Friday, October 21, 2016

The Maladies of Evolutionary Spirituality Part 2: Does God Evolve?

In a continuing discussion around the principles behind Evolutionary Enlightenment, we now look into the nature of God and whether or not He evolves along with creation. Now, some would ask why does this matter? I always go back to the Hermetic first principle: as above, so below. Hence, metaphysics do matter, as what we believe God to be will always influence how we live everyday life in relationship to Him. Atheists may argue differently, but by denying God they have to create a new one which has its own metaphysical principles that guides their lives. As Etienne Gilson famously observed: metaphysics will always bury its undertakers.

A couple Process philosophers who gravitated toward an evolutionary framework of the Divine were Alfred North Whitehead and his student Charles Hartshorne. In attempt to create a lineage for his teachings, AC used these thought leaders, along with Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin and other Integral thinkers, to add credibility to Evolutionary Enlightenment.  

And most of these Process thinkers did enrich the classical theistic notion of God as omniscient, omnipotent, and static by considering Creative Evolution. The idea here being that the God is transcendent and immanent, and the immanent evolves (a.k.a. Panentheism). If you add into the mix that the transcendent is impersonal, which AC did coming from an Advaita path, and that Becoming should take precedence over Being because it's all Process, then you've got the latest and greatest in evolutionary spirituality. Yet, while culturally relevant and somewhat sexy, one has to question if such a metaphysical notion is logically consistent and internally coherent. It would seem to me that all those cracks that led to fall of AC's community could possibly go beyond AC himself, and be coming from the fact that the teachings themselves are also problematic. But how so?

First, In the case of permanence and flux, if you come down on either side, you are going to privilege a side to God in an unhealthy way. It would be like approaching the Trinity by saying the any of the three Persons of God is higher than the other. When there is no Father in the absence of the Son, and no Son in absence of the Holy Spirit, and vice versa. This is complementarity that can not be compartmentalized. By giving Becoming more credence than Being, AC was able to make God whatever he wanted Him to be according to the flux in culture and science. What if science got it wrong, or culture is heading in bad place. Is God wrong then? No, but AC sure was. As Chesterton quipped, How is the evolutionist to know which Beyond is the better; unless he accepts from the past and present some standard of the best?” In AC's case, it came down his vision with was also co-opted by his egoic fallibilities too.

Next, a God seen as Process will always be seen as contextual, relational, and impersonal. And there is some Truth to that. But what about the absolute, individualistic, and Personal side to God? Can we truly worship an impersonal God? I would argue most likely not. Love is relational, and in that regard, our relationship to Him is very Personal. And while there may be an impersonal dimension to God, there is most likely a Personal one too (look at it as two sides of a coin). So by making his God an impersonal process, AC became the flawed devotional vessel for his followers. While this what the guru model represents, it is incomplete if done outside of the context of something higher to worship in relationship. Robert Neville claimed that Process theism, based on Whitehead's doctrines, is incoherent, superfluous, and descriptive of an alleged reality that would not be worthy of worship even if it existed. So if you can't worship that God, AC is all you got.

Moreover, AC was always weak in his metaphysical skills. He could not distinguish between the power of ontological self-creation; in that God creates man and nature; while man has cosmological self-creation, or self-determination. The freedom for us consist of determining our own character relative to the determinate character we bring to decision, but not creating our own determinateness (which can only be done by God). In essence, we are fractals of God that are given freedom to express our idiom. We can worship and align with the Creator both transcendent of us and creatively present in us. But we are not Him. And if we reduce God to a cohort of ours, then we have no sacred Absolutes to measure ourselves against. 

In one respect, AC was right that we influence God, but we can not change Him. As W. Norris Clarke said, God in his eternal NOW is cognitively and actively present to all that goes on in our changing world, his intentional consciousness with respect to us is eternally contingently different because of what he and we do, but not changing  a distinction constantly missed by Process thinkers such as Whitehead and Hartshorne. Different means could have been otherwisechanging means now one way, later another — two quite different concepts. God can rejoice eternally, but contingently, in free responses we make to the gifts and inspirations he has already freely given us  which are all limited participations in his own infinite goodness and power, never rising higher than the original source. For God to rejoice in his own freely given, but eternally decided participations is not to change. Again, this is metaphysically crucial as God remains a mystery above and beyond man to be worshiped in relationship beyond the collective, the holon, and the guru.

