The Soul’s Choice

Towards a contemplative Christian faith and model of spiritual formation which acknowledges and circumvents the logical problems and moral hazards associated with the teaching of biblical inerrancy and eternal conscious torment:

  • We are of two minds:  1) The Empirical/Dualistic Mind, on the one hand, and 2) Transcendental/Nondual Awareness, on the other.
  • Within the confines of the empirical/dualistic mind, a conventional, egoic identity develops through which we experience life in alienation from God (SEPARATION/SIN/DEATH).
  • Transcending the confines of our conventional, egoic identity, however, we “put on Christ” and are reconciled to God in transcendental/nondual awareness (UNION/LOVE/LIFE).

While the empirical/dualistic/egoic mind rules our lives, we live in alienation from the true meaning and purpose of our existence. This is referred to traditionally as “the fall of man” and is attributed to our first parents (cf. Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 15:22 ).  The mind of fallen humanity is referred to in the Christian scriptures as “the carnal mind” or “the mind of the flesh” (cf. Romans 8:5-7).

Our empirical/dualistic minds represent the world “horizontally”–slicing and dicing it into spatiotemporal pieces that appear to relate to one another causally/deterministically.  This seems to give us (as “separate selves”) some measure of knowledge and control over our environment– so far, so good –but approaching the world exclusively in this way (SEPARATION), we live our lives in fear of death and in bondage to sin as we endeavor to evade our inevitable destruction (or somehow anesthetize ourselves to it) rather than facing it lucidly and soberly.  As such, we live in ignorance of our truth and being in Christ (UNION), the knowledge of which constitutes the true meaning and purpose of our existence which, alone, can liberate us from the bondage of sin and death as we, by grace, discover ourselves to be reconciled to God, to one another, and to the rest of creation (cf. II Corinthians 5:16-19).

Having “eaten of the tree of (dualistic) knowledge”, therefore, we can (in some respects) understand the “horizontal” relationships that obtain in time and space (“the cause IN appearances“, as Kant puts it).  But so doing, we tend to be oblivious to “the cause OF appearances” which can only be apprehended “vertically” (i.e. spiritually—cf. I Corinthians 2:14).  To repeat, our empirical/dualistic understanding gives us no access to our transcendental/nondual “ground” (i.e. the Divine intelligence, Logos, or mind of Christ).

Nevertheless, these two aspects of reality—the “horizontal” (empirical) and the “vertical” (transcendental) –constitute an integral whole that is, Christ-like, both human and Divine.  Recognizing and honoring both aspects of our lives, we can, on the one hand, trace our natural history and genealogy empirically (“that which is born of the flesh is flesh”), while at the same time realizing our intimate relationship to God transcendentally (“that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit”).  “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ ” (John 3:7).

Living in ignorance of the vertical aspect of our lives, however, our world seems out of joint, our lives absurd, and all our efforts ultimately in vain.  The good news, however, is that the kingdom of heaven is within us, among usat hand:

Luke 17:20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

“His disciples said to him: On what day will the kingdom come? It will not come while people watch for it; they will not say: Look, here it is, or: Look, there it is; but the kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and men do not see it” (Gospel of Thomas 113).

With this in mind, then—and as illustrated by the arrangement of images on the next page —let us take up our cross (Le Pendu), open our hearts to the abundant life of the Spirit (The Aces of Chalices and Batons), become like little children (Le Soleil), and enter into the kingdom NOW (Le Monde).

“The Now is no mere nodal point between the past and the future. It is the seat and region of the Divine Presence itself…. The Now contains all that is needed for the absolute satisfaction of our deepest cravings…. In the Now we are at home at last” (Thomas Kelly, “A Testament of Devotion”).

–> The  Divine Presence “I AM”

[Editor’s Note:  Click here for a “key” to the arrangement  of images, below…]

[Note: It goes without saying that this material has been inspired in large part by my study of our anonymous author’s Meditations on the TarotI am also indebted to Paul Nagy for his feedback on the arrangement of images.]
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A Thought Experiment

Note: This experiment was originally published as A Spiritual Exercise on Yeshua21.Com.

