Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Disembedding and Theosis


This is one of the sanest and most inspirational pieces of writing I have ever read. I think it might be the cue for me to stop all this web-surfing and reading 15 books at a time and try to start really putting my shoulder to the wheel.

Here's and excerpt:

...Nietzscheanism is an argument in the final analysis that seeks to overcome modern/postmodern disembedded alienation by a return to pagan embeddedness. Christianity, insofar as it is a higher religion that calls humans to a life of at least partial disembeddedness, has to justify itself in terms that make sense in the face of this natural contemporary attraction to neo-paganism. Rationalist or disembedded paganism is duking it out in the contemporary culture wars with religious fundamentalism, and neither for me offers a way forward. So I want to provide a preliminary outline about how how a deeper kind of Christianity has the resources to offer another possibility.

But before doing that, let me reiterate a point I've made in posts this summer. I'm not anti-pagan. I think that embedded pagan consciousness embraced dimensions of reality that are not currently available to buffered moderns. While there have been at least since the axial era individuals who have been precocious in their disembeddedness, modernity is the process by which cultures and peoples become disembedded. But while I think that modern disembeddedness is an advancement, I don't think it is the goal--"re-embeddedness" is. Disembeddedness is a necessary but temporary moment in cultural maturation, but once achieved, the goal is to retrieve what has been left behind.

That's my gloss on the gospel's injunction that we become as little children, and the process by which we do it is "second naivete", which is to use Blake's language, to re-open the doors of perception. We need to find ways to open up to what that older consciousness experienced, but with the maturity of critical consciousness and the dignity of an adult level of freedom. And so this opening up, if it is not to be regressive, if it's not to be some form of "going native", has to follow some rules. And those rules require the integration of a disembedded consciousness with an embedded one.

Now back to a Christian imagination of the way forward. I think that anybody who is serious about the spiritual life has to have some level of discipline about it. I think this discipline has many aspects to it, but one that is central is the development of a prayer or meditative practice. Such a discipline is an exercise in disembeddedness, but it's important to be clear what its goal is. I think there has been a tendency both in the Western and Eastern spirituality to see the goal as a kind of permanent disembeddedness. I don't.

People who see it this way imagine life on earth as exile in a Platonic cave ruled by the logic of original sin or maya or samsara. And whether east or west, they think of redemption as an escape from from the Cave into the true, the good, the real, which is a transcendent realm outside time and space. And so for them the purpose of prayer and meditation is to enter into that transcendent world, and that the goal is to stay there as long as possible.

That's not how I think about it. I think that being in touch with or vulnerable to the influence of that transcendent dimension is essential for our health and sanity, but I'm not an advocate of escaping life in the Cave, but of gently, gradually lighting it up with the unconsuming fire of heaven.

As I mentioned before there are many levels of disembeddeness, and even we moderns are disembedded in comparison with the embedded, unbuffered consciousness of premoderns, we remain embedded in our ordinary daily "cave" consciousness. So we benefit from the rhythmic daily exercise of trying to stand outside of it for a while. That's what a meditative practice seeks to do. Or as an alternative to the cave metaphor, I think it's useful to think of our ordinary consciousness as our being carried along mostly submerged in a slowly moving river, and the attempt at prayer or meditation is the effort to climb up onto the bank for awhile to let our souls dry out. Some days it's just not possible to pull ourselves out, but even on good days, when we are able to get ourselves entirely onto the river bank, it takes a while for all the water to drain away, and often we find ourselves still covered with ooze and seaweed and suckers.

Now the goal is to let the concerns and bric-a-brac of ordinary daily consciousness drain away and to dislodge the persistent thoughts and concerns that cling to us even as we sit there on the river bank. It's not easy, and I don't have to rehearse here all the problems the so-called monkey mind presents to us to complicate the effort. But the goal is to create an emptiness, or perhaps better to say a dryness, which is the precondition for being filled by or kindled by the aforementioned unconsuming flame and it's warming light that to be sure shines on the river, but is not of the river.

