Aphorisms, Invitations, and Provocations (IV)

91. I have tried, again and again, to approach the Old Testament with due reverence and respect, but I always slam into the same wall.  The very idea of a ‘jealous God’ is as morally abominable to me as it is ridiculous.  And as for anyone who adores such a deity?  Well, all I have to say is: ‘watch out for such people!’  They are bound to stir up trouble.  But then, that would mean all adoring, orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims are bound to stir up trouble—between themselves and with anyone like myself, who finds their All-Powerful, jealous God to be a supernatural, bloated Wizard of Oz mouthpiece for their own collective will-to-power and egotism.  No wonder I keep such thoughts to myself—at least when I’m not traveling in certain parts of Asia, where a whole different set of prejudices prevail.

92. Under the most favorable conditions, the ‘furniture’ of the modern mind comes from IKEA, but in the vast majority of cases, Wal-Mart (or Wal-Mart by way of Craigslist) is the source.

93. Nietzsche certainly saw in culture an enticement to (or immersion in) life—at least when it was functioning properly and healthily (and not decadently).  His objection to cultural forms and philosophies that viewed such ‘immersion’ warily and mistrustfully was that they were ‘pessimistic’ and ‘life-denying’ rather than ‘Dionysian’ and life-affirming.  This, in nuce, was Nietzsche’s heroic egotism at work.  And yet Nietzsche speaks almost incessantly of ‘freedom’ and ‘free spirits’—apparently without ever genuinely recognizing the root cause of all bondage: attachment to forms.  And what is ego, what is body—if these are not forms?

94. The problem with most ‘serious’ thinking and art is that they typically do more to reconcile us with Samsara (the not-Self) rather than to help liberate us from our ensnared and ensnaring minds.  To what extent may this same criticism be leveled against Jungian psychology?  The seductions of culture exert greater power over some minds than a gorgeous, beckoning geisha or a treasure chest full of doubloons.  The end result is more or less the same: one becomes lost, captivated.  How would Jung respond to that famous stanza of Dzyan?  ‘The mind is the slayer of the real.  Let the disciple slay the slayer’?  But then, Jung ran away from holy men.

95.  The ‘death of God’ (or of the Gods) necessarily implies a corresponding inflation of the ‘human,’ does it not?

96. We might think of the transcendent and the immanent as two poles on a spectrum, or continuum.  As we move closer to one pole we retreat from the other.  Extreme, dogmatic anthropocentrism (humanism) is extreme immanentism.  According to the ‘law’ of psychological compensation, man’s historically recent, extended run of anthropocentrism will elicit an equivalent transcendent compensation, just as the exhausted immanentism of the classical Greco-Roman world elicited ‘inward and upward’ Christian thinkers, from Augustine to Meister Eckhart.  This will involve a collapse of man’s present state of inflation.  If you listen closely, you will hear the sound of hundreds of millions of bubbles bursting.

97. The inner-outer dichotomy inherited with Cartesian epistemology adds to our confusion when we attempt to come to an understanding of the transcendent.  The isolated, disengaged subject is human, through and through; therefore, going deeper and deeper ‘inside’ often carries (the Westerner) only deeper and deeper into the rabbit-hole of his/her unlit and unacknowledged human subjectivity.  It does not necessarily lead us beyond the human, all too human, where the transcendent is to be encountered.

98. It scarcely seems a coincidence that Descartes died of pneumonia in a frigid Swedish January while serving as a mentoring guest of the asexual ‘Ice Queen’ Christina, when we recall that his philosophical legacy to the West is ‘disengaged, procedural, rationality,’ which depends largely upon the transcending (or elimination?) of all feelings and ordinary passions?

99.  To philosophize is to learn to die—Socrates:  Variations on this theme: (Version 1): Keep pretending you don’t have a body and pretty soon you won’t.  (Version 2): Keep pretending you don’t have a body because pretty soon you won’t.  (Version 3): Keep pretending you don’t have an ego and pretty soon you won’t.  (Version 4): Keep pretending you don’t have an ego because pretty soon you won’t.

100.  A Joint Betrayal: Not only did Western culture thumb its nose at the original spirit of Christianity (as it was exemplified in the life of its inspirational source, Jesus, the universal forgiver of enemies) by substituting a power-and-wealth-preoccupied institution—the ‘Church’—for those power-and wealth-renouncing teachings; it has also betrayed the spirit and the charitable intentions of modern science (and the technology that modern science made possible), as expressed in the works of its principal architect, Francis Bacon.  Bacon repeatedly warned against using the new science and its beneficial (but intoxicating) fruits for private gain and the profit of the few.  (From Bacon through Oppenheimer, its champions have been overestimating humanity’s moral preparedness for the knowledge and power unleashed by modern science and technology).  Most all of the glaring evils of our present state of affairs are intimately linked with these two catastrophic derailments—of religion and science/technology.  It may be said that man’s lower nature—his greed, laziness, and his lust for power—has decidedly triumphed over his scarcely explored higher nature.  What is needed now is not some intellectual or ideological or methodological revolution—but a complete moral-spiritual overhaul and regeneration from the top down, and from the bottom up.  But honestly: is such a sweeping, collective overhaul rationally conceivable?

