Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Epistemic Humility

“We are all here on earth to help each other, but what the others are here for, God only knows.” — W.H. Auden

Compassion, as I see it, should not be about making one feel good about being compassionate, but would follow the same notion Aquinas had about love: to will the good of the other.

This insight is not always easy. As Michael Novak says, “It suggests to the lover that he (or she) must be wary both of the illusions of the self and of the illusions of the other. It means that the lover must not be led solely by desire, pleasure, or the wish to please, but must attempt to activate a more difficult capacity for realism and judgment. The question a true lover faces is not What do I want? and not What does my beloved want? but What is the good of my beloved? In this way, true friends give each other correction, lead each other beyond their own infantile fantasies, and grow together in wisdom and friendship.”

And while this is a noble practice for all our intimate relationships, it should be also be true as to how we manage policy for the larger populous. Yet, it would seem we can't care for the abstract as we can for the particular. Even being pure at heart, we can intend the best outcome for those in need, but we can't guarantee it or be overly committed to it. 

The issue is the rules often change in abstract from the particular — in the same way when we leap from Newtonian to quantum realms in the physical world. We are dealing with complex systems, unintended consequences, and effects that are not proportional to their cause. You pull a lever here, and it drains a swamp way over there. I suppose that is why the Church knew subsidiarity would work best: empower institutions at different levels of society to address those problems for which they are best suited.

My girlfriend recently lent me Hillbilly Elegy — a beautiful read about white working-class America and their struggles in today's climate. I'm also in the midst of The Fractured Republic, which lays out the illusory appeal of nostalgia-driven politics in our ever changing, fractured country. When I read about all these structural changes we have going on with globalization, automation, specialization, fragmentation, etc., it makes me realize we are over our heads. I feel for the hard working soul in the Rust Belt who never got a modern education and is surrounded by opioid addicts. But I also would have little fruitful advise knowing that he has probably been ridden with an unfortunate fate.

That does not mean to give up hope. We may not be able to solve complex problems well, but we do need to do humility well. Jim Manzi says, “When we do [social] science, we reject the Aristotelian idea of "essence," but when we think about what we love, essence is everything. So, we need to think strategically while remaining aware of our ignorance, and we need to exploit the power of trial and error while remaining aware of the essence of what we are trying to protect.” 

I sometimes wish our science was in service for the essence. But that's a topic for another time.

The bottom line is our politicians, institutional experts, and academic thought leaders don't have it all figured out. They can speak with confidence, statistical facts, and flourishing anecdotes, but in truth, they're often grasping at straws. We can't be certain that our abstract reasoning or principled rules will work in every context. Yet, there is a deeper reservoir of human experience and tradition that we can pull from in those times.

As David Brooks notes, “The humble person has an acute historical consciousness. She is the grateful inheritor of the tacit wisdom of her kind, the grammar of conduct and the store of untaught feelings that are ready for use in case of emergency, that offer practical tips on how to behave in different situations, and that encourage habits that cohere into virtues. The humble person understands that experience is a better teacher than pure reason. He understands that wisdom is not knowledge. Wisdom emerges out of a collection of intellectual virtues. It is knowing how to behave when perfect knowledge is lacking.” And when has knowledge (about ourselves or the world) ever been perfect?

*          *          *

(Or we may want to take a thing or two from one of the greatest indie songs: “I am a scientist / I seek to understand me / All of my impurities and evils yet unknown.”)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Silent Revolution

Movements don't appeal to me, especially when they are of a spiritual nature (and more so in the political arena). Religion has an unfortunate history with millenarianism, whereas it's better to have a movement in oneself than a society. We all need to sort ourselves out before we overly concern ourselves with what the world should be.

When Christianity ruled a nation, it almost always became corrupt: proving even Truth can get co-opted by power. Now, Christianity has become more feeble in the West (while gaining some traction in the East and South). Instead, we see western New Thought people gravitating towards the exotic, whether it be the Eastern traditions or the more progressive spiritual scene. Being someone who has dipped my toes in Integral/Evolutionary circles and intoxicated with the idea of being part of the new, new thing, I now see the error in my ways. 

As I see it now, these scenes should remain as powerless subcultures. Sure, they offer some emphasis in an experimental nature that may help correct or re-align the extremes that went off kilter in the western traditions. But they are not truthfully better since Truth is more eternal than progressive. These intoxicated aspirants are more consumed with being builders, than gardeners (and so few have tended to their own garden). As Tomberg mentions, the fruit is in devoting ourselves to the tasks of growth instead of those of construction.

My meditation teacher, albeit very good at his craft, is convinced Buddhism needs to come fully to the West. Another friend of mine wants cultural change at all costs with his neo-Advaita spiritual disposition. I know of others who want to use these spiritual movements to refashion the world politically. God forbid we hit the 10% tipping point (or whatever arbitrary Malcolm Gladwell number makes it all go parabolic). 

