The Sense of the Sacred Worldwide

  • The Sense of the Sacred Worldwide

    Posted by Don Salmon on September 26, 2022 at 4:51 pm

    Hi,

    The title of this group is very interesting and I was hoping there would be some discussions. Perhaps my background would help

    1. Jewish ancestors

    2. Brought up in the Unitarian church thought became an atheist at age 7

    3. Through Kant, ee cummings, Plato and William Blake, shifted to agnosticism around age 15

    4. Age 17, had an experience of God all pervading and thus “the search” began

    5. 1974-1984, studied meditation with Indian philosophy professor formerly of Columbia University, in the tradition of Sri Aurobindo (combines Vedic, Vedantic and Tantric practices)

    6. 1992-1994, studied Sufi meditation (Islamic mysticism) with Welsh teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-lee.

    7. 1996, studied Tibetan Buddhism

    8. 2006-2019, studied Kriya Yoga with a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda, Roy Eugene Davis.

    Over the years, participant and leader in numerous Christian contemplative groups.

    Finally, as psychologist, conducted research into meditation and lucid dreams, with the hopes of contributing to the integration of spirituality and psychology. part of that work has included studying the neurophysiology and psychology of attention, and how attention is at the root of ALL contemplative practices (one famous Zen story has a disciple who complains Zen teaching is too complicated, and asks his teacher to give him a short summary of the essence of Zen. The teacher replies, “Attention.”

    I’d love to hear from others about practical ways you find Iain’s work informing and enlivening your sense of the sacred.

    Mark Harragin replied 1 year, 5 months ago 3 Members · 14 Replies
  • 14 Replies
  • Mark Delepine

    Organizer
    October 10, 2022 at 11:15 am

    Apologies for such a tardy response but I am only beginning to explore participating here and do not receive prompts. Hopefully that will change.

    How has reading McGilchrist enlivened my sense of the sacred? The first ‘thing’ that comes to mind is how it has challenged my conception of what “truth” is or can be. Before I’d have said it is simply correspondence between what language states and how things stand in the world. That is true in part of course but is that all there is to it? I realized otherwise when I read what Iain wrote on the nature of “belief”. I remember feeling exasperated with the wishful Christian notion of belief in my youth. Back then I would have expected that ones “belief” should fairly reflect that which they find the most reason to think true, another passive and limited account. If pressed I would probably have described that thinking as a weighing of evidence for competing hypotheses. Obviously my thinking then was grounded in a disposition to view truth through an exclusively rational lens, a venture I no longer believe it is qualified for. It never occurred to me then to question the adequacy of that lens or it’s neutrality. On pages 170 and 171 in TMAHE that complacent perspective got a much needed wake up call. I hope I can be forgiven for sharing this long quote that I have abridged to share in letters to a few Christian friends and relatives:

    “Believing is not to be reduced to thinking that such-and-such might be the case. It is not a weaker form of thinking, laced with doubt. Sometimes we speak like this: ‘I believe that the train leaves at 6:13’, where ‘I believe that’ simply means that ‘I think (but am not certain that’. Since the left hemisphere is concerned with what is certain, with knowledge of the facts, its version of belief is that it is just absence of certainty. If the facts were certain, according to its view, I should be able to say ‘I know that’ instead. This view of belief comes from the left hemisphere’s dispositions toward the world: interest in what is useful, therefore fixed and certain (the train timetable is no good if one can’t rely on it). So belief is just a feeble form of knowledge.

    But belief in terms of the right hemisphere is different, because its disposition towards the world is different. The right hemisphere does not ‘know’ anything, in the sense of certain knowledge. For it, belief is a matter of care: it describes a relationship, where there is a calling and an answering, the root concept of ‘responsibility’. Thus if I say that ‘I believe in you’, it does not mean that I think such-and-such things are the case about you, but can’t be certain I am right. It means that I stand in a certain relationship of care towards you, that entails me behaving (acting and being) towards you, and entails on you certain ways of acting and being as well. it is an ‘acting as if’ certain things were true about you that in the nature of things cannot be certain. … I think this is what Wittgenstein was trying to express when he wrote that ‘my’ attitude towards the other is an attitude towards a soul. I am not of the opinion that he has a soul. An ‘opinion’ would be a weak form of knowledge: that is not what is meant by a belief, a disposition or an ‘attitude’.

