21 January, 2021

Mystical vision

There's that piece I began to write below (January 21, 2021) on "Julie". The information she and others divulge regarding Swami Vishnu Devananda helps to chasten my naive appraisal of him. This new learning was shocking in some ways, though there is always a lingering element of doubt in our regard for spiritual teachers. There's a book that I read some time ago, "Stripping the Gurus" by Geoffrey Falk, which tries to dispel the myths that surround so many of the well-knows gurus, roshis and venerables from the early 20th century to the present. Needless to say, it's an irreverent book, and not very carefully put together. To give just one example, Falk manages to attribute quotes to Sri Aurobindo from 1953, whereas the man died in 1950.

One of my teachers, Brian Fisher, used to speak about mystics as "three dimensional beings" in a two dimensional world. If we are looking at them from our two-dimensional vantage point, we are not able properly to understand them. Swami Sivananda used to say that if a pickpocket sees a sage, he sees only his pockets. I don't think it is possible to understand a guy like Sri Ramakrishna (late 19th century) through the prism of modern psychology. I'm not even sure that it's appropriate to refer to him as a "guy" or hold him to the same rules as ordinary persons. Or take Sarmad Kashani, the martyred naked Armenian-Jewish-Muslim sage of 17th century Delhi. Whatever evil accusations you could throw at him, he would probably confirm But he remains a sage, on a different spectrum from ordinary men.

I'm tolerant enough to admit all this, but there's a world of difference between men like Sarmad, who were courageously public about their imperfections, and modern "godmen" who hold up a standard of behaviour that they fail to live up to themselves. In fact, quite often, their behaviour not only transgresses their own rigid moral code, but is well outside the margins of what is acceptable anywhere in our current society, crossing lines such as sex with minors and the commission of abuses based on status, position, power, etc.

The hypocrisy and behavioral contradictions found in most saints and sages are only the surface manifestations of a much deeper problem, which is the basic human difficulty of attempting to live in two worlds at the same time: a godlike ego-less world of unity, and our ordinary human vision based on egoism and separation. Mystics can glimpse the other world, but can remain there only with extreme difficulty. Perhaps their abominable behaviour reflects an unconscious admission of the impossibility of living up to their own high aspiration.

I'm in two minds whether mystics and seers (either contemporary or remembered) are at all necessary in our own era, and this also raises the question of whether the spiritual pursuit is advisable as well. I think that, perhaps for the first time, the mystical truth of unity, of ecology, of the interconnectedness of life and the universe, is evident today, not through mysticism, but through science, based on empirical evidence. As we begin to understand our world better, and the way in which we interact with it, the truths that were formerly available only through spirituality are now better approached through science.

The unitary vision needs to be taught in schools, but I am not sure it needs to be taught in ashrams or madrassas. From reading the "lives of the saints", we mainly learn the history of the near impossibility of overcoming our intuitively separative vision. The tables have turned. It once seemed that religions held the keys to the truth of divine unity, while rational, scientific truth presented a world of differences. Now it is the religions that are breeding separation, while science can show us the unity.

It is almost impossible to attain to the unitary vision through spiritual or moral training, because it goes against everything our eyes, our minds and our ego-constructs are showing us. If attempting to reach the unitary vision leads instead to insanity or pathological behaviour, we should be content to accept it rationally.

We can all accept that our sensory perception of the world is often flawed. Objects that appear to be small may be large and distant. Our minds and emotions may try to persuade us that we are autonomous, separate beings who need to act only on the basis of our own self-interest, but our rational faculty can show us that this is a fallacy. It is not the mystical vision of unity that will help us to address the urgent and enormous challenges that humans are now facing, but the scientific knowledge of our interdependence with the planet and other species. In a similar way, we can confront many related challenges such as war, the growing gap between rich and poor, the unequal distribution of wealth among nations, the competition over basic resources, and all the rest. All of these issues are based on what Buddhism calls wrong-vision. But if we want to act upon right-vision, we are going to need science, rather than mysticism.

Links Blog

✭ Michał "rysiek" Woźniak / samizdat · GitLab
A decentralized, browser-based solution to Internet censorship that requires no additional software for website visitors and minimal configuration for website admins.

✭ UK insists it will not grant EU ambassador full diplomatic status | European Union | The Guardian
Although the UK insists its position is not born of Euroscepticism, the UK is virtually unique in taking this position. The bloc enjoys full diplomatic status with 142 other countries around the world where it has delegations, and where its ambassadors are all granted the same status as diplomats representing sovereign nations.

The British still don't understand the EU, even after they've left. It's not surprising they quit it. Maybe the UK should similarly be treated as an "international organization".