It's better if we have the competition of narratives. That's not to say there can't be some unifying principles that holds it all together, but in the post-metaphysical age it would be nearly impossible to put the pieces back together in any fruitful way. But these principles should not be just ideas of the mind, but of the heart too. In other words, I would prefer not to see a movement of the new, but a renewal of the eternal. Maybe then we can recover something worthy in the mustard seed, and revolt silently.

Friday, February 10, 2017

We All Give a F*ck About Something

If you don't find postmodernism to be a dead end, you probably haven't traveled down that road far enough. I don't recommend it for everyone. Sometimes it's better to remain earnest and innocent.

But for the rest of us, it's too late. We got indoctrinated culturally and/or intellectually at an early age, and have a different cross to bear. That cross is to find relief from cynicism, irony, and despair that permeates from the crumbling institutional edifices that once served us with a common ethos.

But if we "postmodernists" are really honest with ourselves, we can't truly be labelled as relativists. Sure, we can espouse relativism, as in the way we go about our day saying "whatever works". But we can't really live that way. In other words, we do give a f*ck about something (even when an angst-ridden adolescent says otherwise).

This is point to Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Now, I have to give Manson credit for the clever title. It's a perfect gateway for someone who has no desire to read some self-help gobbledygook. Using reverse psychology, it draws you in enough to make you believe you're about to read a book that makes you feel good about your cynicism.

But as you get into reading it, you realize that's not the point at all. It's all a matter about caring about what's important, and don't sweat the small stuff. So for us postmodernists, it comes back to how do we pick good values? Manson does a pretty good job distilling it to a few things: values that are reality-based, constructive, and controllable, as well as more process than goal orientated. Or in other words, values that bring us closer to Truth (a point postmodernists take issue with). 

Manson doesn't get overly spiritual in his book, other than in the section where he evokes Ernest Becker. Becker saw civilization as one big "immortality project" to counter our anxiety around death. We want to leave something behind when our physical body comes to an end. It's one of the reasons we have children, leave our names on buildings, and write blogs (doh!). 

But even these "immortality projects" begin to have diminishing returns towards our happiness and aligning with the deeper Truth. We all have a fleeting sense that there has be something more, which is the Source that paradoxically impels us toward seeking itself.

Becker offers the cure so beautifully here...
“Best of all, of course, religion solves the problem of death, which no living individuals can solve, no matter how they would support us. Religion, then, gives the possibility of heroic victory in freedom and solves the problem of human dignity at it highest level. The two ontological motives of the human condition are both met: the need to surrender oneself in full to the the rest of nature, to become a part of it by laying down one's whole existence to some higher meaning; and the need to expand oneself as an individual heroic personality. Finally, religion alone gives hope, because it holds open the dimension of the unknown and the unknowable, the fantastic mystery of creation that the human mind cannot even begin to approach, the possibility of a multidimensionality of spheres of existence, of heavens and possible embodiments that make a mockery of earthly logic-and in doing so, it relieves the absurdity of earthly life, all the impossible limitations and frustrations of living matter. In religious terms, to "see God" is to die, because the creature is too small and finite to be able to bear the higher meanings of creation. Religion takes one's very creatureliness, one's insignificance, and makes it a condition of hope. Full transcendence of the human condition means limitless possibility unimaginable to us.” 
Now, that's something worth giving a f*ck about.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Most Profound Hermetist

Several years ago I started to read blog posts by Bob referring to an Unknown Friend, and revolving around this esoteric book known as Meditations of a Tarot. All in all, this book has nothing to do with tarot cards as thought of in New Age circles. If you read some of the Amazon reviews, you would see there was buyer's remorse for a couple random explorers who had to learn not to judge the book by its cover (again).

I for one went into the reading it knowing there was something special about this text based on Bob's reverence for it and his willingness to unpack its nuances over many blog posts. And as an avid reader of many spiritual classics, this book did not disappoint. In fact, it may be the most profound book I've ever read.

I only mention it now because it got some love in the recent book I read on Sophiology. Martin acknowledges the anonymous writer was later to be discovered to be Valentin Tomberg, a Russian expat living in Great Britain who eventually became a Catholic convert.

Tomberg came to his conversion through a religious, philosophical, and esoteric tradition know as Hermeticism, founded in ancient times by Hermes Trismegistus (also known as Thrice Great). For Tomberg, Hermeticism contributes to integrating a full range of experience, including mysticism, thought, and imagination, affirming a single true theology. 
Pope John Paul II reading Meditations

Martin also mentions that Central to Tomberg’s conversion to Catholicism—and implicit to his sophiology—was a religious experience concerning the Virgin while he was in living in the Netherlands during World War II. He was investigating the appearances of the Virgin there as “de Vrouwe van alle Volkren” (“The Lady of All Nations”), and he reports in Meditations that he came to the conviction that both the seer (now known to be Ida Peerdeman) and that which she saw were authentic.

This led Tomberg to poetically construct the Holy Trinity, along with the world soul revealing itself through the Divine Feminine (as shown in the symbol below).
Martin acknowledges Tomberg’s paradigm, then, may or may not be “true” in a doctrinal sense, but there is truth in it: it discloses truth. Tomberg’s esoteric and contemplative engagement, then, welcomes us to a poetic meeting—which is, nevertheless, not metaphorical—with Christ and Sophia.