Next, by placing any scientific theory (like evolution) as an integral part of theology exposes it to the risk of collapse should the theory prove to be false or is replaced by another theory. Even if valid, AC did not even understand that evolution is not a straight arrow, but comes about in fits and starts and often needs stability prior to another leap in complexity. By pressing on his students to constantly evolve (because the Process demands its), it places too much emphasis on the strive to grasp in place of the allowance for receptivity. Grace has its place, and it may not always require one to evolve. 

Lastly, what if it's not about all this increasing complexification of Process, but more a unification of the Personal? We know from systems theory, the cosmos is a deep movement from simplification to complexity. But this assertion of the increasing 'complexification' through mind necessarily implies its unification around a personal center, for mind is not just an undefined something or other; where it exists in its own specific nature, it subsists as individuality, as person (Ratzinger). Therefore, this implies that the cosmos is moving toward a unification in the personal, and “confirms once again the infinite precedence of the individual over the universal.... The world is in motion toward unity in the person. AC made it all about the sake for the whole, when the whole draws its meaning for the Personal. As such, in AC's world, the Personal is lost to a mere idea when person always takes precedence over the mere idea (Ratzinger).

Peter Kreeft says, God is infinite love, and what is infinite does not increase. This would only assume His Love is not complete. It through His love that we create with God, which changes our relationship to Him but does not change God... But how can there be a relationship between the changing and unchanging. Much like there is with the unchanging sun and changing world. There is also a changing relationship between unchanging moral principles and changing applications of them to changing situations.” While the relationship to the Divine changes, it may not be in the way envisioned by AC or any other utopian notions we can come up with immanently. God's telos is more mysterious than that, and the emphasis should always be on Unity in Person over the mere ideas around the Progress of Process. Otherwise, we may end up selling our souls short of our True Potential.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Maladies of Evolutionary Spirituality Part 1: Does Culture Evolve?

In world of human fallibility, spiritual teachers often fall from grace. And some come back for a second act. One such teacher, let's call him AC, is attempting to recreate himself in the postmodern spiritual marketplace. Yes, I was influenced by him at one time (some of which was very positive), but after his fall I had to reexamine my notions around him and his teachings. And there are legitimate concerns around his character which has the internet abuzz. But right now, I want to tackle his metaphysics: Evolutionary Enlightenment.

First, it's important to note that Evolutionary Enlightenment came out of an Advaita path that informed AC initially. From there it was seen as augmentation to a path that denied world and soul, and to some extent even God. For many former non-dualists, it seemed the AC was bringing something new into the world: reconciling the one with the many (all of which are evolving with purpose).

Nevertheless, many aspects of a postmodern evolutionary spirituality are not new at all. The notion of a person spiritually evolving goes back to the days of Orthodox Christianity. The Church did not use the word evolution, but it was understood that there were levels to sanctification. They were seen as purification, illumination, and then deification. Other paths also have levels to an individual's spiritual evolution, whether it be attainments of Bhumis in Buddhism or Patanjali's Yoga Sutra's in Hinduism.

(It should be noted that we have many lines of development that can evolve in time, however, we are focused on the spiritual here since that is core to a spiritual teaching. Certainly, I can become more emotionally intelligent, cognitively intelligent, and kinesthetic without being spiritually orientated. And some who are spiritually evolved, can be lacking in all these areas. Human beings are complex.)

When Darwin's theory began to make a cultural impact, it was then seen that material evolution has been happening all along all the way back to the big bang. While the theory of material evolution still predominates in science, it still has challenges with some of the punctuated leaps that can not be easily explained. Nevertheless, it made sense for religion to absorb a more credible theory than Bible doctrine that said God created the world 6,000 years ago. (David Bentley Hart mentions that even in Biblical terms, creation is seen not as a one-shot, once-and-for-all event at the beginning, but as an ongoing process throughout cosmic history, God working with nature from his eternal Now outside of time.)

The area where things go off the rails for Evolutionary Enlightenment, is not that person and material world evolve, but now it's seen that culture evolves and more importantly, God evolves. Hence, all contradictions in Reality gets reconciled in one working principle-belief: the progress of process.