The Occipital LobeA Thought Experiment:  Imagine, if you will, your brain setting on the table in front of you, complete with the necessary blood supply, temperature control, and appropriate “wiring” running to your eyeballs (and connected in all respects to the various nervous systems of your body).  Now, ask yourself:  Where is the scene I am contemplating taking place? 

  • Is it taking place wherever you happen to be at the moment–in front of your computer, perhaps, somewhere on planet earth!?
  • Or is it being represented in the occipital lobe of your brain (that very brain which you see spread out on the table in front of you)?

Douglas Harding MapIf the answer is “in your brain” — where, really, is your brain?  And what is the ontological status of the external reality being represented before your very eyes?

But if the answer is, “out here–obviously” — who, really, are you? And how are you observing this spatiotemporal world?

To explore this question further, click on the image, to the left, or simply ask yourself, Who Am I ?

Editor’s Note:  This exercise was inspired, in part, by the video, The secret beyond matter: “The External World” Inside Our Brain (first 20 minutes).  To explore this idea further, from a scientific and philosophical perspective, see  The Primacy of Consciousness, by Peter Russell.   For more direct pointing, from a non-religious, non-sectarian point of view, consider The Headless Way (a method of self-enquiry pioneered by Douglas Harding).  And, if it interests you, you probably should take a peek at  C.S. Lewis’ preface to Douglas Harding’s magnum opus, The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth:  A New Diagram of Man in the Universe (London, 1952)

See also:  –> Two Arguments Against Physicalism

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Quaker Universalist Voice

Many thanks to The Quaker Universalist Voice for featuring one of my essays, Everyone is Needed!, in the Conversations section of their website.  Life Streams readers are encouraged to scoot on over there and check out all they have to offer! 🙂

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The Ten Thousand Things

[Editor’s Note:  The material below is taken from the current listing of Robert Saltzman‘s new book, The Ten Thousand Things, on Amazon.Com.]

Quoting Robert K. Hall:

When I imagine speaking to a person who for the first time opens the pages of this book, I think of telling that person something like this: “You are about to read an authentic and incredibly lucid account of what it is like to live in this world as an awakened being while simultaneously functioning as a personality with all of the usual habits and peculiarities of an individual self.” Robert’s way of describing his understanding of the human existence from the point of view of an awakened personality is a revelation. His book is a fresh look at the questions that occur to anyone who thinks deeply about these matters, questions about free will, self-determination, destiny, choice, and who are we anyway.

I believe this is a “breakthrough book.” Robert’s style of writing about such ephemeral and difficult subjects as awareness and consciousness is honest, concise, and accurate. His ability to describe his experiences of living in a reality quite different from conventional ways of thinking is brilliantly unusual. On first encountering Robert Saltzman’s work, I am reminded of the same feelings of discovery, delight and excitement that I remember from meeting Alan Watts’ “The Wisdom of Insecurity”, Krishnamurti’s “Freedom from the Known,” and Chögyam Trungpa’s “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.”

His clarity of mind shines brightly through every sentence in this book. His skill at making clear the most difficult ramifications and subtleties of awakened consciousness is so free of conventional cluttered thinking, so free of habitual phrases, so free of the taint of religious dogma and the conventional ways of speaking of such difficult matters, that this book stands out for me as an entirely fresh and illuminated exposition of awakened consciousness: an awakened understanding of what it is to be human.

~ Robert K. Hall

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Front Cover

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Back Cover

About the Author

In the midst of his career as an artist and photographer, Robert Saltzman experienced a sudden and profound awakening—a deep vision into the actual nature of “myself.” That abrupt change in point of view, along with a subsequent long illness and slow recovery, changed the course of his life. He left the art world, obtained a doctorate in Depth Psychology, and began his practice of psychotherapy, a work he describes as “days in a small room, face to face with pain and suffering.” As an adjunct to his therapy practice, Robert established a website, www-dr-robert.com that featured his replies to questions about psychology, consciousness, and ordinary problems of living such as relationships, personality disorders, sexuality, mental illness, death and dying, etc. That site became the most popular ask the psychologist webpage on the internet, and has welcomed over four million visitors. In 2012, Robert moved his question and answer work to a Facebook page where it continues to this day. The Ten Thousand Things is a book of words and images about awakening, consciousness, philosophy, and spirituality. Forty chapters–each beginning with a photograph–based upon Robert’s replies to questions posed to him on Facebook.