I feel offering excerpts of Meditations could never do it justice as it is meant to be read as a whole. Nonetheless, there are highlights that stay with me, allowing for a rich contemplation and deep appreciation for these writings. Here I share a few...

St. John of the Cross shows that it is authentic faith which is revealed, acts, and increases in purification; that it is hope which is simultaneously both the agent and the fruit of illumination; and that, lastly, it is charity which achieves union of the soul with God.

Spiritual greatness, the calibre of a soul, is measured only through faith, hope and charity (love). Buddha certainly saw that the world is sick —and, considering it incurable, he taught the means to leave it. Christ, also, saw that the world is sick unto death, but he considered it curable and set to work the force for healing the world — that which manifests itself through the Resurrection. Here is the difference between the faith, hope and love of the Master of Nirvana and that of the Master of the Resurrection and the Life. The former said to the world. "You arc incurable; here is the means for putting an end to your suffering —to vour life." The latter said to the world, "You are curable: here is the remedy for saving your life." Two doctors with the same diagnosis — but a world of difference in the treatment!

For, as St. Anthony the Great said, "without temptation there is no spiritual progress". Temptation belongs as an integral part to the exercise of human free will, which is inviolable —both for an Angel and for a demon.

Now, vision augments experience; inspiration augments knowledge just as it does understanding; and intuition is the metamorphosis and growth no longer of what one experiences and understands, but rather of what one is. Through intuition one becomes another, through inspiration one apprehends new ways of thinking, feeling and acting, and through vision one's domain of experience is enlarged —one has a revelation of new facts inaccessible to the senses and to intellectual invention.

There are two answers to the question, "What is innate human evil?" The one given by the left wing of traditional Wisdom — is "ignorance"; the other - given by the right wing of traditional Wisdom —is the sin of illicit knowledge. The difference consists in that the oriental tradition puts the accent on the cognitive aspect of the fact of discord between human consciousness and cosmic reality, whilst the occidental tradition puts it on the moral aspect of this same fact.

The difference between the two traditions is that in the oriental tradition one aspires to divorce in the marriage of the "true Self and the "empirical self, whilst the occidental tradition regards this marriage as indissoluble. The "true Self, according to the occidental tradition, cannot or should not rid itself of the "empirical self by repudiating it. The two are bound by indissoluble links for all eternity and should together accomplish the work of re-establishing the "likeness of God". It is not the freedom of divorce but rather that of reunion which is the ideal of the occidental tradition.

Therefore, expressed in biological terms, "to exalt oneself amounts to specialisation, which gives temporary advantages, and "to humble oneself in order to be exalted" means, in terms of biology, general growth,i.e. a balanced evolution, of the physical and psychic faculties of beings. And what is true in the domain of biology is also true in all other domains.

Now, we occultists, magicians, esotericists and Hermeticists — all those who want to "do" instead of merely waiting, who want "to take their evolution in their own hands" and "to direct it towards an aim"—are confronted with this choice in a much more dramatic way, I should say, than is so for people who are not concerned with esotericism. Our principal danger (if not the only true danger) is that of preferring the role of "builders of the tower of Babel" (no matter whether personally or in a community) to watching over "as gardeners or vine-growers the garden or the vine of the Lord". Truth to tell, the only truly morally founded reason for keeping esotericism "esoteric", i.e. for not bringing it to the broad light of day and popularising it, is the danger of the great misunderstanding of confusing the tower with the tree, as a consequence of which "masons" will be recruited instead of "gardeners".

What is true here for astrology and magic is also true for alchemy, because everything which is specialised becomes a tower, i.e. it crystallises and therefore becomes deprived of the faculty of keeping step with spiritual evolution —it leads to an impasse. And it is then the "thunderbolt from above" which enters into play and removes the obstacle to further progress. The sixteenth Major Arcanum of the Tarot is therefore a warning addressed to all authors of "systems", where an important role is assigned to a mechanical ingredient — intellectual, practical, occult, political, social and other systems. It invites them to devote themselves to tasks of growth instead of those of construction — to tasks as "cultivators and guardians of the garden", instead of as builders of the tower of Babel.

Truly, from the fusion of opinions truth shines forth. Because it is not the collision of opinions to which this synthesis is due, but rather to their fusion as constituent elements of the "rainbow of peace".

Or again, take the parable of the lost sheep, where the Master says:
If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray,
does he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go in search
of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to
you. he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never
went astray. (Matthew xviii, 12-13)
Is the axiom that the whole is greater than the part still valid in the domain of moral values'! Or again, take the parables concerning the treasure hidden in a field, the pearl of great price, and the lesson of the poor widow's two copper coins: Is it not evident from them that for the world of values the axiom in question should be the part can be greater than the who/e?

