Recognizing and Honoring the Light of Awareness

Quoting from chapter two of Waking Up, by Sam Harris:

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).

These extraordinary statements by Sam Harris (however qualified by him elsewhere) point to a line of demarcation between two fundamentally different orientations towards humanity and our place in the universe–namely, the line separating those who do not acknowledge the hard problem of consciousness from those who do.  On the one hand are those physicalists who see time, space, matter, and energy as primary– and who are quick to dismiss consciousness as an epiphenomenon (if not  eliminating it entirely–ostensibly as some kind of illusion); and on the other hand are various and sundry points of view advocated by those who continue to recognize the qualitative aspect of reality as equally (if not more) important to that which can be objectively measured and quantified under the umbrella of the natural sciences.  In Waking Up, Sam Harris does acknowledge this problem and, despite certain misgivings, decides to employ such terms as spiritual, mystical, contemplative, and transcendent “without further apology”(7).

For the physicalist, reality is reduced to natural history and cosmology as it is observed and deduced to be unfolding in time– horizontally, as it were –based exclusively on that which seems empirically verifiable.  From this point of view, the meaning and purpose of human existence, if not denied entirely, is limited to the degree of satisfaction that we experience, over time, as we pursue any number of finite goals–be they passing pleasures or (relatively speaking) more enduring projects.   For the non-physicalist, on the other hand (i.e. any point of view that acknowledges the hard problem of consciousness) reality retains an element of transcendence, together with the potential, at least, for a kind of vertical realization which recognizes and honors the light of awareness and realizes the dignity of Being as an end in itself.  [Note: It has been brought to my attention that some physicalists do acknowledge the hard problem and that Sam Harris may fall into this category (look for type-B materialists in this article by David Chalmers). This does not effect the general point I am making about the relevance of this problem to our consideration of the light of awareness and the dignity of Being.]

vertical and horizontal6
As I see it, the naturalistic world of the physicalist– unfolding, as it does, merely on the horizontal plane –is a misleading representation which offers only a limited and (ultimately) impoverished view of reality (i.e. it merely documents the way in which reality appears to unfold from the standpoint of our analytic minds and our ego’s instrumental use of reason).  The real world, on the other hand (i.e. the qualitative world which is acknowledged by a wide variety of other, non-physicalistic perspectives) retains a vertical aspect which reflects the timeless truth of transcendental awareness– an aspect of reality that may also be referred to as Reason or Spirit (in the  broadest sense of the Word ) –and which somehow transcends the unfolding of empirical subjects and objects in space and time.  This vertical dimension of reality is, as I see it, prior to (and a condition for the possibility of) the horizontal.  Nevertheless, we are quite naturally tempted to mistake the horizontal dimension for the whole of reality and thereby to neglect that which has been variously referred to (by  Boris Mouravieff, for example) as the Real Present and (by Paul Tillich and others) as the Eternal NOW.   While most readers will have heard of Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, the Quaker author Thomas Kelly wrote in much the same vein two generations earlier:

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”)

And without implying any endorsement of his overall philosophy, it seems to me that another facet of this richer, more comprehensive point of view is very adequately formulated by Rudolf Steiner as follows–namely, that there is, in transcendental awareness, a deep and very profound intelligence in which we participate:

steiner animation“…thinking must never be regarded as merely a subjective activity. Thinking lies beyond subject and object. It produces these two concepts just as it produces all others. When, therefore, I, as thinking subject, refer a concept to an object, we must not regard this reference as something purely subjective. It is not the subject that makes the reference, but thinking. The subject does not think because it is a subject; rather it appears to itself as a subject because it can think. The activity exercised by thinking beings is thus not merely subjective. Rather is it something neither subjective nor objective, that transcends both these concepts. I ought never to say that my individual subject thinks, but much more that my individual subject lives by the grace of thinking“ (from “The Philosophy of Freedom”).

To be sure, the empirical subject seems real enough in its own right and it is not surprising that we misunderstand ourselves to be separate individuals who exist over against one another in a physical environment which is continuously changing over time–an environment, nonetheless, which we imagine to exist in an entirely “objective” way (i.e. whether or not it is illumined by any living intelligence).

