Gaiman's recasting of a Japanese fairy tale into an episode from the life of Dream of the Endless is really well-crafted, but Yoshitaka Amano's accomp...moreGaiman's recasting of a Japanese fairy tale into an episode from the life of Dream of the Endless is really well-crafted, but Yoshitaka Amano's accompanying artwork, in so many different media, took my breath away. Gaiman's oeuvre is hit-or-miss for me; this volume is definitely a hit. (less)
I started by saying that one of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that the problem of production has been solved. This illusion, I suggested, is mainly due to our inability to recognize that the modern industrial system, with all its intellectual sophistication, consumes the very basis on which it has been erected. To use the language of the economists, it lives on irreplaceable capital which it cheerfully treats as income. I specified three categories of such capital: fossil fuels, the tolerance margins of nature, and the human substance. Even if some readers should refuse to accept all three parts of my argument, I suggest that any one of them suffices to make my case. (21)
There is wisdom in smallness if only on account of the smallness and patchiness of human knowledge, which relies on experiment far more than on understanding. The greatest danger invariably arises from the ruthless application, on a vast scale, of partial knowledge such as we are currently witnessing in the application of nuclear energy, of the new chemistry in agriculture, of transportation technology, and countless other things. (37)
Above anything else there is need for a proper philosophy of work which understands work not as that which it has indeed become, an inhuman chore as soon as possible to be abolished by automation, but as something "decreed by Providence for the good of man's body and soul." Next to the family, it is work and the relationships established by work that are the true foundations of society. If the foundations are unsound, how could society be sound? And if society is sick, how could it fail to be a danger to peace? (38)
The market... represents only the surface of society and its significance relates to the momentary situation as it exists there and then. There is no probing into the depths of things, into the natural or social facts that lie behind them. In a sense, the market is the institutionalisation of individualism and non-responsibility. Neither buyer not seller is responsible for anything but himself. It would be "uneconomic" for a wealthy seller to reduce his prices to poor customers merely because they are in need, or for a wealthy buyer to pay an extra price merely because the supplier is poor. Equally, it would be "uneconomic" for a buyer to give preference to home-produced goods if imported goods are cheaper. He does not, and is not expected to, accept responsibility for the country's balance of payments. (46)
[T]he task of education [should] be, first and foremost, the transmission of ideas and values, of what to do with our lives. There is no doubt also the need to transmit know-how but this must take second place, for it is obviously somewhat foolhardy to put great powers into the hands of people without making sure that they have a reasonable idea of what to do with them. At present, there can be little doubt that the whole of mankind is in mortal danger, not because we are short of scientific and technological know-how, but because we tend to use it destructively, without wisdom. More education can help us only if it produces more wisdom. (86)
Science cannot produce ideas by which we could live. Even the greatest ideas of science are nothing more than working hypotheses, useful for purposes of special research but completely inapplicable to the conduct of our lives or the interpretation of the world. If, therefore, a man seeks education because he feels estranged and bewildered, because his life seems to him empty and meaningless, he cannot get what he is seeking by studying any of the natural sciences, i.e. by acquiring "know-how." That study has its own value which I am not inclined to belittle; it tells him a great deal about how things work in nature or in engineering; but it tells him nothing about the meaning of life and can in no way cure his estrangement and secret despair. (92)
The ideas of the fathers in the nineteenth century have been visited on the third and fourth generations living in the second half of the twentieth century. To their originators, these ideas were simply the result of their intellectual processes. In the third and fourth generations, they have become the very tools and instruments through which the world is being experienced and interpreted. Those that bring forth new ideas are seldom ruled by them. But their ideas obtain power over men's lives in the third and fourth generations when they have become a part of that great mass of ideas, including language, which seeps into a person's mind during his "Dark Ages." (95)
The leading ideas of the nineteenth century, which claimed to do away with metaphysics, are themselves a bad, vicious, life-destroying type of metaphysics. We are suffering from them as if from a fatal disease. It is not true that knowledge is sorrow. But poisonous errors bring unlimited sorrow in the third and fourth generation. The errors are not in science but in the philosophy put forward in the name of science. (96–7)
