I had an interesting exchange with an unknown commenter under one of Bruce Charlton's posts on Albion Awakening yesterday. The post is here. He took the line that "The world has no purpose, is not going anywhere, it is already perfect and thrumming with meaning. Striving and seeking are harmful and pointless - they merely obscure the vision." So for him spirituality is to do with becoming aware of what is right here right now, and in doing this your consciousness becomes attuned to the whole. This approach has a long and honourable history, particularly in the East, but I think that, for all its virtues, it is an incomplete path. I replied as follows:
"The problem with the ‘nothing to attain, nothing to accomplish’ path is that it has no answer to evil. If "the world has no purpose and is not going anywhere as it is already perfect” that means there is no good and no evil, that creation is without point and fundamentally nothing is better than anything else. This is actually a very limited and one-sided view of reality which rejects the relative for full focus on the absolute.
Now the absolute is the absolute, of course, but reality is not just the absolute or the uncreated. It is the absolute and the relative, spirit and matter, together, and a more inclusive view sees that time does indeed have a place in the context of eternity. It is not rendered null and void by eternity but contributes to a deeper view of life than eternity alone. This is why God creates, to make something more than pure undifferentiated oneness.
So the path that seeks growth is greater than the path that seeks being alone (as in only being). What is more, it is able to counter evil which very definitely does exist in a fallen world. The world is not yet perfect but it will eventually be made so by those who join the struggle. Those who simply seek to be ..... have rejected or not picked up on the fact that the fullness of life is found in the integration of being and becoming and the journey to ever greater heights of glory."
Unknown replied setting forth his position more fully (which you can read under Bruce's post linked to above) and making several points among which were this "Christian mystics like Eckhardt and others say to call God good is to limit him - he is beyond such limiting conceptions",
and this "(time and evil) exist in a relative sense, like an illusion",
and then this "These are all nice theories, and not reality. The question must be - if you strive and seek, if you fight evil and try and improve the world and yourself, if you approach the world through concepts and understanding and thus control- does the world then reveal its magic and wonder to you, do you then feel existential fulfillment, does seeking and grasping of the ego lessen, does your existential anxiety and anomie diminish? Or are you just expecting these things in a future that never arrives?"
"I respect your position .... but it doesn’t cover the whole picture. We won’t agree which is fine but to me your view basically downgrades the individual who is little more than a blot on the face of pure awareness. But there is a big difference between the self-seeking ego which strives, tries to grasp etc and the fact of the individual which brings quality to consciousness (a good, in fact, an inevitable, thing) and allows for relationship which I now see as the principal purpose for creation. Your scenario removes the need for any kind of creation.
Ultimate truth is beyond good and evil but please don’t compare relative things to an illusion. What God creates is real even if not self-subsistent. It’s a mistake to think that the world of creation exists apart from God but it does exist in God and he saw that it was good. It’s not an illusion or a dream. He loves it.
By the way, I see what Eckhardt means but I think he’s wrong. God is good. That doesn’t limit him because goodness cannot be limited. The goodness of God is not part of the pairs of opposites. Evil has no intrinsic reality but it does have limited reality as the perversion of goodness. God is only beyond good and evil to the extent that he is beyond opposites. But he is goodness not nothing.
Perhaps you don’t accept God or see him as something subsidiary to ultimate truth? I don’t see how this can stand up. If the absolute does not include the personal then the personal could never arise. There must be some kind of differentiation even in the absolute, strange as that may seem to our logical minds. I suppose the trinity in Christianity is a clue as to how this might work.
These are not theories to me. They are not thoughts though that is how they form themselves mentally. But they are more perceptions than concepts.
With regard to seeking and striving, I would draw a distinction between the striving of the ego or separate self who is after a reward, and striving driven by the pure aspiration of the humble soul. There is no saint or mystic who has not struggled even if the struggle is to let go of struggling. We seek effortless being certainly, but that does not mean that we don’t have to work towards it.
It’s not a question of fighting evil or trying to improve the world but the saying that all that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing is very pertinent. Even if that doing is no more than proclaiming the truth (sounds pompous, I know!), that is necessary in a fallen world which this is. But we must always act from love of God not desire to make our own paltry mark on the world. That is the difficulty which those who do seek to improve the world often don’t face and then they fall into the trap you rightly draw attention to."