–>  See also:  Ask Dr. Robert . . .

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The Real Challenge for Christian Apologists

The real challenge for Christian Apologetics is, first of all, to get beyond the problem of evil (the lynchpin of which is to be found in the doctrine of eternal conscious torment–especially as it is thought to apply to those who have never heard the Christian gospel); and second, to get beyond the problem of the authority of scripture (the lynchpin of which is to be found in the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy–especially in the absence of a single, authoritative interpretation or hermeneutic).

fr-richard-rohrTo my knowledge (and based on my own experience) the only way to begin to move beyond these two problems is by exploring the idea of the perennial philosophy.  Fr. Richard Rohr offers a brief outline of this approach to the world’s wisdom traditions in the linked post, below.  A more complete understanding can be gleaned from the writings of Aldous Huxley, Frithjof Schuon, and Huston Smith (see also this YouTube lecture by James Cutsinger).

What is lost if one takes this approach seriously?   All that is lost is the extreme, dogmatic exclusivity that is so often attributed to Christianity by those who name the name of Christ (since, from the standpoint of the perennial philosophy, Christianity is one on-ramp among many to the universal Way of truth and life).

What is gained?  1) An understanding of– and compassion for –people of other faiths, and 2) a ready answer to those who question the truth of Christianity based, A) on the palpable injustice and absurdity involved (by any ordinary human standards) in the idea that those who were born under the curse of Adam’s sin and who have never heard the Christian gospel could or should suffer eternal conscious torment for not believing in Christ;  and B) on the incoherence and demonstrable falsity of the teaching of Biblical inerrancy (to anyone who is not fully invested in maintaining the illusion of the emperor’s new clothes).

We need not disparage the Bible (since it contains an infallible message for those who have ears to hear); nor need we be particularly interested in the study other faiths (since the Christian tradition, rightly understood, offers all we need); but we must reject the fear and ignorance that undergirds the aforementioned doctrines (and which cannot fail to manifest, sooner or later, as fanaticism and intolerance toward those who think or believe otherwise).   The idea of the perennial philosophy offers a good point of departure for those who are ready to exchange fear and fanaticism for a living faith in the living Word of God.

–>  Perennial Wisdom: Fr. Richard Rohr

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Did you ever have the feeling you were being watched!?

Many thanks to Facebook friend Robert Saltzman for sharing these lines from one of  Carlos Castaneda’s books together with the photograph, below (the tarot cards were my idea).

The thing to do when you are impatient is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you.

the-fool-being-watched-by-death

Death is a wise adviser that we have… One has to ask death’s advice and drop the cursed pettiness that belongs to men that live their lives as if death will never tap them!

If you do not think of your death, all your life will be just personal chaos!

~ don Juan / Carlos Castaneda

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Objet Trouvé, 2016 (Photo by Robert Saltzman)

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The Cause IN Appearances Vs. The Cause OF Appearances

This post is an elaboration of my comment on this article– The Open Universe  –which addresses the idea raised by some that the universe could be a computer simulation.

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Leaving aside the idea of a computer simulation, per se, the idea of a holographic universe is, in fact, being seriously entertained by top-notch physicists and woo-woo-wackos, alike (as this YouTube search demonstrates).  As I see it, however, this theory– if confirmed –would dovetail quite nicely with some form of philosophical idealism (e.g. Neoplatonism or some form of transcendental idealism a la Kant).

