Sunday, September 30, 2007

Religion: All Greek to Me

As a Christian Platonist, Simone Weil found the theme of a divine mediator to be essential to her religious philosophy. In the essay “God in Plato” from the anthology On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, Weil quotes Plato’s Symposium:

“God does not communicate directly with men, but all intercourse and converse between the divine and the human is effected through [an] intermediary.” [p.130]

A bit further on, she states in her own words:

“The idea of mediation is essential in Plato because, as he says in the Philebus, it is important not to proceed too quickly to the one.” [ibid., p.131, emphasis hers]

She subsequently turns to the Timaeus, making this rather striking observation:

“The Timaeus is an account of the creation. Its source appears to be so different that it is unlike any of Plato’s other dialogues. Either he was inspired from a source unknown to us or else between the other dialogues and this one something had happened to him. It is easy to guess what. He had come out of the cave and seen the sun and returned to the cave. The Timaeus is the book of the man who comes back into the cave from above. …

“In the Timaeus there is a trinity: the Artificer, the Model of the creation, and the Soul of the world.” [ibid., p.132]

She next quotes a passage from the Timaeus containing a proof of God’s existence. Because I have no Greek, I will eliminate the Greek words she incorporated to clarify her translation, but I will flag their locations with [*]:

“First of all we must, in my judgment, make this distinction. What is that which is eternally real but never coming into existence, and what is that which is always coming into existence but is never real? The one is apprehended by thought with the help of reason [*] since it is eternally self-consistent reality, whereas the other is a subject of opinion based on unreasoning sensation, since it becomes and perishes without ever possessing real existence. Again, everything which becomes [*] must necessarily have some author [*] since it is quite impossible for there to be a becoming without a cause.” [ibid., p.132, emphasis added]

Plato is, Weil says, “expounding a theory of artistic creation and, by analogy, of the divine creation.” She goes on to develop her explication of this analogy thusly:

“In creating a work of art…the artist’s attention is oriented towards silence and the void; from this silence and void there descends an inspiration which develops into words or forms. Here the Model is the source of transcendent inspiration—and therefore the Artificer fitly corresponds to the Father, the Soul of the World to the Son, and the Model to the Spirit. A model which is ultra-transcendent and unrepresentable, like the Spirit.

“ …This Model is a living Being, it is not a thing. “ [ibid., p.133]

The Soul of the World, in Weil's words, is "the engendered God who is related to the creation as mediator, at the intersection of the other world and this world." She has pointed out, just above, that Plato refers to the Soul of the World in the Timaeus as "the only son [*] which has been, is, and will continue to be." [ibid., p.135]

We can see that a divine trinity corresponding to the Christian concept of the Triune God is explicit in Plato. In the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament, however, this concept, if found at all, is found only by looking backward, after the established fact, to find text that can be interpreted as being vaguely referential to the persons of the Holy Trinity. In fact, the God of Israel is One, so far as Judaism is concerned. The Messiah of the Old Testament is not God, but a temporal warrior-king. The Holy Spirit, as such, is unknown. The Jews have yet to develop the doctrine of a divine trinity out of their own sacred scriptures. And it is at this point where I become a quasi-Marcionite.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Reflections: Of Things Past

Here's another little bit of Simone Weil under the spell of Plato:

"Oblivion:; another image of unfathomable profundity. What we have forgotten of the past -- for example, an emotion -- has absolutely no existence. And yet everything of our past that we have forgotten retains none the less its full reality--the reality proper to it, which is past reality but is not existence, because the past does not exist today."

~Simone Weil, On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, p. 122, "God in Plato"

Weil writes this after quoting a passage in the Phaedrus containing this: "But it is not easy for every soul to remember the things it saw when it was up there [i.e. in heaven, prior to birth or rebirth], either because it only saw them for a short time or else because it has suffered some misfortune since it fell down into this world." The "things it saw" are the things of the Realm of Ideas; the Real Forms, of which the transitory things of this world are only pale reflections.

But it occurred to me upon reading this that memory works this way within our temporal lives, too. Any person who has ever picked up a journal or diary that he kept decades in the past and begun reading realizes how much of that, now long past, experience, which was so important to the formation of who he is today, has been completely forgotten. When we fall down into adulthood, we suffer many misfortunes, indeed. Not that our youth was heaven--far from it!--but that it was, perhaps, less jaded, less defensive, more open to...grace.

Since I can put my hands on such a journal, I decided to put these ideas to the test. I quickly found the following entry, written during the summer prior to my senior year in high school, which I probably haven't read since the day I wrote it:

"I've been thinking about prayer tonight. It seems to me that if you have a soul with a potential for godliness, then you also have the ability to find, within yourself, the answers to the questions which you might ask in prayer. Especially those questions that you would ask in deciding between wrong and right. God does not have to tell you directly what is wrong and what is right because you already know subconsciously. In prayer you are forced to face the facts truthfully and you cannot help but make the correct decision, which is built into you. God has really answered the question for you before you even think to ask it."

Natural Law from the mouths of babes. It is any wonder that I went on to admire Plato and Simone Weil?

Matthew 18:3 -- Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Interlude: OK, You've Found Me Out...


The Mastermind RODAK

Image source

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Readings: Gittin' Zippy Wid It

Over on Zippy Catholic, Zippy has an interesting discussion going on under a post entitled “Material Prosperity Is Immoral.” In the penultimate paragraph of his post, Zippy writes: “The bottom line is that poverty is a sign (though not a dispositive sign) of virtue, and wealth is a sign (though not a dispositive sign) of vice: not merely in the case of individuals but in the case of economic systems. If we are not self consciously making choices that we know are reducing our material prosperity from what it could be, we are doing evil.” I will readily admit that the reasoning which gets him to that point is soaring way over my head. However, when Zippy says, in response to one of his commenters, “…greed is immoral” he strikes a responsive chord in me.