    This helps illuminate belief in God. This is not reducible to a factual answer to the question ‘does God exist?’ … It is having an attitude, holding a disposition to the world, whereby that world, as it comes into being for me, is one in which God belongs. The belief alters the world but also alters me. … One cannot believe in nothing and thus avoid belief altogether, simply because one cannot have no disposition toward the world at all, that being in itself a disposition. Some people believe in materialism, they act ‘as if’ such a philosophy were true. …Believing is not to be reduced to thinking that such-and-such might be the case. It is not a weaker form of thinking, laced with doubt. Sometimes we speak like this: ‘I believe that the train leaves at 6:13’, where ‘I believe that’ simply means that ‘I think (but am not certain that’. Since the left hemisphere is concerned with what is certain, with knowledge of the facts, its version of belief is that it is just absence of certainty. If the facts were certain, according to its view, I should be able to say ‘I know that’ instead. This view of belief comes from the left hemisphere’s dispositions toward the world: interest in what is useful, therefore fixed and certain (the train timetable is no good if one can’t rely on it). So belief is just a feeble form of knowledge.

    But belief in terms of the right hemisphere is different, because its disposition towards the world is different. The right hemisphere does not ‘know’ anything, in the sense of certain knowledge. For it, belief is a matter of care: it describes a relationship, where there is a calling and an answering, the root concept of ‘responsibility’. Thus if I say that ‘I believe in you’, it does not mean that I think such-and-such things are the case about you, but can’t be certain I am right. It means that I stand in a certain relationship of care towards you, that entails me behaving (acting and being) towards you, and entails on you certain ways of acting and being as well. it is an ‘acting as if’ certain things were true about you that in the nature of things cannot be certain. … I think this is what Wittgenstein was trying to express when he wrote that ‘my’ attitude towards the other is an attitude towards a soul. I am not of the opinion that he has a soul. An ‘opinion’ would be a weak form of knowledge: that is not what is meant by a belief, a disposition or an ‘attitude’.

    This helps illuminate belief in God. This is not reducible to a factual answer to the question ‘does God exist?’ … It is having an attitude, holding a disposition to the world, whereby that world, as it comes into being for me, is one in which God belongs. The belief alters the world but also alters me. … One cannot believe in nothing and thus avoid belief altogether, simply because one cannot have no disposition toward the world at all, that being in itself a disposition. Some people believe in materialism, they act ‘as if’ such a philosophy were true…”

    • Don Salmon

      Member
      October 18, 2022 at 7:28 pm

      Hi Mark:

      I didn’t always get prompts either, but you might check – if you don’t get one now, write to the web folks; after the first few weeks I started getting regular prompts.

      just one thought – something beyond BOTH hemispheres, I think.

      There’s a beautiful word in Sanskrit, “shraddha,” which is sometimes translated as “faith.” Sri Aurobindo poetically describes it as “the light of the yet uprisen sun.”

      That is, it is intimations shining forth from the depths of the Kingdom of Heaven within (from the Buddha Nature, the Tao, Allah; whatever word you wish to use).

      From what little I know of orthodox Christian theology, this may have been the original meaning of faith but it has been corrupted in the modern, heavily LH age to mean mental belief.

      My sense is just the way we all here have been responding to TMWT goes beyond LH AND RH – it is something that has touched our souls, thirsty for nourishment in this dry materialist desert of a world.

      ****

      By the way, be mindful of whether you click “Notify me of replies via email” when you post a response. If you don’t you won’t get a prompt.

  • Mark Delepine

    Organizer
    October 19, 2022 at 7:00 pm

    Thanks Don. I did get this notification and I am being sure to request notification now.

    You said:

    “just one thought – something beyond BOTH hemispheres, I think.”


    I agree there is ‘something’ more but I balk at describing what it is as being beyond or apart from what we are; though it may well be, I don’t start off assuming that. The part I concern myself with is the experiences we can have directly apart from any wisdom tradition. Many atheists online seem to assume religion arose to explain ordinary phenomena, a primitive attempt at science. But I don’t think that is it at all. God belief, I suspect, arose to make sense of awe and wonder, particularly in relation to the seasons, fertility and mortality. I tell my Christian friends I believe that religion arose to provide a shared, cultural basis for this understanding. So whatever it may be, it is real, dynamic and important. Seeking proofs for or against what one thinks it is is beside the point. One might as well argue that love and reverence are merely by products of our biochemistry, as if such a conclusion could be of any use in how we live our lives.


