The truth is that while the introductory biographical stuff is interesting, and the extensive and somewhat dull guidance at the end is probably usefulThe truth is that while the introductory biographical stuff is interesting, and the extensive and somewhat dull guidance at the end is probably useful to people who are less inclined to eye-rolling at some of the content, the real meat of the thing, what people still come to this book for, the fancy-design-groovy-as-hell heart of the book, which I assume is the original pamphlet, is actually worth checking out.
Man, it's fun to flip through. And stare at. And it contains some real wisdom that no amount of eye-rolly irony can simply dismiss. I am not inclined to agree with everything here, or even most of what is here, but the thing is just way too interesting a document to just ignore. This is from before alternative religious thought in the West became all pastel and insane; it's when Western self-proclaimed saddhus used to just give it to you straight, all the shit about having to die to this world to be reborn into enlightenment, when they'd talk about death and the darkness and light of the universe without sugarcoating it.
If you haven't read this, and for some reason are interested in reading what the first man in the 20th century to get fired from a tenure-track position at Harvard for feeding psilocybin mushrooms to undergrads then devote to a guru in India has to offer as an introduction to a particularly psychologically-driven version of Eastern religious thought, married with some Perennialist tendencies and even stuff about how Christ is plenty groovy and the Bible's a real trip, too (man), but all in the context of a very 60s outlook, then you should probably read this.
All that said, you could probably dismiss a lot of this with just a line or two from Blake. ...more
To begin, I must note that I am not "spiritual," if spirituality is taken to indicate belief in spirit, to point to crystals and new-agey-ness and tarTo begin, I must note that I am not "spiritual," if spirituality is taken to indicate belief in spirit, to point to crystals and new-agey-ness and tarot and so on. I also do not consider myself "enlightened," but I think I get on a gut level a basic idea of what that state might be like.
The greatest fault Huxley's book has is its attempt to force varying traditions of mysticism into one "perennial philosophy." The Perennialists, Huxley included, seem not to acknowledge the diversity of views within the mystical tradition. That is a shame. And yet there is a category known as the mystical, to which various traditions speak. It is a real category of experience and, as far as I'm concerned, is totally fascinating. The book is mostly Huxley's commentary, but a very large portion of it is quotations from various texts, either mystical or interpreted as such by Huxley. It is well-written and, as single-volume accounts go, a pretty good one. And buried within Huxley's sometimes frustrating notion that he is capable of uncovering the esoteric truth of esoterica are some pretty excellent observations and some very good writing. For instance:"Samsara and Nirvana, time and eternity"; "Nirvana and Samsara are one"; for instance: "the path of spirituality is a knife-edge between abysses"; for instance: "to be diabolic on the grand scale, one must, like Milton's Satan, exhibit in a high degree all the moral virtues, except only charity and wisdom."
Huxley also does a pretty good job of explaining why mysticism is not equivalent to sticking one's head in the sand, and why its denial of self-separateness is not the same as the dangerous forms of collectivism and indifference to difference. For instance, he identifies "political monism" as something very different to monism in its more genuine sense. There is a cult of unity that is not the religion of unity, but is "only an idolatrous ersatz." He gets at everyday ignored truths in a blunt and (to me) refreshing way: he notes that "bondage to self-will" is "the root and principle of all evil."
It's often really hard to explain my interest in the mystical, given that it coincides in me with much its opposite. Some of it is just having been obsessed with The X-Files and the esoteric in general, but never having donned a tinfoil hat or purchased crystals. That's not so odd in itself. But mysticism? Unity with the One that is all, whether you call it Brahman or the Tao or the Nature of Things or Allah or God? How can someone be interested in that but be almost anti-religious, and think that everything has a material explanation at some level?
I think Huxley's book has helped me understand my interest in mysticism. A lot of it has to do with how mysticism is not boring, but very interesting as a way of perceiving the world. And there is also great ethical potential in all this, which is to an extent simply about a species of passivity combined with profoundly active awareness, in which one is neither an unaware imbecile nor an overactive shit-stirrer. I almost wrote "not boring as a mode of thought." Except, of course, meditative states, "centredness," certain experiences possible through psychedelics, and so on do not necessarily revolve around thought or knowledge. They do not revolve around the self, around your past or your future or your dreams and desires and attitudes.
They revolve around the realized real, something almost indescribable (and I cannot describe it or pretend to) that happens when one engages in contemplative practice. And this practice and what happens within it are so fucking fascinating precisely because it's just something you have to do to get there and because it will dramatically affect your everyday experience of the world. "the saving truth has never been preached by the Buddha, seeing that one has to realize it within oneself"- Sutralamkra. There is the possibility of pure(-seeming) awareness. Awareness without the ego's involvement. Experience of reality, in other words, without the mediation of time-oriented, result-oriented thought. This awareness is a way out of the self, a way out of what David Foster Wallace has famously called our default setting, in which I am and you are and everyone is at the centre of their own little universes, in which one's self is what processes all incoming information. Huxley says: "there has to be a conversion, sudden or otherwise, not merely of the heart, but also of the senses and of the perceiving mind... metanoia, as the Greeks called it, this total and radical 'change of mind'." This change of mind is about, in large part, "the elimination of self-will, self-interest, self-centred thinking, wishing and imagining." Underpinning all this is an understanding of the difficulty of the transition and of its potential value. At the risk of sounding like the shittiest Beatle not named Ringo, imagine a world in which self-interest is not merely questionable, but is blasphemy, in which "individual self-sufficiency" is a thoroughly blasphemous idea.
