Some Thoughts about Thought (3/12/11)

My conception of philosophical thinking is essentially a dramatic or dialectical one—as far removed from a static, uniform, self-consistent explication as possible. Thoughts, ‘positions,’ and statements are principally means to the end of kick-starting and fueling the process of dialectical thinking in the mind and soul of the reader. In themselves, they are inevitably incomplete, partial, fragmentary—and consequently, they are as likely to dampen or to choke the process of dialectical thinking as they are to provoke and nourish it. Whether they help or hinder the process depends in no small part, then, upon the willingness of the reader to move deeper into questions, rather than have them resolved as simply, patly, and expediently as possible. Here, one is entitled, perhaps, to distinguish two contrasting types of readers: one who looks chiefly for explanations and towards an end to questioning; and another who seeks primarily for provocation or stimulation of thought for the sake of pushing the frontier further and further. The ideal piece of writing to issue from my pen would resemble a polarized energy field in its dynamic form or structure. Why is this? The piece would then most likely be capable of sparking or kindling the sort of enquiry (in the reader’s mind) that can burst into the purging, luminous flame of speculative thinking.

I am trying, then, to kick start thinking for its own sake—open-ended thinking. This campaign (modestly approached, but essentially immodest in its ambitions) collides quite dramatically with the widespread, ‘normal’ attitude and practice (at least here in the U.S.). Thinking, for the most part, has a problem-solving character and telos, or aim, in our present-day culture. It has been dubbed ‘pragmatic’ or ‘instrumental’ reason. My own intentions are by no means hostile to pragmatic or instrumental thinking. I am fully aware of the great benefits it has dropped (like a bomb or a golden egg?) upon mankind, especially in the arenas of medicine, technology, and scientific research. I am as grateful as the next person for the role played by instrumental reason in the ‘relief of man’s estate’ (as Francis Bacon, one of the architects of this kind of thinking, so eloquently and—dare I say?—prematurely put it.)

I merely wish to do my small part to help resurrect and resuscitate the dynamic, dialectical, speculative mode of thinking that has largely been eclipsed by instrumental reasoning. Obviously, this eclipse could not have happened if pragmatic thinking had not been so marvelously successful in the arena where its distinctive light and power are most effective—namely in the arena of material events and processes. But the intellectual and material potency of science and instrumental reason has not been able, by itself, to obliterate philosophical, speculative reason from our culture, our educational institutions, and consequently, from our way of approaching reality. There were weaknesses and defects from which philosophical thinking chronically suffered—and it is to everyone’s ultimate benefit, I would argue, that these weaknesses and imperfections be frankly acknowledged, and not elided or swept under the carpet. But that is for another time.

Quietism and Activism (8/14/12)

Like most persons, no doubt, who give Chris Hedges a sympathetic reading, I come away from his writings in an agitated state. I am morally outraged by the evils and injustices that he so provocatively documents. Despite many inner resistances, I am nudged by his galvanizing rhetoric to go out and act on behalf of numberless victims in organized, defiant opposition to the corporate, governmental, and other institutional victimizers. The essays and books are a ‘trumpet call to war’ against the bad guys. While Hedges is not so crudely and buffoonishly black and white in his ‘us versus them’ moral dichotomy as Joe McCarthy was—or, for that matter, certain idiotic demagogues from the Christian right and the imperialistic neo-cons—he certainly comes close to advocating (and trying to incite) class war, if he doesn’t actually cross the line. He tells us to ‘rise up and resist or become serfs.’ It sounds like he’s jonesing for a slave rebellion and that he’s just itching for a modern-day Spartacus to gather an army of disgruntled, marginalized Americans who have nothing left to lose.

All this to make the simple point: I, for one, do not come away from Hedges’ books feeling more centered or more inwardly prepared to deal with the dismal situation we are all in today. His rousing, high-octane agitprop, his nimble command of disquieting facts and his impressive erudition tend to compete with my love for inner centeredness and calm detachment.

