Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More on post-metaphysics redux

An addendum to yesterday's post.

I want to go back to a quotation from Ishaq's piece.

[Sidenote: I hope it is clear to readers that I am criticizing elements of the view of this, not Ishaq personally whom I don't know, the possibility of deep spiritual experience within this stream, which I know to be completely real for many....].

In this quotation Ishaq is first quoting Wilber in dialogue with Andrew Cohen and then giving his own commentary:
“When it [the myth of the given] comes to spiritual experience, we can see this very clearly. If you look, for example, at the spiritual experiences of the Western enlightened saints and sages, you find many accounts of angelic beings, or beings of light or luminosity, but you'll never find any saint or sage in the West describing an entity that has ten thousand arms. And yet that experience seems to be very common in Tibet. Tibetans might see the goddess Avalokitesvara with ten thousand arms appearing in their dreams all the time and think that is the actual form of God. It is the form of God in Tibet, but not in Germany.
Cohen: Unless the German is a dedicated student of Tibetan Buddhism!
Wilber: Indeed! The point is that these are authentic spiritual experiences, but they are culturally molded. And if somebody's taking their spiritual experience and saying, “This is universally true,” they're lying. It's culturally created and molded, yet it doesn't look like that to the person having the experience. So they're caught in one version of the myth of the given. A scientist is caught in the same thing. If a scientific materialist says, “Anything I can see in the sensori-motor world is real because that's what's really given,” he or she is also caught. It isn't given; it's constructed. Anytime we take a state or a stage or a structure or a level of our own consciousness and assume that what's given to it is real, we're caught in the myth of the given. “

Wilber says in Integral Spirituality, something similar: pg 177:

“But the subject does not reflect reality, it co-creates it.

[Ishaq]: Wilber's words “This is universally true” is the key here, in designating his strange ideas about traditional metaphysics. This also ties in with Wilber's lack of knowledge of symbiology, as well as mythology. Certainly the western priest sees Angels with wings, and the Tibetan sees a goddess with ten thousand arms, but the important thing is the meaning of the experience, not its cultural difference, or its external manifestation. An angelic being of light in the west may very well be equivalent to a ten thousand armed goddesses in the east. So therefore the Tibetan monk or priest can certainly say his experience is universal.

So the issue at hand is this notion of the German (presumably Christian or Christian-influenced) mystic and the Tibetan Buddhist mystic who both have mystical experiences.

Wilber's point is that those individuals will assume (particularly in a medieval context) that the content of their vision is the truth ("universally true") not rather a deep truth that is in part constructed and the content/background horizon of the experience shaped by one's own culture/religion.

Ishaq's rejoinder is:
Certainly the western priest sees Angels with wings, and the Tibetan sees a goddess with ten thousand arms, but the important thing is the meaning of the experience, not its cultural difference, or its external manifestation. An angelic being of light in the west may very well be equivalent to a ten thousand armed goddesses in the east. So therefore the Tibetan monk or priest can certainly say his experience is universal.
It is not entirely clear (at least to me) from this quotation and the continuing paragraphs why exactly the important thing is the meaning and not the cultural difference or the external manifestation. Nor what the meaning is nor who determines the meaning--and is there only one?

That aside for the moment, I'll just say for the sake of argument he's right, the meaning is the important thing. And that moreover an angelic light is the Western equivalent of the Eastern 10,000 armed goddess and vice versa.

The problem is the next line: therefore the monk or priest can say his experience is universal.

Not exactly. The state (in this case subtle) is universal. The elements of light, God with form, sense of holiness and awe, these are universal. But the state as Nagarjuna rightly pointed out never exists separate from the knower/self structure.

And the self structure is embedded in endless contexts (families, intra-psychological processes, nations, communities, traditions, religious identities, friendships, associations, salvational, cosmic, ecological, on and on...). These contexts already set certain conditions and possibilities (both we could say positively and negatively) that prime the pump, as it were.

The state is never separate from the self on the relative plane. The Absolute is not other than nor equal to the relative plane. But on the relative plane, no state with state-er if you will. In other words, there is no such state of consciousness minus the content and cultural difference. There is no such thing as simply "the subtle state" experienced by anyone.

In fact, the subtle state as we see is an interpretive context, itself a construction (i.e. Perennial Philosophy) which allows the thinker to take a wider perspective then either of the two mystics and universalize their experience, which in many cases we would know the experiencers themselves would not agree to.

It's "universally true" but only from a certain point of view. It's like having to walk up a mountain to follow a forest line. It's universally true that anyone who walks up there on a nice day with functioning eyesight will see this line, if it is pointed out to them. But if they don't walk up the mountain (or can't for some reason), then they might take your word for it, which is fine, but then it's a metaphysics. For better or for worse. It has to be taken on faith. But then the concept of universally true does not quite fit.