It is no secret, however, that when this point of view is taken to its logical conclusion, our existence appears utterly absurd and the entire drama appears to be unfolding with no ultimate end in view.  But this apparent meaninglessness and purposelessness only obtains if (and for as long as) we imagine that there are subjects and objects which exist apart from the thinking which transcends them and that the truth and being of our existence (in the hypothetical absence of such thinking) is coextensive with the duration of our apparent bodies.  In fact, no such “objective” existence can be demonstrated and our real truth and being is not to be found apart from the transcendental awareness which is prior to the unfolding of these apparent bodies in space and time.  But for those who have yet to recognize and honor the light of the awareness, as such, and who, as a result, are tempted to doubt that such thinking exists, the hard problem of consciousness endures and will continue to provide a much needed clue.  As Sam Harris put it, “The fact that the universe is illuminated where you stand . . . is a mystery, exceeded only by the mystery that there should be something rather than nothing in the first place” (76).

Leaving aside the question of what it might mean for anything to be “in the first place” (i.e. apart from consciousness), this is indeed a thought provoking mystery–which brings to mind a famous line of Heidegger’s:

“The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking.”
~ Martin Heidegger, “What is Called Thinking?”

Keeping in mind that I don’t really claim to understand Heidegger, I nevertheless find many of his observations in What is Called Thinking? very powerful and very suggestive of the kind of ontological comportment that I am pointing to.  Heidegger continues:

what is called thinking”The reason [we are still not thinking] is that this most thought-provoking thing turns away from us, in fact has long since turned away from man.”

“Once we are so related and drawn to what withdraws, we are drawing into what withdraws, into the enigmatic and therefore mutable nearness of its appeal.  Whenever man is properly drawing that way, he is thinking….  All through his life and right into his death, Socrates did nothing else than place himself into this draft, this current, and maintain himself in it. This is why he is the purest thinker of the West.”

NOTE:  This very special thinking which transcends the empirical ego (together with its subject/object relationships) must not be confused with the discursive thought of the intellectual– nor, by any means, with the kind of rational calculation or instrumental reasoning utilized by the egoic mind in its own self defense or in the imaginative pursuit of personal happiness –but must be seen to involve the spacious awareness and alert stillness which provides the (nondual) background for any and all such foreground (dualistic) cogitations.  For after all is said and done, it is this transcendental thinking (construed as an end in itself) which constitutes the real meaning and purpose of our existence–and it is in this light that our most authentic temporal pursuits derive their meaning, as well.  As such, the egoic mind is somewhat analogous to the Moon which appears to us (at first) to be luminous in its  own right, but which (as we later realize) is only shining by virtue of the Sun which it reflects.  Likewise, as the Rudolf Steiner quote indicates, our individual subjects live by the grace of thinking which transcends them.  As such, it is only by recognizing and honoring the light of awareness that we enjoy the dignity of Being that is our birthright.  By taking up our cross and placing ourselves in that draft, we simultaneously enter the kingdom and know eternal life . . . HERE and NOW . . .

moon and sun

“For you who revere my name, the Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2).

“When around one everything has become silent, solemn as a clear, starlit night, when the soul comes to be alone in the whole world, then before one there appears, not an extraordinary human being, but the eternal power itself, then the heavens seem to open, and the I chooses itself or, more correctly, receives itself.  Then the soul has seen the highest, which no mortal eye can see and which can never be forgotten; then the personality receives the accolade of knighthood that ennobles it for an eternity.  He does not become someone other than he was before, but he becomes himself.  The consciousness integrates, and he is himself.  Just as an heir, even if he were heir to the treasures of the whole world, does not possess them before he has come of age, so the richest personality is nothing before he has chosen himself, for the greatness is not to be this or that but to be oneself . . . (Kierkegaard, “Either/Or”, Vol. II, 177).

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I Am the Resurrection and the Life

“Awake you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light” (Ephesians 5:14).

