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

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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?