Author: V. St. Clare

Half-assed mystic and armchair philosopher, riding out the eschaton. I write about pretty much everything (or at least I try to), and otherwise reasons to tell off the universe. (V.V.V.V.V. "A bell ringing in the empty sky...")

Taking a Hint From the Georgia Guidestones

The U.S. state of Georgia has something of a personal Stonehenge. And, while I’ve never been to Georgia—and, really, I’ve never been inclined to go—I think I can assume that these stones are a bit… heterodox… for their place below the Mason–Dixie line.

When I think of large tablets being erected in some southern state, I imagine a marble copy of the 10 Commandments making an awkward addition to a courthouse or State Capitol. But the Georgia Guidestones, nestled in the earth in the state’s Elbert County, are anything but religious strictures. They are, rather, suggestions and “guidelines” on how humanity can conduct its affairs on this planet, rather than please a celestial being beyond the Earth. Having derided the Guidestones as artifacts of the “New World Order,” tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theorists have desecrated them a number of times now. But the message of the Guidestones still stands strong. It reads:

  1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
  2. Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.
  3. Unite humanity with a living new language.
  4. Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason.
  5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
  6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
  7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
  8. Balance personal rights with social duties.
  9. Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite.
  10. Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.
The Georgia Guidestones. (Source unknown.)

The Georgia Guidestones. (Source unknown.)

I can pretty much agree with all of this. But the most important guidelines, I would say—especially considering humanity’s current predicament on a fragile planet of finite resources—have to be 1, 2, 9, and 10. Let’s look at the current state of world affairs, and dissect the importance of the first and last two guidelines:

1. “Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.

Current population levels, clocking in at about 7.2 billion (as of 2015), are wildly unsustainable. We have committed ourselves to serious overshoot. With this many people on the planet, and the population expected to rise to between 9-11 billion by the end of the century (if our species can even make it that far without wiping itself out, and much of the Earth’s biodiversity with it!), we are barreling toward catastrophe. Couple this with climate change, environmental degradation, resource depletion, and pollution, and it becomes clear that we are leaving ourselves, and our decedents (if they even manage to survive), a hell on earth. I don’t think that 500,000,000 needs to be a strict number which we should follow, but in general we should aspire to have a much lower number of humans living on the planet. This would free up a huge amount of resources for both humans and other lifeforms to reap and share. When we look at the dramatic loss of fresh water, as well as mineral depletion and the fast-approaching “peak everything,” it becomes clear that this is a better course of action. The loss of half the world’s wildlife should serve as a wake-up call.

2. “Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.

I will say that I’m not to keen on the “fitness and diversity” bit. (It sort of smacks of eugenics.) But, in any case, we most certainly should guide our reproduction wisely. To begin with, isn’t it morally questionable to bring a child into a world whose future looks as grim as ours? Secondly, if we do bring children into this world, why are we bringing so many of them into nations where poverty, war, instability, and food and water scarcity run rampant? The explosive population growth of developing countries shows that many parents are not considering their children’s futures, nor the future of the planet. It doesn’t take much brain power to realize that, on a planet quickly entering the opposite of an ice age, and one of finite resources, having a bunch of kids is not only bad for oneself and one’s country, but for society, the world’s ecosystems, and the future as a whole. People should consider where and when they have children, and how many they are going to have. Granted, many pregnancies are unwanted, and a lack of access to birth control thus imperils many societies. Sadly, for cultural and religious reasons, many countries still ban contraception. My contention is that they only do so to the detriment of their own national stability.

9. “Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite.

Before you pass this off as some cliché hippie platitude, I would suggest that you take into account the fine points of this statement. The operative phrases in this passage—”truth,” “beauty,” “love,” “harmony,” and “infinite”—are some of the most important aspects of the human experience, and well represent the goals and aspirations of many people the world over! The personal and spiritual achievement of self-actualization (though implicitly indescribable), could be very well expressed using these phrases. And what does this world need more, if not a change of heart—a collective heart that embraces opportunity, infinity, harmony, and love—that leads to prosperity for all living beings? As comedian Russell Brand has stated, “The fusion of spirituality and activism feels like it is emerging for the first time since the Sixties.” I hope he’s right.

10. “Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.

We seem to be doing a terrible job on this last one. All of the aforementioned issues add up to this: humans are currently a disease to the biosphere. In our current predicament it seems that humanity, and the biodiversity of the planet, will be destroyed by selfishness, greed, and ignorance. (Buddha was on to something!) Perhaps we would like to save ourselves, our children, and future generations from the calamity of climate change and ecological destruction? We must dramatically change course if we want that better future, and, as of right now, it has been decided that extra yachts are more important.

We can change our practices and policies in order to live more harmoniously with the Earth’s ecosystems, thus ensuring not only the survival of many plant and animals species, but also our own.

 

Pope Francis and Inconsistent Climate Concerns

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The baldachin over the tomb of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. (Source unknown.)

“I’m not a scientist.” That’s a phrase which, nowadays, seems to echo through the halls of the Capitol in Washington. Despite the overwhelming consensus on the existence of climate change, and its severity, many American politicians seem content to ignore the horror that awaits.

Well I’m not a scientist, either, but I find it easy to understand and accept the science on climate change. I’d rather it (anthropogenic warming) didn’t exist, but we can’t go on just ignoring the facts, anyway. Many of the environmental crises that face the world in the 21st century can be understood through a basic review of the—I would argue—highly flawed and discordant societal systems of which we are all a part. It takes no more than a little cursory research, some empathy, and intuition to get the fact that the world is going to hell in an ecologically-devastated hand basket.

Well, it’s not all shit. (Not just yet, at least.) Despite a kind of virulent denialism on part of many political and business leaders, a few important religious figures have stepped up in response to this growing, impending disaster. Pope Francis is perhaps the most championed person in this category. He has gained some considerable attention on the issue, especially due to the announcement of a forthcoming papal encyclical which would urge Catholics to combat the crisis.

Anyone who has been following Francis’ undertakings would be right to call him something of a progressive, at least relative to most of his predecessors. But on the issue of climate I think that Francis is a bit inconsistent. In fact, he fails to really challenge one of the major contributors to climate change (and other environmental catastrophes): overpopulation.

The connection between overpopulation, and thus over-consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, is clear. (It’s no small wonder that larger carbon sources can be connected to more densely-populated areas.) And yet the Pope has no effective way of addressing this issue. In his recent visit to the Philippines, he merely suggested that Catholics not breed “like rabbits.” His view of contraception is still in line with his predecessors, and this is impacting the world in a truly negative way. The Canadian Guelph Mercury reports that the Church’s insistence on abstinence from birth control is contributing to the impoverishment of many people in Uganda, for instance. This is a direct contradiction of the Church’s stance on charity, and its efforts to alleviate poverty around the world. I myself was raised a Catholic, and I was often told of the virtues of giving to the poor. However, it’s simple logic that, the more people there are, the less there is to go around. That isn’t to say that the allocation of resources isn’t itself a problem, but that overpopulation greatly magnifies a persistent issue of wrongful consumption.

In any case, the Catholic Church needs to reform its views on contraception and overpopulation if it wants to be consistent, considering both its stated climate concerns, and its concern for the world’s poor.

“Pax et bonum!” proclaimed St. Francis. Let’s take his words to their logical conclusion. Let the Catholic Church move in a direction that is consistent with its views on climate change.

Raising Awareness of Famine in the Thar Desert

dead cow

Dead cattle in the Thar desert. (Source unknown.)

It’s incredible to me, the degree to which the Western media nitpicks its news and reportage. The world could be beset with biblical-scale floods of diarrhea and nacho cheese, and most of our news organizations would still be yammering on about Kim Kardashian’s ass. Indeed, Arctic clathrate meltdown could easily decimate civilization as we know it, but you won’t hear about that when a crack-smoking Toronto mayor is in the headlines, and the meaningful stuff is otherwise lost in a sea of celebrity divorces.

