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.


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


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.


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 rotates on its axis as it 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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Gnosis and the Active Intellect in Aristotle

“This does not mean that at one time [the active intellect] thinks but at another time it does not think, but when separated [from the body] it is just exactly what it is, and this alone is deathless and everlasting (though we have no memory, because this sort of intellect is not acted upon, while the sort that is acted upon is destructible), and without this nothing thinks…” [paraphrased]
(Aristotle’s “On the Soul”, Book III, Chapter 5).

Below is an extended excerpt from the Wikipedia article on the active intellect in Aristotle which I have had occasion to refer to, of late, in various philosophical conversations.  Earlier, I posted excerpts on Facebook from both A.E. Taylor and John Herman Randall on this topic.  Readers may want to check out those links, before proceeding– and/or scroll down to read the excerpt from the aforementioned Wikipedia article –but, in any event, what immediately follows are my own (possibly unique) claims with reference to this admittedly obscure concept:

  • On the one hand, it does not seem likely that our “personality” (i.e. our conventional, egoic identity which is thoroughly entangled with multifarious physical, family, professional, and political relationships) survives the death of our body.  Rather, the “I”, in this sense, appears to be a social construct that arises after the birth of the human body and seems to be very much dependent on the body as a kind of biological substrate–and on complex systems of social conditioning and reinforcement.
  • On the other hand, this “I” to which we are so attached— this socially conditioned sense of self —often appears to be dead and gone prior to this body being declared legally dead!

As I see it, both of these appearances are consistent with the more general understanding in Aristotle that the various types of “soul” (e.g. nutritive, animal, rational) are a function of the various kinds of bodies that there are (for example: plants, animals, and humans, respectively–with the healthy human body being capable of functioning  on all three levels simultaneously). Thus, many if not all aspects of the rational human soul do seem to develop after the initial birth of the human body and might, indeed, be destroyed prior to the destruction of our animal or nutritive soul.

Now whether or not all this is ultimately the case, it certainly seems plausible, does it not?  Perhaps even probable…  Thus– even in the scriptures –it is written:

Ecclesiastes 3:18 I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals.19 For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity.20 All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21 Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?

Psalm 146:3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. 4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans [thoughts] perish.

  • However, consciousness as such— the cutting edge of qualitative awareness —does NOT appear to be the product of material processes.  That is, we cannot show why sentient experience, as such, should ever result from certain combinations of insentient matter; and since, in addition (if consciousness were reducible to physical processes), it would not (qua consciousness) add anything to the ability of a physical  organism to respond to its physical environment in the first place, it would never, as such, be “selected for” in any biological sense (see  Two Arguments Against Physicalism).
  • Furthermore, the deeper we look into “matter”, the less “material” it seems (and the more relevant the conscious observer appears to be to the actual form which material processes assume once the various “probability waves” finally collapse under the watchful eye of the observing subject — witness Schrodinger’s cat).  Thus:

“Whatever matter is, it is not made of matter.”
~ Prof. Hans-Peter Dürr
(often quoted by Peter Russell)

  • Moreover, while we can easily see that we could have no experience of “matter” whatsoever apart from consciousness,  we often perceive extended substances that we feel certain have no real existence apart from us  (at least not according to our better judgment, after the fact–e.g. in dreams, hallucinations, and optical illusions).
  • As such, I conclude that a certain primacy or priority must be given to “consciousness” or “mind”, as such — that is, to “BIG MIND” — in contrast to the various analytic operations of our “small minds”, along with their tendency to maintain a running mental commentary on all that transpires). While the latter operations (of our “small minds”) may, indeed, be correlated with neurophysiological states, consciousness as such (“BIG MIND”) would seem to be, in  principle, irreducible to physical processes.

Click to enlarge...Thus, in contrast to the many conundrums that physicalism gives rise to (more about which, below), it seems very intuitive to me to think that our “small minds” (our psyches) shine in the borrowed light of BIG MIND (Spirit, nous, or pneuma) analogous to the way in which the moon shines in the light of the SUN and that, ultimately, this Spiritual light is One though the lamps be many…

moon and sun

And rightly or wrongly, I am inclined  to associate this One light with Aristotle’s active intellect…

  • Thus, I say— consistent with the general form (at least) of Aristotle’s claim —that there is an aspect of our mind that is prior to and transcends the life of these apparent bodies.

