Humanity as Membrane between Spirit and Matter: my own interpretation of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (8/27/10—Buenos Aires)

I want to explore the image of humanity as a kind of permeable membrane figuratively ‘positioned’ between spirit and matter—or, if you like, ‘the observer and the observed’—where the human being partakes of both aspects and embodies a new, third thing—soul. Soul, or creative imagination, is born out of this tension between the two parents that give birth to it. When conceived in this way, humanity (as embodiment and carrier of soul and creativity) is absolutely indispensable in the work of creation, not merely its passive witness or obedient subject. (That would be Blake’s ‘natural’ or ‘Fallen’ man.)
But there are limits, obviously, to his creative freedom. His creative freedom is exercised within the comparatively stable horizons of what we know as natural laws and principles. These endow humanity with a generous frame within which we may exercise the potentials of our creative freedom. But that freedom, it seems, must be won. It is won by establishing a conscious and trustworthy connection with the spirit, which may be said to rest on one side of the membrane that constitutes the human psyche. This energizing and liberating relationship with the spirit enables us to identify in part with the detached observer, with all the liberating benefits that accompany participation in this perspective. Why is this? From the standpoint of the observer, life itself is little more than a kind of theatrical performance or movie. Or a dream from which the dreamer has awakened. Because life itself—or the world—is seen and felt to be a kind of show or generated illusion, it loses some of its binding power over the person who views this pageant from the perspective of the detached observer. The observer is always aware of him- or her-self as observer and is less subject to becoming completely lost in or absorbed by that which is being observed, felt, and experienced. The observer may want to get lost, or become fully absorbed in that which is observed and felt, but this is not within the purview of the observer, as such. Only a very partial absorption of the witnessing bystander is possible.
But what about the observed—or ‘objects’? At bottom, the observed is a kind of screen or blank page such as I am now filling with these words. It is, in effect, ‘nothing’—but a very special sort of nothing insofar as it is capable of receiving the projections of the observer, its correlate and eternal partner in the cosmic construction and demolition business. One may be tempted to suppose that the observed, being nothing in itself, is less than the observer, but we should check that temptation. The observer, without its correlative, the observed (which provides it with a surface upon which it can project its sound and thereby receive an echo, or its image and see a reflection), is nothing, or is aware of nothing, which amounts to the same thing. As active principle, if the observer has no reflection to see and no echo to hear, ‘he’ has nothing upon which to act or to think and so remains asleep, unconscious. If the observed has no image or sound projected upon ‘her,’ her nothingness and uselessness consume and waste her. The observer and the screen arise together and they fall together. Since time begins and ends with them, neither comes first. Neither one is primary. They are two aspects of one and the same entity—an entity which both IS and IS NOT.
Memory is the matrix out of which the creative imagination is born—and it is from the creative imagination that experienceable worlds arise. As soon as the primordial Being awakens from what, in Hindu cosmology, is referred to as Mahapralaya (unconsciousness, or ‘the great dissolution’), the observer and his reflection (‘the Two’) come into existence. Something uncanny but entirely predictable happens: the one being, which is now two, asks itself—‘Have I ever been before?’ The very idea that this might be a ‘singularity’—the one and only instance of conscious being—is unthinkable to it because of the enormous weight of the responsibility attached to such a terrifying thought.
To comfort itself, the one being searches its blank memory for clues to its previous existences. But such clues are not readily forthcoming. What it does receive are the vaguest cloud-like forms that strain its untested powers of fantasy and yearning. It yearns for something—anything—to capture and hold its gathering attention. As far as it ‘knows’ anything, it feels itself to be alone, and alone without sleep or interruption—for eternity—since time as we know it does not yet exist. The thought of being alone and with no one and nothing to attend to for eternity makes the one being experience something akin to a vague anxiety. There is nothing external to it that can really threaten it or weaken it, but neither is there any existing other thing that can help it, entertain it, or console it. Out of its memory, which is actually just its present awareness cast backwards into an imagined past, it digs for hints and clues to guide and direct it into a story that will unfold into a future.
Thus, these fantasy-generated memories become the membrane I spoke of earlier—the psyche or soul which is interposed, as it were, between the observer and his correlative, the reflective screen that invites projection. The membrane gradually evolves into something like an actual memory insofar as it begins to capture and retain imagined forms that are generated from the one being’s spontaneous play of creative fantasy. At first, these imagined forms are crude and simple—perhaps like geometric shapes and clusters of discrete points. Gradually, patterns and complementary/conflictual relationships emerge between these simple elements and from these simple patterns and relationships more and more elaborate complexity are gradually differentiated. The one being slowly but surely becomes more and more absorbed in and by his creation, like an engrossed player of solitaire who keeps adding new twists and variants to the initial, simple game in order to make it more and more challenging.