The true problem of living—in politics, economics, education, marriage, etc.—are always problems of overcoming or reconciling opposites. They are divergent problems and have no solution in the ordinary sense of the word. They demand of man not merely the employment of his reasoning powers but the commitment of his whole personality. Naturally, spurious solutions, by way of a clever formula, are always being out forward; but they never work for long, because they invariably neglect one of the two opposites and thus lose the very quality of human life.... To have to grapple with divergent problems tends to be exhausting, worrying, and wearisome. Hence people try to avoid it and to run away from it. (104)
The most powerful ideas of the nineteenth century, as we have seen, have denied or at least obscured the whole concept of "levels of being" and the idea that some things are higher than others. This, of course, has meant the destruction of ethics, which is based on the distinction of good and evil, claiming that good is higher than evil. Again, the sins of the fathers are being visited on the third and fourth generations who now find themselves growing up without moral instruction of any kind. The men who conceived the idea that "morality is bunk" did so with a mind well-stocked with moral ideas. But the minds of the third and fourth generations are no longer well-stocked with such ideas: they are well-stocked with ideas conceived in the nineteenth century, namely, that "morality is bunk," that everything that appears to be "higher" is really nothing but something quite mean and vulgar. The resulting confusion is indescribable. (105)
What is to take the place of the soul- and life-destroying metaphysics inherited from the nineteenth century? The task of our generation, I have no doubt, is one of metaphysical reconstruction. It is not as if we had to invent anything new; at the same time, it is not good enough merely to revert to the old formulations. Our task—and the task of all education—is to understand the present world, the world in which we live and make our choices. (106–7)
The higher animals have an economic value because of their utility; but they have a meta-economic value in themselves. If I have a car, a man-made thing, I might quite legitimately argue that the best way to use it is never to bother about maintenance and simply run it to ruin. I may indeed have calculated that this is the most economical method of use. If the calculation is correct, nobody can criticise me for acting accordingly, for there is nothing about a man-made thing like a car. But if I have an animal&mdashy;be it only a calf or a hen—a living, sensitive creature, am I allowed to treat is as nothing but a utility? Am I allowed to run it to ruin? (113)
We know too much about ecology today to have any excuse for the many abuses that are currently going on in the management of the land, in the management of animals, in food storage, food processing, and in heedless urbanisation. If we permit them, this is not due to poverty, as if we could not afford to stop them; it is due to the fact that, as a society, we have no firm basis of belief in any meta-economic values, and when there is no such belief the economic calculus takes over. This is quite inevitable. How could it be otherwise? Nature, it has been said, abhors a vacuum, and when the available "spiritual space" is not filled by some higher motivation, then it will necessarily be filled by something lower—by the small, mean, calculating attitude to life which is rationalised in the economic calculus. (123)
As Gandhi said, the poor of the world cannot be helped by mass production, only by production by the masses. The system of mass production, based on sophisticated, highly capital-intensive, high energy-input dependent, and human labour-saving technology, presupposed that you are already rich, for a great deal of capital investment is needed to establish one single workplace. The system of production by the masses mobilises the priceless resources which are possessed by all human beings, their clever brains and skilful hands, and supports them with first-class tools. The technology of mass production is inherently violent, ecologically damaging, self-defeating in terms of non-renewable resources, and stultifying for the human person. The technology of production by the masses, making use of the best of modern knowledge and experience, is conducive to decentralisation, compatible with the laws of ecology, gentle in its use of scarce resources, and designed to serve the human person instead of making him the servant of machines. I have named it intermediate technology to signify that is is vastly superior to the primitive technology of bygone ages but at the same time much simpler, cheaper, and freer than the supertechnology of the rich. (163)
Strange to say, the Sermon on the Mount gives pretty precise instructions on how to construct an outlook that could lead to an Economics of Survival. (166)
