Archive for October, 2007

I Was Not An Unhappy Castalian But There Were Challenges– And A Meaningful Keepsake

October 27, 2007
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Logic wasn’t that bad

1978/79

Bill, Carin’s father, in one of his sermons, once said, “We’re all here for a reason. When we learn our lessons and graduate we move on to the next level.” I kind of liked that idea. In fact, back in Mt. Pleasant, after spending that particular weekend with Carin and her family, I checked into what it would take to get me graduated. What I found was that I had enough credits already, but I needed two more courses in my major. Spurred on by Carin’s encouragement, I decided to go back to school. Theory Of Knowledge didn’t worry me. That class would be fun. It was Logic that scared me. My math skills were never good, and logic required skills in analytical reasoning.

It all came together in the end, though. At work, I went from dishwasher to university custodian, (my seniority got me a nightshift job), I also became a CMU graduate—the icing on the cake. It wasn’t easy. On my first day in class, my Logic Professor said, “Tutors are available for anyone who needs help.” I signed up by week’s end. Fortunately, my tutor had good communication skills, and I got an A in the class. My grade, amazing as it was, wasn’t as amazing as what I learned.

I started out the class believing that logic was all about how “I ought to think if I did it right.” That wasn’t the whole truth of the matter. It was true that mastering the techniques of formal logic helped a person think correctly, but there was more to “good reasoning” than what was contained in the truth or falsity conditions of a statement. Logic did not help us make correct inferences; it only told us if the inferences made were correct. No amount of mechanical rules could make us reason correctly. However, logic did indeed tell us if the conclusions actually followed from the asserted premises. I guess that’s why my Professor, on the first day of class, said, “I can’t teach you how to reason correctly, but, with a little luck, you can teach yourself.” Anyway, it was a good class, but I was sure glad when it was over.

Since I only needed two credits in biology to receive a Minor, I decided to take a class in Botany. Half way through the class I received my diploma in the mail. CMU automatically graduated me once I satisfied the minimum requirements. With my diploma in hand, I decided my time with Carin was more valuable than completing a Minor. But, it was also at that time that I became preoccupied with a brochure that I found pinned to the bulletin board on the wall outside the Philosophy Department. It described a graduate program in mysticism and consciousness. Of course, Carin was sure that my unexpected diploma and the opportunity to continue my education in my chosen field (her interpretation) were far from coincidental. According to her, I had to check it out. It was written in my stars.

John F. Kennedy University was a 15-year-old university located in Orinda, California. It was the first in the country to be founded specifically for older students (most of the students were going through a midlife career change). The faculty, for the most part, had PhD’s from prestigious universities, and, more importantly (from my perspective at least), JFKU had an accredited graduate degree program that offered Masters degrees in either Comparative Mysticism, Parapsychology or Transpersonal Counseling. All programs were interdisciplinary with a strong emphasis in liberal arts, humanistic values and practical experience. In fact, each curriculum had three dimensions: theorizing/cognitive, practical/active, and spiritual/experiential. When it came to learning about religion and consciousness you didn’t just learn to think the thoughts of other people, you also received practical training.

The student was required, in the experiential dimension of the curriculum, to participate in some form of spiritual practice. Students were also expected to participate in periodic gatherings with faculty and other students to discuss their progress. JFKU wasn’t just another degree mill. Balance in the cognitive, professional, and experiential approaches to education was stressed. I was so impressed with their literature that I applied to the program.

It was not that I was unhappy with my life as a Castalian, but there were challenges that I had never considered. For instance, I had washed pots and pans with students who had graduated and then returned to CMU as productive citizens. One student, who became a teacher, was even hired by CMU as an instructor. As I was growing older, the students remained perpetually young, not just chronologically, but also psychologically and emotionally. Putting my education to use, as opposed to continually embellishing it, sounded to me like the best plan. JFKU not only offered an opportunity for me to continue my studies, it also promised to prepare me for work in the outside world, work that would not just benefit me, but society at large. I liked that idea.

I sent JFK my transcripts and a written essay (more like a paper) detailing my interests and history, especially as they pertained to self-discovery and spiritual practice. The application also required two letters of recommendation, which Dr. Gill and Dr. Shier, another professor of mine, said they would write on my behalf. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long before I found out that I was accepted into the program. Money was always a problem, but I had managed to save some, and I planned to take out loans and work. JFK was very accommodating there; classes were offered on weekends and in the evening. There was just one last thing to do—get an educational leave of absence from CMU.

CMU had a long history of giving leaves for military duty, illness, and education, but, as I found out, not to custodians, at least for educational purposes. Although students at JFKU were given practicum training in teaching and in grant and technical writing, it was als
o stated in the literature that there was not a high demand for teachers who taught in the fields of consciousness and mysticism. “That market was opening up,” the brochure said. Well, I thought as long as I could pay off my loans, going into debt wouldn’t be a problem, but with no work, or worse, no hope for work, I hit a dead end. Essentially, I would be throwing away the life that I worked so hard to create. I decided to remain a Castalian.

Not long after I let JFKU know of my decision, I received a letter from Hatha Surrender. As head of the graduate program, he wrote that he and his colleagues were disappointed that I would not be joining the program. He said my application was a very good one, and if I ever changed my mind, I would not need to reapply. I took that as a compliment, and put JFKU at the top of the list of places to visit on my next summer’s bicycle trip.


