Reply To: The world is not a problem – Iain McGilchrist and Dougald Hine

  • Don Salmon

    April 30, 2023 at 11:04 pm

    Interesting. You might read Jon Blofeld’s “Secret and Sublime.”

    It is very far from the scholar’s version of spirituality.

    Blofeld had spent a lifetime practicing Buddhist meditation. He already understood that what Meister Eckhart meant by “the Godhead” was no different from the Buddhist Nirvana.

    Funny, I’ll add as an aside, that just today a friend sent me a comment by Thomas Merton that the 3rd Century Desert Fathers’ understanding of God was much closer to that of the Zen tradition than most theology or scholarly understanding of it.

    And perhaps you know of David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God: “Existence Consciousness Bliss,” in which he claims that the Sat-Chit-Ananda of the Indian tradition (the translation of which is existence consciousness bliss) is the underlying common grand of all spiritual traditions, including the Taoist – and remember, Hart may be among the greatest Orthodox theologians alive.

    Anyway, back to Blofeld. He looked far and wide in 1930s China for someone who could speak to him of the very roots of the Taoist tradition and was referred to ‘an old sage”who lived atop a mountain. He climbed very high in very cold weather and when he got there, the sage was in the midst of meditation. he was quite irritable and exhausted, and sat somewhat stressed out waiting.

    As he continued to wait, he became aware of strange but deeply blissful sensations and at some point felt he was expanding out to infinity.

    Suddenly the experience came to an end and he was back to his irritable self. He realized just at that moment, the sage’s meditation had ended.

    They had a long talk, and the sage dissuaded him from trying to connect Buddhist philosophic concepts with Taoist ones. He said there is only one Tao – some call it God, some Nirvana, some Allah. He added that he knew scholars would quibble, but then as long as one is caught up in verbal thought one can never understand this Oneness which is beyond Oneness

    Toward the end of their conversation, Blofeld quoted the 19th century life of Buddha by Sir Edwin Arnold, where Nirvana is described as “the dewdrop slipping into the shining sea.”

    The sage was impressed but added, “There is one limitation to your simile. Indeed, the dewdrop does merge with the ocean and become the infinite, but though this is inconceivable logical, though becoming the infinite, no individuality is lost – in fact, individuality is multiplied infinitely.

    Final thought. Krishnaprem (a British man who was the first ever accepted into the Indian devotional order of Vaishnavas – a man who was a science prodigy as a child) writes about words and symbols in a fascinating essay. He recalled theologian Rudolf Otto’s discussion of whether Meister Eckhart’s Godhead, Shankara’s Nirguna Brahman, and the Buddhist Nirvana are the “same” or “different.”

    What is the same and different, he goes on to ask. obviously, the words are different, and to some extent, the concepts are different, since Reality is Infinite and there are infinite aspects to it. But there is only one Reality, and there are not even a half dozen Absolutes floating around in the sky.

    When you look at the extreme apophatic tradition going back to Dionysus, where you cannot say ANYTHING about God, it’s quite hard to argue THAT is the same or different that the Tao. For me, Paul said it best, quoting a secular Greek poet who lived several centuries prior to him, that the Reality the Jews referred to as “G-d” is that “in which we live and move and have our being.” Not just a “way” (the dharma, in Buddhism) but the dharmakaya – the whole universe being, in a way, a way – a way we live and move and have our being.

    But if you completely eliminate all verbal thought – everything I just wrote, as Thomas Aquinas noted of his own lifetime of writing – turns to dust, and then all is clear.