Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On God and Love

 Mother T

Magritte, a long time poster on both CARM and my boards is typical of many atheists in that he expresses a shallow understanding of the nature of love, especially that of agape which is  linked to the sort of love that God is said to have for his creation. On my boards, while criticizing my concept of God he says:

Magritte on Mon Jan 07, 2013 1:35 pm
I dast you to distinguish being from nature without simply adding anthropomorphic labels like love, purpose, meaning, "depth", etc.
I answered:
Metacrock wrote:An over arching consciousness that makes rules for the universe and creates the universe

Oops, there's the big man in the sky again - a thing set apart from and beside other things, over arching the universe as Olympus over arches the earth, with God slaving away at his little drawing board, coming up with rules for his hobby universe then creating it with his little celestial saws and hammers.

Let's face it, Metacrock, you talk the Tillich talk but you don't actually understand it on a conceptual level. I realize you don't think God has physical feet and a penis and a robe and a beard, but aside from that your God is a big old Santa-God, the primitive conception that William Blake lampooned as Old Nobodaddy.

 .......He is equating God's love with the human variety that we feel when we either express great fondness for ice cream, feel the effects of nature while beholding the opposite sex, or want to put down family roots in a nice town. He associates God's love with the limits of human love and thus construes any concept that God is loving with what I have called "the big man in the sky." I can assure the reader I gave them that concept, no atheist on CARM used that phrase before I drilled it into their heads. Now they are assuming I don't know what it means. So they see the idea of God's love as proof of anthropomorphism. He also makes the classic blunder of thinking that Tillich's view of god is that of a totally impersonal force. God cannot have even the slightest hint of consciousness he's the big man in the sky. There are only two possibility, total impervious bead force with no consciousness at all, automatically force like magnetism, or the big  man in the sky. While he is right about the idea that a disembodied mind could have the attributes of a big man in sky if one is not careful to understand those attributes, he could just be a jumped up superman, but that's not necessarily the case just because one sees God and humans have this one ting in common, love.
.......Before I explore the concept of love and demonstrate the differences in divine and human versions I am going to dispell this shallow mistake that God can't be loving and that any hint of personal nature is big man in the sky. First the idea that Tillich does not allow for the slightest big of consciousness in God. I wrote a huge post on my boards which is really a chapter from my unpublished Tillich book, that explores this question about Tillich's view of God as "personal." Of cousre Magritte never read it. In rejecting what he calls "the god of Theism" Tillich is not nixing all concepts of consciousness in God. He's dealing with levels of God talk in which the theistic level is lower level of understanding. The lowest of all just sees God as a big man. The theist level seems God as a big ego, that doesn't  mean that he's saying all conscoiusness concepts of God are on that level. I say in that essay "For Tillich God is not a wielder of final cause but is a conduit for cause distributed throughout all of reality. Here he is referring to the panENtheist assumptions of his view. God is in all things and as such is relating to them in the manner of a unifying source rather than a direct manipulator.[vii] God for Tillich is the unconditioned boundless undifferentiated unity."

But it is an old and always emphasized theological doctrine that God acts in all beings according to their special nature, in man according to their rational nature, in animals and plants according to their inorganic nature. The symbol of omnipotence expresses the religious experience that no structure of reality and no event in nature and history has the power of preventing us from community with the infinite and unexhaustible ground of meaning and being. What "omnipotence" means should be found in the words Deutero — Isaiah (Is. 40) speaks to the exiled in Babylon when he describes the nothingness of the world-empires in comparison with the divine power to fulfil its historical aim through an infinitely small group of exiled people. Or what "omnipotence" means must be found in the words Paul (Rom. 8) speaks to the few Christians in the slums of the big cities when he pronounces that neither natural nor political powers, neither earthly nor heavenly forces can separate us from the "Love of God." If the idea of omnipotence is taken out of this context and transformed into the description of a special form of causality, it becomes not only self-contradicting — as Einstein rightly states — but also absurd and irreligious.(1)
this foot note is not linked, see below.

