of a philosophy of political monism, according to which the state is God on earth, unification under the heel of the divine state is salvation, and all means to such unification, however intrinsically wicked, are right and may be used without scruple. This political monism leads in practice to excessive privilege and power for the few and oppression for the many, to discontent at home and war abroad. But excessive privilege and power are standing temptations to pride, greed, vanity and cruelty; oppression results in fear and envy; war breeds hatred, misery and despair. All such negative emotions are fatal to the spiritual life. Only the pure in heart and poor in spirit can come to the unitive knowledge of God. Hence, the attempt to impose more unity upon societies than their individual members are ready for makes it psychologically almost impossible for those individuals to realize their unity with the divine Ground and with one another.

***

So far, then, as a fully adequate expression of the Perennial Philosophy is concerned, there exists a problem in semantics that is finally insoluble. The fact is one which must be steadily borne in mind by all who read its formulations. Only in this way shall we be able to understand even remotely what is being talked about. Consider, for example, those negative definitions of the transcendent and immanent Ground of being. In statements such as Eckhart’s, God is equated with nothing. And in a certain sense the equation is exact; for God is certainly no thing. In the phrase used by Scotus Erigena God is not a what; He is a That. In other words, the Ground can be denoted as being there, but not defined as having qualities. This means that discursive knowledge about the Ground is not merely, like all inferential knowledge, a thing at one remove, or even at several removes, from the reality of immediate acquaintance; it is and, because of the very nature of our language and our standard patterns of thought, it must be, paradoxical knowledge. Direct knowledge of the Ground cannot be had except by union, and union can be achieved only by the annihilation of the self-regarding ego, which is the barrier separating the ‘thou’ from the ‘That’.

Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy.

TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW

TEETH, FEET & FINGERS

Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed.  But what can attribution achieve in this instance?  The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism.  The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice.  When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic.  Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: theirvision.

It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard.  But what do we find now that the curtain has…

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TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW

Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed.  But what can attribution achieve in this instance?  The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism.  The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice.  When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic.  Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: their vision.

It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard.  But what do we find now that the curtain has not just been pulled back, but entirely torn from the frame?  A cacophony of bewilderment and confusion.  Given the ability to connect, we find the opposite: rival factions forming even within so-called liberal and humanitarian endeavours.  True, beneath the media hype circus and informing every echo-chamber is a series of seemingly incomprehensible yet profound events.  To make sense of these events we cling to the narrative structures that reinforce our own belief systems (even those who claim to be free of them entirely).  But what we see is that these narratives, constructed in a context of individualism, serve to divide us further.

As well as the political and global turmoil, twenty-sixteen has, for various reasons, been a trying year for me personally and those around me with whom I am lucky enough to share a more intimate relationship.  It is not my intention to emphasise either a positive or negative interpretation of trying.  About midway through the year I discovered the writings of Charles Eisenstein whose philosophy has subsequently resonated with me profoundly: pulling together various paths of thought that I had been unable to do so alone.  All ideology is narrative.  Humanity has been driven by a story of separation, the self as a discrete entity.  Science, politics, art, education, religion, economics &c. are all ideologies constructed to make sense of the world.  All of these ideologies have failed because they are predicated on a falsehood (the story of separation).

What follows is my review of the past twelve months.  It is necessarily my own perspective.  A chronologically driven (linear and cyclical) second-person narrative, this story is one-part diary (personal and political), one-part consumption (books and music) and one-part philosophical exegesis (bildungsroman).  Depending on your proximity: in jokes, pop-philosophy, bad puns, scholarly intent, juvenilia, paradox, pretension and/or pith.  Anything underlined is hyperlinked to the source of the reference (music, words, obituaries &c.).  Direct quotes are underlined and the reference is hyperlinked from the (Author, Date) notation to where the quote exists in its full context elsewhere on my blog.  Before writing I set myself the following rules: Each entry must a) refer to the events of that month, both internal and external b) include a quote from every book I read that month that can be as seamlessly as possible woven into the overarching narrative c) contain a reference to some music I had on repeat that month, and d) reflect the nature and personal development of my philosophical enquiry.  There follows a full bibliography and an appendix.  Ma gavte la nata.

