Nikos Kazantzakis expresses Eros [‘The Fratricides’] and the Daemonic [‘The Last Temptation of Christ’] with poetic accuracy.
This is Eros=
“I said to the almond tree
Speak to me of God
and the almond tree blossomed.”
This is the Daemonic=
“The doors of heaven and hell are
adjacent, and identical.”
There are only three religious possibilities in the world.
 A religion focused on Eros; this is the Oriental Light, a Light of Love that bestows Life.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Greek Hellenism, Neo-Platonism, Sufi-ism, and similar, all exemplify it.
This is the religion people claim to be ‘universal’; it starts in Mother India, and from her as the apex, then sends out one arm to the east in Japan, and sends out another arm to the west in Greece. This religion is RTa, Dharma, Arête. It has infiltrated many places, though little of it got from Eastern Europe into Western Europe; perhaps only in Roman Catholic monasticism, derived from the earlier Greek Orthodox monasticism, did a faint flicker of this light reach Western Europe, but once the Protestant Reformers smashed the monasteries, it was gone, or confined to small islands of mystical—ascetic practice that seem out of step with the modern West, whether Catholic or Protestant. Other remnants of RTa in the West are exemplified in esoteric and occult movements, such as the ‘Sophia Perennis’, though some of these veer toward the Gnostic and introduce Luciferian distortions. Lucifer is the false religion of the East, as Satan is the false religion of the West. Lucifer: ‘man, the self-divinizing god’; Satan: ‘man, the miserable sinner.’ As Gnosticism is the religion of Lucifer, so Fundamentalism is the religion of Satan.
My Serbian friend Alex thinks it a wonderful thing that the Light of the East has almost secretly infused its living substance into so many ostensibly different religions. It is the nature of this religion to be happily revised and re-nuanced a million ways, for its core is always one and the same. This religion severely relativises ‘names, symbols, concepts’, for it says, ‘whatever you call the ultimate, it is still ultimate.’ Indeed, in Hinduism, and even more so in Buddhism, all names, all symbols, all concepts, that purport to point to, and give any description of, ‘ultimate things’ are just equally inadequate ways of visioning, or portraying, a reality that cannot be visioned, or portrayed. This makes any and all attempts at visioning, or portrayal, equivalent, just as close, just as far away. So for example, the Logos of the Greeks is the same as the Atman of the Hindus, since both are the Primal Coming Forth of the Unmanifest Source; another example: the divine love that dawns as light and illumines, beautifies, enlivens, everyone and everything beholding it might equally be depicted in the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche or in the Hindu myth of Krishna and the Milkmaids, since in both cases divine Lover and human Beloved are the pair of lovers in mysterious, and sacred, ‘conjunction.’ All descriptions of the Ineffable fall short, and there is no way that the actual experience of the Ineffable and what it shows can be captured in the words of philosophical concepts, or even in the images of rich symbols. The Ineffable is not like anything we can compare it to in our world. Non-Duality cannot be reduced to the terms of reference key to Duality, yet it can shine through Duality and light up Duality in a new way that shows their mutual interpenetration. Thus Duality cannot, and in a paradoxical way can, reflect Non-Duality. The Relative is not the Absolute, and anything the Relative can say, think, imagine, about the Absolute is inadequate to it; but at the same time there is a Way in which, a pattern by which, the Absolute enters, upholds, heals, the Relative. We must avoid reducing the Absolute to the Relative; and we must avoid dividing them such that the Relative is right here, and the Absolute is over there. That too falsifies Absolute as well as Relative. The ‘Middle Way’ is indicative of actual mystical experience in which the Relative ‘knows’ not only the Absolute but also its place in, or link to, it; and this is cryptically alluded to in Buddhism as ‘not this, not that.’ If Duality blots out Non Duality, this is no good; if Non Duality blots out Duality, that is no good. Form is not Void, Void is not Form. Form is Void, Void is Form. The Nameless cannot be called by any name, and can be called by all names.
Eros is a whole marvellous path, full of goodness, beauty, value, intelligence, benign generosity, ‘superior being’ medicinally transforming ‘inferior being’, and much else. We should, as Alex contends, be grateful for the Light of the East, whether Indian, Japanese, Greek, Sufi, or anything else; its forms are endless, its essence always one, never changing, always constant: reliable, dependable, non-capricious, ‘not altering where it alteration finds.’
God is ‘reality’, all beings are ‘the manifestation of reality’, the ‘hand’ of reality ‘holding’ its manifestation is God’s love. In the root meaning of RTa, this holding hand has a ‘course’, a path, a flowing shape, that it always follows, and thus this joining of reality and manifestation is often described as Cosmic Law, or Universal Law, or Natural Law. It is inherent to everything and everybody: not an arbitrary order imposed from without onto beings, like a corset, but an organic and ‘implicate’ structuring arising from within beings, like a wave running through them.
There is a famous Zen declaration to this effect=
“To study the Way is to study the Self,
To study the Self is to forget the Self,
To forget the Self is to be enlightened by the 10,000 things.”
