Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wholeness

The more one becomes whole, the more powers one has at one's disposal, for wholeness counters the dissipation and fragmentation of profane living. A Whole Person is always a powerful person, both as a cause and an effect. A Whole Person is also "charismatic," in that his words and actions will have an existential "heft," since they are not alienated from the fullness of Being.
--Gagdad Bob

I disagree with much of what Gagdad says. But he sure seems right in the quote above. I want to be whole in the way he describes. I'm not sure how to get there, and it doesn't help that I have so little faith in my power to accomplish worthwhile goals, but I believe that he's right when he says: "I think it comes down to making a commitment on every level of one's being to make it so."

But after you've made that commitment, what specific path should you embrace with that commitment, and how do you know which one? Or is the nature of the path less important than the commitment? Will almost any path to wholeness, or, at least, a great many paths get you there if you pursue one of them with "all your heart, mind, and soul"?

6 comments:

ned said...

How does one know which path is best for oneself?

I think either it's a lot of hit and try at first, and eventually, a thunderbolt just strikes you out of nowhere -- a thunderbolt that I would call Divine Grace -- which guides you spontaneously and flawlessly to the path that is exactly right for you. (That's basically how I wound up at integral yoga.)

But the trick is to see what one resonates with very deeply -- from a place of abiding love and freedom within. Problem is, mostly this part of us is hidden from us by defensive processes that have been built up over the years. So a good test for a spiritual path is to see whether it's helping one to become more and more free from the external circumstances and find this still, quiet inner core within.

It's all about being free to love unconditionally in the end. As long as we are trapped by the ego, we are extremely limited and are slaves of the outer situation. You simply can't be a vessel for love if you're enslaved by the circumstances.

Nagarjuna said...

"You simply can't be a vessel for love if you're enslaved by the circumstances."

Ned--
To be a "vessel for love," there must be love. What is the nature and source of this love?

ned said...

Okay, if you're an agnostic, my view may be really frustrating at least for now. ;-) The way I perceive it, the source of this Love is the Divine, who is already in each human heart.

The trouble is, Divine Love is so impartial, so nonpartisan, so equal to all, making absolutely no distinctions, that to our sensitive emotions it can almost look ruthless. Imagine: personally I am horrified to learn of acts like rape and murder. But from the perspective of the Divine Consciousness (or so say the sages), both good and evil are relative to the highest Good, the Divine, and therefore the Divine loves both sinner and saint equally.

It was precisely this Love that helped me with healing from sexual abuse. I could not have forgiven my abuser or let go of a history of abuse and growing up surrounded by misogyny without it.

You've inspired me to finish this post I was working on explaining why I could no longer remain agnostic about the Divine. I'll try to get it up as soon as possible, I think that would help us with continuing a dialogue in the future. :-)

Nagarjuna said...

Ned--
Could you elaborate on what you mean when you say that the Divine is in the human heart? One of my favorite spiritual writers, the late Eknath Easwaran, used to say the same thing. He spoke of it as an "original goodness--also the title of perhaps my favorite book of his or anyone's--a divine goodness and love constituting the core or essence of each of us.

Yet, I've never really understood the nature of this "core" or "essence." Maybe it can't really be described or explained all that effectively in words but must be experienced directly. In any case, I'm wondering if this divinity is just a PART of us or if ALL of us is divine.

In my admittedly nebulous and possibly very wrong understanding, if there is a "which than which there is no whicher" or divine reality, it is the unified totality of existence and not just a part or "core" of existence. Yet, if this is the case, I don't see how love is any more divine than hate and how it would, therefore, be accurate to say something like, "God is love."

I guess what I'm asking, at least in part, is What is the relationship between us and the Divine? Are we, in our totality, instantiations of the Divine, or is only some part of us this? And are our thoughts, emotions, and actions, in their totality, instantiations of the Divine, or are only some of them this--i.e., the "good" ones?

ned said...

Well, it's kind of impossible to answer these questions briefly (from my pov). And you're right -- it can't be described in words, it has to be experienced directly.

According to Sri Aurobindo, before the evolution, there was an involution. The Absolute Reality decided to limit itself and descended into ignorance, aiming to find itself again through the evolution in a multitude of forms. To be lost and find oneself over, and over and over again -- this is the joy of existence for Sri Aurobindo, which he terms "Delight". It is the Divine making love to itself in infinite forms. He writes:

What, you ask, was the beginning of it all?
And it is this Existence that multiplied itself.
For sheer delight of being
And plunged into numberless trillions of forms
So that it might
Find
Itself
Innumerably.

For Aurobindo, the transcendent Divine has limited himself in this manifestation. There is a transcendent Divine which is free of all these limitations, but there is another aspect of the Divine which limits itself and loses itself in the ignorance of the manifestation. The goal of evolution (for Aurobindo) is for the Divine to realize himself again out of all of these limitations and in this multitude of forms.

Each of us is a limited physical instrument -- matter being inherently limited and divided -- but we also embody (in the Aurobindoan understanding) a direct spark or articulation of the Divine, which is what he calls the "psychic being". This is an evolutionary aspect of our being, which has the potential to realize the transcendent Divine (the transpersonal Self, if you will) and bring it down here, into the material world, to transform it (the goal of the integral yoga). The key to this yoga is to bring that inner evolutionary being, the soul or psychic being, to the fore of one's being and bring all other parts of oneself in line with it (what Aurobindo calls "psychicisation"). We are a bunch of fragmented bits and parts at war with one another -- psychicisation tries to integrate our many fragmented parts and personalities into a harmonious whole.

The short version is that there's no "logical" answer to all these questions. We are the One and the Many, at the same time, and this is something that can only be grasped through spiritual experience, and not described by the intellect.