Moreover, I further claim that:

  • The hard-problem of consciousness offers the first clue to this…
  • It is further confirmed by the undeniable incoherence of any reductive description of perception and cognition (as being merely the product of electro-chemical processes in our brains–see A Spiritual Exercise).
  • As such, while we can find correspondences between neurophysiological states and states of mind, to be sure– and we may rightly believe that those states of mind cannot survive the death of the body —we cannot coherently account for consciousness as such by appealing to physical processes (see short YouTube video of David Chalmers discussing this problem with Robert Lawrence Kuhn).

This is my considered opinion and I think it is roughly consistent with Aristotle’s idea that while the passive intellect does not survive the death of our body, there is a part of the mind that  “alone is deathless and everlasting . . . and without this nothing thinks” (see extended quote in the Wikipedia article, below).

Now, as I see it, all of the above offers a theoretical basis that accounts for the possibility of a kind of gnosis (or Spiritual realization) which is, in a sense, accessible to allwhich (underlined expression), it may be worth noting, sounds (phonetically) a lot like innocence accessible to all (note also the children playing in the light of The Sun in the image, above, but I digress)and so it is written:

“Whosoever will may come and drink of
the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

Moreover, as I see it, one portal to this kind of gnosis or Spiritual realization is captured in the following proposition:

 To recognize and honor the light of awareness is to know eternal life.

 what is awareness (1)
What IS Awareness? 
This is the stone that the builder rejected…  This is the alpha and omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end…

Thus it is written:

 John 1: 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right [power] to become children of God…

Please pardon the sudden proliferation of Christian scriptures—I do realize that we are not all Christians (either by birth or by choice).  But to be fair, the same thing can be found throughout the Hindu scriptures.

Consider, for example, the following text from the Upanishads which I enjoy sharing from time to time–this is probably more of a paraphrase (or even an interpretation) than a translation, but it communicates the point with crystal clarity:

“Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the individual self and the immortal Self are perched on the branches of the selfsame tree. The former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter, tasting of neither, calmly observes. The individual self, deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the divine Self, bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad. But when he recognizes the worshipful Lord as his own true Self, and beholds his glory, he grieves no more” (Mundaka Upanishad 3:1:1-2).

And a similar idea is found– at least in nascent form –in the Jewish scriptures:

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!” (Psalms 36:7-10).

“Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall live in your presence” (Psalms 140:13).

To recognize and honor the light of awareness, then, is to transcend the separate self.  Even atheist Sam Harris acknowledges this mystery:

“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”  ~ Sam Harris (Waking Up)

And philosopher Rudolf Steiner captures the possibility very nicely in these lines:

“…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“ ~ Rudof Steiner (“The Philosophy of Freedom”).

To repeat, Steiner writes:

My individual subject lives by the grace of thinking…  

The activity exercised by thinking beings is not merely subjective…

Do not these claims dovetail perfectly with the idea found in Aristotle of an active intellect apart from which nothing thinks? Most certainly they do.  Moreover, with regard to our earlier discussion, I would submit to you that it is a kind of confused intuition of the active intellect that gives rise to the hard-problem of consciousness in the first place.   

But far from being just a historical curiosity– or even a topic of debate in contemporary  philosophy of mind –this philosophical paradox can lead us to the very crux of the problem that so plagues the modern mind regarding the meaning and value of human existence.  And so doing, it can also initiate a more profound intuition or realization by virtue of which our existential angst and nihilistic despair are effectively resolved.  As indicated above, the essence of this realization (as I see it) is to be found in recognizing and honoring the light of awareness.  Thus we formulated the proposition:

 To recognize and honor the light of awareness is to know eternal life.

Martin Heidegger has suggested that “the most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking” (What Is Called Thinking).  I would suggest that one way of understanding this enigmatic pronouncement is that by and large, we– i.e. contemporary human beings –are, like Narcissus, enthralled by a reflection of ourselves.


Preoccupied in this way with a mere reflection– i.e. with our egoic minds, their running mental commentaries, and their merely instrumental use of reason –we do ourselves and the world a huge disservice insofar as we fail to see that in addition to being biological organisms and functioning members of a human societywe are (also) the light of the world:

Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

While the biological and the social aspects of our existence are not unimportant, we really live, as Steiner said, by the grace of thinking…  For, as Aristotle put it, without this nothing thinks…  This is obvious enough to those who recognize and honor the light of awareness:

“It is obvious enough when one looks at the sky,
That the sun is obscured when clouds pass by,
With this natural fact I’ll endeavour to show,
How the problems of life can diminish and go.
For problems arise when we take by mistake,
Changing scenes for our permanent state.
Within each of us shines a similar sun,
Dependent on nothing, beholden to none,
In all things sufficient, with freedom and bliss,
It’s there from our birth, and it’s what a man is.
Now that you may query, but look and you’ll find,
How your sun gets hid by the clouds of your mind.”