Meaningful Keepsake

Sometime after I asked Dr. Gill to write a letter of recommendation for me, I ran into him in the hallway, close to where his academic office was located, and he told me he had done what I had asked him to do. He also said, “Perhaps you would like to see what I wrote?” I replied, “Sure,” and he reached in his brief case and handed me a copy of the letter saying, “Here, take this copy.”

I have no doubt he knew exactly what he was doing when he handed me that letter. To this day it remains one of my most prized possessions. What follows is pretty much an exact copy of that letter:

February 16, 1979

Director of Admissions

Graduate Programs in the Study of Consciousness

John F. Kennedy University

12 Altarinde

Orinda, California 94563

Dear Colleague,

Dave Heyl studied elementary philosophy with me some six years ago. He has followed with other courses, some of which he has taken for credit, but more often he has, with my permission, merely sat in as an auditor, though not hesitating to speak up. He usually represents a very sensible position, but seems to think things through with increasing depth and insight. He is dedicated to learning with emphasis on understanding. I would say he has become a mature student and potentially, a great teacher.

It is my impression that Dave Heyl possesses the sort of mind we need if either you or I are ever to crack the problem of consciousness – to find that strange factor which has been, and remains, the source of all value and meaning. I shall regret losing him here, but perhaps he will find other, new approaches in your programs so that he may move forward in working out the many complex issues involved.

I recommend Dave Heyl highly for your programs.

Sincerely yours,

JG Gill signature

John Glanville Gill

Professor of Philosophy

Box 118 Anspach Hal

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In My Mind Carin Vacillated Between Saint And Whore

October 21, 2007


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My Apartment

1978

Just as I was beginning to take myself a little too seriously, into my life walked this fun loving, carefree, girl who was a friend of a friend, and we hit it off right away. Carin was a recreation major going into her senior year at CMU. She was eight years my junior, and a die-hard feminist. In addition to the physical attraction we had for each other, we also shared a common interest in the spiritual side of life.

Carin grew up in a spiritual family. Her father was a Methodist minister while her mother was into spiritualism of the occult variety; she especially followed the Seth books. Seth had “passed over,” but frequently embodied the same “host” and offered up lots of “wisdom.” Carin’s father was a little less “cutting edge” with his brand of spiritualism, but he was no less a believer. Back in Junior High School, I did some reading on Edgar Casey, extra sensory perception, space aliens, etc., and my mind remains open, but, I also let the debunkers do their work before I choose between the probable and improbable. In my searching, if that’s what you want to call it, I look for the “miraculous in everydayness.” I have to admit, though, talking ghosts might be easier to find sometimes. Be that as it may, I found Carin’s parents extremely interesting and nice. Actually, I was very lucky to get to meet them since our relationship came very close to not happening at all. I found myself in competition with another fellow for Carin’s affection just after the two of us became intimate, and, being left hypersensitive from my last relationship which ended because of “the other guy,” I was in no mood to take chances with Carin. I was scared, but I managed to overcome my fears. In fact, you might say I wrote myself out of my own paranoia. I suspect whoever said “philosophy doesn’t bake bread,” wasn’t much of a writer.

3-18-78

It’s been awhile. It’s been fun. The young lady back a page stayed; my first relationship in two and a half years. It’s been good. But why does history have to repeat itself? She just received a phone call from the guy that gave her self-actualization seminar. I was doing the dishes, standing next to her while she was talking to him on the phone. She enthusiastically agreed to go with him for coffee, but then she asked if she could bring her boyfriend along and there was a long silence. She then said “okay,” and hung up the phone.

Instantly a dark cloud envelops my body. What’s new, nothing! Opening up to Carin felt so good, and then crash, the valve slams shut. My body vibrates with the shock wave. My stomach snarls and tightens. What can I say? What can I do? I say nothing, and the dishes come clean one by one.

In another time, this overpowering melancholy would have taken me with it. There’s no bottom to it. I know that; just infinite compression and tightness. In its own way it’s still here, hanging over me, enveloping me while I wash dishes. I can’t fight it, either. The memories I so desperately want to forget get relived. I wonder if she can tell? Maybe I should tell her. But I don’t. I can’t. I’m too upset to say anything. I just keep washing dishes, watching, and waiting, in silence.

If that guy on the other end of the phone had said to her, “I don’t want to meet your boyfriend. I want to talk with you,” and she agreed to meet him, then where did that leave me—the dish man? To an independent observer, it would be perfectly clear: The guy on the phone was making a pass, and Carin was going for it. She was going to check him out.”

Well this is my situation and consequently I am tormented. What am I to do? I may be wrong, and if I am, I am guilty of thinking the worst, and what if I am correct? This nausea can turn out mental tangents until Hell freezes over, regardless of who’s right or who’s wrong. My thoughts form my reality and this reality is where I have to live. Infinite tightness, creating truth; I own it, I created it, it’s truly mine. Carin has her truth. I have mine. She controls her truth. I control mine. We cannot know each other’s thoughts; we can only react to each other’s behavior. Imposing my truth on somebody else is a lie; whether it’s true or not! And so I wash dishes, quietly.

