• Issue 120 / November - December 2017

    In A Different Light

    Lawrence Brazier

    Our cause is not the acceptance or rejection of religion, or the debate of Faith against Reason. We wish to make faith a matter of reason because, if the mystics are right, reason is not necessarily a matter of thought. We are concerned with the claim of the mystic, who would negate mood, which can be the enemy of objectivity. We must at least attempt to achieve the "other" state the mystics have told of, a state independent of mood or feeling or emotion, in which one "sees" with dispassion, but not coldly, for we agree with Jung who told us that coldness is also a passion. We wish to see things with objectivity, without self-applied coloring. We may consider, methinks wrongly, the mystic state to be something unrelated to logic or the empirical. On the other hand we may wish to consider the "state" a reality, perhaps the way to perceive reality. If we acknowledge the mystics’ claim, we are bound not to ignore it and are thus obliged to investigate it, perhaps for the same reason that Everest was climbed – simply because it is there. 

    Our aim is not the application of a supposed objectivity, ours is the aim of first “being” objective. Our investigation should be undertaken empirically. It may be possible that reason will result from the empirical endeavor. A philosopher may first need to be in the right state for philosophy. Could this be the reason to be? If, as Goethe maintains in Faust, "...round and round we go, our teachers lead us by the nose" – could it be that both teacher and pupil haven't a hope of arriving at any verifiable answer? Must we unlearn rather than learn? We may well be concerned, here, with demystifying the mystic, which we hope will not irritate them. On the other hand, how could it?

    We consider infinity. But we can’t define it. We are only able to use the word figuratively. Infinity is the stuff of the hypothetical, a word and little else. It was invented primarily for the use of poets, dreamers, thinkers and even scientists (not to mention mathematicians), in fact all of those who wrestle with a supposed meaning of life. But infinity cannot be pointed to in the accepted sense. It may be full of import as a word but it remains elusive as a fact. We have, therefore, given a name to something that may well not exist, or at best, something we can never know anything about. If God is infinite, we are left with what is nothing more than a concept, an idea claimed to have been made a fact by only a few of those sharing our worldly existence. It means, of course, that God is indeed unknowable.
    We consider time. Time is easier to define, mostly because we invented it, and that through our ability to recognize change. We have correspondingly chopped up our days into time, making the invention of the clock a forgone conclusion. To our utter detriment we are bound by time, physically, intellectually and above all else “emotionally.” We are able to think in terms of time and we imagine infinity, which in the slovenly thought of humans has somehow become associated with time, albeit as a vaguely assumed related element, somewhat in the way that opposites are related. Therein lies the rub.

    The mystic would maintain (if so disposed) that time is engendered by thought.

    One would notsuggest that God did notmake the world in six days, as given in the Quran and the Bible, but it did give us a concept of time laid down in Holy Writ. We could, however, rightly suggest that our metaphysical makeup is created on a different plane of existence, perhaps even to the extent of timelessness. Our counted hours and days can be used in everyday life but one could also suggest that for the mystic the knowledge of time, as given in the stories of the Creation, is assimilated but nevertheless tucked away safely in some remote recess of the mind.

    We have been given the notion of the Beginning as something necessary for the telling of a story, something to hang our emotional hats on. Just as our scientific thinkers send their minds spiraling into space, religious thinkers send their minds spiraling to a point where there is also nowhere left to go – which must please God no end. Our thinkers, both religious and scientific, are apparently trying to arrive at the same thing.

    Although the concept of infinity in the limited time and space of our material existence is the product of our imagination, somehow serving a literary need, it appears to be alien to our natures. “In the Beginning” sounds like writing off infinity thus binding us to time in a single stroke. Our lack of satisfaction, or equanimity, comes from the emotional goulash we call the Human Condition. This, put bluntly, is the "state" we are in. It is a state that requires comfort, pacification, assurance, a sense of safety and wellbeing. The root of the Human Condition, it seems, is Existenzangst. Meaning that which we engendered by being, and continue to be, disobedient to God. It means that all humans, to one degree or another, however deeply but not without reason, are emotionally insecure. The result has been struggle, poverty, war and all the rest that makes up our appalling history.At best it is a wrestle with matters of the mind.

    To accept infinity we would have to stop thinking about it. It could well be that we are not sufficiently emotionally mature to simply believe that there was no beginning in a secular sense and that there is no end. Psychologists would tell us that our ideas find no parallel in our feeling. Our feelings, or our emotions, balk at infinity. We recoil at the notion. We can't "picture" it. Thought is often a mundane rehash of past events, the result of experience.

    But how to arrive at what for many is a mystic state? The process of simple acceptance may well be something akin, at an emotional level, to the situation described by the American drawing teacher, Betty Edwards, in her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Ms. Edwards claims that a switch from one side of the brain to the other is required for achieving the inner focus enjoyed by those able to draw well. The switch is achieved, apparently, by simply “looking” patiently and waiting for the magic to take place. At some point during the switchover process a certain limbo situation occurs through which a mild panic can arise. This suggests a brief loss of control and is surely akin to the need for faith. The limbo period is beyond all that we can categorize. It can add to our sense of insecurity but could well lead to the need for a leap in the dark as an act of faith.

    If we can accept that all of the universes have always existed we may have achieved an advance in the human condition. The acceptance, of course, is beyond a state of emotion and although there is bound to be a struggle, a certain degree of bravery is required, similar to the aforementioned leap in the dark.