What we see in this quote is very crucial becuase it means that Tillich is working within the framework of universal conscoiusness of God that Dionysus the areiopagite works in. That means that his view of God is not devoid of conscoiusness nor is he without love, his conscoiusness is on a higher level and is structured among all form of consciousness.  He's not without it. For Tillich God is beyond understanding and sybmolic lanague of God as personal is good but it has to be kept on the level of metaphor. We can literalize the metaphor. That doesn't mean we can't use it.

I say in my essay:
Tillich argues the symbol for the transcendent and transpersonal has to be the personal because it can’t be anything less than personal. One cannot point to a higher reality by going lower in symbol choice. We must use the highest we know point to something transcendent. Tillich interprets the following statement by Einstein: “He "attains that humble attitude of mind towards the grandeur of reason incarnate in existence, which, in its profoundest depths, is inaccessible to man,”(2)
quoting Tillich:

For as the philosopher Schelling says: "Only a person can heal a person." This is the reason that the symbol of the Personal God is indispensable for living religion. It is a symbol, not an object, and it never should be interpreted as an object. And it is one symbol besides others indicating that our personal center is grasped by the manifestation of the inaccessible ground and abyss of being.(3)
Tillich argues the symbol for the transcendent and transpersonal has to be the personal because it can’t be anything less than personal. One cannot point to a higher reality by going lower in symbol choice. We must use the highest we know point to something transcendent.He says in Systematic Theology vol 1 as well as in The Courage to Be that God cannot be less than personal! But is the personal itself. This phrase is always totally ignored by the current atheist camping to coopt Tillich.

For as the philosopher Schelling says: "Only a person can heal a person." This is the reason that the symbol of the Personal God is indispensable for living religion. It is a symbol, not an object, and it never should be interpreted as an object. And it is one symbol besides others indicating that our personal center is grasped by the manifestation of the inaccessible ground and abyss of being. (4)
What all of this means to me is that God is consciousness, as my essay argues consciousness on the highest level above our level of understanding. That means we can't equate God with having personality or having personal traits or having the same kind of emotions that we have, but does not mean that we should not speak of God as connected to our concept of love. Not in the least does it mean that. It's a metaphor but it's an indispensable metaphor.
.......What he's really talking about in speaking of God as not personal he also combines with not an object. What he's really talking about is the phenomenology of self not the abolition of all conscious nature in God. That is it's not that God i not conscious it's that God is not an object becasue the subject/object dichotomy is a mistake.We don't need to take Tillich's word for it alone. There's no reason to confine ourselves to Tillich as though he's the only one who ever had the notion that God is being itself. That notion has been put forth by theologians since the early days of Christianity. There are other modern apostles of this concept. None are as famous as Tillich but some are just as accomplished. Hans Urs Von Balthasar for example was called the most cultured man of the 20th century. He was admired throughout the Catholic world, although not well known among protestants.

My list of great theoloigans who taught that God is being itself:

Clement of Alexandria (150-215)
Origen (185-253)
Gregory of Nyssa (335-394)
St.Augustine ?
Dionysus The Areopogite ( w/500)
John of Scythopolis (536-550)
Maximus The Confessor (580?-662?)
John of Damascus (676-749)
St.Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Paul Tillich
Hans Kung
Wolfhart Panennberg
Hans Urs Von Balthasar
John Macquarie (1919-2007)

of cousre there is no time to go into all of these so I'll just look at Balthasar.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar (1905-1988)