It is always possible to create small ultra-modern islands in a pre-industrial society. But such islands will then have to be defended, like fortresses, and provisioned, as it were, by helicopter from far away, or they will be flooded by the surrounding sea. Whatever happens, whether they do well or badly, they produce the "dual economy" of which I have spoken. They cannot be integrated into the surrounding society, and tend to destroy its cohesion. (177)
It is a strange fact that some people say that there are no technological choices. I read an article by a well-known economist from the U.S.A. who asserts that there is only one way of producing any particular commodity: the way of 1971 [i.e., the way of the present]. Had these commodities never been produced before? The basic things of life have been needed and produced since Adam left Paradise. He says that the only machinery that can be procured is the very latest. Now that is a different point and it may well be that the only machinery that can be procured easily is the latest. It is true that at any one time there is only one kind of machinery that tends to dominate the market and this creates the impression as if we had no choice and as if the amount of capital in a society determined the amount of employment it could have. Of course this is absurd. (226)
The idea of intermediate technology does not imply simply a "going back" in history to methods now outdated, although a systematic study of methods employed in the developing countries, say, a hundred years ago could indeed yield highly suggestive results. It is too often assumed that the achievement of western science, pure and applied, lies mainly in the apparatus and machinery that have been developed from it, and that a rejection of the apparatus and machinery would be tantamount to a rejection of science. This is an excessively superficial view. The real achievement lies in the accumulation of precise knowledge, and this knowledge can be applied in a great variety of ways, of which the current application in modern industry is only one. The development of an intermediate technology, therefore, means a genuine forward movement into new territory, where the enormous cost and complication of production methods for the sake of labour saving and job elimination is avoided and technology is made appropriate for labour-surplus societies. (198)
Everything becomes crystal clear after you have reduced realit to one—one only—of its thousand aspects. You know what to do—whatever produces profits; you know what to avoid—whatever reduces them or makes a loss. And there is at the same time a perfect measuring rod for the degree of success or failure. Let no one befog the issue by asking whether aa particular action is conducive to the wealth and well-being of society, whether it leads to moral, aesthetic, or cultural enrichment. Simply find out whether it pays; simply investigate whether there is an alternative that pays better. If there is, choose the alternative. (272–3)
1. In small-scale enterprise, private ownership is natural, fruitful, and just.
2. In a medium-scale enterprise, private ownership is already to a large extent functionally unnecessary. The idea of "property" becomes strained, unfruitful, and unjust. If there is only one owner or a small group of owners, there can be and should be, a voluntary surrender of privilege to the wider group of actual workers.... Such an act of generosity may be unlikely when there is a large number of anonymous shareholders, but legislation could pave the way even then.
3. In a large-scale enterprise, private ownership is a fiction for the purpose of enabling functionless owners to live parasitically on the labour of others. It is not only unjust but also an irrational element which distorts all relationships within the enterprise. (284)
Some inequalities of wealth and income are no doubt "natural" and functionally justifiable, and there are few people who do not spontaneously recognise this. But here again, as in all human affairs, it is a matter of scale. Excessive wealth, like power, tends to corrupt. Even if the rich are not "idle rich," even when they work harder than anyone else, they work differently, apply different standards, and are set apart from the common humanity. They corrupt themselves by practising greed, and they corrupt the rest of society by provoking envy. (298)
In the excitement over the unfolding of his scientific and technical powers, modern man has built a system of production that ravishes nature and a type of society that mutilates man. If only there were more and more wealth, everything else, it is thought, will fall into place. Money is considered to be all-powerful; if it could not actually buy non-material values, such as justice, harmony, beauty or even health, it could circumvent the need for them or compensate for their loss. The development of production and the acquisition of wealth have thus become the highest goals of the modern world in relation to which all other goals, no matter how much lip-service may still be paid to them, have come to take second place. The highest goals require no justification; all secondary goals have finally to justify themselves in terms of the service their attainments renders to the attainment of the highest.