Given all the unenlightened, and venal, competition and strife between religions in our world today [usually conducted most fervently by people most untouched by the spirit of those religions], to find profound and innate commonalities – not engineered or contrived commonalities in a humanly constructed syncretism – among religions spread out from Japan to Europe is surely helpful. Not only is the Light of the East true to God and creation, or non-theistically, true to Reality and its manifestation, but it can unite seemingly disparate ‘accounts’ by affirming they are all equivalent ways of trying to reach the one spiritual truth differently mirrored in them all. When Hinduism came West a hundred years ago, part of its mission was to reveal the common core of all religions.
None the less, whatever the advantages of Eros as a Way, the stance that claims Eros is the one universal religion has its disadvantages. It is unready for any change in the revelation of the divine, and its relationship to us. It fails to see that changes in words, symbols, thoughts, might be seeking, however inadequately, to bear witness to a change in the ultimates, as if the ultimates had only shown us one aspect initially, or had held back something to show us now never before shown. The ultimate might have chosen to show a certain ‘way it is’ through the divine Light, but equally, the ultimate might choose to show a ‘different way it is’ through the divine Dark. Hinduism is completely unprepared for this. If you tell Hinduism, ‘sorry, this revelation is ultimate but is new, and it does not concern RTa or any of its derivatives’, then Hinduism’s claim to be all encompassing crumbles. Most upsetting is, ‘what if this symbol actually ‘symbolises’ a new ultimate that is in process of being revealed for the first time ever, in any place, and therefore what if this symbol differs from all the others, and is by no means just another in a long line of equivalent symbols for the old ultimate’? The idea of a universal set of symbols, or archetypes, as developed by Plato and Jung, is a belief wholly within the ‘Static Quality’ of Eros, and is unfitted to deal with the ‘Dynamic Quality’ of the Daemonic.
Hinduism’s universality is conservative, and restrictive. In Piaget’s lingo, it ‘assimilates’ what is old, what is similar, but cannot ‘accommodate’ what is new, what is different. This is the considerable Achilles Heel of the ‘one universal religion’ stance. There is only one religion provided that genuinely ‘other’ religion throws away its otherness. This ends up very Luciferian indeed: ‘you and I are one, and that one is me.’
 A religion focused on the Daemonic; this is the West of the East where the divine Light sets and a strange and powerful divine Dark replaces it.
Judaism in its Messianic promise, though also prefigured in Shamanism.
The Daemonic is focused on this world, time, and the historical struggle of humanity not just for justice, but the ‘coming good’ of God’s faith and trust in the human venture. Thus there is no Daemonic religion that does not, implicitly or explicitly, nail its flag to the mast of redeeming the entire world process, Beginning, Middle, End. It is for this strange, and pained, journey and battle toward redemption that a Messiah is needed, the One who is Chosen by God to reveal and spark the ‘way’ that redeems the world, rather than judging it as having failed to hit its mark. A full Daemonic religion must have a Messiah to exemplify and enact the against the odds ‘crazy’ gamble of redemption, and this strange being is nothing like any of the mystics, sages, monks, healers, teachers, gurus, who populate the religion of Eros in the Far East. The figures crucial to the Daemonic Road are very different: king, warrior-king, tribal chief; shaman and prophet; holy fool or sacred clown; existential wise person [the ‘twice born’ of Jewish tradition]; the outcast and derelict, the poor and broken.
 A religion that combines Eros and the Daemonic.
There are three religions that, to a greater or lesser extent, do both the encompassing and consoling Light and the piercing and unsettling Dark.
–Shamanism, as the first religion of humanity, and the matrix for all religion, has both sides. As the origin of Eros and the Daemonic, Shamanism is the only religion in the world that can claim to be genuinely ‘comprehensive.’ The Oriental religions are only comprehensive within Eros. Their claim to being the ‘one universal religion’ is bogus. What is true is that there is one universal religion of Eros, infinitely re-nuanced in different places, but always recognisably itself, even when theistic or non-theistic, personal or impersonal, metaphysical or poetic. By contrast, Shamanism truly has the total possibility, in a cauldron where it all is stewing together. Out of this cauldron you can bring the East’s Day-break, whose patron is the Eagle, but equally and by contradiction, you can also bring out the West’s Night, whose patron is Wakinyan Tanka, the Thunder Being. Moreover, the two sides of divinity are closer to the ground in Shamanism, and the earth has a more powerful role in both Eros and the Daemonic. The Shamanic Eros is less likely to be other worldly, or guilty of ‘Angelizing’; the Shamanic Daemonic chivalrously protects, and serves, the earth, both in being the zig zag lightning of the storm that fights evil, and after shaking up the earth to keep her open to change, brings the healing rain. Shamanism protects the mystery of the earth. The Shamanic Eros is more in evidence among the indigenous peoples who are southern crop-growers, whilst the Shamanic Daemonic is more in evidence among the indigenous peoples who are northern hunter-gatherer nomads. Indeed, Eros is ‘seeded’ in the ‘high civilisations’ of the East, from Persia to China, through crop growing, while the Daemonic in Judaism, as in earlier Shamanism, is sparked by nomadic and warrior peoples who wander over vast stretches of terrain, and do not settle in one place. I once met a fierce Mongolian woman who told me she detested Buddhism. Why?, I asked, slightly surprised at her vehemence. “It ruined us as a people, a warrior people”, she replied. Certainly, the Daemonic stresses suffering [pathos] and fighting [thymos], personhood in its radical freedom, and a very different fire of love, heroically great and mysteriously deep.