101. In my writings—as in my inner life—I seem to oscillate between the two poles of stillness and shrillness.

102. On Fame and Recognition: What is hidden deep within this irrepressible yearning—not for fame, but for recognition—that many of us suffer from?  The desire for personal fame is perhaps no more than a crude distortion or a corruption of this very different yearning for recognition.  And what is it that yearns to be recognized?  It is not that which is common or ordinary about us that seeks acknowledgement—but that which looks and feels extraordinary, as delicate and evanescent as a snowflake or a meteor shower.  It longs to be acknowledged by those who are capable of appreciating what we’ve been singled out to express.  That which craves recognition is thus linked with the sacred—with the ‘holy of holies’—within us.  (Or, perhaps, with the ‘diabolical’ or ‘daimonic,’ which makes it no less charged with transpersonal significance.)  And precisely because of its mysterious depth, subtlety, and fragility, fame and notoriety are subtly inimical to it.  Dirty, callused hands and wax-clogged ears are unapt to feel or hear such subtle contours and tones.  Only those who recognize that which nudges us relentlessly towards expression: perhaps only these are our spiritual kinsmen…our true family.  Thus, the paradox stands revealed: the authentic craving for recognition is subtly at odds with the pursuit of vulgar fame and—rather than a self-serving drive towards personal distinction and preeminence—it is a faint but persistent homing signal that is crucial to attracting that tiny handful of others to whom we are linked as if by fate.

103. The Real Contest: When I have a successful meditation I see that the real contest or rivalry is between the impersonal stillness, on the one hand, and the personal ego-will, on the other.  My thoughts are merely foreground symptoms of the ego-will, so an assault upon them accomplishes nothing of real significance.  It may temporarily lead to quietness within, but it doesn’t really transform (or destroy) the ego will—any more than removing a desktop icon uninstalls the associated program from one’s hard-drive.  It seems important to keep reminding myself that the principal showdown is not between the silence and my busy thought-activity, but between the will to silence and the will to active personhood.

104. I would not go so far as to claim that profound ambivalence (concerning important issues that pertain to our spiritual life) possesses any special dignity, per se.  Nevertheless, I will always prefer to be ‘at sea’ rather than permanently docked in some dank dogmatic harbor where there is little or no chance of liberty.  The (false) sense of security such harbors provide is purchased at too high a price for me.  And when I speak of my preference for the freer state of ambivalence over an imprisoning sense of dogmatic certainty, this has little to do with a concern for what is more pleasant.

105. Plans: Ordinary human mental activity typically amounts to little more than a relentless flight from the source of consciousness—the Self.  Ramana Maharshi is essentially correct, then, when he says that all thinking is, at bottom, outer-directed or extraverted.  Only as thought ceases does the mind subside into stillness, allowing the Self to emerge.  One of the principal forms of thought that I am regularly confronted with consists in plans or conscious intentions.  These plans may be trivial or mundane tasks that I employ in creating a trajectory for my day’s activities, or they may be significant undertakings (or even life changes) that will involve years of disciplined effort.  The projection of these trajectories—or courses of action—regardless of whether they are of little or enormous significance to the ‘big picture’ of my life is doubtless a crucial factor in the maintenance and assertion of my personal will.  Going after the planner and conscientiously undermining its doggedly persistent efforts is one important way of making room for stillness.

106. On Screen: If you want true serenity you must learn how to quietly strangle all those little agitators and disturbers of your peaceful natural state—as they approach, either as single spies or in battalions.  To hold onto the peace of our natural state we must become highly effective killers and destroyers, figuratively speaking, rather than doting mothers and creators.  Few persons are willing to fully accept this tough truth—and allow it to sink in.  But from a certain angle, there is far more killing and destruction involved in backing ourselves into the source-Self than creativity, making, thinking, and speaking—all of which are dilutions and degradations of the pure state of blissful stillness.  To return to our natural silence is to allow the teeming, grasping, oozing, and groping ‘world’ to die, along with every other within it.  Only a firm abidance in the embracing silence can provide us with the resolution required to wrest our individual soul from the world’s glutinous embrace.  But to remain still is the hardest thing in the world.  In fact, it is precisely because we are unable to remain still that we have an apparent world at all.  The mind goes out…the world and the individual soul come on screen.