~ John Butler

“But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise,
with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2).

Please see the short excerpt from the Wikipeda article, below, to read the actual text concerning the active intellect from Book III of Aristotle’s De Anima.  See also A.E. Taylor and John Herman Randall.

–> Recognizing and Honoring the Light of Awareness

Quoting Wikipedia on The Active Intellect in Arisotle:

The idea is first encountered in Aristotle’s De Anima, Book III. Following is the translation of one of those passages (De Anima, Bk. III, ch. 5, 430a10-25) by Joe Sachs, with some notes about the Greek:[1]

…since in nature one thing is the material (hulē) for each kind (genos) (this is what is in potency all the particular things of that kind) but it is something else that is the causal and productive thing by which all of them are formed, as is the case with an art in relation to its material, it is necessary in the soul (psuchē) too that these distinct aspects be present;

the one sort is intellect (nous) by becoming all things, the other sort by forming all things, in the way an active condition (hexis) like light too makes the colors that are in potency be at work as colors (to phōs poiei ta dunamei onta chrōmata energeiai chrōmata).

This sort of intellect [which is like light in the way it makes potential things work as what they are] is separate, as well as being without attributes and unmixed, since it is by its thinghood a being-at-work, for what acts is always distinguished in stature above what is acted upon, as a governing source is above the material it works on.

Knowledge (epistēmē), in its being-at-work, is the same as the thing it knows, and while knowledge in potency comes first in time in any one knower, in the whole of things it does not take precedence even in time.

This does not mean that at one time it thinks but at another time it does not think, but when separated it is just exactly what it is, and this alone is deathless and everlasting (though we have no memory, because this sort of intellect is not acted upon, while the sort that is acted upon is destructible), and without this nothing thinks.

The passage tries to explain “how the human intellect passes from its original state, in which it does not think, to a subsequent state, in which it does.” He inferred that the energeia/dunamis distinction must also exist in the soul itself.[2] Aristotle says that the passive intellect receives the intelligible forms of things, but that the active intellect is required to make the potential knowledge into actual knowledge, in the same way that light makes potential colors into actual colors.

The passage is often read together with Metaphysics, Book XII, ch.7-10, where Aristotle also discusses the human mind and distinguishes between the active and passive intellects. In that passage Aristotle appears to equate the active intellect with the “unmoved mover” and God.

–> Wikipedia entry for Aristotle’s Active Intellect

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A Good Friday Meditation

Are we willing to acknowledge that the cross of Christ is our cross, too?

Are we not called to:

  • come and dietake up our cross? (Matthew 16:24)
  • drink that cup and be baptized with that baptism? (Mark 10:38; Matthew 20:22; John 18:11)
  • present our bodies a living sacrifice? (Romans 12:1)
  • give up our own priorities and submit to God’s will for our life? (Philippians 3:7-9; cf Luke 22:42).

Jesus says,

“Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it” (Luke 17:33).

And Paul writes,

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

As such, are we really honoring the passion of Christ– indeed, can we truly celebrate “the resurrection and the life” on Easter –if we do not also accept with thanksgiving his suffering and death in our own bodies?

–>  The Cross (Frithjof Schuon)

galatians 2 - 20 crucified with christ

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Salvation History or the Phenomenology of Spirit?

Part of the confusion we run into when discussing the sometimes conflicting claims of scripture and theology, on the one hand, and science and history, on the other, has to do with what (if anything) God intends to accomplish in and through natural and historical processes!?  Why would almighty God place so many souls at risk by introducing them into such a life–the outcome of which (for many of them, at least) would seem to be anything but good?  Not only do human beings undergo great suffering in this world–we are also told that our eternal well-being is somehow at stake; our immortal souls somehow hanging in the balance!  Is this not (simply on the face of it) incredible!?

Telos-600x445Is it really plausible (for example), that God is using the process of natural selection (in biology) to achieve some spatiotemporal end?  While this idea is defended by some advocates of “theistic evolution” (aka creation by natural selection), how seriously should we take such claims?

