And rising up, he rebuked the wind, and said to the sea: Peace, be still. And the wind ceased: and there was made a great calm. – Mark iv: 39
And he asked him: What is thy name? And he saith to him: My name is Legion, for we are many. – Mark V: 9
But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil – Matthew v: 37
“Because virtue is boring and vice is disgusting. But that which lives at the foundation of the heart is neither boring nor disgusting”. – Unknown Friend
The garment that is our inner life looks strikingly like a patch-work quilt. Where the amalgamation of each of the different patterns and shades of cloth lend our life an overall appearance of shape and continuity. Upon closer inspection, however, it’s discontinuous nature betrays the initial impression. The entire ensemble, gaudy and ill-replete, betrays our latent possibilities. This patch-work, we are told, is the result of a mechanical process working away within ourselves.
Throughout the course of our daily lives we experience various shocks and disturbances: situations and circumstances which either challenge or further entrench our existing notions, habits, and securities. Over the particular course of our lives these shocks and disturbances slash and tear away at the inner garment. Given the nature of these shocks our internal response tends to be one of either avoidance or attraction. It is these actions – automatic and mechanical – that make up these various patches and shades of cloth.
We live in a constant state of patching things up.
The process of ‘patching things up’ is akin to a lie. A lie we perpetually tell ourselves. As Mouriavieff says, and I paraphrase, that if our positive and negative deeds and attributes were totaled their sum would be almost equal. As to their amount: infinitesimal. We are, when we lie to ourselves, morally bankrupt. Zero. Tending towards death.
And we lie to ourselves constantly. Why? Continuity. Given the legion of voices that live inside us at any one time: the little ‘I’s’ that constitute the various impulses, desires, justifications etc. Every man has recourse to three means of establishing and maintaining the veneer of shape and continuity that we have come to associate with our lives: our name, the memory of our experiences, and (of course) the lies we tell ourselves.
These lies typically occur as some form of rationalization which serves to mitigate the shocks and disturbances experienced, thereby perpetuating the mechanical response of ‘patching things up’ which in turn maintains the veneer of continuity. As the above passage from Saint Matthews Gospel alludes to, these justifications are typically comprised of two parts or movements: first, the acknowledgement (often superficial) of the shock experienced; then comes the rationalization, thereby placating the personality and rendering any chance of self-knowledge potentially gleamed within the first movement null and void. Or, put most simply: “Yes, but…”.
However, to begin to admit these lies and catch the process of rationalization signifies an awakening conscience. And to cease entirely: an awakened one. This should be our ideal; our practice.
August 5, 2018 Leave a comment
On Wisdom and Hierarchy:
The process of learning involves interpretation, and the fewer particulars we require in order to arrive at our generalization, the more apt pupils we are in the school of wisdom.
– Richard Weaver.
I find it all too easy to get bogged down and distracted in the minutiae of factoids and trivial pursuits. More so when such knowledge is tied to my sense of pride and self-worth. Sheer quantity can never be a substitute for quality; a dung heap is still a dung heap no matter how large.
Since subversive activity is the taking away of degree, it is logical that conservatives should treat as enemies all those who wish to abolish the sacred and secular grounds for distinctions among men. The proposal of the subverters is, however, impossible in practice, and the quarrel turns out to be over principles of selection. History thus far indicates that when the reformers get their turn, they merely substitute a bureaucratic hierarchy—and this because they discover that they do not wish society to collapse at all, but to continue under their conception of man’s good.
– Richard Weaver.
It appears, when all rhetorical flourish is swept aside, that men cannot bear being equal. One may also note that neither pride nor humility presuppose equality: to esteem oneself as being either better or worse then another is to instantiate difference. As Weaver has written, the battle lines are drawn over the principles of selection: the value-judgements and principles from which we make our distinctions. All things not been equal.
To reflect further on the above notion concerning hierarchy and equality, I believe it is prudent to quote here at length our Unknown Friend from his Meditations on the Tarot. Taken from the first letter concerning the Arcanum the Magician:
…all are fellow pupils and each is master of each in some respect – just as each is a pupil of each in some other respect. We cannot do better than to follow the example of St. Anthony the Great, who… subjected himself in all sincerity to the pious men whom he visited and made it his endeavour to learn for his own benefit just how each was superior to him in zeal and ascetic practice. He observed the graciousness of one, the earnestness at prayer in another; studied the even temper of one and the kindheartedness of another; fixed his attention on the vigils kept by one and on the studies pursued by another; admired one for his patient endurance, another for his fasting and sleeping on the ground; watched closely this man’s meekness and the forebearance shown by another; and in one and all alike he marked especially devotion to Christ and the love they had for one another. Having thus taken his fill, he would return to his own place of asceticism. Then he assimilated in himself what he had obtained from each and devoted all his energies to realizing in himself the virtues of all. (St. Athanasius, The Life of Saint Anthony, ch. 4; trsl. R. T. Meyer, Westminster, 1950, p.21)
On Love and Friendship:
I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharings which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation . . . .
– Rainer Maria Rilke.