107. I look on in dismay as my regularly orbiting ‘asteroid belt’ of thought-forms are being pulled, one after another, like discarded and obsolete machine parts, electronic components, and mental utensils into a large melting vat.  The high temperatures dissolve and purify these outmoded instruments and components.  As they become elastic and merge into a single mass of mercury-like substance, they can be put to better use as conveyors of the new forms of consciousness that are gradually beginning to take shape.  ‘Out with the old, in with the new’—but it is the form and not so much the substance undergoing radical change.

108. The ‘fishing rod’ that seems always to be reeling me into the future (the next moment, the next action or errand, next year’s trip, the next ‘stage of life,’ etc.) is not, itself, real.  It is merely a symbol or projection of the instinct for action with which my psyche is hard-wired.  How can I override this interior mechanism that is always pushing or pulling my ego into the future—and out of the here and now, where I simply long to be?

109. Channels:  Aimlessness, or the sense of being directionless, can be exacerbated into one of the most disturbing conditions faced by us.  When we hear someone make the criticism, ‘No wonder his life is a complete mess! He has no direction or purpose to his life,’ we are hearing a categorical devaluation of a life that appears to lack an orienting, purpose-and-identity bestowing goal.  It almost doesn’t matter what a person’s goals are—just so long as there is some target he or she is shooting for.  The acute feelings of disorientation, confusion, and diminished self-worth which frequently assail persons who have recently retired from their professional careers provide evidence of the hefty psychological importance we attach to goal-directed activity.  Before retirement, it was as though the person had a clearly defined channel down which (or through which) his energies could travel.  For many new retirees who still have energy to burn, there can arise a sense of being a river with no riverbed.  And, like a flood, such a condition can be dangerous to the man who has no course to follow, as well as to those who happen to be standing in his haphazard, pathless path.

110.  One of the infrequently mentioned benefits of a fixed prejudice is that once it’s in place, you never have to bother with it again.  It is there quietly and invisibly distorting reality, come rain or shine, from installation date till doomsday.  Prejudices and sweeping, undeviating judgments are a favorite among the indolent and the ignorant precisely because they demand so little effort or attention from their complacent owners.  Once you’ve installed a tall thick wall to block out light and actual evidence, you just sit back and let the wall do all the work while you play intramural sports with others who take comfort and shelter behind the same prejudices.

111. Unsolicited advice on how to deal with respected thinkers towards whose ideas we take deep and serious objection: aim and deliver a few rounds at their vital organs and keep moving.  Do not stop to schlep the carcass to the taxidermist or (if you missed your shot) hunker down and become embroiled in a long, drawn-out feud.  On the other hand, if you do hunker down and become embroiled in a long, drawn-out feud with a sincerely-motivated enemy (as opposed to a fatuous gas-bag who nevertheless has millions of admirers) then you may learn something about the respect due to a worthy enemy.  Thus, I must confess that I have a good deal more respect for Nietzsche than I do for a number of my so-called ‘friends.’  When approaching minor thinkers that we find irksome, do not pause, unless it be for an amusing and bracing draught of schadenfreude or to briefly take stock of our own disentanglement from toils that still bind them.

112.  A note on Nietzsche and Jung: Nietzsche’s bold ‘critical-iconoclastic’ campaign did much to subvert the unchallenged authority, if not the tyranny, of many of the moral, metaphysical, ideological, and conventional assumptions that held—and, alas, still hold—many educated minds in thrall.  This, I believe, was his chief contribution to the much larger and more comprehensive enterprise of establishing a regenerated spiritual-imaginative culture in the West.  Like Moses (and, incidentally, like Freud), Nietzsche was not to enter the promised land after leading a number of his followers out of the ‘Egypt’ of various venerated dogmatisms and mummified creeds.  Jung would be the Joshua who actually captured and began to settle the New Canaan—the imaginal realm where the restorative wellsprings of spiritual-imaginative regeneration are to be encountered.

113. ‘Truth’ that is definitively formulated can never be the full truth since formulation invariably entails limitations—and the truth is nothing if it’s not everything.  Traditionally, philosophers have attempted to construct theories of the whole—the totality.  Since theories—regardless of how comprehensive, deep, and nuanced they may happen to be—are formulations, they are bound to fall short of their implicit goal: capturing the slippery truth.  The paradox, which should already be apparent, is that the very means employed by the philosopher (unequivocal terms, concepts, logical relations, etc.) tend, eventually, to become the principal barriers to a direct experience or unmediated communion with the ineffable ‘X’ we fumblingly dub ‘the truth.’  In standing for the truth, our best abstract terms and concepts also stand between the mind and the direct, wordless and imageless, experience of reality.