As I swim in my thoughts the cloud thickens and sinks, but there is nothing I can do or say. But even though I know all this I still can’t stop my mind from conjuring thoughts. I am immersed in that cloud, and helpless. I go through the possibilities, one after another, some good, some bad. When the tally is taken I realize I have achieved nothing because the tally has no meaning. It’s a big joke. I am responsible for myself alone, and if I want it differently then I lose because I can only be accountable to myself. But, my conjuring thoughts continue, and Carin vacillates between being a villain and a Saint, the girl of my dreams and then the worst kind of whore. The man on the phone becomes a teacher, a lecher, and then the devil himself, and through it all I keep washing, washing, washing.

Well, I finished the dishes, and when Carin left, I opened some beers. On the stereo, John Prine was speaking for both of us when he said, “Now some folks they call me a coward cause I left her at the drive-in that night, but I’d druther have names thrown at me, then to fight for a thing that ain’t right.” I didn’t go with the cloud, I’m very happy for that. For this place and time, everybody is doing the only thing possible. Nobody has committed a sin, nor are they wrong. There shouldn’t even be a conflict. Everything is as it should be. God, the more you understand the more you’re tested.

I went through a lot of thinking from dishes to pen. I hope I caught some of it on paper. My thoughts are what motivated this writing, and this writing is what pulled me out of my thoughts. Thank God my life is more stable now. I even stopped smoking cigarettes again, yesterday. Carole Sue sent me a birthday card expressing her willingness to get back together. What normally would have caused a great deal of inner conflict has, thanks to my relationship with Carin, been reconciled without discomfort. Now, even my relationship with Carin has been reconciled without discomfort. I’ve learned how to become content while allowing other people the opportunity to discover contentment for themselves. My stability is not a consequence of my relationship with Carin, rather, my relationship with Carin is a consequence of my stability. And, I like that. I guess it’s time to say adieux because I’m just a wee bit too “tipsy” to continue.

Hey, it’s Saturday afternoon and I had a few drinks–it just seems right!

October 20, 2007
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Thank you for your comment Wings. I apologize for the confusion. I do appreciate your effort to try and make sense out of what I write. The least I can do here is explain what this book report (and future ones) mean to me so that you will be able to judge just how much effort you want to expend in the future.

I will be posting a couple more papers (shorter papers) before I get to my bicycle trip. That trip, my longest, starts south of San Francisco and heads up the coast (I bike the length of Vancouver Island), take the ferry to Prince Rupert, and then turn east and head back to Michigan. But getting back to the book report that made your face cringe; as a child we are handed our parents’ religion. We accept that religion or reject it. If we reject it, we seek out a new religion (sometimes going back to the rejected one), or, we become an atheist. The point is that religion/God is somehow wired into our genetic code as “a need to make sense out of a sane and/or insane world that we inhabit” (even the no religion, no God, of the atheist is still religion).

I have found the one true religion and, for me, it consists of living, loving, believing, learning, and, seeking to understand our “life journeys.” Yours, mine, and all other life journeys may not only be conceived of as uniquely determined, but also as a religion that is universally experienced. Religiously living, believing, learning, seeking, and loving is religion. A very famous philosopher once said words to the affect (after spending half his life investigating the limits of language and logical analysis): where meaning (truth functional logic applied to propositions concerning facts) cannot go, one should not speak. In a limited sense, I agree with Mr. Wittgenstein, but when one’s life journey becomes synonymous with logic, language, God, and all the emotions Ma Nature can dish out, then not speaking, I believe, becomes synonymous with sin (that may be the only case where the word sin applies). So, as I record my reasons for my religion, I suspect there will be a lot of turned up eyebrows from occasional blog readers. That’s fine, just don’t burn me at the stake—pleeease! I wanted Martin Buber to have the last word here, but, try as I may, I could not find the quote I was looking for in his book “Between Man And Man.” This is what I remember of it though: He said that what separates humans from animals is the incredible potential humans have to expand their horizons. What separates humans from humans is the way that potential gets squandered. For the most part, squandered potential occurs across a wide spectrum of chaotic endeavourers. However, wasted potential is different from potential actualized in the service of finding a home, or going home as Buber might say. For Buber, “home” is found in I-Thou relationships.

Eventually, after my bicycle trip, my writing will concentrate more on what my religion entails. I will even describe an existential logic that, I believe, grounds truth functional logic. In that description, new light will be shed on the Sartre/de Beauvoir for-itself concept. Sartre’ people might disagree with me here, but I bet they would at least be willing to give me a star or two for creativity.

Take care,
dave

The Idea Of Mysticism Is Not The Experience Of Mysticism

October 19, 2007

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Nietzsche’s Life Affirmation And Sartre’s Cave-Like Ego

Jan. ’78 Book Report Concluded

“Movement away from ego,” although not as pronounced as in Kierkegaard and Heidegger, was still existentialized in the philosophies of Nietzsche and Sartre. Just how much distance opened between the “acting agent” and the agent’s ego in each of these respective philosophies was debatable, but it was there nevertheless. Also, the concept of nothingness played a major roll in each of these philosophies, perhaps more in Sartre than in Nietzsche, but, even so, Nietzsche too, actualized the ego’s relationship to nothingness.

For Nietzsche, nature had meaning, but only in so far as it was understood as the “will to power.” The will to power was not selfishness, a mere personalized desire; rather it took the form of the life-affirming meaning of an impersonal will to power. Nietzsche said, “To become what one is, one must not have the faintest notion what one is.”