NTWrightFrom time to time over the last couple of years, I have enjoyed reading and listening to N.T. Wright–a New Testament theologian who is admittedly brilliant and from whom I have learned a great deal.  But I wonder sometimes whether he and some of his most loyal readers are being a bit too easy on themselves when they seem to insist that the only plausible explanation for the historical events that followed Jesus’ purported resurrection is that– following his crucifixion –he must in fact have walked out of an empty tomb (more or less as reported) and physically appeared to his disciples before finally ascending to the Father.

For my part, I cannot demonstrate that this didn’t happen–that, rather, Jesus’ body did go back to dust like every other body that we have any experience of –nor, for that matter, do I really wish to.  Indeed, I do not deny for a moment that he lives–quite the opposite!  But there is something not quite right about an understanding that brooks no opposition — often insisting, as they do, “that if Christ be not raised, [our] faith is in vain” (as if this requires an empty tomb) — especially when we consider Paul’s remarks concerning resurrection, in general, that we “do not sow the body that shall be” but that “it is raised a spiritual body” (I Corinthians 15:17, 37, 44).  Just what, after all, is the point of continuity between the new life and the old that requires the physical transformation of these earthen vessels once the life has been snuffed out of them?  And while one can certainly argue that something of the sort is implied in Paul’s writings, is it not strange that he seems to have no knowledge of the women at the tomb and other rather important details found in the Easter narratives?  Indeed, one can only laugh at the outrageous suggestion that he would intentionally “air-brush” the women out of the story (as has been suggested by Wright and/or some of his followers).

But regarding these purported events of 2000 years ago, many of Wright’s readers– diligently following their leader –often dismiss alternative theories out of hand, depending a priori on the presumed cogency of Wright’s energetic assertions that only a literal, bodily resurrection (complete with an empty tomb and postmortem, physical appearances) can adequately account for the transformation of the disciples and the growth of the early church (as if the belief in his resurrection, whatever the details, would not have had a similarly profound effect– with or without the historicity of the Easter narratives –provided that this belief was also accompanied by the REALITY that is the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit).  Indeed, it seems to me that, together, these latter factors are more than sufficient to account for both the transformation of the disciples, the growth of the early church, and the evolution of the Easter narratives themselves–and that (apart from any dogmatic professions of faith) some such scenario is much more plausible than the rather narrow range of options that N.T. Wright would have us consider.  One need not imagine that all of the early disciples experienced the presence of their risen Lord in precisely the same way for the legends of the empty tomb and the physical, postmortem appearances to arise therefrom.  And once the ball got rolling, it would have been difficult for any of the faithful to discourage the process even if they were so inclined.

In addition, it is worth noting (for future reference, perhaps, as we continue to study N.T. Wright’s admittedly brilliant and valuable body of work) that the real growth in the early church took place among gentiles–not among Jews.  As such, however much Jewish culture and categories may have influenced the initial Christian message and the way in which it was initially understood by the first Jewish believers, we must keep in mind that the Jews by and large rejected that message and that Greek and Roman categories most certainly (and rather significantly) influenced its reception among the gentiles–and very quickly began to influence its further theological development, as well (all of which is just to say that the emphasis on the essentially Jewish roots of the Christian gospel is not the only thing to consider as we attempt to understand its reception and rapid promulgation throughout the Roman world).

he-livesSo what’s my point?  If I am not trying to disabuse people of their belief in a literal, historical (“bodily”) resurrection (complete with “empty tomb” and subsequent “ascension”) — and I’m not, assuming it is an honestly held belief — why am I writing this?  My intention, I assure you, is merely to illustrate that, from the beginning, the resurrection was often spoken of in metaphorical, symbolic, and Spiritual terms– as well as literal, historical, and bodily terms –and that to be honestly skeptical of the latter, does not prevent one from experiencing the Spiritual REALITY that is also expressed in terms of the former.   As the old song says, you ask me how I know he lives . . . he lives within my heart . . .