Would it not make more sense to say that God is (in a manner of speaking) creating the whole universe– in its entirety –at every instant and that every instant is, as such, an end in itself?  This is implicitly affirmed by Descartes, when he writes:

“…this is certain, and an opinion commonly received among theologians, that the action by which [God] now sustains [the world] is the same with that by which he originally created it…” (Discourse on Method, Part V)

But what was merely implicit in Descartes, was said very graphically and explicitly a few hundred years earlier, by Meister Eckhart:

“What does God do all day long? He gives birth. From the beginning of eternity, God lies on a maternity bed giving birth to all. God is creating this whole universe full and entire in this present moment.” ~ Meister Eckhart

“If anyone went on for a thousand years asking of life: ‘Why are you living?’ life, if it could answer, would only say, ‘I live so that I may live.’ That is because life lives out of its own ground and springs from its own source, and so it lives without asking why it is itself living. ”  ~ Meister Eckhart

Indeed, why should we not think of the flow of appearances as a kind of kaleidoscopic manifestation of an eternal Reality which IS as it IS?  That would account for the apparently “intelligent design” of the phenomenal world while, at the same time, making every moment of our lives an end it itself.  There would be no necessary ‘telos’ to phenomenal processes (as such) beyond that of motivating us to transcend the bonds that such limited (merely physical or historical) perspectives tends to impose upon us in the first place.

squared kaeidoscope cropped.pngFrom this standpoint, our most problematic experiences as empirical subjects become intelligible NOT ONLY IF (or insofar as) they are understood as the means to some biological or historical end, but also insofar as they encourage us to realize that we are not merely empirical subjects– that we are not merely biological entities with a natural history or genealogy; and that we are not merely socially conditioned members of society, either –but that we are in some sense “incarnations of God” who are (so to speak) “born of the Spirit” (or “born from above”) whether or not we fully realize it.

To be sure, Jesus exhorts Nicodemus to remember who he is by saying, “ye must be born again”–suggesting a fundamental transformation of sorts (John 3:7).  But is it not also said that we are chosen– indeed, createdin Christ . . . in and from the beginning? (cf. Ephesians 1:4; 2:10)   As such, are we not destined (by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit) to experience a moment of clarity in which we, like the prodigal son, remember our Father’s house and the very fundamental and irreversible relationship which that implies? (see Luke 15:11-32 and also The Hymn of the Pearl)

It is also worth noting that a corollary of this kind of realization (or remembrance) is that our lives, so lived (primarily oriented toward the very different center of gravity that is our Father’s house), also function to reflect the aforementioned “eternal Reality” (or heavenly kingdom) into this world– i.e. into our sphere of influence —if and insofar as we willingly participate in the life and passion of Christ with all that that entails.  Thus Jesus– while often suggesting that the kingdom of heaven is, in some sense, within and above us –also counsels us to pray to the Father:

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..” (Matthew 6:10).

So, as I see it, the revelation of God and the good news of the gospel is that we are not merely biological organisms (nor are we merely members of society), but we are, at the most fundamental level, spiritual beings who, created in the image of God, are Christlike; born of the Spirit– heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ —and that, as such, we not only share in the One Life, Divine, but we also participate in its ongoing revelation (if and insofar as we remember who we are).

But, alas, more often than not this good news seems to fall on deaf ears (human beings are so easily persuaded that they are merely discrete, physical entities — mere specks of dust, floating around in time and space — existing by sheer happen-stance).  Indeed–  reminiscent of Narcissus in Greek mythology  –we become inordinately enamored with our own reflections (our most superficial, physical appearance) and are thus in danger of living and dying (on that level) without knowing who we really are.


So given the superficiality of our “self-knowledge” and the deceptive nature of the “self-love” to which we are at first inclined, it is perhaps understandable that what is more accurately described as a kind of gnosis– e.g. a knowledge of the union that exists between the mind and the whole of nature, as Spinoza put it –has been more traditionally described (in mytho-poetic terms) as “a new creation” (conceived of as the end product of “salvation history” which is understood, in turn, to be an ongoing process in the wake of “Adam’s sin”).  As such, in light of this plan of salvation, the natural world and human history are understood as important elements of a much larger work that is imagined to be in progress.  Indeed, we, ourselves, are also understood as being in the process of becoming that which God desires for us:

  • atOne with our heavenly Father…
  • members one of another in the unity of the Spirit…
  • integrally related to the whole of creation which is, by extension, the body of Christ

In this way, that which we already are is portrayed (in an imaginal way) as something entirely new–something that is somehow being accomplished  (metaphysically and historically) through the virgin birth of Jesus, his physical death on the cross, and his subsequent (bodily) resurrection and ascension (together with his anticipated return).

salvation history creation ministries

And, indeed, it is undeniable that the life and passion of Jesus (as traditionally understood) has been the central revelation of God in the western world for nearly 2000 years.  But the essentially mytho-poetic character of this narrative (if not immediately obvious) is undeniably confirmed by the problem of evil–since, if we construe the traditional narrative(s) to be “literally” true (in any ordinary sense of the word), it results in a conception of God that falls far short of our theological ideal(s) of omniscience, omnipotence, and omni-benevolence and leaves us, instead, with a picture of God as a being who is rather limited, reactive, and subject to change (one, indeed, whose sense of goodness and justice is left very much in doubt).