–Judaism too has Eros in its temple/priest side, and the Daemonic in its king/warrior and shaman/prophet side.
–Then Eastern Orthodox Christianity also has two sides, because they are so evident in Christ. He starts in Eros, like any Oriental guru, but ends in the Daemonic as a warrior king, once he enters Jerusalem, and is on dramatic collision course with political and religious authority. The miracles and healings are Eros, the court case, conviction, crucifixion, are Daemonic. The Messianic mysteries of the Daemonic are three-fold: Cross, Descent into Hell, Resurrection.
Eros saves, the Daemonic redeems.
In Judaism, redemption is associated with the spirits closest to God, the 6-fold Seraphim; God’s heart: ‘Throne’ and ‘Chariot.’ Salvation is associated with the spirits who guard the earth, the 4-fold Cherubim; God’s soul: ‘the Tree of Life.’ In Judaism, God has a soul and a heart.
Salvation is the salt, redemption is the pepper.
The saviour pays no cost for those who are saved; he gives something generously, and so this deed can be called ‘self-offering.’ Salvation is a Gift.
The redeemer pays a terrible cost for those who are redeemed; he lets himself be the payment for those who cannot pay, and so this deed can be called ‘self-giving.’ Redemption is a Sacrifice.
It is clear that the ‘grace’ in Christianity is salvational, not redemptive. A friend writes: “In the Septuagint the Greek word ‘kharis’ is consistently used to translate Hebrew words from the root HNN [from which we get the name Hannah]. That Hebrew root generates verbs meaning such things as ‘show favour’, ‘spare’, ‘show consideration’, nouns meaning ‘grace’, ‘favour’, ‘supplication for favour/consideration’, the adjective ‘gracious’ and even an adverb meaning ‘gratuitously/for nothing.’ It is an important group of words. The same root generates similar meanings in Aramaic, Syriac and Arabic.”
Grace is pure gift, given freely, given gratuitously. It is Eros that is gracious, kindly, charitable. All this is salvational. Buddhism’s ‘loving kindness’ is no different to Christianity’s ‘agape’ as described by St Paul in a passage that many people consider the most exalted statement of love ever recorded, though they often fail to realise that agape is the culmination of Eros, not in opposition to it. Buddhism is virtually entirely salvational, not redemptive. Christianity should be both, but historically has been far more salvational, and thus has ignored the redemptive. This suggests Christianity has confused Christ as a saviour figure, like all the other ‘saviours’ coming from the East, of which there have been countless versions. Christianity has not grasped the nettle and really embraced Christ as the unique [Jewishly foretold] Messiah whose mission is redemption of all the world, at total cost to the redeemer.
What is the Daemonic equivalent of the ‘Grace’ of Eros?
St John says what it is in the fourth gospel. The Law came by Moses [to remind us of, and correct our loss of, Eros], but by Jesus Christ came the Grace of Eros [liberated from the Law], and the ‘Truth’ of the Daemonic.
The truth that is Demonic is a Sword, and this Sword travels towards, and by Reversal becomes, the Cross. The Truth of the Daemonic becomes the Supreme Personal Love which is suffered and fought for by the Daemonic; this extreme love is not Pauline agape, for agape is the spiritual crown of Eros. Rather, this ‘sacrificial love’, which even goes beyond self-giving to self-emptying, is Christ’s Passion. It is the spiritual crown of all human struggle in the heart with its wavering and storm tossed passion.
Salvational love is non heroic. Redemptive love is ultra-heroic, it goes to the end of the line, even without guarantee.
There is ontological assurance in Eros, provided we plug in to it as it provides for this. We can block it. There is no ontological assurance, but savage existential risk, in the Daemonic. Its gamble has to be carried, and brought through to the far shore, on the other side. We can funk it.
Saviour figures are always the same. They serve Eros by medicinally healing our breach from it; they help restore our part in the whole, or help restore the pattern of joining that links Reality and its manifestation, or help restore us to God’s Grace and its Gift of Love, Light, Life. It can be differently emphasised, but saviours always reconnect soul as Beloved to God as Lover. Shvetashvatara Upanishad: “Be drunk with the wine of divine love. Thus shall you reach perfection.” Catherine of Genoa: “I do not know where the ‘I’ is, nor do I seek it. I am so plunged and submerged in the source of his infinite love, as if I were quite under water in the sea and could not touch, see, feel, anything on any side except water.” Or, put in the more metaphysical terms of Tibetan Buddhism, saviours always show us the ‘bridge’ between Reality and its manifestation.
The key point is, this reconnecting of Non-Duality and Duality, or Source and the 10,000 Things, must be ‘real’, experiential, known with one’s whole being, rather than just being regarded as a matter of theory, speculation, imagination. Only as experience, only as a bathing fully immersed in divine energy, can it be genuinely healing. We actually receive Grace, we don’t just intellectually construct and believe in it as a doctrine. Or, we actually enter the Light, we don’t just have opinions, prejudices, fantasies, about ‘luminosity.’ In salvation, we are raised ‘up’ from an inferior to a superior state of being, as Tibetan Buddhism puts it; raised out of human darkness into the divine luminance that enlightens all created beings, things, persons. Eros is a light that does more than reveal what it falls upon; it reveals the essential core of whatever it lights up, and it reveals what it lights up as of ultimate value, and inherently beautiful, and eternally alive. This is a loving light: a love that throws light on, to restore, what it loves. St Maximos called this restoration a journey, from ill-being to well-being, and from well-being to eternal-being.
