Wednesday, September 29, 2004

A quote from Fish's book. He is discussing Milton's "radical sense of being":

"The distinction between knowledge and belief is a given for a post-Cartesian world in which the inner realm of subjectivity (now first invented) has been severed from, and put in an ever-problematical relation to, external reality. A subject thus separated from the real has no direct way to apprehend or confirm the truth about things and must have recourse to impersonal mechanisms (mathematics, scientific experiments) devised to neutralize and/or bypass its partiality. Such a subject can never be sure of anything, and, like the Satan of Paradise Regained, must always be in search of more knowledge (there will never be enough) in order to shore up its faith. Since that same subject is (as a condition of its existence) cut off from the truth, it will be guided by its own desires and passions, which will intersect with duty and obligation only accidentally or as a result of discipline externally applied. Such a subject--autonomous and, because autonomous, adrift--will always be torn between the directions of its impulses (sexual, material, political) and the direction a rule or sovereign or a God would enjoin. And even when such a subject has come to "know" (by report, rumor, "sacred" text) of something larger and more abiding than it, it will turn away from that knowledge to the safety of its own circuit of habits and opinions; it will know one thing and do another."

To much? Enough? So in my experience with the philosophy and meditation of taoism, I can say that, shifting a few referents (to account for the cultural valences of words like God and sacred), this could be a practical statement on how to find an easy mind meditating. Not that you should think it out meditating, necessarily, but knowing it prior can set you easy. A reassurance that, disentangled, there will still be a there there. Not sure if this matters yet. To my paper, that is.

The Eastern and Western senses of emptiness/nothing are so different. Emerson's "terrible blank" and Laozi's "uncarved block". So much of what drives people is illusion and fear; that external referents mean anything like we pretend they do, that making someone act how you want them do does anything good, can protect you, anything you are can be hidden from yourself. It can be funny, in a non-absurdist way, non-absurdist because Absurdity suggests that such is all a human can be. It can be mournful, in a non-tragic way, non-tragic because Tragedy suggests that such is all a human can be. There's a fit, a happiness, non-Stoic, non-fatalist, non-ecstatic, that is possible. Not that these are bad approaches, one may be just right for you. But that there are ways which don't involve deception. It's difficult to explain. If you find that balance which perception is, between you and the world, honestly, not setting up constructs to fool/foil the interaction, things flow smoothly. Simple is best. This is difficult to express. The big question: how can you not know what you know? That's the confusing thing, when you think about it. Sometimes you just want to yell, very firmly, to the world, "Everybody, just calm down."

Sorry for the sermonizing. News-induced. & I think I'm getting beyond my resistance to Milton's external 'moralizing' to see something of his 'strangeness.' I'd like to understand him better.

I'm not sure I get everything being said here. But this I find enlightening: "Such a subject can never be sure of anything, and, like the Satan of Paradise Regained, must always be in search of more knowledge (there will never be enough) in order to shore up its faith." And of course the "it will know one thing and do another." And finally, unknowing as an action. (I may have to comment on this later [or not]) All of this is why I enjoy coming here. You have a unique western/eastern take on things.
Hello Stuart,

I've enjoyed your blog, and will revisit. I think Lao Tzu would say yer still thinking too much. I think. (Spoken like the true monkey-mind that I am).

Part of the difficulty of comparing Eastern and Western notions of "Nothing" is that "Nothing" is an inadequate translation of concepts described (or rather evinced)by Sanscrit/Chinese/Japanese texts and masters. What is translated as Nothing might be better translated as Nothing/Something, or even Being as Parmenides arrived at it; whereas Emerson's "terrible blank" could be translated back to those Eastern languages as a state experienced in one of the Avichi Hells or bardos. The horror of the "terrible blank", or something very akin to it, is not unknown or unacknowleged in the East. Ultimately, though, you must practice a good while to get a proper feel of that so-called "Nothing" that certain Eastern texts express with every word and character; indeed, that Nothing is inseparable from your own mind and your own body. So sayeth the Lotus Sutra.

Something, eh?

I am a new blog on the block, and I invite you to drop by for a visit. There you will find a book review, a poem or two, and another excretion of ego, a bio. I haven't yet touched much on what I'm talking about here.

Time to go and practice, which means for me dinging a bell and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. A bientot.

Greg: I left out some intellectual context for that statement; new quote from Fish on its way, above.

Brian: Oh, I think most people would say that. That's part of living in the real world, I'm not so easily giving up what I worked on (thinking, that is) for 30+ years. But enough meditation, I'll maintain a balance.
And you are right, the 'terrible blank' is acknowledged in the East, but it (i.e. insanity) is not what is expected from solitude. Here, that fear has its own life, and little to suggest it has its part in one's path and is not only the terrible end. I'm speaking, btw, regarding the 'Eastern' viewpoint, not from text but from my understanding from a teacher/master.

Me, I mostly meditate by either standing in standing pole position and visualizing a spinning ball within my arms cradled loosely ball-shaped at the lower dantien level, or sit and visualize various qi gathering or cultivation exercises. Different approach from Buddhist, which it sounds like is yours. Same mountain, different approach, or so I'm told.

I look forward to seeing where you take your blog. Integrating poetry and meditation, actual meditation, is interesting, because once you get to the wordlessness, well, it's silly to write about it, but it's also, in a way, silly not to. So I'll read what you have to say with interest.
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