Balthasar one of the most interesting and brilliant figures of the twentieth century, yet hardly anyone has heard of him outside the confines of academic theology. Even most theological students in the Proestant world are not very familiar with his works. He was a friend of John Paul II, called “the most cultured man of our time by Henri de Lubac. His achievements are called ‘breathtaking’ my one of the major catholic theologians of the century, Carl Rahner.[5] He wrote over a thousand books and articles. He was born in Lucerne Switzerland, 1905, and Grew up a Catholic, son of a pious mother.[6] He took his doctorate from the Liberal Protestant University of Zurich, having grown up educated by Benedictines and Jesuits. He became a Jesuit priest. He worked as a student Chaplin in the 30s. He became good friends with Protestant theologian Karl Barth, one of the greats of the century.
            Balthasar was unable to work as a full fledge Jesuit priest due to the war years and the arrangement the government had between Protestants and Catholics, he was seen as belonging to the area of south Germany. He made a living as a translator and lecturer and editor. He ran publications and started a spiritual community. He spent most of his adult life this way, in association with a woman named Speyr who was never recognized as a mystic by the church. He had miracles and visions but being unrecognized, Balthasar’s community was not accepted and he was unable to gain a post. This situation dominated his life in the 40s,50’s, and 60s. He had to leave the Jesuits. He also lectured in these years on spiritual topics and made a living that way, but his health deteriorated as a result. In the 60s he began to be recognized as a theologian and was given honors and doctorates. In 1988 John Paul II made him a cardinal. That was also the year of his death. His community of st. John was a publishing house and he ran a journal called Communio. These eventually found great success in the 70s and were recognized by the Vatican. The major avenue to his success was his books and his lectures.[7]
            Balthasar’s overall theological project centers upon the dualities between human conflict with ourselves and our place in being. Examples of the dualities that fascinate Balthasar include: our own contingency and that of the world around us in contrast to the sense of being itself.[8] Balthasar openly and obvious equates being with God. In his work about Balthasar’s live, David L. Schindler includes a short article by Balthasar himself called “a Resume of my Thought.”[9] He begins this “resume” by talking about the dilemma between human contingency and limitation in contrast to the infinite nature of being. This does not necessitate asserting God up fornt although he’s not concerned with a “proof.” His thesis is that all human philosophy either explicitly or tacitly concerns itself with this topic and by implication tacitly affirms the infinite and the absolute.[10] He comes to the conclusion that the duality is inescapable. The finite is not the infinite. Even the monism of the east is seen through nuanced dualities. Thus he asks the question “why are we not God?” The basis of the question is that we are aspects of being. We are products of being, yet we are contingent being, Why are we contingent and not necessary? The solutions that he ponders seem to end in one way or another with an indignant God creating a finite world out of need or alienation from his own infinity. He finds that only the God of the Bible offers a satisfactory answer, and that answer is in a sense the opposite of what we would think.
            The common human tendency is to think God created because he needed something. Balthasar is hinting, I think, that God creates because its his nature as being to foment more being, in other words, its creative and God is Creative. It is not for God’s need that he creates but for what will become our need once we are created. In other words, God created us so that we can enjoy being, not because he needed us because once a part of being we would need and would be fulfilled in the need by love.

No Philosophy could give a satisfactory response to that question [why did infinte create finite?] St Paul would say to philosophers that God created man so that he would seek the Divine, try to obtain the Divine. That is why all pre Christian philosophy is theological at its summit. But, in fact, the true response to philosophy could only be given by Being himself, revealing himself from himself. Will man be capable of understanding this revelation? The affirmative response will be given only by the God of the Bible. On the one hand this God, creator of the world and of man, knows his creature. “I who have created the eye do not see? I who have created the ear do not hear?” And we add who who have created language, could not speak and make myself heard?” This posits a counterpart: to be able to hear and understand the auto-revelation of God man must in himself be a search for God, a question posed to him. Thus there is Biblical theology without a religious philosophy. Human reason must be open to the inifinte.[11]

Notice how he capitalizes “B” in being and refers to being as “himself.” He personifies being and clearly speaks of it as the creator.
            Balthasar sees the understanding of the revelation of “being himself” (my phrase based upon his) to humanity as rooted in the most fundamental human relationship. He says, “the infant is brought to consciousness of himself only by love, by the smile of his mother. In that encounter the horizon of all unlimited opens unto him.”[12] What he means by that is it is only through being por soir, for itself, in other words, consciousness, that we are able to comprehend the infinite and that only in contrast to the finte. Before we can do that, however, we have to become aware of ourselves so we can know we are finite. I think he’s making an implication that love is a link to being itself, and that through our encounter with love, the mother, we encounter the father, so to speak—by way of encountering love. We can see this in four truths that Balthasar finds rooted in this cncounter:

(1) realizing that he Is other to the mother, the only way the child realizes he loves the mother; (2) love is good, therefore, being is good; (3) love is true, therefore, being is true; (4) love evokes joy therefore being is beautiful.[13] Notice the link between being and love. He is one of the rare theologians to point out this curial link.