Deep silence between friends, we are told, is the mark of true friendship. More so between lovers. To respect the dignity of an other, it seems, lies in ones ability to let others be as they are. To resist the urge, born of loneliness or worse, to impose oneself upon an other. The incessant flatterer in their seductive quest betrays, firstly, their own solitude, and consequently the dignity of the other. Grasping the low-hanging fruit is their perennial temptation and sin. In friendship and in love patient deliberation, not cunning, is key.
…and here below one meets only fellow pupils; and they recognise each other by the fact that they “love one another”.
– Unknown Friend
For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.
– Mathew xviii, 20.
Aelred of Rievaulx begins his reflections on friendship with an exclamation and succinct expression of the essence of spiritual friendship: “Here we are, you and I, and I hope a third, Christ, is in our midst”. For Aelred no true nor profitable friendship can exist which does not have its begining, continuation, and perfection in Christ.
Following Cicero’s De Amicitia – a work which had a profound influence upon the young Aelred – He continues by examining the foundations of what is typically called friendship: noting that friendships tend to flourish between those who share opinions, and aspirations, within a climate of mutual charity and benevolence. A harmony between individuals of affect and deed.
It is here that Aelred now draws our attention to the etymology of the latin word amicus (friend), which has its root in the word amor (love), and their relation to the word amicitia (friendship). For friends, we are told, are the guardians of love and of spirit. They are those who endure our defects, rejoice in our joys, and weep with our sorrows. The sweetness of true friendship having the duration of eternity.
For “effort in great things, is great itself”, we are reminded. And if true friendship has the duration of eternity the constant reorientation of our efforts and desires is necessary: “Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find”. This constancy of charity and benevolence, of affect and deed, in imitating Christ is loyal even unto death, as “greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.
Now Aelred brings us down from the lofty heights so as to offer counsel upon some of the more attenuated forms of friendship that bind man to one another. This is done so as to contrast them against spiritual friendship, bringing the latter into relief, thus rendering it more desirable.
The first of these attenuated forms is what Aelred has deemed carnal friendship. Where the bonds of men are established through the fetters of iniquity: “… a worldly existence… acting as partners in some form of vice”. The falsity of such a bond being all too apparent for Aelred, “for he that loves iniquity does not love, but hates his own soul”, and one who hates his own soul can never truly love the soul of another.
The second less noble form of friendship, as Aelred continues, is deemed worldly friendship, “which is born of a desire for temporal advantage or possessions”. The child of deceit and deception, it seeks only fortune and profit, lacking constancy and benevolence. Hence, we are told: “for there is a friend for his own occasion, and will not abide in the day of thy trouble”.
When compared to spiritual friendship, these bonds seem like the shifting winds of the sea, filling the sails of a ship homeward bound. Now blowing east, then west, they have little care for its course, direction, or the welfare of its crew. For true friendship, we are reminded, is born of mutual opinions and aspirations in a spirit of harmony, having its beginning, continuation, and perfection in Christ.
As any frequent reader of this blog may note, this current entry is a rehash of one past. Due to some personal circumstances reoccurring posts will be infrequent. I humbly ask for your prayers at this time.
August 16, 2015 Leave a comment
The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say: Behold here, or behold there. For lo, the kingdom of God is within you – Luke xvii 20-21.
The desire for certainty – and preceding that, knowledge – represents a perennial human need. Our minds seek understanding not only about ourselves as individuals, but also the world and the experiences we collectively inhabit. The accumulation and dispensation of knowledge, be it words written on a page, or represented through the use of mathematical symbols and formulae project an edifice of control over ourselves and the world, subsuming them under a guise of reason, rationality, endowing them with a relative degree of predictability.
The annals of mans intellectual history bear witness to the relative power of rationality and predictability, where our greatest minds have furnished our libraries with countless tomes on psychology and sociology, with the hope of laying bare the individual and communal soul of Man, and the ongoing speculations and explorations of mathematics and the so-called hard sciences, as they seek to explicate the soul of Nature. But this search for knowledge, and the technological power derived from its pursuit – regardless of the assumed nobility of this endeavour – rests upon the assumption that the truth of Man and Nature can, in the last question, be reduced to the predictability of a theory or formula; and that such an achievement is ultimately possible or even desirable.
The above thesis thus presents a problem for the aspiring Hermeticist. As knowledge of the truth of Man and Nature is precisely that which we seek, a crucial distinction therefore needs to be made regarding the nature, content, and purpose of such knowledge.
Our ordinary logic is a logic of retrospection – Henri Bergson
We make inferences based on concepts and ideas that we have previously encountered, and what our minds have already grasped. Novelty, if we accept the aforementioned as true, does not exist, to our ordinary minds, as that which is truly new; but rather as the product of compounding already existing concepts and ideas. Clarity, as the understanding of a seemingly new idea or concept, is simply an extension of the above logic. It occurs when the novel concept is juxtaposed with elementary ideas already grasped by the intellect. It is the arrangement of pre-existing concepts into seemingly new and increasingly complex orders of meaning. The act of understanding in some way entails a return to, and building upon, already “familiar ground”. Scientific and technological knowledge, therefore, are the children of abstraction and duration – the aggregates of time. Its purpose is to reduce the reality of the world, and living beings, to concepts and ideas.