In the introduction to The World As It Is, he writes:

I have never sought to be objective. How can you be objective about death squads in El Salvador, massacres in Iraq, or Serbian sniper fire that gunned down unarmed civilians, including children, in Sarajevo? How can you be neutral about the masters and profiteers of war who lie and dissemble to hide the crimes they commit and the profits they make? How can you be objective about human pain? And, finally, how can you be objective about those responsible for this suffering? I am not neutral about rape, torture, or murder. I am not neutral about rapists, torturers, or murderers. I am not neutral about George W. Bush or Barack Obama, who under international law are war criminals. And if you had to see the butchery of war up close, as I did for nearly two decades, you would not be neutral either. (xii)

Now I may be wildly wrong here, but it seems to me that two great spiritual exemplars this benighted planet has miraculously produced—Jesus of Nazareth and Gautama Buddha—were both quite objective about the villainy and the suffering that continue to thrive within this decentered and chronically imbalanced species. Buddha explicitly stated that all life is suffering and that the two fundamental forces that are responsible for our suffering are fear and cupidity, or restless desire. Jesus’ words and example exhort us to ‘resist not evil’ and to ‘love your enemy.’ The result of mentally transcending the pendulum swing between fear and desire is a state of poised centeredness, or, in Buddhist parlance, nirvana. Through cultivated quietness and concentration on the stillpoint at the center of our ‘cyclonic’ existence, consciousness becomes established within the silent, uncompelled eye of this hurricane. The winds still roar and sweep violently throughout the periphery, and will always do so, since that is the ‘objective’ nature of things out beyond the serenity of the immovable axis, or hub, of the inner cosmos. One remains subjected to the ever-recurring clashes and conflicts of competing wills unless and until he learns how to loosen up his sticky attachments to those swirling and bubbling forms—either good or evil, alluring or frightening, noble or base—and sinks, slowly and impersonally, into the center, beyond the fray—beyond the moral and political heroics of the armed conflict of good against evil. Such compassionate detachment—as the examples of Buddha and Christ demonstrate—involves the symbolic death of the personal self, along with all of its attachments. These attachments are of all types and degrees: physical, emotional, ideational, aesthetic, familial, national, ethnic, doctrinal, etc. All must ultimately be tossed into the fire. I have a vision of this process—and this vision of ongoing renunciation and surrender serves as the ‘hidden hand’ that guides my otherwise insignificant little life. From time to time I lose my way, but the vision returns and my spirit is restored.

My sense about Hedges is that he is still so passionately invested in his moral-political crusade that perhaps he has become blind to the unwinnability of this ‘permanent state of war’ that is the ‘objective nature of things’ in the periphery—in the natural and merely human realms. Even the most eloquent writers and thinkers of moral conviction, such as Hedges, must ultimately face the crushing realization that they are beating their heads—and the heads of their entranced followers—against a very solid wall. I should perhaps confess that it is my view that human, all-too-human experience in the natural and moral-political worlds is, at bottom, purgatorial and infernal. Our experience here is meant to teach us a hard but liberating lesson: that liberation from the suffering and the inevitable dissatisfactions that are inherent in a consciously lived human life will never be attained either by fulfilling our instinctual human cravings or killing off all our enemies. It comes, if at all, only by psychologically transcending those cravings and fears, since these are the very ligaments binding us to the turbulent, peripheral world whose very nature is suffering, self-consumption, and ceaseless change.