The one, the true, the good, the Beautiful, these are what we call the transcendental attitubutes of being, because they surpass all the limits of essence, and are coextensive with Being. If there is an insurmountable distance between God and his creature, but if there is also an analogy between them which cannot be resolved in any form of identity, there must also exist an analogy between the transcendentals—between those of the creature and those in God.[14]

In this quotation he as much as equates being and God, since he speaks of the attributes of being then connects the understanding of these to the link between God and the creature. There is more to be said about Balthasar based upon this observation and it will figure importantly in two more chapters, including the last one, and the over all conclusion.
 .......Moreover the fact of the universal nature of mystical experience should also give us pause to consider the personal nature of God. That in itself is empirical disproof of the assertion that if God is love then God is big man in sky. Love is a profound mystical concept that can't be reduced to human experience alone. The universal nature of mystical experience, which includes the all pervasive sense of God's love is documented by Hood's M scale studies.(15)

In part 2, next time, I'll actually explore the concept of love and why it's not indicative of big man in sky. I hope to also explore that concept and make clear why there has to be distinction between consciousness and big man ism.

(1) Paul Tillich, “The Idea of a Personal God.” Online article from a blog by Krista Tippett, Speaking of Faith reprinted with permission form the Yale Divinity School Library. URL: ... onse.shtml (visited 8/31/2010) This article is no longer on the net. I have found a summary of it by Glen Chestnut:
this is from: Chapter 11 of Glenn F. Chesnut, God and Spirituality: Philosophical Essays, Hindsfoot Foundation (Bloomington, Indiana: iUniverse, 2010).
(2) quoting myself in essay linked from board
(3) Tillich, idea of personal, op cit
(4) ibid

[5] Joel Graver, “a Short Biography,” website:Hans Urs Von Balthasar, an Internet Archieve. URL sighted: (visited 12/3/10).
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid, “overview of Balthasar’s project: URL:
[9] Hans Urs Von Balthasar, “A Resume of my Thought,” in David L. Schindler, Hans Urs Von Balthasar: His Life and Work. San Francisco:Ignatious Press, 1991, on like version p1-2 URL:
[10] Ibid, 1
[11] Ibid., 3
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
(15) Ralph Hood, Jr. "The Common Core Thesis in the Study of Mysticism,"  Where God and science meet,  Vol. 3,Westport, CT: Praeger.P, McNamar (Ed.), pp. 119-138. 

Link to on line copy: I apologize for footnoting the whole article. I also apologize that the online copy is just a preview and is missing the crucial pages. It can't be helped. I had the whole essay at one point and they changed it on Google books.


Dave said...

I also have some ideas on religion I need to put in book form in the relatively near future, and this issue dovetails somewhat with my most recent set of comments on this blog.

At that time, I alluded to the linguistic-conceptual hangups of certain forms of God language. To repeat and enhance that idea, it is better to think of God as water, as a spring forming a stream. It would be better to think in terms of currents within an ocean, but that is too difficult and abstract for non-mariners and non-wayfarers.

This stream is the source and substance of what we think of as reality, a stream of consciousness, if I may adapt that term. This in turn is perceived as matter and energy, but in truth, those are just descriptions of perceptions of something more fundamental that appear to vary in speed or concentration.

The self-organizing phenomena of life itself is also a manifestation of this stream, another facet or aspect of something deeper of which organic life is as an echo. The reason for calling it consciousness is because that is the the name we give to our most powerful form of awareness and knowing, and thus it is how we come to realize and recognize this deeper something which is simultaneously obscured and revealed by consciousness.

We must be careful not to make an undue conflation here. Buddhists also speak of similar things, for example, but they make a helpful distinction. The mode of consciousness that modern psychology tends to analyze, which appears to be so interdependent with the brain, is for the Buddha on the five skhandas, that is, one of the five basic components which make up worldy, impermanent things. The Buddha's teachings tell us to look for the truth of our selves and of reality beyond the skhandas, yet in doing so Buddhist still refer to Pure Mind. While everything "is" Pure Mind, our individual consciousnesses are to repeat an image more like echoes or shadows of this Mind.