This emptiness and dryness are not pleasant, and it is very difficult to sustain--one longs to return to the familiar comfort of the river, and we need to do that. But in all the literature about the spiritual life that has any credibility, this discomfort is seen as a necessary, purgative first step. The dryness leads to the kindling of illumination, and the illuminations, if allowed to reshape one's soul, lead one on a path to union, which is the goal of "theosis". Meditative practice, insofar as it is the sustained effort to be radically open to grace, comprises all three stages--purgation, illumination, union. We are none of us, believer or unbeliever, ever cut off completely from the ubiquity of grace, but it is possible to become more radically open to its superabundant and transforming power.

And to the degree that a soul becomes interiorly transformed, when it goes back into the river of its ordinary cares and responsibilities, it does so in a way that has a kind of filtering or transforming effect on her immediate psychic environment. The river is beautiful, but it is polluted, and the question needs to be asked: By what means can it be cleaned up? I believe that nothing lasting or true happens except by the agency of this transforming power. I see it as a gradual, gentle process achieved by people over time who, with varying degrees of intensity carry this fire within them, and over the centuries their activity has a regenerative effect. Meditative practice is one way to increase the intensity.

People who have advanced in this respect radiate something positive and regenerative that other river dwellers pick up on. Certainly the Jesus of the gospels had this effect. One of the most interesting things about the gospel accounts was the way some people picked up on what Jesus radiated and how others didn't. Typically "sinners" were more responsive than the religious professionals, whom Jesus describes as whited sepulchers--all clean outside, but rotten inside. I have written before about Whited Sepulcher Syndrome (see here and here), but it strikes me as I think about this business of embeddedness and disembeddedness, that Whited Sepulcher Syndrome is a case of "arrested disembeddedness", a taking of the first step (purgation) without getting to the second, illumination. It's mechanical morality without grace. Emptiness without illumination. Dryness without fire.

And it suggests a way to better understand the difference between moral and moralistic. The moral person, whatever the condition of his exterior is alive in his interior. And the gospels are clear that inner aliveness is far more important than an exterior correctness, especially when exterior correctness leads to an inner death. And it is the insistence on exterior correctness by the moralistic, whether they be Torquemada or James Dobson, that is profoundly immoral because it is so profoundly deadly--pure repression with no goal other than to repress. A withered deadness with no goal other than to be dry and dead. Any lively paganism is more spiritually alive than that kind of moralistic Christianity. And that kind of paganism is also, when it encounters real Christianity, more receptive to it. Nothing could be clearer from a reading of the gospels. The "sinners" time and time again had an easier time recognizing who Jesus was; the religious professionals were the ones who seemed to be too blind or too dead to do so.

For the ascesis of the purgative stage can lead to the deadliest form of alienation if the necessary "dryness" isn't at some point kindled. (Father Ferapont in the Brothers Karamazov is the counter to Father Zossima in this respect.) And these moralistic Christians suffering from Whited Sepulcher Syndrome, because they are mostly interested in control and security, do everything they can to snuff out any spiritual flame that might kindle in themselves or in their congregations. For when there is a kindling, the flame will die if it is not given oxygen, and that oxygen is provided by "vertical breathing", one form of which is prayer/meditation.

I think there are lots of people who have been kindled but have had the flame snuffed out of them by the moralism of the churches they've sought out to help them find ways to sustain and grow it. But the whole logic of any kind of morality is not simply about correct behavior, but about creating the optimal conditions for the kindling and growth of this flame. And the goal of prayer and meditation is not to leave the world of ordinary consciousness to live forever on the river bank (or outside the cave), but to bring the flame and its transforming, purifying power back into ordinary conscious in such a way that it will not be drowned by it.

And that requires keeping one's head above the waters as the body is carried along by their currents. For the head needs to be vigilant as to what lies ahead, and exposed to the source of light which illuminates it and inspires the action in the world that leads eventually to its redemption. This vigilance, this refusal to be pulled under, this daily effort to pull oneself out for a short time are keys to understanding what it means to be chaste. Chasitity is the capability to live in a polluted environment and yet to radiate this interior fire. It's the capability to swim freely in the river without being dragged under or coopted by it. It's not about staying out of the river altogether.