That being said, I feel that it’s necessary for some of us to, at least once in a while, utilize the Internet for personal reporting and the spread of more important news.

Something I’ve been following for the past few weeks is the ongoing drought and subsequent famine in the Tharpakar region of Pakistan. As it stands, 294 people have died (as of January 2, 2015). SAMAA TV reports that, “… children have died in Mithi, Chhachhro, Islamkot, Nangarparkar and other areas of the district, where death has become a routine, unfortunately… The number of dying children is increasing especially after the onset of winter, as they are affected rapidly by chest infections, like pneumonia.”

Thankfully, one non-profit, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) in Canada is taking donations to help relief efforts. You can donate to help the people of the Thar desert HERE.

While I know  that I have maybe only a handful of readers, if ANY of you, or ANYONE, comes across this post, PLEASE share the above link and spread the news about this ongoing disaster.

Now, I don’t want to politicize such a disaster, but I will put in my two cents about potential causes. I will end this article by letting you know that much of the change in the monsoon season that many people in Pakistan depend on is correlated with global warming and climate change. (This is also reported here.) The IPCC has stated that, as the planet warms, dry areas will undoubtedly become drier, and agriculture will thus be affected. If we want to prevent future disasters like this, we need to drastically step up our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and scrub carbon from the atmosphere.

With that in mind, let’s make 2015 a year of much-needed progress. Here’s wishing the people of the Thar much love and quick relief, and wishing you all a happy, and fruitful, new year…

We’ll All Learn to Love the Cold

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(From Alpha Coders.)

This past year, it became clear to me that the vast majority of the world’s leaders are either suicidal, insane, or both. And not only that! When they go, they want to take you and me with them!

In the face of the current climate crisis very little is being done. It seems that presidents, prime ministers, kings, and chancellors would much rather take short-term economic ease over the long-term survival of the human species. This really is insanity—self-destructive, masochistic, damning insanity—considering that the IPCC’s warming limit (2°C) for dangerous climate change is perhaps only two to a few decades away. (And, according to at least one report by the IPCC, even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, we would still be “locked in” to a global temperature rise of 1.45°C above the pre-industrial average. (And considering that at the current 0.85 degrees (mean surface temperature above the pre-industrial) we’re already witnessing hugely detrimental effects to agriculture and the environment, a 0.6 degree increase will undoubtedly bring much more chaos.)

Granted, the view that what’s helpful to the environment always comes at the expense of the economy is decidedly wrong. (It seems that way to me, at least. Not to mention a growing number of politicians and corporations…) And it must be! Because we aren’t going to convince billions of people to revert to hunter-gatherer survival, or communal simplicity, when the alternative is a fucking flat screen and a smartphone and a dollar for a McDouble.

This is where anarcho-primitivists (who want or promote said reversion—effectively modern Luddites) and ultra-environmentalists (notably Derrick Jensen—although, to be fair, his critique of civilization is also bound up with notions of anthropocentrism and other, extraneous philosophical stuff) think the world should head (or should’ve stayed) if we want (or wanted) any kind of sustainable, and meaningful, future. They should, however, be aware that they are up against over a billion Chinese and Indian nationals eager to live the kind of unsustainable lifestyle enjoyed by most Westerners at this time. They should be aware that stopping this is next to impossible, and that the best that can be done is to adapt and mitigate NOW, to the best of our abilities.

This whole conundrum, of course, is alarming. And I agree with many of those concerned that modern civilization, especially with its hyper-capitalist bent, is clearly unsustainable. But what can and should be done, instead of a reversion, is an attempt at education, reformation, adaptation, and—as I say—mitigation. “Think globally, act locally,” the mantra goes. Yet the world is in dire need of a global answer to a global problem such as climate change, a problem which is both propelled by the unsustainable scramble for finite resources, and at once also accentuates the current and future lack. (Food and water scarcity seems unavoidable with current projections (including 9 billion+ people on the planet) unless something drastic is done.) The United Nations and the slew of experts behind the IPCC seem to have little effect on the policies of individual nations, and most of these countries are unwilling to do what it takes to save humanity from the inexcusable drove of suffering and death that climate change is sure to bring, should they not act.

It seems, then, that more than ever the future is in the hands of individuals. If we cannot rely on our governments to do anything useful, then it is up to us to make a change that is both local and global in its scope.

If we don’t do anything—and, actually, terrifyingly enough, even if we do something—we ought to learn to love the cold. Because it will get much, much hotter, and much more dangerous. People will be much thirstier and hungrier and the seas will rise and the world will burn. All the more so, I’m just saying, if nothing is done. We ought to take what we can get, you know? Even if we can’t completely stop climate change in its tracks, it’s just sensible to do what we are able to in order to make the future as bright as possible, under the conditions we’ve already brought upon ourselves. (And the rest of the planet’s biosphere.)

My fear is that even the most minimal efforts to combat this won’t really materialize. (Yes, the current pledges by world governments and business leaders amount to less than zero, as far as I’m concerned.) And why, then? Because no one gives a shit. In a lackadaisical epoch of Call of Duty and Oreos, very few muster the courage, resolve, and willpower to tackle the future. And if there is a future to tackle, it certainly is the one just ahead of us.

In summation: Let’s not crash head-on into oblivion, but ease ourselves into the world we want to have, and that we want future generations to have.

Mystical Aesthetics—Post Script

As an addendum to « Mystical Aesthetics », I wanted to publish some additional material that I had forgotten to elaborate on in that article. I mentioned, at least, art forms and styles of media through which the aesthetic engenders the mystical, and I’d like to add to that dance, modern and contemporary visual art, and some philosophical observations…

~

I touched on dance with the inclusion of the Mevlevi sema, exemplified by the dervishes of Turkey. The essence of Sufi achievement, the experience of the Absolute, was extracted from the trappings of Islam by the Universal Sufi movement, which is (as the name, in a way, implies) universalist in its philosophy, pertaining to no particular religion—rather embracing the mystical-spiritual heart of all great religious experience.

sema

The Mevlevi sema. (From UNESCO.)

Dance also undoubtedly affected another, much more distinct spiritual system, one which some of the aforementioned Sufis (notably Idries Shah, an important modern mystic) claimed had borrowed some of its concepts from their tradition. (Some have also claimed an Orthodox Christian, Hermetic, and/or Kabbalistic influence.) This practice is called the Fourth Way. The system (which I am reluctant to deem a religion or philosophy, as it doesn’t neatly fit into either of those camps), ironically also called “the System”, as well as “the Work”, was developed by the Greek-Armenian, Russian-born mystic George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (also known as G.I. Gurdjieff). Gurdjieff was interested in the methods whereby humans could achieve their greatest potential, and saw the aim of his methods as waking individuals from a state of “waking sleep” into a higher, more fully-realized mode of consciousness that embraced the complete nature of being and self-awareness. Gurdjieff noted his school of thought was a kind of “esoteric Christianity,” and introduced the idea of “self-remembering.” The Fourth Way was further developed by Gurdjieff’s student, the esotericist P.D. Ouspensky, who wrote much on the subject and popularized it.

The Fourth Way is represented by the enneagram, developed (in this context) by Ouspensky, and symbolizes and systematizes the method[s] Gurdjieff and Ouspensky had elaborated. The points of the Fourth Way enneagram correspond to certain numbers, archetypes, or properties of life and nature.

Gurdjieff’s legacy of sacred dance—perhaps more appropriately deemed choreography, or “movements”, as he called them—and the co-composed music they were later set to, figures into the Fourth Way as a method of self-realization.