Nisargadatta-Jung: a Vulgar Comparison (9/2/15)

Nisargadatta is like a man who voluntarily has his penis and testicles lopped off—and then tells (anyone who bothers to ask about why he volunteered for such as ghastly procedure) that unless and until they voluntarily do so, too, they are living a big lie and squandering their limited life force.

Carl Jung, on the other hand, is like a man with a massive member and two big sperm-spouting cojones telling anyone who’ll listen that we should “make (meaningful, individuated) hay” while we can, because before you know it, your generative organs will be shriveled and shrunken to everlasting nothingness.

Nisargadatta has opted for parabrahman, thus disbanding the actors and striking the set of the big play. Carl Jung digs up buried gold to provide an endowment for the theater so that the big play can enjoy an indefinitely extended run—and plenty of out of work actors can get back onstage and play their parts with a refreshed sense of meaningfulness and relevance.

Nisargadatta’s is the hard sell, while Jung has growing numbers lining up to get into the theater, even when they don’t know who Jung is.

On the Mind and Freedom (9/16/15)

Those familiar with my writings on the subject know that when it comes to mind and/or the ego—like Jung, Hillman, Buddhists, Sufis, and Taoists before me—I follow a middle way. Whether because of incapacity, incomprehension, or temperamental incompatibility I eschew those two extremes: Nietzschean-Randian (of the ‘Ayn’ sort) heroic-Promethean egotism and Eastern-style, yogic campaigns to exterminate the mind/ego. So, assuming a kind of enlightened or properly negotiated truce with the mind is a necessary precondition for the radical transformation of consciousness that culminates in mental liberation, what is the role played by the ego-will (which, we are told, is but the reflection of the light of pure, impersonal awareness in the mercurial mirror of the mental body)?

I sometimes see those ‘spiritual seekers’ who would do away with the mind as dwarfish, low voltage Ahabs, who famously said, “Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.” Ahab’s daimonic energy and unsettling eloquence lend a kind of sublimity and gravitas (to his revenge against the white whale) that is conspicuously absent from the souls of these harmless, puny revengers against their own shrunken little ‘Moby Dicks’—which, having been malnourished and unexercised for years, are but minnows and small fry next to Melville’s. And they still can’t seem to flush them down the commode!

Do not misunderstand me. I am not wholeheartedly endorsing Ahab’s Promethean-heroic egoism, but it is certainly of a higher order and nobler pedigree than Starbuck’s Hobbesian-Lockean, mercantile-conventional prudence—the clearly reigning outlook (and in-look, for that matter) in 21st, as well as 19th, century, pragmatic America. Whether he was justified or not, Dante assigned Ulysses to one of the lowest circles in hell for a similar sort of ‘titanic’ egoism as we see in Ahab’s ‘mad flight’—but of this we may be certain: Dante, with his own sublimely expansive and self-authorizing spirit, could not help but admire precisely where he condemns—in Ulysses’ case. But my point should be plain: the greatest ‘sinners’ always stand a far better chance of finding genuine salvation than petty and harmless little nebbishes who ‘cannot be bothered’ to confront either black or white whales swimming just below the placid, artificial surface of their scrupulously controlled conscious standpoints. They will tell you that they are ‘busy’ silencing the mind, but some of us know what they’re really up to instead. They are running away from truly disturbing questions and supremely inconvenient ordeals that they would be obliged to recognize and submit to if they weren’t so dreadfully busy trying to distance themselves from that pesky, uncooperative ‘desire-mind’ (kama-manas)—strangling one Hydra head at a time. Well, good luck with that!

Ahab, as we know, goes down with the whale, along with the Pequod and its crew—except for the mercurial Ishmael who, alone, lives to tell the tale. Dante’s Ulysses’ ship and crew are similarly swallowed up by the sea—just offshore from Mt. Purgatory. Ulysses—though close enough almost to touch it—was not permitted to land his vessel upon the shore of Mt. Purgatory. While Dante finds much to admire in Ulysses’ spiritedness, his proud indifference to personal security and emotional attachments, he is troubled by the hero’s brazen refusal to humbly defer to anything whatsoever that might exceed or transcend his cognitive and experiential ambitions. Could this, wonder of wonders, be the fatal flaw that bars his access to the shores of Purgatory? To return to our initial theme: is this what, on a far less sublime level, prevents petty revengers (against the demonized mind) from being able to negotiate a truce with the ‘enemy’?