114. Personal religion: Eliminate personal feeling from religious experience/practice (which is by no means the same thing as eliminating emotion, as such, which is not always merely personal) and in one blow you knock out the million reasons for taking offense when some ignoramus makes an irreverent or thoughtless remark about one’s personal savior or one’s ‘national-tribal’ God.  But perhaps only one in a million believers is capable of undergoing such enlightened surgical procedures.  Likewise, when all considerations for one’s personal salvation have been extinguished, it is a safe bet that the personal ego is nearing extinction as well.  Given the rarity of such instances of ego-transcendence, it should not be surprising that religion—even so-called religions of love, of peace, and of universal brotherhood—have been behind perhaps the bloodiest wars mankind has waged against itself.

115. Rungs and planks: It would be terribly misleading to suggest that all of my ‘spiritually-fraught’ journal entries are accurate depictions of stable and thoroughly established inner conditions.  Far from it.  Rather, these ‘sketches’ are like rungs on a ladder (one, of course, that ascends and descends) or planks on a bridge that is still under construction (and which, also, points both inside and out).  They are anticipations, provisional and tentative steps out, in, up, down—beyond the comparatively crude and merely ‘potential’ beginnings from which work was commenced long ago.  It is nevertheless upon these rungs and planks that something continues to move, to deepen, to advance, to dissolve, to transform…

116. Imperturbable: That which we hold to be our chief end or ‘greatest good’ is that condition against which we weigh and measure every other aim or good, correct?  A whole new calculus is gradually being established as inner peace and poise become the primary aim of my endeavors—the touchstone against which every other aim or endeavor is tested.  It seems that my ideal state is one of equanimity—where I am unmoved, beyond the reach of disturbance and distraction.  How much must be lopped off before this state—our natural state, according to Ramana Maharshi—is no longer obscured and obstructed by the many false trails I have been accustomed to follow!

117. If we take the mystics and sages seriously when they tell us that bliss and perfect peace are our natural state—and that all we need to do is to quiet down the mental chatter that distracts us from our natural bliss—then interesting consequences follow.  Viewed from this perspective, we are foolish to lose ourselves in mental ‘building projects,’ such as constructing a philosophy, the aim of which is to convey us to the truth.  The aim, rather, is to learn how to silence the chatter and, in that delicate silence, to resist the temptation to jump onto one or another of the many trams that crisscross the way before us.  These are the thought-currents that, once we’re on them, proceed to the end of their line or to a linking station where we get onto another transport vehicle—and thus, keep moving through our mental city day after day after day.  Just watch, take note, and stay still.

118. The enthusiastic thinker strives to work the little ‘spark’ up into a brightly burning bonfire, while the seeker after stillness learns how to douse such sparks so that he will not be led, first down this, then down that, diverting pathway.  The intellectual typically—if not habitually—seeks mental stimulation, while the quietist places himself out of reach of such charged thought-trails and scintillating ideas.  If and when the seasoned intellectual decides to take up the path of quietism, he has his work cut out for him.  At first, stillness can be misconstrued as torpor or nescience (tamas) by the active-minded (rajas) intellectual.  Only as he gradually accustoms himself to the very different vitality of the depths (sattva)—only then does he learn to let go of this ignorant superstition.  In moving from intellectualism to quietism, the truth-seeker’s principal source of spiritual vitality dramatically changes.  There is an unavoidable death and rebirth experience in this transformation.

119. The aim of meditation is not so much to learn how to avoid being pulled back into the external world of distracting personal involvements and affairs.  Such would be a crude account of its aims.  Rather, it is to learn how to avoid being pulled back into the affect-driven mind, since it is what the mind thinks and feels—pro and con—about the world and its inhabitants that determines both the quality and depth of our involvement in outer world attachments and concerns.  The battle is not between the spirit and the outer world.  It is a contest between one part of the inner world, the spirit (or atman), and another part of the inner world, the impassioned mind (which is ‘external’ to it).  The ‘world’ is but a huge staging area.  Our liberation is actually worked out offstage, even when staged events in the biographical-theatrical arena happen to accompany this essentially interior process.  Attend to your thoughts and to their true source.  The ‘world’ and its business?  What others think and expect of us?  Leave these things to ‘God.  After we have learned to master the pull of the impassioned mind, withstanding the allurements of the big, bad, lovely concrete world is a piece of cake.

120.  All-one-ness is aloneness—of the ultimate sort—is it not?  The myriad creatures—the multiple levels and diverse states: might not these merely be symptoms of God’s flight from aloneness?  But why speak of God in the third person?  In doing so am ‘I’ not playing along with the ‘creation story’?  An accomplice?









One thought on “Aphorisms, Invitations, and Provocations (IV)

  1. Wow, what a collection of important thoughts! I especially like – ‘recognize’ – your thoughts on Recognition.

    “We dream of what is most alive/ 
And make the best of what we can
/ And seek out one who sees our sight. 
To bask at last in greatest light”


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