    Before the Fall, irrespective of whether one considers it a metaphor or fact, there was no religion. Before the Fall there was no need to “know.” Why did we need to know? Were we bored?
    We have considered reason, the reason why and the reason, period. Firstly, we should remember that the very first command given to us was not to approach the “tree.” The question is what was this tree? While in Christian tradition it has been understood as “knowledge,” in the Islamic tradition it is understood as an awareness of some of their human potentials which, when primed by faith, are meant to serve higher purposes, but with no such training may lead humans to evil.  One possible answer why God gave this command is the fact of duality implied by an Adam and an Eve. Duality, unlike the Oneness of God, obviously offered the possibility of variance. God, therefore, attempted to cover all the angles and said that duality (the entire reason for debate, methinks) should not be investigated. In investigating duality our heroes were bound to realize the possibilities of the same. We then took a downhill path, which has turned our lives into an uphill struggle.

    There is another explanation for God making error or sin “possible” in the first place. We read that God made the heavens and the earth and the various animals and fishes and the day and night and, well, all the rest. This enormous output of many different things means, of course, that God differentiated. Differentiation implies duality and choice because God so chose. When Adam was created he was made in God’s own image. Therefore Adam also had choice. To ask why one may make a wrong choice is about as sensible as asking why God didn’t give fishes the capacity to live out of water. In other words, God wasn’t really aiming at “perfection”, He simply saw it as being good and also maintained that the suitable element for His creations was not always the same. And just as fishes do well to remain in their own element, Adam and Eve would, apparently, have done just as well to remain in their own, God-created, element.

    One is reminded of the Old Testament fathers who ruled over the tribes and gave them hundreds of rules and regulations by which the people were to govern their lives. They had, it would seem, literally an answer for everything. Everything of this world, that is. The rules and regulations laid down were as good as a manual for living. One could see that the Old Testament people would need good memories or lots of scrolls and tablets at home, or access to a priest who was able to receive advice clearly from God. But memory is illusive, not to be trusted, it even goes haywire when we go to sleep. Moreover, we rarely have time to stop in any given situation and start thumbing through our manuals with a sort of “Wait, before you punch my nose, I should like to point out that on page 2356, chapter 700...”

    But how to return to common sense, mentioned above as Logic, and is it the same as the true gut feeling, as our American colleagues may put it? Must we return to a reason that is not dependent on mind? Must we return to a common sense that is so common that we need not learn anything? Could we come to realize that forgetting is possibly more useful than remembering? Of course we couldn't. The realization itself would require remembering. Attentive readers will have a nagging feeling about “common sense”, especially since I have offered no explanation, and I offer here only analogy. Some years ago I was translating from the German Heinrich Harrer's Das Buch vom Eiger, which was to be combined with his The White Spider, to make a new edition. At one point Harrer asked me, a non-mountaineer, “How can you write about mountaineering if you are not a mountaineer yourself?” I am afraid my answer was rather glib, and I was only able to offer, “I do not need to get shot to know that a bullet hurts.”

    Unfortunately, not common sense but common sensory is whatour world is probably all about. One might suggestthat perception felt is better than perception thought. The Qur’anic and Biblical texts run parallel and the story of the fall of Adam, the first prophet, is persistently similar. Adam and Eve acquired sensory knowledge by disobeying God, the ultimate provider. They didn’t actually need sensory capacity. Knowledge (read mind) and the flesh together can lead to an altered state that is a matter of imagination and what comes after. Knowledge is learning, thus the stuff of memory. Life, we would be pleased to believe, is innate, the stuff of pure energy, again to be seen separate from emotion, which is reliant on memory.

    God has been called many things throughout human history: The One, The All, The Creator. But nobody has ever called God “The One Almighty Common Sense.” Common sense is what everybody claims to be aware of, but we often do not listen to it, even when it is nagging away at the back of our minds. A key moment, therefore, is when we decide on an action. Do we obey or go, again, our own way and not His? The mystic is receptive by getting out of the way. The channel remains open.

    A mystic thus requires no morality. Quite obviously, morality is only required because we who are dissociated from God lack it. How wonderful would be a world not requiring morality. One hardly needs philosophy to tell us that immorality doesn’t make sense. Morality, at best, indicates making the best of things. We make mistakes and attempt to correct them. This writer does not believe that humans are innately evil, but does believe that the world is ungovernable without feeling, and that “feeling,” again, is not to be confused with emotion – it could perhaps be translated as the purest form of reason. It just isn’t expressed mentally, that’s all. On these terms one may contend that believing in God is not unreasonable. Let us embrace science, academe, philosophy, and all that would advance us in this world. After all, for the time being it is the only world we have.

    In conclusion, one may return to Schopenhauer’s “Before we think – we live.” This is hard to refute and we must conclude that “life itself,” not the way we express it in our everyday world, but the Spirit must be the clue. Moreover, Schopenhauer’s claim makes slight work of the notion offeredby Descartes: “I think, therefore I am.” And when Nietzsche informed us that “God is dead” we may assume that he was simply having a bad day.

    But what of our investigation of the mystic state mentioned at the beginning. The mystic state of no-mind is apparently received and not acquired through effort. It is apparently acquired by stepping aside! Getting out of the way, as Krishnamurti would have it! Thus to seek God is difficult and not to seek God is wrong, which leaves us with patience, trust and sincere submission, for somewhere out there, or in there, is a thing called grace.


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