The goal is union, but not just with the divine, but union with everything--with the earth, with people, with the entire cosmos, and this union can be effected only by the slow transformation of our souls from the soggy things they are now into a roaring unconsuming flame of love. That is our telos. That will be our theosis. That is our deepest identity--our "I am", that part of us that was created in the image and likeness. It is the likeness of the flame that Moses encountered on the mountain in the wilderness, after which the great Jewish disembedding began. And we Christians believe that the flame that Moses encountered on Sinai is the same flame the people of Jesus' day encountered when they met him, and which it is still possible to encounter now in different ways. And that unconsuming flame of love that burned in him was a flame that he kindled in all those around him, and so it has happened down through the centuries wherever true Christianity has survived and flourished...


portinexile said...

I often enjoy and learn more from the discussion threads in blogs than the actual posts. Here is an excerpt from a very enlightening discussion that is posted after one of Jack's posts. The whole discussion is worth checking out if you have the time:


I'll try to explain where I'm coming from, and you tell me if that's what you think: I'm a theologically conservative Christian who has the profoundest respect for the reality of evil. I am Niebuhrian realist in my expectations for what's possible in the political sphere, and my political posts here are not about promoting heaven on earth but about preventing a devolution into hell, which is a very real possibility for America. I am suspicious of all utopianism and of the Jacobinism that usually accompanies it.

That being said, I think that the human project is a drama unfolding in macro time, and that there is the possibility of success or failure. A positive, or at least optimally positive outcome, is by no means a given.

Moral dilemmas confront human beings at every stage in this unfolding drama, but the nature of these dilemmas is different at each stage. The dilemma that confronts us now is one of disembedded freedom. Evolution is in human hands as a choice. And the question that confronts us is whether we let the process be driven by greed and power (in my view the unintended consequence of Libertarianism) or by human impulses that come from a higher source.

I am not for any minority imposing its will on a majority. I am for persuasion or awakening the majority to its best possibilities, and in trusting in the basic decency of most human beings to make the right choice when the choices are clearly presented to them. So, one of the principal roles played by people of faith down through the ages has been prophetic. And by prophetic I mean challenging the current power arrangements from the standpoint of a higher morality than what ever is the self-justifying excuse of the powerful at the moment. I have a prejudice that power corrupts, and I assume that the powerful are inclined to use their power for corrupt purposes unless they are prevented from doing so by a vigilant citizenry.

So I see what I'm doing in this blog as an attempt to work within that prophetic tradition. There is no understanding what I'm about unless you understand that.

This is not a "liberal" project. Do you think someone like Martin Luther King was a liberal? I think you probably do, but he (or I) is a liberal only in the crudest kind of typology. No, he was a Christian in the prophetic tradition whose mission was to awaken decent Americans to the injustices of his people, and every decent human being, regardless of party affiliation or ideology hearkened to his call to wake up.

Are the principled conservatives at American Conservative Magazine really closet liberals because they opposed from the beginning the invasion of Iraq? No, they saw the neocons as Jacobins attempting a hubristic and doomed social engineering project in the Middle East. Liberal and Conservative have almost no real meaning anymore. They are media shorthand to keep us all from thinking through the issues for ourselves.

So in this situation, you ally yourself with whoever is an ally to prevent corrupt or unjust policies. So my perspective has little to do with liberal ideology or liberal values. If some of the things I say sound liberal or leftist, it's more along the lines of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. So a guy like Chomsky fits into my thinking that way. I think his analysis of American imperialism is better than almost anything you can read elsewhere. He's not perfect, but he's closer than most to understanding what's really driving our foreign policy. So I'd ask you rather than bandying the word "Chomskyite: around as if it were some club, please tell me specifically what he says you disagree with. It might turn out I agree with you about those things, but I suspect you have the typical "moderate's" knee-jerk rather than thoughtful rejection of Chomsky's analysis of American power. He's actually rather close in many respects to the perspective of the American Conservative Magazine. It's not about ideology it's about knowing the facts and connecting them in a convincing way.

So given this explanation, do I still fit into the pattern you think I'm in?

Posted by: Jack Whelan | December 04, 2007 at 09:51 AM

Jennifer F. said...

Wow, that *is* an amazing post! I haven't had time to read every word of it but what I could get through was really powerful. A lot of what he says reminds me of Chesterton's Orthodoxy -- I think if you were to read that post and Orthodoxy back to back you might understand everything about God and life. :)

Anyway, thank you for linking to it!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Im John from Melbourne Australia.