Just now, as I continued my reading in Simone Weil’s essay “God in Plato” I was provided with words that are descriptive of the problem that I have with the pursuit of “material prosperity” (whatever that is). Weil’s context here is an exposition on the grace of the beauty of the natural world as a source of spiritual energy:

“Various objects can be sources of energy, but of energy on different levels. For example, in war a decoration is really a source of energy (in the literal, physical sense of the word) on the level of military courage; it stimulates movements for which otherwise one would lack the strength. Similarly money, for work.”

I don’t know if I can buy her idea that medals provide soldiers with physical energy; but I certainly agree that money is an effective motivator of work. She continues:

“In a general way, whatever there is a desire for is a source of energy, and the energy is on the same level as the desire. Beauty as such is a source of energy on the level of spiritual life, and the reason is that the contemplation of beauty implies detachment.”

I’m going to give her this, if only because I whole-heartedly agree with the conclusion to which this statement leads her:

“The energy supplied by other objects of desire can only be transmuted into spiritually usable energy through an act of detachment or refusal—declining the decoration or giving away the money.”

In other words, the pursuit of objects of desire (other than beauty), including material prosperity (however one defines it) might be seen as “immoral” in that it tends to exhaust the energy that might otherwise be available for the pursuit of spiritual advancement. One has, in effect, chosen against the Good. I think that this can also be seen as applicable to transcendent entities, such as nations. I have no idea if this is compatible with what Zippy is getting at, but his is how I see it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Religion: Sauve Qui Peut

Reading further along in On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, I found that Simone Weil is a proponent of the theory that The Republic is an allegory:

“We must remember that this city is a fiction, is purely a symbol representing the soul. Plato says so: 'Perhaps there is a model of it in heaven for whoever wishes to see it and, seeing it, to found the city of his own self.' [Republic, VI, 519c-520e.] The different categories of citizen represent the different parts of the soul. The philosophers, those who come out from the cave, are the supernatural part.” [p.112]

This idea is comforting to those of us who have been troubled by some of the totally impractical, and in places undesirable, proposals made by Plato’s Socrates, if enacted in the real world. Weil goes on:

“The entire soul must detach itself from this world, but it is only the supernatural part which enters into relation with the other world. When the supernatural part has seen God face to face it must turn back to rule the soul, so as to keep the whole of it awake, whereas in those whose deliverance has not been accomplished it is in a state of dreaming.” [p.112]

Consider this in relation to the Buddhist concept of the Bodhisattva:

Main Entry: bo•dhi•satt•va
Variant(s): or bod•dhi•satt•va /"bO-di-'s&t-v&, -'sät-/
Function: noun
Etymology: Sanskrit bodhisattva one whose essence is enlightenment, from bodhi enlightenment + sattva being -- more at BID
: a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others and is worshipped as a deity in Mahayana Buddhism

The analogy to Plato here is that every human being who is successful in turning his attention towards God, must tear himself away from that glorious vision, and turn his attention back towards his material self, in order to live an earthly life directed towards the Good, thereby achieving his salvation. In effect, every saint is his own bodhisattva:

“The natural part of the soul, detached from this world and with no way of reaching the other, is in the void during the process of deliverance. It must be restored to contact with this world, which is its own; but to a legitimate contact which stops short of attachment.” [p.112]

It is perhaps interesting and fruitful to contemplate this “void,” as mentioned above, in the light of St. John of Cross and his exposition of the Dark Night of the Soul.

In summarizing this concept, Weil speaks in terms of “incarnation,” making these ideas that much more suggestive of the bodhisattva:

“In short, after having torn the soul from the body and having passed through death to approach God, the saint must incarnate himself, as it were, in his own body so as to shed upon this world, upon this earthly life, a reflection of the supernatural light; so as to make a reality of this earthly life and this world, for until then they are only dreams. It falls to him, in this way, to complete the creation. The perfect imitator of God first disincarnates and then incarnates himself.”

Compare this with such New Testament teachings as John 12.24:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

Monday, September 24, 2007

Interlude: Bloggin' Like the Do-Dah Man

Although I pretty much know what I want to post next, I've spent so much time in the past day or two visiting what are to me new blogs, here and here, that I haven't gotten around to it.
I have never added a blogroll at this site because many of the blogs that I regularly visit are either primarily political in nature, or are sectarian. I don't mean for Rodak Riffs to be a place of controversy. I hope that it will be a place where visitors might learn something, find something new to contemplate, and, in turn, leave something here to be learned and contemplated.
This does not mean that I don't like to argue, because I do. While I don't want to add a permanent blogroll to this site, I will now provide any person who stumbles across this post with one-time-only links to some of the places I visit on a fairly regular basis either to argue, or to find ammunition for use in arguments elsewhere.
These places are here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.
Please visit them. Bookmark them. Read them and comment. Make some new friends. Tell 'em Rodak sent you.
[Update: and now, also, here.]

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Reflections: To Cave, or Not to Cave...

Simone Weil further elucidates her ideas in "God in Plato" from On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God by her discussion of the famous “Allegory of the Cave”, from Plato’s Republic. While I have every confidence that any person who finds himself reading Rodak Riffs is very familiar with The Republic and the cave allegory, I thought it best to google it in order to provide a link to a transcript for anybody who needs a little refresher course. After spending some time at this task, I was unable to find a transcription of the cave allegory that wasn’t embedded in some philosophy professor’s lesson plan. But this one has less extraneous material than most. I also thought it would be good to provide a graphic of the cave, as an aid to visualization. Again, I resorted to google. Of the various versions I found on the first few pages, I liked this one best: take a look.

