I finally finished The Spiritual Ascent last weekend, at which time I planted the Raccoon colors and am now just enjoying the view. In my opinion, it really picks up steam in the latter two thirds of the book, which is understandable, since the first third of the book deals more with the hard work of purification -- including a guided tour of the various dimensions of hell -- while the remainder deals with the big prayoff of illumination and union. This post is more for my benefit, as I'd like to just free associate on some of the themes and quotations in order to better deepen and assimilate them. Just remember, free association is free, so you get what you pay for.
As an aside, it is remarkable to me how much of the book is highlighted. As I look back through it, I rarely highlighted things that were new to me -- like a historical fact of which I was unaware. Rather, in nearly every case, it was simply the recognition of something I already knew. What makes this remarkable is that, in the spiritual realm, we are obviously dealing with a supposedly "subjective" and totally non-empirical space. And yet, this space turns out to be as reliably objective as the lower orders of reality -- in fact, more so, since scientific theories come and go and undergo constant changes, whereas the perennial wisdom, by definition, never changes.
The weirdness of this is insufficiently grasped by human beings, in large part due to the fact that the average contemporary human is so alienated from this hyper-real reality. And the foolish people who have no contact with this realm are ironically the ones with the most confidence that they are grounded in "reality," as our trolls never stop proving. As a fired up Philo -- the "Jewish Plato" -- said, they are "laden with vanity and gross stupidity and vast pretense, you that are wise in your own conceit!" Yes, you who "spin your airy fables" about existence! Why, I orta!
In my book, I made reference to the "subjectively objective" nature of this realm, although I managed to convey it in a page or two instead of 1,100. Wait a minute, let me look it up.... Here it is -- page 192: "While it may seem presumptuous to refer to spiritual 'facts,' all esoteric traditions -- from the early desert fathers, to the Vedic seers, to Tibetan Buddhist monks -- speak of a trans-empirical realm [n] corresponding to our inner spiritual intuition [¶] that is as real as the empirical realm that answers to our five outward senses.... While there are, of course, different scriptures and theologies, these must be understood as multiple views of a hyper-dimensional, trans-human manifold irreducible to a single exterior formula." Yeah, boy!
Or page 203: "Truth, if it is actually Truth, is beyond any single expression of it, and yet, present in each of its expressions. If something is true, it is universal and compels our assent.... In point of fact, Truth is inexhaustible, flowing as it does from the direction of the Absolute (which is beyond image and form) into the relativity of formal language." In turn, this is why "absolute Truth is ultimately concrete and not symbolic, in fact, the most concrete experience available to mortals." The symbols merely point the way to what is clearly beyond them (which is true of all symbols). Boo-yah!
I then go on to quote a number of authorities -- and had I been aware of The Spiritual Ascent at the time, I could have cited thousands more! -- but Aurobindo summarizes it as well as anyone: "It is a fact that yogic experience runs everywhere on the same lines.... admittedly, we are dealing with a many-sided Infinite to which there are and must be many ways of approach; but yet the broad lines are the same everywhere and the intuitions, experiences, phenomena are the same in ages and countries far apart from each other and systems practiced quite independently from each other.... That would seem to show that there is something there identical, universal and presumably true -- however the colour of the translation may differ because of the difference of mental language." Ho!
If The Spiritual Ascent doesn't prove Aurobindo's point -- over and over and over again, with extraordinary specificity -- then there is no proof (at least for you, pal). For example, the reality of this "many-sided Infinite" is far more certain than the metaphysically rootless and intellectually sterile speculations of reductionistic Darwinism. Truly, only a deeply anti-intellectual person could possibly believe such nonsense, bearing in mind, as always, that we are referring to the intellect properly-so-called (i.e., the illuminated nous), not to the contemporary caricature of mere intellectualism, i.e., those whose lack of wisdom is only matched by their pomposity and bovine absence of curiosity.
Indeed, here is a fine quote by Plato that describes the essential problem with such people: "I must first know myself; to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous." This is manifestly true of the higher realms: "I say, no man knows God who knows not himself first" (Eckhart). "The high peak of knowledge is perfect self-knowledge" (Richard of Saint-Victor). "If a man knows himself, he shall know God" (Clement of Alexandria). "No one can be saved without self-knowledge" (St. Bernard). "Woof!" (another St. Bernard).
To turn this formulation around, what it means ipso facto is that the atheist does not know himself -- which is why, baseballically speaking, it is such an inadequate "stance," being that it starts on second base with no explanation of how it got -- or how human beings could possibly ever get -- to first. Any "philosopher" who tries to inform you about the nature of reality without first explaining the nature of the mind that may supposedly disclose the nature of reality, is simply talking through his ass. We know it. They never will.
In this regard, the naively reductionistic and self-refuting Darwinists probably bottom out the scale. For they have inverted the cosmic situation, precisely: "Thou believest thyself to be nothing, and yet it is in thee that the world resides" (Avicenna). To them, we say "Woof!"; for they are barking up the right tree, except that it is upside-down, so that they are howling at the wind-blown leaves and branches instead of the stable root. The cosmic caravan shall pass them by!
