Monday, February 06, 2006

G-d or Me? The Clash of Civilizations...

When I write, or when I do anything that that be considered to be an ability, I always wonder if that ability comes from a source other than myself, a place higher than where I am currently situated, like a rain that comes down from the sky.

As I was going through the personal transition of being secular to being observant (religious), I began to attribute everything that I personally was able to do, or was good at, to G-d. He was a body of water and a human being was a fountain that was able to turn itself on or off, but the water came from the ocean.

I believed that my writing, let's say, which I do a lot of, and the ideas that ensued when I began to write something, came to me from G-d, that I was able to attach to Him in this process and the material that I produced, even though it came from my mind and my hand, rained down through me from Him.

Today I still believe that. This has not stopped me wondering, however, if this process, and in the same way, still occurs to people that do not believe that G-d directly influences them or is the source of their creativity, or do not believe that G-d exists at all.

I pondered the question if their abilities came to them from a certain process of detachment that they were able to connect themselves to, that they were able to withdraw, to a degree, from reality, and enter a state where they were able to connect to their inner most feelings, and in doing that, reve
al levels of truth that they were not able to in their normal state of consciousness. In other words, were these moments of clarity related to G-d at all, or to a wonder of the human mind, somehow built in to it, although not by any Creator?

All I know is that, I too have moments when I produce things, be they writing or whatever, when I attribute them to myself, or, for example, to my ability to perceive things (thank G-d for it).

However, when I have done that, I have always felt something lacking, that even though I produced something that I felt was of a certain quality, that it reflected my specific ability to understand whatever thing I was exploring and trying to convey or create. In other words, it lacked a certain luster in contrast to the things I tried to produce when I was aware that the source of human creativity (and in this case, mine in particular), is not really from the self, but from G-d. When I made it in my image, it was OK, when I made it in G-d's image, it was awesome, to a fraction of the degree that He is.

Comparing times when I have either done A or B, whenever I connected to G-d in the writing, verses trying to strong-arm the flow and take credit for it, afterwards I always
felt that I had touched a truer and deeper nerve after doing the former, (like reaching into the depths of a tooth's cavity) which in turn also created feeling of fulfillment that the latter simply did not provide me with. I felt that I touched on something that was true, and that my personal ability to touch on such a thing was virtually non-existent.

I then consider, in what ways is this different from the Buddhist practice of removing yourself from the realm of consciousness (or the world, in some cases) in order to reach another level of consciousness. But this doesn't seem to make much sense, for the human being is a being with flawed perception, and the flaws inherent in his or her perception permeate all levels of consciousness, from the most topical level (waking life) to the deepest, which Judaism says is death. In other words, there is no level of human consciousness that is perfect, that is free from all inconsistencies. It would be wrong to say; that the closer we get to our sub-conscious mind the closer we get to a purer perception, for what is it that makes one level of our psyche more pure than another? If the "pollutant" is present at one level, does it not just become distributed throughout the human psyche, like a chem
ical being poured into a river that soon dirties the entire body of water?

For example, if we are troubled in our waking life, how do we know that this trouble doesn't simply seep into our deeper levels of consciousness and pollute that too? When a troubled person sleeps and h
as a dream, sometimes the dream can be disturbing, reflecting the troubled state that he has in his waking hours. The deeper levels of consciousness are not free from disturbed emotions created by disturbing events, but are affected by them too, usually in a much more raw way. What is inherently intelligent, special, wise, or all-knowing about the inner-most level of our psyche if it is just another level of ourselves and not attached to something that is truly special?

If we say that getting in touch with our deepest self can answer our questions, then we must conclude that it is because there is something inside of us that knows everything, and since we don't know everything, that something must be connected to something that does. In other words, if by meditation we can find answers to the most perplexing questions, it is because we are contacting something knows the answers, otherwise we are inventing the "answers." Judaism says that that thing is the soul, and that's the thing that it's connected to is G-d. We don't have souls; we are souls, so by getting "close to our souls" we can find understanding, but only because our souls are connected to G-d. But if we don't believe that G-d exists, such as in Buddhism, then how can getting in touch with our "inner-selves" enlighten us? We are not connecting to ourselves, we are connecting to G-d, otherwise it is we that answer our own questions, and what stops us from answering them in any way that we want? Nothing.

Buddhists are connecting to G-d too, they just don't know it.

Furthermore, a soul is a "piece" of G-d, so in the ultimate sense of exposing the truth of our souls to ourselves, we are not just connecting to G-d, but we understand that we are actually made of the same "material." We are not G-d (of course), but we are made in His image, as the Torah states (Let Us make Man in Our image). Since we are made in His image, but not equal to Him, we need laws, the mitzvot, which will allow us to put the internal nature of our soul (sometimes called "faith") in concordance with the external nature of performing mitzvot (called "works") and therefore direct both towards the direction of G-d. There are many ways of thought that claim that since the connection of the human being to G-d is internal and essentially without obstacle (once they have been removed), that no external path is needed to reach G-d.