The Allegory of the Cave, as Weil interprets it, is an instruction by Plato concerning the human soul’s captivity in the prison of the flesh. This, Plato says, is not a cautionary tale; it is how we are now. In this, it is in some ways analogous to the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, if we want to understand the prisoners in the cave as representing Man-after-the-Fall. But such an interpretation adds nothing to the lesson, in my opinion. The allegory elucidates the need for the soul’s detachment from the things of the material world, in order to make possible a conversion that will enable the soul to comprehend Reality, thereby becoming capable of the salvific love of God.

As is shown in the allegory, this is a very difficult and painful process. In Weil’s words:

“Therefore, in order to turn its eyes towards God the entire soul has to turn away from the things which are born and perish, from temporal things… The entire soul—including therefore its sentient and carnal part which is rooted in the things of sense and draws life from them. It must be uprooted. And this is death. And this death is what conversion is.
… “Thus it is total detachment that is the condition for the love of God, and when once the soul has performed the motion of totally detaching itself from the world so as to turn entirely towards God, it is illumined by the truth which comes down to it from God.
“This is the very same idea that is at the center of Christian mysticism.”

In addition to its correspondence to Christian mysticism, we note that it is not different in any fundamental way to the previously discussed Hindu concepts of yoga, Maya, Bhakti, etc. As Weil puts it, “We are born and live in passivity… We are born and live in unconsciousness. We are unaware of being under punishment, of being in falsehood, of being passive, and, of course, of being unconscious.”

I have, in the past, stated that I no longer attend the cinema because I can’t tolerate the way the experience of viewing a film in a theater totally overwhelms the senses, in effect usurping one’s consciousness. I was, therefore, interested to see Simone Weil say with regard to the human condition as presented in the “Allegory of the Cave”:

“What we live at any moment is what is offered us by the puppet-master. (We are not told anything about him…The Prince of this world?) We possess absolutely no freedom. One is free after being converted (and even during the process), but not before.
... “The talking cinema is very much like this cave. Which shows how much we love our degradation.”

Yeah. That’s what I’m talking about.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Readings: If You're So Smart...

Here, from the same source, are some additional ideas relating to those posted on Wednesday, September 19th:

"By using the expression 'the good' when he refers to God, Plato expresses as strongly as it is possible to do that for men God is the object to which loves directs itself."


"Further, it is only in so far as the soul orients itself towards what ought to be loved, that is to say in so far as it loves God, that it is qualified to know and understand. Man cannot exert his intelligence to the full without charity, because the only source of light is God. Therefore the faculty of supernatural love is higher than the intelligence and is its condition. The love of God is the unique source of all certainties. (Plato's philosophy is nothing else but an act of love towards God.)

"That being (reality) which proceeds from the good is not the material world, for the material world is not being but is a perpetual interchange of becoming and perishing. It is change. Nor does the being which proceeds from the good consist of those conceptions which our intelligence is able to manipulate and define; because later on Plato compares the most precise of these notions to shadows, to images reflected in water."
--Simone Weil, "God in Plato" from On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God [all emphases in the original]

In terms of dualism, as we considered it below, Weil points out in this piece that Plato characterized the body as the prison of the soul. Also, she says that in Plato, as in the Hindu concept of karma, "The reward for good consists in the fact that one is good and the punishment for evil in the fact that one is evil; and the reward and punishment are automatic (I do not judge; they condemn themselves)."

Conclusion: all fact is temporary. And, in so far as we are empiricists, we see in our rigorously gathered data--as though through a glass darkly--only imperfectly reflected images of real being. Our only means of direct relationship with the Real, that is, with the Good, that is, with God, is love.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Readings: Wrap Your Mind Around This

"Equilibrium, in so far as equilibrium defines limits, is the essential idea of science; by means of this idea every change, and therefore every phenomenon, is considered as a rupture of equilibrium, linked with all other changes through the compensation of successive ruptures of equilibrium; and this compensation makes all disequilibria an image of equilibrium, all changes an image of the motionless, and time an image of eternity."


"It would be necessary, in order to perceive an image of equilibrium in the indefinite succession of ruptures of equilibrium, to embrace the totality of the universe and of time; and this is not granted to man, whose thought, in so far as it relates to objects, is limited."

--Simone Weil, "Fragment: Foundation of a New Science" from On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Reflections: Never the Twain Shall Meet

While browsing the on-line New York Times this past Saturday morning, I spotted a headline link containing the name “Ayn Rand” and clicked on it. The link took me to the Business page and an article the opening sentences of which proclaim Rand’s bulky novel, Atlas Shrugged, to be: “One of the most influential business books ever written …[and] still drawing readers; it ranks 388th on’s best-seller list. (“Winning,” by John F. Welch Jr., at a breezy 384 pages, is No. 1,431.)” I agree 100% with that assessment of Atlas Shrugged, but feel that its impact has extended far beyond the business community per se.

The occasion of the article is the impending 50th anniversary of its publishing date. The year 1957 also saw the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, the 50th anniversary of which has been acknowledged by the publication of the legendary, unedited novel as Kerouac typed it out on a “scroll” of wrapping paper. I am of the opinion that each of these two novels, published in the same year, was a major influence on American culture in the last half of the 20th century. These influences, evolved, and changed, but traceable back to their sources, are with us yet.

I’m not going to go into the seminal impetus provided by On the Road as the founding document, along with Allen Ginsberg’s infamous poem, “Howl,” to the Counterculture movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s and its residual effects on my Boomer generation. What I want to focus on here is the message of Atlas Shrugged as symptomatic of one half of a rift—a virtual cognitive dissonance—that I perceive to be at the very heart of American cultural and political conservatism.