Lao Tse: "He who knows others is wise; He who knows himself is enlightened."
Yea, let us bobnoxiously add: he who knows neither is an idiot, properly-so-called (idiot being related to the Latin, "without possession of oneself").
And again, this is a special kind of knowledge, very much unlike the knowledge of mere material reality. For as Eckhart wrote, "In the case of God, being and knowing are identical." But on this point, Christianity converges with the Upanishads: "If there were no elements of being, there would be no elements of intelligence. Verily, if there were no elements of intelligence, there would be no elements of being." Sat-chit-ananda, or being-knowledge-bliss. That's what it's all about, baby.
Obviously, the cold-dead hand of abstract scientific knowledge extracts knowing from being (and life from Truth), which is precisely why it is always one or more steps removed from reality, or at least half-dead. Religion is about the "recovery of being" -- or of O -- and of real "knowledge of being," or what a Raccoon calls O-->(n). In this context, the following statement by Schuon is quite lucid: "If our 'being' must become 'knowing,'... our 'knowing' must become 'being'; if in place of 'existing' it is necessary to 'discern,' it is necessary, in place of 'thinking,' to 'realize.'"
Which is why a famous Jewish scholar approached the sage "not to learn Torah from him but to watch him tie his boot-laces." Why? Because the sage has become the Torah, so to speak, and radiates it from every pore. He is indeed "word made flesh," if one may put it thus. Petey, of course, wears no shoes. But if he did, know that they would be both fashionable and comfortable, sensible and stylish.
Perry makes an important point, that "Realization itself is not within reach of the volitive faculties, it being rather a matter of ripeness and maturity -- volition of course being presupposed." In other words you must give it all your effort -- body, mind, and soul -- while knowing full well that the discontinuous alchemical transformation cannot take place in the absence of grace, and that there is simply no common measure between the preluminary effort put forth and the light-filled gifts received. You might even say that the effort is one of the "first fruits" of the grace!
However, what is realized must then be integrated and assimilated. This is the ongoing conversion of knowledge to being, and vice versa, until the two are One. Might as well save that for tomorrow.
Combining Heavenly Know-How with Down to Earth Be-Who from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob
Picking up where we lifted off yesterday, how does one realize what one knows and integrate what one has experienced of the Divine? As I mentioned in the Coonifesto, it's easy enough to have spiritual experiences (!?), but how do we make them "stick," or transform them from transient states into stable traits, or (¶)?
It's easy. We don't. Nor could we ever do so, any more than we could build a tree or grow a carrot or bake a creative thought from scratch. Philalethes: "The whole process which we employ closely resembles that followed by Nature in the bowels of the earth, except that it is much shorter." Think of a baby that grows up into a normal civilized human being. In so doing, he is compressing 13.7 billion years of cosmic evolution into 20 or 30 years. But why stop at normality? Why not go "all the way?"
Really, all we can do is create the conditions, and then get out of the way of the same energies that turned dirt into Dostoyevsky or mud into Mozart or sh** into Shakespeare -- which is what "right living" is all about. It reminds me of when people "try" to get pregnant. Often it only happens after they've given up. I've even heard it said that it's not uncommon for people to adopt a child, thinking they'll never get pregnant, only to become pregnant once they've given up hope.
I can't tell you how hopeless I am. No (temporal) ambition at all. No hope that things will ever change. No glorious ideas of a better future. Besides, now that everyone is famous, anonymity is the new celebrity. It's enough that I'm famous in the tiny Coonosphere. Anything beyond that would be infamy. "Let not him who desires this knowledge for the purpose of procuring wealth and pleasure think that he will ever attain to it" (The Sophic Hydrolith). I only ask: be it thy will that we be kept still knowing and loving thee, and that we may never fall away from this blest way of life (Hermes).
In my utterly hopeless condition, I try only to burrow more deeply into the present, and again, let the rest take care of the rust. Call it blind I AMbition. Let the dead bury the dead, and let the unborn.... let them do whatever they need to do to become born, but certainly don't abort them or feed them steroids. I don't put them on a timetable. They'll arrive at their own pace, so long as I take care of my deportment, which is to fertilize the present. In fact, Christian hope paradoxically arises specifically from a kind of liberating hopelessness about this world. To place your hope in the world is to misplace it. Thus the intrinsically luciferian nature of the Obama phenomenon (luciferian is not necessarily satanic; it is more the perversion of light, as opposed to its absence).
I live very simply, because a complicated life begins to place barriers between yourself and human reality, or your feet and the ground. At the moment, I'm reviewing the section in The Spiritual Ascent entitled Integration, and it has many helpful pointers along these lines. Again, you will find that the insights are universal and that they apply to all traditions, since each tradition is "composed" of Truth as such. Being that they are Timelessly True, they are as invariant vis-a-vis the human realm as the Platonic truths of mathematics are with regard to the physical plane.