I’ve yet to experience one of these performances for myself, although, in any case, I’ve been raring to attend one of the “movements” since learning of Gurdjieff’s philosophy. (Granted, public performances of this kind seem very difficult to locate.) I first encountered the concepts of the Fourth Way through Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain, undoubtedly one of the outright weirdest movies of all time. (And one that I highly recommend!) That movie also spurred my reading of the incomplete novel Mount Analogue, by Rene Daumal. (Also highly recommended.)

gurdjieff-enneagram-dance

Dancers perform Gurdjieff’s “movements” in front of an enneagram. (From The Ritman Library: Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica.)

Returning to the visual arts, and not in a particularly religious sense, we find that the quiet reflection involved in appreciating a painting, for instance, can be meditative and, perhaps, ineffable.

The surrealists have always struck a chord with me: they could take us to other worlds, and imbue the mind with strange modes of understanding. Magritte has long been one of my favorites. I vaguely remember seeing his The Palace of Curtains, III in the MoMA, several years back, not far from Dali’s The Persistence of Memory and  a Van Gogh painting. (Starry Night?)

Anyway, I like his The Son of Man (French: Le fils de l’homme) very much in particular. This piece is haunting, mysterious, and (like many of his paintings) plays subtle tricks on the mind, and causes us to reevaluate our own consciousnesses and the way they relate to familiar objects and symbols:

sonofman

The Son of Man (Le fils de l’homme) by Magritte. (1964.)

Schopenhauer, whose aesthetics (here as in the philosophical discipline or study) were elaborate and sophisticated (Cf. The World as Will and Representation), divided aesthetic appreciation into different types based on their effects on human consciousness and humans’ relationship to an overarching Will. (This is a topic I won’t elaborate on here.) He noted that a state of tranquility and will-lessness (maybe a sort of quiet, ineffable absorption or contemplation, free from immediate cravings and striving) followed from the appreciation of “the beautiful”, for instance.

A definite mystical aesthetic comes out in the work of psychedelic and visionary artists. This is sensible: Few phenomena (other than religion and spirituality) are as closely associated with mystical experiences (and religion and spirituality, for that matter…) than hallucinogenic drugs. Now, while I don’t personally partake in yagé or peyote or any other mind-bending entheogens, I am vastly intrigued by their potential, not only as tools for the promotion of psychological and spiritual well-being, but also as catalysts for artistic inspiration. (Cf. McKenna’s The Invisible Landscape, etc.) In this way they are invaluable aids for some who wish to plumb and probe the greatest depths of the mind in order to retrieve powerful creativity.

One visionary artist, who deserves nothing less than a standing ovation for the absolutely meticulous detail and sublimeness of his work, is Alex Grey. He’s maybe best known for his collaborations with the band Tool, for whom he has produced album artwork and some stunning visuals for their music videos.

While Alex Grey and other psychedelic and visionary artists are not as highly regarded among the bohemian circles as many of their high-brow contemporaries, they have carved out a unique niche in the world of painting, collage, illustration, and so forth.

Alex_Grey-Ecstacy

Ecstasy by Alex Grey.

… Pablo Amaringo, a Peruvian native who incorporates shamanistic and other indigenous elements into his works, is also well known in this regard:

Ayari Huarmi by Pablo Amaringo

Ayari Huarmi by Pablo Amaringo.

… Similarly psychedelic, and yet also very different by impression and method, are the collages of Eugenia Loli:

Three Minutes to Nirvana

Three Minutes to Nirvana (“Minute One”) by Eugenia Loli.

Forever and Ever (and Ever and Ever and…)—A Little Rant on the Arbitrariness of All

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(Source unknown.)

“Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference. This boredom reveals being as a whole.”

—Heidegger

~

A little rant:

What’s the point of being famous if humanity won’t last forever? Who will remember you? What’s the point in trying to do anything with the hope of it being remembered? I mean, look at gravestones. Ever see the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington? Headstones as far as the horizon. A lot of people put a lot of effort into getting those countless blocks in the ground. And yet, when the sun expands into a red giant, every grave on the earth, whether ostentatious or cheap, will be destroyed, along with every other monument and fragment of human civilization. Supposing we create a database that holds all the information about planet Earth and human history, and install it into a generational ship and carry that information to the stars and beyond? What, then, is stopping this monolithic supercomputer from being spaghettified in a black hole or dissolved in the event of the universe’s eventual heat death? I suppose if we have figured out inter-dimensional travel by that point, we can just tunnel into parallel universes for the rest of eternity, escaping the imminent death of each one. Maybe we’ll even find a world where entropy doesn’t exist. Then we can just kick back and enjoy the rest of forever. (And ever and ever and…)

But, anyway, this seems incredibly unlikely. So why do people care about being remembered, or becoming famous? The universe is 13.7ish billion years old. It will continue to exist for billions of years. And yet, even knowing this, so many of continue to squabble over pieces of dirt and pennies on the dollar, neither of which will be here in a million years. Plate tectonics and rising sea levels, globalization and cultural degredation, the modification of language and the unfathomable future we are all beset with… Entrust oneself to change!

So where, exactly, is the human race going, in the end? Will we just continue to exist for existence’s sake, on and on until we go nuts or blow our brains out? (Will there even be brains then?) What happens when we run out of new things to do and try? Will we off ourselves out of pure boredom once every song is written, every painting painted, every book published, every poem heard… every experience experienced?

Science fiction always provides a thought-provoking, albeit outlandish, backdrop: Perhaps the answer is to put humans, or their evolutionary descendants, into flotation tanks of some sort. Then, we can keep them on (what’s assumed to become) eternal life support, and pump them full of feel-good drugs, so all they ever experience is pure bliss. E.g. A strange panacea that, say, mixes the effects of MDMA and heroin, and never causes tolerance. Addiction wouldn’t have to be worried about, since these individuals wouldn’t have to function in society. You’d just have to find space for them in a broom closet or warehouse is all. They could just be butt ass naked floating in these tanks…

Or how about something akin to The Matrix? Rather than Tom Anderson’s dead-end office job, have the denizens of this cybernetic universe live in an eternal play-land, a Cartesian dreamworld-utopia, full of the greatest delights imaginable. How would that be?

I realize that there are many philosophers who have tackled the overarching problems of purposelessness and dissatisfaction in some way or another: Buddha boiled it down to suffering, whereas on the more existential, Western side we find Heidegger, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Sartre, and so forth. It is largely an individual issue. As such, I’ve never really seen it put into the context of humanity’s long-term existence, eventual fate, and function in the universe. So, anyway, I broached the topic.

I’ve also seen the obvious mystical leanings. I like them… I do. The idea of it all being about “knowing thyself” or simply the experience of pure being, or non-being, or whatever way you formulate soteriology, etc. For religionists this may be Nirvana, or Heaven, or Jannah, or gnosis, etc. And, as I’ve implied, the existentialists tackled this issue, but only on an individual level, really. (“What is MY purpose in this world…?”) My question is, what is all of humanity eventually going towards, and what happens when we ultimately run out of things to do? Do we erase our memories (with whatever lightspeed gadgets we’re assumed to have at this theoretical point in the future, or just some kind of hyper-barbiturate, yada yada) and then just start over, ad infinitum? How is it that we avoid nihilism, or even a concomitant antinatalism, as a collective? Does this differ from the way that we give meaning to individual lives?

I know this may come off as a little silly or outlandish. Granted, I wrote this pretty quickly, so pardon a lack of articulation or elaboration. In any case, I think it’s really a pertinent question of how we value the world.

(SEE THIS ALSO.)