In other words, Pure Mind is referred to as Mind in Buddhism for the same reason already given about referring to consciousness as the source and substance of the stream from which reality as we know it flows. It is the highest and most powerful force we know, and by which we know and by which we connect. And it follows the irony given, that to know Mind we cannot simply abandon our individual consciousness. To know Mind, or Tao, or God, by ridding ourselves of forms and phenomena is like trying to see a forest by cutting down all the trees for a better view.

Using the water analogy again, the disturbance of the water is like an agitation of the mind, hence the birth of consciousness. Rather than getting rid of the water, it is best to let it calm, to let oneself sink below the turbulent surface into the quiescence that lies underneath. Thus the goal of the contemplative or mystic is not to become blank or unthinking, but to let go and drop into a deeper state of awareness.


Dave said...

To move from there to the issue of personification and anthropomorphism, no side is blameless when such disputes erupt. Error abounds, because such disputes take place with awareness in the turbulent rapids of finite consciousness, the limited local awareness formed through and tethered to the brain, the sense of the individual that the older Judeo-Christian tradition would have referred to as the soul. This body-mind or body-soul complex is taken by many people, religious or not, to be the end all and be all of human existence and thus presumed to be the end all and be all of existence itself. Thus when discussing God, such dualities invariably emerge and pollute the conversation or debate. The idea of this stream, this deeper awareness, which is associated with the term spirit (even though other meanings have also been attached to that word), is either ignored or reduced to one side of the aforementioned duality or the other.

If one wished to use this tripartite anthropology to analogize reality, then the body would be the physical/material universe. The mind or soul would be akin to various levels of energy or thought associated with the chakras, or with the Platonic ideal forms, or similar things, and yet that would still leave spirit. Typically ignored at both the particular and universal levels of analysis. And why not? This is the level which the enlightened ones tell us cannot be named, cannot be described, or in any other way limited or captured by the human imagination, that is, at the level of the mind/soul. Some sacred traditions say that the mind/soul lives on perpetually, others dispute this. Christian theology speaks of bodily resurrection. Why? Because its Jewish precursor doesn't recognize a body without a soul. Such physical remains are just dust. Buddhists talk about a Buddha having three bodies, one is eternal and formless, one exists in what we might call the realm of ideas and imagination, and the other can manifest physically to help sentient beings.

Thus we can see that to understand any religious system, we have to get a handle on the bigger picture. If there are Mahayana Buddhist teachings about the Buddha's three bodies, then the idea of total nihilism and non-existence after the skandhas that make up what we in modern Western societies think of as the self is not tenable. But that doesn't argue for the particular elements within the Christian tradition which argue for the idea of the soul being unchanging and eternal. That life and that lifetime are indeed gone, but that doesn't have to mean that the experience is lost any more than only having a memory of an event rather than actually living it over means that the experience is lost. Of course, what is there beyond our current concept of memory? How can we conceive of such a thing?

I bring up these examples to illustrate limited thinking based on mind/body or mind/soul dichotomies. Those who wish to decompose on side of this sort of dichotomy and reduce it to the other have the right idea but are on the wrong track. It is the idea of spirit, which so often gets left out, that holds the potential key to unlocking the solution. Ultimately it is to spirit, rather than matter or mind, that the others reduce. Which presents again the apophatic dilemma of going beyond words and concepts. If we give credence to the teachings of the contemplatives across various religions and ages, the understanding one seeks cannot be imagined or held, no physical or mental grasping will suffice. Only direct awareness of spirit by spirit will do.

Dave said...

This brings us back around to the personal/impersonal debate concerning God, and to what it might mean to discuss God as transcending such a dichotomy to be referred to properly as transpersonal. People in modern Western societies tend to associate the physical/body with impersonal and the mind/soul with personal. Even now, I suspect some readers are hung up on their conceptions of the words "soul" and "spirit" and are substituting those meanings over what I have described thus far. How much more difficult then is it to deal with the ideas of personal and impersonal? So another analogy is in order.

