Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Totalism and Tautology: The Roots of the Problem

as-salaam alaykum. I apologize for the shock and the forum should be back up soon. I shut it down because it was (inadvertently) brought to my attention by a friend that I have developed certain cultish tendencies as they pertain to the traditional school. The investigation of ideological totalism amounts to an inquiry into the psychology of cults and I am investigating the extent to which it is applicable to me so that I do not cause harm to others through my thoughts and writings. I recognize that Lifton has his limitations but I also believe that he makes some useful points. I am almost finished with my investigation / self-examination and would be happy to attempt to answer any questions anyone might have.

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as-salaam alaykum. Thank you for your thoughts. Sidi [...], fanaticism is exactly right, but it is my own fanaticism than I intended to turn a critical eye toward. Sidi [...], your remark that even a valid doctrine and practice can take on cult-like tendencies is precisely what I had in mind when I said that Lifton's criteria had their limitations. In fact, it seems that these tendencies arise organically whenever a group possesses centralized authority and dogma. The question then becomes a matter of whether or not those tendencies are being channelled in service to exploitation, abuse, and indoctrination.

The present investigation was brought about by the realization that despite my exposure to extensive documents, photographs, and correspondence detailing aberrant behaviors on the part of Shaykh Isa such as nudism, syncretic psuedo-indian rituals, and the sexual exploitation of disciples, all of which are accompanied by elaborate justifications, that I have not been honest with myself or with others. I have consistently employed denial, deflection, and rationalization when exposed to these topics. I do not believe that he molested children as I have not encountered any evidence of this, but as pertains to these occurrences I believe that I have succumbed to a very serious blind spot preventing me from exercising the level of discernment of which I am generally capable.

I have no doubts concerning the integrity and veracity of my present affiliations, teachers, doctrines, or methods. I have come to believe that my inability to evaluate this evidence objectively and honestly is due primarily to a fear of being ostracized by my community, labelled as a malcontent or agitator, and ultimately rejected by the very people that I admire and respect the most. As you can imagine, this has created a significant inner tension, one of which I was not fully aware until my recent conversation with my friend.

Liftons descriptions of the criteria of the "Demand for Purity," "Sacred Science," and the "Dispensing of Existence" are very pertinent to the above considerations. Although metaphysics is beyond reproach, as everyone seems to be in agreement, to doubt Shaykh Isa's character casts aspersion upon his entire life's work causing much additional inner tension.

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After the question of purported scandalous photos came out I also thought to myself that if any of this is true then an opening to it must me present somewhere is his teachings. What I found, mostly surveying his books was a tautological reading capable of being applied to justify virtually anything. Here are some thoughts on what I designated the Tantric element of his teaching. Please forgive the shoddy documentation

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The following are a selection of quotations that I previously compiled from Schuon's books concerning the tantric element of his teaching. I have prefaced these with a summary of the teaching and its ramifications as I understand them.

Framed as an argument, the Shaykh's Tantric perspective can be summarized as follows.

1. The Pnuematic, Primordial Man, Sage, or Minor Avatara possesses provisional infallibility. He is a priori incapable of either intellectual or volitional error.

2. The minor Avatara possesses a provisional prophetic function, i.e. he can transmit a specific revelation as opposed to a general or universal revelation. As such he is not inherently bound by the conventional morality of a given general revelation and can himself serve as the arbiter of moral judgement possessed as he is of provisional infallibility over such matters.

3. By virtue of the dual qualities of Maya, the cosmos possesses the simultaneous possibility of veiling and unveiling the beauty of the creator depending upon the innate disposition and intention of the participant. The quality of beauty and correlatively any natural pleasure arising from the senses possesses thereby the characteristic of either seductive sensuality or liberating theophany.

4. All sensual pleasure indulged in by the pneumatic, regardless of appearances and the position of this indulgence in relation to the conventional morality dictated by revealed laws, is de facto theophanic and liberating because he is both incapable of vice and because he is a law unto himself, or rather has an infallible law issuing from his Self.

