In response to a comment by Elisa, I hazarded that in ritual or liturgical practice, not only do the sampads come to the fore, but that by applying oneself to this mode of being consciously one can cultivate participation. This is a large claim, and I want to nuance it a bit.
First I should clarify that neither "ritual" nor "participation" are for me terms of automatic approbation. The critique of consumerism, for instance, as hinging on a mode of "participation," an identification of buyer with product, is one obvious and plausible way of spinning Marx's account of commodity fetishism. Politics is full of "rituals," and most of them lend their objects, or the process itself, same spurious authenticity as commodity fetishism. I have not thought through my whole take on the way late capitalism intersects with the correspondences (though Agamben and Foucault, not to mention McLuhan, give some possible starting-places), but it is clear to me that advertainment is full of invocations of them, in its implication of a richer, fuller life with the dose of mana promised in the rich lifestyle each glittering product signifies. This might seem a tired old critique, but what it implies in the present context is that there’s a way to distinguish between the superstition of consumerism, which is unconscious and alienated participation, and a “third way” that would navigate between or beyond both this superstition and the scientism that stands opposed to it, by engaging participation consciously.
However, this too needs to be more carefully thought. I had written:
"...ritual tends of its nature to privilege its own moment. Thus every sacred spot tends to acquire a numinous aura which does not "really" obtain....that there is nothing in the temple that is special, but that the temple reveals the world, shows us that the world itself is holy, or destined to holiness."At the grave risk of misunderstanding (above all by myself), I might very tentatively compare the temple, in this respect, to the scientific laboratory. There, too, the world is revealed, but no special claim is made for the laboratory itself as different in kind from the rest of the world. It is just that the lab is structured in a certain way, a way that makes this revealing possible. Now of course I would argue that it is not that the temple is a laboratory but that (as the old alchemists knew) the laboratory is a temple; the temple, also, structures experience within it in a particular way, and the temple is the more general type of which the laboratory, like the house, the seat of government, and garden, and the factory, are instances. (Calvin Coolidge said: “The man who builds a factory builds a temple; the man who works there worships there.” I realize one cites this at the risk of forever tarring oneself as an apologist for capitalism; I trust folks will know this isn’t where I am coming from.)
It is this structuring, this balance, that is the essential thing. Every human context does this balancing, sometimes well, sometimes poorly. One could call it a sort of feng shui, a weighing of one factor against another, one real thing against another real thing, in such a way that something about reality as such can show through. Thus, for instance, one sits in meditation--comporting one's body and mind in a certain way--in the faith that by doing so one can achieve a realization of the nature of mind per se. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, for the way the aspects of a work of art (say, in theater, the actors' words, the scenery, the stage lights) work together to open onto a world beyond the stage. Or again, the way a liturgical event plays scripture, music, incense, silence, architectural space, off of one another in a semi-scripted balance, a play of sampads, to (possibly) reveal something that makes every human measure take on a new and unforeseen meaning that was always meant for it.
But if, as I noted, any attempt to make such a third way risks collapsing into mere wishy-washiness (i.e., hedging one's bets), what can prevent this? Here Elisa offered a useful synopsis:
not to engage actively in the third way (since this would automatically destroy it and make it vanish into superstition) but to leave one's doors open for receiving it. Of course, this needs a preliminary faith that the world is in fact holy and only expects a proper locus to manifest itself as such. Prayer and external attitude may facilitate —although not cause— it.At the risk of severe oversimplification, i think we can see this as somewhat akin to the curious identity/difference of samsara=nirvana. If samsara is nirvana, what’s the problem, right? If the Tao is realized when we stop distinguishing good and bad, then…. is it good to realize the Tao? And indeed, how is it that this realization can “come about” at all? What is the difference between this realization and it’s lack?
An encounter recorded in some versions of the Platform Sutra speaks to this. When Huai Jang came to Hui Neng (the story goes), Hui Neng asked him where he had come from. “From the mountain of Sung Shan,” Huai Jang replied. Hui Neng regarded him, then asked: “But what is this thing, and how did it get here?” Huia Jang was discomfited and said nothing. For eight years he applied himself to Ch’an, striving to awake, asking himself this question over and over. When, suddenly (if “sudden” is the word for an eight-year process) he attained enlightenment, he went to Hui Neng and told him he had experienced an awakening. “What is it?” Nui Neng asked. Huai Jang replied: “To say what it is like is not to the point.” Still, Hui Neng pressed him: could this thing to which he had awakened, could his awakening itself, be cultivated? Huai Jang replied: “Though its cultivation and experiencing are not uncalled for, it cannot be tainted.”
I take this to indicate that “cultivation” remains worthwhile, despite the fact that what such cultivation may give one access to (if at all) not only does not depend upon such cultivation but in a certain manner has nothing to do with it. (Compare this, incidentally, to Findlay’s ontological disproof of God: the notion that the religious absolute, as an utterly necessary being, has no bearing on any contingent realities. To the early Findlay this seemed to suffice to show that such a radically necessary entity could not exist. One could hazard--admittedly playing fast and loose with significant cross-cultural differences--that Huai Jang seems to grant Findlay’s logic but dispute his conclusions nonetheless.)