I am talking in terms of psychology. That's important to emphasize. Yes, it's still my brain processing input. But what is different in the throes of the mystical experience is that the software running from the hardware (let's pretend that's a valid way of looking at it) changes entirely. Everything begins to look different. That is still a chair, but it is no longer my chair, my pain, my love, my anger, my ambition. And that sort of dissociation (a dangerous psychological disorder according to the DSM, that great manual of the Cult of Self) is but a fraction of the larger picture. Freud is more Fraud than ever before. Jung starts to make sense in a way previously inaccessible to me. The categories of Western psychology start to reveal themselves as deeply mistaken and even stupid, and the Buddhist philosophers are revealed as the greatest psychologists and phenomenologists to date. The issue is not with the Western psychologists' accuracy of description. It is that they have an extremely narrow account of reality and of the possibilities of the human mind, and make their system make sense by excluding anything out of the ordinary, making it disorder and insanity. To quote Huxley: "one of the most extraordinary, because most gratuitous, pieces of twentieth-century vanity is the assumption that nobody knew anything about psychology before the days of Freud." Unfortunately, we are still dragging that nonsensical baggage behind us, even as we enter into a larger and more comprehensive understanding of mind and brain.
I suspect that my meditative practice has led me to what the mystics call the "divine" anyway. I just don't think it's divine. So a large portion of what Huxley talks about here and what is central to the mystical tradition makes sense to me, because I have had what counts as "mystical" experiences. That is not to say that mystical experiences are a matter of divine contact, only that there is such a thing as a "mystical experience." I mean that there is a sort of experience that many human beings have and have had that matches a list of criteria that makes it count as this certain sort of experience. An experience that often leads to a taste of beatitude, blessedness, which as Huxley notes is "something quite different from pleasure... [it] depends on non-attachment and selflessness, therefore can be enjoyed without satiety and without revulsion."
And it is no wonder that the mystics, whether Sufi, Catholic, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, etc. consider this experience a matter of unity with the divine. For the experience is a profound alteration of consciousness, a gaining of distance from the myopic, obscenely self-centred, violently egotistical standard mode of operation of the human being. And this standard mode has coloured most religious practice as well as led to our obscenely disgusting obsession with consuming and retaining material goods. The mystical is a way out of what Huxley calls "a certain blandly bumptious provincialism which, if it did not constitute such a grave offence against charity and truth, would be just uproariously funny."
Of course, not all those in the mystical tradition are all that concerned with God. Huxley neatly steps past Orthodox Buddhist thought to focus on the more spiritualist Mahayana practices, for instance. He ignores the possibility, recognized by some, that several prominent Sufi mystics come very close to denying to the "divine" any of the characteristics that make it properly divine. The amazing thing about the mystical tradition is that it repeatedly de-emphasizes and even annihilates everything bad about religious practice and belief.
The mystical tradition's view of God also bears so strong a resemblance to Spinoza's discussion of God that one might ask of it the same things one asks of Spinoza: is he a pantheist, a panentheist, an atheist? After centuries of debate, nobody's figured out with any certainty what Spinoza is. And that's that!
The contemplative tradition is one that needs to be taken account of. It is, instead, largely ignored (or, even more bizarrely, equated to the dangerous and dark forms of religious practice more common among humans). Why? Because it leads one to mysterious places and we want to pretend we know everything with certainty.
To end, I'll note that the book contains some unexpected surprises, including Huxley's various interesting, if not (in my mind) accurate, readings of various poems and the like. Also some psychological and philosophical perspectives on mind that I had never encountered before.
Three of the many quotations I underlined:
"Do not build up your views upon your senses and thoughts, do not base your understanding upon your senses and thoughts; but at the same time do not seek the Mind away from your senses and thoughts, do not try to grasp Reality by rejecting your senses and thoughts. When you are neither attached to, nor detached from, them, then you enjoy your perfect unobstructed freedom, then you have your seat of enlightenment"- Huang-Po
"With the lamp of word and discrimination one must go beyond word and discrimination and enter upon the path of realization"- Lakavatara Sutra
"Nothing burns in hell but the self"- Theologia Germanica...more
Clearly compiled by a religious studies scholar. There is no doubt that the Indian philosophical tradition is often inextricable from theological andClearly compiled by a religious studies scholar. There is no doubt that the Indian philosophical tradition is often inextricable from theological and other religious traditions, but given the small amount of space here, too much is given to selections that do not have all that much philosophical import. Where texts have both religious and philosophical import, the texts or selections from texts are not edited to remove materials that have not very much to do with philosophy except in a too-broad and too-inclusive sense. Still waiting for a book on Classical Indian Philosophy that is more similar to the book on Buddhist Philosophy published by Oxford University Press. I've yet to find one. The most useful books I've found are written by Indian scholars in the first half of the twentieth century and do not include any primary sources directly, only the scholars' discussion of those texts. ...more
Made for a nice break from a very serious and challenging book on Buddhist Philosophy from the Oxford University Press, from Peter Adamson's podcast HMade for a nice break from a very serious and challenging book on Buddhist Philosophy from the Oxford University Press, from Peter Adamson's podcast History of Philosophy without Any Gaps, from Sartre's Being and Nothingness, from figuring out how keeping a studio apartment clean is so difficult a task for me, from being too involved in following election campaigns and (more importantly) the Blue Jays' thoroughly impressive playoff push, from attempting a diversified social life as a graduate student in this most disconnected and unserious of cities, and so on.
But it was not a revelation, and I'd like to think I went into my reading of Crowley's central book with something of an open mind. It has not the juicy esotericism I've heard I should expect from the Book of Lies, nor too much of interest to offer in the way of ethics and so on.
Then again, Aiwass has not spoken to me personally, so what would I know? ...more