A God who waits

14 05 2020

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A possible advantage of Dharmic religion over Christianity is not having an idea of an eternal Hell. Getting deeper into Gaudiya Vaishnavism, however, this supposed advantage becomes a bit complicated. I will start in the Sixth Canto:

[Nārada Muni had described that there is a bila, or hole, from which, having entered, one does not return. The Haryaśvas understood the meaning of this allegory.] Hardly once has a person who has entered the lower planetary system called Pātāla been seen to return. Similarly, if one enters the Vaikuṇṭha-dhāma [pratyag-dhāma], he does not return to this material world. If there is such a place, from which, having gone, one does not return to the miserable material condition of life, what is the use of jumping like monkeys in the temporary material world and not seeing or understanding that place? What will be the profit? Read the rest of this entry »





Progress

11 05 2020

My entire adult life has been a refutation of the liberal idea of progress. (By liberal, I mean the intellectual principles coming out of the Enlightenment.) That’s a bit exaggerated, but I’m running with it. The first real historic milestone in my life was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain: this brought about the unenthusiastic prosperous years of the 1990’s. These were my teenage years, and also the time I was most “politically active”. Having put that aside, I was welcomed into adulthood by 9/11, which took place around the age I would have graduated college (had I not dropped out). That was the first indication that rumors of the the End of History were greatly overblown. Read the rest of this entry »





Notes on John Paul II

9 05 2020

The whole difficulty is that in this Age of Kali there is no sattva-guṇa and no clearance of the heart, and therefore people are making the mistake of identifying with their bodies. Even the big philosophers and scientists with whom we deal are practically all under the impression that they are their bodies. The other day we were discussing a prominent philosopher, Thomas Huxley, who was proud of being an Englishman. This means that he was in the bodily conception of life. Everywhere we find this same misunderstanding. As soon as one is in the bodily conception of life, one is nothing but an animal like a cat or a dog (sa eva go-kharaḥ). Thus the most dangerous of the dirty things within our hearts is this misidentification of the body as the self. Under the influence of this misunderstanding, one thinks, “I am this body. I am an Englishman. I am an Indian. I am an American. I am Hindu. I am Muslim.” This misconception is the strongest impediment, and it must be removed.

Srimad Bhagavatam, Purport to Canto 8

The above text reminded me that I have wanted to write a long and extensive blog post about Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II was Pope for the first quarter century of my life, and under his pontificate, I became super-devout, apostatized twice, became a seminarian, got “excommunicated,” reconciled with the Church, was tonsured a monk, etc. In other words, it was rather eventful for me. When he died in Easter Week 2005  I was a novice monk. That day, I was actually at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels taking a road trip with a friend of the monastery. I got to stare down Cardinal Mahoney when I saw him walking toward me. He must have wondered what some Orthodox monk was doing there and why he looked unhappy to see him. Read the rest of this entry »





A question

3 05 2020

Someone asked in the comments:

If anything, I’d just like to ask you a question (which you might have addressed in earlier entries, so sorry for redundancy): do you think Christianity necessarily leads to our secular age? In your engagement and critique of Christianity, you’ve always traced the “crisis” of the Catholic Church and Western spirituality to its roots, i.e., the materialism and laxity of today are almost the system developing naturally. Do you think that needs to be the case, or is there a way to avoid those pitfalls of Christianity while retaining the “core” (whatever that is)?

I stated recently that I don’t believe in smoking guns. Nothing leads inevitably to anything else. You’re not breaking into the mind of God and stealing its secrets. On the other hand, one can question the radical break between religion and secularism as it manifests itself in the life of the common person. At least at a very superficial level, we still have a god, we still have magic, and we still deal with forces we don’t understand. It’s just different is all. One reason why I gave up writing for a time other than just being really, really busy, was that my attempt to merge folk Catholicism and Neoplatonism hit a dead end at the beginning of last decade. I ran out of things to say, started some projects and jettisoned those as well, etc. Only recently have I developed the intellectual and moral clarity to say something again. I am not sure how long this will last. Read the rest of this entry »





Supernatural

1 05 2020

So I watched the above presentation and since I am cooped up inside with nothing better to do, I will just make some loose comments on it. I read a lot of De Lubac when I was involved in the Eastern Church a little less than two decades ago. Honestly he was one of the only recent theologians who impressed me, and probably one of the reasons I didn’t convert to Orthodoxy. I really liked his book Catholicism, Corpus Mysticum is a good read, etc. Then I went down the rabbit hole of his writings on the supernatural, which is the subject of this video.  The only aspect I will deal with is what the speaker says was the purpose of de Lubac critiquing the idea of pure nature in the first place, namely, de Lubac was concerned that is was a fifth column of secularism in Catholic theology.