Adam John Miller
20th December, 2016

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THE MOKSHA-MEDICINE

One, two, three, four … the clock in the kitchen struck twelve. How irrelevantly, seeing that time had ceased to exist! The absurd, importunate bell had sounded at the heart of a timelessly present Event, of a Now that changed incessantly in a dimension, not of seconds and minutes, but of beauty, of significance, of intensity, of deepening mystery. “Luminous bliss.” From the shallows of his mind the words rose like bubbles, came to the surface, and vanished into the infinite spaces of living light that now pulsed and breathed behind his closed eyelids. “Luminous bliss.” That was as near as one could come to it. But it—this timeless and yet ever-changing Event—was something that words could only caricature and diminish, never convey. It was not only bliss, it was also understanding. Understanding of everything, but without knowledge of anything. Knowledge involved a knower and all the infinite diversity of known and knowable things. But here, behind his closed lids, there was neither spectacle nor spectator. There was only this experienced fact of being blissfully one with Oneness… Speaking was difficult. Not because there was any physical impediment. It was just that speech seemed so fatuous, so totally pointless. “Light,” he whispered at last.
“And you’re there, looking at the light?”
“Not looking at it,” he answered, after a long reflective pause. “Being it. Being it,” he repeated emphatically.

Its presence was his absence. William Asquith Farnaby—ultimately and essentially there was no such person. Ultimately and essentially there was only a luminous bliss, only a knowledgeless understanding, only union with unity in a limitless, undifferentiated awareness. This, self-evidently, was the mind’s natural state…

Light here, light now. And because it was infinitely here and timelessly now, there was nobody outside the light to look at the light. The fact was the awareness, the awareness the fact. From that other world, somewhere out there to the right, came the sound once more of Susila’s voice. “Are you feeling happy?” she asked. A surge of brighter radiance swept away all those flickering thoughts and memories. There was nothing now except a crystalline transparency of bliss. Without speaking, without opening his eyes, he smiled and nodded.
“Eckhart called it God,” she went on. ” ‘Felicity so ravishing, so inconceivably intense that no one can describe it. And in the midst of it God glows and flames without ceasing.’ “

Aldous Huxley, Island.

