Thanks for participating. Assuming you’d be open to continuing, shall we shoot for roughly a 450-600 word limit?
Here, then, is my response to your opening statement (alas, it’s 719 words, but let’s not be too strict about the word limit). Could you likewise respond directly to mine? I’ll collect these messages and hopefully post them somewhere.
I, too, subscribe to a kind of pantheistic mysticism, drawing from Spinoza, Schopenhauer and Lovecraftian coscmicism. Rational knowledge is pragmatic and so are our very concepts and conceptions. We mentally carve up the whole of the world (and now the universe), humanizing it in our attempt to understand it in something like the way Kant explained. The noumenal, transcendent whole is still real even though it’s beyond our rational understanding. (See the first two links below.)
The difference between our interpretations of this absolute reality has to do with whether any such reality should be a comfort or a terror to all human beings.
In some of their moods, monotheists like to speak of the need for the fear of God. Clearly, that view of God as a tyrant to be feared has been used as a political tool to scare the mob into submission. But plenty of prophets and visionaries who claim to be speaking from religious experience and revelation speak of God’s reality as having dreadful, horrifying implications. Traditionally, those implications in the West were framed in terms of divine judgment. So the idea was that God is always watching, and he’s pitiless when it comes to the violation of his laws, so he’s prepared to punish wrongdoers in hell forever.
I take it that philosophical naturalism and scientific understanding of nature render that kind of exoteric theism obsolete. Luckily, existentialist philosophers provide us a way of reconstructing what may be some kernels of insight in the theistic diatribes. The idea is that natural reality is fundamentally absurd, meaning that it’s inhuman, alien, indifferent, and beyond socialization, personalization, and morality.
To be able to intuit events—in something like Spinoza’s sense—as deriving from the flow of that “Absolute” or from the essence of natural being would be dehumanizing, meaning that such knowledge would entail a loss of confidence in social conventions and in our biological instincts and egoistic, self-centered preferences. The upshot is a stew of awe, horror, and disgust in the enlightened person: awe and horror for the alienness of absolute being, and disgust for what the spiritualist calls the “illusions” that create ignorance-based suffering.
But there’s a further, promethean or quasi-satanic kind of disgust, which is disgust for the mismatch between the real world’s absurdity and the human-centered meaning and value found in our corner of the universe, which we create. We’re disgusted with the alien indifference of the wilderness, so we create a world that’s fit for godlike beings to inhabit. That’s what’s evidently happened in the Anthropocene.
However, Eastern mystical or spiritual traditions often present this Absolute as a comfort. Nirvana, the direct experience of that depth of being is supposed to be a point of tranquility, since that enlightened person likewise transcends the flux of natural events.
Yet in the illusory world of samsara, which in scientific terms is rather an emergent reality from subatomic interactions in something like the way wetness emerges from H2O, social outsiders renounce conventional life and are duly marginalized. In turn, like the Cynics and Daoists, they mock the confusion and vanity of mainstream society. These ascetics live in poverty and are only inured to their suffering, since unless they’re mentally ill, they inherently prefer to succeed in social and evolutionary terms. Thus we have the culture war between the alphas and the omegas.
Here, then, are some questions I have for the Eastern spiritualist. Is the talk of absolute reality as a tranquil state of transcendent consciousness meant to whitewash the existential, cosmicist implications of mysticism in something like the way the exoteric televangelist anthropomorphizes God, calling him a loving father?
Why think that the source of the entire, mostly inhuman universe would be essentially conscious? How is that not an exoteric personification, a mental projection and a humanization that can have only pragmatic value like all our other fallible conceptions?
If we grasp that reality transcends all our parochial prejudices, doesn’t that entail that all life lived in virtue of those prejudices is absurd, foolish, and dishonourable? To be sure, conventional life can be pleasurable and successful, because ignorance is bliss. But philosophy and genuine religious experience would have to come at the cost of happiness (comfort and contentment), but the enlightened person is resigned to understanding and accepting the absurdity and the tragedy.