So in the final analysis, it seems to me that we should teach the historical narrative without apology, while at the same time taking care not to discount the possibility that those who are skeptical of its historicity may nonetheless come to a saving knowledge of the truth–i.e., that they may come, indeed, to know the living Christ; the One who IS before Abraham was; the One who IS the resurrection and the life; the One who, as such, must be sought among the living and not among the dead:

Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:56-58).

Have you not read what was said to you by God, “I Am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32).

“I Am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

Indeed, let us acknowledge that while the historical narrative preserves the gospel in symbolic form, it is the living Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Lifethe alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end — whether or not the body of Jesus of Nazareth went back to dust sooner or later (like the body of John the Baptist, say–or that of Lazarus); or whether in fact it did not go back to dust at all (as traditionally imagined).  For if we can allow for just a bit of ambiguity in this regard, we will not only find ourselves ministering to a larger pool of potential disciples of Christ (including many who currently think of themselves as atheists or agnostics), we will simultaneously gain a great deal of sympathy and support for the teaching of the historical narrative, as well–even among those who remain honestly skeptical.  Christ is Risen! Glory be to God for all things!  Sounds like a win, win proposition to me!

–> Christian Vision

pascal

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The Light upon the Candlestick

Over the years, I have found myself returning again and again to Spinoza.  And, over the years, I have also felt considerable resonance with various strains of Quaker thought.  While  I have long been aware that there is a connection between the two, I recently learned more about that connection when I discovered this document at the Quaker Universalist Fellowship:

THE LIGHT UPON THE CANDLESTICK

You can scroll through the entire pamphlet on this page, or you can jump to the various sections, or view a facsimile of the original title page, by clicking the links below.

A google search will turn up lots of additional information about Spinoza and the Quakers, including a very interesting chapter in this book:

The Third Force in Seventeenth Century Thought, by Richard Henry Popkin:

third force foreshortenedIn the process of exploring The Light upon the Candlestick and other pages at UniversalistFriends.Org, I noticed a request for submissions pertaining the paradoxes of Christian universalism and decided to alert them to some of the material at Yeshua21.Com.   After exploring several Yeshua.21 articles, they offered to feature extensive excerpts from The Universality of Christ and I cheerfully gave them permission to do so.  Many thanks to Mike Shell and our Quaker Universalist Friends for the good work that they are doing at UniversalistFriends.Org.

–> The Universality of Christ

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“The Cross” (Frithjof Schuon)

Quoting Frithjof Schuon:

gnosis“If the Incarnation has the significance of a “descent” of God, Christ is thus equivalent to the whole of creation, containing it in a way; he is a second creation, which purifies and “redeems” the first. He assumes with the cross the evil of Existence; to be able to assume this evil, it was necessary that God should become Existence. The cross is everywhere because creation is necessarily separated from God; Existence affirms itself and blossoms out through enjoyment, but enjoyment becomes sin to the extent that God is not its object, although all enjoyment contains a metaphysical excuse in the fact that it is directed to God by its existential nature; every sin is broken at the foot of the cross.  But man is not made solely of blind desire; he has received intelligence that he may know God; he must become conscious of the divine end in everything, and at the same time he must “take up the cross” and “offer the other cheek”, which means he must rise even above the internal logic of the existential prison; his logic, which is “foolishness” in the eyes of the world, must transcend the plane of this prison:  it must be “vertical” or celestial, not “horizontal” or earthly.

“Existence or “manifestation” has two aspects: the tree and the cross; the joyful tree, which bears the serpent, and the sorrowful cross, which bears the Word made flesh.  For the impious, Existence is a world of passion that man justifies by a philosophy “after the flesh”; for the elect, it is a world of trial transpierced by grace, faith, gnosis.  Jesus is not only the new Adam, but also the new Creation. The old is totality and circumference; the new, unicity and center.

* * *

“We can no more escape the cross than we can escape Existence. At the root of all that exists, there is the cross. The ego is a downward path that leads away from God; the cross is a halting of this path. If Existence is “something of God”, it is also something “which is not God”, and it is this that the ego embodies.  The cross brings the latter back to the former and in so doing permits us to vanquish Existence.