All very well for Huai Jang, perhaps; after all, he became the seventh Patriarch of Zen, after Hui Neng. But for me, I who am not enlightened, how do I mouth such paradoxes without this turning into mere bullshit? This is the technical term Harry Frankfurt uses for the utterance of remarks without regard for whether they are true or false. I sometimes think I catch the waft of such bullshit from the breezy “if-you-meet-the-Buddha,-kill-him” pronouncements of the catch-all newage. After all, if my creed or my practices might be shown (or indeed are assumed to be destined to be shown) to be just “fingers pointing at the moon,” to use another too-flippant phrase, how do I engage them mindfully?
Frankfurt is mostly concerned with bullshit when it is directed outward; when the bullshitter is merely trying to advance an agenda and to persuade others. In another age, this was what was called sophistry; it was, for instance, the art of “making the weaker cause appear the stronger.” When deconstruction was compared to sophistry by its detractors, this was part of the case they were making. In fact, the comparison runs quite deep. While I hold Derrida to be a pleasure to read (at least certain books, and not always the usual suspects), too many of his imitators in the late ’80s and early ’90s excelled in simply avoiding saying anything, and doing so at great length. An uncharitable interpretation of this would be that such writing was bullshit through and through—indifferent to any truth-claims whatsoever, it was intended only to advance the author’s career. Of course, one can only do this so long before one is bullshitting oneself as well. This is all the more dangerous where the religious is in question, precisely because here the issue is far more worth caring about than one’s academic advancement. Though I have reservations about the Sartrean way of speaking of authenticity, Sartre’s critique of bad faith in Being and Nothingness ought to be read and memorized by anyone who would guard against such self-deception.
In short, one must know that at every step one risks mere pretense, and one must, in contrast to the bullshitter, care very deeply—care so much that one would “stake one’s soul” on the matter. This is what Tillich calls the “ultimate concern” which is the object of faith. Work out your salvation in fear and trembling.
But I would rather say, perhaps, that the realization I have in mind is that one has, as it were, “staked one’s soul;” one sees not some new value to which one must now give assent, but rather the pure clarity of what are the values to which one has already assented. (Pascal: “If you had not found Me you would not seek Me.”)
Realization cannot be forced; it cannot be compelled; it is not the object of any technique, but comes after all the techniques have run out. Even in a Buddhist context a language strongly suggestive of “grace” starts to be heard around this. In a recent post I again had recourse to Gabriel Marcel’s distinction between problems and mysteries. In Being and Having, Marcel writes:
A problem is something which I meet, which I find complete before me, but which I can therefore lay siege to and reduce. But a mystery is something in which I am myself involved, and it can therefore only be thought of as a sphere where the distinction between what is in me and what is before me loses its meaning and initial validity. A genuine problem is subject to an appropriate technique by the exercise of which it is defined; whereas a mystery by definition transcends every conceivable technique.But openness to realization can be cultivated. It is cultivated, even, in the very devotion to understanding by means of these imperfect models—these crystal spheres, these cycles of prayer, these tables of elements arrayed in ascending order of atomic weight—knowing that these models will need revision and more than revision. This is (I have urged), the whole secret of the tradition known by that hoary word “philosophy,” whether “philosophers” know it or not: there is a trope by which one’s model incorporates the collapse of the model.
And yet. And yet, for all the gravity and fear and trembling, there’s a lightness to faith that belies any sanctimony. All of one’s arrangements of ceremony and correspondence, all one’s synchronized crystal spheres arranged with perfect feng shui, all one’s techniques, may well, indeed shall, turn out to be a great stage-set of skillful means. (There have always been critiques of the sampads, and always someone is clearing their throat to remind us that the lion and the horse do not picture God this way). Even this well-tuned neuronal system of ours, our theatre of sensation and emotion and memory, could meet the same fate: it too may be an ingeniously-contrived (albeit fortuitous) amalgam of techniques. But all of these nonetheless cultivate and give some fleeting glimpse of reality, this thing of which we cannot say what it is like, because this is not to the point.
As I was finishing the edits on this post a commenter sent me the link to Simon Critchley's most recent philosophy column in the NY Times, on Kierkegaard's Works of Love. A sample:
Faith has the character of a continuous “striving … in which you get occasion to be tried every day.” This is why faith and the commandment of love that it seeks to sustain is not law. It has no coercive, external force. As Rosenzweig writes, “The commandment of love can only proceed from the mouth of the lover.” He goes on to contrast this with law, “which reckons with times, with a future, with duration.” By contrast, the commandment of love “knows only the moment; it awaits the result in the very moment of its promulgation.” The commandment of love is mild and merciful, but, as Kierkegaard insists, “there is rigor in it.” We might say love is that disciplined act of absolute spiritual daring that eviscerates the old self of externality so something new and inward can come into being.The contrast drawn here is akin to the one I see between "technique" and whatever comes after or despite technique, and I commend this article by Critchley precisely as a rumination on faith by one who stands self-consciously outside any creed. And, as I read the (inevitably, tiresomely, automatically) acrimonious comments, I am painfully aware (and I say this as a believer who was not always one) of how much like bullshit faith--or at least, talking about faith--looks, from the outside.
This acrimony plays its role in why, as I wrote last post, I tend to be more conciliatory than combative, more interested in synthesis than attack. But it does not trouble me too much. It is not for no reason that the language of faith very often has recourse to metaphors (sampads?) of seeds and sprouting. Faith may be precisely the faith that even the bullshit is there for the sake of (precisely) cultivating something else. But this presumes, of course, that one has planted something other than bullshit.