Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Whose thoughts are they, anyway?

I ended the last post with the famous quote from Isaiah (55:8)

"For your thoughts are not my thoughts, and your ways are not my ways, saith the Lord."

This subject has been much on my mind of late. Our entire construction of life -- everything we think, everything we conceive of, everything we can think but haven't thought yet-- is completely rooted in this level. We are fundamentally unable to think or conceive on the level above us. Yet we stubbornly insist, in both the most flagrant and the subtlest ways imaginable, on believing that somehow there can be a point at which we manage to drag a higher level down to us, dissect it, and understand it.

The intellect is obsessive in this belief that this ability is available. The only thing that can ever destroy this belief -- this illusion, for illusion it is -- is a moment when a man or woman is touched by something that is truly higher.

Lifetimes go by without that experience. Our condition is so deteriorated, our contact with a higher level so ephemeral and fugitive, that it assumes the proportions of mythology, thus unintentionally feeding all the illusions about it. Perversely, the issue is not that God created man in his own image -- it's that man wants to create God in man's own image.

I have used principles of science on many occasions to illustrate spiritual truths, because they bear a close relationship to one another, despite the intense denial of the scientific community on this issue. Most frequently, when discussing levels, I cite the principle of emergence, which is such an important -- yet poorly understood -- feature of the universe that Robert M. Hazen cited it as the "missing law" in the very first chapter of his book "Genesis: the scientific quest for life's origins."

Because higher consciousness is an emergent property that arises from the collective behavior of lower levels, we can't understand it any more than an individual ant-- who acts according to a strictly limited, totally mechanistic set of behaviors -- can understand the way that his hive functions at a much more sophisticated level than he is able to as an individual.

The author of "The Cloud of Unknowing" knew this principle quite exactly, even though they would not have expressed it this way. There will always be a veil drawn between us and higher levels. If something of a higher level manifests, what "I am" now -- this collection of associations -- is subsumed, or replaced, by something of another order.

We are deeply mired in both the thought process of this level, and the material limitations imposed by the emergent property of consciousness. So Isaiah, a text written well over 2000 years ago, stated the situation quite correctly.

Knowing, as we do, that despite all this it is still possible for a man to be touched by a higher level of truth, we are left the question of how it is possible. How can we become available to the possibility?

Everyone's got a methodology, don't they? Mme. DeSalzmann told us to be present to ourselves and have attention. Hatha yogis recommend a variety of postures. Christians and Muslims pray a lot, when they are not busy killing each other. Buddhists have a complex lexicon of behaviors designed to provoke enlightenment.

It's kind of like the American health food and vitamin business. If you ate all the health foods and took all the vitamins that various claimants say are necessary for good health, there would be no room left for normal food, and you would almost certainly die of the cure.

We couldn't possibly consume and implement all the competing methodologies for religious awakening and/or enlightenment (or liberation, or whatever you want to call it.) The smorgasbord is overloaded. What's more, no matter how carefully individuals follow these myriad approaches, very few people end up where the methods say they will, and everyone argues about it. Krishnamurti said yoga wouldn't do anything to help a man attain consciousness; Catholics say people who aren't Catholic will all go to hell; Baptists say the same thing about other Baptists. Zen Master Dogen railed against alternate Buddhist philosophies.

Here we are, in other words, on this level, surrounded, as usual, by confusion. We are packed full of thoughts and theories -- almost all the thoughts and theories of other people. So packed full, in fact, of these thoughts and theories that having our own thoughts and theories is nearly impossible. If a man -- for example, Einstein -- comes along with something truly original, everyone is astonished.

Damn! How did he do that?

What I'm getting at here in this critique of presumed methodology is that higher levels don't do what we think they will. They don't act the way we expect them to act; they don't behave the way we want them to behave.

They do what they do.

Skepticism will do us no good; neither will blind faith. Higher levels don't operate according to the rules we are able to perceive. As Mme. DeSalzmann said once in Ravi Ravindra's presence, "There are no miracles. There is only a play of forces."

The tricky part here is that that play of forces lies behind a veil which we are not fully equipped to penetrate. Individuals who get a glimpse behind it race back with all kinds of reports, accurate or inaccurate, about how it works, what it is, how to peel back the veil yourself, and so on. The only spiritual teacher I am aware of who warned us not to get suckered by this kind of thing was Mr. Gurdjieff.

"Verify everything yourself," he advised.

Even in this work, in other words, things may not work the way you are told or the ways you expect them to.

Be prepared for it-- and question everything.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

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