    The particulars which make up the forms God assumes in any culture, I assume, have evolved to provide a context for the sacred. No particular carrier is explicitly wrong or right apart from its adequacy to carry and transmit a proper regard for the sacred. That is necessary because the sacred must always compete with what is useful and expedient to our immediate concerns and for much of our human tenure subsistence was job number one. Paradoxically our success (virulence) as a species has depended on our capacity to sublimate our inclination to act for our immediate private advantage to acting for the greater good. Culturally we have evolved to viscerally feel our meaning and fulfillment tied into the greater good.


    In passing judgement on the forms the sacred has taken, it is important to look with a poetic eye, what the American Jungian Hillman would have described as “in an as-if” manner. Every literalization of God inadvertently diminishes it. Christians personify God because we have no mundane category that is higher by which to exalt it. But any way it is expressed will leave it open to ridicule by those who have no need or regard for anything sacred. It is always possible to live a life exclusively concerned with what is instrumentally focused on personal advantage no matter how devoid of meaning and and fulfillment that is for our humanity. But doing so will never satisfy so long as we believe there is something greater which can inform how we see our place in the world. Only then can we cheerfully take on our roles as emissary.


    You said:

    “There’s a beautiful word in Sanskrit, “shraddha,” which is sometimes translated as “faith.” Sri Aurobindo poetically describes it as “the light of the yet uprisen sun.”

    That is, it is intimations shining forth from the depths of the Kingdom of Heaven within (from the Buddha Nature, the Tao, Allah; whatever word you wish to use).”

    If that carries your sacred water, wonderful. I agree the choice of words doesn’t matter and neither does the iconography or narrative- apart from its representational adequacy. The proof is in the pudding, not quasi logical wordplay intended to win new adherents to one’s preferred vessel. (Not that I see you as selling yours but of course Christianity is often obsessed with its “Great Commission”. The more thoughtful Christians will take this seriously. Recently I read an interesting book by Myron Penner entitled The End Of Apologetics which we discussed here:

    https://discourse.biologos.org/t/the-end-of-apologetics-christian-witness-in-a-postmodern-context-by-myron-b-penner/49565https://discourse.biologos.org/t/the-end-of-apologetics-christian-witness-in-a-postmodern-context-by-myron-b-penner/49565

    You said:

    “My sense is just the way we all here have been responding to TMWT goes beyond LH AND RH – it is something that has touched our souls, thirsty for nourishment in this dry materialist desert of a world.just one thought – something beyond BOTH hemispheres, .. “

    Yes. I don’t think any of us here think that the soul or the sacred is reducible to brain lateralization but it has been a godsend as a basis for our narrow focused minds to grasp how the sacred and the secular can peacefully and productively cohabitate and help us to accept a sanity preserving perspective on our place in the world.

    You said:

    “From what little I know of orthodox Christian theology, this may have been the original meaning of faith but it has been corrupted in the modern, heavily LH age to mean mental belief.”

    Right, what Iain describes as cognitive assent in that lengthy quote I included in my last reply.

  • Mark Harragin

    Member
    December 29, 2022 at 8:04 am

    Hi Don,

    You’ve been on an amazing life journey.

    Informing and enlivening my sense of the sacred, yes, two things(!):

    1. Iain introduces “God” as an un-word – standing for that which is ineffable.

    2. The word belief etymologised back to the root word for love.

    These two linguistic deconstructions help open me to, well, love, or God, myself, my loved ones, and all.

  • Don Salmon

    Member
    December 29, 2022 at 10:03 pm

    Hi Mark and Mark!

    To Mark Delepine, there’s probably not much more that I could add but to say, practice of contemplation makes these kinds of discussions into something quite radically different. Here’s one framework from Tibetan Buddhist Alan Wallace

    1. Very gently almost effortlessly attend to the spontaneous flow of breath. When you can do this – on a regular basis – for at least one hour without being carried away by thought, go on to step 2

    2. Very gently almost effortlessly attend to the spontaneous flow of thoughts emotions, and any other phenomena arising in the mind. When you can do this – on a regular basis – for at least one hour without being carried away by thought, go on to step 3

    3. Very gently almost effortlessly rest in the experience of simply being aware. When you can do this – on a regular basis – for at least one hour without being carried away by thought, turn your attention “around” and silently inquire: What is it that is aware of this awareness?