Understanding the nature of kama-manas, or the desire-mind, is the key to freeing our spirits from its lower, cruder, and heavier (in terms of psychic gravity) power. But as with the ‘external’ natural world, in order to understand the inner nature of the desire-mind, we must to a certain extent obey it. I suspect that alarms and red flags are exploding in the minds of some over-reactive readers, but ‘hold your horses.’ We obey, or submit, chiefly to establish equitable terms between both parties—and not merely to get the better of one another. By ‘obey’ I do not mean ‘indulge in’ or ‘utterly surrender to.’ By ‘obey’ I more precisely mean ‘carefully attend to,’ ‘to alertly observe and take note of’ the mind—the various ways in which it works; how it influences or affects that which it touches, treats, entertains or gives birth to; what happens—or doesn’t happen—when it is quiet and still.

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, the mind is always with us—‘hanging around,’ much as our bodies are always with us, just hanging around, whether busy with something or not. In fact, it is probably useful to think of the mind as a body—a subtle body—that seems to hang upon us, or even enfold us, rather as our fleshly bodies do. But the great difference between the physical and mental bodies lies in the fact that the physical body deals with solid, concrete objects, persons, and events while the mental body deals with ideas, concepts, emotions, moods, attitudes, and other intangible but nonetheless experienceable forms and phenomena.

The Sanskrit word ‘kama’ means desire, so ‘kama-manas’ refers to a mind that is stamped or infused with more or less stable, distinct desire-habits. These generally stable and established desire-habits operate upon ‘mental matter’ in much the same way that a magnetic field operates upon tiny iron shavings. Understanding the extremely intimate relationship between desire-habits and mental forms (concepts, memories, plans, recurring thoughts, etc.) that are directly shaped by those affective patterns is absolutely crucial to attaining mastery over, and liberation from, these often cramped and confining desires. It is also crucial for overcoming our suspicion/hatred for mind (misology), which is founded upon a deep misunderstanding.

When New-agers (and Shirley Maclaine, back in the 80s) tell us that we create our own ‘worlds’—our own ‘reality’—they are actually speaking the truth, or at least giving voice to a sound spiritual-psychological principle, whether they actually understand what they are saying, or not. Persons with a semi-sensitive or half-awakened intuition are occasionally able to glimpse profound spiritual insights, but that’s about all they can do since they lack the training and the conceptual understanding (of what they’ve glimpsed in ‘flashes’ of insight) that are needed to articulate and to ground these insights in a reasonably intelligible form—to place them in a comprehensive, meaningful context. Only then would such intuitive souls be in a position to make significant contributions to the intellectual, artistic, or spiritual welfare of our ailing culture. Such training and education require time and much discipline—even when we have a passion for learning these things and developing these skills. As it happens, most persons who are drawn to such matters wind up getting side-tracked and absorbed by mundane affairs, so that little real development of these potentials ever occurs. Such persons, alas, are a dime a dozen, but in saying this I am certainly not condemning such half-hearted, well-meaning persons. We all eventually ‘find our level,’ whether we like it or not. As it turns out, it is the specific gravity of our desire-habits that is primarily responsible for assigning us to our particular, all-too-familiar ‘level.’ I am not referring here to some deplorable and oppressive caste system or even to some kind of karmic destiny from which there is no reprieve or escape. Our ‘level assignment’ is not written in stone. We can move ‘up’ or we can move ‘down.’ We see it all the time in persons around us—or in our own lives. What I am trying to argue is that unless and until we figure out how to alter the specific gravity of our desire-habits or affective patterns, we are pretty much obliged to stay put on more or less the same rung of a ladder that stretches from heaven to hell, figuratively (but as the same time, existentially) speaking.

So, in an attempt to tighten up these meandering musings about the mind, let us review some of the polarities or contrasts that were touched upon earlier, and see if this provides any clarification. We spoke of the contrast between negotiating a truce with the mind versus dismissing or disparaging the mind; between daimonic, sublime overreaching egos (like Ahab’s and Ulysses’—and possibly Dante’s) and the puny, run-of-the-milquetoast variety that prefers to ‘stay home,’ preferably under the covers with the TV set on; between a kind of reverent openness to the transcendent and a titanic drive to conquer or dispense with it. Then, with the idea of kama-manas, we began to explore the hidden marriage between two things that are commonly contrasted, or even isolated, from one another: thoughts and desires, or knowledge and affects.