In offering this brief sketch of a rather uncommon response to the suffering and injustice that are inherent in ordinary human existence (when that existence is meditated on deeply and with unflinching honesty, such as Shakespeare and Dante, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, brought to their work)—I sketch a response that is very different from those of Hedges, Chomsky, Zinn, Nader, Sanders, and other valiant champions of the underdogs and victims of deceit and injustice. I do not for a moment wish to undervalue or disparage their commendable and courageous efforts. The fact that such noble and morally upright champions of truth and justice reach so deeply under my skin with their words and deeds makes it clear to me that I am no stranger to the anger and disgust they feel towards the miserable state of affairs that unbridled human greed, willful ignorance, willful deception, laziness, and cruelty present us with. Such spirited and intelligent critics, whistle-blowers, and dissenters—even when they are shunned and ignored by the very citizens they faithfully serve, or are marginalized and jeered at by the corporate media and power elite they expose and indict—provide a priceless service in reminding us of the unflattering truths about ourselves as a species. They are generally ignored or despised precisely because they hold the mirror up to us and show us—wherever we happened to be situated within the wide range of human fortunes—what part we play in this global mess we are in. Our ‘sins’ may be more of omission than commission—more the result of passive conformity to deplorable norms than of the virulent, aggressive evil that we see in the pernicious puppeteers and profiteers who design and command the systems of exploitation and planetary degradation.

Admittedly, my response tends to be that of a quietist, and not of a political activist or a moralizing Cato. The response of the quietest to socio-political, cultural, and economic breakdown is nothing new or unprecedented. Quietism—whether in the ancient Epicureans or Cynics, Christian mystics or Taoists in China, Vedantists and Buddhists in India and Tibet, or Sufism in Persia and Andalusia—has a long, if understated, history. For the quietist, the ‘war,’ ‘contest,’ or ‘agon’ is ultimately interior and great care is taken to avoid projecting or externalizing the source of the conflict outside, for to do so is to fall into a snare or trap. Satan’s third temptation of Christ and Mara’s temptation of the Buddha symbolize this snare, whereby the spiritual man is tempted to locate the source, both of trouble and salvation, in ‘the world as it is.’ The quietist gently but continually strives to unfetter his spirit, his mind, his heart, and his allegiance from outer, sensory world phenomena/persons and to establish his consciousness in the center, where the pairs of opposites are harmonized. When the various pairs of opposites are reconciled in this way, dualisms and warring antitheses are, as it were, dissolved in the process. At last, unity is known. In this grounding experience of unity, we have the compelling sense, or recognition, that there is nothing to do and no-where to go. All is already done. All is present. I have been fortunate enough to have experienced this condition of blissfully contented oneness numerous times throughout my life. It always serves as a profound reminder of the ultimate futility of seeking salvation and true fulfillment outside of myself in the social, moral, political, and economic realms. Other humans cannot deliver it to us—or us to it. Sensual pleasures and worldly honors are dim shadows and poor substitutes for the contentment of enlightened centeredness. After genuinely experiencing this condition of inner balance and blessedness—and recognizing where our happiness is authentically located—we gradually learn to pull up stakes in the outer world, reducing our investment in its false promises and its deceptive allurements. Eventually, our loyalty and our psychic center of gravity shifts, or pivots, and the plodding, determined, liberating work of uprooting our souls from the purgatorial realm of human life proceeds apace. But only when we’re ready.

Sex, Politics, and Religion (1/25/17)

Perhaps I am speaking here only for or about myself…but I’ll say it anyway: politics, like religious/moral controversy and the tensions inherent in romantic “love,” is yet another snare in which the unwary souls of men may easily become caught. It is precisely the drama and conflict – even when guided inwardly by a quest for resolution, peace, and harmony – that catch us and bind us, is it not? For it is in these dramatic struggles/conflicts that we are best enabled to display our keen reasoning skills; our knowledge of this, that, and the other; our additional virtues (even of “compassionate understanding” of the bigoted and biased ignoramuses we are obliged to wrestle and wrangle with).