For Nietzsche, solitude was necessitated by this ability to continually affirm life. Physical solitude was admirable, but Nietzsche had in mind a different kind of solitude, a more extreme kind. Life became affirmed at the expense of self. Life affirmation brought with it an unavoidable upsurge of nihilism, and this nihilism replaced the self. (This was not the same thing as purging oneself in a protest against life. That was the way of decadence and Nietzsche would have nothing to do with that kind of self-sacrifice.) In life-affirmation only awareness remained, and that too got affirmed. In life-affirmation, the “how’s,” “what’s”, and “why’s” lost all validity. The values of unity, purpose, reason, faith, etc. vanished when in the presence of this affirmation. Only a “yes” was permitted, a “yes” to life, a “yes” to subjectivity, a “yes” to nothingness. Nietzsche, in his characteristically one of a kind style, went “outside” to get “inside.” In his pursuit of the will to power, he ended up at the base of subjectivity, which he called by the name “eternal recurrence.”

Nietzsche’s will to power necessitates a constant appeal to oneself, and, in the hands of his Ubermensch, the power of that appeal gets expressed in the form of “that which must always be overcome.” In the hands of the rabblepeople not able to aspire to their own destiny, the power of that appeal, typically, takes the form of action against an “other.” Aggression, tyranny, violence, brutality and war result from the expression of that kind of power. In Nietzsche, the power to destroy is transformed into the power to create. “Only among men of highest nobility,” says Nietzsche, “is it possible to successfully exist with a steady “yes” upon one’s lips.”

In Kierkegaard, the inner journey into subjectivity ended with a person discovering his or her “nothingness before God.” In Heidegger, the journey ended with the appropriation of a similar nothingness–the discovery of Being-in-the-world, the condition for any “knowing” whatsoever. In Nietzsche, that nothingness, along with subjectivity itself, was affirmed. The positive results of faith, authenticity, and life affirmation, respectively, are not found in Sartre. Rather, the nothingness discovered by Sartre condemned humanity to a kind of purgatory. “The self is free from all but self,” says Sartre. Here the self is cut off from everything except from its own nothingness.

For starters, Sartre’s self, the for-itself, was a natural extension of the Cartesian ego. Both Sartre and Descartes were convinced that the ego was the absolute truth of awakened consciousness. For Descartes, doubt (and simple, clear ideas) became the all-important means by which to discover truth while for Sartre that doubt turned into a subjective nothingness attached to ego. While Sartre was no less committed to the self-awareness of the ego than Descartes, he shifted the foundations of that awareness away from doubt (ultimately God for Descartes) to nihility.

Where as for Kierkegaard and Heidegger, nothingness became a vehicle for a kind of liberation, for Sartre, it shut the ego up within itself, it condemned the ego to a cave-like existence. Sartre’s existentialism, grounded as it was in an ego/nothingness, left man with nothing to rely on, either within himself or without. The path toward deeper subjectivity could take Sartre no further. With no escape from nothingness, it was almost as if Sartre condemned man to the categories of agreeable/disagreeable, Kierkegaard’s aesthetic stage of life. His position on ethics, however, became an existential humanist one, meaning that the good of all ought to be preferred over acts of self-indulgence. For him, man was indeed condemned, though not in a hedonistic aesthetic sense, rather, he was condemned to be free. Human freedom, for Sartre, was necessary to account for the movement from nothingness to actual situatedness. How we existed had to be chosen, chosen from a multitude of possibilities. According to Sartre, “the human project, suspended in nothingness, projected the self ceaselessly outside of itself.” Human beings acted and because of this, Sartre was unequivocally able to state that man was indeed condemned to freedom.

Sartre’s No Exit And Nishitani’s Sunyata

Sartre believed that his theory was the only theory truly compatible with the dignity of man be
cause his theory didn’t turn man into an object. However, according to Nishitani, the problem with that belief was that no matter how much the self’s subjectivity got stressed, as long as the “cogito” maintained the standpoint of self-consciousness, there would always be a tendency to turn the self into an object. “Moreover,” says Nishitani, “even though Sartre’s theory appears to preserve the dignity of man in his subjective autonomy and freedom, the real dignity of man seems to me to belong only to one who has been ‘reborn,’ only in the ‘new man’ that emerges in us when we are born by dying, when we break through nihility.” Nishitani is speaking from a Buddhist perspective, which understands sunyata (nothingness, emptiness) as non-ego.

The nothingness-at-the-bottom-of-the-self (the for-itself) is not sunyata because sunyata is not the ground of the subject. The nothingness bound self of Sartre may be fundamentally deepened, but as long as it makes itself present as an object of consciousness, it remains a kind of being, a kind of object. To see nothingness in that way is to see the self as having no ground to stand on. But, says Nishitani, — “the nothingness that means ‘there is no ground’ (the nothingness of Sartre’s for-itself) positions itself like a wall to block one’s path and turns itself into a kind of ground, so we can still say that ‘there is a ground.’ However, only absolute emptiness is the true no-ground (Ungrund). Only from the perspective of absolute emptiness is the flower, stone, stellar nebulae, galactic systems, and even life and death themselves—present as bottomless realities. True freedom lies in this no-ground. Sartre’s freedom is still bondage, a kind of hole that has the ego projected into it like a stake driven into the ground for the self to be tied to.”– Sartre’s ego then has more in common with bondage than it does with freedom, or so says Nishitani, and I agree.