Mystical Aesthetics

“By losing myself in the colors and shapes around me I seemed to become very detached… The feeling wasn’t only caused by observing, being aware of, “beautiful” things, such as goldfish or pieces of moss; a full dustbin of dogshit with flies around it led to exactly the same result…”

Janwillem van de Wetering, The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery

~

The ecstatic dimensions of human life are often left in the periphery of thought and culture. Sure, popular religion may give many of us some sort of ultimatum, but you often don’t hear about the core of it all: mysticism.

Now “mysticism” is a finicky term with a myriad of definitions. While it always relates to something either spiritual, religious, or paranormal (or any combination thereof), there are different views regarding exactly what it means: dictionary descriptions differ, and put it as anything from “the belief that union with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender,” to a “belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, especially when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies…” Merriam-Webster states that mysticism is “the experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality reported by mystics,” and also defines it as “vague speculation:  a belief without sound basis,” as well as “a theory postulating the possibility of direct and intuitive acquisition of ineffable knowledge or power…”

For my purposes, I will side with the very last definition as best explaining what it is that I’m trying to get at: A direct experience and acquisition of a certain state of being or understanding.

Anyway, while I am of the opinion that genuine spiritual experience, which you might call transcendent, mystical (as I say), or (using a term Sam Harris is fond of) “numinous,” is available to every competent human being, religious or not, religion proper is perhaps the most recognizable vehicle for spiritual experience and the realization of what some may call “divinity”—to use a broad, and frankly quite connotative, phrase—otherwise a direct experience of metaphysically-, or spiritually-, directed consciousness.

No: To my mind there is no need whatsoever to introduce dogmatism, ritual, or anything outside of an evidentialist worldview in order to realize and experience the ineffable. This is a profound and profoundly powerful feeling recognized by individuals throughout history, by a variety of means, individuals who, say, utilize hallucinogens or practice deep meditation, or perhaps pondering philosophers, and artists of all stripes (in this case see Henry Miller’s The Wisdom of the Heart, esp. the essay “Creative Death”), many of whom have no specified religion or belief in the supernatural. Often we equate the supernatural with the metaphysical, or the mystical, but it is not always the case! Semantics or otherwise, these terms all bear unique meanings and impart flavors that, while quite similar, are very different in subtlety.

—I wanted to clear that up, first off.

So, in any case, religion is a vehicle for mysticality, or whatever one defines as “mystical” (or “numinous” or “transcendent”)—admittedly vague terms that quite obviously fall short of explaining what can only be “known” through direct experience. As the late wise moon-bat Terence McKenna once noted: … direct experience has been discounted and in its place all kind of belief systems have been erected… If you believe something, you’re automatically precluded from believing in the opposite, which means that a degree of your human freedom has been forfeited in the act of this belief.” While I don’t necessarily agree or believe (heh) that beliefs are inherently bad for spiritual well being or “human freedom” (cf. chaos magic), they really do represent something less meaningful and profound than direct experience, which, to my mind, is really the holy grail, the ultimate end of having beliefs in the first place.

So it is here that we can establish, I think, that religion is characterized by certain traits that are perhaps more mysterious, inexplicable, to-the-point in a way that can’t be articulated. We don’t often think of it this way: militant atheists, at least, contend that religion is all bullshit or blind dogmatism. But even Richard Dawkins, the infamous disbeliever extraordinaire, admits that religion has given us art, beauty, awe, in some sense. In a four-way conversation with his other colleagues (the collective  “New Atheists,” including the aforementioned Harris, as well as Dan Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens), he notes religious architecture as being particularly worthwhile, making the point that even hardline atheists don’t want to see history destroyed through, say, the burning of churches or demolishing of mosques. (To paraphrase loosely.) We can admit that many places of worship erected throughout the ages represent some of the most astounding examples of human creativity, and this is patently obvious to anyone who cares to really look…

But aren’t they also something more, as well?

Look, for instance, at this photograph:

(Source unknown.)

(Source unknown.)

This is the vaulted dome of the interior of the Shah Mosque in Isfahan. The ornate details are beautiful. The coloring is wild and vivid. And yet what seems to strike the heart is the ascendance of all these details towards a central point. There is almost a fractal-like quality which aspires toward a unification in the one, prime shape. Without any supernatural or philosophical injunction, without any speculation or lengthy discussion, we almost immediately appreciate this. It strikes a chord. Is that merely an aesthetic appreciation? Or does it go beyond that in some sense? If so, why?

What is it about this photo that seems so incredible?:

The north rose window in Notre Dame de Paris.

The north rose window in Notre Dame de Paris. (Source unknown.)

… Or this one?:

The Triumurti temples at the Prambanan Hindu temple complex.

The Triumurti temples at the Prambanan Hindu temple complex. (Source unknown.)

Call it a matter of giving credit where it’s unwelcome, but to me every “sacred space,” plain or ostentatious, gilded or glued together, opens up into the mystery, the mystical. Even in plain, rural Baptist churches the uniformity of the pews and aisles and the act of people coming together to embrace a great, final unknown… well, that’s something, isn’t it? It’s something that strikes me in holy places, whether empty or brimming with crowds of worshipers. Well, what do you deem that?

To me, the temple, the mosque, and the synagogue all come down to this: A place is set aside, somewhere in a world otherwise wild, and within the confines of the space a sense of unity and awe is erected. Unity is found through some kind of order amid the wrack and commotion of everything outside, the indifference of the universe.

On that topic, both order and unity seem important in mystical aesthetics…. (And perhaps unity more so…) The idea that everything is pervaded by one substance or essence, even if (as Buddhists contend) that essence is, in fact, non-essence or emptiness. This thing, however you imagine it, is a perhaps a monad beneath the surface, a universal so slight that you can barely see it. Yet it passes through your mind as you wander the halls of vaulted cathedrals or circumambulate the borders of a stupa: order, pattern, singularity, microcosm and macrocosm coming together in a beautiful, inseparable whole. You don’t know it or talk about it, you don’t quantify or qualify it… you experience it, become it, are it.

Recently, I discovered a phrase and concept that helps shine some light on the ubiquitous beauty of mystical aesthetics: Shapes and visual patterns ascribed to the “sacred,” such as religious structures, as well as visionary, psychedelic, and religious art; and non-religious objects and spaces that may otherwise be considered “spiritual,” can fall under the category of “sacred geometry.” (No superstitious associations necessary.) According to Paul Calter, et al (thank you Wikipedia), sacred geometry is any, well, geometry that provides or elucidates symbolic and sacred meanings. More broadly (by my own definition), it may be geometry that evokes a sense of awe, interconnectedness, and transcendence (a preferred phrase which is comprehensive enough to include most religions); or an example of the work of a divine being or agent (i.e. the monotheistic, often Abrahamic God) through said being’s establishment of order in the universe, or a visual appeal to or glorification of that being/God.

A Sri Yantra, a sacred diagram which figures into Hindu tantra, and is related to the Tantric or Tibetan Buddhist mandala. (Source unknown.)

A Sri Yantra, a sacred diagram which figures into Hindu tantra, and is related to the Tantric or Tibetan Buddhist mandala. (Source unknown.)

The squared circle, an alchemical symbol of the philosopher's stone.

The squared circle, an alchemical symbol of the philosopher’s stone and an example of sacred geometry. (Source unknown.)

Another depiction of the squaring of the circle, this depiction from a work by the 17th century alchemist Daniel Stolz von Stolzenberg.

Another depiction of the squaring of the circle, this from a work by the 17th century alchemist Daniel Stolz von Stolzenberg. Note the representation of non-duality, or the pairing of opposites, in male (Sun) and female (Moon) coming together as one.