It is my “educated” guess that when and where peace and harmony are achieved in the political, romantic/erotic, and religious arenas, this peace is short-lived. There is just enough of a respite for all the players to catch their breath and refresh themselves for the next round in the ring. So, what I have started to suspect is that instead of looking for harmony and equilibrium to prevail within these inherently dramatic and conflictual arenas, we are better advised to retain only the most limited and carefully monitored investments in these problematic realms. What this means, of course, is that if peace and harmony are truly desired above all else, our love of personal display (of our carefully cultivated and cosmetically enhanced – take that as you will – virtues and assets) will have to be soberly and sternly addressed, will it not? For if my (clever and display-worthy!) detective work has exposed the real culprits here, it is vanity, pride, and personal will to power that are chiefly responsible for pulling us, again and again, out onto the contest floor.

The Birthright (1/24/17)

The better part of what the thinker-poet does consists, of course, in suitably matching his available inventory of words, concepts, and metaphors with the more or less steady stream of nebulous seed-intuitions, moods, affects, and perspectives that mysteriously arise from “God knows where.” If truth be told, it is this cloud-like mysterium that assigns the terms and conditions of the relationship, and not the thinker-poet, who is little more than an obliging vessel, a capable servant, and a talented translator of a kind of text without words. Sticking with the image of the cloud (“the raincloud of knowable things”), the mind of the philosopher-poet achieves the “dew point,” enabling these vaporous possibilities to undergo condensation into fluid images and metaphors. It is precisely here that meaning is born.

To employ a different extended metaphor to depict this ongoing oscillation between impregnation and delivery that is always at the core of the creative life: at first, the mind of the thinker-poet and the mysterium are juxtaposed like ovum and sperm.  Following insemination, the developing “embryo” gestates within the watery womb of the philosopher-poet’s imagination. While there, this embryo recaps, figuratively speaking, the intermediate stages (“ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”) through which our primordial ancestors clawed and gnawed, slithered and groped, their crooked way to that self-reflexive angel-beast, the human being.  When the moment of delivery arrives, there should be no confusion about what sort of creature has been born. Its past is hidden within its present shape—a long and eventful past has been condensed and woven together in such promising, but fragile children. What you have just read is but a modest example of such a “condensation” – an enactment, if you will.

I have called attention to the seemingly privileged creature, the “thinker-poet” – as though he or she were singled out and specially entrusted with a sacred office: namely, to usher this precious, vital substance into a cultural arena that craves meaning just as hungrily as our bodies crave salt. But make no mistake: all of us, by virtue of our human status, are, without exception, endowed with this sacred office and – if anything is deserving of the term – divine potential. It is our birthright as humans, regardless of the actual scope, depth, and quality of our daily engagement in the work of meaning-creation. This charge or privilege is thrust upon us whether or not we lovingly and gratefully embrace it. But to deny this birthright may prove to be the greatest “sin” we can commit against ourselves and against the mysterium that has inexplicably permitted us, however fleetingly, to appear as individual, conscious creators.

All of us are endowed, from birth, with instincts that propel, roughly define, and guide much of our thought and behavior. When these innate drives and instincts suffer trauma or if they regularly overpower us, problems ensue. Analogously, if our innate meaning-creating capacity remains dormant or becomes damaged and deformed by misuse or mis-education, serious problems arise. We know, intuitively, that a healthy human existence depends, to a large extent, upon awakened, functioning, balanced drives and instincts. I would further suggest that each of us – provided we’ve got a certain amount of experience and reflection under our belts – is equipped with all that is necessary to recognize and to follow his/her calling. Our calling or vocation is not necessarily the professional career path we follow to earn a living (although often enough they coincide), but neither are we talking here about mere hobbies or recreational activities we pursue in our spare time. Our calling or vocation (as this word is used in a religious context) may be said to serve as a kind of portal or gateway between the individual and the much larger whole of which he/she is a part. So we can see here that, rather than being something secondary or peripheral to our life or fate, our innate calling is every bit as essential to our psychic or spiritual well-being as food and shelter are to our physical well-being.