Absolute nothingness, as opposed to Sartre’s negative nothingness at the center of self-consciousness, is the source of real freedom. This nothingness, sunyata, took center stage in Nishitani’s book Religion and Nothingness, and according to Nishitani (and here I will let him speak for himself here), before we can understand sunyata we must understand that nihilty is not sunyata:

Nihility—The Object Of Negation (as quoted from Nishitani’s book)

[Nihility is an absolute negation aimed at all “existence,” and thus is related to existence. The essence of nihility consists in a purely negative (antipodal) negativity. Its standpoint contains the self-contradiction that it can neither abide in existence nor abide being away from it. It is a standpoint torn in two from within. Therein lies its transitional character. We call it the standpoint of nihility, but in fact it is not a field one can stand on in the proper sense of the term. It is no more than a spot we have to “run quickly across.” As essentially transitional and a negative negativity, it is “radically real” but the standpoint itself is essentially hollow and void, ….The standpoint of sunyata is another thing altogether. It is not a standpoint of simply negative negativity, nor is it an essentially transitional standpoint. It is the standpoint at which absolute negation is at the same time, in the sense explained above, a Great Affirmation. It is not a standpoint that only states that the self and things are empty. If this were so, it would be no different from the way that nihility opens up at the ground of things and the self. The foundations of the standpoint of sunyata lie elsewhere: not that the self is empty, but that emptiness is the self; not that things are empty, but that emptiness is things. Once this conversion has taken place, we are able to pass beyond the standpoint on which nihility is seen as the far side that is beyond us (the Buddhist idea of the “yonder shore” of the sea of samsaric suffering), but a far side that we have arrived at. (p.137)]

Nishitani’s Sunyata

[All things that are in the world are linked together, one way or the other. Not a single thing comes into being without some relationship to every other thing. Scientific intellect thinks here in terms of natural laws of necessary causality; mythico-poetic imagination perceives an organic, living connection; philosophic reason contemplates an absolute One. But on a more essential level, a system of circuminsession has to be seen here, according to which, on the field of sunyata, all things are in a process of becoming master and servant to one another. In this system, each thing is itself in not being itself, and is not itself in being itself. Its being is illusion in its truth and truth in its illusion. This may sound strange the first time one hears it, but in fact it enables us for the first time to conceive of a force by virtue of which all things are gathered together and brought into relationship with one another, a force which, since ancient times, has gone by the name of “nature” (physis).]

[To say that a thing is not itself means that, while continuing to be itself, it is in the home-ground of everything else. Figuratively speaking, its roots reach across into the ground of all other things and helps to hold them up and keep them standing. It serves as a constitutive element of their being so that they can be what they are, and thus provides an ingredient of their being. That a thing is itself means that all other things, while continuing to be themselves, are in the home-ground of that thing; that precisely when a thing is on its own home-ground, everything else is there too; that the roots of every other thing spread across into its home-ground. This way that everything has of being on the home-ground of everything else, without ceasing to be on its own home-ground, means that the being of each thing is held up, kept standing, and made to be what it is by means of the being of all other things: or, put the other way around, that each thing holds up the being of every other thing, keeps it standing, and makes it what it is. In a word, it means that all things “are” in the “world.” (p.149)]

In One’s Nothingness Before God Every Instant Is A Revolution Made Legitimate

October 13, 2007

TokyoMoving Away From Ego Subjectivity Spirals Into Nothingness

Jan. ’78 Book Report Continued

It is false to think that we—mind, soul, and/or consciousness (take your pick) — are here to lord it over the rest of creation. From inside our “citadel of selfhood,” we are wrong to look out at everything else, whether human or nonhuman, as other. We are wrong to think of God as the prime mover, the “watch maker,” or the king of the universe. Until I read Nishitani’s book, I didn’t know that we in the West were so shallow, so practical, so business like, and so wrong.

Nishitani, obviously critical of the Western tradition, was still drawn to the study of this tradition, or at least to the study of the existential response to the meaninglessness at the root of man’s being. That response originated in the Germanic-European tradition, not the Anglo-American tradition. The existentialism of Nietzsche, Sartre, Heidegger, and Kierkegaard grew out of the ruins of Greek-Christian thought and belief structures. For the most part, the American culture of commonsense realism– practical, simplistic, Utilitarianism, the political philosophy of John Locke, and the God-centered idealism of Bishop Berkeley—was diametrically opposed to the Taoist-Buddhist principle of harmony espoused by Asian culture.

The European Existentialists, from their rational-religious despair, spoke to Nishitani. From a no-God, no-meaning world, wherein all human values came to naught in death, surged, from the pens of those self-conscious thinkers, new meanings–meanings that were not totally opposed to Buddhist-oriented culture. Ultimately, for Nishitani, it was sunyata that filled the gap separating man’s being from his religious awareness. This organic awareness, common to Asian religions, would be necessary if the experience of “oneness” were to be made manifest in the West. Existentialism was deficient here, but at least it was a major step in the right direction.