What can we do with these disparate pieces of a puzzle? Can they, indeed, be fitted together naturally—perhaps even seamlessly—into a vivid and clear picture of our general problem: how to regard the mind and how to make the best of our relationship with it? To repeat what has been said elsewhere: no relationship is possible where there is an unconscious merger or identification with the ‘other’—and this goes for the mind, as well. And if the relationship is dysfunctional (because of hatred or neglect or rejection of the other), not much of value can come out of this arrangement either. Therefore, unless and until we have dis-identified with and/or come to workable terms with the mind we can pretty much kiss the prospect of genuine mental liberation goodbye.

In speaking about kama-manas, the desire-mind, I used the analogy of a magnetic field moving and organizing iron filings into distinctive patterns. A powerful magnetic field—generated, say, by an Ahab or a Ulysses—can hold (almost) an entire crew under its enchanting spell—while many persons have trouble holding a single thought or question in their mental grasp for more than a few seconds. Thus, those with potent spirits are capable of either great good or great mischief, while the majority of low-voltage souls will leave the world pretty much as they found it when they depart. But for all of us—from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the world-historical ‘dynamos’ to the backwater bozos—one principle applies to all: thought is but the shadow or lackey of the governing desire or will. It is the will—weak or strong, noble or base, selfish or selfless—that occultly or invisibly formulates and steers the thoughts that populate (and sometimes overpopulate) our minds.

Going after the thoughts, then, is a bit like chasing after shadows or holographic images so long as the inner will or ruling desires remain unconscious and unattended to.

In my own case, which may or may not be universalizable or repeatable by everyone simply on the basis of shared humanity, there are complicating factors which, in all fairness, ought to be addressed here. Something happened to me—inside my soul—that does not happen to everyone, perhaps not even to most persons, so far as I can tell from consulting many others. Without really understanding what it was at the time, I went through a kind of conversion experience. This experience, which I have described as a major shift in my psychic center of gravity, was not—I repeat, not—linked to any confession of faith in Christianity or Judaism or Islam or any other established religion, although after the dust began to settle I recognized unmistakable parallels between my conversion experience and those we can read about in religious histories of all persuasions. Suffice it to say that I am living proof—at least to myself—that one needn’t profess orthodox faith in Christ (as a historical figure, or Allah, or any deity whatsoever) in order to undergo a bona fide spiritual awakening or rebirth experience. On the other hand, I would venture to say that the symbolic value of Christ’s life, teachings, and final ordeal—as with those of the Buddha, Krishna, Lao Tzu, Heraclitus, Mani, Socrates, Valentinus, Augustine, and others—begin, inwardly, to be revealed only after this conversion experience occurs.

Why do I bring this up within the context of this essay, it will be asked? Is it because I realized at one point, while I was writing, that all of the crucial observations that I’ve made are predicated upon that ‘conversion’ ordeal? How does this fact impinge upon the content of the essay? Well, I am not sure I would go so far as to say that the content is worthless and unintelligible to anyone who has yet to undergo an analogously radical ‘pivoting’ or shift in his/her psychic center of gravity—but such readers will not be likely to experience an immediate recognition of the crucial points shared here.

The Rarest Marriage (1/11/16)

What if, after the metanoia—the experience of having the world turned inside-out—we don’t simply become more potently and decisively spiritualized, but simultaneously more materialized—in an archetypal sense? What if the expansion or enlargement we undergo doesn’t point exclusively in the direction of spirit—and away from matter—but in both directions at once, so that we become larger, subtler, and more consciously attentive at both ends of the continuum that spans these poles, spirit and matter? If this—or something approximating this—is indeed what happens (in an actual coniunctio), then those ‘spiritual’ disciplines that emphasize and encourage a kind of detachment from (and implicit disparagement of) matter and the body may be (divinely?) misguided. Once again we encounter this strange, elusive rivalry between the aims of wholeness and integration, on the one hand, and spiritual purity and detachment, on the other.

Certainly, some Gnostic sects assumed this rather radical stance towards material and bodily forms, attractions, and tendencies—just as certain ascetic paths in India and other Eastern teachings do. Perhaps Taoism—with its reticence to ascribe priority or preeminence to either yin or yang—comes closest to endorsing this internal process of balancing and harmonizing the various pairs of complementary-contending opposites.