The Light of Love that gives Restored and Transformed Life is thus nothing like the cold light of mere intellect pursued in the West since the Latins lost their necessary root in the Greeks [about 500 AD, when Roman Catholicism began to grow apart from the earlier Greek Christianity], but becoming far colder among the Anglo-Saxons, until in our day, light is not only without interior seeing, and warmth, but is almost entirely abstracted out of existence. This abstract light is a great menace, and a great falsifier. Its capture of science, and intrusion into metaphysical philosophy, renders it very dangerous. ‘Abstract Mind’ is as far from Eros as it is possible to get. The Abstract, when it masquerades as the spiritual, is the most misleading of all. It offers ‘salvation by de-situation’, and that disembodiment, or non-incarnation, is a false enlightenment, a counterfeit salvation, yet in the West, ‘spirit’ is confused with ‘mental abstraction’, or ‘abstract essence’, repeatedly and more or less routinely. People think they can be saved by the mind, provided you hype up the powers of the mind. This path is a third devil, named in Goethe’s ‘Faust’ as Mephistopheles: ‘man, the seeker of False Knowledge.’ This happens in science and in metaphysical philosophy equally, and gets worse as you travel farther westward, from Western Europe to England, and from England to America. The whole ‘American identity’ is a construction of Abstract Mind, without any root in the ground, without any ground beneath it. Americanism is a creation of Abstract Mind, and as such, sits on stilts miles up in the sky, flimsy and frightened.
The Abstract Mind is ‘the mind alone’, cut off, disincarnate, disembodied, ungrounded in the rest of what is human, and ungrounded in the surrounding world of nature, and history, but always a superb observer, a powerful over-viewer. An ‘essential archetypal pattern’ can always be found by this seeker, and ‘taken out’ of any context that gives it flesh and blood.
It is in the context of not just the humble inadequacy of Form to fully ‘point to’ Void, but in the more vicious context of people attempting to ‘capture’ the Ineffable by the mind alone, that Buddha’s radical apophaticism must be understood. Greek Orthodox Christianity also has an apophatic tradition, stemming from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of Egypt, Palestine, Syria. But Buddhism, and especially Zen, has to be credited with the most thoroughly apophatic approach. This is to guard against almost the worst sickness, virtually the worst distortion, of religion. When you reckon that mind alone, if worked on and its game upped, can be enlightened, then all you ever arrive at are abstractions, or ‘essentialist abstractions.’ You think you have arrived at reality, truth, mystery, but you have not: you have arrived at something mimicking them, but in the mimicry, a million miles away. You think you are close, even there, but you are as far from it as you can get, thus you are doubly deceived. Suffering from the ordinary deception we all start in, you think you have abstracted your way out of it and abstracted your way to the Real Deal, but you haven’t. In your seeking, you have found all right, but only found the ultimate in false knowing. Thus in getting out of ordinary deception, you have climbed your way up into a more subtle deception. You use the Big Words that seemingly emanate the Big Mind, yet all you are doing is ‘grasping at straws’, trying to capture in your wrong hand hold, something that cannot be approached like this. A certain glibness, a kind of facile attitude, an arrogance in being able to skate fast over hard ground that is slow going, is the giveaway that you are a Mephistophles, not a Buddha.
The Buddha gives the true reason for his strategy of radical apophaticism in a well-known quote, which shows this is not only to curb the over use of metaphysical philosophy so obvious in Hinduism – and in its cousin Greek Hellenism – but more powerfully, to heal the sickness of Abstract Mind. If Abstract Mind was a danger in Asia in 500 BC, think how much greater a danger it is today, in the Far West where Abstract Mind thinks it is, or can become, Buddha-Mind=
“Bear always in mind what it is that I have not elucidated, and what it is that I have elucidated. And what have I not elucidated? I have not elucidated that the world is eternal; I have not elucidated that the world is not eternal; I have not elucidated that the world is finite; I have not elucidated that the world is infinite; I have not elucidated that the soul and the body are identical; I have not elucidated that the soul is one thing and the body another; I have not elucidated that the saint [arhat, one who achieves enlightenment in Theravada Buddhism] exists after death; I have not elucidated that the saint does not exist after death; I have not elucidated that the saint both exists and does not exist after death; I have not elucidated that the saint neither exists nor does not exist after death. And why have I not elucidated this? Because this profits not, nor has to do with the fundamentals of religion, nor tends to aversion, absence of passion, cessation, quiescence, the supernatural faculties, supreme wisdom, and Nirvana; therefore have I not elucidated it.
And what have I elucidated? Misery [dukkha, pain, suffering — from the root du, to burn, pain, torment] have I elucidated; the origin of misery have I elucidated; the cessation of misery have I elucidated; and the path leading to the cessation of misery have I elucidated [i.e. the Four Noble Truths]. And why have I elucidated this? Because this does profit, has to do with the fundamentals of religion, and tends to ..absence of passion, cessation, quiescence, knowledge, supreme wisdom, and Nirvana; therefore have I elucidated it.” [Henry Clarke Warren, ‘Buddhism in Translation’, Harvard University Press, 1896.]
