and them look down and hear me. That might take some of
the shine off their bliss.
~ Samuel Beckett ~
Nothing new here for a while, I know. Partly, it's been because of events in my personal life -- i.e., that part of my existence I cordon off from what? Its more weighty impersonal, aspects? WTF, I agree. But my absence without leave was also because I've been slumming again -- I can't seem to help myself -- in the religion department. Mostly on Amazon, as usual, but also tonight in the brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble in lovely downtown Boulder.
And whoa! Have they ever made some changes there since I last dropped by. Suddenly it seems there are many more religion aisles to slum in. Unless it's my imagination, the Philosophy section seems considerably smaller, as do Science and Psychology. But New Age and Astrology and Wicca and various subcategories of The Occult have grown, along with Christianity, and (no, not the same thing, Virginia) Religion. The whole place has taken on a distinctly spiritual atmosphere in which titles like A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory and Pomosexuals: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality seem a bit uncomfortable jammed up against Surrendering Your Life for God's Pleasure on one side, and on the other The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship -- the latter being "A Toltec Wisdom Book" that suggests if you want to imagine the perfect lover, you consider your dog. An Amazon reader gives a pretty close paraphrasing of this astounding insight...
Ruiz compares the ideal relationship to the one we have with our pet -- say our dog. The relationship with our dog is perfect because we get exactly what we expect from our dog. We never wish that our dog would be better at being a dog, and we love it freely just as it is. Yet with our mate we tend not to accept them as they are...I wonder if the mismatch between the singular "mate" and the plural pronoun "them" is a clue here. Perhaps "our mate" has Multiple Personality Disorder. That would explain a lot. And of course, most dogs don't have this problem unless they live on the Upper West Side. So maybe that's what Don Miguel was trying to say. Who fucking knows with these Toltec Wisdom types?
I can only take so much of Barnes & Noble these days. Which is why I was happy to get back home to Amazon and make the acquaintance of Tomoko Masuzawa.
Wow, what a great book cover. I mean, what is that guy doing? Inventing world religions, one supposes. Got his wrench out and everything. The book copy says...
The idea of "world religions" expresses a vague commitment to multiculturalism. Not merely a descriptive concept, "world religions" is actually a particular ethos, a pluralist ideology, a logic of classification, and a form of knowledge that has shaped the study of religion and infiltrated ordinary language.
The words "vague" and "infiltrated" are definite clues here. We are not -- thank God -- in the hands of Huston Smith and the cloyingly ecumenical perspective of The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. Note that "tradition" is a code word here, though you'd never know it lest you'd scryed deeply as I have, Matey, into the veritable heart o' things. Arrrggh! Consider the following, in which we have ignition, Huston ... no, I mean where Mr. Smith goes to Washington... no, I mean... Ah, fuck it.
The Wisdom Traditions (p. 386)
Note that he does not ask: "Where is the patient etherized upon a table?"
But further pursuing the theme of these wisdom traditions...
In traditional times it was assumed that they disclosed the ultimate nature of reality. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries scientists began to cast doubt on that assumption; for Scriptures only assert truths, whereas controlled experiments can prove scientific hypotheses. After three centuries of confusion on this point, however, we now see that such proofs hold only for the empirical world. The worthful aspects of reality -- its values, meaning, and purpose -- slip through the devices of science the way the sea slips through the nets of fishermen.Leaving aside the editor's failure to change that last to fisherpersons, this passage raises a number of questions.
So let's get back to basics, shall we? Let's lighten up. Let's hie ourselves hither to some semblance, however tenuous, of concrete historical reality.
For another, deeper take on what the code word "tradition" means, try Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century by Mark Sedgwick (who kindly replied to my mail from his base in Egypt). Here's a great blurb from a guy who -- unlike so many who write about this sort of thing -- knows what he's talking about.
Mark Sedgwick shows how Traditionalism is a major influence on religion, politics, even international relations. Famous scholars, theosophists and masons, Gnostic ascetics and Sufi sheikhs, jostle with neo-fascists, terrorists and Islamists in their defection from a secular, materialist West. As a study of esotericism and Western images of the East, Against the Modern World compares in importance with Edward Said's monumental Orientalism. Likewise, it deserves the widest readership."
A pissed off Amazon reviewer (it's worth reading the whole thing to see what he's so bent about) says that Sedgwick
...betrays his fundamental ignorance of the fact that Traditionalism is not and has never been a spiritual perspective intended for the "broad masses."I don't think so. I think we all got that part. And that part is a whole lot of the problem -- because "spiritual" elitism sucks no less than the "profane" kind. In fact, there are those -- I among them -- who would argue that it sucks a whole lot more. Allow me to illustrate...
OK, all right, I'll be the first to admit that I am demonstrating a reprehensibly bad attitude here, and that this is hardly...
Many academics in the hugely conflicted field of religious studies are naturally concerned with that very issue. However, as I am no academic (I'm a little teapot) and this is not a liberal arts curriculum (it's a fuckin blog) we need not dwell overlong on these thorny matters of pedagogy. And thus continuing in no particular order...
Henry Corbin writes in Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth (p. 91):
"In our Shaikh's anthropology it is established that
the human being possesses two jasad and two jism..."
In his introduction to Alone With the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, Harold Bloom writes of the author...
Henry Corbin's works are the best guide to the visionary tradition.... Corbin, like Scholem and Jonas, is remembered as a scholar of genius. He was uniquely equipped not only to recover Iranian Sufism for the West, but also to defend the principal Western traditions of esoteric spirituality.
Esoteric spirituality, ah yes, lest we forget. You will perhaps recall Dr. Bloom as the indefatigable Yalie cheerleader for Ralph Waldo Emerson and all things Transcendental, as well as the nonpareil proselytizer for Gnosticism as both trend and destination of American Religion. Suffice it to say: fuck this guy.
More to my taste by far is The Western Construction of Religion: Myths, Knowledge, and Ideology by Daniel Dubuisson. While it may not sound it from the title, this is one kickass tome. Here's a sample...
In the face of these huge, mobile, and infinitely complex symbolic complexes, the explanations offered by the history of religions often turn out to be feeble. Either they invoke supernatural processes and a mysterious Beyond that is the source and receptacle of absolute signification, or they borrow their interpretations from some other discipline -- depth psychology, sociology, or even biology. Eliade is a quite remarkable example in this respect, especially if we recall that he incarnated one of the principal and most powerful currents in the modern history of religions, and that as such he was received and honored by the most prestigious universities. (p. 87)Most interesting, to me, is Dubuisson's pairing of the manifest destinarian mentality (my phrasing not his) underlying the history of the "history of religions" with a certain favorite personality disorder. See if you can spot it.
Through the idea of religion, the West continually speaks of itself to itself, even when it speaks of others. For when it does so, it is implicitly in relation to the perfected model that it thinks itself to be. This is narcissistic objectification. (p. 95; emphasis mine)
I wasn't going to include that grafik, though I was curiously browsing through the book -- which talks a fair bit about Chögyam Trungpa, who first invited me to Boulder nearly 30 years ago -- plus, I did like the cover-dude's shades. But what turned the trick was yet another unexpected trip to Synchronicity City. Seems the author, Donald Lopez, is married to Tomoko Masuzawa -- remember her from way back up near the top of this thing? -- who inspired this post in the first place. I was looking for more
I worry that the foregoing ramble lacks a certain something in the linearity department. Did you find it confusing, dense? Perhaps a tad telegraphic? Ah well. Notes to myself then. However, unless I am stopped by outraged lawyers or a fusillade of bullets from some self-styled Gnostic, this sort of thing is definitely to be continued...
comparative religion in the postmodern age