The myth of ‘Absolute truths' (ESOTERICISM EPISTLES - II)
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The myth of ‘Absolute truths' (ESOTERICISM EPISTLES - II)
1 st September 2007 - Athos A. Altomonte writes:
What is the truth and most of all, where is it? I think that each of us is a fragment of absolute truth in relativity. It is true what I see. It is true what I hear. It is true what I feel. The image I see it's absolute. The sound I hear is absolute. The feeling I feel it's absolute… for me.
Moving on another conscience, though, I would find other totalizing truths, relative to dimensions, abilities, clearness and depth of that mind-conscience.
Therefore we take two initiatives: 1) to stop caring about labels; 2) to experience contents.
I would use the example of the man who, facing many jars of jam of which he doesn't know the flavor, tries to imagine it by reading the labels with the ingredients. In absence of anything better this can be an option, but the best way is to stick a finger into it and taste them.
He will taste the ‘true flavor', which someone else might find different, but individually that taste is absolutely true. Therefore I say, let's start experiencing what is passed on to us. Let's not just read the labels, but let's stick our fingers in the jam of esoteric, or hermetic, or alchemic teachings.
Like once upon a time all roads led to Rome , any school of thought, provided that we don't fall in love with it and we can leave it when we have taken all it could give us, tends to a center shared by all philosophies. This ‘common center' is the holy grail of all philosophers and the synthesis of all thinkers. But we must be able to overcome any totalizing but relative truth to reach the goal.
That being stated, I can't but embrace the experimental way, using myself as the unique true alchemic Athanor to work with.
The lab, alembics and retorts will be the thoughts and the ability to elaborate, transform and color them emotionally. It is check and countercheck made by the creator on the creator himself who then becomes generator, generating and generated of himself. This is another way to represent self-initiation in a dimension where there can't be ultimate truths' , since evolution and progress mean motion and therefore continuous transformation.
Nevertheless, exceptionally there are cases of absolute truths. They are the ideas of mineralized, immobile minds which are closed to progress, whose immobility makes them believe that there is nothing ‘beyond themselves'.
In actual fact these are states of apparent death.
I have always experienced what I fed my mind on before putting it into practice, worrying more about contents (the jams) than the formal aspect (label).
I leave you reminding you one of the sentences that have changed the direction of my life: ‘talking doesn't cook the rice' .
1 st September 2007 -
Antonio D'Alonzo writes:
Dear Athos, I totally agree with many of the ideas you've expressed. Finally we try and think about the historicity of the idea of ‘truth'; where hypostasis and doctrinal immutability leads to the apparent death of thought. Doctrinal immutability that in the history of religions has never occurred.
Mahayana Buddhism spread in China and turned into Chan (Chinese Buddhism), but it underwent the influence of Tao and Confucianism, redefining certain initial doctrines. Mahayana penetrated in Japan ; after an initial opposition it turned into Zen, but it has been influenced by Shinto. In actual fact the assimilating hybridizing has always occurred in philosophy as well as religions.
For example, to go back to your writing, the reduction of truth through what (I) see/hear/feel and that is different from the truth that the other sees/hears/feels, leads to relativize the claim of an absolute ‘truth' once for all and it opens a space to interpretation. My ‘truth' is not superior to others' ‘truths'. But if the ‘truth' is given by the plethora of individual ideas about it – besides the ‘not-yet-thought-of' – the idea of a central Truth (with capital T) is deconstructed in favor of pluralistic interpretation.
I can mention the famous example of Leibnizian monads which, like many houses with only one window, watch the city (the truth) only from their relative spatial position, peculiar and different from all the other monads. This is why I find fundamental your invitation to experimentation and infinite research.
Personally I can do it more with thought than with practice. But this is my limit and perhaps professional bias. Nevertheless I can't see on the bases of which argument I could deny the possibility of an operative research led by more capable operators than I am. As a Greek aphorism says: ‘to know one's own limits means not to be afraid of fate'.
I will keep questioning myself, then, from my point of view, from my monadic window.
On Heidegger's trail I think of truth as the glade where the being-here (man) now and again finds himself. The ‘truth' is the ‘here' (the ‘here', hic et nunc) of the being-here, where the thought of the being is opened. The mistake of western metaphysics is to spatialize the temporal dimension; it is to have considered the truth only as space and not time, history and diachronic and epochal aspects. This is a mistake where a knowing subject only contemplates a reified, spatialized and hypostatic entity. To consider the truth – but I prefer to use the word ‘being' – as an epochal element means to think of the historic truth of this opening of com-prehension to the finiteness of the being-here (man).
The being is an epiphany declined in history: if in Plato's times the ‘truth' was the doctrine of ideas, for the contemporary man it opens in ‘technology'. In actual fact we can't deny that today ‘technology' has replaced the ‘old' God of Christianity. The novelty that makes its way among the rocklike blocks of various fundamentalisms and laicism is the ‘media-mancy'. In my opinion we are going towards a new era that will force us to re-think our classic idea of ‘truth'. A new thought that will produce a fracture with the way we have always elaborated ideas and that will be founded on vision rather than on logics of the third excluded or the principle of non-contradiction.