Here again I think Jung was a marvelous visionary and trailblazer—even if he was following clues left behind by the alchemists. Part of the appeal of this line of exploration is that it points to a possible marriage or reconciliation of the ‘male and female’ elements within the psyche. My hunch is that if I am able to make this inner marriage of the male and female my priority, I will be better able to avoid the time-and-energy-consuming detour of unconsciously ‘acting out’ or ‘externalizing’ this inner drama. In the past, that path has given me only so much experience for my pains—and, as Nietzsche said: ‘People need to speak from experience (and experience always seems to mean bad experience, doesn’t it?)’ (BGE, 204)

Purusha and Prakriti and the Decline of the ‘Magister Ludi’ (10/14)

The will to find one’s way back ‘home’—to the source of one’s consciousness and sense of personal identity: isn’t this what I am always on the lookout for in myself and in others? If we are not actively exerting this ‘will to return,’ we will, by default, be carried further and further away from that unscripted, impersonal state of centeredness that awaits us at the source. In our surrender to some dream (or nightmare) or another, we only become more and more snugly ensnared in a story both of our own and others’ making—but an elaborate and absorbing fiction nonetheless. In willing our return to the source out of which our consciousness originally emerged, we begin to find the strength, courage, and subtlety required to liberate our spirit from the roles and stories in which it has erstwhile been hypnotically held hostage. We wake up from the coagulated dream that is ordinary life and consciousness. We gradually acquire the power of insight that enables us to counteract the seductive power of the dream-drama to lure us back onto the stage—to make us surrender, once again, to the old script and our well-rehearsed role(s).

Our persistent vulnerability to seduction by the dream-drama continues for as long as our ‘residual tendencies’ (samskaras) remain deeply rooted in our psyches. Unless and until these residual tendencies are finally uprooted and destroyed, the personal ego—the well-versed and well-rehearsed actor on the stage—will continue to re-sprout and resume its accustomed role (as comforter, villain, hero, lover, mother, teacher, servant, warrior, rebel, poet, etc.) in the ongoing dream-drama that is life.

Like microscopic bits of DNA, the residual tendencies carry all the information necessary to clone a compelling facsimile (or a slight mutation) of that very character from ‘whom’ the source-directed will is seeking release. Only the most determined uprooters and underminers stand a chance of getting beneath these deeply ingrained residual tendencies—and overriding their magical form-bestowing power. Most of us spend the entirety of our lives simply managing and dealing with the effects, or consequences, produced by these inner seeds and inclinations without ever consciously recognizing them for what they truly are: the ‘behind the scenes’ playwrights and orchestrators of the lives we enact. And it is a deeply unsettling discovery that in the vast majority of cases, the fictional existence being enacted from cradle to grave was scripted, not chiefly by us, but by others who are much cleverer (or are simply more powerful) than we are. And although we may possess a more or less developed freedom of choice, the menu is almost always fixed—and fairly limited, where fundamentals are at stake.

Only for the few, then, who are capable of glimpsing and eventually counteracting this deep-interior process of scripted, fictional ego-generation (by means of the residual tendencies)—only these unmaskers of the hidden mechanism—are viable candidates for liberation. Liberation from the dream-drama is predicated upon liberation from one’s (compelling) role in that drama. But what energy or gravitational force holds that fictional role together? Only when this force is neutralized or overcome—only then will the fictional, story-related role collapse like an uninhabited theatrical costume upon the stage floor.

It will be evident to anyone who grasps from experience what I’m talking about here, that while an intellectual understanding of this complex inner process of spiritual liberation from the personal ego is necessary, it is far from sufficient to bring about our release. The true battlefield lies not in the intellect, but in the will. So long as the will is weak, divided, or conflicted (with respect to the path of inner freedom), there will be a more or less drawn-out oscillation between immersion and detachment, with neither side claiming a decisive victory. ‘Immersion’ here, of course, refers to immersion in the plans, memories, purposes, and habits of the personal ego.

