By Brian George
Revised excerpts from the Reality Sandwich Forum for “Transparency is the Only Shield Against Disaster”
“Ensouled by a Cherub’s spirit, philosophizing along the rungs of the ladder of nature, and penetrating through everything from center to center, we shall at one time be descending, tearing apart, like Osiris, the one into many by a titanic force; and we shall at other times be ascending and gathering into one the many, like the members of Osiris, by an Apollonian force; until we finally come to rest.”—Pico Della Mirandola, from “Oration on the Dignity of Man”—Translation by Charles Glenn Wallis
1Cultures sit down on chairs around the table of my solar plexus; an argument is about to start
Hi Bogomil and Revolutionrabbit,
Bogomil, you wrote, “But I do know that language (and other symbols) should be a subordinate tool of whatever amount of reality our peculiar universe contains. Not the other way round. That's why mystics fundamentally agree (no matter what their experiences are later called)…”
Please allow this “mystic” to disagree! Sorry, I could not resist that. But seriously folks, perhaps most mystics “agree” because they simply cannot write; they speak in vague and uplifting generalities, and are incapable of or uninterested in translating the full complexity of their experience into language. Rumi and Blake are two notable exceptions to this rule—you could no doubt point to others—but, when these exceptions to the rule occur, they also tend to strike us as almost unimaginably strange; we look at their historical period and think, “Where the hell did he come from?” Even if, in their style, we might still detect some trace of the fingerprints of their teachers, we suspect that, unlike us, they are not the products of their environment. Their work is not the effect of any linear cause. Their vision, when we stop to fully appreciate its strangeness, can seem to originate from a point beyond the clockwork of the time-cycle.
In order to bypass the intellect and the lower aspects of the Psyche, to return to the more archetypal levels of creation, and then move further outward or upward beyond form altogether, too many saints and yogis have let go of the very powers that we are here to develop as human beings. They like to go up, but they do not like to come down; as a consequence, their powers of levitation may be stronger than their metaphors. As I understand it, these powers that we must struggle to develop have to do with our unique capacity for language, and for the role that we can play as “messengers” between otherwise out-of-touch worlds. If not now, when? If not us, who will bring the full power of their lineage to bear, with all of its archaic scope? You might argue that this is actually the work of angels, since the word itself, “angelos,” means messenger, but angels, at least according to Neoplatonism and Kabbalah, exist only to transmit, word for word, a predetermined set of instructions from “on high.”
They are incandescent beasts, the castrati of the spheres. They are the clones of the speed of light, who, unblinking, do not deviate as they go from Point A to Point B. The omnipotent have hooked rings through their noses, by which they are led. They are useful, yes, but also vengeful in their innocence, knowing that our beauty, because flawed, is more perfect. They are clockwork instruments that only play one song—a song with complex harmonies but no rhythmic variation, which may or may not interest even them. They are the animatronic hands of a fascist bureau of geometry; they flame, but do not own the flame that they emit. They are the sub-contractors of the active powers of creation, who are themselves, in spite of their great intelligence and strength, more fixed than we are in their roles.
For lo, I will clue you in on a mystery: True consciousness is dark—at least intermittently, and as an exercise in stealth—and true power involves the freedom to disobey.
Said Pico Della Mirandola, “Therefore the Elohim took up man, a work of indeterminate form, and placed him at the mid-point of the worlds…They stored within him every sort of seed and the sprouts of every sort of life.” Or so the Elohim would prefer us to believe: that they made us, and not the other way around! The idea of the seed storehouse is nonetheless a pregnant one. Our age unspeakable, we indifferently took note when the sky was lifted from the waters.
Too much “mystical” poetry is what I would characterize as “devotional”: It flatters those beings that we wrongly see as our parents, and expresses yearning for states that we believe to be beyond us. It makes reference to states and experiences that are nowhere embodied in the actual language of the poetry. The results may be quite effective if seen as a “finger pointing to the moon,” but the mystic has not yet discovered the “skillful means” for bringing the reader along with him. Neither, fearing loss of status, does he bother to tell him where his superweapons have been stored, or that, once the reader has grown up, the mystic will then appear no bigger than an ant.
After crossing to the “other shore,” the poet finds that the moon is but one stage-prop out of many, all of which are syllables that have never left his mouth. But again, he must return out of the depths, with pen in hand. He must re-cross the ocean with no vehicle but his body; to do otherwise would be to violate an oath, or to not respond with orgiastic laughter to a dare. Convinced of the superiority of his one-directional transcendence, the mystic comments on the poet’s youth—he whose near death experiences were once the life’s blood of the lineage! For the poet refuses to exterminate his “ego.”
Having once “inhaled” it is now unacceptable to “exhale”; a different actor must be chosen to do each.
I have often felt that this split between the planes of consciousness was perhaps a fairly recent development—if the actual length and breadth of human history were to be kept in mind. It does not seem to have been there for the poets of the “Rig Veda” or the “Mahabharata.” In Homer’s time—during which, according to Plato, the art of memory was already in decline—the poet still seemed fully capable of performing his shamanic function. The poet was a “messenger,” yes, but his job was not to carry any one set of instructions; his body was an echo chamber, in which thousands of voices all competed to be heard. The World Economy was an engine that an earlier race had designed; in need of tune-ups, it was kept in good repair by his displays of arcane temperament. Bad luck would attach to the killer of a poet; thus he was free to direct his criticisms or insults to the gods—for who among them might not have grown complacent in his/her habits, or been careless in the welcoming of a Guest?
There was no accident that could not be interpreted as a sign. Place names were eight-directional crossroads. Stories were living serpents that uncoiled into the depths of the nonexistent. Nouns were weapons. Verbs were calls that waited for a response. Each object was an “invitation to the voyage,” and there was no event or action “here” that did not lead “there” to its counterpart. Trained to navigate each turn of the Memory Theatre in a blindfold, before his eyes were taken out at birth, if the poet did not know where to go he would not have been able to access the information that he needed, or to share it with his audience.
Trailing light from an alternate sun that had existed before the Deluge, the authors of the “Rig Veda” did not separate “speech” from “action.” In “The Origins of Sacred Speech” we read:
"Brhaspati! When they set in motion the first beginning of speech, giving names, their most pure and perfectly guarded secret was revealed through love.
“When the wise ones fashioned speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve, then friends recognized their friendships. A good sign was placed on their speech.
“Through sacrifice they traced the path of speech and found it inside the sages. They held it and portioned it out to many; together the 7 sages praised it.
“One who looked did not see speech, and another who listens does not hear it. It reveals itself to someone as a loving wife, beautifully dressed, reveals her body to her husband.
“One person, they said, has grown awkward and heavy in this friendship; they no longer urge him forward in the contests. He lives with falsehood like a milkless cow, for the speech that he has heard has no fruit no flower.
“A man that abandons a friend who has learned with him no longer has a share in speech. What he does hear he hears in vain, for he does not know the path of good action.
“Friends have eyes and ears, but their flashes of insight are not equal. Some are ponds that reach only to the mouth or shoulder; others are like ponds that one could bathe in.
“When the intuitions of the mind are shaped in the heart, when Brahmins perform sacrifices together as friends, some are left behind for lack of knowledge, while others surpass them with the power to praise.
“Those who move neither near nor far, who are not real Brahmins nor pressers of Soma; using speech in a bad way, they weave on a weft of rags, without understanding…”—Translation by Wendy Doniger-O’Flaherty
(Illustration: Brian George, Living ship, 2004)