Mediatations 1 (from Lightning the Dark)
Category: Lightning the Dark
Faith and semiosis
Inkling of the day:
There is no time for more than a little consciousness.— Gregory Bateson
How do we know that what we call divine is not human, and what we call human is not divine?— Zhuangzi 6 (Cleary 1992, 104)
The wise is one alone, unwilling and willing to be spoken of by the name of Zeus.— Heraclitus (Kahn)
Is the Creator unwilling or willing to be called by the name of God?
Ending the quest
You always find what you’re looking for in the last place you look.
‘A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house,’ said Jesus (Matthew 13:57). And as Peirce said, ‘so it is also with phenomena’: ‘most of us seem to find it difficult to recognize the greatness and wonder of things familiar to us’ (CP 5.65, EP2:158).
This year i’d like to honour some universally familiar things,
recognize the greatness of the artist
who can do that with words and other signs,
and work with the play of wonder all around us
here in our own house.
Let us not be distracted as usual
by the unusual
or the infamies of the famous.
One person’s distraction is another’s revelation – and vice versa.
Ear of the heart
Every religion, insofar as it subordinates the well-being of individual members to that of the group itself, tends to replace the inner law of conscience with outer laws which are applied to all indiscriminately. But ‘One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression’ (Blake, MHH, 24). In these conditions, a human conscience can turn to an esoteric subculture within it; otherwise the individual may be cut off from true fellowship when the exoteric religion loses its feel for the core experience which is the living source of its own laws, and the guidance embodied in them sinks to the level of superstition.
The esoteric side of scripture is not limited to early Christianity, or even to the Abrahamic religious tradition. As Steven Heine explains, it also appears in ‘esoteric Buddhist training that is characterized by intense subjectivity. This dimension includes the profound intimacy of the master-disciple relation based on intuitive insight and hermetism, as well as an aura of secrecy and inscrutability projected toward outsiders’ (Heine 2001, 8).
What i have called the conscience would correspond to the Buddha-nature in Buddhism, and in Persian Sufism to the Perfect Nature, the Angel who guides the ‘man of light.’ To paraphrase Henry Corbin, this relationship of guidance depends crucially on perfecting the individuality of each person, which cannot happen if that individuality is swallowed up in a collective being or will.
‘The power which is in thee,’ in each one of you, cannot refer to a collective guide, to a manifestation and a relationship collectively identical for each one of the souls of light. Nor, a fortiori, can it be the macrocosm or universal Man which assumes the role of heavenly counter-part of each microcosm. The infinite price attached to spiritual individuality makes it inconceivable that salvation could consist in its absorption into a totality, even a mystical one.— Corbin (1971, 16)
It was the difference or polar tension between the Angel and the individual, or between universal and particular person, which made each of the pair meaningful. In this vision (as in the enactive model of cognition), the act of seeing is ‘an interaction, a reciprocal action’ (Corbin 1971, 140). You could even say that you are God’s secret and he is yours. As Ibn Arabi put it,
Ana sirr al-Haqq: ‘I am God’s secret,’ the secret, that is, which conditions the polarity of the two faces, the face of light and the face of darkness, because the divine Being cannot exist without me, nor I exist without Him.— Corbin (1971, 129)
In Corbin’s account of Iranian Sufism, the true self is ‘the organ and place of theophany’ (Corbin 1971, 129).
This is the state of the ‘friend of God,’ of whom the divine Being can say, according to the inspired hadith, so oft-repeated by the Sufis: ‘I am the eye through which he sees, the ear through which he hears, the hand by which he touches … ’
… and, we may add, the mind by which he reads revelation:
the theophanic figure of the Angel of Revelation in prophetology … is here the Angel of spiritual exegesis, that is to say, the one who reveals the hidden meaning of previous revelations, provided that the mystic possesses the ear of the heart.— Corbin (1971, 131)
From tenacity to inquiry
The way of inquiry – which includes (but does not end with) revelation, as explained in Chapter 6 – is essentially the last and best of four methods outlined by Peirce in his 1877 essay on ‘The Fixation of Belief.’
In the light of current usage, and considering Peirce’s own commitment to fallibilism, this title is remarkably ironic: both ‘fixation’ and ‘belief’ seem best suited to describe the first and crudest of the four, which he calls the method of tenacity. It consists of simply clinging stubbornly to whatever belief you already have and refusing to change it. Peirce concedes that this method ‘yields great peace of mind’; but it is quite incompatible with Peirce’s view of thinking as ‘necessarily a sort of dialogue, an appeal from the momentary self to the better considered self of the immediate and of the general future’ (SS, 195). Why should the ‘better considered self’ insist on deferring to an earlier stage in its own development?
Next is the method of authority, about which enough has been said in this netbook; it amounts to a method of collective tenacity, and public character constitutes its advance over the private method of tenacity. The third method essentially involves dialogue among reasonable people, i.e. those who admit their own ‘natural preferences’ and those of others as both valuable and questionable, and use honest reasoning to work toward a more universal and consistent belief system. This is certainly more promising than the method of authority in which some people impose beliefs on others, and is the best method available on questions that can’t be settled on factual grounds alone. But where observable facts are crucially relevant, it is much inferior to the method of science. This, Peirce’s fourth and highest method, is the collective public form of the meaning cycle itself. This way of inquiry is the only one which incorporates the best features of insight, reason, critical thinking and learning from experience.