Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The urgency of making distinctions

I was in a minor spat with another poster on a discussion board the other day. The poster said that he intended to revolutionize mysticism by putting words to the ineffable; I called him an idiot or a fool or some such fungible word (folly, it seems, is highly "effable" in English), and ended the conversation.

I have not gotten back there recently due to illness, and so I can't say I saw all of the aftermath, but there seemed to be some shock and a few words to the effect that "everyone in your path is put there to learn from" and other well-how-can-anyone-know-what-is-foolish kind of statements. I'm not here to rehash the incident away from the board (I'll do that, if at all, at the board); I'm here to address the importance of making clear distinctions.

The world's wisdom literature is full of accomplished mystics calling other people fools, and worse. Were one not attuned to the reasons why, it would seem, say, that the patient, kindly, wise one on page 19, who sat up all night with a distraught parent, and who on page 24 gave away his robe in a snowstorm, on page 35 suddenly, inexplicably, thunders "fool" at a visitor who said no more than a word or two, and throws him out on his ear.

Those wise ones sure are inexplicable, right? Surely that  last anecdote wasn't intended to be an example for us, like all the other anecdotes were, right???

Making such distinctions to the best of one's ability is an imperative, not an option and not a special prerogative of a handful of great masters from great books.  A mystic pursues Truth and nothing else. Admitting ego nonsense and delusion, and setting it it up as an equal to Wisdom with a shrug of ones shoulders and a sigh of "how could anyone hope to tell which is which?" is cowardice at best. If one is mystic enough to know what mysticism is, one has tools to begin to make distinctions between wisdom and foolishness.

What tools? An earlier post of mine that unfortunately lost its title in the move points to them:
If one is steeped in the Western tradition of prayer, sooner or later in among all the words has to enter the thought “why am I praising That which needs no praise? Why am I asking things of That which already knows everything I would ask about? What function does all the noise I make serve, except to display my insolence?” Then, the most natural prayer in the world is silent contemplation of the Divine.

Such prayer is absolutely indistinguishable from most forms of Eastern meditation. There is a trend, in fact, to call it “meditation”, so that the general public knows what is being talked about. Or, worse, to label it “centering prayer” and then to teach it as a technique, much as yoga is taught. But it’s not a technique. It’s a state of mind that simply sprouts after one has tilled the soil long enough.
Somewhere after the point where practices converge, so too does theology, which is to say that it disappears. Whether one calls it emptying or repentance or yielding or surrendering, one cannot cling to dogma with a deeply silent mind, not even to the dogma that brought one to silence.

Any sound path will converge at that same point.

Where does something point? Does it point towards that point of convergence, at least for the individual who believes it? If they are promoting it as truth, might it lead their listeners closer to that point of convergence, or are they inadvertently misleading others? Is it a suffering individual looking for answers (looking for answers is not the mark of a fool). Or is it just another example of something that aimlessly meanders the fields of ignorance?  Sometimes the answer may not be obvious. But it  is important to try to recognize the differences.

So does that mean that every time one spots foolishness, one shouts "fool!"? Of course not. Aside from the obvious risk to one's vocal cords from shouting "fool" all day and night (often at the mirror ;-) ), one has to exercise some judgment. There are times to suffer foolishness in order to get something else constructive accomplished. There are times to suffer foolishness because sometimes by stringing a fool out one can reveal the foolishness to the fool and/or observers.  Sometimes shouting "fool" will bring about harm to oneself and accomplish nothing constructive. Sometimes it is best that someone else point out the foolishness. But, as a rule, it is a kind deed to let a fool know they are a fool (or more accurately, are thinking and spreading foolish -- i.e., false -- ideas). Whether, when, and how this is done is situational.

A kind deed? Is Hardcore nuts?

My best moments have come about, by and large, as a result of being told accurately, either by myself or by others, that I was a fool. Sometimes it was said gently. Sometimes (often by myself to the mirror) it was not. The more appropriately delivered under the circumstances, the sooner I have understood it, and the more quickly I have benefited. But no one -- no one -- benefits from having their foolishness tolerated.

Those who fail to discern between foolishness and truth are neither wise, nor courageous, nor kind.

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