From mobility itself our intellect turns aside, because it has nothing to gain in dealing with it. If the intellect were meant for pure theorising, it would take its place within movement, for movement is reality itself, and immobility is always only apparent or relative. But the intellect is meant for something altogether different. Unless it does violence to itself, it takes the opposite course; it always starts from immobility, as if this were the ultimate reality. . . (Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution; trsl.A. Mitchell, London, 1964, p. 163)

Intelligence concentrates only on the harvest, i.e. on the product, and not on the production — which is, for it, only the means, a series of steps, for arriving at the product. It is always the result to which it aspires. It is always the "autumn" of things and events which it has in view. It is orientated towards facts —accomplished things — and not towards the process of creation, or that of becoming. The "springtime" and the "summer" of things and events either escape it or are taken into account only under the aspect of "autumn"— as its stages of preparation. Germination and growth are then considered only in relation to the harvest. Mobility coming into being— this is germination and growth; whilst the harvest is what is "become"—it is the product.

Here, therefore, is the practical task of the endeavour. It envisages rendering the instincts disinterested, i.e. the true aim of all asceticism, or that part of the way towards mystical union that tradition calls via purgativa — the way of purification of the spiritual disciple —or also purgatorium ("purgatory"), when it is a matter of the way of human destiny; then it envisages instinct becoming conscious of itself, i.e. what tradition calls via illuminativa — the way of illumination of the spiritual disciple —or also coelum ("heaven"), when it is a matter of the way of human destiny; and then, lastly, it envisages instinct becoming capable of reflecting upon its object and expanding indefinitely whilst being completely united to it through sympathy, i.e. what tradition calls via unitiva— the way of union. The fruits of the way of union are gnosis (where "instinct is capable of reflecting upon its object") and the mysticism of contemplation (where "instinct is capable of expanding indefinitely") —or also the visio beatifica ("beatific vision"), which human souls enjoy in heaven after purgatory and after their celestial school in which they learn not to be dazzled by the divine light, but rather to see through it, when it is a matter of the way of human destiny.

In our time Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has advanced an objective "dialectic of evolution" which is no longer simply intellectual, but which is rather a way of seeing chemical, biological, psychic, intellectual, moral and spiritual processes in evolution, which proceeds according to an objective dialectic" (i.e. everywhere ascertainable, through all means of experience)— namely, divergence, convergence and emergence.

Plato's idealism. Aristotle's realism, Descartes' rationalism, Leibnitz's monadism, Spinoza's monism. Schopenhauer's pessimistic voluntarism, Fichte's optimistic voluntarism, Hegel's dialectical absolutism, etc., are merely works of intellectual poetry whose differences depend only on the taste and talent of their authors.

Intuition combines two certainties: essential certainty (that of essence), and consistent certainty (that of consistency). The former is of a moral order; its force of conviction resides in the good and the beautiful. The latter is of a cognitive order; its force of conviction resides in consistency in the vision of the relationships of things. Intuitive certainty is therefore "faith at first hand" combined with "intelligence at first hand". Let us explain this. There is faith founded on extrinsic authority—a person, an institution, a book, etc.—and there is faith founded on intrinsic authority— the inner and intimate experience of the divine breath, and the direct impression of the divine realm. The latter is first hand. There is still a third kind of faith — the most heroic, perhaps — the "intermediary faith" between faith founded on extrinsic authority and that founded on the intrinsic authority of inner experience: this is postulative faith, where one believes without any support, either from without or from within. It is the faith of "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" (Matthew iii, 3) —the voice itself of the soul who cries, i.e. postulates in complete solitude ("in the wilderness") the things without which it could not live.

The believing thinker thus became a seeing mystic. And this transformation did not take place in spite of his work of scholastic thought, but rather thanks to it as its fruit and its crowning glory.

The transcendental Self is not God. It is in his image and after his likeness, according to the law of analogy or kinship, but it is not identical with God. There are still several degrees on the ladder of analogy which separate it from the summit of the ladder —from God.

"Thy kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
This prayer means to say: I desire your kingdom more than mine, for it is my ideal; and your will is the heart of hearts of my will —which languishes after your will, which is the way that my will seeks, the truth to which my will aspires, and the life from which my will lives. This prayer is therefore not only an act of submission of the human will to divine will, but it is above all the expression of hunger and thirst for union with the divine will; it does not adhere to fatalism, but rather to love.

According to Hermeticism, the essence of the body is not the matter of which it is composed nor the energy which is produced in it, but rather the fundamental will underlying matter and energy.

The existential philosophy of our time thus differs from traditional speculative philosophy in that it is founded on despair, i.e. upon the doubt of the whole personality, whilst speculative philosophy is founded on doubt, i.e. on the despair of thought alone. Now all despair, all doubt of the personality, amounts to —and is summarised by —Hamlet's famous question: "To be or not to be?" For just as Kierkegaard, the Danish thinker, is the author of modern existentialism, so is Hamlet, the prince of Denmark— hero of Shakespeare's drama and of the legend recounted by Saxo Grammaticus — the very archetype of existentialism, the despair of the personality. He is the archetype of the isolation of completely autonomous consciousness, cut off both from Nature and the spiritual world —man at the zero point between two fields of gravitation: terrestrial and celestial.