    This is said to lead to perfect complete enlightenment. You’ll notice gradually that all of what you thought was your effort was being done for you. Then all discussion of God will become superfluous, just as in the Bhagavad Gita, it is said the wise person has as much need of sacred scripture as do inhabitants of a town need a well when the whole town is surrounded by a vast lake.

    To Mark Harigan, everything I just wrote could be summed up by the word “unGod.” let go of all concepts (which is essentially what the Buddhist practice helps you do) and then we’ll talk!:>)))

  • Mark Delepine

    Organizer
    December 30, 2022 at 11:58 am

    Thank you Don. Regarding:

    “This is said to lead to perfect complete enlightenment. You’ll notice gradually that all of what you thought was your effort was being done for you. Then all discussion of God will become superfluous”

    Thought has always been a gift, not my own creation.

    Discussions of God are superfluous but challenging to find out if it and where any of us have the exact same notion of what is being discussed. God as a being makes no sense to me but I get that others may employ it as such for other ends than making sense.

    My practice continues to be making my garden and walks with my dogs. I’m not dissatisfied. 😉

    • Don Salmon

      Member
      December 30, 2022 at 12:52 pm

      “God as a being makes no sense to me”

      I’m not aware of any religion, philosophy, mystic tradition, contemplative practice, yogic teaching, etc – anywhere on the planet, at any time in thousands of years of history, that genuinely takes “God” to be “A” being.

      It’s kind of amusing. If you had never taken a class in physics (and perhaps you haven’t, or maybe you were a physicist, but imagine you had never read a book or taken a class on it) I’m willing to bet that you would feel somewhat hesitant to state your beliefs regarding the nature of gravity, electricity, the laws of nature, etc. Similarly with neuroscience, or engineering.

      yet most people feel that religion/philosophy/psychology/yogic understanding is so superficial that it’s easy to dismiss it all while knowing essentially nothing about it.

      In the bibliography of both of iain’s books, I would say that the best book of all is David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God: Existence Consciousness Bliss.” The last 3 words (Existence consciousness bliss) are a translation of the Indian name for Absolute, Infinite Being – Sat Chit Ananda.

      one of the first points Hart makes in the book (and he repeats this many other places in his writings) is that most people who know little about philosophy speak of God as if it were A being. God is not A anything. the Word “God” refers to unthinkable, inconceivable, infinite, Being utterly and infinitely beyond all concepts.

      Now, most people ignore the modifiers here, but the first step toward having even an infinitesimal glimpse of what the words in the previous sentence point to is to take seriously that this infinite Being is:

      unthinkable

      inconceivable

      infinitely beyond all concepts

      in a sense, that might substantiate your claim that it’s useless to discuss God. The key word which is correct here is “discuss.”

      The first thing you learn in Contemplation 101 is all discussion goes out the window. Plotinus is famous for saying “From discussion let us go to vision.”

      But vision also is unthinkable, inconceivable, infinitely beyond all concepts.

      Now, all that you’ve written is within a kind of left-hemisphere conceptual box. But unthinkable and inconceivable are beyond the right hemisphere too.

      So basically, the way I put it, to simplify things, is there’s no point in even having a conversation about infinite Being unless you’ve developed the capacity to be fully, vividly aware while at the same time verbal thinking is completely silent.

      When you can do this for at least one hour, then it actually IS possible to have a genuine conversation about infinite Being. But it won’t be ABOUT infinite Being, it will BE infinite Being!

  • Mark Delepine

    Organizer
    December 31, 2022 at 12:53 am

    I’m sorry if you don’t find yourself receiving the respect you feel you have earned for the expertise you’ve acquired by way of study with notable experts. But whether or not you feel others are worthy to speak on these subjects, I hope they will do so as I will too. That’s why I’m here and why I started this sub forum.

    I doubt if anyone is here to receive passive instruction from experts on a discussion forums. If I had expertise relevant to the topics Iain writes about, I’d take his example to heart and make that as accessible as possible. He never argues a point based on his credentials or accomplishments. Arguments from authority are the weakest.