I could have also mentioned that it is wrong to put time and evil in the same category as Unknown did. One is a God created reality, the other is a distortion of reality so they cannot be compared at all. I could have also said that he was quite mistaken in thinking that the Christian (for we are really talking about the difference between a Buddhist and a Christian path here) is trying to improve the world or himself or seeking and striving on an ego level. He is simply trying to put himself right with God, to walk in the light of Christ. That is a wholly different thing.
Unknown's reply referred to the Indian idea that creation is play when he says "You are quite correct that this removes any need for creation - rather, creation is mere Play, the Divine Game. Need means God isn't perfect, which Bruce quite honestly acknowledges and accepts.
The notion of the universe as a game, and play as superior to work, and magical spontaneity as better than necessity, is I admit very foreign to us today - but it is an ancient notion, and I wonder how much of the gloom, anxiety, and seriousness of the modern world cones from the loss of this notion.
Well, logically something that doesn't exist as an independent entity but is part of an energy field isn't real to the extent that it appears to us as an independent entity - that's all that's meant by illusion, and I don't think that's so terrifying.
An illusion is in fact real - it is not nothing - but it distorts what it represents."
I must admit I find this kind of talk very unpersuasive. I've heard it many times before and it really just avoids facing up to the reality in creation or God by conditionally admitting these with one hand while dismissing them with the other. Funnily enough, given the mystical tone of the commenter's beliefs, it seems to be a mentally inspired approach, coming up with ways of expression to justify an opinion one already has Of course, creation is not real in the way that God is real. No one has ever said it is, but it is still fully real. It is not in any way an illusion or dream, neither of which have any true reality at all. I would also object to the term energy field which reduces divine realities to abstractions and therefore presupposes unreality to demonstrate unreality. We are not energy fields any more than a star is, in CS Lewis's words, just a ball of fire and gas.
The debate boils down to this. How real is creation? How real are you? This is a matter for intuition but a clue is given in the book of Genesis when it is written that God looked at his creation and saw it was good. The view that creation is just play is attractive but play of who or what? The impersonal absolute? That makes no sense. Play means a player who wishes to derive pleasure from playing. It must be a who which means God.
I would agree there is an element of play in creation but that does not discount purpose. God can surely kill two birds with one stone! The purpose is twofold. One, self-expression in love and two, the desire to become more. I don't agree with the idea that God is not perfect. If he is the all, which he is, then he must be. There is nothing outside him or limiting him in any way. But perfection exists in absolute terms. In terms of a relative world of becoming, God can always become more than he is even though he is perfect. This is his reason for creation, to grow. Obviously he cannot grow as the uncreated absolute but in terms of creation he certainly can, and we can with him.
So we can if we wish return to the absolute. But is it not better to do as God himself does which is retain and harmonise the two aspects of our being, the created and uncreated? I agree that we have to seek our deepest reality in spirit but that is not the whole of what we are and to restrict ourselves to that is to limit ourselves even if we are limited to the unlimited, paradoxical as that may sound. But then if we do that we are ruling out relationship which means love.
If you say that the Absolute alone is real then you are also saying there is no better or worse in creation. It's all one. People try to get round this by saying that creation is real on its own level but the fact is that, once truth is realised, none of that can matter. Everything is part of the all regardless so why care? That is the fundamental truth however you spin it. This problem is resolved by looking at the world like this. Yes, God is in everything but he is not in everything equally. The purpose of spiritual evolution is to manifest more of God in creation starting with ourselves. Even the Buddha had somewhere to go. He could grow and no doubt has for I dare say his spiritual consciousness now is greater than it was then. There is something to attain. It is to be more than you are. There is always more of God to be realised which there would not be if there was nothing to be attained or achieved and the goal was just to be. That is part of it but spiritual growth can be endless if you allow it to be and don't cut yourself of from the fullness of the divine through excessive focus on one aspect, albeit the deepest, of it. God is a Trinity. He is not just the Father. This is where the Christian revelation goes further than anything else. We are not just spirit but spirit and soul and the goal is not to abandon one for the other as in the non-dualistic approach but to combine the two to make something new, something that was not there before.
God is being. However he creates to be something and that should be our goal too.
God is being. However he creates to be something and that should be our goal too.