This is the philosophy of materialism, and it is this philosophy—or metaphysic—which is now being challenged by events. There has never been a time, in any society in any part of the world, without its sages and teachers to challenge materialism and plead for a different order of priorities. (313&ndash4)
Everywhere people ask: "What can I actually do?" The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: we can, each of us, work to put our own inner house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind. (318)
José recommended this book for me back in 1998 or '99, when we were browsing through the titles in the Gregory Village Shopping Center Goodwill in Ple...moreJosé recommended this book for me back in 1998 or '99, when we were browsing through the titles in the Gregory Village Shopping Center Goodwill in Pleasant Hill, CA. He also recommended The Gulag Archipelago, which I didn't take up and read until almost ten years later. I don't remember what I purchased (though I think it was a tattered Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon) but I know it wasn't either of his recommendations.
José's recommendations count though, and so this book was always on my radar. I finally found a trade paperback copy in the late 2000's, which promptly vanished into my fiction stacks, until I read an Archdruid Report post entitled "The Glass Bead Game," at which point I moved the book to the "to read" pile.
So what is it about? I was afraid you would ask that, because it really isn't about much. It is literary fiction, the novel for which Hesse won his Nobel Prize. It is science fiction, in the sense of describing a far future society on a far future Earth, if not in the sense of cowboys-in-space operas, alien invasions, or gritty corporate cyberstuff. It is a hagiography of one Joseph Knecht, Magister Ludi, written, or more correctly, edited, by an anonymous disciple. (less)
**spoiler alert** I read this book at the prompting of a friend from a church I frequent. He is an emeritus professor of biology who recommended this...more**spoiler alert** I read this book at the prompting of a friend from a church I frequent. He is an emeritus professor of biology who recommended this book to me by way of answering my question about how he reconciles science, specifically neo-Darwinian evolution, with his liberal Anabaptist Christian theology. I'm not sure I'm satisfied with that answer.
Anyhow, here is the spoiler, all Lanza's "Principle of Biocentrism" spelled out as on pp. 159-60:
First Principle of Biocenrism: What we perceive as reality is a process that involves our consciousness. An "external" reality, if it existed, would—by definition—have to exist in space. But this is meaningless, because space and time are not absolute realities but rather tools of the human and animal mind.
Second Principle of Biocentrism: Our external and internal perceptions are inextricably intertwined. They are different sides of the same coin and cannot be divorced from one another.
Third Principle of Biocentrism: The behavior of subatomics particles—indeed all particles and objects—are inextricably linked to the presence of an observer. Without the presence of a conscious observer, they at best exist in an undetermined state of probability waves.
Fourth Principle of Biocentrism: Without consciousness, "matter" dwells in a undetermined state of probability. Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state.
Fifth Principle of Biocentrism: The structure of the universe is explainable only through biocentrism. The universe is fine-tuned for life, which makes perfect sense as life creates the universe, not the other way around. The "universe" is simply the complete spatio-temporal logic of the self.
Sixth Principle of Biocentrism: Time does not have a real existence outside of animal-sense perception. It is the process by which we perceived changes in the universe.
Seventh Principle of Biocentrism: Space, like time, is not an object or a thing. Space is another form of our animal understanding and does not have an independent reality. We carry space and time around with us like turtles with shells. Thus, there is no absolute self-existing matrix in which physical events occur independent of life.
No surprise, the reception to this book by the scientific community has been mixed, because its major premise challenges "common sense," the basic presumption, scientific or otherwise, that the world "out there" is real. While I wouldn't go so far as to call the book's thesis "baloney" as has another reviewer (mainly because I am agnostic about the nature of reality and the ability of talking monkeys to encapsulate it, either in ink squiggles on a page or through small mouth noises) I would definitely agree that this book fails to make a persuasive case for a thesis that is, to put it mildly, counterintuitive.
Additionally, I have to wonder if the author really set out to write his memoirs rather than a philosophical treatise, because at least 20% of the material in the book consists of details from the author's life that have little, if any, bearing on his thesis. I now know that Lanza's dad was a gambler, that his sister became a mentally ill drug addict, that Lanza had many brushes with greatness as a young man (he even makes a comment about the value of name-dropping!), what his 10-acre island property looks like, and that many media outlets regard him as a "genius."