For the intellect can be sacrificed in two different ways: it can be placed in the service of transcendental consciousness or it can be simply abandoned [dispense with it].

The fundamental thesis of scholasticism was that philosophy is the servant of theology (philosophia ancilla theologiae). Intelligence certainly cooperated, but it played only a subordinate role. Thus, scholasticism did not succeed in achieving the alchemical work of the fusion of spirituality and intellectuality— the work of the "marriage of the sun and moon"—the result of which is a third principle called the "philosopher's stone" in alchemy.

Now, the historical and evolutionary mission of Hermeticism is to advance the progress of the alchemical work engaged in developing the "philosopher's stone" or the union of spirituality and intellectuality. It is called to be the crest of the wave of contemporary human effort aspiring to the fusion of spirituality and intellectuality. This effort and aspiration is larger than the group of Hermeticists,properly said, who are dispersed in the world. There are probably more people who are not avowed Hermeticists and who are engaged in the endeavour aiming at the fusion of spirituality and intellectuality than there are Hermeticists, properly said. Neither Vladimir Soloviev, nor Nicolas Berdyaev nor Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, nor Carl Gustavjung. for example, were declared Hermeticists, but how much they have contributed to the progress of the work in question! Christian existentialism (Berdyaev), Christian gnosis (Soloviev), Christian evolutionism (Teilhard de Chardin), and depth psychology of revelation (Jung) are, in fact, as many inestimable contributions to the cause of the union of spirituality and intellectuality. Although they did not make Hermeticism their calling, they served its cause and were inspired from the same sources from which Hermeticism is inspired. Hermeticism has, therefore, more than a few allies and collaborators beyond the ranks of its adherents. The Spirit blows where it will, but the task of the Hermetic tradition is to maintain—without pretension to a monopoly, God forbid! — the ancient ideal of "the thelema of the whole world.. .which ascends from earth to heaven. . .descends to earth, and uniteth in itself the force from things superior and things inferior". Its task is that of guardian of the great spiritual work.

To be a guardian signifies two things: firstly, the study of and practical application of the heritage of the past, and secondly continuous creative effort aiming at the advancement of the work. The tradition lives only when it is deepened, elevated and increased in size. Conservation alone does not suffice at all. It is only a corpse which lends itself to conservation by means of mummification.

Therefore, if Avatars are descents of the divine, Buddhas are ascents of the human —they are culminating points of stages of humanism in the process of evolution. The difference between the "revelatory ones" (Avatars and Imams) and the "awakened ones" (Buddhas) is analogous to that berween "saints" and "righteous men" in the Judaeo-Christian world. Here "saints" correspond to Avatars in that they represent the revelation of divine grace through them and in them, and "righteous men" correspond to Buddhas in that they bring to evidence the fruits of human endeavour.

For just as there are two loves— love of God and love of neighbour—which are inseparable, so there are two faiths which are also inseparable —faith in God and faith in man. Saints and martyrs bear witness to God and righteous men bear witness to man, as being the image and likeness of God. The former restore and strengthen faith in God and the latter restore and strengthen faith in man. And it is faith in Jesus Christ, in the God-Man, which unites faith in God and that in man, just as love for Jesus Christ unites love of God and love of neighbour.

The Buddha's teaching is that of a human spirit who took account, in a state of complete lucidity, of the human condition in general and of the practical and moral consequences to be drawn from it. It is an analysis of the reality of human life, and an establishment of the unique consequences which result necessarily from this analysis, by a human spirit five centuries before Jesus Christ, who was placed beyond the Jewish and Iranian prophetic tradition. The Buddha's teaching is therefore humanism pure and simple, which has nothing to do with the revelation from above by prophets and Avatars.

The work of Jesus Christ differs from that of Avatars in that it signifies the expiatory sacrifice for completely fallen mankind. This means to say that mankind, who before Jesus Christ had only the choice between renunciation and affirmation of the world of birth and death, is put in the position, since the mystery of Calvary, of transforming it —the Christian ideal being "a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation xxi, 1). The mission of an Avatar, however, is "the liberation of the good" in this fallen world, without even attempting to transform it. It is a matter in the work of Jesus Christ of universal salvation — the work of divine magic and divine alchemy, that of the transformation of the fallen world — and not only of the liberation of the good. The work of Jesus Christ is the divine magical operation of love aiming at universal salvation through the transformation of mankind and of Nature.

After Jesus Christ —the God-Man, who was the complete unity not only of spirituality and intellectuality, but also of divine will and human will, and even of divine essence and human essence —the work of the fusion of spirituality and intellectuality can be nothing other than the germination of the Christie seed in human nature and consciousness. In other words, it is a matter of the progress of the Christianisation of mankind, not only in the sense of a growing number of baptised people, but above all in the sense of a qualitative transformation of human nature and consciousness.