Buddhism’s silence on key religious questions – which Hinduism happily and voluminously answers with piles upon piles of ‘religious philosophy’ — is to underscore that metaphysics cannot grab the moon, but can only point to it. So why overdo the pointing in volumes and volumes of words, concepts, symbols? Hinduism knows this, though its pointing may well transgress what a finger held aloft can do. Yet Hinduism is not un-humble, and its asceticism is certainly a recognition that mind alone cannot get there, but the whole being, mind and body, soul and spirit, must be brought to enlightenment. No, Buddha’s stance is a foreboding of how twisted, and even evil, the Abstract Mind can, and in the future will, become. He had been a seeker, and had found what the Eastern Orthodox Liturgy calls ‘the True Light’, and so Buddha felt responsible for this true seeking and true finding; he was going to guard it, and do all he could to make sure people after him could walk the path that arrives at it. Something in him anticipated the coming rise of Abstract Mind, and his insistence on being far more apophatic than Hinduism reflected this keen prophetic sense of future doom. Buddha’s apophaticism is the medicine for a sickness that, in his day and place, had not got going as it would in a different day, and different place, in the West.
Almost the whole kudos of the West as the ‘most progressive, most advanced’ civilisation in all the world through all of history rests in its use and abuse, of Abstract Mind. When Abstract Mind ‘takes over’ even enlightenment, then the pale and cold tissue of abstraction, of essentialist yet hollow mere ideas of reality, has put the Light of the East out of commission. In a sense, the Light from the East has been slyly replaced, in the West, by the false light of Abstract Mind.
Western Buddhists need to take great care over this. Buddha’s strategy of the ‘via negativa’, eschewing any via positiva, can play right into the hands of Abstract Mind’s pseudo enlightening. Lao Tzu, the father of apophaticism, said that, ‘he who knows does not speak.’ But saying nothing, rather than trying to use the words, symbols, concepts that do ‘point’, can mask the pseudo light of abstract essentialism. Indeed, this danger is horrendous in Zen. The Abstract Mind can easily, because it is by nature so denuded of juice and pith in any event, bow at Bodidharma in silence when his other followers tried to say something, however stammering in recognition of the impossibility, in order to do justice to the real advent of enlightenment. Bodidharma at least blessed each effort, though he granted to the silent bow that it had pointed to the very ‘marrow’ of enlightenment. This has a huge danger. Yes, in the ultimate, we are silent, still, empty, before the Emptiness. But the Emptiness is also in Fullness, and this is where ‘true enlightenment’ differs from the false light of Abstract Mind. The Abstract Mind can mimic silent bowing, and mimic cute paradoxical statements like, ‘if you see the Buddha on the road, kill him’, all day long. These statements can in fact get increasingly glib and facile, and lose the true paradox of apophaticism. However, what the Abstract Mind can never express in any way, through words, symbols, thoughts, is Emptiness in Fullness, Non Duality in Duality, the Source in the 10,000 things. This task is beyond it, and exposes its disembodiment, and disincarnation, its de-situation masquerading as enlightenment. Eastern Orthodox Christianity calls the Ineffable fully incarnate, fully embodied, ‘Ikon.’ Only the ikonic reveals and instantiates the paradox of apophatic and cataphatic not divided, not confused, but ‘as one.’ Abstract Mind cannot create the ikon, the poem of the divine in the created, in its proofs of knowledge. Consequently, its negative statements, so glib and facile, are also incapable of situatedness, of grounding, of full incarnation, of full embodiment.
The Zen ‘koan’ is ikonic. It always cuts off the wrong Non Duality, and cuts off the wrong Duality, forcing you to be thrown onto both horns of the bull, speared by both, until you break through to their reconciliation, which does not fudge either.
I prefer ikons to the ‘allusive’ apophatic art of Zen Buddhism, because the apophatic on its own – the silent bow – is only one part of the total paradox, and misses the other part. Do not misunderstand– the allusive and apophatic gesture, statement, painting, when spot on and not just the faking of Abstract Mind, is necessary, medicinal, and shockingly real. It carries forward Buddha’s original strategy of only using words, symbols, concepts, sparingly, because the issue is ‘what is of profit’ in our path toward enlightenment. I laugh out loud at some of the duels between Zen masters, in their extreme apophatic or negative style, because they really hit it; our laughter is a mini enlightenment in itself. But other times I find some Zen dialogues disgustingly degraded by Abstract Mind, full of subtle arrogance about flying above it all and flying quicksilver quick. I think Buddha would have regarded some of the Zen shenanigans as the Abstract Mind spiralling into oblivion. This is part of the ‘stink of Zen’, and it is very injurious. Japanese Zen may have the problems of Japanese authoritarianism, hierarchic structure, and formalism, but Western Zen will ‘get off on’ the aspects of traditional Zen where Abstract Mind has pushed out Buddha-Mind. The stink of Zen will threaten to turn into a stench in the West, where shallowness is guaranteed by the cast of mind that is predominant.