The contours of this problem are reflected in a wide variety of less than satisfying (not quite coherent) teachings throughout the long history of quasi-mythical, quasi-metaphysical religious discourse.  We see it, for example, in:

  • gfbfgThe teaching of a fundamental dualism between good and evil that somehow becomes imbalanced (as taught by Zoroaster, Mani, et al )
  • The idea of an emergent breach that somehow came to mar the unalloyed light of Divine goodness and resulted, finally, in the creation of the so-called demiurge and other archons, together with all the horrors perpetrated by them (as taught by the so-called “Syrian” Gnostics)

But we see it just as clearly in:

  • God’s apparent inability to accomplish his ultimate ends apart from the collateral damage involving the sin, death, and ultimate damnation of a significant number of human and celestial beings (as taught by Christian orthodoxy).

Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that all such accounts are just so stories — particular, culturally conditioned modes of discourse that are tailor-made for our “fallen” (dualistic) minds; modes of discourse, in other words, which at their best function to wake us up (pointing beyond themselves– to the inscrutable, nondual truth of who we really are –while keeping our egos out of trouble in the meantime); but also modes of discourse which at their worst become just another ideology that conceals rather than reveals the truth–since they do not offer any ultimately coherent worldview or metaphysical system (as they so often purport to) but constitute, instead, just another  mental position to which the egoic mind can cling as it pursues its perpetual project of self-preservation (competing with other egos for a wide variety of limited resources; standing over-against the various inhospitable forces of nature; and laboring under the inexorable shadow of death which continuously dogs its trail).

Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that while the Reality of the Way, the Truth, and the Life can be realized in a unitive (intuitive) way, it cannot be grasp conceptually — at least not in a way that carries the force of demonstration for an egoic mind which is hyper-analytic and wholly self-absorbed.  Those who realize this Reality are those who take up their cross and (dying before they die) become like little children and who, as such, enter the kingdom of heaven NOW

pearl t.s.eliot

–>  Recognizing and Honoring the Light of Awareness

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Love Me Tender

In my Sympathetic Critique of Fundamentalism, I point out two doctrines that, as I see it, do much more harm than good.  After fully acknowledging the positive experiences and relationships that are to be found in conservative fundamentalist and evangelical communities, I also write as follows:

love me tender love me sweet“I must also admit that there are times when it is still a challenge to interact with that world–especially when I hear the positions of those outside the church (i.e. those who stand  outside the worldview promulgated in that particular congregation) misrepresented and/or ridiculed in an attempt to reinforce their particular teachings in the hearts and minds of those on the insideShame and fear play a big role in what can only be described as indoctrination.  While such rhetorical techniques are employed to some degree in most any human culture or subculture– see also group think and confirmation bias –they play a particularly prominent role in conservative evangelical and fundamentalist churches and seem particularly coercive in conjunction with the threats of hell and hopes of paradise that are also held over one’s head–often, as in my case, from a very young and impressionable age.  In addition to this modus operandi of indoctrination, there are two doctrines in particular that I find especially problematic:

1) Biblical Inerrancy (and the related “young earth creationism” — YEC for short).

2) The Eternal Torment of non-Christians in Hell (even those who have lived and died without ever hearing the gospel).

“In my opinion, it is primarily these two doctrines that force those Christians who hold them into defending untenable positions and, after painting themselves into various love me or i will roast your ass - jesuspractical and theoretical corners by reason of these beliefs, prevent them from effectively communicating with people outside (or on the margins) of their communities.  Not only does this tend to isolate them and keep them tied to a very narrow view of both the grace of God and their own creative potential, under God, it also makes them fair game for demagogues of various kinds.  Once again– in my opinion –the two aforementioned keys suggest a two-pronged approach that would go a long way toward resolving these problems:

1) we need not be concerned with the possibility of errors in the written word— as regards science or history, for example –as long as it is functioning effectively to point us to the living Word (and, IMO, idealizing the written word as “inerrant” actually detracts from its effectiveness in this regard).

2) the living Word speaks within the heart of every human being, whether or not they’ve heard the name of Jesus (i.e. the story of Jesus is one way of communicating the universal truth that we are reconciled to God, that the Way is One, and that all who are on the Way are One –whatever story or stories may be functioning as their particular on-ramp(s) to the Way).

my sheep hear my voice“Thus, the living Word (or logos) is seen, indeed, to be the light of the world–the light that lights everyone who comes into the world (and not just those who are fortunate enough to have been born within earshot of the Christian gospel).  What each one does with that light– and why –is a mystery which is sometimes spoken of in terms of human freedom and at other times in terms of God’s love and grace.  While I am rather inclined to speak of it in both ways, I know that God is good and that to err on the side of love and grace is probably closer to the truth.”