The wikipedia article defines cognitive dissonance as: “a psychological term describing the uncomfortable tension that may result from having two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or from engaging in behavior that conflicts with one's beliefs, or from experiencing apparently conflicting phenomena.” I maintain that conservative economic values, which glorify the acquisition and hoarding of wealth; conservative social values, characterized by the establishment of a rigid meritocracy; and conservative civic values, which lead to a form of aggressive nationalism, characterized by militarism, neocolonialism, and a nearly constant state of war, are all in 180-degree opposition to the New Testament doctrines of Christianity proclaimed as central to the moral conduct of their lives by the vast majority of those Americans who characterize themselves as “conservative.” Rather than characterizing such people as hypocrites, consciously doing the very opposite of what their, often fundamentalist, Christianity would prescribe as partaking of Christian virtue, I am suggesting that, while thinking in the socio-political conservative mode, they are unaware of, and unable to access, strictly Christian values. Similarly, when directly engaged in religious activities, they are apt to say, and temporarily believe in their very hearts, things which, while in political mode, they vote against.

Since 1957, and my boyhood, there have been various conservative slogans, similar in their employment of catchy consonance, which the conservative elite has employed in an effort to persuade the socially conservative segments of the American population to vote for their political candidates. These have included: The Moral Majority (who would not want to belong to that?); Morning in America (sometimes we would all like to start over from scratch, right?); and, most recently, Compassionate Conservatism (none dare call it oxymoron). Read up on them. I maintain that each of them embodies a campaign by a wealthy, entrepreneurial elite to use so-called "hot button" issues, such as crime, abortion, homosexuality, and war, to distract the electorate from "kitchen table issues" and persuade middle- to lower-middle class Americans to vote for candidates who will serve the interests of the capitalist class against those of people who work for a living. The cognitive dissonance of the conservative electorate makes these wholly conscious tactics, as deployed by the conservative elite, largely successful.

There are various categorizations and classifications of Christian virtues. I have decided to use, for these purposes, a Catholic list. As Catholics are the first, and still the most numerous Christians, and as all contemporary Christian doctrine is either taken directly from the Roman Catholic doctrine, or has evolved out of, or in opposition to, it, this would seem to be the appropriate place to start. Once again, wikipedia has been useful in providing both a definitional paragraph, and a chart to this endeavor:

“The Roman Catholic church recognized the seven capital virtues as opposites to the Seven Capital Sins or the Seven Deadly Sins. According to Dante's The Divine Comedy the sins and their respective virtues have an ordering based upon their importance.”



Pride (vanity) vs. Humility (modesty)

Envy (jealousy) vs. Kindness (admiration)

Wrath (anger) vs. Forgiveness (composure)

Sloth (laziness, idleness) vs. Diligence (zeal, integrity, Labor)

Greed (avarice) vs. Charity (giving)

Gluttony (over-indulgence) vs. Temperance (self-restraint)

Lust (excessive appetites) vs. Chastity (purity)


There are the lists. I will leave you to do the math. Contemplate the lists above and decide whether or not sins such as pride, greed and self-righteous wrath are considered to be virtues according to conservative socio-political doctrine. Is it not also ironic, for instance, that religious conservatives tend to condemn Darwinism within the biological sphere from which it is derived, but espouse a radical Social Darwinism in the form of a meritocracy that opposes such liberal ideas as Affirmative Action?

The New York Times article cited above contains this sentiment of a benefactor of the University of South Carolina, after whom their school of business has been named: “Rand’s idea of ‘the virtue of selfishness,’ Ms. Moore said, “is a harsh phrase for the Buddhist idea that you have to take care of yourself.” I would say that Buddhist idea in question has more to do with begging bowls than with hedge funds, annuities, and stock portfolios. But this quote provides, perhaps, a glimpse into the kind of manipulation of the tendency to cognitive dissonance that I detect in conservatism.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Reflections: Who Shall I Say Is Blogging?

What follows will not be the post that I had planned for today. What I had intended to write was a fairly complicated reflection, rife with links, involving a good deal of composition on two or three interrelated topics. I had done some of the preliminary work on the idea yesterday. I woke up this morning and took up the work where I had left off last night. But I didn't have it. The energy wasn't there. I went outside and spent ninety minutes doing yard work. I thought more about it as I walked behind the roaring mower. I came back in and made some lunch. I ate. I picked up a book and read a few pages. I picked up another book. I sat down at the computer and found myself to be without interest in working on the post that I had planned. I read some more, killing the rest of the time until the first college football game of the day came on TV at noon. I continued watching football, and reading during the commercial breaks, until it was time to get some dinner. And now I find myself back at the computer...

Instead of what I had planned to post (as the third game of the day plays in the background), I offer this:

"How can we think eternally to maintain ourselves when personal identity is, even while we live, a plumped-up phantom, a frightened fiction by which the vast majority of us try to keep the wider sea from breaking through?
"But it shall break through. Sooner or later, for us all, it shall batter us down and break us through."

--Rebecca Goldstein, The Dark Sister

I would go further than that. I would say that personal identity is a multiplicity of "plumped-up phantoms." How, for instance, can I explain my ability to identify, with ease, with a wide variety of very different fictional characters, finding in each of them so much in common with my "self"? I find that I am a bundle of loosely integrated contradictions, connected primarily by a common, if unreliable, access to certain bundles of memory. And the devil is in the details.

It is most likely that the blogger who had planned to post a completely different set of ideas today, is not very precisely the same blogger who writes these words now. Yet to achieve eternal life, the quote from The Dark Sister suggests, one would have to become Real. I would say that one becomes Real by first becoming integrated; by merging what is compatible in all of these contradictory selves, into one, seamless, self that travels in one direction, with one set of memories, in one dimension of time. This must be a prior necessary condition for sainthood. And for the keeping of promises. And for writing the post that one had originally intended to write.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Readings: The Way It Is

Some gravid excerpts entered in my notebook during the months of June and July:

"She thought that the hovering possible presence of God was the thing that created loneliness and doubt in the soul and she also thought that God was the thing, the entity existing outside space and time that resolved this doubt in the tonal power of a word, a voice.
"God is the voice that says, 'I am not here.'
She was arguing with herself but it wasn't argument, just noise the brain makes."