So let's first take a look at culture. Steven Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature makes a significant point (with lots of evidence) that we have become more civilized (or less prone to warfare). So while this may be true, does it demonstrate that human nature has truly evolved or has civilization just kept in check? You can also look at Gebser's work (which heavily influenced Ken Wilber) that there are cultural stages to evolution. Gebser was not overly firm on his structures, and certainly didn't have the evidence to back it up, but I often wonder if he was trying to fit certain cultural patterns into a model that he already preferably intuited? Personally, I have a hard time defending postmodern culture as a higher stage of development with all the secularization and relativism it has wrought. While some claim that civil and environmental rights came from this era, it could also be said the seeds of these principles were already in place in high modern culture. And taking some virtues too far to the extreme, like tolerance (which permeates our pluralistic postmodern culture), can eventually negate the benefits of it. 

One anonymous poster from a message board made the interesting point that, We're not evolving in time or in history. The Omega is pulling us upward and it appears that we are progressing in a forward direction... In fact, right now, we are regressing as far as the spiral of history goes. "Surgical" drone strikes are about as barbarous a method of warfare as I can imagine. No rattles on that flying serpent. Normally I don't feel too sorry for backward, bloodthirsty jihadis who happen to be in the vicinity when a missile lands, but I would have a hard time arguing that it was a noble or heroic business. Are we really a better people than my grandfather's generation? Sure they had fist fights for entertainment, and we prefer football, but there sure is a lot of senseless violence. Not to mention stupidity -- Rap music? All those people on "reality" television? We are a lot more vulgar than we used to be.

When Ratzinger was asked why hasn't religion brought fruits to culture, he said, I think that we must say first that salvation, the salvation coming from God, is not quantitative, hence, not the sum of an addition. In technical discoveries there is a growth that may proceed by fits and starts but is nonetheless somehow continuous. The purely quantitative is measurable, and one can ascertain whether there is now more or less. A quantifiable progress in mans goodness, however, is impossible, because every man is new and because in a certain respect history begins anew with every man. It is very important to learn this distinction. The goodness of man, to put it like that, is not quantifiable. We therefore cannot assume that a Christianity that in the year zero begins as a mustard seed ought to be a huge tree at the end and that everyone ought, to be able to see how much better things have gotten century by century. There can be collapses and repeated ruptures, because redemption is always entrusted to the freedom of man, and God will never annul this freedom.

While I agree that technological developments in medicine and lifestyle have made our lives more comfortable and lasting, have we used this benefit to look into the significance of life more deeply or do we just celebrate that we have more of it?  The question will always come back to what we mean by progress? Ratzinger mentions goodness, and goodness needs to be measured against something Absolute, or it becomes progress for the sake of progress.

It would seem when we look at history, there have been periods of advancement in man. But to pin it down to one period is tricky, as there are always countervailing forces in every period of culture. Some believe progress is not a positive concept, as progress can also be seen as a progression away, a distancing and withdrawal from something pure and perfect in origin (see the Fall). I am not sure I completely agree with that, as I don't necessarily believe in a Golden Age that we can point to. Some would say traditional man is higher, and some would say modern man. I would say it depends on the day you ask me. But I don't feel it is this day.

So while Evolutionary Enlightenment posits we are culturally evolving and it is up to those of us on the "leading edge" to cultivate that further, and if even true to some extent, this also can be a point of contention from a certain perspective. As Bob notes, the entire concept of Evolutionary Enlightenment is misguided, misinformed and mistaken. [And] it's worse than that. If the evolutionary paradigm is correct, it means that people of the past were just the means to arrive at us, and hence less than fully human. This is a monstrous doctrine, for it dehumanizes anyone short of... AC? Please. On the positive side, it implies that AC is just a stage on the way to something better, so we can ignore him.

So by saying we are more evolved we may be dehumanizing our progenitors. And how do you feel about being a mere stepping stone to future humans who will dismiss your ideas as mythic and irrational postmodernism? The point is, the human station is a mirror of the absolute, and that any human, at any time, may access it. To suggest that AC, or Ken Wilber, or Deepak Chopra, or Tony Robbins, or Oprah Winfrey are somehow "higher" than Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas, Meister Eckhart, or Denys -- and that's just in the West -- is absurd.  You can't tell truth by a calendar” (Godwin).

Lastly, if our ideas around cultural evolution were to be seen as the raison d'être of the cosmos, and then privileged over the cultures that are geared more towards homeostasis, would this undermine something very fruitful in the world? Healing and agape should be foundational and antecedent to eros, however, in Evolutionary Enlightenment it will always be seen as secondary since process and cultural progress takes center stage.