“What makes the problem of Existence so complex is that God shows through everywhere since nothing could exist outside Him; the whole object is never to be separated from this distant perception of the Divine.  And this is why enjoyment in the shadow of the cross is conceivable and even inevitable; to exist is to enjoy, even though at the foot of the cross.  This is where man must keep himself since such is the profound nature of things; man can violate this nature only in appearance.  Suffering and death are none other than the cross reappearing in the cosmic flesh; Existence is a rose signed with a cross.”

http://www.frithjof-schuon.com/ofthecross.htm

http://www.scribd.com/doc/61076828/Frithjof-Schuon-Gnosis-Divine-Wisdom-A-New-Translation-With-Selected-Letters

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Understanding ISIS

Apropos of Understanding Islam, this article on ISIS is also rather illuminating:

What ISIS Really Wants
“The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.” ~ Graeme Wood (The Atlantic, March 2015).

–> Understanding Islam

isis

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Understanding Islam

Note:  More about this video, below…

I consider myself a friend of all the worlds’ major religions, including Islam.  In addition to the evening news, my understanding of Islam has been mediated by the following:

  • My reading of the Quran, from cover to cover, in these two translations:
    • The Qur’an: A New Translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem
    • The Koran Interpreted: A Translation by A.J. Arberry

So while I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert on Islam, neither am I simply a beginner (though there is a sense in which I am, in all things, a perpetual beginner, but that’s another story).  Be that as it may, this week, my understanding of Islam was unexpectedly raised a notch or two by these videos of Sheikh Imran Nazar Hosein of Trinidad–the one posted above on Basirah (Islamic Spirituality) and the one posted below on Islam and Russia’s Tryst with Destiny.  These videos probably won’t change your general attitude toward Islam, but they will almost certainly increase your understanding thereof.  I highly recommend them.

Postscripts:

[2/16/15]  This article on ISIS is also rather illuminating:

What ISIS Really Wants
“The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.” ~ Graeme Wood (The Atlantic, March 2015).

[1/30/15]  In the event the imbedded videos, above, don’t work for any reason, here are the direct links:

Islam and Russia’s Tryst with Destiny by Sheikh Imran N. Hosein
http://vineyardsaker.blogspot.com/2014/12/islam-and-russias-tryst-with-destiny-by.html

[Sheikh Imran Nazar Hosein] Basirah : An introduction to Islamic Spirituality
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9yRbdMMmec&t=24m23s

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What is the “Good News” of the Gospel?

These thoughts came to mind this morning in the context of a discussion about what the gospeli.e. what the good news really is.  My two cents:

good newsMake no mistake–I love the old, old story and if I had children, I would be raising them in church and grounding their lives in the liturgical year (probably in an Anglican, Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox community).  But if and when the question arises, I would also acknowledge that if the good news is really dependent on our knowledge of (and faith in) the alleged historical events that are associated with the life of Jesus, as reported in the scriptures– i.e. his virgin birth, his ministry and miracles, his physical crucifixion, and his bodily resurrection/empty tomb —then the vast majority of human beings seem to be living and dying without the grace of God and without any point of access to the light of life.  As such, IMO, we must look deeper– deeper than Our Sunday School Theology –if we are to recognize the light of the world that Jesus says he is/we are/I Am!

In contrast to Our Sunday School Theology, however, if we understand the metaphorical and symbolic (or archetypical) significance of the story (apart from any overarching concern with its historicity), then we can also acknowledge that there is a light which lights everyone who comes into the world and that the grace of God has appeared to all men.   Indeed, it is from this point of view that we may truthfully say that whosoever will may come and drink of the water of life freely–and it is in this light that we can truly understand the tradition as an authentic revelation of God whether or not it is true in every (imagined) historical, prophetic, and/or metaphysical detail.

Gospel of Thomas 113  His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?” “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.”

Good news!     Let us take up our cross–the kingdom of heaven is at hand; within us; among  us (cf. Luke 9:23; Matthew 16:24-25; Matthew 3:2; Luke 17:20-21).

–>  What Do We Have To Lose?

death and resurrection

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