For example, Hujwiri tells us from across the centuries that "the Sufi is he whose thought keeps pace with his foot, i.e., he is entirely present: his soul is where his body is, and his body is where his soul is, and his soul is where his foot is, and his foot is where his soul is. This is the sign of presence without absence."
Like so many passages in this book, this is the whole teaching boiled down to a single phrase. You could identify any number of biblical passages that say the same thing in a slightly different way, and I'm sure Nomo will. But let's stand back and look at the big picture: what is the whole point of Christianity? It is that God took on mankind, that the Ultimate Principle, the Absolute, is present here in the human flesh.
But it's one thing to "know" this, something else entirely to realize it. This is why the saints are so important, for they are the realization, or earthly fulfillment, of the doctrine. In turn, this is why we learn more from them by "watching them tie their boot-laces" than from their words per se; or, bear in mind that their communications will always consist of "words and music," and that one must have an ear attuned to the latter to gain the full benefit from the former. Or, put it this way: the truth can be told in such a way as to become a lie, due to the unworthiness of the container. Again, the dreadful Deepak Chopra comes to mind.
By the way, one reason I was attracted to Sri Aurobindo was that his philosophy is very much this worldly. Enlightenment must not only take place in the body, but it must transform the body, i.e., recalcitrant matter, which is "resistant" to being spiritualized, so to speak. Again, think of how easy it is to have a spiritual experience "above" the body. But when you come back down, you're left with the same unreformed physical being, i.e., certain dense and mindless patterns that seem "opaque" to the light.
It's much, much more challenging to just be a regular guy in this world, and to sharpen your realization against the rocks of adversity. This is why I never trust "professional gurus" who not only don't have a real job, but are very likely unemployable due to the extent of their cosmic narcissism. Jesus was a carpenter. He worked with his hands and with natural materials. If you meet the Buddha on the road, first take a look at his hands. If you don't see callouses, or at least some dirt under the fingernails -- worse yet, if you see a manicure -- walk away.
This is why it was so easy for me to see the parallels between Aurobindo and Christianity, because in a way, Aurobindo is Vedanta with a Christian twist, while esoteric Christianity is a sort of "Christian yoga." In both cases, the focus is again on embodiment. The point is not to "escape" this embodiment, but to incarnate fully. Our incarnation is God's.... I don't know what the word would be, but it is analogous to saying that our inspiration is his expiration. God exwholes into us, we inwhole God, and this is how we oxidize the blood that courses through the arteries of the cosmos. Real Men take their realization into marriage, into child rearing, into work, into the constant battle that is this world. The world is a test that never ends. Like Michael Jordan, God puts his shorts on one leg at a time, despite his incredible vertical leap.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Here again, there is the upper vertical and the lower vertical, the celestial and the terrestrial, spirit and body, heaven and earth. It's easy enough for God's will to be done "above," where it is done "automatically," so to speak. The trick is how we allow it to be done in the herebelow, for there are many layers of influence between the top and bottom. Again, it's more a matter of getting out of the way, isn't it? Benjamin Whichcote: "Our Conversation is in Heaven, according to the Measure and Degree of our present State and Condition.... When we set ourselves to do the Will of God here, then Heaven is come down into the World..."
We mustn't wait until we are dead. Meister Eckhart: "This may well happen while the soul is in the body. I say more: while yet in the body a soul may reach oblivion of its travail not to remember it again." In other words, there can be a kind of egobliteration and "resurrection" in this life, or at least its "first fruits." For any transcendence is evidence of all transcendence, which is to say transcendence of all -- which is another way of saying resurrection, or at least rebirth.
William Law: "What could man have to do with the perfection of God as the rule of his life, unless the truth and reality of the divine nature was in him?" The Russian Pilgrim: "It is possible for man to get back to that primitive contemplative state in which he issued from the hands of his Creator." Why? Because you weren't issued in the past; rather, you are issued afresh each moment. You know, make your resurrections in advance, and don't forget your peaceport.... De-part and bewholed like in them seers' dialogues of old, then aim your eros for the heart of the world!
Hakuin goes even further -- it's not only senseless to wait until death for the tome of your life, but it is the most culpable negligence. It's a kind of philosophical malpractice. It's worse than a crime, it is a cosmic blunder.
Nope. "He that beholds the sun of righteousness arising upon the horizon of his soul with healing in its wings, and chasing away all that misty darkness" -- such a regular feller cares not "to pry into heaven's secrets, and to search the hidden rolls of eternity, there to see the whole plot of his salvation; for he views it transacted upon the inward stage of his own soul, and reflecting upon himself, he may behold a heaven opened from within, and a throne set up in his soul, and an almighty Saviour sitting upon it, and reigning within him.... It is not an airy speculation of heaven as a thing to come that can satisfy his hungry desires, but the real possession of it even in this life" (John Smith the Platonist).
Amen for a child's job! (And vice versa.)