So maybe progress should not be seen as some culturally defined vision and evolving metric in time, but a motion toward unity in Person (in terms of growth in wholeness; including aspects of love, truth, virtue, beauty, creativity, and sanctity). In Part 2 of this blog post, I look into the notion of whether or not God evolves? And what this means as a metaphysical foundation.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Labyrinth to Heaven

Ratzinger was once asked how many ways are there to God? His reply: “As many as there are people. For even within the same faith each man’s way is an entirely personal one. Keep in mind he was a Cardinal at the time, and eventually became Pope Benedict of the Roman Catholic Church. For a future Pope to say this, it is quite a big deal, and yet it gives me hope around my own spiritual idiocyncratic nature.

My ways to God (thus far) have been a challenging one, and I sometimes do envy the ones who find their home and hold steadfast. I mean, I was raised Catholic (very loosely), came to some agnostic/hedonistic adolescent stage (that lasted through my twenties), got interested in philosophy which led me to the eastern wisdom traditions, became engaged with the Integral community, participated on the edges of an "evolutionary" cult, studied with a Tibetan Buddhist meditation teacher for a decade, and recently took on some shamanic plant medicine. What a mess!

But that's a product of my own idiom. I've never felt good at resting anywhere that didn't feel completely True to me. Or it could be commitment issues. Or maybe I'm just too damn stubborn.

I also resonate with the notion of the Raccoon: Bob Godwin's clever labeling of us misfits, and that's why I love his blog. He says, the word "raccoon" is actually derived from the Algonquian word aroughcoune, "he who scratches with his hands," in our case, our heads. Raccoons veritably come into the world "scratching our heads," and for many, the itch is never satisfied.

So it must be this itch that keeps me going. I also call it the omniscience impulse, mixed in with a little spiritual dissonance. 

Raccoon's also have an ability to simultaneously stand "within" and "above" tradition -- but only above because within. So we are not of the spiritual, but not religious ilk. Nor do we care to jump around the postmodern spiritual buffet. We believe in tradition and want to recapture the fruits of it. But we understand there a multitude ways of expressing it that may be more culturally relevant without being dictated by culture at large. 

The Raccoon has one natural enemy who takes many forms, and many supernatural friends who reflect one form. A "coongregation" occurs when any two Raccoons meet "in His gnome." The Raccoons can be from any tradition, but will nevertheless joyfully recognize each other as "brothers under the pelt." Naturally, they will often find that they have more in common with each other than with the human members of their own traditions. Thus, there are Christian Raccoons, Jewish Raccoons, and esoteric Vadantacoons, but the opposite is not true -- there is no doctrinal "Raccoon Christianity," for example.

This probably means that you can take many trails, but you should stay on (or at least near) the well traveled ones. Anyone who hikes, knows there are many different routes to getting to the top (then the bottom) of a mountain. But why blaze an entirely new trail when several decent ones have already been laid out by those who have traveled so well before?

My recent Divine experience was a recognition that ultimately it's all about Love, and it's personal. And Love can only happen in relationship. God is not solipsistic, but allowed creation to ensue to know itself through us. And in that communion of Love is the foundation for this cosmic adventure: Spirit became flesh, so that flesh can become Spirit. Call it sanctification, transformation, divinization, or theosis. It's all about communing with Divinity, and integrating that into our lives. And that's a lot more fun and compelling than just finding happiness or liberation. It's also radically human! It's a wild ride, where the dynamic tension will always lie between transcendence and immanence.     

As such, the trail I stay near is a Christian one. It's not only because I want all those catechism classes and the sacraments I took part in go to waste. It's really because it speaks to me as a deeper Truth for personhood. Yes, it has sort of an esoteric slant for me. And it's definitely less doctrinaire than espoused by the Bible thumpers I come across. It's also a tad syncretic since I see value in all those other paths. But at its essence, it's still Christian. 

Even Ratzinger qualified his response noted above and said, there is ultimately one way, and everyone who is on the way to God is therefore in some sense also on the way of Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that all ways are identical in terms of consciousness and will, but, on the contrary, the one way is so big that it becomes a personal way for each man.” So while on my labyrinth to heaven, I keep coming back to the Anointed One. It may not lead me to being affiliated in any way, and I may continue to zig here and zag there, but there is always a deeper recognition of what He represents for me on this quest.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Two Days with Kali and the Carioca

When we look back at life, there are always sign posts. Some don't become clear until many years after they happen. Some become significant immediately, and you somehow know things will never be quite the same. As a person who had a conservative disposition toward recreational drugs growing up, it is quite interesting that at middle age I would decide to explore entheogens. It was only several years ago in a Buddhist meditation retreat I started to hear of Ayahuasca from a couple practitioners. While I'm pretty good at talking myself out of things, this path seemed to always be piquing my curiosity in the background. 