Sacred geometry seems to play a larger role in religious architecture and art relegated to certain traditions or contexts. A prime example: While alchemy is not in any full sense a religious endeavor, alchemical symbols, motifs, etc. (as shown above) figure in religions and systems of ceremonial magic (which may, depending, rely on supernatural or paranormal claims) such as those associated with the Hermetic and [broader] Western esoteric tradition—Hermeticism, the Golden Dawn, Thelema, Gnosticism, Rosicrucianism, and some other belief systems associated with a Neoplatonic worldview or “occult” practices. Alchemical symbols often denote certain elements, substances, forces, or other aspects of reality, and thus provide a measure of “language” with which these belief systems can communicate particular ideas.

A Tibetan Buddhist mandala. (Source unknown.)

A Tibetan Buddhist mandala. (Source unknown.)

Another case: Islamic architecture has long featured extremely detailed, maximalistic tiling, calligraphy, etc., especially—it seems—in Persian and Ottoman Islamic architecture. (To an extent some features were borrowed from Byzantine Christian aesthetics, as well as earlier Roman and pre-Islamic or Zoroastrian Persian styles.) One thing to note is that while the Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches were generally—or at least some time after Christ’s death—comfortable with the depiction of saints, angels, and other revered individuals or beings, iconoclasm was much more frowned upon in Islam, as idolatry is a serious sin (as far as I understand) in the faith of Muhammad. Thus Islamic artists and architects specialized in the aforementioned elements, whereas Christian artists and architects more easily took to depicting the human form. 

In any case, this use of geometry and whimsical, curving calligraphy beautifies and glorifies the interior of great mosques, pointing to the oneness and uniqueness of Allah (Arabic: توحيد‎ tawḥīd), a cornerstone of Islamic theology.

Again, the interior of the Iranian Shah Mosque is striking, and strikingly relevant:

800px-Imamsquare2

The Shah Mosque of Isfahan. Notice the Qur’anic scriptures laid out against the blue. (Source unknown.)

No doubt, this work moves the heart, whether one is religious or not. For Islamic mystics, or Sufis, this may just lay the soul bare…

shah

More of the masjid. (Source unknown.)

… And now notice the difference between this and the statuary of Catholic Christendom, which yet engenders mystical or transcendent feeling, albeit in a much different way:

Rom,_Santa_Maria_della_Vittoria,_Die_Verzückung_der_Heiligen_Theresa_(Bernini)

The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa by Bernini. (1652.) In the Santa Maria della Vittoria church in Rome. (Source unknown.)

This statue gives us insight into ecstasy (in the mystical sense), or more specifically religious ecstasy, a feeling of blissful communion with something much greater than oneself. The Catholic mystics have long reported this experience.

Taking a gander at statues, we slip from the world of religious architecture into religious visual art proper, which also clarifies the mystical state of being.

Adi Shankara (ca. 8th century CE) with disciples. Shankara consolidated the Hindu philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, which posits the non-duality, or unity of all objects and subjects in one's self (atman) and the supreme self (Brahman).

Adi Shankara (ca. 8th century CE) with disciples. Shankara consolidated the Hindu philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, which posits the non-duality, or unity, of all objects and subjects in one’s self (atman) and the supreme self (Brahman). (Source unknown.)

Here we see Adi Shankara in a state of peace and perhaps meditative absorption. Shankara is revered as one of the greatest gurus in Hinduism and the consolidator of the profound philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. This mystical ideology posits the unity of oneself and the universe, of object and subject, and of the notion that it is an illusion to see oneself as detached from anything in the universe. This philosophy was no doubt influenced by Mahayana Buddhist ideas, with their concepts of Tathatā (Sanskrit: तथता “suchness”, or the state of things being simply what they are) or Dharmata, as well as Dharmakāya. (The inconceivable aspect of an enlightened being, or Buddha, which goes beyond characteristic.)

In Tibetan Buddhism religious art is especially important as a means of meditation. Hence there are a number of “meditational deities” (yidam) upon whose images meditators gaze in order to view themselves as being said deity, or embodying its qualities to a certain degree.

Vajrakilaya, a yidam or meditational deity in Tibetan Buddhism.

Vajrakilaya, a yidam or meditational deity in Tibetan Buddhism. (Source unknown.)

Now to digress a little:

Visual art is maybe the most obvious means of conveying sacred feeling, as far as religion and associated worldviews go. I dug up a pertinent excerpt from blogger Sean Robsville, who notes of the aesthetician Roger Scruton in his blog Transcultural Buddhism, “Scruton believes that all great art has a ‘spiritual’ dimension, even if it is not overtly religious. It is this transcendence of the mundane that we recognise as ‘beauty’.”

However, it’s important to remember that religion, while imagined by its outward appearances, conveys its greatest teachings, its bare-bones paradigms, through its literature. (Granted, this is omitting many indigenous and shamanistic or animistic religions which depend on oral traditions.) After all, most religions have their religious texts. Without these from whence do we proceed, philosophically or otherwise?

In the major Abrahamic religions (at least), this is where esotericism, or esoteric interpretation, is important. Many readers of the Christian Bible, the Torah or Tanakh, or the Qur’an may find those texts to contain rather straightforward injunctions regarding societal organization, politics, and morality. (Although it must be noted that even the basic interpretations of these texts, whether literal or metaphorical, vary significantly. It seems there are many translations and versions of the Bible (among Christian denominations) in particular.) Yet each of these religions has adherents who see the deeper, more profound meanings hidden behind platitudes and proverbs. Mystics among all traditions have long divided their pertinent holy writings into different levels of meaning.

The beautiful allegories of many religious texts are championed by monastics and mystics alike (although monasticism often reflects a degree of mysticism, if it is not simply a subset of, or is related to a mystic’s style of life, as exemplified by Christian tradition primarily) to validate a deep-seated sense of spirituality. In the case of many monotheistic religions, nearness to or union with God is a primary objective.

Two passages, from the Bible and Qur’an, are pertinent:

  • Bible (New Testament):  John 14:20: “In that day you will know that I am in my Father (God), and you in me, and I in you.”
  • Qur’an: Qaf 6/16[?]: And We (God) have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein.”

In Eastern religions, the concept of union is also important (cf. yoga, which literally means “to yoke” or “to unite”), although it is presented in a different light.

  • Mandukya Upanishad: 1.2: “All this is, indeed, Brahman. This Atman is Brahman.”
    • Note: In Hinduism, “Brahman” refers to the supreme self, the “self” of  the cosmos, which is ultimately indefinable. “Atman” refers to one’s self. In the Upanishads (which reveal the aforementioned Vedanta) it is consistently reaffirmed that oneself is not separate from the supreme self and the universe.
  •  Tao Te Ching: Ch. 16:

“Attain the ultimate emptiness
Hold on to the truest tranquility
The myriad things are all active
I therefore watch their return”

  •  Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra: Ch. 4: “When appearances and names are put away and all discrimination ceases, that which remains is the true and essential nature of things and, as nothing can be predicated as to the nature of essence, is called the “Suchness” of Reality.”

From all of these texts we can pick out the commonality of oneness and universalism—union, interconnectivity, non-duality, “suchness”; the return to a mysterious, inscrutable (and yet perceived!) source.

Now, the media of experiential spirituality is not limited to religious work. This must be understood in order to truly cross over into the fold of spirituality/mysticism—that it is not merely in the domain or possession of religion. Religion certainly is the traditional vehicle or vessel of spirituality and mystical experience, but as I have stated, similar states can be engaged by people with no religious background. Certainly philosophers and artists of all stripes can come close to these experiences in their own ways. (While philosophy is mainly about intellectual analysis and the arts about creative work, the trance state can and has historically been engaged (albeit not often reported) in the course of doing philosophy and art. Not to mention the fact that throughout history throngs of artists (by this I mean musicians, writers, etc. as well) and philosophers have also been “mystics”, or have at least reported or sought out mystical experiences by one means or another. (Cf. Jean-Paul Sartre and Alan Watts’ experiences with mescaline.))