[N]othing can be perceived that is not already interacting with our consciousness, which is why biocentric axiom number one is that nature or the so-called external world must be correlative with consciousness. One doesn't exist without the other. What this means is that when we do not look at the Moon the Moon effectively vanishes—which, subjectively, is obvious enough. If we still think of the Moon and believe that it's out there orbiting the Earth, or accept that other people are probably watching it, all such thoughts are mental constructs. The bottom-line issue here is if no consciousness existed at all, in what sense would the Moon persist, and in what form? (p. 35)
When we observe the words printed in a book, its paper seemingly a foot away, is not being perceived—the image, the paper, is the perception—and as such, it is contained in the logic of this neurocircuitry. A correlative reality encompasses everything, with only language providing separation between external and internal, between there and here. Is this matrix of neurons and atoms fashioned in an energy field of Mind? (p. 149)
Lanza's actual thesis of "biocentrism" isn't actually all that novel. It is a re-packaging of Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhist understandings of Mind and Reality (as Lanza notes several times). It is a rehashing of the same "quantum mysticism" that is popular with the New Age, paradigm-shifting crowds (it is good to remember that there are multiple interpretations of quantum "weirdness" and thus that Lanza's isn't the only one). It draws on similar insights as Robert Anton Wilson's, and others', about how the mind is inextricably bound up with the world-as-perceived. For example, neuroscience agrees that the screen I see as I type these words is not something "out there" that is being perceived by me "in here," but that instead my perception of the screen consists of my brain organizing various energetic signals coming in through my senses and structuring them in such a way as to "create" the visual field/sensorium that I perceive as "out there." Meanwhile, the fly on the monitor receives different signals and interprets them as a gigantic wall upon which to stand, and so on.
It is a truism to say that reality as we know it is only possible through our mechanisms of knowing, and so I have no problem agreeing that any of our experiences are only experienced because we are alive and aware to experience them. Any comment we can make about the "external" world is necessarily about our perceptions of that world, rather than the world-as-it-is. Questions about the absolute nature of a world separate from human consciousness of that world cannot be answered in any meaningful way, and as far as we know, because it is the only way we can know, "reality" arises as correlated subject and object, whatever that means. I can buy that, and it ain't news to the philosophical traditions of India and China, as well as to many Western philosophers. (In case you can't tell, I am a little irked at Lanza and his publicist for the grandiosity with which his "revolutionary ideas" are presented.) But it is one thing to note that there is an inextricable correlation in our lived experience between "inside" and "outside," and quite another to assert that this proves that there is in fact no world "out there" independent of the perceptions of minded, living beings. It proves instead that, by definition, we do not and cannot know what, if anything, the universe is like without minds to perceive it, and reminds at least this reader that some questions don't lend themselves to answers.(less)
Lots of great material in this series of lectures, although most is about the study of religion in general and less about the specific discipline of c...moreLots of great material in this series of lectures, although most is about the study of religion in general and less about the specific discipline of comparative religion. (less)
A fascinating insight on Chinese religion and mythology from the authors, that "the main feature of the backdrop to Chinese mythologies [is] the fact...moreA fascinating insight on Chinese religion and mythology from the authors, that "the main feature of the backdrop to Chinese mythologies [is] the fact that all traditions overlap and are used by the people of China as and when it is convenient to do so" (p. 21), is paralleled in one of the many myths about Monkey:
"Now we have defeated these evils beasts you must see there is a Way in the Buddhist teachings also. From now on do not take one religion only, but honour both the Buddhist clergy and the Taoist Way, as well as educating intelligent men following the Confucian fashion. This will make the kingdom secure from evil forever." (p. 187)
How to review this book? Well, suffice it to say it came down to either 5-stars or 1-star, and 5-stars finally seemed more honest an assessment of the book and the ideas therein as really pretty darn profound rather than merely overwritten, pretentious, and verbose. (It should be noted, however, that this book was overwritten, etc., and was precisely the sort of book that made me realize why a Ph.D. studying this sort of stuff was simply not my cup of tea.)