That which is absolutely subjective must objectivise itself in consciousness and be accepted as true, then prove to be certain by its objective fruits… – Unknown Friend
To the Hermeticist, mysticism is the essential source and nature of all knowledge. Contrary to ordinary logic, it is the suspension of all pre-existing inferences, and concepts – not their product – where true knowledge begins. It is the spontaneous apprehension of reality. Gnosis furnishes the intellect with the content of such knowledge by reflecting the spontaneous experience of mysticism. Thus rendering the experience comprehendible – as opposed to the juxtaposition and arrangement of pre-existing concepts. This process could be likened to that of understanding. Where understanding is (and I paraphrase Boris Mouravieff): knowledge plus something imponderable. Magic, therefore, is the child of the Real and the Eternal. Its purpose is to bring that which is truly novel into the sensible world, working with, and in service of, life itself.
May 13, 2014 Leave a comment
Ideas, when entering the mind – even initially – presuppose some level of understanding. However, to completely grasp the meaning of such an idea, a greater understanding will necessarily entail examining the idea from several different viewpoints, thereby exploring it in greater dimensions. When applied to the spiritual life, and of spiritual realisation in particular, this gives rise to a plurality of dimensions and theoretical conceptions, and in the particular instance of religion, doctrinal expression.
The philosophical dimension in man, Schuon notes, has a tendency to absolutize these theoretical conceptions, or ‘mental schemes’; however, from the view of Spirit (the Absolute), these theoretical conceptions exist as mere representations. Like all speculative thought, though, these mental schemes, having some intimations of truth, may serve as ‘keys’ to opening up the soul to metaphysical thought, and knowledge; of course, given philosophy’s transitive nature, like all discourse, leaves it fundamentally limited in its apprehension of truth.
Dogmatism, it could be said, is the tendency to absolutize one particular conception, or mental scheme, at the expense of other conceptual forms. This, Schuon tells us, is characteristic of the religious point of view. Religious dogma, however, when understood in light of its inherent truth; where the particularities that give it form are acknowledged as simply that: particularities and theoretical frameworks embodying intimations of truth, are able to overcome the limitations imposed by the dogmatic tendency. This acknowledgement, Schuon informs us, is the beginning of all esoterism and metaphysical thought.
Schuon now demonstrates, by way of an analogy, the difference between the exoteric, and therefore dogmatic perspective, and the esoteric, or metaphysical perspective.
Suppose, for a moment, that the two points depicted on the circumference of this circle represent two seemingly contradictory statements, or theoretical positions. Where the dogmatic position, as necessitated by its very nature outlined above, isolates only one individual point, or perspective. And, taking this perspective as its primary and exclusice point of reference, it cannot admit the possibility of any congruity between these two positions. The esoteric, or metaphysical position, however, given its transcendent mode of Knowledge, allows the contradiction to stand, seeing their inherent unity along the circles greater circumference.
Limitations of Exoterism:
The primary concern of exoterism, as Schuon begins, is the individual over the entire “cycle of existence”, concerning both his terrestrial and spiritual life. Which is to say mans salvation. Given this concern towards the salvation of the individual, exoterism is, as we previously noted, limited.
Religious dogma has two aspects: 1) the outward, or exoteric; and 2) the inward, or esoteric; a limited form, manifested in a mental scheme or concept, and as an unlimited symbol, a kernel of Truth. An example of this, provided by Schuon, is the dogma surrounding the “Unicity of the Church of God”; which, existing as dogma, necessarily excludes the validity of other religious confessions. Because universality lacks comport with the goal of a particular individual’s salvation. Indeed, such a position may incite religious indifference. Symbolically, or metaphysically, however, the idea of religious universality exists, for example, in the dogma of the Mystical Body of Christ in Christianity, or the Chosen People of Judaism.
Dogma, insomuch as it confers upon an individual the means of his salvation, is supremely important; however limited (in relation to the Absolute or Truth) it may be. Of course, the dogmatic viewpoint must not be conflated with its functional aspect, or “spiritual means”. And, when taken in this light, allows one to move beyond the Form, to the Formless. Thus, Schuon identifies, the exoteric may serve two ‘functions’: 1) facilitating the aforementioned transposition, where the individual may pass from the Form to the Formless, 2) and as a means of regulating, or orientating an individual towards the spiritual life, and his own salvation.
Schuon now identifies another limitation of the exoteric aspect of religion. Namely, its dependence upon the esoteric core. By which, as our Unknown Friend has eluded to in the first and second of his letters, religion is vivified through mysticism and gnosis, or metaphysical knowledge. The descent and ‘unfolding’ of which, in time, giving birth to the foundations of dogma, theology, tradition, etc. Whence this esoteric aspect ceases to exists, literalism, sentimentality, and heresy tend to flourish.
November 1, 2013 Leave a comment