As far as whether our evil is also the Divine goes, according to Aurobindo, yes, everything, including the worst aspects of human behavior like World War II, are Divine. However, remember that the transcendent Divine has limited himself in the manifested world. Because the Divine Good is limited, so its apparent opposite, or evil, comes into existence. For Aurobindo, although evil is a phenomenological reality, it is a distortion of the Divine Will, created by the self-limitation of the Divine. In other words, evil is falsehood, it's a distortion, and the task of an integral transformation would be to transmute both our limited good and our evil to a higher, transcendent Good, which is the Divine.

Even postmodernism is now pointing this out with its deconstruction of our labels. Evil exists because human good is so limited. Insanity exists because human sanity is so limited. Disability exists because human ability is so limited. And so on. All these things are *relative* to the Absolute, the Divine.

This is why self-righteousness is the worst enemy on the spiritual path. We may demonize others as more evil than ourselves, but it's very hypocritical because we are all flawed in numerous ways. This is the situation which I believe Christianity describes (a bit too violently, according to Aurobindo) as original sin: the best of us constantly fall short of our ideals, and the worst of us are constantly engaging in self-destructive behaviors. As Aurobindo puts it:

"This is how God in His love teaches the child soul and the weakling, taking them step by step and withholding the vision of His ultimate and yet unattainable mountain-tops.

And have we not all some weakness? Are we not all in His sight but as little children?"

Personally I think postmodernists are saying what the mystics have been saying for thousands of years: the human mind is inherently perspectival and can never grasp the whole of reality. So the question is, how to arrive at a transcendent, aperspectival perception of Truth?

Mystics would say, by transcending the limited ego-mind which creates divisions and dualities, learning to develop a diviner vision of Reality, in other words seeing everything as the transcendent Divine sees it, free of distortions. The postmodernists stop at a sort of relativistic nihilism. But there is an opportunity to go beyond the human mind altogether, according to the mystics, and overcome its limitations.

In my understanding, the whole thing is like a great cosmic game, and each of has to conquer and master ourselves in order for the Divine to manifest in its full purity down here in the material world. For me, it's all connected, and just as all of our egoisms add up to create the misery of the human condition, all legitimate self-sacrifice creates reverberations that spread and harmonise all these apparent dualities and divisions, and pave the way for a more "divine life on earth".

Ok, enough for now. ;-) A summary of Aurobindo's philosophy on my blog:
http://naqsh.org/ned/?page_id=170

Nagarjuna said...

"The Absolute Reality decided to limit itself and descended into ignorance, aiming to find itself again through the evolution in a multitude of forms. To be lost and find oneself over, and over and over again -- this is the joy of existence for Sri Aurobindo, which he terms "Delight". It is the Divine making love to itself in infinite forms."

I understand this to be the basic Vedantist and, more broadly, Hindu perspective, but what I've struggled to understand is why a perfect divinity would be happier or more fulfilled playing hide-and-seek with Itself than it would be NOT doing this. And what I'm also unsure of is whether people like Aurobindo believe(d) that this perspective is literally true or whether it's some kind of metaphor, and if it is a metaphor, what is it a metaphor for?

The orthodox answer might be that it's metaphor for what can only be conveyed, to the extent that it can be conveyed at all, by metaphor and not literally. But I wonder if this isn't too pat an answer. I wonder if anything that can be expressed metaphorically can't also be expressed literally and, by so doing, freeing us of the possibility of attaching ourselves to the falsehoods of metaphor (if only to replace this with attachment to the falsehoods of the literal representation?:)).

"There is a transcendent Divine which is free of all these limitations, but there is another aspect of the Divine which limits itself and loses itself in the ignorance of the manifestation. The goal of evolution (for Aurobindo) is for the Divine to realize himself again out of all of these limitations and in this multitude of forms."

This is fascinating and very puzzling to me. How is the Divine BOTH transcendent and immanent?

"Each of us is a limited physical instrument -- matter being inherently limited and divided -- but we also embody (in the Aurobindoan understanding) a direct spark or articulation of the Divine, which is what he calls the "psychic being".

So, are, for Aurobindo and you, matter and spirit fundamentally different substances, processes, or realities?

"The short version is that there's no "logical" answer to all these questions. We are the One and the Many, at the same time, and this is something that can only be grasped through spiritual experience, and not described by the intellect."

Thank you, Ned, for the short and somewhat longer versions of your answer to my question.

"As far as whether our evil is also the Divine goes, according to Aurobindo, yes, everything, including the worst aspects of human behavior like World War II, are Divine. However, remember that the transcendent Divine has limited himself in the manifested world. Because the Divine Good is limited, so its apparent opposite, or evil, comes into existence. For Aurobindo, although evil is a phenomenological reality, it is a distortion of the Divine Will, created by the self-limitation of the Divine. In other words, evil is falsehood, it's a distortion, and the task of an integral transformation would be to transmute both our limited good and our evil to a higher, transcendent Good, which is the Divine."

Thank you for this very concise explanation of Aurobindo's and, I presume, your understanding of evil. I need to reflect more on this.

"This is why self-righteousness is the worst enemy on the spiritual path. We may demonize others as more evil than ourselves, but it's very hypocritical because we are all flawed in numerous ways."

In other words, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

"So the question is, how to arrive at a transcendent, aperspectival perception of Truth?"

Outstanding formulation of the question!

"Ok, enough for now. ;-) A summary of Aurobindo's philosophy on my blog"

Thank you for your summary here and there and for all you've shared with me in all of your comments. I've been reading your blog bit by bit and will make it regular reading from here on; I find it an extraordinary addition to the blogosphere, and YOU a wonderful addition to this earth. I'm very blessed and happy to get to know you, Ned.