I find that to be (mostly) a collosal load of nonsense---there are a few good points.

Please find a completely different understanding of the origins & consequences of the current universal insanity/psychosis via these references---a pychosis largely created by, and directly related to, our christian presumptions about the god as the great objective (and objectified) "other".

These reference are all informed by the ancient Upanishadic understanding---where there is an other fear arises.

So what we now have is the politics and "culture" of fear being dramatised all over the planet.

1. www.ispeace723.org
2. www.coteda.com
3. www.dabase.org/2armP1.htm#ch2
4. www.dabase.org/spacetim.htm
5. www.beezone.com/AdiDa/jesusandme.html

portinexile said...

John - the strident and robotic tone of your posts confirm my intuition that adi da is a false prophet and is bad news. i am familiar with this 'god man'/'radiant avatar'/ 'primordial giver'/ universal ruler' , and don't really like what i have seen.

See, for example:



Indologist Georg Feuerstein, a former student of Adi Da, has become highly critical of Adi Da's so-called crazy-wisdom behavior and his extravagant lifestyle, as is clear from the second edition of Feuerstein's book Holy Madness. Feuerstein writes: "For a period of time, (Adi Da) was a member of Scientology; this fact was mentioned in early editions of The Knee of Listening but was later on downplayed or dropped altogether. In the course of several decades, this autobiography and other biographical accounts of Adi Da have been cleaned up and to a growing degree even mythologized, undoubtedly under his instigation. This "revisionist" trend became obvious by 1985, with the publication of the "biblical" Dawn Horse Testament.[56] Feuerstein continues: "In any case, later autobiographical presentations regrettably tend toward mytholization, as does indeed Adi Da's entire self-portrayal certainly since the mid-1980's... Unless we dismiss Adi Da's claims to avatarhood as the whimsical playfulness of a crazy-wisdom adept, we are left with a rather unsavory alternative explanation: that of a less-than-enlightened adept with a God-complex."[57]

Regarding Adi Da's name changes and use of honorifics to refer to himself, Feuerstein writes[58]:

Many critics would undoubtedly proffer a different analysis, namely that the name change is yet another indication of an inflated personality and perhaps a symptom of growing self-delusion. If the latter is the case, his disciples are truly imperiled. Adi Da tells them that he can do no wrong, and they, in all seriousness, see in him God incarnate. History is replete with instances of such claims and the dire consequences when these claims are taken literally by a sufficient number of people. The self-delusion of a charismatic leader tends to infect his or her following with the same disease, leading to a closed worldview that regards the surrounding world as inimical to the purposes of the charismatic leader, and hence as enemy. From there to active aggression, as we have witnessed in the case of the Rajneesh movement, is a dangerously small step. Or, as in the case of the People's Temple of Jim Jones, the aggressive instinct is turned inward, leading to enforced mass suicide.

Feurstein concludes with his opinion of Adi Da's spiritual realization[59]:

At any rate, Adi Da's apparent encouragement of cultic devotionalism is indeed puzzling given his own periodic trenchant criticisms of cultism. But this is only one of numerous puzzles confronting equally the outside observer and the faithful devotee. There can be little doubt of Adi Da's spiritual realizations, but the verdict on whether or not these amount to actual enlightenment as traditionally understood is still out. The odds are not in his favor.

Popular author Ken Wilber has repeatedly commented on Adi Da, both positively and negatively.[60] In 1998, in his last written comment on the subject, he wrote: "...I affirm all of the extremes of my statements about Da: he is one of the greatest spiritual Realizers of all time, in my opinion, and yet other aspects of his personality lag far behind those extraordinary heights. By all means look to him for utterly profound revelations, unequalled in many ways; yet step into his community at your own risk."[61] Wilber has never been actively involved as a formal member of Adidam.

Noted non-dualist author and commentator Timothy Conway has published a critical assessment of Adi Da and his organization, including lengthy correspondence with an advocate. [62]

Franklin is discussed in the book Stripping the Gurus [63]. This book states that Franklin's teaching literature contains beliefs, such as the contention in the Knee of Listening that astral creatures live in the moon and eat souls, which are clearly psychotic.