But see then even that point of view (that sees the forest line) may be unable to see another revelation of the land. Say a series of mountains from above (because you are only standing on one), which might require, e.g., a ride in a helicopter.

Just as in this analogy I'm saying the Perennial View is a very good view but it has its own limitations. There are views beyond the post-metaphysical that show it's inherent limitations/conditions for possibility. The limitation in this sense is also a freedom. A freedom to be as it is ("freed by being limited").

That's why I would prefer universally true from a certain point of view. My only difference with perennial thought is that, for me, it doesn't recognize the from a certain point of view half of the equation.

Wilber uses quasi-universal to describe this same phenomenon. The state of the angel is not universally true. The actual whole construct of state plus knower plus content plus cultural difference is not universal. The state is cross-cultural and many of the deep structures are though not all. But certainly the surface features are not. An incarnationally, or in nonduality, we do not want to privilege say the formless universal entirely over the concrete. Formless is Form. Formless does not exist accept in/as/through form.

I pointed out yesterday something similar with what Joe Perez is doing with Kronos Mandala and symbolism in a post-metaphysical construct. Freed up to be more expressive, more playful, without all the burdens.

But deeper than all that for me is the question of relationship. The reason I am so drawn to post-metaphysics is not about trumping the previous mystics of history or not wanting to deal with all aspects of the spiritual life or something. It is because it is at its core about relationship.

It is a system of thought, which by nature tends towards abstraction, always points back to (when done properly) actual relations, in bodies, in time. It is the realization as Bonhoeffer said that the future of transcendence is radical immanence. Radical incarnation. My only point to add to that great theologian would be that the immanence is itself evolving. Or at least elements of it are evolving.

Post-metaphysics promotes being with beings. And yes that will sometimes, maybe even often, mean that we come to be with them and be with the feeling/realization that we can only be with them in certain parts of ourselves (in certain measures only, to certain degrees only, and in certain aspects only---attitudes, actions, thoughts of people not people themselves).

That cognition can too easily become arrogance and self-satisfaction. But more existentially, it actually evokes a tsunami of inner sadness. It is actually sad beyond belief. And that realization far from bringing a greater built up ego sense actually cuts at the ego's core. The pain only increases exponentially.

To know, and I mean this literally here, that you are being-with someone and they see/feel you and either verbally or more frequently I find give you the clues nonverbally, as being with them as they are (however we mean that) and you know that are entire aspects of your being you can not share in the way in which you want, that is painful and humbling in the most searing of ways.

All of it always arises in the space of everything being well. There is humor and lightness in the moment as well. There is localized redemption, our participation (as co-redemptrices) in the divinization of the cosmos.

There are not subjects viewing objects. There are not processes without a mind, or collective interpretative schemes. Of course all of that arises and is real just not primary. They do not exist outside of perspectival relationality.

There are first persons taking third person perspectives. There is relationship. There is choice and the need for conscious of the perspectives we take (often without realizing it) and the perspectives others take, so we can be with them first and foremost. Before criticism, before agreeing with. Being-with.

There are elements of post-metaphysical spirituality that are open to critique no doubt. What system isn't. But what I can honestly say I have not come across in the criticisms to date of it is a recognition of this deeper existential flavor. And because it is deeper it is therefore relative not final or Absolute. It's not on the Freedom side of the street this is uttered, only the Fullness & Flavor Side. [The Flavor being our own unique manifestations/strengths of expressing the Fullness of Freedom].

No recognition I think of suffering together. Prior to the arguments we arise in this blissful state of freed pain or already redeemed suffering. But the redemption is not felt nor embraced nor recognized. Post-metaphysics, as a practice in life, of perspective-training (added to attention-training), first recognizes this deep binding healed wounding that is the mystery.

Getting real-er, with each other, with ourselves.


At 10:06 AM, Blogger hokai said...

Thank you, Chris. An excellent exposition of this crucial issue.



At 1:46 PM, Blogger CJ Smith said...

thank you my friend. peace.


At 10:59 AM, Blogger Shannon said...

First, to push just a little on your comment that:
"The elements of light, God with form, sense of holiness and awe, these are universal."
I think it's mainly African-American Christian theologians who have reminded us that privileging light over darkness perpetuates a colonial mentality that white/light is better than black/dark - a construction that has served to oppress rather than en/light/en, begging the question of the universality of "light" as something that can be strapped in too tightly with God/divine/holy.