Mystical poetry is a long-standing tradition, and many people have expressed a connection to some Absolute or another, or a sort of universal love, by way of poetry. The great Persian poet Rumi—a Sufi (Islamic) mystic and antecedent of the Mevlevi Order—is perhaps the most famous example, especially in the case of love. (Particularly a sort of Islamic divine love. (the Christian phrase, from the Greek, is agape.)) This, for instance, comes from his Masnavi:

“The lover’s cause is separate from all other causes
Love is the astrolabe of God’s mysteries.”

This is another outstanding piece entitled “Only Breath”:

“Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen. Not any religion
 
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up
 
from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
 
am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any
 
origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
 
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
 
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.”

Even more explicitly non-particular in his tradition was the fantastical poet and mythologist (called a “glorious luminary” by William Rossetti) William Blake, who, although nominally Christian, expressed universalism and the all-pursuing qualities of a philosopher-mystic throughout his writing and art.

William_Blake_-_Sconfitta_-_Frontispiece_to_The_Song_of_Los

Blake’s frontispiece, depicting gnostic themes, for his book The Song of Los (written 1795).

 … Here is his “The Divine Image”, originally featured in Songs of Innocence:

“To Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
All pray in their distress:
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is God our father dear:
And Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is Man his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart
Pity, a human face:
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace the human dress.

Then every man of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine
Love Mercy Pity Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk or jew.
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.”

Poetry and prose have always had the potential, as much as art, to evoke mystical feeling. The variety of written works that may be characterized as “mystical” or “spiritual” is incredible. And yet as disparate as they may be, they all share in the perennial force of an Absolute, or engender a connection to this ineffable quality.

In contrast with the flowery language of Rumi and Blake, I will provide a much more contemporary example from the writings of the aforementioned Henry Miller (a personal hero—I’m currently working on my fourth book of his (Moloch: or, This Gentile World), since I recently finished Black Spring, and both of the Tropic novels before that), who, while quite gritty and very surreal by comparison, is yet like the proverbial “finger pointing at the moon” (spoken of in Zen discourse).

… From Tropic of Cancer:

“Today I awoke from a sound sleep with curses of joy on my lips, with gibberish on my tongue, repeating to myself like a litany – “Fay ce que vouldras!… fay ce que vouldras!”; Do anything, but let it produce joy. Do anything, but let it yield ecstasy. So much crowds into my head when I say this to myself: images, gay ones, terrible ones, maddening ones, the wolf and the goat, the spider, the crab, syphilis with her wings outstretched and the door of the womb always on the latch, always open, ready like the tomb. Lust, crime, holiness: the lives of my adored ones, the failures of my adored ones, the words they left behind them, the words they left unfinished; the good they dragged after them and the evil, the sorrow, the discord, the rancor, the strife they created. But above all, the ecstasy!”

Henry Miller

Henry Miller. (Source unknown.)

(Interestingly, fay ce que vouldras is French for “do what thou wilt” (the common translation), from Rabelais (whom Miller was acquainted with), and the essential motto of the religion and [religious] philosophy of Thelema.)

As Miller said of his book, “My idea briefly has been to present a resurrection of the emotions, to depict the conduct of a human being in the stratosphere of ideas, that is, in the grip of delirium.”

Is this truly delirium, or mystical psychosis?

It is noteworthy that Miller was influenced to some degree by Theosophy and the ideas of Jiddu Krishnamurti, whom he mentions several times in at least one book.

… Lastly, I’d like to look at music. I’ve left this one for last in honor of Aldous Huxley’s well-known statement: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

Whether this statement is true or not, music is an art form that quite seriously depends on states of duality, being and non-being… that is, sound and silence. The dance of dichotomy, of existence and non-existence, is readily noticeable in music. It is an aesthetic employed for mystical means in the appreciation of some traditional Japanese compositions, what with the notion of ma (間, “negative space”).

And Japan has a long, variegated tradition of sacred music. From Shintō court scores to monosyllabic Buddhist chants, music has been featured in much of Japanese religious life. Perhaps the most mysterious example is that of the shakuhachi…

The shakuhachi, known by a few as kyotaku (“empty bell”) and in certain forms as hocchiku (“dharma bamboo”), was originally more of a religious tool than an instrument: this vertical bamboo flute was employed by komusō, the eccentric-looking monks of the Fuke sect of Japanese Zen, who played it for enlightenment and alms as they wandered the countryside. They practiced suizen, or “blowing zen”, as a form of meditation, and concentrated on honkyoku, sacred Zen Buddhist pieces that reflect deep mystery (embodying the Japanese aesthetic of yūgen) and the qualities of enlightenment. I myself will admit to having dabbled in this instrument,  and, by my own experience, it requires nothing if not the patience and persistence of a Zen master. A simple, holed-out length of bamboo can, in the correct state of mind, produce an audible symbol of gnosis. Hokyoku are spontaneous and utterly indescribable, and rightly so. I personally came face to face with this experience, this intangible nature, during a shakuhachi concert at Roulette in Brooklyn several years ago. (Props to the Japan Society, Ned Rothenberg, Kinya Sogawa, and Ralph Samuelson for an amazing performance. I remember it fondly!) The concert was indescribably mysterious. (Yūgen?)

komuso

A komusō in traditional garb, begging at Jochi-ji temple in Kita-Kamakura, Japan. (From Wikipedia.)

… Bamboo is also the basis of the bansuri, an Indian transverse flute famously employed by Krishna, avatar of Vishnu, admired (and even worshiped) by millions of mainstream Hindus, and beloved mystagogue of the Hare Krishna sect of Hinduism. (More properly known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.) The flute is involved in Krishna’s romance with Radha, and the sound of classical Hindustani music as played on the bansuri encapsulates a spirit of serene bliss and love. Whereas the shakuhachi’s typical music is characterized by a benign, wild indifference—blasts of air like claps of thunder centered and contrasted by soft drones and strange vibratos—the bansuri’s domain is one of ecstasy and calm joy painted by colorful tones and and a sense of pervasiveness. While the bansuri’s song is peaceful in the same sense as the shakuhachi’s, it’s more of a divine love ballad born from the depths of the heart and pouring over the world, whereas the shakuhachi’s is the portrait of a mind that has been liberated, one that resides on top of a mountain in the rain, or hides in the mist that hangs in a deciduous grove.

Krishna with his bansuri. (From GodofIndia.com)

Krishna playing his bansuri. (From GodofIndia.com)

A similar instrument, although not bamboo, is the ney. A Middle-Eastern rim-blown woodwind, it is possibly most famous in Turkey and Iran. The ney is made from reeds, and so has the same basic properties as bamboo. (Canes and reeds are grasses like bamboo, albeit smaller.) The Turkish ney in particular is known for its use in the rites (sema) of the Mevlevi Order of Sufism (as per Rumi). By all rights, this order, known for its famous whirling dervishes, is probably the face of Sufism in the non-Islamic world. Their whirling is often accompanied by the ney and various other instruments.

Medvlevi whirling dervishes and ney players in 1887. (Source unknown.)

Mevlevi whirling dervishes and ney players in 1887. (Source unknown.)

Whether by the means and methods of music, art, architecture, poetry, prose, dance, or sculpture—or anything at all, for that matter—the aesthetic is not merely the superficial face-value of a modern consumerist aeon; not evil as it may be to the gnostics, who have long regarded the material realm the creation of an opressive demiurge; not a fleeting hedonistic playground where every sense is tantalized and inundated with meaningless data, as per Kierkegaard… no, that couldn’t be further from the truth! The aesthetic is the portent of the spiritual, a portal into the mysterium tremendum, a bridge and not an end. The end, then, is left to be determined by us as individuals, who with our hands and blood and sweat and tears carve out art and engrave our souls into the vast mundaneness of of the universe, a blank scape laid below us and an immovable ridgepole supporting our existence. If we can see the beauty in the everyday, and fashion from the clay of the earth the mantle of the stars, then we may just be able to see the One thing, the mystic thing, the nameless thing, that lies at the end of the oft-trodden road.