That which we crave or desire the most inevitably becomes like a God to us—and, therefore, our greatest barrier to genuine freedom. Fear and loathing are merely the other side of the coin of craving or desire—so they, too, help to constitute the gravitational force that keeps us prisoner to the ‘planet’ of personal ego affairs. The centered state is characterized by freedom from both fear and desire. The conventional labels for this state are ‘bliss’ and ‘contentment.’ The gravitational pull of fear and desire—at least to the extent that our awareness is centered—has no substance upon which to exert its accustomed power. The blissful contentment of centeredness is attained only when we are devoid of ego-constituting and ego-substantiating desires and fears. This is—and always has been—the true battlefield upon which liberation is to be attained. Paradoxically, victory is won not by a fierce conquest but by a mutual surrender. The ego ‘gives up the ghost’ (geist) and the spirit surrenders its wayward and extravagant investment in a ‘dream of passion.’ Before this armistice was arrived at, a state of confusion—and fruitless conflict—prevailed. Now—with the serene disentanglement of the two formerly warring sides—a harmonious cosmic marriage is possible for the first time. And just as harmony can occur only between distinct, stable notes at a measured distance (in terms of pitch) from each other, so too the stable, harmonious marriage between Purusha (spirit) and Prakriti (primal, undifferentiated matter) is predicated upon the two maintaining a respectful, unmeddlesome distance between one another. If we were to personify them, we might say that one beholds the other and feels grounded—while the other feels the animating warmth of attention and sighs a breath of relief at the light before her. Light and mirror are distinct but in communion, generating the third aspect—pure, formless awareness.

When this pure, formless awareness—generated by the juxtaposition of Father Spirit and Mother Matter—becomes identified with the body-mind (which has spontaneously appeared before it), it enters the labyrinth where, in most cases, it will remain immured until the death of the body with which it has been identified all this time. Every once in a long while, however, the enticements and the hypnotizing fears that inject passion and interest into the gripping story of labyrinth-life loosen their accustomed hold upon a spirit and something astounding happens. Because the observing spirit has somehow managed to grasp the fact that the stupendous array of enticements and fears are responsible for pulling it deeper and deeper into the labyrinth, it now enjoys an option that is unavailable to those whose minds and wills are tyrannically and uninterruptedly governed by these enticements and fears, these attractions and aversions. The option, of course, is to sacrifice conscription into the seductive-compulsive labyrinth-game—and with it, the chance of becoming a ‘Magister Ludi,’ or Master of the Game—in exchange for freedom from its binding terms and conditions. ‘But,’ it will surely be asked, ‘why would any normal or sane individual ever pursue such an option?’ And, of course, it must be admitted that no (conventionally) normal or sane person would seriously entertain the idea of making such a sacrifice. But then, ‘normality’ and ‘sanity’ are universally understood in labyrinth terms—since these are the only terms available to those who are invested in—or conscripted by—life in the labyrinth. Certainly, as a kind of thought-experiment, a clever person can, like a latter-day Gnostic, conceive of his/her ‘normal’ presuppositions and ‘sane’ standards as elaborate, collective delusions—to intellectually turn the familiar, ‘trusted’ world inside out—but such thought-experiments tend to be superficial, without lasting consequences.

Real changes can begin only when the will of the person undergoes a radical reversal of its accustomed orientation or trajectory. This is no casual or merely ‘intellectual’ move, but a ‘crisis of faith’ that will require trying and torturous years to adjust to—if the prospect of adjustment is ‘in the cards’ in the first place. In the onset of such a crisis the spell of ‘the world’ and of the ‘autonomy of the separate, individual ego’ is broken—but, for a time, there is no reliable platform or foundation upon which the observing, dis-enchanted spirit can establish itself and get its bearings. Everything seems to be fluid, negotiable, paradoxical, suffused with irony, a mere projection, illusory, fleeting. Words and love, philosophical ideas and belief in ‘God’—none of these provide any real defense against or relief from the utter fluidity and insubstantiality of life, of persons, of conditions, of one’s own supposed ‘identity.’ And of course this agonizing situation is made all the more insufferable by the fact that virtually everyone we know and (can still manage to) love is still a firm believer in the myths and delusions that have all been undermined and exploded by the ‘about-face’ our mind and will have undergone. This places them, in effect, on the other side of a Plexiglas wall from us. Thus, the observing, unyoked spirit is thrust into a kind and degree of aloneness that no mere human has ever had to endure. It is in the surviving and the surmounting of this devastating aloneness (with a diabolical but paradoxically salvational sense of humor intact) that the disillusioned, observing spirit re-defines ‘sanity,’ ‘happiness,’ ‘freedom,’ and ‘purpose.’

On Jung and Ramana Maharshi (1/14)

There is a plainly evident contrast between the dispassionate state of stillness and inner peace that I experience when I meditate, and the excited state of inner tension that I find myself in when I am functioning as a creative agent.  The creative tension that appears to be the necessary ground from which authentically interesting works of art and thought emerge is noticeably relaxed or slackened during meditation—at least the way that I have been meditating.  And while an indisputable sense of calm contentedness or detached serenity often accompanies these meditations, I am not blind to the fact that I have done less and less intense and/or penetrating writing since this meditation work began in earnest a few months ago.