The mission of the Buddha-Avatar to come will therefore not be the foundation of a new religion, but rather that of bringing human beings to first hand experience of the source itself of all revelation ever received from above by mankind, as also of all essential truth ever conceived of by mankind. It will not be novelty to which he will aspire, but rather the conscious certainty of eternal truth.

The fire of prayer will unite with the limpid water of the peace of meditation.

Metaphysics as "direct knowledge of eternal and immutable principles" and as the realisation of "finally going beyond the world of forms to a degree of universality which is that of pure being" is only one of the applications of meditation, and is by no means the only one. There are still others.

But the good from which the beautiful is lost from sight hardens into principles and laws —it becomes pure duty; the beautiful which is detached from the good and loses it from sight becomes softened to pure enjoyment —stripped of obligation and responsiblity. The hardening of the good into a moral code and the softening of the beautiful to pure pleasure is the result of the separation of the good and the beautiful—be it morally, in religion, or in art. It is thus that a legalistic moralism and a pure aestheticism of little depth has come into existence.

And just as there are ecstasies and illuminations from the Holy Spirit, so there are intoxications from the spirit of mirage —which is named the "false Holy Spirit" in Christian Hermeticism. Here is a criterion for distinguishing them: if you seek for the joy of artistic creation, spiritual illumination and mystical experience, you will inevitably more and more approach the sphere of the spirit of mirage and become more and more accessible to it; if you seek for truth through artistic creation, spiritual illumination and mystical experience, you will then approach the sphere of the Holy Spirit, and you will open yourself more and more tc the Holy Spirit. The revelations of truth issuing from the Holy Spirit bring with them joy and consolation (consolatory spirit = Paraclete), but are only followed'by the joy which results from the revealed truth (spirit of truth— —spiritus veritatis; cf. John xvi, 13). whilst the revelations that we have called "mirages" follow the joy —they are born from the joy. (A mirage is not the same thing as a pure and simple illusion —a mirage being a "floating" reflection of a reality—but it is "floating", i.e. outside of the context of objective reality with its moral, causal, temporal and spatial dimensions).

All despair presupposes a virtual hope. Thus, all suicide presupposes the passionate affirmation of some value in life: love, glory, honour, health, happiness. . .

Even if Schopenhauer was right that the quantity of suffering here exceeds that of joy, the quality of joy, although it is rarer and although it may be less long-lasting than suffering, is of a nature to make its memory be cherished, to keep it in memory, to make it awaken hope, in a word, to make it move the world.

The Marxist intellectual mirage paints a scene of the world and human history where the spirit is only a kind of "exhalation"—in the guise of ideologies, religions and moral codes —issuing forth from material things and interests. The spirit is only an epiphenomenal superstructure upon biological and economic factors, produced and fashioned by them.

One cannot dispense with the experience of others, i.e. with authority, if one wants to avoid the traps set along the way of spiritual experience.

This is why the mystics of eastern Christianity do nor tire of warning beginners of the danger that they call "seductive illumination" (prelestnoye prosveshtcheniye in Russian) and insist upon the nakedness of spiritual experience, i.e. on experience of the spiritual world stripped of all form, all colour, all sound and all intellectuality. The intuition alone of divine love with its effect on moral consciousness is —they teach —the sole experience to which one should aspire.

What renders such an intellectual mirage all the more dangerous is that it is not, as a general rule, purely and simply a delusion or illusion. It is a mixture of truth and illusion, mixed in an inextricable way. The true serves to prop up the false and the false seems to lend the true a new splendour. It is therefore a mirage and not pure illusion, which would be easier to perceive.

Mirages are above all frequent in the case of relationships between persons of the opposite sex who feel drawn to one another. It then often happens that the qualities, and even the identity, of one soul are projected upon another.

The conclusion which asserts itself from all that we have said above concerning the sphere of mirages is that practical esotericism demands at least the same prudence as exact science, but the prudence that it demands is of a nature that is not only intellectual but also, and above all, moral. In fact, it encompasses the whole human being with his faculties of reasoning, imagination and will. It is therefore a matter of being prudent.

For an illusion stemming from the sphere of mirages can bowl you over, whilst a true revelation from above can take place in the guise of a scarcely perceptible inner whispering.

For the sphere of mirages, also, is real — but reality is one thing and truth is another thing. A mirage is certainly real, but it is not true; it is deceiving.

What one acquires through observation, study, reasoning and discipline constitutes the degree of preparation, or the world of coins. This "world" exposed to the action of the breath of the Real, constitutes the degree of purification, or the world of swords. That which remains after this trial becomes the virtue or faculty of the soul to receive illumination from above. This is the degree of illumination, or the world of cups. And, lastly, to the extent that the soul raises itself from receptivity to active cooperation with the Divine, it is admitted to the degree of perfection, or to the world of sceptres or wands. These are the things which can serve as a key to the Minor Arcana of the Tarot, for your work word, dear Unknown Friend, on these.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Sophia Descending

Being an engineer by training and probably born with a particular typology, I have been prone towards enjoying models and systems. But in the last few years, I do feel my mind going through some changes where I have become less analytical and methodical about life. In fact, I feel Reality expressing itself in a more poetic way through me. This doesn't necessarily mean I am becoming a poet, rather more poet-like.