Here's my butchered summary (or maybe my summary is concise, and his presentation butchered; he got paid a lot by the University of California, though, so I'll bet on him):
In the postmodern world, God is silent, if not dead, and theists and atheists alike grapple everyday with the consequences of this world without God. Panikkar explores Buddhism and the claim that it is an atheistic, or at least a nontheistic, religious tradition, and finds space for God in the silence of the Buddha and his unwillingness to affirm or deny metaphysical doctrines. He examines crucial Buddhist concepts like anātman and pratītyasamutpāda and draws inspiration from them for a new middle way between the idolatries of theism and atheism. Rather than get provoked and involved in speculations on God, we should be about the work of losing ourselves in service to others, and thereby in that loss and that silence gain epiphany, as both Christ and Buddha would have us do.
(I am currently reading Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson, a much less sober and rigorous‒and far more funny and readable‒thinker than Panikkar. In that work, Wilson discusses propositions that are "meaningful" and those that are "meaningless," in operational terms. I cannot help but note with a smile that much of the material in the Panikkar book would qualify as "meaningless" in those terms, and I note with irony that that might be one of the main theses Panikkar is trying to get across.)
(I'm also currently reading Ahmed Ali's translation of the Qur'an, which brings to the reading of Panikkar's book its own set of questions, about how the Qur'an as Logos affirms or disputes claims about the silence of God, for example.)
According to his obituary in The New York Times, Panikkar, comparative religion scholar and Catholic theologian, earned three different doctoral degrees, in philosophy, chemistry, and theology. Perhaps that level of scholarship is why this, his attempt to make Buddhist thought understandable to an educated Christian audience, is so densely written and exhaustively footnoted. Those footnotes are also one of the reasons this book is a keeper. Maybe that Ph.D. isn't as dead as I like to think. Or maybe I just feel smarter when I read books like this.
Invocation—the raising of the heart in a plea for true love, the raising of the mind in a quest for salvific knowledge, and the raising of the life of the individual in a cry for real help—is becoming more and more necessary in the contemporary world, and at the same time more and more impossible.
First, it is becoming more and more necessary. We cannot bear up along under the weight of existence. Modern life is becoming ever more precarious... Individuals cannot know all things, or solve all problems, or control all of the factors that mold their life. They can place no confidence in their peers, who are as fragile and fallible as themselves. They cannot rely on society, for society is precisely one of their greatest burdens. They feel the need to ascend higher, to cry for help, to reach out to something above, to trust in a love, or a goodness, or a someone. Invocation, as emergence from oneself in order to trust, or take refuge in, or at least to contact, something or someone superior to ourselves, becomes ever more imperative.