A “movement away from ego” was held in common by both Nishitani and the Existentialists. Whatever else mysticism was about, it certainly was about integrating the self–the ego—with something more meaningful and larger than “I,” “me,” or “mine.” The more one’s gaze was directed inward, the more one found himself/herself farther a field, more connected, and ironically, less substantial. Connectivity and the concept of nothingness were mysteriously tied to one another in the mystical tradition.

Kierkegaard and Heidegger both demonstrated a major backing away from ego in their respective philosophies, but automatically, any comparison between Heidegger and Kierkegaard dead-ends with the appearance of God. The all knowing, infinite, and “means to salvation” God of Kierkegaard was never encountered by Heidegger. Even so, both men traversed a lot of the same territory. Although Heidegger would never have called Being-in-the-world, God, Being-in-the-world did have a spiritual side to it, albeit a pantheistic one. More importantly, for Heidegger (as well as Kierkegaard), cutting through the dross of life required a sensitivity to nothingness that was inversely proportional to one’s self-concept; in other words, one’s deepest subjectivity spiraled away from ego into a nothingness where, at bottom, Kierkegaard found what he called “nothingness before God,” and Heidegger found what he called “Being-in-the world.”

For both men becoming aware of the veiled human condition was the problem. Finding a solution to the problem required, for Kierkegaard, working through a kind of dialectic of despair, and then committing to a relationship with the eternal. For Heidegger, becoming aware of death’s significance, and then becoming authentic was the sought after goal. Progress, for both men, meant finding day-to-day existence unacceptable. Developing a relationship with the Absolute, for Kierkegaard, and being called back to the facticity of the totality of the relational involvement of Dasein, for Heidegger, required that one be dissatisfied with day to day living until a more meaningful relationship with ‘being” could be found.

For Kierkegaard, no amount of objective information could satisfy his thirst. The solution to the problem of understanding oneself in existence, if a solution could be found at all, had to come from the inner reaches of ones own subjectivity. “I contemplate the order of nature in hope of finding God, and I see omnipotence and wisdom,” he said, “but I also see much else that disturbs my mind and excites anxiety.” What he saw was that the entire world’s wisdom did not substitute for the inward passion used to embrace it. In fact, nothing objective could be said about that kind of truth. The existing thinker’s problem was a subjective problem. Everything else, according to Kierkegaard, was just so much “objective uncertainty.”

Kierkegaard’s Religious Stage And Heidegger’s Call To Conscience

The religious stage of life opened when the individual recognized the insurmountable nature of the demands of ethical life. Precisely by going inward, according to Kierkegaard, the individual moved forward on the road to the absolute, forward en route to the abyss that enjoined the absolute. Of those who have encountered the abyss, many have become causalities. They returned to a life of sensuality and immediacy, but not for enjoyment, for forgetfulness. Marching in lockstep with their desire to “forget what cannot be forgotten” the causalities, from that point on, would suffer an endless retreat. For those who did not find retreat an option, however, there was still hope. They found it in what Kierkegaard called “religiosity B.”

If a relationship with the absolute is to be sustained, an intense personal relationship (subjectivity is truth) with God becomes necessary. But, according to Kierkegaard, a person lacks the strength to sustain a relationship with the absolute, thus another inexhaustible struggle ensues: the harder one struggles to attain that relationship, the more distance that opens between God and the struggling person. It is here that the individual becomes ripe for Christian conversion because, for Kierkegaard, it is here that God gets called upon for help.

The finite and the infinite come together in Jesus Christ. The fact that through Jesus God became man and man became God was and is the Christian paradox. Only with the affirmation of this paradox does it become possible to sustain a relationship with the absolute. In the “leap of faith” the individual is brought into an absolute relationship with God. With that leap one’s whole existence is forever changed. The religious person shows no outward signs, but inside his or her passion grows exponentially.

Being a Christian, for Kierkegaard, was not easy. It was sustained by the “passionate will to believe.” And, for Kierkegaard, it was precisely in doing something before God that one did nothing before God. “In nothingness before God,” Kierkegaard said, “every instant is a revolution made legitimate.” The task of religiosity was to make the individual become wholly nothing, and exist thus before God. Standing at the edge of this unbridgeable chasm, with one’s spiritual existence at stake, the religious person, in defiance of all reason, took the leap— into Christ, and into salvation. Kierkegaard said, “To become is a movement from the spot, but to become oneself is a movement at the spot.” A leap into the nothingness that binds man to God is also a leap into that place where the opposites of infinity/finitude, temporal/eternal, and freedom/necessity dissolve.

That despair, which Kierkegaard turned into faith in the Lord, played a significant role in the thought of Martin Heidegger. A comparative concept to Kierkegaard’s “despair over the despair of willing to be oneself,” was also found in Heidegger’s “conscience calling us back to our own most potentiality for being.” For Heidegger, it was the angst-ridden call of conscience that called a person back to a freer, richer existence, an existence not without its share of struggle. Even though Heidegger didn’t call his journey a journey out of despair, “getting faith” and “getting authentic” shared much in common, so much so that when Heidegger said, “In the field of ontology any springing from is degeneration,” I believe he was talking about Kierkegaard’s “movement at the spot.”