~

AFTERWARD

As I posted to Unknown Dopeness (and I feel makes for a good summary):

“This is a tangentially philosophical article and examination that I wrote on my blog. In essence, it’s an exploration of what I like to call “mystical aesthetics,” which comprises the methods whereby art symbolizes and acts as a portent of the mystical. Basically, the aesthetic (the arts) have the potential to channel the metaphysical, or engender states of spiritual experience.

Schopenhauer, in essence, implied our contact with the nature of the world can come through music, for instance. Aldous Huxley said that music was only outdone by silence as “expressing the inexpressible”. Mystical poetry, visionary art, religious architecture, sacred geometry, and other mediums of expression point toward higher states of consciousness. It is my view that the artist may enter these states through the spirit of abstract work.

I hope you enjoy!”

—See the post script HERE.

Briefly Defending Everything in the Universe (… And an Open Invitation to Debate)

It was in the corner this whole time! (Source unknown.)

It’s about time! (Source unknown.)

So I just put away a pretty potent drink and I feel brazen enough to respond to an ornery YouTuber (and they often are ornery) who seems to have mischaracterized Taoism. Not that I’m a defender of the little faiths, or a Karen Armstrong or Joseph Campbell or Alan Watts, or a New Age burnout wired on superficial impressions of Eastern religions—attempting to find a way out of my cosmopolitan existential crisis. Though I suppose many of us who contend with the ridiculous realms of the inner life maintain a kind of respect for the Armstrongs and Campbells and Wattses of the world, and so we get tired of the idiot impressions of profound spiritualities. I get a bit irked, anyway.

As a preface, I don’t consider myself a Taoist. I do, however, appreciate, entertain, and even accept some [philosophical] Taoist ideas. Taoism is part of a big hodge-podge of many philosophies, religions, and spiritual worldviews that I fit into my nice little eclectic, skeptic, ever-evolving sense of reality.

On a response video titled RE: Taoism is Bullshitrebutting a video in which the hardline atheist narrator calls out Taoism as just another load of crap in line with Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.the uploader makes some very good points. In particular, he makes a distinction between skepticism and atheism, terms which are used interchangeably by many people nowadays. Sadly, the nuances of these views are lost to know-it-alls who have the entire universe figured out.

Anyway, the uploader’s straightforward and, I would argue, very reasonable rebuttal seems incomprehensible to one commenter, who states:

“Taoism is bullshit, it’s worshipping (sic) a dead pig’s head and the moon, it’s dualistic and calls itself the oneness, it calls itself simple, but it’s hard to remember, understand, just do, can’t be explained, it doesn’t make sense, it’s not simple, nor is it natural and if you think it is you’re mentally retarded. Taoism with its uplifting music is negative, and it’s unknowable that the Tao exists or not, however its existence is possible, Lao Tsu’s probably making it up.”
Here is my response:

“Taoism utilizes duality as a way of appreciating non-duality (“oneness”, as you call it). Hence the symbol of taijitu (“yin yang”), representing the interpenetration of opposites. (Dark can only be known in relation to light, good in relation to evil, etc. Thus they exist by virtue of their relationship with their opposites.)Hard to remember and understand? Taoism is incredibly straightforward: Try to live your life in accordance with the way that things are, and the nature of the universe. Be natural. Don’t fight life–go with it. Understand the inter-connectivity of everything. Lose yourself in the way that things are, and become free.I’m not sure what music you’re speaking of. Yes, religious Taoism (daojiao) has ritual music. But we’re talking about philosophical Taoism (daojia) here.

Yes, of course it’s unknowable whether or not the Tao exists. The Tao is a priori knowledge, conception, and characteristic. The Tao comes before being and non-being. The Tao is not something to be known. It is merely a principle, symbolized by all that is or ever will be. It is merely the way that things are, and the constancy of this self-evident fact. The Tao is the most subtle universalism you can imagine. It is self-evident by the fact that things simply are the way they are. It is not a thing nor a non-thing.

Lao Tsu was not “making anything up”. He discovered an eternal, self-evident principle, one that has been echoed by philosophers and mystics for centuries. What Lao Tsu called the Tao, Heraclitus called the Logos. The Hermeticists and Thelemites call it the All or the Absolute, or refer to it (in the Kabbalistic manner) as Kether (the totality of all things or the ultimate thing). Buddhists call it sunyata (emptiness), or thathata  (sic) (suchness). It is nothing more than the way that things are.”

Now, I would love nothing more than if you metaphysically-minded folks would mosey on over and debate me on this topic. So few people get down to the nitty gritty introspective bits of Eastern religionsrather summing it up as something along the lines of “yeah, man, quantum fields fluctuating in the 11th dimension make the being of non-being really, like (inhale), mystical and shit, and that’s the beauty of the Tarot man, only $22.95 for this healing crystal shaped like Buddha’s dick. Whoa.”

First off please, please don’t take this as arrogance. I’m not here to smell my own farts. (Well, maybe a little.) In fact, I’m writing about this specifically because I don’t have enough people openly debate me on my views. (It gets lonely here behind a screen, and having founded several blogs with no followers whatsoever. (Advertising through pity now…) It’s almost like I’m talking to myself…)
No. I want someone to rigorously and unapologetically smash my opinion to bits. And then shit on it. Unless you agree with me. I always appreciate commonality. I don’t know, man… Either way, please, please utilize the comments section!
To conclude, this is one particular problem that arises when discussing things of the inner lifespirituality, philosophy, and so forth: semiotics. We wouldn’t have any of the above without people getting lost in the terminology, the phraseology, the meanings and symbols and connotations. Many of these profound ideas are inferential, but even more so they are experiential. “Tao,” “dharma,” “sunyata,” and all that are not merely spiritually-loaded ideals, or dogmatized woo woo. They mean nothing if they are not apprehended as experiences.
Just my two cents. Two cents from my kitchen table on a Monday. My glass is empty. Now I’m off to take a nap.
~
P.S.
I apologize if the spacing in this article is terrible. I don’t have the patience or wherewithal to deal with WordPress plugins and all that bullshit. It seems I’ll need a PhD in particle physics if I want to make these blog posts look half way decent. Pakistanis need not worry about missing the gorgeous view.
Also, the YouTube account with which I replied is no longer active. That was a sort of “bullshitting” account. Try not to get salty about some of my abrasive punditry, or some of my former views.

We Are Not Alone

fuck

(Source unknown.)

REDACTED doesn’t seem a terribly common name, even if it is unisex. So few people know REDACTED—at least around REDACTED—that when I tell them my name they have to do a double-, triple-, or even quadruple-take, attempting to correct themselves.

REDACTED?” They’ll ask.

“No, REDACTED.”

REDACTED? You said REDACTED?”

REDACTED. REDACTED. REDACTED.”

“With a “REDACTED“?”

… Anyway, that’s sort of how introductions tend to go for me. It doesn’t peeve me anymore, really. Now it’s just funny. I fully expect to be, and indeed I am, known as Brian to at least a few people. Primarily a former co-worker from Peru.

Have you ever been tempted to go online and look up your name? It’s a strange feeling. Next time you do decide to Google yourself, put your name in quotes (of course). I would then highly recommend clicking the “Images” tab—what pops up can be anything from stiflingly boring, absolutely hilarious, mortifying, depressing, or outright shocking.

The fact is that we aren’t alone with our names. Names, those things that encapsulate us as individual beings… you’d think there would be some inherent sacredness about them. No. Sorry. They’re nearly omnipresent, at least for the majority of us.

