Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Yesterday one of my best friends wrote to me about sacrifice.
He reminded me of how this word means "to make sacred." We more often conceive of it in terms of giving up. Either connotation seems fine to me.
One of the images that always occurs to me when I think of this idea isn't the one of Christ on the cross. It's Abraham, preparing to sacrifice his son to God, at God's command, and being willing to go through with it. Only at the last moment does God stay his hand.
The concept seems barbarian at first glance. How could any man do such a thing? It's only when we examine it as allegory that we see it means a man must be willing to go to extraordinary lengths- to give up what he holds most dear- in order to create a new possibility for himself.
In the sacred arrangement between biology and the cosmos, we all make the supreme sacrifice of our entire lives at the end of our lives. Every organism does this- it's an irrevocable part of the deal. It's pointless to fret about whether the deal is fair or unfair: it's just the deal.
In a very definite sense we are all nothing more than vessels designed to take in and hold the impressions life feeds us. In a way too mysterious to explain, these all become a kind of food for God when we die. The moment every organism reaches at the end of its natural life, where it gives up-surrenders- all of the impressions it has gathered into itself over the course of a lifetime, is literally the moment of truth.
This is the moment when everything that is true for that organism, from its birth to its death, becomes apparent as one whole, now irrevocable, Truth in that single, final moment of epiphany. The summary moment where the entire contents of the vessel is absolutely surrendered to the Will of God, to absolute truth, without any choice.
This is a tricky thing, to see that the purpose of life is all aimed at that one single moment. No one should want to meet it without being able to face one's entire life without shame. Of course this is very difficult- we probably all have many things to be ashamed of- but it is in the effort we made to overcome those shameful parts of ourselves that we may earn something respectable enough to carry us through the moment of death without despairing.
It would be nice, after all, to try and make sure we're not tipping a vessel with really crappy contents towards the infinite mouth of Truth.
Traditional cultures seem to get this idea better than the modern ones. Tibetans, for example, have a strong tradition that all of life is merely a preparation for death. It's true, I think. Who wants to meet their last moment the wrong way? As Gurdjieff once said, we want to earn enough for ourselves in this life that we don't "die like a dog." That is, in a state of dependence and fear.
There is one other possibility available to us. That is to reach this moment of complete surrender before we die. If we are able to do that, we surrender what is God's to God- what belongs to Truth to Truth- by choice. This is the moment where, as Meister Eckhart describes it, the Will of God is born in man. The moment where he gives up everything that is his, that he "dies," so that something entirely new can enter him.
Of course this is theoretical for us. Of course it's idealized. Nonetheless, I think each of us can initiate a search deep within ourselves that takes us on a trek towards a moment when we might finally allow ourselves to let go of this egocentric, misunderstood life and find a better way. We can make our whole life sacred by surrendering it all, now, while we still live and breathe.
Abraham had tremendous courage. He was willing to go the distance. Most of us cling much too tightly to our life as it is to step over such an awesome and terrifying threshold.
The search for that moment goes on. If we absolutely have to go somewhere, I think it's better to try and get there on our own than it is to lie around waiting for someone to pick us up. After all, we don't want to be late for our own deaths.
As my busily, currently sacrificing friend always tells me, when he dies, he'll say to himself:
"Jeez, this is great! I should have done this years ago!"
The science delusion
I am a sometimes admirer of Nobel Laureate Richard Dawkin's work (see "The Ancestor's Tale, a very good piece of science writing) , but he has certainly overstepped his bounds with his new book "The God Delusion." This book is an irresponsibly blunt, if not downright arrogant, dismissal of God.
If a minister or a yogi were to approach Mr. Dawkins and state that they had plumbed the depths of, say, physics, and answered its most essential questions without a proper and accredited education on the subject, and with no experimentation whatsoever, he would rightly dismiss them. He does not seem to understand that, in any discipline, just as in science, proper investigation of any serious set of questions requires many years of study. In the study of the question of God, it requires rigorous inner discipline, prayer, and meditation.
Surprise! Mr. Dawkins would have us believe he knows what the results of this study are without ever having acquired the education or performed the experiments himself. Then again, perhaps that is not really so surprising. Men who are stuffed full of facts and consequently believe they know everything are a dime a dozen, as Plato so deftly pointed out in his Apology. What is interesting here is that Mr. Dawkins-- a "scientist"with credentials-- so blindly presumes to have a kind of knowledge he has done no work whatsoever of his own to acquire.
Perhaps the the bliss of ignorance makes a fair substitute for that of saints and yogis, but I sincerely doubt it.
Despite the standard arguments- we've heard them all, thank you-, blaming religion for mankind's woes is sheer foolishness. Practice demonstrates a surpassing ability on the part of mankind to exercise stupidity all by itself, without any heavenly assistance. Countless historical misdeeds have been initiated without ever once invoking the name of God- in other words, the world's scientists, aetheists and agnostics have been just as guilty of moral outrage as those who profess religious leanings. We could cite Hitler or Stalin, or Ghengis Khan-- or, for that matter, Edward Teller.
Sadly, the vast preponderance of what scientists and their technologies have so generously given us as they wax is an exponentially accelerating ability to destroy not only men, but the ecosphere of the planet itself. All this from an enterprise that claims to be driven by "intelligence." Measured against this, the concept of a God seems a relatively innocent and minor delusion by comparison. Once again, this problem stems from knowing far too many facts and having far too little wisdom, a disease Mr. Dawkins and his kind are far more prone to to spread than to find cures for.
To add to all this, I try to picture to myself a world where we build gothic cathedrals, compose hymns of praise, and paint great artworks to celebrate- what? Molecular biology? Quantum physics? It takes a special kind of idiot to believe in such a world. Frankly I find it far easier to believe in God as a bearded man on a cloud in a white gown.
If Mr. Dawkins properly understood the magnificent question of God, he would understand that it lies at the root of consciousness, the physical universe, entropy, biology, and properties of emergence. He would further understand that investigating this question can form a completely new inner relationship between a man's organism and his mind.
He doesn't, and because he has already made up his mind, he will not. As his education, attitudes and opinions so eloquently demonstrate-- and as anyone with any common sense knows-
Watchmakers aren't blind, but watches certainly are.