This is why we need ikonic — the apophatic in the cataphatic — statements, pointings, works of art, as ‘proof’ of the real enlightenment, and we need to become more discerning of when the ‘merely apophatic’ is medicinally healing and when the Abstract Mind mimics, hides behind, and abuses, this ‘allusive’ style. When the Abstract Mind abuses the ‘wisdom of saying nothing’, it has no medicine in it, but only a heightened and hard to discern poison. It is the heightened poison that adds to the ordinary poison, the deception that heightens ordinary deception. In reality, deception is preferable to this ‘deception of deception’, because the ordinary deception is closer to enlightenment than the pseudo knowledge of Abstract Mind.
A lot of Western people in Shamanism are relating to Platonic and Jungian archetypal abstractions as if they were spirits and spiritual realities. This is the same toxicity carried into a different religion. Much of Christian doctrine easily becomes a System of Abstractions, as well.
Buddha’s concern not to answer “questions which tend not to edification” is his moral responsibility at work. This is the moral sense typical of Static Quality. If the real mysticism gives life, and a pale imitation of this mysticism that is really only approximating to it through philosophical metaphysics cannot give life, then drop the latter. The morality of enlightenment is, teach and practice only what edifies by healing the sickness of ignorance, and don’t bother over what fails to edify by having no capacity to heal the sickness of ignorance, and probably can only add more decoration, more baggage, to ignorance. But, what if there is something worse than a pale reflection of the moon, a down right pseudo mysticism that not only has no power to edify, but actually only has the power to make our ignorance yet more sick?
Both Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Buddhism diagnose the sickness of ignorance in the identical way, both insisting it is not a matter only of upping the mind’s game. Rather, there are three poisons, and these touch on mind [nous], desire [soul], and anger [heart]. Even the way these three poisons are described in detail is identical. The point is, enlightenment needs more effort from us than the mind alone; since the Abstract Mind is without soul and without heart, and conflates abstraction for the ‘direct seeing’ of the nous, it actually refuses the effort needed to transform nous, desire, anger, as well as enlightening the body. The Abstract Mind will only do mental disciplines, no yoke is put on the delusive cravings or the fallen passions, and thus the pseudo light of Abstract Mind leaves nous, desire, anger, unhealed, untransformed, unaltered. The Buddha would never accept this ‘only from the neck up’ enlightenment. The pseudo light is shallow, disembodied, and all too ‘liberal’ about the dynamic forces of desire and anger [Freud’s sex and aggression, or eros and thanatos]. Left without any metamorphosis, pseudo enlightenment also exposes its masquerade because it is loveless. Loving kindness and compassion will not emerge unless selfish desire is wrestled with in asceticism, and taking delight in another’s joy as well as ceasing to tyrannise over the neighbour will not emerge unless egoistic anger is wrestled with in asceticism. Similarly, the real equanimity and non-disappointment of nous will never emerge unless the Abstract Mind’s counterfeit ‘indifference’ is wrestled with in asceticism. Though Buddha rejected other worldly asceticism, as is obvious not only in Hindu monks but can be seen in many Christian Desert monks [like Simon Stylites who lived all his life on the pillar], an ‘Angelising’ use of asceticism, he also rejected this worldly, non-ascetical indulgence. His middle way with asceticism seeks the transforming of all of our being, and unlike the False Knowledge that the Abstract Mind is a seeker and finder of, enlightenment is never from the neck up, leaving the neck down untouched.
It can be concluded that apophaticism is not just about striking the paradoxical balance between unstated and stated, it is more than that; it is in fact the moral guarding of true enlightenment from all the fake versions, running the gamut from paler imitation to out and out distortion. Buddhism is morally obliged to ask for proofs of enlightenment, in words, symbols, concepts, that ikonically, or koanically, do justice not only to Mystery in its mysteriousness, but also to the Concrete in its concreteness, generating a poetry of concrete mystery, mysterious concreteness.
Therefore, all four of Bodhidharma’s ‘dharma heirs’ are needed, to make an ikon, or a koan. He wanted to return to Mother India, and asked his closest students to state the essence of his teaching [‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones’, Paul Reps, 1967, Anchor Books and Shambhala, 1994, pp ix-x]. This is what they said.
Dofuku said: “In my opinion, truth is beyond affirmation or negation, for this is the way it moves.”
Bodhidharma replied: “You have my skin.”
The nun Soji said: “In my view, it is like Ananda’s sight of the Buddha-land — seen once and for ever.”
Bodhidharma answered: “You have my flesh.”
Doiku said: “The four elements of light [i.e. fire], airiness [i.e. air], fluidity [i.e. water], and solidity [i.e. earth] are empty [shûnya, i.e. neither existence nor non-existence] and the five skandhas are no-things. In my opinion, no-thing is reality.”
Bodhidharma commented: “You have my bones.”
Finally, Eka bowed before the master — and remained silent.
Bodhidharma said: “You have my marrow.”
In reality, a being is not just marrow, but needs bones, flesh, and skin. A being entering enlightenment has above neck and below neck.
Reality is manifest in all of its manifestations. This is the test of enlightenment. Even our cells, molecules, atoms, have testimony to give about RTa.
We had better not over say, but we had better not under say, the Unsayable. When this is dancing in full, then both silence and speech are possible, and necessary, depending on the situation. Silence is often more mystical, but speech is often more loving. Don’t confuse them, but do put them together.
Then you can shut up with your nonsense about killing Buddhas. It is you who need to die. Get on with it. When you are dead, I will be interested in your silence and your speech. Until then, neither fools me.
