February 06, 2008

Judeo-Christian and Esoteric Hindu traditions are the missing parts of one another

As the two world-historical streams -- the Abrahamic and Brahmanic -- meandered and ramified, they took very different courses before arriving at oddly parallel conclusions. In the West, science pursued the material world down to the atom, eventually passing beyond it to discover an implicate realm of unbroken wholeness flowing beneath our misleading perceptions of duration and solidity. Vedanta proceeded in the opposite direction, tracing the illusory contours of our world-representation down to the explicate self, and then smashing it to discover another vast realm of unbroken wholeness and unity beneath our contingent and transient egos...
After Schopenhauer had already completed his magnum opus, The World as Will and Representation, he discovered one of the first available copies of the Upanishads to appear in the Western world, a poor Latin translation of a Persian translation of the original Sanskrit. And yet, he immediately recognized that the Vedic seers had come to the identical conclusion about the world that he had -- except that they had found a way to pass beyond it, not through thought, but by somehow transcending thought.
For the rest of his life, Schopenhauer read a few pages of the Upanishads every night before going to sleep. He called it "the most profitable and sublime reading that is possible in the world; it has been the consolation of my life and will be that of my death." It is one of the ironies of Western civilization that its elites -- often for good reason -- rejected Christianity, only to rediscover some of its buried truths in a form more acceptable to them in Eastern religions. Obviously the same thing occurs today among the non-elite, with countless people embracing pseudo-forms of Eastern religion (i.e., "realizationism"), since big-box Christianity continues to bury much of its own mystical and intellectual Light under a bushel of divine salesmanship.
In any event, the problem that developed in India was that, in recognizing the illusory nature of the phenomenal world, they focussed only on escaping it. The only true reality was Brahman, transcendent, immobile, unchanging, beyond this world of illusion and suffering. It is fair to say that this dismissive attitude toward the world hindered economic and political development in India for hundreds of years, for the world is real, just not ultimately real -- or, if you like, it is illusion, but not only illusion.
In the West, we enthusiastically plunged into the external world, and yet, we are in danger of being marooned there in a spiritual wasteland of material abundance and sensory pleasure. Throughout history, human beings have been dreaming of the amenities we take for granted, and yet, it is never enough.
I am anything but a free-market basher, but our material abundance has become spiritually problematic for many -- who are like those bleating last men prophesied by Nietzsche, wallowing in their pitiable comfort. Obviously, most Americans still hunger for spiritual experience, and yet, all too often they don't seem able to make religion "work" for them -- something seems to be missing, some key that would unlock the inner significance of religious belief and practice. If a religion is working, it should lead to real knowledge and real change. It shouldn't just come down to simply accepting this or that doctrine and hoping for the best.
In my view, the Judeo-Christian and Esoteric Hindu traditions are the missing parts of one another, at least in form if not in substance. In exploring and conquering the material world, the former extends from the center to the periphery, or from the One to the many. Vedanta proceeds in the other direction, from the periphery back to the center, from the many back to the One. In reality, neither approach is completely valid or invalid. Rather, the Real would be a dynamic synthesis (not mere blending) of the two, a "transcendent position" that unifies the Eastern and Western hemispheres of the global brain, allowing us to live in a third dialectical or "transitional" space between the external world and the mysterious Subject that is the source of both the world and ourSelves.
V. Madhusudan Reddy writes that "Mankind has benefitted broadly by the two central spiritual streams which were complementary to each other. The one that watered the West has been essentially the aspiration for the salvation of the world, the emancipation of humanity [through] the descent of God's grace.... The [stream] that was perfected in the East and especially in India was the liberation of the individual through his ascent into the Divine himself. An exclusive stress on the first results in preoccupation with the material world, whereas the all too exclusive preoccupation with individual liberation leads to complete disregard of the world of humanity. An integration of these two ways, a wider and luminous fusion of their insights, will provide a tangible and enduring basis of spiritual life on the earth."
In the last 6,000 years, human beings have undergone various revolutions. The agrarian revolution involved learning how to grow things, while the industrial revolution involved learning how to make things. The current information revolution involves knowing things. The coming onto-noetic revolution will involve learning how to be something. Or more simply, knowing how to be (which is to say, unKnow and non-do in order to grow into no-thing).

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