Take my latest read: The Submerged Reality: Sophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics by Michael Martin. Just the title alone gets me all giddy. So what is all this Sophia stuff all about? It's definitely hard to pin it down, but as the title suggests it has much to with bridging world and God more poetically. 

Somewhere along the way, the Divine became split off as a spectator to creation (also known as Deism  — or Pure Nature — which coincidentally is the faith some of our founding fathers aspired to). Blame can be placed on the Western Enlightenment and its progenitors (cough, Erasmus & Descartes). In the process, we lost our enchantment and the mediate immediacy of God's presence in the world.

Even Christian theology became rigid and dogmatic, and had lost its mysticism and magic. All this rationalization reoriented the hierarchy from God to man to man to God, therefore leading to a culture focused on the nominalist human subject; self contained, self-absorbed, materialistic and subsequently calcified, impervious to metaphysics, and desensitized to the supernatural.

As a counterpoint to all the rationalization, many theologians and philosophers on the fringes of the Church decided to explore the more Feminine expression of the Divine. Sophia became the the substantial reality that unites God with creation; a figure as reflective, living, adaptive, simultaneously literal and figurative, as both person and principle. For Boehme, She was seen as a cosmological change agent and a immanental and transformative sense of Being. (I even connected this sensibility to a recent experience I had with entheogens.)

Sophiology was not necessarily a movement that could ever be codified or institutionalized easily since it was founded on poetic expression. It was believed the Romantics never gained traction with it, because they remained at an aesthetic, conceptual level without ever really becoming actualized. Hence, so much of the lived experience the Church provided was missing from these ideas and expressions.

Other sophiologists were aware that religion should not only be a purely interior experience detached from symbolic expression: so much of the problem with the spiritual, but not religious ilk of the day. Folks like Rudolf Steiner offered a corrective with his concern for the common folk and "peasant wisdom". Steiner also saw Christianity as a universal and defining spiritual-natural event for humanity” that healed the ontological breach between God and world. And sophiology became the connective tissue, as it were, between the real and the ideal, between flesh and spirit, makes knowledge possible and, more importantly, makes the awareness of God's presence possible. 

For Boehme, the German Romantics, and Steiner, Sophia bridged the space-in-between, the unity of opposites, and the metaxy that we play in. The Russians also got in the game, giving Her more rigor. Bulgakov placed Sophia in theosis, not only of the human person but of the cosmos as well (a theme Teilhard de Chardin would run with years later).

Today, the Feminine principle of Divinity often gets co-opted as personifying Wisdom as female as opposed to an assertion of a feminine face of God. Nevertheless, Sophia becomes a necessary corrective to the hyper-masculine rationalization that overtakes theology, metaphysics, and philosophy. As Martin notes, “the poetic engagement with Creation offered by sophiology simultaneously opens the way to a science more concerned with care than domination, an art renewed and redeemed in the presence of the Beautiful, and secure return of cosmology to religion.

In a future post, there is one sophiologist that I would like to spend more time with (whom Martin covers in his book): our Unknown Friend, known as Valentin Tomberg.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Person is the Message

Marshall McLuhan coined the popular phrase The Medium is the Message to convey the idea it is impossible to separate the form of a medium from its content. While this mantra is often used to covey the power that media has in its messages, McLuhan understood medium in the broad sense: in that, any object that transmits can have a subtle impact on its final cause (purpose).

When we see how our values and norms have changed just through recent advances in technology, it should be self-evident that there are serious implications of the medium in our day to day lives. Heck, I almost bump into someone everyday who can't look up from their phone while they're walking. And every so often, I'm the schmuck.

So if the medium has such a strong influence, why should this be any different for persons? I was recently listening to the On Being podcast, where David Brooks makes this astute observation...
I was once writing in a newspaper column. I was griping about how hard it was to get people to be good by my lectures to them in my classroom, and I got an email from a guy named Dave Jolly who is a veterinarian in Oregon. He said, “What a wise person says is the least of that which he gives. What gets communicated is the small gestures and the whole totality of their being, that is to say the small gestures of kindness, of grace, of honesty, of hard truth-telling.” And then he says, “Never forget the message is the person.” And those words rang in — because we deal in the words all the time, but those sentences, “What a wise person says is the least of that which he gives,” and, “The message is the person,” struck me as profoundly true.
We seem to forget this, and place too much focus on the words that inspire us. When true inspiration comes from the people we meet in our lives that exemplify a way of being. 

Maybe our utilitarian-focused culture doesn't have the moral language to articulate this or often lacks the subtlety to truly see it. But when I come across such a person, it's all there in its preciousness.

*          *          *

On another note, it's so nice when I can keep a thread going around a particular idea. In fact, I believe this whole blog is one huge thread around an idea that isn't very particular at all. It all depends how you view it, but there is always some underlying coherence that I'm aiming at.