The Abstract Mind deceives with silence, and with witty apophatic and enigmatic negativities, dancing like ten million angels on a pin. The Abstract Mind has nothing to say about love, because love is outside its portentous knowledge.
I’ll know when you are dead, and your silence speaks, and your speech hums with silence. Don’t fool yourself with Zen nonsense. Use the Zen stick to deliver the coup de grace to the one it is meant to beat the nonsense out of. That’s you. And when I take it on board in my life, it is me. The teacher can point at the medicine, but only you can take your medicine, and only I can take my medicine. No one else does it for you or me. So, you have to take your medicine, I have to take my medicine. In this process, we can laugh together— the big belly laugh that rolls out of nowhere and fills existence with its rumble, the belly laugh that lets go, loses, and embraces dying.
This is how the manifestation returns to the Reality always holding it. With a roaring laugh at dying. There is a story of a Zen master who died that way. Zorba the Greek, with more of the Daemonic in him, died standing up at a window, looking out into the world, braying like a donkey.
The Master of the Universe rode into Jerusalem on that very donkey Zorba’s spirit exulted in at the moment of death.
Death is liberation, in Eros. Some die before their end, some postpone it to the end, but either way, death is liberation from the pervasive ignorance, and this liberation is permanent entry into and life in the Light whose generous overflowing, gracious and free giving, never ceases. The sun dawns but there is no entropy that will cause it to implode. It shines, forever. Those it shines on, shine forever.
Why ask what it is like? Buddha was right that he cannot tell you how it is, and will be. So if he says the saint does not go into Nirvana, he is wrong by your limited lights, and if he says the saint does go into Nirvana, he is still just as wrong by your limited lights. The problem is, your limited lights. There is no problem with Reality and the pattern that holds its manifestation. The problem is with your limited lights that cannot grasp it.
So, a better way to proceed than endlessly trying to grasp with your limited lights what cannot be grasped is – to smash the limited lights. Laugh at them, cry over them, but let them have the carpet pulled out from under them. You will not go through the floor boards. You will be on a solid footing for the first time..
Let the ikon, let the koan, suffice as food to chew, if you need something in your mouth. We do need something in our mouth. That keeps us non philosophical as much as non fantasy, but most vital of all, it keeps us un-abstracted.
For the rest, get on with dying.
In effect, if ‘by our lights’ does not die, then the Light of Love that gives Life cannot reach us. It does not exclude us, but always and unfailingly includes us. We exclude ourself. An Eastern Orthodox Christian prayer, exactly paralleling Buddhism, declares: “In Thy Light we shall see light.” The Light is God, but in his presence, and face to face with his countenance, as the Psalms put it, we ‘see light.’ The divine Light enables us to be ‘enlightened.’ The enlightenment is light with a small ‘l’, the enlightener is Light with a capital ‘L.’ It is a relationship, firm in joining, intimate in encounter.
D.H. Lawrence articulates, in a poem called ‘The Hands of God’, what it is like when there is no Light, no presence and no countenance of the divine, and we fall into the self-deception of relying on our own light, and foolishly confusing it with the ‘light we see’ when Light shines upon us. The poem expresses in another way the spiritual problem of Abstract Mind.
Thus Lawrence’s poem starts by crying ‘it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’, the chief declaration of the Daemonic, then switches to what happens when we fall out of the hands of the God of Eros into false enlightenment, adding: ‘But it is a much more fearful thing to fall out of [these hands].’
“Did Lucifer fall through knowledge?
oh, then, pity him that plunge!
Save me, O God, from falling into the ungodly knowledge
of myself as I am without God.
Let me never know what I am or should be
when I have fallen out of your hands, the hands of the living God.
That awful and sickening endless sinking, sinking
through the slow, corruptive levels of disintegrative knowledge
when the self has fallen from the hands of God,
and sinks, seething and sinking, corrupt
and sinking still, in depth after depth of disintegrative consciousness
sinking in the endless undoing..
even of the soul, fallen from the hands of God,
Save me from that, O God!
Let me never know myself apart from the Living God.”
The terms ‘soul and self’ belong to Eros, as ‘personhood and heart’ belong to the Daemonic. A soul filled with God’s Light becomes the ‘no-self’ and the ’10,000 things.’
Eros, in its saving, is summed up by the traditional Eastern Christian claim that in the Incarnation of God in a human being, Christ ‘takes on’ our humanity in order to ‘purify, heal, illumine, and transfigure’ it. Indeed, to divinise the human, to create a divine-humanity that rejects both Luciferian self-divinisation of the human and Satanic moral condemnation of the human.
All this flows from restoration to the True Light, but it is paradoxical, in that to be restored to Life, we must die to a false life that is in reality deadness, to be restored to Love, we must die to a false love that is in reality loveless, to be restored to Light, we must die to a false light that is in reality darkness. All of these dyings are hard.
There is a moment in this process of restoration, of ontological turning away from our self-created prison-house and turning toward God, when it seems we will lose everything, and just be abandoned. There is no Light, thus giving up ‘our lights’ is suicide. In the Christian West, this crisis is called ‘the dark night of the soul.’ In the Christian East, it was not seen as a ‘bad moment’ in an otherwise progressively more light-filled spiritual path, but in a more down to earth manner, it was the ongoing Desert in which dying to ‘the ungodly knowledge of myself as I am without God’ is lived out realistically, soberly, patiently, until the real Light, the real Love, the real Life, ‘dawns.’