I recall a phrase from my youthful immersion in the occult writings of Alice Bailey.  In describing the 4th ray soul (of the ‘artist’), the phrase ‘harmony through conflict’ was employed.  Beethoven, Leonardo da Vinci, and Shakespeare, as I recall, were prominent exemplars of the 4th ray.  In my life experience, throughout the years, I recognize a kind of affinity with this ‘harmony through conflict’ image.  Jung’s (alchemical) speculations about the coniunctio—or the balancing of the pairs of opposites which comprise the polaristic psyche—speaks to this same idea, and has therefore always resonated with me.  Odysseus, tied to the mast, torturously enduring-enjoying the lethally enchanting melodies of the Sirens, is for me another iconic image of positioning oneself in the middle of the tremendous and terrible tension of the opposites—the very tension that appears to be the sine qua non for the profoundest psychic experience.

I suspect that Jung’s steadfast refusal to endorse and to encourage the voluntary sacrifice or obliteration of the personal ego is fundamentally bound up with this question of creativity—but also with the importance he attached to meaning, as I shall explore ahead.  It is precisely that condition of dynamic, fertile inner tension that Jung’s writings and suggestions strive to awaken in the reader or the patient.  In his own terms, it is the state of creative-destructive tension that is quite naturally produced by the opening up of the (normally defended and self-protective) ego to the transformative powers of the unconscious.  As the ego yields some—but not all—of its much-cherished authority and control, allowing itself to be influenced (or infected?) by the ambiguities and uncertainties that break like waves upon its shoreline from the sea of the unconscious, it invariably recognizes both the threatening and the enriching, the humiliating and the inflating, possibilities contained in a relationship (or collision, as the case may be) between the ego and the unconscious.

This idea of a dialectical relationship between ego and unconscious—where the ego is very much the ‘junior partner’ or disciple of the archaic, wise, and far more comprehensive unconscious—justly characterizes the general approach Jung takes towards psychological development, or integration of the personality.  In the course of such development—a lifelong pedagogical process Jung calls individuation—the ego is continually ‘coming to terms’ with the challenging and meaning-bestowing contents of the unconscious.  This enriching educational experience has significant impact upon the personality—and on a variety of different but always interrelated fronts.  There are ethical, intellectual, imaginative, and spiritual ramifications to this individuation process—since, in following the path of self-knowledge we are consciously realizing potentials that would otherwise remain in a latent or dormant state.

And while it is for the most part correct to claim that Jung strongly opposes the utter sacrifice or dissolution of the ego (as we see, for instance, in the path of radical Self-enquiry endorsed by Ramana Maharshi or Nisargadatta), he certainly does not advocate some crude form of egocentrism, let alone ego-inflation.  Jung unfailingly and quite vocally acknowledges the ‘supraordinate’ status of the unconscious in this relationship between the (subordinate) ego and the uncharted, vast matrix which has created and launched it like a rising bubble from dark and unfathomable depths.  In other words, unlike most Western intellectuals, philosophers, scientists, and educated persons (who ‘reside’ almost exclusively upon the surface-consciousness of the oceanic psyche), Jung consistently refrains from elevating the human ego to the sovereign role that is generally (and foolishly, often catastrophically) assigned to it.  After many years of dealing with the problems that stem from disturbed relations between the ego and the unconscious background out of which the ego emerges and in which it is always ultimately rooted—Jung wisely appreciated the dangers that regularly result from an underestimation of the actual sovereignty of the unconscious.  Therefore, he stood—and still stands—apart from mainstream cultural attitudes and assumptions that presently rule in the ever-enlarging community of psychologists, psychiatrists, and so-called ‘therapists.’

Jung may be said to occupy a middle position between Nietzsche and Ramana Maharshi, respecting his view of the role and the importance of the ego as a factor in human experience.  Roughly speaking, we might say that while Nietzsche is chiefly concerned with power and Ramana Maharshi is chiefly concerned with Self-realization or liberation, Jung is chiefly concerned with meaning, and particularly with the healing, restorative impact meaning can have upon our ailing, spiritually sterile culture.  Correspondingly, Nietzsche’s philosophy is principally bound up with the enhancement and the extension of the ‘spiritualized,’ culturally-sophisticated ego.  Ramana Maharshi’s spiritual teachings—in diametrical opposition to Nietzsche’s philosophy—aim at seeing through the illusion of mind, or ego.  Ramana Maharshi, therefore, is focused upon spirit or the Self, which is both formless and beyond thought.  Jung, as we have seen, is interested primarily in soul, which may be conceived as the metaphorical bridge between the ego of Nietzsche and the Self of Ramana Maharshi.  It only stands to reason that since the ego forms one bank of the river that is being bridged by soul, Jung cannot endorse its destruction.  But, on the other hand, he is perfectly content to reserve judgment concerning the mysterious—and probably unknowable—other bank across the river from the ego.