Let's consider the term social. Prokaryotes such as bacteria come together as a collective film. Eukaryotes come together to form colonies and multi-cellular organisms. Such occurrences tend to be described by the word community. Social implies more depth than such basic communities, but isn't really possible without some form of community. Social implies among other things a sharing of information and work for a common higher purpose and the relationships formed in such a pursuit, but this is still much like community. Social then also implies a form of communication involving more creativity and readily adaptable memory. Thus some people can talk about some insects, for example, as being social.

But consider monkeys. Their form of sociality is much more complex and sophisticated and deep than that of ants, bees, or termites. This is so because their mental capacities are greatly expanded. And if we compare ants to humans, the difference is scope, quality, and magnitude between what is being described as social is absurd. Humans actually create and live in highly elaborate social landscapes that overlay and interact with the material landscape. While there may be some rudimentary signs of basic elements needed for culture among some birds and mammals, only some primates really develop even the most basic kind of culture (as far as we know) and humans have taken culture to incredible levels to the point of becoming dependent upon it. None of this is to glorify humans as superior or better than other evolutionary outcomes, but rather is intended to serve as basis for comparison in an analogy.

Suppose you were an ant, or a creature represented by the ant, with God or Pure Mind or Tao represented by humans. This is a flawed analogy in terms of assuming God is simply on a different order of magnitude, let alone is a "thing" or "phenomena" alongside other contingent objects, but such flaws are inevitable in this kind of discussion, so I beg your indulgence. Consider the idea of social to an ant--a set of chemicals secreted and received triggering a limited number of highly conditioned or pre-set responses. This system responds to other ants and to changes in the external environment. Now, do humans have anything similar? Sure. So on one level, humans just have a larger and more complex version of what ants have. Yet humans have agency. And besides that, what humans do with their instincts and choices far exceeds anything that would be comprehensible to an ant.


Dave said...

For example, what would art or music mean to an ant? They may have a visual sense, and perhaps like bees they can detect and respond to vibrations, but that isn't the same at all. Yes, very limited comparison can be made of social organization between ants and humans, but the endless partisan debates of human political systems wouldn't register in ant-understanding. So, then, in one sense, humans have similar or identical elements of sociality to what ants have, but ants lack much of what humans have. We can imagine an "ant" in this case trying to understand human sociality in very stripped down ant concepts (forgive the straining analogy here), such as protect, gather, report, store, procreate (for a limited few), build, etc. The effort to try to describe, let alone comprehend, Bach's Mass in B minor, in ant-think is a task that would make Sisyphus glad to be working on his own project.

So, then, there might be some shared meaning between our "ants" and "humans" when it comes to sociality, but this overlap doesn't mean that anything close to the fullness of that concept as humans experience it could be grasped in ant-think. Our ants, in this discussion, are constrained by their own more limited experience of what sociality is. To talk about humans as being social, ants would have to reduce the idea of social to what it means to them. Not only would some human aspects of sociality be inconceivable, even if they could be conceived, they would be utterly incomprehensible. And this is one of the major problem humans have when they talk about whether God is personal, impersonal, or something that somehow includes and yet transcends those two apparent opposites. Our broadest, most comprehensive, and most advanced notion of what it means to be personal is staring back at us in the mirror.

The consequences of such a limitation in the understanding of the personal in discussing the nature of God are felt by all sides. It is not really practical to talk about God being personal while denying that such an image is anthropomorphic, because while it may logically make sense that it is possible by following the ant-human example of sociality, we can't escape our primary reference for the personal. We cannot project that far beyond our own experience. On other hand, it does mean that those who insist that personal can only mean anthropomorphic are mistaken. Something else is possible that does indeed share some aspects of anthropomorphic personhood but which also transcends such limitations. We just can't spell it out, because human-think isn't up to the task. Where does that leave us and where do we go from there?

As to the first question, it leaves us in a place where we know that using human categories and terms such as personal and impersonal, and associated concepts such as "will", "motive", and "intention" are severely misleading. That's why, for example, thinking about a flowing stream can be so helpful for some people when thinking of Spirit, or perhaps of an ocean for Pure Mind. There are some qualities such as motion and direction which vaguely sound like properties of living things but which don't impute our anthropomorphic assumptions. Thus, it sounds more like the impersonal side of the debate. Yet if we change it a little to stream of consciousness or ocean of awareness, we inch our way closer to our goal. So that's where we are, but where can we go now and how might we get there?