Moreover, while roughly distinguishable, these two arenas – the physical/external and the psychic/internal – are not separate, but constitute two sides of a single coin. Thus, problems or imbalances on one side of the coin invariably lead to problems and imbalances on the other. Sociopathy and depression appear to be the prevalent disorders today. Mightn’t both of these widespread maladies stem, in large part, from the failure of a significant portion of the population to have recognized and followed its innate calling? And, it will be asked, to what extent has our present culture – with its peculiar, lopsided aims and methods of “education” – actively contributed to this widespread psychological malaise? Does such an unnatural and psychologically pernicious system even deserve to be called a “culture”? Or is it not more accurate to call it a breeding ground for disease – every bit as unhygienic for human souls as the mosquito-filled marshes, rat-infested slums, and unsanitary conditions of the past were for the bodies of our forebears? Have we rid ourselves of one set of unsanitary conditions only to replace them with another – on the plane of psyche?

Sharkness and Whaleness (3/22/10-Buenos Aires)

In certain respects, the ego may be likened to a shark—a solitary predator, an efficient killing and eating machine. Not terribly bright and joyful (like the dolphin) or profound (like the whale) but focused, ever on the lookout, single-minded. Even when it is obliged—by the survival instinct —to team up in schools with other sharks, it does so only under a kind of duress, never feeling quite able to bond, fully and permanently, with its own kind. All bonds are ultimately provisional, expedient, and subject to change without notice. The shark is the ultimate consumer. And what strong (and often unconcealable) teeth they have!

Wholeness is not something cobbled together like a Frankenstein monster, assembled from various dead organs and dismembered limbs that have been gathered into a pile and stitched together by an ambitious and hard-working but clumsy shark. Wholeness is perhaps not so much a manufactured thing as a matured or metamorphosed thing—although its discovery may be made, piecemeal, in a long sequence of stages. And while there may be considerable effort involved along the way, it is probably more accurate to describe it as something conferred by grace. If there are disciplines that we can undertake—exercises we may perform—that raise our chances of catching a glimpse of wholeness, these have less to do with capturing it than with eliminating and learning not to be distracted by those commonplace obstacles that block our vision of the wholeness that is always there, potentially, within us. In this sense, wholeness is more likely to be divined by those who have the spiritual audacity to regularly turn a deaf ear to the siren song of ego preoccupations. No sharking through lonely or busy regions of the fallen world of consumable goods and human beings for those who want nothing more than to distance themselves from this game. But to be able, thus, to deafen oneself to such an orgiastic frenzy of ravenous consumption requires considerable strength of resolve. In the shark game, one either plays or he/she gets played. While in the game, one cannot for a moment lower his guard or displease one’s guardians who, in most cases, are simply, if unconsciously, preying upon us. So, from within the shark game it is difficult to make the case for wholeness, while it is very easy to make a case for satiety and security—albeit with the understanding that a full stomach doesn’t stay full any longer than a safe situation remains safe.

Must we infer from this that anyone who seeks wholeness must gradually but thoroughly withdraw from the consuming game that spellbinds the denizens of the fallen world? Is it possible to remain present within this puppeteered world of predation and consumption without being caught up in the game—without being confined psychologically by the rules of the game?

Delvers (6/19/15)

The deepest insights into life might very well be de-personalizing in the strict sense, if only because they momentarily jolt us from our limited personal prejudices, plans, and peculiarities. The deepest moments of understanding saturate our little sponge-minds with the great lessons learned by life of life—or, if we may be permitted to speak mythologically—with the insights won by the Gods about their own natures, and that of their joint emanation, the cosmos.

Yes, the diminutive human sponge-mind can soak up the life-enhancing waters from these subterranean streams that course like vitalizing blood through veins deep below the desert sands. But these pure, cool draughts of the water of archetypal insight are enjoyed at a price by those who dig down to the depths where the waters gather and flow. Henceforth, the desert above will no longer be seen other than as it is—a harsh and, for the most part, sterile wasteland where scarce goods, honors, and clean water are constantly being fought over by the many who know little or nothing about delving or about conserving the precious allotted water they have. Moreover, the carefully monitored and controlled reservoirs on the desert surface are so thoroughly contaminated with filth, toxins, and heavy metals—they are more successful, over time, at inducing insanity and slow snuffing out than at sustaining and nourishing health.