(And yes, it should be noted that Ayahuasca has become somewhat trendy in certain circles, as noted by this New Yorker article. This is always a concern for me as I do try to avoid trends, however, I also believe many are not entering this path with appropriate intentions.)

So with the encouragement and support of a friend, I was ready to continue my inner exploration to uncover new ground. My intention was bold: I wanted to know the nature of Reality, or God to be more exact. Was I biting off more than I could chew?

As the ceremony began, I had little trepidation. Ignorance is bliss only for a short while. It wasn't until an hour of the first cup (of three) of the medicine did I begin to feel the effects of DMT, and then almost immediately my mind opened up in a way I have never experienced. I could see the room become vivid with colors so beautiful beyond any garish descriptors I could come up with. But as I became aware of my experience, I immediately started to hear a voice that I was responding to. It's one of those moments you think you're going crazy. The mind having is having a conversation with itself, but the other voice was not my own. The idea of God speaking to Moses at the burning bush did not seem as unlikely now.

Aya-huasca is known to be the embodiment of the Divine Feminine, also known as the Grandmother (or Aya). Grandmother is also not always gentle, but she gives you what you need. Although not having a strong affinity for Hinduism, I found it fascinating that the voice appeared to me with the name Kali (a.k.a. Hindu Goddess). How Kali came to me I have no idea, but it appears some believe there is a similar thread with Aya. 

And there She was, conversing with me very quickly with insight on top of insight. I was other-powered.

Me: Show me your face.
Kali: I'm not playing games with you.   
Me: I want to see.
Kali: I'm not sure you can handle this Love.

It was then, I was exposed to a Love so intense that it was completely overwhelming. If you took the love you have for a child, a parent, a friend, a pet, and a lover and multiplied that by a million, it would still not come close to this. I knew She was only unveiling as much as I could handle (or I was letting go as much as I could), but it overtook me with great humility and fear. I realized I was a small speck in comparison to Her and I immediately recoiled. The first significant insight: I came to this as an ego searching for God, instead of allowing God to find me. Hence, my vessel was not ready to be consumed by the fire.

Kali: It's okay. I'm always here.

It was then I was sent down to the path of utter dark night. All night long I was forced to face my thoughts at a heightened intensity. I recall at one moment dry heaving completely in sync with someone else sitting behind me. It was as if we were connected in the healing process. I continued to see the all the things my crazy mind does: the planning, the scheming, the controlling. Only now there was no place to hide. I was head on in pain, discomfort, purging, and such extreme anguish. It was literally one of the worst nights I can remember.

My second great insight: I've always been able to keep myself at a safe distance from teachings and teachers, and therefore allowing myself to control my experience. I had nowhere to run to with Kali embodying me. The purification was needed. In the morning, I was unsure I could go through another experience of this. But I had no choice. This is what I came for.

To be stupid is to believe that it is possible
 to take a photograph of the place about
which the poet sang. 
— Dávila
Day two started with a lot more agitation. Being humbled by Kali, I knew this was a serious adventure and shouldn't be taken lightly. After the first cup, I tried to focus on the music of the Carioca and his trio. And soon enough, I began to feel discomfort in my body (this was somatically induced by some of the challenging music being played at the time). It felt as if all this energy was building and needed to be released through movement. So I did the only thing I could... I danced. My body was flowing to the music with such refinement, it literally felt like it was being done to me. My rhythm was perfectly on time, and the music moved through me without distinction. The energy was so warm and playful. I have never had an experience of music so vividly as this. The songs were soaring as me as the Carioca beautifully held the space with his exquisite playing. I was flowing spontaneously to the notes, and releasing to the space in between them.

Kali: I'm not here to harm you.
Me: You are so beautiful.