Dave said...

Well, let us recall that what we think of as the physical and the mental arise in this scenario from spirit, and the if we are going to be reductionists, that is what we are using for our ground of being. Spirit manifesting as consciousness and consciousness manifesting as matter. Not that such reduction is necessary, advisable, or possible, but rather it bears repeating that this is what tends to be missing from many contemporary theological debates. Judeo-Christian theology has far reaching precedent for such a perspective, but does our representative of thinking a bit further East. Buddhism also makes similar observations if we substitute comparable terms. And both Christianity and Buddhism reveal similar patterns in their traditional instructions for resting in God, for awakening to Pure Mind. If we are spirit at root, then the only way to have any experience of what spirit is like and to appreciate any inkling of what terms like "panentheism" and "transpersonal" are pointing to is to learn how to be aware of the spirit, that in which on the ultimate level of reality we truly "live, move, and have our being."

The basic pattern is to tame the body and the habits associated with it involving things such as eating, drinking, sleeping, and physical exertion. The idea isn't that the body is corrupt or evil, even though such ideas always worm their way into religion (and yes, both Christianity and Buddhism have struggled with this). The idea is that poor habits and poor health, especially when we exist just to satisfy reptilian urges, are insurmountable distractions. It's like trying to get your bearing while being tossed about in Class 5 rapids. Yes, technically, you are in the stream, but you are too busy flailing about to care about anything other than survival.

Then there is taming the social aspect of the self, which comes with its own set of potentially harmful habits and distractions. If one is dominated by the body's urges or social demands and impulses, again, one is not going to be very aware of what is going on around them, let alone care about what is happening. It's the basis for cake-and-circus approach to social control, after all, and we only have to look at the oblivious destructiveness of those living or seeking the modern Western dream of individual material success to realize why a degree of discipline is necessary for maturity, compassion, and peace. While religious rules about thou shalts and shalt nots can be perverted and abused, they do have a basis in real need, even if some are left in anachronistic formats or twisted for other purposes.

With the body and the social self managed like a well tended garden, there is space for the mind or soul to undergo similar discipline, and, subsequently, healthy development. Thus, as Cyprian Conciglio described in his interfaith examination of prayer, Prayer in the Cave of the Heart, through the body we prepare the soul, and through the soul we sink into the spirit. Thus, as he points out in his review of Christian theology and the beliefs of Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims, religious practices incorporate things to occupy the body and draw it into the mind/soul, and things which occupy the mind and draw it down into the heart to be in the presence of spirit.


Dave said...

As for the value of seeing spirit as personal, Br. Wayne Teasdale, in his book The Mystic Heart, discusses the role of a relatable avatar that is essential for the human mind in approaching spirit, or as Teasdale termed it, the divine. While the divine may be beyond our concept of the personal, we have to reach our limit first before having any chance of expanding beyond them or catching a glimpse of what might be outside of our human-think box. And whether it was a man sitting under a fig tree in Bodh Gaya, or a man being crucified at Golgotha, or perhaps Amitabha the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life, or maybe the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha of the Lotus Sutra, or some other figure, such persona are also part and parcel of the path. Try to make them merely literal or merely symbolic or merely anything else and, poof, they have become your own personal idol and only guide you back to your own thoughts and assumptions.

Of course, the mystics and contemplatives tell us that if we had true faith, we could just let go right here and right now. Having run some class 5/5+ rapids, the guides tell you that if you get thrown into the water, don't try to stand or struggle, and don't try to cling to a rock. Just lay back and relax as much as possible and let the water guide you. But failing your immediate ability to do so, in religious terms, it might be best to work on wearing down the obstacles that keep from doing so. That's the only way one can find the kind of insight people love so much to argue over about the nature of the divine. Everything else is just ego-gratifying distraction.


Metacrock said...

not that I mean to be obtuse and take the metaphor litterally but I thought you were supposed to swim at diagonally to the current toward the shore.