Perhaps one of the most shocking—but ultimately liberating—insights attained by the dedicated delver is that the deepest understanding is not chiefly for the person, but for the indwelling consciousness that is subtly and gradually being liberated from the ‘person.’ And, of course, this disturbing insight can only be registered as a profoundly crushing disappointment so long as the indwelling spirit mistakenly believes that it is the person—or that its awareness is exclusively confined to the person. And this is precisely as it should be—since no real liberation can be possible until that mistaken belief (or identification) is disrupted or shattered. This shattering necessarily and unavoidably feels like death…and resurrection, since the collapse of the personal, ‘interested’ standpoint is followed by the emergence of a more impersonal, selfless one. Here, in Christian terminology, we can see how ‘crucifixion’ and ‘conversion’ are, in a sense, one and the same—since death and rebirth are the ‘pivotal’ elements.

Thus, in seeking spiritual wisdom, the person—perhaps half-wittingly—seeks its own destruction or dissolution, which is the necessary prelude to authentic liberation from itself. Therefore, from the ego’s point of view, the paths of genuine philosophy (search for the highest/deepest truth) and of genuine spirituality (release from avidya, or ignorance) are, in a manner of speaking, suicidal. They make no authentic appeal to the merely self-interested ego since nothing threatens or mocks its desires, plans, and purposes so effectively as the corrosive acid of truth that eats away and tarnishes all metals but the pure gold of selfless submission to the incorruptible and inviolable truth. This may shed some light upon Christ’s cryptic saying, ‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ That sword slices a clean line of distinction between the ready and the unready—between those who can hear and those whose ears are full of the din of the desert-world above the cool, ever-flowing subterranean streams of cleansing, impersonal truth.

Reflections on Culture and Individuation (8/29/15)

An eviscerated or exhausted culture is like a ‘retired,’ grounded airplane; a permanently decommissioned warship; or a frozen locomotive in a park or museum. The general public is allowed to board these vessels and gawk at their innards and obsolete mechanisms. But they are ultimately no more than defunct relics from an earlier time—a time when they soared above the earth, traversed the broad landscape, or braved the open seas.

The diseased, enervated culture that we moderns have inherited in the West consists of a broad array of outmoded artifacts and charming relics from the past. We are no more able to transport ourselves back to that culturally thriving past than we are capable of returning to the precise circumstances and the peculiar form of consciousness we suffered or enjoyed as kindergarteners or teenagers. As with the defunct cultural forms left over from the ancient, medieval, and Renaissance eras, these earlier phases in our personal biographies have left us with memories, scars, souvenirs, and relics—but they no longer contain and sustain us as implicitly trustworthy living modalities.

If I am more or less correct in my depiction of our shared predicament, what follows? Are we irrevocably condemned to inhabit a kind of cultural graveyard or museum where everything we behold has died and been mummified, like beautiful stuffed animals whose souls have departed, for us to wonder at but never to fully and authentically experience in their once living forms? It is important to realize that these once living forms have been unplugged from the inside, whether we are conscious of this fact or not. There may be a good deal of ‘juice’ within us, collectively, but it is not being chiefly allocated to cultural forms—in the deeper sense invoked here—but to merely economic and instinctual ones. Another word for this is ‘barbarization.’

But—to approach this whole question from a radically different direction—let us ask: “What would the full and proper ‘use’ of culture by a human being look like?” I raise this question because after formulating the foregoing thoughts, it occurred to me that the relationship with culture can be understood in both a passive-adaptive and an active-creative sense. And while it may be necessary or unavoidable to begin with an adaptive assimilation of one’s given cultural inheritance—in whatever state of vitality or decrepitude we find it—this is certainly not the limit of what can achieved by an imaginative or creative spirit.

