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Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Current Page In The Spiritual Journal

I find that I struggle with blogging. Most of the time it feels as though my entries are contrived and brimming with intellectual contempt. I always have good intentions but the deliveries seem to always be forced and lacking; perhaps that is because such is the deeper spiritual life. I am finding that many of my core beliefs these days are much more existential than communicable, but I'll give it a shot here.

There is a school of theology called Apophatic theology. The function of this study is to speak in negative terms about what "God" is not. Most of the the western world centers on a Kataphatic approach to this which means that "God" is defined in certain terms of what is. In other words, most people are accustomed to defining God and life in terms of God being loving or life being difficult....God being all powerful or life being joyful.....

Apophatic approaches would look at things more in terms of what they are not.....rather than being inductive it is deductive. Rather than defining things by the obviousness of what is, there is more of an emphasis of what is not and the rest of the unknown is left for contemplative speculation.

I primarily use these terms because of a recent conversation with a friend of mine who is a self claimed Apophatic Mystic Christian. This does make for very fascinating discussion because the Apophatic method does seem a lot more fulfilling to the intellectual than the Kataphatic. Both approaches have their share of interesting nuances but the main difference is the approach; like varying types of art- a painter adds strokes and colours to create a picture while someone who works in stone to create a statue actually chisels away what is not needed. This is very akin to the differences between inductive and deductive logic.

Most people would tend to fall on either one side of the logic or the other. I find that where I am seems to be a mixture of the two. There are certain things about the "spiritual" realm that I find are easier to induce based on what is seen and other things that I end up deducing because of what is not seen. Most of either approach is based on naturalistic observation but I also still like to leave myself open to the unknown. However, being "open" doesn't necessarily mean that I'll seriously entertain just anything.

I am apophatic spiritually.

What I mean by that is that I am not the following- Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Rastafarian, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Satanic, Wiccan...etc.

I am not exclusively any of these for specific reasons pertaining to each of them....and yet in a way I am all of them in limited ways. Probably not, but again, this is a hard point to make.

I am coming to a state of understanding that perhaps religion isn't something that a person must find. I am starting to think that religion is something that may or may not find a person. Someone doesn't necessarily become a Jew or Christian....but rather maybe Judaism or Christianity becomes a person; that is to say that through experience, logic, a transcendent experience, doubt....a person takes a particular shape toward a certain way of thinking and then at a moment in time they may find that there is a religion to match.

I am sure that many, if not most, people would probably argue with this and that is fine. This is just how I see things right now.

Lately I am finding that the Eastern Traditions are becoming me, namely that of Zen Buddhism. Now, that is not to say that I am a Buddhist, but rather to say that it seems to be the philosophy that most closely fits the frame of thinking that I have developed on my own.

So what does this have to do with a talk with an old friend? The mentioning of the Apophatic approach seemed to have a timing like no other as I journeyed into the acquaintance with Buddhism and found very many similarities between the eastern traditions and the classical mysticism that was held to by many of the early Christian Church fathers that has been sadly lost in the western world.

An apophatic theologian does not define God in terms of what he/she/it is. The short description of the result is that of a mystical detached sense of wonder and awe. I find myself in a similar boat, except the Christian would turn that wonder and awe into worship and I just file it away somewhere else to just be thought about once in a while.

I suspect that "God" is so big of a ________ that mere human words, regardless of the complexity, are a naughty means of explanation of the divine. I know from my own previous experience that I once thought that I had a grasp of God simply because I could explain theories and attributes away...almost like I was His creator. I, like most other westerners, ultimately started to assume that one "experienced" God in direct correlation to the depth at which they could talk about Him. Eventually I realized that they were only words that had no certainty outside of empty dogma.

I recently stumbled across this quote from a hero of mine, Alan Watts-

...In other words, a person who is a fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about God and the nature of the universe, becomes a person who has no faith at all.

The trap is the dogma, as I both do and don't have faith in my own system. Well, I guess ultimately there is nothing that really merits "faith." It is more a matter of whether or not my "reality" is real or just an illusion...but I don't know that anyone will ever know.

I am now starting to see all things as ONE. There is no ONE thing that is separate from everything else in our universe. "Good" is only a concept that we have that is relative to our definition of "evil." That will come as quite a shock to most people in a "civilized" society because of the immediate assumptions and implications that they will jump to....but just to think about it in terms of what happens in nature:

We don't call a spider evil because it catches flies in its web. We don't call a snake evil because it eats spiders.

We do, however, call a snake good because it eats spiders....but only in the sense as it is relative to us. The act of a thing eating spiders is good for the person who doesn't like spiders...but what about the snake? Is the snake still good if they don't like snakes either? Or is the snake evil for eating spiders to someone who enjoys spiders? We seldom think about these deeper implications. It is easier for most people to define the boundaries of acceptable things in their mind and then base the concept of evil on the opposite.

That might be all and well for most if they like limitation....but one really needs the other to survive.

The spider needs files and other bugs.
The snake needs spiders
The birds need snakes
The wild cats need birds
The jackyls need wild cats
The vultures need jackyls

This is just a brief and simple example of how everything is truly connected to everything else, but it is often we who separate things out into different classes in which they do not belong.

For me, right now, this current stage of enlightenment is unveiling that it is probably dualism that is the greatest of all "sins." It has many different manifestations; religiously, psychologically, sociologically, etc. Dualism leads to dangerous dichotamies for people. It makes people unhappy on their job, it makes a husband unhappy with his wife or could also lead one to suicide.

We like the scenarios of either/or....but I am now seeing that you can't have one without the other, ultimately.

Whether "God" exists and is what we think it is or not....I don't know. What I do know is that what can be seen, inducted or deducted, seems to point to all things being perfectly in harmony at all times with all other things in such a way that perhaps "God" has no need for appearance...

Or maybe part of the puzzle is that God's presence is actually his absense that is manifest in seeking him out; like the way Hindus explain this idea of God playing hide and seek with himself through people and things.

In any event many modern movies capture these ideas pretty well. One movie that comes to mind is The Matrix.

Neo doesn't think he's the one because of what the Oracle tells him, but Trinity reassures him that she only told him what he needed to hear. This can be like the so many times in our lives when differing versions of reality manifest even though it is all the same thing.

Neo finally bends the spoon when he realizes that there is no spoon and that he has to bend himself instead. This can be like calling something a problem or an opportunity when in reality it is just part of the path.

Neo has many "memories" of doing things in the past only to come to find out that those were only part of the Matrix. This resembles all of the different sources that we have telling us what to think, feel, buy and sell. Our ideas are often not our ideas but rather just impressions that others have made on us....even my writing this right now may be an example of that.

Neo gets shot and thinks that he's dead before he comes back to life. Often we may not be open to an enlightening moment until we are at our wit's end and have a moment of mental death. Too much worry weighs down and too much apathy makes us slothful; it is more the surprise of the moment that brings an awakening. Taking off the glasses for a blink and an eye rub can be the moment where two become one.

Although a dumb movie doesn't do the non-verbal justice it is at least a faint way of using the tangible to explain the intangible. And there is still a lot more to develop here, but this makes for a good start.

I have not become a Zen Buddhist, but I have certainly found the Zen philosophy very becoming of me.


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