As I said, I was involved in the Eastern Church at the time, and also was engaging with a lot of recent Eastern Orthodox theologians, so this would sort of resonate with those who insinuate that errors in “Latin theology” led to secularism, as if intellectual history is one long equation and getting one variable wrong at the beginning ruins the whole solution. Not sure I buy it, but like I said, it resonated with me at the time. I believe this person when he says that de Lubac was sincere. All of these New Theologians were sincere. It’s true that a lot of 19th and 20th century Thomism was a ramshackle assemblage of premises that were flawed at their heart. The whole idea of the harmony with faith and reason presumes a mind that is capable of belief and which can healthily reason. I am skeptical on both counts. What you are dealing with isn’t really even a matter of first principles, but of primordial subterranean intuitions that you can barely speak of. Catholic philosophy came to the table expecting a rational interlocutor with good intentions, and instead got sucker punched in the face. Read the rest of this entry »





Catholic guru-tattva

25 04 2020

Because the Supreme Personality of Godhead does not actually touch or mix with matter, there are three intersections of Krishna and the material manifestation that are the hardest nuts to crack theologically. The first is Siva-tattva: in Krishna consciousness, Lord Shiva is the Supreme Personality of Godhead as He touches and mixes with matter. Shiva presides over the mode of ignorance (tamas), He is God as He works in matter. That is why in the Puranas He is known as Mahadeva, the Great God. But He is not Krishna: if Krishna is milk, Shiva is yogurt which is milk altered in a process to make it “not-milk”. Nevertheless, Shiva is unique in the material manifestation: He stands on the border between the spiritual and material worlds. Read the rest of this entry »





Deus furens

21 04 2020

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As is the case with many people, my forced exile from the world due to a medieval plague has been far less intellectually fertile than initially expected. I thought I would write all those brilliant thoughts down that came to me in the middle of going here or there or doing this or that. At most, my quarantine has been devoted to endlessly surfing the news and social media, and perhaps creating the “dank meme” or two. It turns out that not being able to go anywhere but the “essential places” darkens the brain as much as being too busy. As I say professionally, “more” doesn’t often seem like more, it just seems a wasteland, as when I would look out over the Argentine pampa and know it goes on for hundreds of miles without anything of significance impeding it. Read the rest of this entry »





Service in separation

10 04 2020

Having been born into a Hispanic culture, bloody melodramatic imagery both draws and repulses me. Here I speak of the bloody crucifixes, the Virgin Mary with seven swords sticking out of her heart, and the intense emotions these images are meant to evoke. I had an odd formation, both official and informal, of living in Latin America and experiencing the role that this imagery plays in culture down there, both sacred and profane. Death and gore are to an extent revered, many an academic could write a series of well-cited papers about this. The only problem is that my own metaphysical inclinations have been consistently anti-corporeal.

The philosophical problems boil down to: Does suffering have redeeming power? Is pain therapeutic? Is blood sacred? Being in the midst of the Holy Triduum, I will never be able to shake these questions from my mind during these days, even if I have definitively come to my own conclusions. Added to all this is the rather intense Holy Week that Christians have to live through this year. Their churches are empty, the anticipation is muted, and the devout must experience the high holy days at home or on a screen. Many faithful used to regular access to the church and sacraments are acutely suffering during this time. I sympathize with them on many levels: though I am at best a lukewarm church-goer, I have a private prayer rule and I look forward to feasts breaking up the monotony of daily life. Most responsible mature adults understand that we can’t always be as outwardly observant as we would like, but still, this extraordinary circumstance is a difficult trial that the world must endure.

My focus here is the question: Is there such thing as spiritual pain? Or is the spiritual pure bliss? Can separation from God being something greater than His presence? The obvious answer from Catholic tradition would be to mention St. John of the Cross’s dark night of the soul. Though I haven’t really engaged with that concept in the last decade or so, I don’t think it touches on what I am talking about. I am speaking of separation as an inherently good thing, not as a means of purification to achieve deliverance from pain, spiritual, psychological or otherwise. Read the rest of this entry »





The past I never lived but prefer to forget

5 04 2020

As an introverted teenager, I watched a lot of TV. Watching TV in the 1990’s without cable (too poor for that), you didn’t just watch snippets of things here and there. If something was on and you wanted to watch it, you ended up watching the entire series, some episodes multiple times. One of the basic cable channels we got was A&E, which became my second favorite channel after PBS. It was on this channel that I binge-watched the 1981 Australian series, The Brides of Christ. The story of the mini-series follows two young women who enter the novitiate of a religious order during the Second Vatican Council. They get to experience the changes in Catholic life happen over a very brief period. Both women are faced with the choice of staying in the order (and perhaps the Church itself) or leaving altogether. Overall, it’s bad melodrama in the same league as a Hallmark Channel movie or Mexican soap opera. Having grown up with the latter, I can stomach such maudlin story lines, but I would still counsel conservative and traditional Catholics to look into watching this mini-series. Read the rest of this entry »





God has no enemies

5 04 2020
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Lord Chaitanya threatening to castigate Jagai and Madhai with the Sudarshana Chakra

The Seventh Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam is widely loved by devotees of Krishna because it tells the story of how five year old Prahlada Maharaja is saved from his father’s wrath by Nrsimhadeva, Krishna’s half-man, half-lion avatar. More on this in a future essay, but here I would like to describe the first chapter of the canto which Srila Prabhupada in his translation entitled, “The Supreme Lord is Equal to Everyone”. The reasoning of this chapter goes that, since the material world is merely the external energy of the Lord, it is both different and non-different (achintya bheda abheda) from Him, or to put it my own overly-simplistic terms, you can’t run from God because you sort of are God, like your finger is you but not quite. In Krishna consciousness, you can’t be totally Other from God, you can’t eternally separate yourself from Him because you’re never independent from Him. Read the rest of this entry »