Ramana Maharshi, as we see, speaks (or points, indicates) from that other bank.  Unlike Nietzsche and Jung, Ramana Maharshi has destroyed (or parted with) the illusory ego and has become a mere mouthpiece or portal for the light of the Self.  There is no doer.  There is no knower—for the whole subject-object duality has been transcended.  All is the Self.  Only the Self is real.  Everything else is simply maya, including all individual souls or ‘jivas.’

Borderlands (6/24/16)

Can we imagine a perspective from which the human person, as such, may be viewed, at last, with a divine – or, shall we say “Olympian” – sense of humor that is neither maliciously mocking and derisive, after the fashion of some modern absurdists and deconstructionists, nor with resolute, categorical dismissiveness, as certain schools of Indian practice have been doing for centuries? One thing that both of these camps have set out to do (along with others that I needn’t mention here) is to analyze the human personality down to its elemental nuts and bolts or constitutional ingredients. I wholeheartedly agree with the need for such preliminary steps before any genuine progress can be made along the somewhat different lines I am proposing. What I am after, though, is something more than a mere theory or explanatory scheme. What I’m after will undoubtedly entertain various theoretical elements or suppositions, but these will certainly not be etched in stone. Perhaps, indeed, they will seem to be written in water or sand on a windy day – or cloud-like in their ephemerality and puffy provisionality. What I’m after is not so much a stance or a fixed attitude but a fluid kind of counterpoint or complementarity towards an ever-metamorphosing field (or gestalt) of complex phenomena. There is no sitting still, for long, upon or within the sea, and there is indeed something fundamentally oceanic about this fluid, ongoing dance – or is it a kind of mysterious copulation? – between the observer and the observed. And regardless of whether there is penetration or not, this divinely humorous dance is indisputably a tango.

Cutting to the chase, let me say that what imbues this “morphing perspective” with the epithet “divine” is our developed capacity to see the person essentially in the transpersonal terms of energy constellations and interrelationships. What, then, allows the sense of humor to enter the mix? I would suggest that this depends primarily upon our ability to break the hard nutshell that protects the sacrosanct feeling of personal significance and inviolability. Not a nut easily cracked, to be sure, but the most important one for our present purposes, nevertheless. For those who have been reading “between the lines” it is already evident that there is indeed something “inhuman” about the enterprise we are embarking upon here. It stands to reason that the human, as such, can only be viewed (or experienced) in its naked entirety from a psychic position that is somehow extra-human, supra-human, or in-human. At this point, no doubt, only the most monstrously curious reader is still genuinely gripped or intrigued by the experiment proposed here. All those for whom such a “view” is too dizzying, or incomprehensible, or constitutionally repellent have said to themselves, “Now he has gone too far! I’ll have no more of this rubbish.”

For those, then, who are still with me I wish to suggest a potentially helpful paradox. The key to breaking the nut and releasing the “sense of humor” hidden within is to learn to see life from the vantage point of “death.” It is only from the stillness and silence of the motionless center – or eye of the hurricane that is life – that the fundamental angst of human consciousness can at last be dissolved and transcended. So long as the silent (death-like but vital) stillness of the center is unknown or forgotten, our attention will be more or less helplessly enslaved by the swirling, churning maelstrom of life at the periphery – and at the farthest removed from the center, the winds and flying objects are most likely to carry us away and wound us.

Perhaps now it will be understood that I enclosed the word death in “scare quotes” earlier because I was in fact talking about the mask or specter of death. The still, silent, vital center appears death-like, of course, from the immersed and dramatic condition that most of us partake of most of the time. This is the enormous spectrum of possible experiences, passions, and perceptions that are native to consciousness within the pairs of opposites. And if profoundly still, spiritual centeredness looks like death from the ever-shifting perspective of the hurricane-periphery, what do the “persons” (and their consciousness) look like to those quietly planted in the center? Like dreams and dream figures. “Death” and “dreams.” And where is that elusive sense of humor spoken of earlier? It is always within reach just beyond the magnetic/gravitational field of angst – which appears to be mysteriously synonymous with the “human/personal as such.” No wonder such humor has something essentially divine about it.