At the same time, such invocation is becoming impossible. The God to whom this invocation is directed, the God at the acme of the hierarchy of beings, appears impotent, and from that moment forward is silent. (xxi)
Surely nothing can tell us what the world is, for neither question, that of being or that of non-being, can be asked with regard to the world. Ontology is not false, it is just that it is caught in an endless circle. Ontology insists that to on corresponds to ho logos. The Enlightened One has seen beyond this. What has he seen? Nothing! Śūnyatā, nirvāṇa. (66)
We are dealing with avyākṛtavastūni—things (literally) inseparable, ineffable, inexpressibl—things "inexplicable," in the etymological sense of being so tightly intertwined as to thwart all unraveling. The principles of identity and noncontradiction, properly speaking, or primario et per se, are logical principles—principles of thought, raised to the status of ontological principles in virtue of the "dogma" of identity, or at least of the adequation, of being and thinking. The Buddha has "seen further." ... If my interpretation is correct, then it seems to me that the intentionality of the avyākṛta does not regard the logic of thought—does not bear upon a softening of the principle of noncontradiction or of the excluded third [middle], but rather points to the imperfection, the limitation, the inability to express the real, intrinsic first of all to the verb "to be" and then to the very concept of being, inasmuch as, ultimately, being itself is not deprived of membership in the kingdom of the impermanent, the changeable, the contingent. There are actually propositions that are inexpressible, owing to the limited grasp of the ontological comprehension available to us. Accordingly, although there is no third alternative between A and not-A, there is between "is" and "is not." (69-70)
Were we to attempt to sketch these main lines in broad strokes, we should speak of a tissue of mythos, logos, and spirit. Humankind cannot live without myth. But neither are human beings fully human until they have developed their logical potential and spiritual capacities as well. Just as the essence of the "primitivism" of an archaic culture lies in its mystical characteristics, so the essence of the "barbarian character" of contemporary Western culture lies not in the material component of a given civilization, but in the supreme power that it confers on the logos. If there is a single concept in which we might capsulize the contribution that the Buddha could make to our times, it is the conviction that the logos cannot be divinized in any of its forms, either ontological or epistemological or cosmic. Mythos and logos can exist only in spirit. But spirit cannot be "manipulated," either by mythos or by logos. (84-5)
If we look carefully, we see the the trust the Buddha asks is not a new acceptance of someone else's experience, but a reliance on our own experience once it has been enlightened. It is not a matter, then, of the renunciation of knowing, on the implicit presupposition that there is something real to know and some real subject to do the knowing. It is a question of recognizing that creatureliness cannot transcend itself, and that consequently nothing in the order of being, nothing that develops in space and time, can be included in the realization of what ultimately matters. And what ultimately matters is the orthopraxis that eliminates contingency—that is, suffering. (90)
The human situation may appear self-sufficient in its reciprocal solidarity, but the fact remains that, shut up within its own limits, it will suffocate. Its very sacrality projects it toward the infinite, toward eternity, and unless it is willing to remain irremediably closed off within the spatio-temporal coordinates that delimit it, it will have to be able to find a mediation with an extrahuman order of salvation. This is the traditional function known by the name of "priesthood." (94)
Without an objective something outside themselves for which to strive, human beings may fall victim not only to the self-centeredness that issues in dishonesty with their neighbor, but to the ennui that flows from the meaninglessness of a contingent life that comes to constitute its own stifling limitations. Human beings must lift their eyes to a horizon that is higher than simply themselves and their own story. What I consider that earmark of the new atheism is rather the emergence in contemporary humankind of a tendency to adopt an ideal that is personal in nature. That is, each individual consciously adopts some particular ideal in order to maintain the very need to believe. (95)
And yet does it really seem wise to break with a tradition, a religious one as it happens, that for centuries, for better or for worse, has furnished a large part of humanity with an effective support? Indeed, have we not begun to see that the drastic solution, tested several times now in the course of history, of discarding religion, does not seem to have yielded very satisfactory results? On the contrary, it seems almost as if the "place" vacated by God has been filled up by... nothing at all—and that this "nothing" has loomed up before an unprepared modern humanity with a force that terrorizes it, threatens to swallow it whole. Only silence has filled the void left by divinity. God is gone now, and the silence seems even more disappointing and incomprehensible than the God who has been wished away. (102)
Here our speculation will have to adopt a culturally and religiously pluralistic outlook if it is to have any hope of finding paths to a solution of the problem before it. The challenge of the present age will be to examine whether it is possible to "de-divinize" Being, and de-ontologize God, without either one suffering any detriment, so to speak. Apart from such a possibility, only one alternative remains: identification or nihilism. (107)