--Don DeLillo, The Falling Man

"A sign at the foot of the bridge said this: You are now entering the City of Brotherly Love.
"As a younger man, Trout would have sneered at the sign about brotherhood -- posted on the rim of a bomb crater, as anyone could see. But his head no longer sheltered ideas of how things could be and should be on the planet, as opposed to how they really were. There was only one way for the Earth to be, he thought: the way it was.
"Everything was necessary. He saw an old white woman fishing through a garbage can. That was necessary. He saw a bathtub toy, a little rubber duck, lying on its side on the grating over a storm sewer. It had to be there."

--Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

"Ritualized drama, as in ancient Greece or China, is anti-natural, but so minutely controlled as to seem full of necessity; inevitable. Anti-natural and like nature."

--Leonard Michaels, Time Out of Mind

"...The True, the Good, the Beautiful. They're just around the corner, in the next corridor; they are in the next book, the one you haven't read, or in the next stack, the one you haven't got to. But you'll get to it some day. And when you do -- when you do -- "

--John Williams, Stoner

"Augustine...has made the soul climb seven steps. He names them in order, from lowest to highest, Vitality, Sensation, Art, Virtue, Tranquility, Approach, Contemplation. In its progress, the location of the soul and the center of its attention may be described in seven phases as 'of the body,' 'through the body,' 'about the body,' 'toward itself,''toward God,' 'in God.'"

--E.K. Rand, Founders of the Middle Ages

"Everything here below is necessity, defiled by force, and consequently unworthy of love.
"This world is the closed door. It is a barrier, and at the same time it is the passage-way."

--Simone Weil, Notebooks, Vol. 2

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Reflections: 9/11 x 6

It's not true that everything has changed. Nothing has changed.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Religion: Bhakti Über Alles

We can conclude our considerations of Schweig’s “Textual Illuminations” on his translation of the Bhagavad Gîtâ, by examining two more paragraphs in the section discussing the yoga of the Gîtâ. I will then relate this back to our earlier discussing of an alternative interpretation of the myth of Eden and the Fall of Man. The first paragraph:

“When the soul is bound to this world, it is subject to the powerful conditioning of the ‘qualities’ of nature. Furthermore, when a soul is reborn, the life of that soul is largely determined by the positive and negative effects arising from the activities of one’s previous births. The worldview of the Gîtâ, however, blends conceptions of free will with this deterministic view. Free will is a necessary ingredient in love; that love cannot be coerced or controlled is axiomatic for the Gîtâ. This subtle but critical theme shows that souls are given the power of choice, without which there is no possibility of love.” (p. 250)

Since the gunas, the above mentioned ‘qualities of nature,’ include negative effects on the soul, it is clear that a human soul possessing free will, and interacting with the material world, with all of its distractions and enticements, would not be able to love, and thus be reunited with the Divinity, unless that soul possessed the knowledge of good and evil—the faculty of discernment—allowing for the free choice of Love, i.e., the Good, to be made. In the following paragraph, Schweig writes:

“The love call of God, found within his sacred teachings, awakens free will, enabling the soul either to accept the cycle of endless birth and rebirth that binds the soul to this world, or to choose a path leading to the eternal world that frees the soul from the cycle of suffering. This mortal world, the Gîtâ implies, exists so that souls can exercise choice, without which there is no possibility of love.” (p. 250)

Therefore, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Eden must be seen as a necessary instrument in the Grand Plan of creation. And what follows from this is that the Serpent—that most “subtle” creature in the Garden—is a messenger of wisdom, rather than a purveyor of sin and death. Schweig’s paragraph concludes:

“The implication is that there can be no true love in the divine world without an alternate world. Thus this world, ultimately designed to facilitate love, is brought into being by the divinity to give souls the freedom to love.” (p. 250)

“Alternate world”: Anyone for dualism? This mutual love of God for his creatures and his creature for Him, is known in Sanskrit as “bhakti.” In order for bhakti to happen, what is called the “Fall” in the Old Testament must happen. Without its occurrence, Adam and Eve would possess no more spiritual gravitas than a pair of Disney bunnies. This leads us directly onto patently heretical, Gnostic ground. If God, as presented in Genesis, has forbidden the knowledge of good and evil, then this God may be the Creator of the material universe, but he is clearly not the God of Love. We must see this God as the Demiurge, not as the “all pervading, imperishable Brahman” of the Gîtâ; not as the supreme One of the Platonists, nor as the utterly transcendent, infinitely removed God of Simone Weil; and, most controversially, not as the all-loving Abba proclaimed by Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Readings: Needles from the Haystack

Following are some brief excerpts which, to me, resonate truth. The quotes are taken from books I read over the winter of 2006-2007, during a period when I was chiefly engaged in the reading of The Notebooks of Simone Weil, The Book of Acts, and the Epistles of St. Paul:

“My generation wanted to shed unnecessary guilt, irrational respect, emotional dependence; but the process has become altogether too much like sterilization. It may be a remedy for one problem, but it has created another. We are saved from breeding relationships we cannot feed; but we are also prevented from breeding those we need.”

--John Fowles, Daniel Martin

“One of the monsters in my father’s seventeenth-century theological bestiary was quietism; it always sounded attractive to me when he denounced it…the notion that both virtue and vice were the enemies of grace.”

--John Fowles, Daniel Martin

--Allen Ginsberg, in the poem “Kaddish”; the concept: “sanity, a trick of agreement.”

“The joys of this life are not its joys, but our fear of climbing into a higher life; the torments of this life are not its torments, but our self-torment on account of this fear.

--Franz Kafka, The Zürau Aphorisms

“The will of heaven cannot be conceived as though it were the will of earth. Heaven has very different views; what seems to us important is to it insignificant, and vice versa. What we avoid may, in its eyes, be useful, necessary; what we regard as central is to it peripheral; and what we fail altogether to discern is viewed by it, as the focal point of human life.”

--Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer

Friday, September 7, 2007

Reading: More Gita

Here is another short excerpt from Schweig's Bhagavad Gita to contemplate:

"Since nothing can exist apart from divinity, and since all living beings are eternally unique and constituent parts of the divine existence, it stands to reason that the only yoga Yogeshvara has yet to achieve is that yoga involving the hearts of humans. In other words, the only thing that God lacks is the personal union with human hearts." (p. 249)

There is an on-going controversy in Christianity as to whether or not God desires, or allows for, a Universal Salvation. It would seem from Schweig's "Textual Illuminations" of the message of the Bhagavad Gita, that God--known as Krishna-- definitely does desire all souls to achieve union with divinity.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Religion: His Yoga is Easy?

After pointing out the etymological connection between the Sanskrit word “yoga” and the English word “yoke,” Graham M. Schweig, in the “Textual Illuminations” section of his translation of the Bhagavad Gîtâ, goes on to speak of “four elements in the yoke” [which] are clearly present in the yoga of the Bhagavad Gîtâ.”

The first of these is Yoga-Maya, which he defines as “the power of yoga.” The second is Yogeshvara, a title of Krishna’s which means “the Supreme Lord of Yoga.” The third is characterized by Krishna’s command to Arjuna to “Be a yogi!”, that is, a practitioner of at least one of the forms of yoga revealed by Krishna to Arjuna as the Gîtâ unfolds . The fourth is Yoga defined as the union of the soul with divinity as a result of practicing yoga. Of the four, I am interested here in the first: Yoga-Maya, abbreviated as “Maya.”

Concerning Maya, Schweig writes: “This power can be seen as the potency found in all forms of yoga. Broadly, it is the power that both reveals divinity to souls and conceals divinity from souls. More specifically, it is the divine feminine power that either facilitates intimacy between the two entities of yoga or keeps souls who are not interested in this intimacy from discovering it. Yoga-Maya thus keeps secret all that is divine, and reveals that secret only to those who are ready to receive it.” (p. 247)

This concept of Maya as a revelatory power, similar, perhaps, to the Christian idea of the Holy Spirit, is a concept that I had not internalized. I had always thought of Maya as “illusion”—the beguiling aspect of material existence that serves as a kind of scrim between human perception, particularly sense-perception, and ultimate Reality. This function of this aspect of Maya is described by Schweig thusly: “When this divine power of union is not facilitating intimacy between the soul and the divinity, it is arranging a binding connection between the soul and this world of mixed happiness and suffering, in a state of complete forgetfulness of divinity.” (p. 247)

It is interesting that this power is feminine. I have noted in some Catholic commentary that the Virgin Mary, as a celestial being, sometimes seems to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit in the mediation of heavenly grace to her devotees. As for the Gnostics, Sophia is, of course, feminine. In Judaism, there is the concept of the Shekhinah, defined in a Wikipedia article as “a dwelling or settling in a special sense, a dwelling or settling of divine presence, to the effect that, while in proximity to the Shekhinah, the connection to God is more readily perceivable.” So the revelatory power of the feminine is apparent also in the Jewish idea of the Shekhinah.

All of this might be considered in light of our contemplation of an alternate interpretation of the role of Eve as a bringer of moral agency, and thus, free will and full humanity, rather than as the agent of sin and death.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Religion: On Beyond Sattva

Without pride or bewilderment
having conquered
the faults of attachment;
Constantly situated
in the ‘principle of self’
with desires turned away;
Liberated from
the dualities known
as happiness and suffering –
Those who
are not bewildered
attain that everlasting place.

Bhagavad Gîtâ, 15:5 (trans. G.M. Schweig)

“Either one has brought the contraries into submission with the help of grace, or else one is in a state of submission to them.
But the contraries in oneself are not brought into submission to oneself; the contraries in oneself are brought into submission to God.”
Simone Weil – Notebooks, p. 394

“God wanted to annihilate men, who are a discordant note in the universe. They either had to be annihilated or else saved. God’s power tends toward annihilation, but his love produces salvation. This opposition between the power and the love of God represents supreme suffering in God. And the reconciliation of this power and of this love represents supreme joy, and this suffering and this joy together make one.”
Simone Weil – Notebooks, p. 542

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

In the final chapter of his Republic, Plato provides a brief cosmological myth in which the axis of the earth (and also of the universe) is likened to a spindle which rests and turns on the knees of Necessity. The Fates—the three daughters of Necessity—are attendant at the throne of their mother. They are: Lachesis, who sings of things past; Clotho who sings of things present; and Atropos who sings of things to come. As stated in Francis MacDonald Cornford’s notes to his translation (Oxford University Press, 1961):

“The souls, as soon as they came, were required to go before Lachesis. An Interpreter first marshaled them in order; and then, having taken from the lap of Lachesis a number of lots and samples of lives, he mounted on a high platform and said:
‘The word of Lachesis, maiden daughter of Necessity. Souls of a day, here shall begin a new round of earthly life, to end in death. No guardian spirit will cast lots for you, but you shall choose your own destiny. Let him to whom the first lot falls choose first a life to which he will be bound of necessity. But Virtue owns no master: as a man honors or dishonors her, so shall he have more of her or less. The blame is his who chooses; Heaven is blameless.”

Here we see the Platonic conception of the law of karma and reincarnation. We also see a parallel to and a precedent for the Christian doctrine of Free Will, and how it may be reconciled with the Omniscience of God, or Necessity. As Socrates explains it:

“Here, it seems, my dear Glaucon, a man’s whole fortunes are at stake. On this account each one of us should lay aside all other learning, to study only how he may discover one who can give him the knowledge enabling him to distinguish the good life from the evil, and always and everywhere to choose the best within his reach, taking into account all these qualities we have mentioned and how, separately or in combination, they affect the goodness of life.”

