Would you become a pilgrim on the road to Love?
The first condition is that you make yourself humble as dust and ashes.
(Ansari of Heart)
Karen Armstrong has a little different version of what the Perennial Philosophy is in her magisterial book on the Axial Period called The Great Transformation. A simple version of her view is the realization that every single person, every object, and every experience on earth is actually but a replica––a pale shadow, at that––of a reality in another realm or sphere of existence––let’s call it the divine world. That sacred world is then understood as the prototype of human existence, and it is richer, stronger, and more enduring than anything on earth. And because it is so men and women wanted desperately to participate in it. (The Great Transformation, p. xxi) Armstrong points out for example how even in modern times, when we seem to have abandoned the perennial philosophy, “people slavishly follow the dictates of fashion and even do violence to their faces and figures in order to reproduce the current standard of beauty. The cult of celebrity shows that we still revere models who epitomize ‘superhumanity,’” our cult of entertainment and sports celebrity, for example. “People sometimes go to great lengths to see their idols, and feel an ecstatic enhancement of being in their presence. They imitate their dress and behavior. It seems that human beings naturally tend toward the archetypal and paradigmatic.” (GT, p. xxi) But ultimately, at least as the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches it, the human person is created in the image of God, who is a perfect being (in the first story of creation), and in whom the Holy Spirit is breathed into the center (the second story of Creation). And so even the great archetype of the Purusha, the Christ, Adam Kadmon, al-Insan al-Kamil––the prototypes of humanity that we are meant to follow and imitate, not merely worship, who are somehow also the pattern of our existence, the “image of God” that is the center of our beings.
I ran into a beautiful little book in a bookstore in Phoenix last week. I didn’t buy but I read enough of it to be dangerous and think I knew what it was all about, enough to quote it! It was called The Heart of Philosophy, by the famous Jacob Needleman, some of whose writings I have already read. In the introduction to the book he writes about two different approaches to philosophy, two different levels really. There is the philosophy that deals with the surface level, our ordinary consciousness, things as they are. And then there is the philosophy that deals with the “heart of the matter,” the prime things, the Self of the self (what Huxley will call “autology” as opposed to “psychology”). The thing that really interested me about this distinction, though, was the names he gives them. The first type of philosophy is of the ego; the second type he categorizes as––are you ready?––eros. Eros is the deep down stuff, the realm of the archetypes and prototypes and the Self of the self, that toward which we are striving and longing. Yes, you could even say the gods, the daemons (as opposed to demons), the devas.
Now we are back in the realm of Hederman’s (MPH) thought on eros, and its deeper meaning as well. Our own longing, our loves, even our infatuations are siren calls from that level of meaning. Even someone with whom we fall in love is somehow a symbol of a fullness that we are not yet, and we are called to be in relationship with that, as well as with her or him. In some way, the one with whom we are infatuated or in love is a kind of god/dess (in the loosest sense of the word), and this is why their attention or rejection is so powerful to us––it is like being seen by God! Or being rejected by God! Of course he or she are not God, but our innards don’t know that. Our hearts (our deepest hearts) only know that there is something else we are longing for. What healthy psychosexual development and emotional growth teach us is exactly what MPH was talking about, recognizing the other as subject and not object, which means pulling back our projections of perfection and realizing that the other is also a human striving for perfection, and not an object to be consumed, just as our desire is not something to be satisfied (and therefore done away with, killed!). The other spurs us on to who, what we could be, can be, if we are stay in that tense relationship with that which calls us into being, into fullness of being. Because ultimately, since the human person is created in the image of God, who is a perfect being (in the first story of creation), our eros is really directed at the divine, the fulfillment, not just the satisfaction, of our desire. And so, again, the great archetype of the Purusha, the Christ, Adam Kadmon, al-Insan al-Kamil––the prototypes of humanity that we are meant to follow and imitate, not merely worship, who are somehow also the pattern of our existence, the “image of God” that is the center of our beings. And so no less an orthodox Christian writer than Saint Basil the Great wrote that we achieve what is beyond our wildest imaginings––we become God. Whether it is by participation as orthodox Judaism, Christianity, and Islam teach, or because we share the same substance as the monistic traditions teach, doesn’t matter much to me (doesn’t really seem to matter much to Huxley either––“something similar to or even identical with divine Reality), and doesn’t seem to alter the path very much. This of course is again the telos and scopos, by the way.) I feel content with the fact that if I stay on the right path I am going to become God.