So we took on the atheists in a recent blog, and that was fun enough that I'd like to do it some more. What spurred me on is this fantastic post by Matthew Becklo on Why Does the World Exist? Becklo riffs off Jim Holt's book with the same name, and summarizes the metaphysical speculations from many academic thought leaders as to why us instead of no-thing.

Since most of these folks interviewed are clearly atheists/agnostics, none of them point to Spirit for the answer while at the same time giving some fairly unverifiable theories. The only exception is author John Updike, who takes a leap a faith that God made the world in play. Updike was probably Holt's attempt to get away from the academy to find an answer that was more fully human. Sadly, Updike died the following year.

In the end, Holt receives no satisfying answer to his existential quest. It is only when he receives news of his mother's death in the middle of writing his book that he brought back to the humanity and humility of it all.

In Blecko's review of this, he takes it a step further and mentions that Jean-Luc Marion, Director of Philosophy at Sorbonne, should have also been interviewed. Marion has done extensive work on how first philosophy should come from phenomenology, or the appearance of things, rather than metaphysics. His work builds on this notion of giveness: in what shows itself first, gives itself. (Coincidentally, I am currently reading a book by Marion, along with a friend and philosopher-in-training, so I am planning to blog more about Marion down the road.)

Blecko soulfully notes that, As Marion argues, and as Holt's own account of his mother's death reveals, the knowledge of love—an image of the same love "that moves the sun and other stars"—must finally go beyond what analytic knowledge can subdue. Love's logic transcends formal logic—it even, in Marion's framework, transcends Being—and total love, not total explanation, is what Christianity is finally about.

This brings us full circle, because Christianity has always said the Person is the Message (word made flesh). Why would God bother to become one other than for the purposes that we could become Him?

And to become Him, in essence, is total love.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Truly Happy Atheist — An Oxymoron

We start the beginning of the year at the same place where we ended the year. Why should a calendar year matter when you're on the eternal cosmic timeline? I suppose we need markers to take inventory, but I am more compelled to see what's around the corner so I can build on that inventory.

I last left off on Spitzer and his idea of PED happiness. It all sounds nice, but I was wondering if a God-loving being can be anymore happier than some God-denying one? I know some religious people that I wouldn't want to have a coffee with, and I do have some atheistic friends that are quite a joy to be around. So if Spitzer is correct, then PED happiness can only come from someone truly called to Spirit.

I was reading Robert Barron's recent blog about the rapid rise of the irreligious. He discusses how those who deny the transcendent lose any sense of haste and fall into the "whatever" mindset. Moreover, without Spirit, there is little to be amazed, enchanted, or astonished by. You are locked in a world that serves you and your desire to control it. To counter this, Barron suggests that those who are tempted to move into secularism, I say, don’t float on the lazy lake; rather, go in haste! Don’t settle for something less than astonishment; be amazed! Don’t fall into spiritual amnesia; treasure!

Bob also touched upon to absurdness of atheism and its adherence to man for fulfillment. First, quoting Pope Francis: Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires. Bob then says, You might say that desire becomes intrinsically dis-ordered, being that it is no longer ordered to its proper object -- the only object that can possibly satisfy a desire that is literally infinite. And I suppose the infinite is the essence of pervasiveness, endurance, and depth. More PED, less dread.

Recollecting his time away from God, Bob notes, I'm trying to think back to what motivated me during my atheistic phase. Hmm. A mixture of things: superiority, to be sure. Although "annoyed" by believers, there was a kind of perverse joy involved in skewering them with atheistic arguments to which they had no answer.” Been there, done that. Spiritual pride is bad enough, but manly pride is just stupid!

But then again atheists can't seem to answer some significant questions also: like what happened before the big bang?; or why do we have these superfluous transcendental desires that don't placate evolutionary biology?; or even how my subjective experience of consciousness manifests from my limited grey matter? But all this argumentation also reaps little joy. Who cares if I'm right? I'd rather be True.

Certainly there are atheists that have strong, moral character and can live a life with dignity and purpose. Dennis Prager notes that these individuals (in the Western world, at least) have simply adopted the values bequeathed by centuries of Judeo-Christian values. They are living on what one author called cutflower ethics. So these flowers can survive for a certain amount of time, until they don't. And if we don't nurture what we reap, it will all go to shite eventually.

Back to Spitzer. He notes that Jesus saw that correcting our outer lives is hopeless without first attending to the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and interior dispositions giving rise to them. Even if we could force ourselves to be on our best behavior, but felt nothing except stoic indifference, contempt for "inferiors", and anger toward "incompetents", our behavior wouldn't mean very much, because our interior attitude would undermine it. The atheist can only go so far, because no finite desire would impel him/her to have their hearts be moved enough to transform their lives the way Jesus was pointing to.

If you could not cultivate a rich inner life towards Spirit, then there would always be a limit to your happiness. The atheist is always living in a small, conditional universe, while the only way to unlimited happiness is desire for the infinite. 

We can't do it alone, because we're never alone.