The Desert purges us of all the false encumbrances of Eros, and challenges its main error, which is ‘having’ as an escape from ‘being.’ The Desert asks us to live more simply. The Desert makes it hard to evade the coup de grace we need to end the ‘disintegrative knowledge, and disintegrative consciousness’ of ‘what I am or should be when I have fallen out of the hands of the living God.’
In short, the Desert helps us to get on with dying.
John Chryssavgis, speaking about the ‘message of the Egyptian Desert Spirituality of Eastern Christianity for today’, in an interview in Boston [18 July, 2006].
Question: “Seeking God through silence and prayer like the 4th and 5th century Christian ascetics still has much to teach us now?”
Chryssavgis: “It is so easy today to consider silence and prayer as something historically outdated or merely as spiritual virtues. In fact, for the life of the early desert fathers and mothers in the fourth and fifth centuries, silence was a way of breathing, a way of going deep.
In a world, such as ours, where so much is determined by the immediate and the superficial, the desert elders teach us the importance of slowing down, the need to pay attention and to look more deeply.
Silence is letting the world and yourself be what they are. And in that respect, silence is profoundly connected to the living God, “who is who he is.”
Of course, all this requires toil and tears, labour and love. It is the art of living simply, instead of simply living. It resembles the skill of gardening: you cannot plant unless, first, you cultivate. You cannot expect to sow unless you dig deep. And you certainly cannot expect fruit unless you wait.
The search, then, is for what lies beneath the surface. Only in taking time and looking carefully can we realize just how much more there is to our world, our neighbour, and even ourselves, than at first we notice or than we could ever imagine.”
Q: “Is there a secret to live a rich and healthy spiritual life?”
Chryssavgis: “In some ways, the secret to living a rich and healthy spiritual life may well be the fact that there is no secret.
One of the problems along the spiritual way is that most of us seek — or resort to — magical solutions to profound issues.
Reading the texts of the early ascetics, I have come to realize that perhaps the most essential lesson learned in life is the lesson of surrender, of letting go.
It is a hard lesson, and one that is only reluctantly embraced by most of us. But I am convinced that this life is given to us in order to learn how to lose.
We think that the purpose of a good spiritual life is to acquire virtues, or perhaps to lead a solid, productive, dignified, admirable, and even influential ‘lifestyle.’
In fact, every detail — whether seemingly important or insignificant, whether painful or joyful — in the life of each one of us has but a single purpose, namely to prepare us for the ultimate act of sharing and sacrifice.
I would say that the secret of the desert is learning to lose. When you know how to lose, you also know how to love! In some ways, every moment in our life is a gradual refinement so that we are prepared to encounter death, which is the ultimate loss.”
Q: “What unifies the desert fathers and mothers?”
Chryssavgis: “If there is one element that unites the desert fathers and mothers, in my mind it is their realism.
The unpretentious dimension of their life and experience, of their practice as well as their preaching, is something they share with one another..
And precisely because they are truthful and down-to-earth, the desert fathers and mothers are not afraid to be who they are. They do not endeavour to present a false image; and they do not accept any picture of themselves that does not reflect who they really are.
“Stay in your cell,” they advise us. Because so often we are tempted to move outside, to stray away from who and what we are.
Learning to face who and what we are — without any facade, without any make-up, without any false expectations — is one of the hardest and at the same time, one of the finest lessons of the desert. Putting up with ourselves is the first and necessary step of learning to put up with others. And it is the basis for recognizing how all of us — each of us and the entire world alike — are unconditionally embraced and loved by God.”
Q: “Is there another kind of ‘desert’ nowadays?”
Chryssavgis: “In our day, the desert is not necessarily to be found in the natural wilderness, although it may certainly be located there for some. The institutional church and the institutional parish have their place; and the natural desert has its place.
But there is more to the spiritual life than these could ever provide alone. Alongside the institutional, there must be room for inspiration. The two are not necessarily opposed, but they must work together integrally if the Body of Christ is to function in all its fullness.
We need to discern the mystery in life. And we can only appreciate the mystical dimension of our world and our soul if we go through the desert, if we experience that contemplative dimension of life.
Yet the desert today is found in the marginal places of the world and the church, where the prophetic and critical word is spoken in response to the cry of suffering in human beings and in the natural environment.
Those who put themselves on the edge of the conventional church or society in order to see clearly what is happening in our world are contemporary desert fathers and mothers.”
This last remark from John refers to the way that the Desert monastics inherited the Jewish prophets, even as the Jewish prophets inherited the Primal Indigenous ‘medicine and holy person’, the Asian shamans.
However, what John neglects to mention is that the Desert tradition had something Daemonic at its inception that the later, established monasticism lost.
There is a different meaning of ‘dying’ in the Daemonic, as is evident in the Jewish prophets who lived in the wilderness, but were seeking not the Eros of God, but searching out the depth of heart of the Daemonic God, to bring this divine heart and its spiritual fire back to the people, in order to challenge them to search their own hearts, and accept a radical ‘change of heart’ in their enworlded existence.