During this time, it felt as something was working through all the blockages in my body. My physical being felt 20 years younger! It was becoming clear, I was clear. I was present, luminous, playful, joyful. The evening was utter, pure awakened bliss. But only this time, She said enough with the mind and transcendence. It was all about immanent embodiment of the Divine. It was a pleasure to be on Earth and in this moment. I now knew beyond concepts that Reality is a lot more mysterious, overpowering, and sweeter than I ever could have known otherwise without this experience. It made the first night worth every moment. The third big insight: the Divine has a personal quality and character, and we can always be in relationship with Her.

Aya (Kali) is not an easy path. She grabs you by the throat, is steadfast, and firm. And yet, she can open your Heart in ways you can't expect. She is Infinite Love, but meets you where you are. And now that my experience has come and gone, something stays: a trust, a richer faith, and an enduring hope.

The prophets (and shamans) have not misled us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pixelated Addictions

I have a confession to make. I love information. I really do. It's so convenient to get at something of interest now. But I don't love the monkey mind that ensues.

What got me thinking about this is a recent article from Andrew Sullivan: I Used to Be a Human Being. Sullivan knows this problem first hand. He ran one of the most popular blogs for several years until burnout got the upper hand.

Maybe this topic has been hammered to death since the advent of the television, but I want to take it on with a more spiritual angle. Off course I should note that there are obvious psychological consequences by all this distraction.

David Warren observes, “Everywhere I see these little ones. From their strollers, they look up at mommy. She is on her Smartphone. It is not that they are unloved; but there is something else more important. They must learn to think tactically. Perhaps, when they get their own Smartphones, they can call her, on theirs?

This is quite disconcerting. If you know anything about attachment theory, our upcoming youth are a going to be one hot mess.

Stanley Kubrick was concerned as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens out. So in other words, artificial intelligence won't come to us, but we will come to it.

There was a time when ancient man was much more verbal. Reading silently was rarely encouraged. Socrates was actually worried that reading might substitute for remembering, and therefore a lack of inner depth. He had no idea what was to come.

Nicholas Carr made the interesting point that, “We can decode text quickly but we're no longer guided toward a deeper, personally constructed understanding of the text's connotations.” It looks like the postmodernists have really won, all syntax and no semantics. Content in, garbage out. Carr adds, The internet diminishes the ability to know, in depth, a subject for ourselves, to construct within our own minds the rich and idiosyncratic set of connects that give rise to a singular intelligence.” 

So here we are losing our sensible narratives that unified us while becoming more fragmented, splintering our consciousness into a web of content that travels widely without nuance and depth. Sadly, we have become a collection of parts, when our deepest nature desires life to be one singular event. 

Sullivan notes, modernity slowly weakened spirituality, by design and accident, in favor of commerce; it downplayed silence and mere being in favor of noise and constant action. The reason we live in a culture increasingly without faith is not because science has somehow disproved the unprovable, but because the white noise of secularism has removed the very stillness in which it might endure or be reborn.

Hence, exponential informational distractions along with secularism exacerbates the problem. It was our traditions that allowed us to “recognize a critical distinction — and tension — between noise and silence, between getting through the day and getting a grip on one’s whole life.” So as we continue to lose our grip with life with the bombardment of distraction, Sullivan concludes the real threat may ultimately be with our souls.

My remedy to all of this: meditate, pray, read books (good ones), walk in nature, and limit the demon I love.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Random Thoughts About Non-Random Beginnings

Back in secular materialism headquarters, Mr. Darwin continues to be admired for his profound discovery of random mutations and natural selection as the leading cause for life. The disease continues to be religion and all its supernatural fodder that offers weak people comfort and dumb folk a nice little fantasy to believe in.

Then why can't the idea of evolution explain itself completely? I mean, it is a fairly coherent theory to some extent. But if you look at the huge audacious picture, it sort of goes off the rails.

Bob pointed out a nice quote by Karl Polanyi (who was channeling Gödel): “No conceptual system can ever demonstrate within its system its own consistency... Belief is always based on personal, tacit grounds, extraneous to the system.

It always gets back to our premises, principles, and assumptions. So end of story. Have a nice day, folks!

But really, this would get boring if we couldn't poke some holes at the mantra of evolution. Materialists certainly like poking holes at God, but they can only do it from inside the box they've made for themselves. While all along God never intended for there to be walls in the first place.

I found this recent article fascinating, showing that life made a more sudden appearance than once believed (a nice 200 million year shave!). What this means is the random chance of human life coming into existence didn't have that much time to make such a great leap. So was there an architect, God forbid?