We can understand that this applies both to the soul between lives, choosing the life that he will next live on earth, and to the living human being, making the life choices on earth which will determine his karmic debt and the character formation that will influence the type of life he chooses for the next round.

Socrates goes on to tell of a soul in “heaven” who, having drawn the first lot, hastily makes a bad choice of life:

“He was one of those who had come down from heaven, having spent his former life in a well-ordered commonwealth and become virtuous from habit without pursuing wisdom. It might indeed be said that not the least part of those who were caught in this way were of the company which had come from heaven, because they were not disciplined by suffering; whereas most of those who had come up out of the earth, having suffered themselves and seen others suffer, were not hasty in making their choice. For this reason, and also because of the chance of the lot, most of the souls changed from a good life to an evil, or from an evil life to a good. “

In this we can understand how the influence of the three gunas can determine the kind of life an individual chooses for himself. Socrates here shows why Simone Weil states that in order to achieve sainthood and escape the material plane, it is necessary, through attention aided by grace, to transcend even attachment to sattva. Living a “good” life, more by the luck of the draw, than by consciously choosing the good through the exercise of one’s free will, is not sufficient to the achievement of perfection. As indicated above, suffering is a necessary component to the development within the individual soul of the kind of wisdom that leads to the necessary detachment, beyond pleasure and pain, good and evil, tamas and sattva. Socrates continues:

“Yet, if upon every return to earthly life a man seeks wisdom with his whole heart, and if the lot so fall that he is not among the last to choose, then this report gives good hope that he will not only be happy here, but will journey to the other world and back again hither, not by the rough road underground, but by the smooth path through the heavens.”

David McLellan, in his excellent critical biography, Simone Weil: Utopian Pessimist, puts Weil’s use and treatment of contradiction in the elucidation of her understanding of Christianity within its larger context:

“Weil had been in dialogue with the great philosopher of the West (often as refracted through the teaching of Alain) for fifteen years before she started to think seriously about Christianity. Thus when she did so think, she expressed herself in categories largely unfamiliar to those brought up in a Christian milieu. Moreover these categories are often apparently contradictory: Weil purposely used contradiction as a method for transcending a particular and limited perspective, for (as she put it) ‘emerging from a point of view’ (Notebooks, p. 46). Nevertheless this metaphysical background, revolving around the concepts of necessity, God, creation, evil and freedom is essential for an understanding of her religious outlook.” (McLellan, p. 197)

A bit further on, McLellan states:

“For her, creation was itself a contradiction: ‘It is contradictory that God, who is infinite, who is all, to whom nothing is lacking, should do something that is outside Himself, that is not Himself, while at the same time proceeding from Himself’ (Notebooks, p. 386). …Whereas traditionally creation was thought of as being ‘outside’ God, for Weil the world was what separated the two parts (or persons) of God. It was between the two pincers of God as Power and God as Love. But it was not being as such that was an obstacle between the two pincers of God. For necessity…could be conceived of as a mirror of God. It was human autonomy that constituted not a mirror but a screen between God and God.” (McLellan, p. 199).

There we have, I think, Original Sin: Man, not as a happily thoughtless pet, but as a moral free agent, charged with the task of choosing his own life, or state of being, either according to the dictates of perfection (God’s will, the dharma), or according to influence of those worldly qualities of material being (the gunas).

McLellan continues:

“This again resulted in a contradiction, which together with is solution, Weil expressed with her customary logic: ‘If one believes that God has created in order to be loved, and that He cannot create anything which is God, and further that He cannot be loved by anything which is not God, then he is brought up against a contradiction. The contradiction contains in itself Necessity.’ (Notebooks, pp.330f). This was the process that Weil referred to as ‘de-creation’. Quoting Jacques Cabaud’s study, Simone Weil. A Fellowship in Love(p.471), McLellan goes on: “De-creation was ‘the transcendent completion of creation; annihilation in God which confers the fullness of being upon the creature so annihilated, a fullness which is denied it so long as it is existing.’ It was this approach that lay behind her antipathy to concepts such as that of the person, of imagination, of individual perspective – all of which seemed to her to enhance the distinctiveness of the individual over against God. For Weil, the vocation of human beings was to be nothing so that God might be all in all.”

Well beyond even sattva, then.

As for contradiction, Weil saw it as a necessary condition for the propelling of the human soul in the direction of enlightenment: “For wherever there is the appearance of contradiction there is a correlation of contraries, that is to say there is relation. Whenever the intelligence is brought up against a contradiction, it is obliged to conceive a relation which transforms the contradiction into a correlation, and as a result the soul is drawn upwards’ (Simone Weil, Science, Necessity and the Love of God, p. 110 – as quoted by McLellan).

That about sums it up. What do you think of the Serpent in Eden now?

Sunday, September 2, 2007


This is a photograph of my friend, Carol Richard. Carol was a dancer. I took the photograph in the living room of my apartment in the Bronx, sometime in the 1970s. Carol would have been in her mid- to late-20s. I was with Carol for the last time not too many months after this image was made.

This past winter another old friend, who had looked me up on the internet, gave me Carol’s email address. After a hiatus of 30+ years, Carol and I exchanged two emails. I received the final one on February 28th. Carol died on August 21st, her life taken by the cancer of which she had told me via email.

This morning, I googled Carol’s obituary as it appeared in a couple of Chapel Hill newspapers. Then I dug into a box that was stacked in a closet among other dusty boxes of memorabilia, to find this photograph. Because I am a poor photographer, this image captures little of Carol’s stately elegance and dancer’s grace. But it does project her smile. Even I could not miss that.

The obituary said that Carol was 59 years old. I would have thought her a few years younger than that. The obituary does not mention that Carol lived for some time in New York City, studying dance, prior to moving to North Carolina where she enjoyed a long career as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher of dance.