SNAKE MISTAKES

“My God!” he said. “I hadn’t noticed. How unobservant can one be?”
“Is this the first time you’ve seen the Buddha in this context?”
“The first time. Is there some legend?”
She nodded. “One of my favorites. You know about the Bodhi Tree, of course?”
“Yes, I know about the Bodhi Tree.”
“Well, that wasn’t the only tree that Gautama sat under at the time of his Enlightenment. After the Bodhi Tree, he sat for seven days under a banyan, called the Tree of the Goatherd. And after that he moved on to the Tree of Muchalinda.”
“Who was Muchalinda?”
“Muchalinda was the King of the Snakes and, being a god, he knew what was happening. So when the Buddha sat down under his tree, the Snake King crawled out of his hole, yards and yards of him, to pay Nature’s homage to Wisdom. Then a great storm blew up from the west. The divine cobra wrapped its coils round the more than divine man’s body, spread its hood over his head
and, for the seven days his contemplation lasted, sheltered the Tathagata from the wind and rain. So there he sits to this day, with cobra beneath him, cobra above him, conscious simultaneously of cobra and the Clear Light and their ultimate identity.”
“How very different,” said Will, “from our view of snakes!”
“And your view of snakes is supposed to be God’s view— remember Genesis.”
” ‘I will put enmity between thee and the woman,’ ” he quoted, ” ‘and between her seed and thy seed.’ “
“But Wisdom never puts enmity anywhere. All those senseless pointless cockfights between Man and Nature, between Nature and God, between the Flesh and the Spirit! Wisdom doesn’t make those insane separations.”
“Nor does Science.”
“Wisdom takes Science in its stride and goes a stage further.”
“And what about totemism?” Will went on. “What about the fertility cults? They didn’t make any separations. Were they Wisdom?”
“Of course they were—primitive Wisdom, Wisdom on the neolithic level. But after a time people begin to get self-conscious and the old Dark Gods come to seem disreputable. So the scene changes. Enter the Gods of Light, enter the Prophets, enter Pythagoras and Zoroaster, enter the Jains and the early Buddhists. Between them they usher in the Age of the Cosmic Cockfight—Ormuzd versus Ahriman, Jehovah versus Satan and the Baalim, Nirvana as opposed to Samsara, appearance over against Plato’s Ideal Reality. And except in the minds of a few Tankriks and Mahayanists and Taoists and heretical Christians, the cockfight went on for the best part of two thousand years.”
“After which?” he questioned.
“After which you get the beginnings of modern biology.”
Will laughed. ” ‘God said, Let Darwin be,’ and there was Nietzsche, Imperialism and Adolf Hitler.”
“All that,” she agreed. “But also the possibility of a new kind of Wisdom for everybody. Darwin took the old totemism and raised it to the level of biology. The fertility cults reappeared as genetics and Havelock Ellis. And now it’s up to us to take another half turn up the spiral. Darwinism was the old neolithic Wisdom turned into scientific concepts. The new conscious Wisdom—the kind of Wisdom that was prophetically glimpsed in Zen and Taoism and Tantra—is biological theory realized in living practice, is Darwinism raised to the level of compassion and spiritual insight. So you see,” she concluded, “there isn’t any earthly reason—much less any heavenly reason—why the Buddha, or anyone else for that matter, shouldn’t contemplate the Clear Light as manifested in a snake.”
“Even though the snake might kill him?” “Even though it might kill him.”
“And even though it’s the oldest and most universal of phallic symbols?”
Shanta laughed. ” ‘Meditate under the Tree of Muchalinda’— that’s the advice we give to every pair of lovers. And in the intervals between those loving meditations remember what you were taught as children; snakes are your brothers; snakes have a right to your compassion and your respect; snakes, in a word, are good, good, good.”
“Snakes are also poisonous, poisonous, poisonous.”
“But if you remember that they’re just as good as they’re poisonous, and act accordingly, they won’t use their poison.”
“Who says so?”
“It’s an observable fact. People who aren’t frightened of snakes, people who don’t approach them with the fixed belief that the only good snake is a dead snake, hardly ever get bitten. Next week I’m borrowing our neighbor’s pet python. For a few days I’ll be giving Rama his lunch and dinner in the coils of the Old Serpent.”

Aldous Huxley, Island.

OLD RAJA’S NOTES ON WHAT’S WHAT AND WHAT IT MIGHT BE REASONABLE TO DO ABOUT WHAT’S WHAT

I

Nobody needs to go anywhere else. We are all, if we only knew it, already there.

If I only knew who in fact I am, I should cease to behave as what I think I am; and if I stopped behaving as what I think I am, I should know who I am.

What in fact I am, if only the Manichee I think I am would allow me to know it, is the reconciliation of yes and no lived out in total acceptance and the blessed experience of Not-Two.

In religion all words are dirty words. Anyone who gets eloquent about Buddha, or God, or Christ, ought to have his mouth washed out with carbolic soap.

Because his aspiration to perpetuate only the “yes” in every pair of opposites can never, in the nature of things, be realized, the insulated Manichee I think I am condemns himself to endlessly repeated frustration, endlessly repeated conflicts with other aspiring and frustrated Manichees.

Conflicts and frustrations—the theme of all history and almost all biography. “I show you sorrow,” said the Buddha realistically. But he also showed the ending of sorrow—self-knowledge, total acceptance, the blessed experience of Not-Two.

Continue reading “OLD RAJA’S NOTES ON WHAT’S WHAT AND WHAT IT MIGHT BE REASONABLE TO DO ABOUT WHAT’S WHAT”