Sunday, May 6, 2007

A pseudoquestion; a false assumption that God is one thing and the world with its suffering critters is another

John Horgan’s lost chance On p. 261 of The End of Science, John Horgan describes a mystical episode that he considers “the most important experience of my life” (p. 281):
“Years ago, before I became a science writer, I had what I suppose could be called a mystical experience. A psychiatrist would probably call it a psychotic episode. Whatever. For what it’s worth, here is what happened. Objectively, I was lying spread-eagled on a suburban lawn, insensible to my surroundings. Subjectively, I was hurtling through a dazzling, dark limbo toward what I was sure was the ultimate secret of life. Wave after wave of acute astonishment at the miraculousness of existence washed over me. At the same time, I was gripped by an overwhelming solipsism. I became convinced — or rather, I knew — that I was the only conscious being in the universe. There was no future, no past, no present other than what I imagined them to be. I was filled, initially, with a sense of limitless joy and power. Then, abruptly, I became convinced that if I abandoned myself further to this ecstasy, it might consume me. If I alone existed, who could bring me back from oblivion? Who could save me? With this realization my bliss turned into horror; I fled the same revelation I had so eagerly sought. I felt myself falling through a great darkness, and as I fell I dissolved into what seemed to be an infinity of selves.”
This was written a decade ago, but it’s such a fine demonstration of the little self’s fear of the big Self — the self of all selves — that it merits comment. For once John is lifted out of the confines of his little self, its bottomless aggressive ignorance and its petty self-confident knowledge (which we all share), merges with the conscious substance that constitutes and contains the world, with the ecstasy that creates the world by expressing itself… and shrinks back in horror. Oh ye faint of heart! What need is there to bring you back to your little self, to save it? You missed your chance! You think the big Self can’t do much better everything you did, and much more? You fell back into the habitual darkness of your little self — you hadn’t realized before how dark it was — but still you noticed, at least in reverse, that we all — this infinity of selves — are fragments of the big Self. Well, then, maybe in your next life…
p. 263: “But we cannot cease our intellectual questioning. If we do, there is nothing. There is oblivion…
How do you know? Have you tried? Turns out, if we manage to quieten the mind — described by traditional Indian wisdom as “a drunken monkey bitten by a scorpion” — it ceases to be an opaque, turbulent surface and becomes transparent to knowledge of an altogether more substantial kind.
p. 263: “At the heart of reality lies not an answer, but a question: why is there something rather than nothing? The Answer is that there is no answer, only a question.”
As long as you are stuck in the finite mind of the little self, the “jaw-dropping dumbfoundment at the brute fact of existence” (p. 266) is as far as you get. But wasn’t the “limitless joy and power” you experienced — while you experienced it — The Answer? Perhaps not, for there were no longer any questions.
p. 263: “The world is a riddle that God has created in order to shield himself from his terrible solitude and fear of death.”
What an unashamed anthropomorphism!
p. 281: “There is only one theological question that really matters: If there is a God, why has he created a world with so much suffering?”
To some extent this is a pseudoquestion, for it arises from a false assumption — the assumption that God is one thing and the world with its suffering critters is another. Here is best answer I know:
Once in the immortal boundlessness of Self,In a vast of Truth and Consciousness and LightThe soul looked out from its felicity.It felt the Spirit’s interminable bliss,It knew itself deathless, timeless, spaceless, one,It saw the Eternal, lived in the Infinite.Then, curious of a shadow thrown by Truth,It strained towards some otherness of self,It was drawn to an unknown Face peering through night.It sensed a negative infinity,A void supernal whose immense excessImitating God and everlasting TimeOffered a ground for Nature’s adverse birthAnd Matter’s rigid hard unconsciousnessHarbouring the brilliance of a transient soulThat lights up birth and death and ignorant life.A Mind arose that stared at NothingnessTill figures formed of what could never be;It housed the contrary of all that is.A Nought appeared as Being’s huge sealed cause,Its dumb support in a blank infinite,In whose abysm spirit must disappear:A darkened Nature lived and held the seedOf Spirit hidden and feigning not to be.Eternal Consciousness became a freakOf an unsouled almighty InconscientAnd, breathed no more as spirit’s native air,Bliss was an incident of a mortal hour,A stranger in the insentient universe.
As one drawn by the grandeur of the VoidThe soul attracted leaned to the Abyss:It longed for the adventure of IgnoranceAnd the marvel and surprise of the UnknownAnd the endless possibility that lurkedIn the womb of Chaos and in Nothing’s gulfOr looked from the unfathomed eyes of Chance.It tired of its unchanging happiness,It turned away from immortality:It was drawn to hazard’s call and danger’s charm,It yearned to the pathos of grief, the drama of pain,Perdition’s peril, the wounded bare escape,The music of ruin and its glamour and crash,The savour of pity and the gamble of loveAnd passion and the ambiguous face of Fate.A world of hard endeavour and difficult toil,And battle on extinction’s perilous verge,A clash of forces, a vast incertitude,The joy of creation out of Nothingness,Strange meetings on the roads of IgnoranceAnd the companionship of half-known soulsOr the solitary greatness and lonely forceOf a separate being conquering its world,Called it from its too safe eternity.A huge descent began, a giant fall:For what the spirit sees, creates a truthAnd what the soul imagines is made a world.Sri Aurobindo, Savitri

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