In this post I’m linking a video I recently published to YouTube in which I read a selection of part 2 (“The Universe as We Seek To Make It”) of Aleister Crowley’s “An Essay Upon Number.” This “An Essay Upon Number” was included in Crowley’s The Temple of Solomon the King, which itself was included in the A∴A∴ periodical The Equinox, specifically Vol. I, No. 1. “An Essay Upon Number” was also included in Crowley’s 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley.
I have posted to LOGOS! a link to a YouTube video I just published, wherein I read the chapter and essay “Barriers” from the book Introduction toMagic, Vol. I: Rituals and Practical Techniques for the Magus.
I’ve been itching to reboot my YouTube account for a while now. I used to do some sparse reviews and music video mashups and all that. I figured, I’ve still got it on there, and decided to start uploading again.
I’m not a bona fide philosopher. But I like to talk my ass off.
Gustave Doré: illustration of Lucifer falling from Heaven (1865), for Milton’s Paradise Lost.
“Of course we’re doomed. That’s a given. But, I think we often wonder how and when… I mean, you can’t honestly expect the human race to survive, say, the heat death of the universe; and, we know in all likelihood that it will be much earlier than that, that the species meets its demise. I mean, I think it was said [that] that would occur in something like 10 to the hundreth power (10100) years or something—some wildly ridiculous number like that… the heat death of the universe… the “degenerate era,” or whatever. But I guess the problem boils down to one of infinity and immortality… you know, this idea that we need to preserve something… Why? I mean, you see monuments and statues and all sorts of things erected all over the world all the time in honor of so and so or such and such; and you do have to wonder, you know… several billion years from now the Sun is going to engulf the Earth… and you have to wonder exactly what people are thinking. Like… this is being left for posterity? [I mean] it’s short-sighted. If you’re long-sighted you realize none of it lasts, and there’s no point in doing anything with a sense of I’m preserving something… [That] I’m preserving some kind of artifact, especially… that, you know, is really ultimately a product of my ego. And I think this is where we boil down to a lot of moral philosophy… that here and now, what can we do to alleviate the suffering of sentient creatures? I think that ultimately that’s what we care about, even if we don’t realize it. “We all want to be happy.” I think that’s what the Dalai Lama said, right? But… “what can we do to make ourselves and other people [truly] happy?” Not, “what can we do to gratify ourselves and make us feel like we’re somehow memetically (sic) immortal?” Because, we won’t be, and none of this—none of the grandiose structures… none of the art, the literature, the music, the philosophy—nothing that humans have ever done is going to be a lasting thing in the universe at large (sic). So, what do we do now? Here and now? I think that’s the real question.”
I think that if we take this view to its logical conclusion we realize the general importance of empathy and compassion. Now, there are moral relativists, and solipsists, and other types who think that morality, generally speaking, doesn’t have a set state, or that suffering is either non-existent (and thus a non-issue) or dulled for other minds. (If there even are other minds.)
Anyway, there are a lot of different ways of looking at morality. But I think that most of us can agree that, if there is such a thing as morality or virtue, it ties into our sense of empathy and the existence of suffering for both ourselves and others. Poor old Schopenhauer had this in mind when he, in his On the Basis of Morality, wrote:
“If an action has as its motive an egoistic aim… it cannot have any moral worth… the everyday phenomenon of compassion… the immediate participation, independent of all ulterior considerations, primarily in the suffering of another, and thus in the prevention or elimination of it… Only insofar as an action has sprung from compassion does it have moral value; and every action resulting from any other motives has none.”
Now, that being said, I will say that pity is something I think should more often than not be avoided. I mostly agree with Crowley’s assertion on this issue, as presented in his article “On Thelema” (c. 1926-1927):
“Pity implies two very grave errors…
The first error… is an implicit assumption that something is wrong with the Universe, and that moreover one is so insidiously obsessed by the Trance of Sorrow as to have completely failed in the task of solving the riddle of Sorrow, and gone through life with the groan of a hurt animal—”All is Sorrow.” The second error is still greater since it involves the complex of the Ego. To pity another person implies that you are superior to him, and you fail to recognize his absolute right to exist as he is.”
Crowley was, of course, speaking from the perspective of Thelema, a rather (I would argue) Nietzschean occult system which promotes the divine sovereignty of oneself and the primacy of joy over suffering (“Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains…”—Crowley, Liber Legis sub figura CCXX), putting it somewhat at odds with Schopenhauer and Buddhism (which I will mention further down). Schopenhauer and Buddha both seemed to have as their emphasis the nature and problem of suffering (“Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence must entirely fail of its aim. It is absurd to look upon the enormous amount of pain that abounds everywhere in the world, and originates in needs and necessities inseparable from life itself, as serving no purpose at all and the result of mere chance…”—Schopenhauer, Studies in Pessimism), whereas Nietzsche promoted—in his disagreement with Buddhism, Stoicism, and Christianity—amor fati, the love of one’s fate (despite pain), and Thelema seems to have a vaguely similar idea of things. (“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”—Nietzsche, The Gay Science.)
Frankly, I find all four—Gotama Buddha, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Crowley—to be incredibly wise in their own ways, and it is difficult to “side” with any particular one in terms of ethics and value. We’re talking about some very profound thinkers and articulate writers and orators here.
Anyway, true compassion, to my mind, does not involve any kind of power exchange or other faulty dynamic. It must be a recognition that what is within oneself is also within another.
Despite Crowley’s admonishments of those who are “obsessed by the Trance of Sorrow,” the Buddhist view (particularly in line with the Mahayana) is one very close to my heart on this issue. As is noted by the Buddha of the Diamond Sutra, in speaking to his disciple Subhuti:
“…Subhuti, in the practice of compassion and charity a disciple should be detached. That is to say, he should practice compassion and charity without regard to appearances, without regard to form, without regard to sound, smell, taste, touch, or any quality of any kind. Subhuti, this is how the disciple should practice compassion and charity.”
In this context, compassion is something that must exist without regard to condition—the condition of ourselves, others, or the world at large. It must be self-existent and be provided to all beings.
But this brings me back to my original point: In a world so transient (as the Buddha, speaking of Buddhism, was so eager to point out), suffering and happiness must be our chief concerns. Looking to impermanent objects or projects for a lasting sense of meaning, security, or peace of mind is ultimately folly and is destined to fail. We are very much “doomed,” both as individuals and a species. We will not and cannot go on forever, and the idea that we persevere through objects/products/creations is a trick of the ego. Plus, considering the current state of our little planet’s climate and ecology, there’s a distinct possibility that we won’t be around much longer anyway. Given that, it is time to afford ourselves and other creatures a perfect measure of respect and love. I think that, despite any philosophical debate, we must come back to the fact of suffering and do something about it. What can we do otherwise?
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 Bullshit—rebutting 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 religions—rather 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 life—spirituality, 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.
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.