Read the entire essay here

–>  A Sympathetic Critique of Fundamentalism

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“The Path With A Heart” and more!

The following article has just been added to The Four Precepts archives which can be found under the Period Pieces menu:

path with a heartThe Path with a Heart
by Wayne Ferguson 23.02.2006

To follow your bliss is, in the words of Don Juan, to follow the path with a heart.  Such a path will be experienced as an end itself and not merely as a means to some more or less desirable goal.

For me there is only traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel looking, looking, breathlessly.
~ Don Juan

–> Read entire article…

TheFourPrecepts.Com was a website that I started in 2003  devoted– as the name suggests –to The Four Precepts which had guided my life during the previous  decade:

  1. Remember your Divine essence.
  2. Say Yes to Life unconditionally.
  3. Overcome the Spirit of Revenge.
  4. Follow your Bliss.

–> The Origin of the Four Precepts

Additional Archived Articles:
The Jesus Prayer +

Duty and Accomplishment
The Call of Conscience
Intelligent Design
Collecting and Dividing


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Getting to Know Gnosticism

yeshua21Note:  This “post” is part of a longer essay which has been posted as a separate “page” under the Nonduality menu:  Gnosticism:  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly–which  is, in part, a response to those who from time to time have suggested that the Yeshua21 Blog is promoting a gnostic message.  While I initially intended to go into some detail about the history of that blog and the teachings shared therein, I found that by doing so, the piece grew exceedingly long and rather top-heavy.  As such, it has seemed best to make it into two separate posts–this one, on gnosticism proper; and then, a separate piece– entitled To Know OR Not to Know?which provides a bit of the back-story.  This piece picks up where that one leaves off.

Accusations of “gnosticism” yield more heat than light . . .

To begin with, it is worth noting that many people– following the lead of Michael Allen Williams, perhaps, and Karen King –are beginning to argue that the terms gnostic and gnosticism are so broad as to be almost meaningless.   A case in point is this suggestion by Cynthia Bourgeault:

“First of all, I would call for a moratorium on the use of the term
‘Gnosticism.’  It carries so many connotations, most of them negative and hugely inaccurate, that it sheds far more heat than light. . . . Second, we need to deprogram the negative imprinting and begin to encounter these texts again on their own terms, with accurate translations and empathetic understanding. . . . Finally, we need to stop thinking about these texts as uniform — as if they all espouse a single philosophy or “Gnostic” point of view.  They span several centuries, and like the canonical gospels themselves, they reflect a variety of viewpoints and levels of spiritual understanding” (Lecture on Gnosis and Gnosticism, April 2010 — See also The Meaning of Mary Magdalene).

And Karen King writes:

“Why is it so hard to define Gnosticism? The problem, I argue, is that a rhetorical term has been confused with a historical entity.” —Karen L. King,  “What Is Gnosticism?”

That rings true, insofar as my critics were playing the gnostic card in a purely rhetorical way which allowed them to dismiss my point of view (with extreme prejudice, as it were), but without any real, serious discussion–much less any real meeting of the minds.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that since both Christian and non-Christian authors of antiquity wrote treatises in opposition to “the Gnostics” (e.g. Irenaeus, Plotinus, et al) — and since, moreover, there are no shortage of modern folk who continue to identify themselves as gnostic or Gnostics (see Gnosticism in modern times) — it looks as though Cynthia Bourgeault’s call for a moratorium is hardly realistic.  As such, it seems to me that we would all do well to do a modicum of research on the topic and to begin using these terms with considerably more care.  Below are some of the fruits of my own research in this regard.

Gnosticism:  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

For my part– and without claiming any significant expertise of a scholarly sort  –I seem to discern three types of gnosticism (or better, perhaps, three aspects or facets of gnostic life and thought) which I will personally and provisionally designate as follows:

  1. Unitive/Nondual Insight (the good)
  2. Mythical/Metaphysical Beliefs (the bad)
  3. Unconventional/Licentious Lifestyles (the ugly)

good bad ugly 3

These are not by any means mutually exclusive– quite the contrary –but seem to be found in a variety of combinations which may emphasize any one or two of these facets to the exclusion or marginalization of the other(s).  Nevertheless, it seems to me that the primary reason for the push-back against gnosticism in the early church– and the primary reason for viewing it with suspicion today –has more to do with numbers 2 and 3 (beliefs and lifestyles) rather than the unitive or nondual element which is, in many respects, merely implicit in the (so-called) gnostic texts (as it is in our canonical scriptures, as well, only more so).  Thus, rank and file Gnostics may be (or may have been) very enthusiastic about 2 and 3 without really experiencing the cutting insight of number 1 (just as fundamentalist Christians may be very enthusiastic in a purely egocentric way about their “Christian worldview” and “Christian values” without, in fact, knowing the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit).