In the ethical world, universals were extremely important (what was good for everybody else was also good for me, but not necessarily the other way around). For Heidegger, another universal, an existential universal, was extremely important–the universal of death. Everybody died and because death was a certainty, Heidegger considered it a part of the structural whole of Dasein. When Dasein fully anticipated its Being-towards-death, the darkness hitherto cloaking Dasein’s ownmost potential Being, lifted, and Dasein became free for authenticity. Dasein’s death-not-yet was a real part of Dasein’s Being-a-whole, but, to state the obvious, Dasein was also alive. (The similarity between the human being’s contradictory aspects for both Heidegger and Kierkegaard could not be denied.)

Dasein opened to authenticity only after Dasein’s anticipation of death and the nullity that Dasein was in its thrownness merged. Thrown Dasein had a past, present, and future, but in the “moment of vision,” time stopped. In that moment, Dasein was brought back before its concern in the rapture that preceded all possibilities, in the rapture that only Being-in-the-world could produce. In the they-self, Dasein spent all its time identifying with itself. In authenticity, Dasein was brought back before (it’s own) time in Being-in-the-world. Put in slightly different terms, in Heidegger, as in Kierkegaard, in order to get it all, one had to first give it all up.

I Was In It All When Suddenly I Felt My Body Collapse (Flashback #2 Concluded)

October 6, 2007
276 magnify

Existentialism And Mysticism-Shake, Don’t Stir

Jan. ‘78

I asked Dr. Folkart at the beginning of the semester if I could sit in on his Mysticism class. He mostly taught Hinduism and Buddhism, but this class was going to be a combination of a lot of Asian religions. It was his first time teaching it. I was glad when he gave me permission to join the class. The class was divided into two parts, readings, lecture, and discussion–and the practice part. Of course, there were going to be exams, two of them, but the practice part also required a written account of the feelings and emotional changes that either happened or didn’t happen.

Mysticism, according to Dr. Folkart, referred to a reality that was rarely experienced, and because of that there was a great deal of skepticism and doubt concerning its existence. The claim to that other reality, though, was not merely stated; its credibility came out of a direct experience of it and no description could substitute for that direct experience. According to Dr. Folkart, it was kind of like when an unsuspecting push put you in the deep end of a swimming pool. “How do you prepare for that kind of experience?” he said. In order for mysticism to be believed, it had to be experienced, but we were not expected to become mystics, in this class anyway. Dr. Folkart just wanted us to learn how to take seriously the centuries-old claims of the mystics.

Professor Folkart did his PhD work in India, on the Jain religion. He told the class, “If you keep an open mind and do the practices, I guarantee that some of the potential that lies dormant in each and every one of you will be realized.” It was obvious; he really wanted the class to develop an appreciation for the mystical tradition. With that end in mind, he handed out the class syllabus. It had a description of the exercises that were supposed to correspond to the mystical traditions that we would study: nature-mysticism, body-mysticism, and mind/consciousness-mysticism. The exercises were to be explored separately and in combination. For the most part, they were basic control-disciplines, with emphasis placed on silence, solitude, and fasting. Some of the exercises were optional. The meditation and scheduled yoga sessions (under the direction of Dr. Folkart), however, were required.

The class was not your typical class, but it sure was a lot of fun. Before starting the class, I already had an appreciation for the mystical traditions. I’m sure it had more of an effect on some of the other students, however. The best part of the class, for me at least, came when Dr. Folkart asked me if I would read and report back to him on a book that he had not read. The author, Keiji Nishitani, a Japanese Philosophy Professor, had studied under Martin Heidegger. My professor knew I had studied Existentialism, and he wanted some input on that part of the book. After I wrote my report on the book entitled Religion and Nothingness, I wrote a summery to make it easier to understand. That summary should be helpful here also:

The Cartesian division of reality into immaterial, invisible, subjective consciousness and material, visible objectivity is not the whole story. In fact, basically, that’s just plain wrong. With descriptions of more meaningful and comprehensive levels of experience, both mysticism and existentialism move beyond this limitation. For instance, Kierkegaard tells us that movement inward is movement forward, and, if pushed far enough, results in an intense religious experience. The short story here is that an inverse relationship exists between a person’s outward ego and the gap that separates a person from God. In other words, big ego-big gap, little ego-gap closes. For Kierkegaard, “one’s nothingness before God” is the end goal.

A similar thing is going on in the thought of Heidegger. Dasein, in thrownness, begins in nullity and ends with authentic being—Dasein’s most potential being possible. This is ditto for Nietzsche. His nihilism is not an attack on differences per-se, rather it is the “eternal recurrence” of the destruction of everything, hence the affirmation of everything. In the philosophy of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Nietzsche, one discovers the theme of liberation. That theme is not so obvious in Sartre. His path to deeper subjectivity takes us no further than the freely chosen act. His cogito is so shut up within itself that it can never escape from its own nothingness. Sartre’s philosophy is a dead end, or so says Nishitani, who then goes on to describe a much more powerful liberation theme.

The cogito of Sartre does not lead us down the path of inner subjectivity because sunyata—absolute emptiness—is not the ground of the subject. Antipodal negativity or the opposite of existence, takes us nowhere. “It is not that the self is empty,” says Nishitani, “but that emptiness is self; not that things are empty, but that emptiness is things…On the field of sunyata, each thing is itself in not being itself, and is not itself in being itself.” In the end, sunyata fills the gap between subject and object, between man and God, and between God and creation. Sunyata reaches across into the ground of all other things by gathering all things together in relationship with one another, and, as such, fills the chasm at the root of being. Sunyata, in this sense, says Nishitani, is not just absolute emptiness; it is the “Great Affirmation.”