God may be or appear to be no more than a handy, bourgeois solution for so many of the problems of modern human life; but at least God represented a hypothesis that, once accepted, really did solve human problems. Left to themselves, without their Gods and without God, human beings simply "don't make it." They must forge themselves every manner of idol in order to survive. Atheism is powerful when it comes to destroying a determinate conception of God; but it betrays its impotence the moment it pretends to transform itself into a worldview that would replace what it has destroyed. Now the cure is worse than the disease. (126)
To express myself in the simplest way possible, then: persons discover that, in their deepest heart, there is a "bottomless bottom," that "is" what they largely are, and at the same time is identical to what each "other" human can likewise experience—the bottom that constitutes what is deepest in every human being, as anyone who has had this experience can attest—that same depth, moreover, that is lived, perceived, intuited as the unique source of all things, and yet never exhausted in any of them, so to speak. (139)
The Buddha delves to the root of the problem—not via a direct, violent denial of God, not again through some harmonization of the various paths, but with a demonstration of the superfluity of the very question of God or of any ultraterrestrial world. In the Buddha we see the vacuity of any possible response, because of the nullity of the entire question. Yet we are not obliged to renounce the possibility of an outcome in terms of salvation and liberation.... Let God's existence be affirmed or denied as it may: neither "answer" will be of any importance, for both are equally invalid. (150-1)
Faith, though of course comporting an intellectual dimension, is not fundamentally an act of the intellect. It is an act of the whole person. The perfect and universal formula of faith is not "I believe in God," but "I believe," as an expression of total self-bestowal, as an utterance of the abandon with which the answer given in the gospel by the person blind from birth is charged: "I do believe, Lord." Faith is an act of sheer openness. Any closure upon an object wrings it dry. The very presence of God is detrimental to the constitutive openness of faith. Neither the Buddha, nor the Prophet, nor the Christ can remain at the believer's side without representing a dangerous obstacle to that believer's leap of faith. (154)
What matters, then, is not "God," in the classic sense. What matters is only a path, a way that leads in the direction of liberation. Ultimately our lot is in our own hands. We and we alone can deliver ourselves from the suffering that assaults us on every side. The only help available is a reliance on the experience of the Buddha himself and of the monastic community of his followers, in observance of right conduct.... When all is said and done, neither orthodoxy nor orthopoiesis matters. What saves is the refusal to entertain any ideology of philosophy that in some degree would center on God. What is of true value, what carries us beyond this nearer shore of ours is orthopraxis. Now we "arrive" indeed, but without vaulting into the arms of a transcendence that can be manipulated, one that is but the product of our unsatiated desires. The dharma is not infertile, and indeed per se. It suffices to follow it; there is no need to concern oneself with it by reflecting and willing. One need only rely on the Buddha, who has indicated the way, and on the community—that is, on solidarity. (174)
I can see where other reviewers are coming from when they describe this book as "pretentious," but I won't go that far. There is some substance here (...moreI can see where other reviewers are coming from when they describe this book as "pretentious," but I won't go that far. There is some substance here (dharmic, gnostic, and alchemical themes in particular), and so the book's exaggerated air of self-importance is not completely (just mostly!) unwarranted. (less)
The angelic images of the author as a young man, learning to walk in spite of being told it was impossible and defending himself against scho...more3.5 stars
The angelic images of the author as a young man, learning to walk in spite of being told it was impossible and defending himself against schoolyard bullies, will stick in my mind for a long while. It is quite sickening to realize that, for many people, attacking those who apparently cannot defend themselves is a way of life; it is equally heartening to see that Davison is one "spacka" or "cripple" who has learned to fight back (and who, apparently, seeks to teach others to do the same through his Martial Hearts program). Powerful illustrations, in a variety of mediums and styles, convey the deepest feelings of the author, the pains and the joys, that he has faced coming to terms with the "spiral cage" of his life with spina bifida. I also appreciate the role that faith--specifically, Nichiren Buddhism--has played in Davison's life, in helping him (and hopefully others) to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. An awesome comic book by an awesome character.(less)
My dad made his living as a draftsman, designer, and fabricator of sheet metal. In addition he was, and remains, a devout Christian for whom the Bible...moreMy dad made his living as a draftsman, designer, and fabricator of sheet metal. In addition he was, and remains, a devout Christian for whom the Bible is literal truth. For decades, he has combined these two interests in sketch after sketch in which he attempts to capture the exact proportions and dimensions of such esoteric structures the as Ark of Noah or the New Jerusalem.