In light of this, if my Christian vision is to be accurately designated as gnostic, it can only be by virtue of its emphasis on unitive insight or nondual awareness (since it bears no relationship whatsoever to numbers 2 and 3).  Nevertheless, by characterizing my mode of discourse as gnostic, these aforementioned critics– who seem hardly to have a clue about any of this –managed (intentionally or unintentionally)  to associate what I have to say with a whole history anti-gnostic thought and sentiment that was not at all directed to the kind of seeing and knowing that I am attempting to share, but rather (or at least primarily) toward those metaphysical teachings and licentious sexual practices of the so-called Gnostics of antiquity that clearly conflicted with the dominant Christian culture of that era and continue to do so today.  As such– in order to clarify all the issues at stake and lay the ground work for fair and honest discussion in which we can compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges –I want to present a brief overview of all three facets of gnostic thought and culture, but in a slightly different order–beginning with the bad, continuing with the ugly, and concluding with, as I see it, the good

NOTE:  As indicated above, these value judgments reflect, in part, what I take to be the perspective of the dominant Christian culture from the beginning.  I do not mean to suggest that anyone who is honestly convinced that the truth is to be found in what I am referring to as bad or ugly gnosticism should not pursue these, but I do want to distance myself from both those positions and create a safe-space for what I take to be the good gnosticism of unitive or nondual awareness.  This, in my opinion, offers a viable way forward for those who are sincerely seeking the Way, the Truth, and the Life in the 21st century–a way forward in which traditional Christian teachings become, again, both living and intelligible.

–>  Bad Gnosticism

the bad

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Bad Gnosticism

Note:  This “post” is part of a longer essay which has been posted as a separate “page” under the Nonduality menu:  Gnosticism:  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As indicated in the opening section of the original article, these value judgments– good, bad, and ugly –reflect, in part, what I take to be the perspective of the dominant Christian culture from the beginning.  I do not mean to suggest that anyone who is honestly convinced that the truth is to be found in what I am referring to as bad or ugly gnosticism should not pursue them, but I do want to distance myself from both those positions and create a safe-space for what I take to be the good gnosticism of unitive or nondual awareness.  This, in my opinion, offers a viable way forward for those who are sincerely seeking the Way, the Truth, and the Life in the 21st century–a way forward in which traditional Christian teachings become, again, both living and intelligible.

Mythical/Metaphysical Gnosticism (the bad)

the badBart Erhman (who, by the way, probably would not understand or acknowledge what I am referring to as nondual gnosticism) offers a good beginning overview of that which I am referring to as metaphysical gnosticism and licentious gnosticism in his YouTube lectures on The Gospel of Judas.   In the first of two YouTube videos on this topic, he devotes about 7 minutes to the very general– quasi-mythical, quasi-metaphysical –framework that I am referring to as the bad gnosticism.  Here is that segment cued to begin at the 21:41 minute mark:

This is offers a pretty standard view of mythical/metaphysical gnosticism.   For those who don’t have time to listen to the segment indicated, here is his power-point outline:

ehrman - gnosticism
the gnosticsMore detailed and/or alternative presentations are widely available on the Internet.  I also recommend reading the first two chapters of Jaques Lacarriere’s The Gnostics — from which I will share two brief summaries from chapter three:

“So, to have done with this problem and give an exact definition of Gnostic thought – as I understand it, at least – all institutions, laws, religions, churches and powers are nothing but a sham and a trap, the perpetuation of an age-old deception.

“Let us sum up: we are exploited on a cosmic scale, we are the proletariat of the demiurge-executioner, slaves exiled into a world that is viscerally subjected to violence; we are the dregs and sediment of a lost heaven, strangers on our own planet.
“The point is that the history of man reproduces very closely the initial drama – and the farce – of the cosmos. Man, like the universe, is a failed creation, a lamentable imitation, the mere semblance of a man, a counterfeit man, or, in anthropological terms, a pseudanthrope. In man, the forgery is more immediately apparent than it is in the universe, for the human body is better known, and more accessible to us, than the light of the distant stars. Let us therefore summarize, as simply as possible, the precise reason for our being what we are, that is to say, trespassers in a body which is ill-suited to us.