But the glaringly clear truth is that a human's journey to the depths of the soul is obstructed by many "unnatural" elements, things that are foreign to the soul and that come from the world outside, and since the human is in a state of spirituality, he or she makes the (honest) mistake that whatever element being experienced is from G-d, and therefore there are boundless and uncharted paths of spirituality. Anything "found inside," then, must be from G-d, and a person can then become devoted to it in the same exact manner in which one becomes devoted to worshipping G-d.

The Torah explains that this is what idolatry is (and was), and the way that I understand it, that the religious practices that were a part of the services of pagan religions stemmed from a nearing towards G-d, and capitalized on either this element or that element found in this process, and believed that they had found the "ceiling." For example, one of the polytheistic practices in what is called "the ancient world" was the "passing of children through the fire," which is what the priests of the worshippers of the deity "Molech" did in their worship of it; they burned their children alive to the god, a living human sacrifice. We can barely fathom such a thing today, categorizing it as one of the most inhuman crimes, but the "ancients" saw it differently, and it was quite understandable from their perspective.

Connecting to G-d means aligning yourself with G-d's commandments and reaching a type of harmony with Him through doing His will; it's a process that yields deep spiritual and emotional results. The psychology behind the "passing of children through the fire" was probably viewed as such by the worshippers of Molech; the emotional intensity experienced by viewing a living human (not to mention, a child) being set ablaze in the name of a god, until all the life has left the body, is so potent and so immediate that it was used as a spiritual practice, that those doing it believed that the ecstasy (and dread) that they were feeling (from the smell and sounds) was, in a way, communion with Molech. In a book written on polytheistic practices that I used as a source for a paper a while back, the author explains that the "magic" of the experience was inherent due to the very violation of life, that the life was viewed as being given to the god, and the violence and brutality of the passing served to intensify the sacrifice and therefore the religious experience.

* On a side note, I can't help but to see the similarities in this spiritual act of brutally killing one for a god and the (religiously-affiliated) act of blowing yourself up in order to kill your enemies. The former occured to Molech and the latter occurs to All-h in Jihad, and both are associated with a spiritual, emotional, and religious "high," connected to the belief that killing others (and oneself) is an act of communion with gods or G-d. During the pilgrimage to Mecca, muhajirun, Muslims making the pilgrimage, aquire stones that they throw at a structure that symbolizes Satan. At the height of this spiritual and holy experience and in the holiest place of Islam, does the act of throwing stones at an enemy gain significance that turns into an holy act in another context, let's say, when throwing stones at Israeli soldiers (Jews)? In this context, it makes sense to call Israel "Little Satan," and America "Big Satan," although it was planes, and not rocks, thrown at America.*

Surely, if G-d really exists as the Maker of the world, then He would not demand such a sacrifice from His Creations and Subjects, and therefore, in line with was previously discussed, the human desire to take part in a series of these different religious practices comes from "a little voice inside," and not from the Voice; it is finding spirituality in the brutal violation of life. This is not a difficult thing for the imagination to grasp; the ecstatic screeches and shouts of groups of baboons and coyotes when they have made a kill is apparent in explaining the emotional thrill of ending a living being's life - and it is the G-dless view of reality that puts humans in the same category with animals, and therefore there is no violation of ethics when we act like them.

Indeed, it is difficult for the "modern mind" to grasp the notion of spirituality in religious killing, for if there are no gods and no G-d to kill for (listen to John Lennon), then there is no killing, something which the killing fields of godless and G-dless philosophies detract from. We can actually pass an historical point where many perceive neither gods nor G-d, and we can assume that this is a progressive development in humanity, but the absence of G-d leaves us free to kill as we please, turning commands not to kill into convenient suggestions not to kill.

But the commandment is not "do not kill" but "do not murder;" the sacrifices to Molech were not murder, they represented no violation of life, but rather a potent innate human high produced by the taking of a life for a god. In the Torah, G-d tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and the last moment, after seeing his willingness to do so, stops him and banishes this practice forever. Thousands of years later, Christians believed that G-d brutally sacrificed His own son as a redemptive act for the human race and thus they demonstrated a disturbing return to the theology of human sacrifice, except this time intimately tied into the G-d that abolished them. This is one of the things that put Jews and Christians at odds to this day. It is intimately related to the Torah's prescription to sacrifice animals to atone for sin, and Jewish law details that, in contrast to the brutal and painful killing of people to gods, the sacrifice of the animal must be painless and quick, that no spirituality is present in the suffering of the animal. This is a practice that is inherently tied into monotheism, and in an age where there are no sacrifices, there is no G-d and no sin. The eras both before and after reflect a deep misunderstanding of truth, in other words, that both polytheism and atheism, although essentially different, share in the characteristic of G-dlessness. During polytheism, humanity was ascending to the time when G-d would be revealed, He revealed Himself, and gradually humanity descended away from this revelation into secularism and its more extreme component; atheism. This means that the revelation was a metaphorical mountain of sorts, and it is fitting that He revealed Himself on a mountain.

Perhaps this is the reason that today, in the "Western world," any such type of killing is considered murder, even the death penalty, which says that those who murdered a person must, in the name of social order and principle (morality), die. There is a difference between an individual killing another and the state in which he lives deciding to end his life according to a structure of rules or norms that the Western world doesn't understand. It's an example of the potential antonymity of development and progression.