2 nd September 2007 - Athos writes:
Dear Antonio, I agree that the only ‘absolute truths' we can reasonably face are doctrines of faith. But it is difficult to consider them as such, even only for the fact that they are in conflict with each other, considering themselves the only depositary of the divine chrism. Each claims to be true and unchangeable, but history demonstrates how their rules are mobile. Therefore I'd quickly get rid of the ‘absolute truths' of religions, quoting what Popper wrote:
‘Closed systems are made of totally abstract (abstruse) theses, ideological statements or religious dogmas that are confirmed only inside their structures and through their instruments, therefore they can't be denied. These are said to be self-immunizing, because they are based on reasonable modules, supported without questioning any part of them, immunizing them from any kind of denial deriving from a dialectic debate or an intellectual confrontation. Furthermore, we consider as a closed system all ideological theses or beliefs that claim to be all-inclusive propositions, viz. those speculative systems where an explanation of and for everything is found.'
Another aspect to consider is when people mistakes personal or shared judgments, opinions and ideas for truths. The fact is that they take for truth the infinite range of ordinary and changeable realities and this leads the individual to fight against time, which flies and changes everything and everybody.
The race to diets and plastic surgery are only the tip of fear of time and death, which everybody tries and exorcise by building their own consoling totems. Therefore the philosophic circle closes and brings us to the fact that the only truth which the ordinary man can aspire to is relative reality, compatibly with his ability to understand and contain. The degree of understanding and the ability to contain are the factors that lead to substantial differences between what one or the other believes.
There is a journey towards reality, which is the closest aspect to truth that man can conceive, formulated by Immanuel Kant in the formula of ‘ ding an sich ', the understanding of the thing itself. Kant showed us the method to observe objective reality, preserving the centrality of what is observed to the detriment of the observer. Therefore we need to observe a reality for what it is and not for what we intend or think it is. Sacred texts indicate events natural in themselves, but extraordinary for the ignorance of those who witnessed them at the time.
With his ‘ ding an sich ' Kant has drawn a line for the comprehension of truth as objective reality, by observing a conceptual object as observed subject and not as object of observation . If the observation of a conceptual object is separated from the personal opinions and the cultural background that characterize the subjectivity of the observer, this leads to empathy, which is the threshold that leads to the true ability to understand. He also adds that ‘ for the thing in itself…faith in an idea is not enough, even if sincerely felt, to make a religion. Just like it is not enough to believe in a religion for it to become the ‘Religion' '.
In order to approach the ‘truth', then, we must detach from ourselves, our ideas, our opinions, getting close to the idea of ‘detachment' of the mystic and to psycho-analytical ‘dis-integration'. Therefore reason is the main source of illusions.
The more are the illusions the more they seem reliable; when illusions are stated as ‘absolute truths' we are in the sphere of self-eroticism, mental onanism. The ‘bearers of truth' touch peaks of exaltation similar to sensual enjoyment. It is a status that they try and keep as long as possible, even at the cost of precluding any contact with the realizing and realized reality. Therefore the ‘absolute truths' are sometimes unstable dreams that change whilst carried from a bearer to another.
Symbolism represents the truth with the color white, because white is the color of synthesis. The initiatory teaching represents the ‘truth' as the light that illuminates. This gives us an excellent hint. I have compared intuition to a psychic ‘big bang', a flash of light that crosses mind and conscience and allows them to understand what they didn't know before. Is this the way towards the truth? I think so.
I think that the man who wishes to understand metaphysical truth must develop intuition. It is the thread of knowledge that comes from a container of ideas which, although they are ours, don't belong to us yet. The big bang is a psychic precipitation that comes from a mental dimension that we haven't discovered yet. It is a dimension called soul, which originates what ancients called gnosis.
The knowledge by contact (or pure Reason) is not a pretty concession, a gift that comes from the top, but a dimension to reach by achieving day by day the right to many ‘little illuminations' that widen mind and conscience.
The initiatory path is not a ritual or devotional path. It is a process of transformation that occurs through the fire of consciousness , which starts illuminating one's own inner hell (sub-consciousness) where one needs to descend in order to free its repressed potential.
This Journey starts in order to ‘know oneself', as it was carved on the facades of the Temples dedicated to the Mysteries. To recover this old idea could be the new thought which will produce a fracture with the way truths are elaborated today in the profane world.
We are in these truths but fortunately we don't identify ourselves into them.
2 nd September 2007 - Antonio writes:
Once again I am really enjoying this exchange of opinions to define our positions; indeed, it would be interesting if other members of Esonet intervened in the debate.
Personally I would get rid not only of absolute truths of religions, but also all the other claimed ‘absolute' truths of science, metaphysics, etc. Can we still believe in the existence of ‘absolute' truths? I don't think so.
There is a scientific paradigm that gets close to the explanation of the evolution of the humankind: it is neo-Darwinism , updated version of the old evolutionary theory.
For the moment it is the doctrine that most ‘likely' reconstructs the journey of the homo sapiens sapiens and provides convincing answers under the scientific profile.