Back in 2004, Stephen Meyer published an article in the extensively peer-reviewed magazine, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, about the origin of biological information and higher forms of life. His conclusion:
An experience-based analysis of the causal powers of various explanatory hypotheses suggests purposive or intelligent design as a causally adequate--and perhaps the most causally adequate--explanation for the origin of the complex specified information required to build the Cambrian animals and the novel forms they represent. For this reason, recent scientific interest in the design hypothesis is unlikely to abate as biologists continue to wrestle with the problem of the origination of biological form and the higher taxa.
The Cambrian explosion is certainly a mystery. Most of the species that came out of that period were fully developed, most of which have not altered since. Also, there is still missing fossil evidence of an assumed transitional species, prior to homo-sapiens. And it appears to there is an irreducible complexity to much of life, that can be partially explained by Gould's punctuated equilibrium, however, still without decent causal powers.

Not too mention all the fine tuning of physical constants and low-entropy needed for anthropic life to exist on the third planet from the sun in this particular solar system. Spitzer says, [Fred Hoyle] compared the emergence of a single cell by pure chance to 'a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard assembling a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.'

I guess we got some supernatural nudges along the way from somewhere.

And if you prefer to believe in the multiple permutations of chance that got us here with a multiverse hypothesis, you will need to rest that belief on faith much like I do.

As Spitzer notes, Physics has not explained away transphysical causation, but rather is opening the door evermore widely to an intelligent, transtemporal, causative power.

Place your bets.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Give Me Truth, Or Give Me a Pointer!

One of the challenges with Spiritual Teachings of all kind is that instructions that are really pedagogical devices are treated like ontological assertions of truth ... and in the worse case scenario...delivered as such. I vow to strive to keep this distinction as clear as possible in my own work. — Jeff Carreira

The above quote came as a result of some facebook chatter that intrigued me (yes, you can learn things on facebook almost 5% of the time). The issue with any spiritual teaching/dharma practice is whether or not what it points at speaks to ultimate reality and how one should live. 

There is a lot of confusion in this space. Let's take Buddhist emptiness practices as an example. Emptiness is an unfortunate word, but in essence it is a pedagogical device to point out there is no intrinsic reality to our cognitive structures. Unfortunately, this often gets conflated with deconstruction philosophy, where all concepts have no ultimate meaning and are devoid of richness. After all such destructuring you are left with a void of nothing, however, this is not how the fruition of emptiness practices are perceived by a spiritual practitioner. Instead, an openness to our structures are revealed as a more vivid reality (or the inseparability of emptiness and clarity).

The peace of mind that comes through spiritual teachings also get distorted when conflated with reality. Peace as inner experience should not be taken as a position for all outer experiences. But we still see this pedagogical idea espoused by pacifists, even when conflict is inherently unavoidable. One quote I really like comes from the book Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
“Peace is not just about the absence of conflict; it's also about the presence of justice. ... A counterfeit peace exists when people are pacified or distracted or so beat up and tired of fighting that all seems calm. But true peace does not exist until there is justice, restoration, forgiveness. Peacemaking doesn't mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.”
Some Advaita schools (more so with the Shankara lineage and today's neo-advaitists) take their pedagogical approach, that the world is an illusion, to be real. As such, life is not taken as an important quality of the ultimate. All realizations then become about the release (or liberation) from life, and ultimately there is no self to be released. Yet, even Shankara ran from a stampeding elephant, and was then questioned by a student as to why this was done since isn't the elephant an illusion. He had the nerve to respond, “My dear friend, you saw me running…who said that was the truth. It was also an illusion.” 

(Two hundred years later, Ramanuja saw the flaw in this orientation, and posited “that there exists a plurality and distinction between Atman (souls) and Brahman (metaphysical, ultimate reality), while he also affirmed that there is unity of all souls and that the individual soul has the potential to realize identity with the Brahman” (wikipedia).)

So what was the beef with Mr. Carriera's pointer? He stated, “When you practice the subtle art of not making a problem out of any part of your experience you sink into the profound recognition that contentment is always already yours.” A friend of mine rightly acknowledged that problems are not just psychological. Jeff followed up to note that this is true and that problems are real, and “at the same time their existence does not mean that something is wrong. Problems exist because they are part of reality. In this way these instructions do away with the illusion that there is so problem-free heaven that is the real reality.” 

Spiritual practice is not ontology, however, a darn good method can point beyond itself.