The relation between polytheism and Buddhism is that, on the surface, both involve the religious and spiritual use of idols, but deeper than this, both are manifestations that come from a connection of the human being to him or herself and not to G-d.

The point is that, shedding away your levels of waking consciousness in order to put yourself in touch with a consciousness more deeply embedded, within you will only put you in touch with those feelings that you already feel. Basically, this is to say that you are the source of those feelings, and if those feelings are the product of a figuratively speaking, "flawed" human perspective, then to put yourself into closer contact with those feelings will be to no avail, for the very way in which you perceive them is proportionally as flawed as is the human ability to perceive.

In other words, it is as if humanity looks at the world through a very advanced telescope that is able to zoom in and out and to views things from the microscopic level up to the universal level, but its lens is a bit dirty. If one were to turn this telescope internally, to make it a microscope, and to look inside him or herself, one could see the insides, but the smudges on the lens would still be present, and therefore blur the vision and creating a false image of what is actually there.

Therefore, one would have to find a way to clean the lens before being able to see him or herself in the true sense. Once one finds a way to clean the lens, then he or she begins to view things in the way that G-d views things, which is with absolutely no smudges. The cleaner the lens, which is a lifelong process, the more one sees things in the way that G-d sees things, i.e., through G-d's eyes, and attains a truer level of understanding a thing or things. In Judaism, the only way to clean our lenses, so to speak, is to live by the Torah, to put the commandments into application, and by doing this we actually can wipe all the guck of our lenses and see clearly, the way G-d sees.

One must also surround herself only with things that will maintain her spiritual cleanliness. Her cleanliness relies on her actions, which will determine the degree to which her lens is free of smudges. A clean lens is like perfectly transparent water. Coming from a human angle, this usually involves deciding what factors to eliminate, or at least to remove as highly influential elements, in her life. It is a process of spiritual filtering, but at the same time, it is a decision to expose herself to clean things. No to bad and yes to good, at the same time - for "no to bad" is only half the battle without "yes to good," and "yes to good" is watered down without "no to bad."

One cannot assume that his reliance on his own abilities of perception will yield answers that lie outside of himself, for the very fact that he relies on his own vision to perceive them prevents him from seeing them for what they really are. And assuming that the self does not exist is also not fruitful, for it seeks to nullify the pain inherent to existence by finding a way to escape the world of existence, like a spiritual self-induced coma, which is impossible. In other words, one can escape the pain by realizing that neither the world nor the self exist, and then, by taking the Eight Manifold Path, begin the process of detaching themselves from the notion of existence. By annulling the self, suffering is also annulled.

Perhaps this is why Buddhism teaches that the end of perception (Para nirvana) is the goal of the human existence, to become completely neutralized, which occurs when all of one's both negative and positive karma have been "burned up." At this stage, one ceases to be reborn as other beings, and ceases to exist. In other words, we don't really exist, and we exist in order to understand that.

How can a person yield answers that lie outside of himself by defining himself as a non-existent entity; who is to say that there any answers in the first place, for if there is no self, then there also are no questions, and then there is no reason to answer them. And of course, there is no G-d either. This is exactly what Buddhism teaches and wishes people to understand.

Christianity shares this ethos as the basis of "faith over works," the belief that believing is more essential than doing, and shares a common string with Buddhism in that both emphasize being rooted in somewhere away from earth -- in Christianity, freedom from the Law (Torah), and in Buddhism, freedom from the dictates of perception -- and Judaism says that the Torah must be the focus of our perception, the harmony of both.

The Torah teaches that calmness (peace) and existence are potentially harmonious elements, not polar contradictions, and are attainable through existence, that is, without deviating from existence in any way. By using things for their proper purposes, to be mindful of their designations by G-d and to use them accordingly, a "normal" thing becomes holy. To use a musical analogy, it would be like two voices hitting the same note and thus becoming harmonized - both voices begin to operate on the same wavelength, which produces a pleasing sound. Until a thing is used for its proper purpose, the user and the "usee" exist out of whack or coordination from each other, and the world experiences a lack of holiness and is affected negatively.

One of the most potent examples of this is sex, which can be used in the right way and in the wrong way. The wrong way to use sex would be to rape someone, to have too much sex, to sleep with a person that you should not sleep with, i.e., a member of your family, someone else's spouse, a member of the same sex, or an animal. The right way to use sex would be to sleep with your wife or husband at the right time, assuming that they do not possess one of the aforementioned statuses.

But since one can never truly not exist, then he or she ends up taking the value of life away and becoming a neglectful landlord in his own house.

One desires escape and freedom through inexistence, while the other desires truth and fulfillment as the purpose of existence. One says that the purpose is to escape misnotions of purpose, and the other says that the purpose of humanity can be lived by applying holiness to existence. One finds joy in escape from the world, and the other finds joy from the good things in the world. One deems that all is evil that has to be abandoned, and the other deems that there is evil, which should be separated from the good and that the good should be chosen. Can they be any farther apart?

Perhaps this is the difference between Eastern and Middle Eastern thought ("Middle Eastern" usually being referred to as "Western").