I visited Carol in North Carolina not long after she began teaching at Duke University. During that visit Carol turned me on for the very first time to yogurt and to the jazz of Eric Dolphy, two tastes that I have continued to enjoy until this very day. I have no doubt that each and every person who has had the good fortune to know Carol has had his or her life similarly enriched by her, and much more so. In the years during which Carol and I moved in the same circles, I never heard a single word said against her. Carol was loved by everyone who knew her, and everyone who knew her is diminished by her loss.

In that last email, Carol said of her life, “I enjoy it very much when I’m not freaking out about dying.” May God bless you and keep you, Carol; your words express the best that any of us can hope for from this life.

I will always remember you with love.

Religion: Gravity and Grace

On page 304 of the Notebooks, Simone Weil presents this other aspect of duality:

“God gives himself to Man under the aspect of power or under that of perfection: the choice is left to Man.
[Krishna’s army – is it not the Prince of This World?]”

Later on (p. 436), she writes:

Timaeus. God cuts in two the Soul of the World. This represents duality (in the Hindu sense). The Cross is this duality. In order to find the One, we have to exhaust duality, go to the very extreme of duality. This means crucifixion. We cannot arrive at this extreme without paying the price in full.”

Paying the price in full means personal crucifixion; the death of the guna-entangled Self. On page 502, she merges this Christian concept of the ultimate sacrifice with the message of the Bhagavad Gîtâ:

“God making evil pure – that is the idea behind the Gîtâ.”

It is also that which makes the Crucifixion a Necessity.

On page 388, Weil describes this mechanism:

“Creation is made up of the descending movement of gravity, the ascending movement of grace, and the descending movement of grace raised to the second power (is it this perhaps which lies beyond the gunas, and therefore sattva itself, in the Gîtâ?”

Thus, we see how Weil synthesizes Christian theology with the Platonism of the Timaeus and the religious philosophy of the Bhagavad Gîtâ.

In what I find to be the most beautiful of all passages in Gravity and Grace, the extraordinary compilation of Simone Weil’s writings, gleaned by her friend, Gustave Thibon, from manuscripts left in his possession after her death, Weil describes this “descending movement of grace raised to the second power”:

“God wears himself out through the infinite thickness of time and space in order to reach the soul and to captivate it. If it allows a pure and utter consent (though brief as a lightening flash) to be torn from it, then God conquers that soul. And when it has come entirely his he abandons it. He leaves it completely alone and it has in its turn, but gropingly, to cross the infinite thickness of time and space in search of him whom it loves. It is thus that the soul, starting from the opposite end, makes the same journey that God made towards it. And that is the cross.”

On the next page we have this:

“I have to be like God, but like God crucified.
Like God almighty in so far as he is bound by necessity.”

Paradox. Contradictories. Beyond sattva.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Religion: Don't Contradict Me

On page 252 of Rebecca Goldstein’s excellent novel, Mazel, we meet a young Jew, Maurice, living in pre-War Warsaw, who has found no vocation in life. His older brother, Jascha, is a composer of music, considered to be a genius by many. In Jascha’s life, music provides a definite focus and meaning, accompanied by self-conscious movement in the direction of existential authenticity.

As opposed to Jascha’s focus, we see in Maurice a constant and unresolved vacillation between various imagined lives, each of which he projects as potentially desirous. This we can understand as the interplay of, and tension between, the influences of three gunas in the psyche of Maurice. In fact, these contradictory urges are pulling him apart:

“When Jascha was sixteen, it had already been obvious that there would be no life for him outside of music. But Maurice could imagine himself easily into a great number of mutually exclusive lives.
“He would have liked, at one and the same time, to be both a talmid chachem, a disciple of the wise, and also to be one of those bright lights who danced away every night at the Astoria Hotel, buying drinks for the prettiest and fastest girls in all of Warsaw.
“He would have liked to be a thorough-going rationalist, a professor of physics or philosophy at some famous German University, and a the same time to be a Cabalistic mystic, seeing divine emanations in every puddle.
“He would have liked to be an American millionaire, but also a kibbutznik living in collective penury in Palestine.
“Every single one, and more, of these imagined lives called out to him, and he would, if he could, gladly take hold of them all. But the thing was simply impossible. The talmid chachem’s existence would run counter to the bright light’s. The rationalist and the mystic would trip each other up. The millionaire and the kibbutznik could not possibly keep house in the same puny precincts of his person.
“One life is definitely not enough, which is why the Cabalistic idea of reincarnation had always appealed so much to him.”

Regarding the nature of, and opposition to, such contradictions, Simone Weil writes in the Notebooks (p. 387):

“Contradiction is not conceived by the mind without an effort on the part of attention. For without this effort we conceive one of the contraries, or else the other, but not the two together, and above all not the two together in the character of contradictories. Moreover, contradiction is that which our mind tries to get rid of and is unable to. It comes to us from outside. It is real.”

… “Either the mind maintains real within itself the simultaneous notion of the contradictories, or else it is tossed about by the mechanism of natural compensations from one of the contraries to the other. That is what the Gîtâ meant by ‘having passed beyond the aberration produced by the contraries.’ It forms the very basis of the notion of dharma.”

In other words, in order to fulfill one’s existential destiny, one must focus the attention on one’s every act, in the moment that it is undertaken. One must complete the act without reference to the imaginary ends of the action taken. As we have seen below: “Action for action’s sake, not for its fruits” which is achieved by “Ordering of finite means with a view to an infinite and transcendent end”. In this way, one forges for oneself an authentic existence, in complete accordance with one’s dharma. And one acts without the accretion of ever more karmic debt. One dispenses with the need to live another life on the material plane in order to achieve that perfection required of every human being by God: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt 5:48 KJV) It is not enough to be a Good Joe; one must be a Saint Joseph.

We shall see how Weil relates these ideas to those of Christian salvation.