What chiefly distinguishes the passive-adaptive conformity with one’s cultural inheritance from an active-creative relationship is the attainment of liberation, by the creative spirit, from the deadening effects of the literalizing perspective. When regarded from the literal-reductive standpoint, all products of culture—high or low, refined or vulgar, esoteric or exoteric—are, in a sense, soulless artifacts or merely formal structures. And this is true whether one happens to be living in Periclean Athens, 2nd century Alexandria, Medieval Burgundy, Quatrocento Florence, Elizabethan London, or among the ‘Last Men’ who wander about the ‘Wasteland’ mapped by elegiacs, like Nietzsche, Eliot, and the portly Harold Bloom.

Those who will be most powerfully motivated to engage in an active-creative relationship with some aspect of culture or another are likely to be those persons who find their own cultural inheritance painfully deficient in the particular nutrients they require in order to thrive. Such spirits will be driven from within by a yearning that can only be satisfied by the ongoing, disciplined creation or resurrection of those cultural forms which adequately answer this mysterious need that springs up from deep inside of them. So long as this hunger remains unidentified and unmet, the lives of such exceptional spirits will either have something spurious about them or they will be inwardly tormented—or both. If their actual surroundings and cultural conditions afford only the scantiest opportunities for the germination of the spiritual-imaginative seeds within their famished, uncanny souls, they are likely to feel alienated from their fellows, who appear to be content with conditions and resources that the yearning-burning soul finds unpalatable or insultingly inadequate. He will be on the lookout for a mentor or an exemplar who can offer him guidance and support in his inner quest for proper nourishment.

This initial search will lead him in the general direction of that aspect of culture for which his native endowment is best suited. It may be music, painting, filmmaking, or philosophy. It could be mathematics, science, psychology, political theory, or literature that speaks to him—that calls him. But whatever his ‘vocation,’ whatever arena of cultural creativity his yearning and natural gifts lead him to, this particular art, science, or discipline will gradually come to serve as the alchemical vessel in which his soul is nourished and transformed.

Here, I would suggest, is the compelling rationale behind our Western emphasis upon individuation—the full development and efflorescence of individual consciousness. It should be remembered here that individuated consciousness is not synonymous with merely personal or idiosyncratic consciousness, but necessarily pertains to the more or less articulate and intelligible expression of archetypal motifs and contents through the vessel of the individual human life. Thus, the transformed soul becomes the expressive embodiment, not merely of ‘peculiar,’ personalistic notions, values, tastes, and so forth—but of collective factors that pertain to human existence as such—here, there, now, and always.

As we know, in the East there has traditionally been a de-emphasis of the individual human ego and a corresponding emphasis placed upon impersonal or transcendent factors. Nevertheless, there can be no denying that it is precisely the struggling human ego—or limited, individual consciousness—that becomes the battlefield upon which the all-important spiritual transformation takes place—and takes time. Take away the battlefield—or prematurely eliminate all those raw materials (that comprise the ingredients out of which human ego-consciousness is formed) and you can have no transformation of consciousness. Jung rightly teaches that mere passive adaptation to given cultural conditions adds up to squandered spiritual-creative potential—but so is a passive surrender to—or blissful, ego-dissolving identification with—the void. If, in the East, we are encouraged to blot out or starve the ego so that we may more quickly and finally be liberated from individual consciousness, in the West we are taught something quite different. Here we are encouraged to fully explore and experience what the path of individual development and creativity has to offer as an equally reliable means of transcending merely personal consciousness. In other words, both paths point to transcendence of the limitations inherent in personal consciousness—but on the Western path this is followed with our eyes open and observing the transformation process in archetypal terms, or gradual stages of unfoldment. In Advaita, it is taught that such stages and levels pertain only to the mind and—as mental phenomena—are ultimately unreal and may be dispensed with or leapt over.