  • Mark Harragin

    Member
    December 31, 2022 at 7:21 am

    Reading TMWT has sustained my intellectual interest for most of 2022. The experience was similar to climbing a mountain, like Kilimanjaro (Kenya childhood), the lower altitudes arduous, too weighed down with science, then more wondrous as the chapters progressed, culminating with chapter 28, the air thin but champagne fresh and sparkling, the view infinite. McG constructed this book with so much meticulous care, attention to detail. Reading was like being held in a warm loving embrace. My intellect baulked and grumbled (“too much science!”). My body held, my soul nourished.

    • Don Salmon

      Member
      December 31, 2022 at 1:58 pm

      Hi Mark:

      Beautifully (and clearly) expressed. Mark D’s comment left me flummoxed, as what I wrote was the exact opposite of an appeal to authority (I don’t know if he thought my brief aside referring to Hart’s book – which is in Iain’s bibliography, was meant as part of some ‘argument”)

      I mention this because the instructions I gave from Alan Wallace are meant to be practiced, not agreed with or disagreed with.

      It’s actually quite fascinating comparing your comments with Mark D’s. What you described here and in your other comments is experiential. I tried in my suggestion for practice to direct Mark D’s attention away from abstract theorizing to a concrete scientific experiment in contemplation, but I guess while in abstract theoretical mode, it must have seemed like more theorizing (or an “appeal to authority”)

      It’s always been interesting challenge, one I found as a psychologist, mindfulness teacher and especially in teaching music. If your whole way of approaching the world is through abstract, indirect left hemisphere activity, how do you invite people into right hemisphere experiential awareness, when everything you say is filtered through the abstract (and often quite argumentative) left hemisphere?

      It reminds me of one of Iain’s favorite stories of his life as a med student. he had a patient who had a stroke and lost the use of his left arm. Iain was doing rounds and asked how the patient’s arm was, and he said, “Oh, it’s fine.”

      Iain tried all kinds of ways to talk to him about the problems with his arm, but the patient kept insisting (not lying, actually BELIEVING IT) it was fine. Finally Iain went over and lifted the patient’s arm up, asked him to keep it raised, and then let go.

      of course the arm dropped back to the bed. When Iain pointed this out, the patient said, “Oh, that’s not my arm, that’s the arm of the guy in the next bed.”

      I’ll say it again – not as an argument but EXPERIENCE:

      Try the experiment I suggested – observing the breath, then the passing thoughts, then simply being aware of awareness.

      See what happens. The only authority here is you.

      • Mark Delepine

        Organizer
        December 31, 2022 at 5:44 pm

        Well I have tried to be patient with you but the greater pains I take to be kind the more strident you become in your slander and character assassination.

        Isn’t it clear to you that I am uninterested in your spiritual/psychological guidance? For an enlightened fellow you seem to lack any insight into how your words turn me against you. Is there some reason you feel entitled to act as the troll on these forums making other people’s attempt to enjoy discussion with others a misery?

        For the last time: stay out of my business. Do not discuss me nor address any comment to me. I would prefer you haunt a different sub forum or start your own. You are not welcome here.

  • Mark Harragin

    Member
    December 31, 2022 at 7:27 am

    Correction: reading TMWT has sustained me.

  • Don Salmon

    Member
    December 31, 2022 at 6:13 pm

    Mark D, I’m sorry you keep misunderstanding me. Nothing I’ve said is the slightest bit insulting. Nor has anything I said been meant to “teach you.” If you want to try the practice, try it. If you don’t, don’t. But don’t be concerned, I won’t return to this group unless you write another comment completely misrepresenting everything I’ve said.

    So why don’t we mutually accept silence?

  • Mark Harragin

    Member
    December 31, 2022 at 8:20 pm

    Thanks very much for your comment on my last post Don. In the intro to this group Mark D has “thoughts about how it should be possible to be a professing Christian and appreciate the insights of the divided brain hypothesis.” I trust Mark D you are happy to widen the scope to include professing anything and appreciating the insights of the DBH. I notice this group has 25 members. I’d love to hear more from others on how they’ve been impacted by McG’s chapter 28, the DBH with respect to whatever religious affiliation or none.

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