I'm sure the higher level of conscoiusness would look like consciousness to us at all.

Metacrock said...

there's a lot here to think about Dave. I hate to say such shallow stuff about it as though I'm dismissing it becuase I'm not at all. It's really profound in certain ways it's going to take some thinking about. I'm going have to take it slow.

I think you should do a book.

Metacrock said...

I like the water thing. Water is constantly used as a metaphor of God or the spirit.Not just in the Bible (although it is there) but in all of Christian mysticism too.

Water forms to the shape of whatever it comes up against. That could represent ether God in culture or God in nature. There are other aspects too, it's life giving properties and so on.

Dave said...

Yeah, I wasn't trying to focus too much on a particular religious tradition, but definitely the whole water, wind, and clouds imagery is very prominent in the Bible and the Christian tradition. People sometimes think the the darkness and void in the book of Genesis was absence and lack, just a nihilistic nothing. It's the same way people misunderstand the concept of emptiness (originally translated as "void") in Buddhism. The whole streams of living water image is found in places such as the Psalms and the Gospels.

I am impressed with the Christian mystical view that darkness is how God appears to human-think and senses without being veiled in imagery and concepts we can understand, images we can understand but which present an incomplete picture. Combining that view with spirit as wind/water gives a different sense of that familiar passage at the beginning of the Bible:

"Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light."

In other words, following the various major mystics of Christianity and of the Eastern Orthodox tradition in general (Conciglio does a pretty good job of tracing this), the darkness represents going beyond our conventional means of perception and comprehension. It's in Genesis and also it's in Exodus, with the following:

"When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights."

In other words, the cloud is like the name of that anonymous book on Christian mysticism, the cloud of unknowing. God is obscured in darkness, not because of being intentionally hidden, but because direct perception of spirit with our ordinary consciousness is just beyond our capacity. It's almost like a black hole. The center is absolutely dark but there can be an intense light around the margins. We see this in both passages.

The light in this case represents enlightenment or awakening (or glory of God) entering the phenomenal space, which we also see in the accounts of the transfiguration (clouds and brilliance again make an appearance, connecting the Gospel story to that of Moses in the Hebrew scripture). In other words, while seeing God directly with the conventional human mind equals incomprehensibility, seeing that which is close as we can get to such a direct view is as brilliant as anything.

All very good interpretive imagery with lots of tradition behind it that is unknown or overlooked by most people who practice Christianity. A shame.

Metacrock said...

"I am impressed with the Christian mystical view that darkness is how God appears to human-think and senses without being veiled in imagery and concepts we can understand, images we can understand but which present an incomplete picture. Combining that view with spirit as wind/water gives a different sense of that familiar passage at the beginning of the Bible"

Right and Darkness isn't always evil either. God appears in darkness in some passages, and in connection with storm and darkness in OT. That leads some scholars to see a Hurian influence (Eastern Turkey). some theorize that was Abraham's original home.

Dave said...

Hurian, huh? That's a new one to me. I am sure there are those who would read something like that and think it means that because an image or style is borrowed, it must be invalid or inauthentic, rather than recognizing that religious writers, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition, often felt free to borrow and modify whatever imagery best exemplified or conveyed a profound experience. Worse still is how many contemporary Christians have idolized Hellenic and Roman "borrowings" and are dead set against drawing on additional sources to expand the tradition.

I also think I meant to discuss before whether it would be fruitful in the context of the ant-think/human-think analogy to point out a difference between saying "God is love" and "God is experienced as love." The latter recognizes that "love" is the closest human concept for the experience of God while allowing that God cannot be limited or reduced to such a quality based strictly on a human perspective.

Metacrock said...

those are good points. I don't remember where I got the Hurian thing but I know it was from a scholarly source. They had strom gods apparently.

If you think about it an Evangelical doesn't have to freak over such ideas. We know Ab came from some place called UR of the Chaldees and that it was supposed to be a pagan society with poly theism. so that's already built in to the story.

Apparently if the is the UR of Ebla then they had a lot of pilgrims from other places living transiently there. So that could have been a stopping point a temporary way station for the Ram Family.