Most of the undisputed ambiguities surrounding Schuon can be referred back to one or more of these premises. It seems to me that a final reconciliation can only be made by taking a leap of faith and acknowledging both his moral incorruptibility and provisional infallibility. The only other alternatives are to either reject this claim as false either a priori (disagreeing with the premises) or a posteriori (disagreeing with their application to Schuon), or otherwise by discounting them altogether by categorizing them as falling beyond the sphere of personal relevance.

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as-salaam alaykum. Thank you for taking the time to read and reflect upon what I have written and thank you also for bringing to my attention that most beautiful Hindu treatise which I will most certainly be returning to. Please understand that it is not my intention to damn Shaykh Isa. Rather my aim is primarily to reconcile an apparent contradition between his teachings and his actions and ultimately to relieve the tension within my own soul. Incidentally you have inadvertently struck upon the heart of the matter in the following comment, particularly in its implications ...

This is essentially a restatement of my first point that the pneumatic is incapable of intellectual or volitional error by definition.

The natural corollary to this is that if it appears that the pneumatic is exhibiting a behavior that is contrary to his nature, it is an illusion.

In Shaykh Isa's words:

"We mentioned above the isolation of the mancenter in the face of the world's absurdity; now the fact that his behavior can be like that of the manperiphery may give the impression of solidarity with the worldly ambience, but this is a deceptive appearance, since similar ways of acting can hide dissimilar intentions."

Or again more explicitly in text 1075:

"It may happen that the pure pneumatic will act in a manner foreign to a particular religious perspective and to particular prescriptions, but it cannot happen that he act in a manner contrary to the nature of things, for he bears the essential, universal and primordial Law in the depths of his own heart. For this very reason, deviation or corruption is in his case impossible, whatever appearances from a particular limited perspective may be."

Where the logic becomes problematic for me is in the fourth point: that the proof of the goodness, beauty, and truth of something is in the fact that the pneumatic experiences it as such. The pneumatic would not perceive it as such if it were not actually so because he is not capable of intellectual or volitional error by definition.

In Shaykh Isa's words:

"Once again, the integration of the agreeable into spirituality is not gratuitous and could not be: on the one hand, the interiorizing experience of beauty presupposes nobleness of soul, which is no small matter, and on the other hand, the analogous experience of sensorial pleasure demands temperance, hence a sober character that does not admit of any excess. In the case of beauty, the complementary moral condition is analogous to the content, for only a beautiful soul has the right to a beautiful experience."

Now, I am by no means an ascetic and I believe that I appreciate the theophanic quality of nature both in terms of beauty of form and of natural pleasures including sexual pleasure. However, certain of Shaykh Isa's behaviors appear to proceed in excess of this involving as they do the sexual exploitation of disciples.

For example, it seems to be well established that Shaykh Isa took some of his disciples wives as his own. One explanation, according to a document in circulation called "Points of Reference" is that the wives' marriages were unsatisfactory and effectively terminated without however being formally divorced. They remained with their respective ex-husbands and children but were now wedded to Shaykh Isa in accordance with celestial signs, the marriages of which were presumably consummated.

According to the conventional morality of religion, these actions reflect aberration and exploitation. If the above explanation is adhered to, the appearance of immorality is an illusion because Shaykh Isa, as a pneumatic is incapable of intellectual or volitional error. This tautology has manifold applications and can be used to justify anything to someone who accepts as axiomatic that Shaykh Isa was a pneumatic and beyond reproach for in his words, "the acts of [such a] man are golden because his substance is golden, and because everything that he touches is golden; this obviously excludes intrinsically bad actions, whether in regard to God or in regard to one's neighbor."

In the past I have chosen to deny, deflect, or rationalize these considerations to avoid the tension of this line of questioning. I believe that it is not possible for me to do so without being dishonest.

I pray that you have a safe journey and thank you again for taking the time to correspond with me.

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as-salaam alaykum. Thank you for taking the time to write this. It is exceedingly helpful to recognize that I have not had to shoulder this burden alone by having my own conflicts both confirmed and described with a depth and lucidity that far exceeds my own capabilities of expression. In this there is already an ease of much of the tension that I have described. You have also greatly instilled in me the hope that with the aid of friends such as you that I too may regain my equilibrium and come to achieve a satisfactory resolution to what has been troubling me.

I am very grateful for the openness of your engagement and generous use of your time.

(August 2014)


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