Indeed, it is with that in mind that I sometimes use the following (popular) presentation of the holographic hypothesis to show that the appearance of evolution (which seems, to me, to be undeniable) would, from the stand-point of a holographic universe, be true as phenomena (similar to the way in which the sun appears to rise and set) but not ultimately explanatory.  The video is from an episode of Nova:

“The illusion of third dimension : the universe as a hologram or holographic universe”

With regard to the relationship  between the earth and the sun, it is undeniable that the more precise, scientifically accurate observation is that the earth revolves around the sun.  Still, we acknowledge the geocentric  appearance — honor it, even — when we speak of “sunrises” and “sunsets” (even though we know it is not, strictly speaking, “the truth”  — or at least not the whole truth).   Likewise, it seems to me, I can reasonably acknowledge that my (apparent) body appears to be the result of evolutionary processes without conceding that “I” am the product of biological evolution, per se.  Evolutionary biology illuminates the natural history (or genealogy) of  the form that we see when we look in a mirror, to be sure–but it is crystal clear that there is more to us than meets the eye…

Nevertheless– even if we were to confirm that the spatio-temporal world is a holographic image that reflects some sort of transcendent intelligence/idea/datum –we could still point to (and speak of) the phenomena of biological evolution (as we currently understand it) as having taken place over the last several hundred million years, but we would also subordinate that phenomena to the more precise understanding that the real cause of these apparent processes transcends the flow of appearances in time and space (somewhat as we now subordinate our experience of the rising and the setting of the sun to our more precise understanding of the solar system).

[NOTE:  Immanuel Kant lays the groundwork for this distinction in his discussion of “The Fourth Antinomy” in his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics:

Thesis: In the Series of the World-Causes there is some necessary Being.

Antithesis: There is Nothing necessary in the World, but in this Series All is incidental.

He concludes the section as follows:

“…provided the cause in the appearance is distinguished from the cause of the appearance (so far as it can be thought as a thing in itself), both propositions are perfectly reconcilable: the one, that there is nowhere in the sensuous world a cause (according to similar laws of causality), whose existence is absolutely necessary; the other, that this world is nevertheless connected with a Necessary Being as its cause (but of another kind and according to another law). The incompatibility of these propositions entirely rests upon the mistake of extending what is valid merely of appearances to things in themselves, and in general confusing both in one concept.” ]

Leaving aside the holographic universe, however– along with Kant’s fourth antinomy –let us turn to the hard problem of consciousness which refers to the fact that we cannot seem to arrive at an understanding of consciousness through the analysis of matter and material processes alone.  Even Sam Harris– one of the so-called new atheists –acknowledges this problem in his recent work on spirituality without religion, Waking Up:

“However we propose to explain the emergence of consciousness—be it in biological, functional, computational, or any other terms—we have committed ourselves to this much: First there is a physical world, unconscious and seething with unperceived events; then, by virtue of some physical property or process, consciousness itself springs, or staggers, into being. This idea seems to me not merely strange but perfectly mysterious. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. When we linger over the details, however, this notion of emergence seems merely a placeholder for a miracle” (56).

“The fact that the universe is illuminated where you stand— that your thoughts and moods and sensations have a qualitative character in this moment —is a mystery, exceeded only by the mystery that there should be something rather than nothing in the first place” (79).

[Note:  See also my Two Arguments Against Physicalism.  One of those “two arguments”, BTW, is that it makes no sense to say that consciousness, as such, is selected for if it is reducible to physical structures and processes–and yet some scientists never tire of generating “just so” stories that explain why certain modes consciousness, as such, evolved.  Sam Harris and David Chalmers seem to agree…]

In short, even though our bodies appear to have evolved over time from non-human species, that does not account for consciousness as such–which, as I see it, is the gift of God (an inexplicable mystery).  In Christian terms, that which is born of the flesh is flesh (cf. those who understand themselves exclusively according to their natural history and/or genealogy and identify themselves exclusively with the form they see when they look in a mirror–and with their personal autobiography) while that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit (cf. those who participate in the life of Christ which is represented in terms of the virgin birth and incarnation–our eternal life from above).  As such, we are invited to be “put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit” — invited to take up our cross and enter the kingdom NOW.

Indeed, as Valentin Tomberg explains, the Divine image in which we are created is in-tact, but because we do not recognize and honor it, the Divine likeness has become disfigured and, thus, it is said that we “must be born again/from above” (i.e. we must become “The Hanged Man” — see Letter 12 of Meditations on the Tarot— see Letter 14 for the discussion of the Divine image and likeness).

–> Recognizing and Honoring the Light of Awareness

Christianity, Platonism, and the Tarot of Marseille

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