Apr 15, 2016

Gasping for Air

via Gornahoor

A disciple asked his spiritual teacher, while they were bathing in the river, when he would finally be able to realise Brahman. The teacher, instead of answering, pushed his head under water and held him down until, feeling himself drowning, the student freed himself and re-emerged. The teacher then explained: “When the desire in you to realise Brahman becomes as intense and deep as how you were just driven to reassert your physical life—only then will you achieve satisfaction.” From Essays on Magical Idealism by Julius Evola
A recent flare up of bronchitis left me gasping for air for days at a time and unable to write. It was a reminder of death (that same weekend a famous architect was admitted to a hospital in Miami with bronchitis where she died) and stoked the desire to “realise Brahman”.

Like a Herd of Cud Chewers

I’ve been a fan of nature shows ever since Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom first came on the air. I especially relate to big cats and was fascinated by their coordinated attacks on herd animals. What struck me the most was how the cud chewers would quickly return to their normal activities after one of their own had been picked off. As a na├»ve youth, I thought that humans would never act that way.

However, in current times after an attack on a population, the government encourages everyone to get back to “normal”, even to start “shopping” again. Flowers are laid, candles are lit, and people reassure each other about their “resiliency”. Anything to avoid facing up to the real solution. That is because those who kill the soul are more dangerous than those who kill the body.

First Order Logic

Years ago at University, I took a class on first order logic (and Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory) in the philosophy department. First order logic is about statements with predicates and quantifiers, such as the universal and existential quantifiers. In other words, it is about statements such as “All X are P” or “Some X are P”, and so on, pretty much covering most everyday discourse.

I recall that about two dozen signed up for the class, but only three of us finished. I knew several of the drop outs: they were majoring in political science, pre-law, even philosophy. In short, those who most needed it. Today on the news shows, the talking heads always struggle with justifications such as “I don’t mean that all X are P” and so on, before they can get to the main point. Needless, the X’s in the audience object to being called P. Perhaps if every university graduate had to understand rudimentary logic, discourses would be more fruitful.

Heidegger … with friends like these

No one who knows me personally reads Gornahoor; I suppose you should draw your own conclusions. My sister thinks I am a shaman, who should perhaps be avoided. Others, trying to be helpful, send me links to various spiritual conferences, visiting gurus, and the like. I wonder why they never send them my link.

The end result is that I’ve accumulated a new type of 21st century relationship without a name, so I’ll use the term “Internet friend”. Usually, they are just for a season, or those with a specific common interest. One such “friend”, whom I’ve “known” off and on for years, recently wrote to me about Heidegger and Tradition, specifically Evola … In particular, Heidegger is the cat’s meow among the “alt right”.
It brings up some questions: does the language of Tradition, with Sanskrit terms, obscure more than reveal? Can Heidegger’s language be used to express the same ideas?  So, instead of “karma”, we can speak of “facticity”, instead of dharma, we talk about projects. And for human nature, we can talk about man’s mode of being in the world.

Of course, we would supplement Heidegger’s phenomenological analysis with descriptions of the inner life of the soul. I think the biggest benefit would be to abandon any talk of the “Kali Yuga”. It is too easily portrayed as some pseudo-mechanical process that operates independently of any consciousness. Man becomes, in that view, a passive spectator, rather than the active agent of change.

Instead, we can talk about nihilism a la Heidegger. This is clearer, when nihilism is understood as the complete loss of Tradition. As we’ve pointed out on these pages, this is the age of the rule by scientists, or technocrats, and anthropoidal mammals. Those who have read carefully will begin to notice more similarities.

The Zen Master Dogen

H/T to Aryayana for drawing our attention to The Life of Zen Master Dogen. No car chases or CGI monsters, if that is your preference. Rather, it provides a rather convincing portrayal of Tradition in 13th century Japan. There is the ongoing relationship between the spiritual authority and temporal power. Dogen’s recovery of true Buddhism involves the discovering of the “Buddha within”. He illustrates that with the reflection of the full moon in a pond. The surface of the water represents the Self; when it is disturbed, the moon is not reflected very well. However, when the water is still, the moon is reflected perfectly. Ignorance and vice disturb the Self so that the image of the Buddha cannot be found.  Hence, the life of virtue is necessary, which has 8 steps, including meditation. Sitting zazen requires a good posture and the elimination of all fidgeting.

At that level, a man of one Tradition can engage a man of another tradition. They can discuss meditation practice, techniques to still the mind, and aids to overcome vices like gluttony, lust, pride and so on. That is real life. In existentialist terms, we can say it involves the recovery of being rather than being engaged in debates about theories.

That is why we object to meaningless assertions such as “X is a valid tradition”, or a “sect of Old Believers has maintained tradition”. That is good first order logic, but not good for spiritual practice. The nominal attachment to a Tradition leads to nothing, just as Dogen showed that inauthentic forms of Buddhism do not lead to enlightenment.

Imaginal and Conceptual Thinking

The distinction between imaginal and conceptual thinking is difficult for most people to make. Rene Guenon has claimed that those who cannot think outside of time are also incapable of proper metaphysical thinking. Nevertheless, since knowledge begins in the senses, symbols and imagery are used to convey metaphysical teachings; these involve visualizations in space and time.

In particular, post-mortem states are described in terms of images rather than in concepts. Islam is famous, or infamous, for that, with its very sensuous images of “heaven”. On the other hand, most Americans look forward in the afterlife, not to the beatific vision of God, but rather to being reunited with their Chihuahuas.

Mortal Sin

Mortal sin is a term that is easily tossed around. Why, it is asked, does a finite sin have infinite consequences? Mortal sin just means a second death, the death of the soul. So it is just as permanent as the first death of the body.

If you are reading text messages while crossing the street, and get run over, isn’t the penalty too severe for the offense? It doesn’t matter, does it? If a man beats his son or molests his daughter, and they despise him for life, does a finite act deserve a lifelong punishment?

To be clear, a mortal sin requires three elements:
  • A serious matter
  • Knowledge that it is serious
  • The act is deliberate
In short, only the man who knows and the man who is free can commit such sins. He would look at that prospect with total horror. That is not unlike the young chef in the Dogen movie who was horrified to discover his lust for a pretty girl.


Back to Dogen: how can we in the west overcome ignorance and vice? It turns out that the two are intimately related. St Thomas Aquinas explains why most men remain in ignorance:
in some the reason is perverted by passion, or evil habit, or an evil disposition of nature
So the solution to the lack of gnosis is not to read another book or study a philosopher on-line; these are pointless without restraining passions and overcoming evil habits. The Fathers described eight provocations that keep us in bondage: gluttony, lust, greed, anger, depression, boredom, vanity, and pride.

The effects of these provocations need to be observed in consciousness through watchfulness, and the kept from dominating. The phenomenology of provocations will be known both to Christians and to Zen monks.

A good contemporary resource is Sin Revisited by Solange Hertz, who describes them rather well. She includes the esoteric interpretation of some Old Testament texts, which need to be understood as describing spiritual warfare.

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