Flashback #2 Concluded

Juan’s basement sitting on the bed

May 30, ‘72

May 30—night

A lot has happened today, and since I have the time, I’ll put it down. First off, it has been a fantastic day. In the beginning it was all uphill, not too much traffic, though, and a lot of scenery. Towards late afternoon I reached the summit, or at least the top (passes are usually cut through the lowest part of a mountain range). It was a long climb; it took me two days of bicycling. The Big Horn Mountains are big. As might be expected, at the pass there was an overlook for people to enjoy the view. On the pass, the snow was four feet deep. On the south side of the peaks, along the edges, the snow had melted, leaving bare rock for me to climb on. I left my bike in the parking lot and started up the mountain. High up along one of the peaks, I found a nice sunny spot and settled in for some quiet time.

When I climbed down, the sun was moving toward the horizon, and the air had turned chilly. In the parking lot, I got on my bike and headed down the mountain. It wasn’t long before I stopped peddling. At first the decent was steep, and the switchbacks were frequent and scary. I knew this was going to be quite a ride, especially when I came to the sign that read, “Down hill next twenty miles.”

I hated to brake, but not braking here, ultimately, would create a meld of bone and rock that I was desperately trying to avoid. (There was a concern that my brakes would fail, but I tried not to think about it). Soon, the switchbacks going down the mountain lengthened, and the 40 to 45 mph speeds that I had to negotiate became less threatening. On top of the mountain the frigid snow reflected blinding sunlight. At lower elevations, though, the heat from the sun warmed my face. As the sun got closer to the horizon, it added a rich yellow hue to the already spectacularly colored canyon walls, the walls of Ten Sleep Canyon. The vision was as overpowering as it was irresistible.

On wings of light, sailing down the mountain, I lost all feelings of attachment and weight. The farther down into the canyon I went the more I was filled with the overwhelming beauty of the place. I felt transparent to my surroundings. It was at that time, in the beauty of it all, when suddenly, as if a chair had been pulled out from under me, I felt the contours of my body (my exteriors) collapse. What was left of me after that was/is impossible to describe, but it felt like this: “It was Wow! Amazing! I was upside down and inside out.”

A feeling of “grasping,” of “being engaged” substituted for what used to be my body; but even that connection, that subject-object connection, was extraordinarily strange because I felt it from the outside – in, not from the inside – out. I did not fight it. I just let it happen. In that joyous trembling, throbbing, moment, zooming down the mountain, with a warm wind in my face and unbelievable beauty everywhere, I metamorphosed into an infinite array of connection with my environment. I had no idea as to what had just happened to me, but it was a fantastically passionate experience. There was no anxiety, fear, or negatives of any kind in it. I had never felt that way before (nor probably will again).

As I reached the canyon floor, I knew that if I died right then and there, it would be okay. From the vantage point of being inside my outside environment death had no meaning. It was an illusion. Once I had gotten outside of myself, once I became entwined within the environment, the Truth that death was an illusion was everywhere apparent. When I started peddling again it was as if I was peddling in a dream. It took a while to come down, to come down out of that dream. However, on the canyon floor it was 95 degrees and peddling in that kind of heat was a reality check all by itself. When the orange sun slipped beneath the horizon, it was still 92 degrees. Again, it was as if I had just landed on Earth after some intergalactic journey. I acclimated well, though. I came upon a restaurant-bar, and, of course, I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to reflect on what had just happened to me, so I went inside and ordered a beer.

At the bar, two Mexican Indians struck up a conversation with me. Apparently, they had watched me ride up on my bicycle. When I told them how far I had come, they were surprised. We drank some beers together, and Juan told me I could sleep in his basement if I wanted to. I agreed, but before arriving at his place we went out into his fields and I helped him redirect some irrigation water. Now it was his turn to impress me. He told me that he was under contract to provide all the barley that went into making Schlitz beer. Back in Michigan, I drank a lot of Schlitz, but in Wyoming it wasn’t available. Juan couldn’t even remember how the beer tasted. I assured him it tasted great.

Standing four inches deep in mud, surrounded by a field of green barley, and after another one of Juan’s friends had stopped by to help us drink the beer that Juan had stashed in the back of his truck, I guess you could say I made my way back to Earth, but even then, in that relatively innocuous moment, poetry flourished. The four of us–two orthodox Catholics, one agnostic military lifer (the new guy), and myself, at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains, in the cooling twilight of a very hot Wyoming day, talked God and religion. That was the second time in less than a couple of hours where language failed me. Words did not help me then and even now, in my attempt to describe that situation, I cannot find the words, so I won’t try.

In Juan’s basement I was sitting on the spare bed writing in my journal while trying not to listen to Juan argue with his wife upstairs. When I walked up to the house and entered through the door I could tell that his wife wasn’t happy. Juan, before we met his wife, told me that if I wanted to stick around for a few days he would put me to work. I said, “Sure.” I even told him that I would work for free because I wanted to get a feel for what it’s like living at the foot of the Big Horns, and that for me was worth more than money. He said, “You can thin sugar beats and I will pay you, maybe not much, but you’ll make a few dollars.” It didn’t look like any of that was going to happen now. Judging from what I was hearing upstairs, I decided not to unpack my things.