Perhaps in a year or two it will be refuted and discarded. But this is the destiny of science and of critical thought as well. When this will happen, we will be authorized to say that neo-Darwinism is an outdated and wrong doctrine. For the moment, though, until it can hold the critical impact, it is still valid. Until it is demonstrated that it is wrong, the ‘neo-Darwinian' theory is true. Of course it doesn't mean that it is ‘absolute'. That's why there are only relative truths.
With Nietzsche ‘there aren't any facts, but only interpretations. And perhaps this is an interpretation, too'. But this must not discourage a thought that claims to be theoretical. In the Critique of Pure Reason , Kant introduces the distinction between phenomenon and noumenon (the thing in itself). For Kant intellect has only an empirical use of the a priori ideas, limited to its experience. But it doesn't have a transcendent use, beyond experience and them. It can apply a priori ideas only to phenomena, not to noumena. The thing in itself, the noumenon, can be thought only in a negative sense, like something of which we can't have any ‘active' intuition, either sensitive or intellectual. Nevertheless the noumenon is used to circumscribe the field of our sensitivity, assuming the role of ‘idea-limit'.
In other words we can only postulate the existence of the noumenon, of the thing in itself, in order to define the limits of knowledge. But we can't know its essence, its nature. Our knowledge stops at the phenomenon.
It would be fantastic if by contemplating the thing in itself we could free ourselves from our subjectivity, ourselves and our opinions.
In actual fact this is an almost impossible task, unless they are only periodic mystic states of the individual. You will remember the principle of indetermination by Heisenberg, according to which the physical observed object is influenced by the observer himself. Only the methods used to activate the perceptive and intellectual faculties are affected by the perspective or psychological dimension of the observing subject. The empirical proof of what I'm saying is given by the impossibility to reconstruct a unique and reliable scene of crime through the description of the witnesses. Each witness will provide a different version of the events and of the dynamic of the facts.
The Kantian distinction between phenomenon and noumenon can be found, in different categories, in all of the Indian philosophy: nirvana / samsara, maya / moksha, prakriti / purusha, etc. But there isn't the possibility of ‘Liberation', which in India as well is a privilege of few people.
It is very difficult for ‘who-lives-in-the-world', in the mundane life. It is more common for the man who has chosen the contemplative life. As an event it occurs occasionally; Freud talked about ‘oceanic feeling', Jung of ‘synchronic' phenomena, especially through art, the true ‘mystic participation' of the contemporary world. But even for those who follow an ideal of contemplative life super-modernity is always a threat.
Herman Hesse often dealt, through the protagonists of his novels, with the impossibility to resist the vital flow of becoming, to life that passes. I also remember two Asian filmic narrations on the subject: Spring, summer, autumn, winter … and spring (2003) by Kim Ki-Duk and Samsara (2001) by Pan Nalin. The protagonists of the films are two young monks who give in to kama , desire, and break the dharma for sensual love. Of course it might only be the filmic narration of two incidental cases, where the peculiarity of the events becomes food for thought.
Nevertheless it seems to me that the traditional Orient exists only in books.
The spiritual and mystic Islam can't have its voice heard among Salafism and fundamentalism; India is now a capitalistic world power, where the synergy with other countries, such as China (‘Chindia') is backed for reasons of economical partnership rather than spiritual motive. Perhaps the last fire of tradition burns in Tibet and in some ‘primitive' civilizations.
Is all this only a result of the domination of scientific reason versus metaphysical knowledge? It is unlikely that this is the most productive key, provided that there are different interpretations of the history of spirit. I think, like Heidegger, that nihilism is the destiny of history of western metaphysics, rather than its negation.
In the history of metaphysics elaborated by Heidegger in What is metaphysics? , he finds the fundamental error of the thought in the myth of Plato's cave, which determines a series of epochal misunderstandings; ‘idea' (Plato), energeia (Aristotle), ens creatum (Christianity), subject (Descartes), monad (Leibniz), spirit (Hegel), will to power (Nietzsche) and finally gestell of contemporary technology.
Many contemporary scholars of esoteric or Gnostic doctrines keep thinking of a ‘Center', an ideal hypostatic dimension of the Spirit opposed to the sphere of becoming. It is the classic Platonic dichotomy between ‘true' world and ‘apparent' world, already disowned by Nietzsche. The fundamental metaphysic mistake is to think of a ‘truth' as a metaphysical center , structuring it only in the space dimension. But ‘transcendent' can't simply be present to man's eyes. It is necessary to rethink the being (the ‘transcendent', ‘God') as a revelation that in giving itself away withdraws and escapes the anthropocentric grasp of western metaphysics.
To think after Heidegger means to think the being, not only as space, but also as time. It means to think the glade where now and again the being-here (man) finds himself. Simplifying, the being manifests himself in different ways in different epochs, following the essence of man which declines historically. It is not possible today to think metaphysics like a Platonist or a theosophist of the seventeenth century, since not only the subject is not the same, but neither is the object.
The way to think of the being with which metaphysics is fulfilled in the contemporary era is technology. This is why, in my small way, I am trying to think the correlations between cyberspace and imagery. But perhaps for the moment it is better to leave it here and postpone further details to the next occasion.
Kind regards, dear friend