“In the beginning, in the world of possibilities and virtualities, an image of man was born in the intelligible brain of the true God of the highest circle: a potential man, the mental matrix of he whom the true God might one day have made real. This image was perceived by the demiurges, the archons or angels of the lower circles. How? Why? A mystery. But perceive it they did and were dazzled, as if by the light, the force, the beauty, the coherence which emanated from this mentally conceived Anthropos. They therefore decided to imitate and reproduce him” (The Gnostics 29, 31 —see PDF, pages 20, 22).

All of this is sufficiently alien to orthodox Christian interpretations of the Judeo-Christian scriptures as to suggest the first reason for the early churches entrenched opposition to Gnosticism.  While such mythical and metaphysical speculation is fascinating, to say the least (and can be instructive as a kind of philosophical exercise or thought experiment), if taken literally, they clearly conflict with more traditional readings of Genesis (i.e. more conventional readings which also seem to be expressed or implied in the dominant strains of New Testament thought).  Moreover, if we attend closely to the Lacarriere quotation, above– which suggests that the cosmic deception extends to “all institutions, laws, religions, churches and powers” –we can begin to understand the way in which mythical / metaphysical gnosticism morphs (or might tend to morph) into unconventional / licentious gnosticism, as well.   For if the dominant culture is deceptive, one way to to find deliverance from the prison of this world– one way to find out who you really are –might be to intentionally live in a way that runs very much counter and contrary to the dominant culture.

NOTE:  Be forewarned, this can get rather ugly, at times, and is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart…

–>  Bumping Ugly Gnosticism

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Bumping Ugly Gnosticism

Note:  This “post” is part of a longer essay which has been posted as a separate “page” under the Nonduality menu:  Gnosticism:  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

If we attend closely to the Jacques Lacarriere quotation [in the longer essay] — which suggests that a cosmic deception extends to “all institutions, laws, religions, churches and powers” –we can begin to understand the way in which mythical / metaphysical gnosticism morphs (or might tend to morph) into unconventional / licentious gnosticism, as well.   For if the dominant culture is deceptive, the way to to find deliverance from the prison of this world– the way to find out who you really are –might be to intentionally live in a way that runs very much counter and contrary to the dominant culture.

NOTE:  Be forewarned, this can get rather ugly, at times, and is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart…

Unconventional/Licentious Gnosticism (the ugly)

the uglyEhrman devotes about 4 minutes of the second YouTube video on The Gospel of Judas to that which I am referring to as the ugly gnosticism.  Fielding a question on the possibility of a romantic or sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, he relates Epiphanius‘ account of the Phibionites in a 4 minute segment which I have cued to begin at the 24:45 minute point:

Jacques Lacarriere also appeals to Epiphanius‘ account as he, too, documents in some detail their very unconventional lifestyles (including the putatively licentious sexual practices attributed the 4th century  Carpocratians and the Phibionites — see chapters 7 and 8 of The Gnostics).  Note:  As Lacarriere indicates, it is also worth comparing and contrasting those groups to the Cathar communities which thrived in southern Europe about 10 centuries later.  It seems clear that if their alternative mythology and metaphysics was not enough, the alternative social and sexual practices of these groups almost guaranteed that they would be marginalized and ultimately condemned by the institutional church.  It is also worth noting, however, that The Gospel of Judas characterizes the mainstream church as similarly immoral (albeit, one assumes, in a metaphorical way — see segment 35:15 – 36:55).

In any event (whatever the details), just as we may learn from bad gnosticism, construed as a philosophical exercise or thought experiment, so per chance we may also learn from ugly gnosticism–i.e. by immersing ourselves in a very unconventional, counter-culture lifestyle, for a time (not unlike the prodigal son, perhaps, who does seem to have ended up wiser than his elder brother).  Nevertheless, it is hardly surprising that the main-stream, institutional church condemned and continues to condemn such seemingly far-out, unconventional beliefs and behaviors.

What both Bart Ehrman and his more conservative colleagues (seemingly) fail to understand, however– something that, no doubt, has been overlooked many self-described Gnostics over the centuries, as well –is that one does not necessarily come to know who or what they really are (much less really find deliverance from the human predicament) simply by adopting an alternative metaphysics, mythology, and/or lifestyle.  Indeed, so doing, one may merely exchange one egoic delusion for another.  What is needed, instead, is an altogether different kind of vision.  An alternative metaphysics, mythology, and lifestyle are, at best, preparatory, whereas the seeing itself is unitive or nondual.

–> Unitive or Nodual Insight

the good2

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