Imagine my surprise when I found out just how close to “Jon Doe” “REDACTED” is:

Apparently I’m … REDACTED…

I also have the pleasure of being a REDACTED, as well as a REDACTED. Yes, I’m REDACTED. (Two of them, at least.) I’m also from REDACTED, interestingly enough. (I’m admittedly a little envious of this other REDACTED. REDACTED sounds pretty damn good, especially with the ass-kicking (I mean that in a bad, bad way) winters we get here.)

So maybe I’m one of a few million people with REDACTED to their name. So what?

Considering this, I began crediting myself as “REDACTED” in my blogs and such. There’s no way that anyone else could possibly be a “REDACTED“, right?

Wrong again. But only by a hair: There are two—two—REDACTED other than myself. (Well, that’s what Google can detect with its wizardry, in any case.) Apparently one of them lives in Illinois, and the other one was arrested in Philadelphia for possession of heroin with the intent to distribute.

As intimidating as heroin dealers might be, I have to admit that, after finding this out, I had a little bit of a sort of morbid desire to meet this guy. He’s what? Two, maybe three hours from me? Pennsylvania isn’t so far from yuppie-nutmeg-country. It would have been pretty jaw-dropping to meet another REDACTED, much less a REDACTED at all.

It was my intention, as an aspiring writer—of sorts—to quite literally make a name for myself, one that would stand out amid the crowd, the sea of John Does, John Smiths, Sarahs and Ashleys and Chads and Joes. What will I do now? I can’t really use my full name. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue too well. “Ryan Vincent Stewart” doesn’t have the same ring as “John Stuart Mill” or “John Lee Hooker”.

And you know what? It wouldn’t matter anyway. Because, apparently, there’s a REDACTED in West Unity, Ohio.

Now what lightens the mood a bit is REDACTED, son of REDACTED, apparently a serviceman in the U.S. Army during WWII. After all this debasing of identity, I got a bit of a kick out of that.

It just goes to show that if you do enough snooping ’round digital space you’ll find all sorts of useless facts about people you’ll never meet, or who’ve been dead and buried for god knows how long now. Maybe that makes me a proverbial “creeper,” or just an asshole, or whatever.

All of this is ultimately the consequence of living in a  world of 7 or 8 billion and counting. What? You expected to be unique? You are one helluva ubiquitous snowflake, my friend.

Maybe, after all, we shouldn’t condemn celebrities for giving their kids such fanciful names as Pilot Inspektor (son of Jason Lee) and Jermajesty Jackson (son of Jermaine Jackson). Then they’ll go down in history without parentheses after their name on the pertinent Wikipedia page; they will be known for something more than the fact that they are the offspring of people who regularly bathe in liquid gold.

Maybe, after all, we ought to start naming everyone John Doe, or John Smith, or…

Drugs of Choice (or, Why I Need Better Drugs)

thirdcircle

The third circle of Dante’s vision of Hell. This circle is the home of the gluttons, those not completely unlike myself on relatively bad days. (Source uknown.)

Food is my drug of choice, and I damn myself for it. Temporarily, that is. Many of us have been through that, or consistently struggle with some style of self-inflicted ass kicking. But then you get hungry again, and it starts over and builds back up to the break.  I eat shit and then crawl up into my head to do a few rounds of “it’ll get better,” watching the words drift out of sight. In a moment I realize that much of that post-indulgent, self-consoling armchair philosophy, all of those machismo-laden aspirations are pretty unnecessary. You know what I mean… you have the entire box of macaroni and cheese—you’ve nearly forgotten the meaning of the phrase “serving size!”—and then afterwards you stand there, uneasy, somewhere way off those mental projections playing out on your mind’s eye, a paradisaical rendition in which you bench wrought iron and walk out the door an incubus…

At some point you just have to watch a button pop off of a pair of freshly ironed slacks and go flying across the room. You have to see it land on the floor or hit the baseboards so that you wake up and shove those flowers down your throat, followed by a large tub of Hamburger Helper. It’s only then, in a moment of glory, that you can admit to it, turn your eyes to the earth, and humbly proclaim, “I’m just a fucking fatass.”

It doesn’t need to get any more complex than that. Really… I mean it’s quite the relief. Because now that you know you’ve got a problem you can, of course, begin chipping away until you expunge from your life every inclination towards pork fat and Boston Cremes. Wipe your brow, raise your hands, and place the cake slowly on the ground.

No, it’s never that simple. Really… because then it’s that chipping away that becomes so tedious… hours at the gym won’t do justice to half of a large pizza on a Saturday evening. You just ate half a fucking pizza. I’m sorry, sir, ma’am, but you are a bona fide fatass. How do you put it, then? … Quid pro quo!

Now let me be clear: you don’t need to be fat to be a fatass. I’ve met fatasses short and tall, rotund and rattling like chimes in the wind. It’s a psychological condition, fatassery. It’s the unassailable connection you’ve got to food. Food becomes a sad savior. The world may be falling apart, but if you’ve got the time and lack of energy to allocate to a box car diner, you may just die happily. Really, is there anything more comfortingly complacent, and yet depressing, than taking so much joy in the simple act of stuffing one’s face? And why, in the first place? You may not even eat when you’re hungry… you may eat out of boredom or to alleviate any one of a myriad of shitty situations. You lost your job? How about we go out for a slice?

It’s no stretch at this point… the mentality of indulgence and routine, lackadaisical waving-aways of reality end up providing you with highs that hit harder and stick longer. Sleep is chief among these. Sleep is my drug of choice.

However, I don’t quite damn myself for sleeping as much as being gluttonous. Because sleep is more universal, you know. There aren’t qualities of sleep more or less hedonistic than food: There is no red velvet cake to sleeping, or if there is, it’s just more subtle. Because unless you’re an insomniac or work the graveyard, do you really envy your neighbor for his Bed of Ware? Unless you recline on nails or your spine is snapped, what is it to sleep that makes it anything other than ideal for everyone, all the time? Sure, doctors say too little or too much is unhealthy, but we don’t disparage over-sleepers like we do over-eaters. We sympathize with excessive fatigue, but frown upon excessive hunger. Or, rather, we could care less that our friend crashed on our couch for 16 hours, whereas if he eats our top ramen we can kick him in the taint. Where are our priorities? Where are our preferences? What is the narcoleptic’s equivalent of fatassery? A sloth? What?

It’s just goes without saying that if people have no obligations or endeavors on a certain day, they might as well, and may very well, continue punching the snooze button until 6 pm rolls around. I often experience this as the fruition of staying up until 7 in the morning. It’s nice to know you’re not in a rush to do anything in particular, although the rebound sets in eventually, and regret pours out of your eyes. At least I was doing something while I was inhaling that burrito. Now I’ve just been comatose for half a day. What did that do, other than to prove that I can waste my precious time? What did it do, other than to show that I have the freedom not to worry, or rather to put worrying off until the strain becomes unbearable?

Masturbation is also a drug of choice. It, too, comes (heh) with the nothing-to-do 20-something package. I mean if you’re really, really bored all day, and don’t even take a step outside for nearly 3 consecutive days, how else do you think you’re going to end up spending your time? And if once, then why not twice, or thrice, or 15 times? Go for the record, why don’t you? You’ll be sorry when you’re sore though.

I don’t want habituation or hubris, just the ability to do things at leisure. Perhaps I’d like a little moderation in all things—as they say—but then what’s to keep that from becoming a new priority? Can you mediate mediation without Jack growing dull? Doesn’t that become a “drug” after all is said and done with? Where’s the standard beyond health or appropriate time management, set for and by oneself? When does my choice fall into a gridlock with my impulses, and then am I really even calling the shots?

These are just some thoughts. But in conclusion, I think I may need better drugs.