Ok, that aside, I'm loving this post because of your wonderful articulation of the importance of post-metaphysics not as merely some operation of intellectualism or Derridian mind tricks (God bless Derrida though, I'm a big fan) but instead a function of being in deeper relationship with one another. In order to really hear and see one another, we need to be willing to set aside our deterministic expectations of who the Other will be, which is part of how our metaphysics tend to function. In order to relate more deeply we must allow the other to be wholly other, even when that means we may not ever completely see or hear them, and they may never completely see or hear us. In some ways I think this gets a little bit at what postcolonial thinkers (and I am largely ambivalent about what they say, but here I'll be generous) have been trying to say in terms of being overly deterministic in our expectations of what the colonized other ought to become, because it is within our own metaphysical structure that we are determining their horizons of becoming. Unfortunately it seems that it is only when we trip over each other in our attempts to hear each other that we are able to awake to the realization that we are operating under different metaphysical constructs and that we'll have to set those aside.

I hadn't thought much about the relational and embodied aspects of working with post-metaphysics, so I appreciate you bringing that up. And the part about not being able to share all of oneself... yeah. Hm. Sometimes I think that's what a lot of artists are trying to scream out in their art - those things that can't be put into words, that one thinks no one will ever really hear or understand, and so the art becomes the relational aspect, as imperfect and inadequate as it might be for really making a deep connection.... That's an unfinished thought that is asking me to think it out some more. I'll have to come back to it sometime.

Thanks again.

At 1:14 PM, Blogger CJ Smith said...


Thanks for the comment.

In terms of the light element, it's a specific reference to a state of subtle mystical experience. In that sense the critique about the "dark" actually could work in reverse.

In traditional mystical literature the next phase after the "light" is actually utter darkness (Causal as Womb). So in that sense, this language is quite the reverse of colonialism I would say.

But again when that specific referent is lost (i.e. an actual mystical experience) then there are problems as outlined by groups/schools you mentioned.

Plus the "light" and "dark" content of those mystical experiences are equally open to light/dark skinned human beings.

i.e. Black people have subtle "light" mystical states all the time. Just as white people have "dark" mystical states as well.

Of course within that flexible frame, the content is different, the feeling/interpretation is very open , but there is more or less a commonality at the level of the structure.

I like the balance in post-metaphysics between quasi-universal structures and very different and wondrous diversity of surface features.

Because then I think you can see how different views get different elements (and perhaps miss some others).

With postcolonialism, I think they get the surface feature variety really "deeply" (to pull a Derridian wordplay). The point about not expecting how the other should become. I would translate that into the surface-variety side of the equation.

On the other hand, my push back would be to say there are quasi-universal structures which allows us (done rightly) to hold each other up in love, to hold each to real human standards--not metaphysically/ideologically imposed ones.

Again the point about relationship. The mind is experiential just as is sensory experience. There is mental relationship as it were.

Without that check, rampant power tends to win out. My general criticism of uber-pluralism is that it leads to isolation and fundamentalisms of all kinds. We have to be responsible for and responsive to each other.

But again the structures are the developmental aspects of humans, which is only a small slice of who humans ultimately are in the mystery of existence. But they are never absent either. So if we have to deal with them, I'd rather we do it well than poorly. [Well as I define it of course...which is open to criticism for sure].

Nor does in my reading a scale of development mean development has to be imposed--esp. politically which would veer towards fascism.

Generally in terms of theology and politics I'm much more interested in how we create ways to ride with and when necessary handle this intrinsically chaotic organization.

But chaos remember has its own structure/logic. But also to protect people because the earlier forms of human development, as necessary as they were for survival, are extremely dangerous by our standards today, esp. with today's technological complexity.

Pushed to its extreme something like post-colonialism has a hard time saying we can't tell the formerly colonized that they can't become violent/terrorists for example. [Again the poor from those countries don't, but the reactionary educated, ostracized types do...] That would be imposing our values (of say not getting killed, of protecting life what an awful value) on others.

Not to mention, just like in ghettos, the groups that suffer the most from such terrorist/gang activities are the local peoples themselves. Like black on black violence in the US. If the liberal post-colonial types (usually white btw) can't make these distinctions, then they can (and do) end up idealizing thugs (er "freedom, resistance fighters") from those parts of the world.

There is always a judgment and a value. There is no neutral turf. And every judgment is only shades of good and bad. But they are necessary and unavoidable.

The trick with all this is that the beginnings of the modern and postmodern (and even I would say integral) stages have been so predominantly laid down in the West so they are so seeped in the Western variety/manifestation of these universal structures.

It's very hard in practice (though not so hard in theory) to distend the Western surface features- interpretations from the structures themselves.

That's why I'm so interested in say the rise of China, India as representing a non-Western way of modernity. Not to mention the hope for a Reformed Islamic modernity.

Anyway, that was sorta rambling, hope the basic flow was follow-able.




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