Why Religious Dialogue?

Interreligious dialogue is not a distant possibility but a present necessity. This essay is a response to this need, but it is written also as an intrareligious dialogue. This is because the conditioned nature of my own personality, having been historically shaped into what it is by my unique imaginal participation in certain texts and practices, at first allows me to speak and be understood only within the personal and communal bounds of these traditions.

By seeking out the essence of my own spiritual path, I hope to become more capable of generating wise and compassionate relationships with those who walk adjacent paths. There’s a way in which the intra- and interpersonal boundaries generated by each of the world’s religions also opens them to extra- and transpersonal bonds. These bonds tie the traditions to each other within an ecology of Spirit, each of them creating and receiving love from the other within the space opened up by Spirit’s eternal passage into history.

And so while it may at first appear so on the surface, the condition “we”—the English speaking post-secular intelligentsia, or whoever—currently find ourselves in is not one of lacking an effective method or means of contacting those of “other”—let us say, non-Christian, non-secular, or indigenous—traditions. If “we” have identified ourselves as “the same,” we have already set ourselves in differential relation to “others.” No tradition has known itself as religious or salvific in the absence of a relation to other traditions claiming the same. In other words, the self-consciousness of each of the world’s religious traditions never could have emerged but as a consciousness of otherness. Moving from the historical to the metaphysical register, we can say that differentiation begets identity even as identification begets difference. This seems to be a logical contradiction, when it fact it is the principle of life (or incarnation) itself. The concepts—self/identity and other/difference—are conditioned by one another and so exist relatively. Only the relation is absolute. “Religion” is that which relates, or binds together, this with that, me with you, time with eternity, secular with religious, human with divinity. Religion may appear to us through the expressions and experiences of many religions, but underlying all of them is a universal love for and convergence upon the unspeakable oneness of Spirit (unspeakable because always arising anew, eternally born within and between us).

The need for dialogue on dialogue is now more urgent than ever, since our species’ ability to communicate compassionately across borders is already determining the sorts of worlds being brought forth by an increasingly planetary civilization. Unfortunately, the most powerful form of transnational communication taking place today is governed by the purely economic norms of corporations. The earth and its human and non-human populations are being exploited by these amoral entities. They operate under norms with no system of evaluation but that selected by “the invisible hand” according to the laws of supply and demand. “The strongest will survive, and the species will progress”: so goes the market mantra. Transitioning into a just, peaceful, and ecologically resilient planetary civilization will require that our governing ethos shift away from that of monetarily-motivated corporate entities toward institutions not concerned solely with their own profit. Power must be transferred to institutions concerned for the welfare of all sentient beings.

For the last three or four centuries, the political influence of the world’s religions has waned, but the secular nation-states that have risen to replace them in the hopes of mediating their discord have proven unable to prevent violence. In fact, nations continue to wage war upon one another, always under the pretext of self-defense. It seems that the capitalist logic to which the nation-state is subject inevitably generates economic pressure that leads them to militarily secure and/or expand their industrial markets. One of the underlying assumptions of interreligious dialogue generally seems to be that, in the wake of this failure of the modern secular state, the religious traditions of the world must be among the institutions called upon to reclaim a more enlightened version of their former power and responsibility for directing the course of world history. What is needed is not a return to feudalism and monarchy, nor a re-absorption in “dogmatism, fanaticism, and sectarianism” (MMR, p. 16), but a more integral way of politically mobilizing the world’s great wisdom traditions as a counterweight to the market religion that has come to dominate the planet.

Traditional religion, as it had been known by civilizations yet to planetize, is being re-invented within the crucible of the global encounter of the religions (including secularism). As Haridas Chaudhuri put it, religion is “the undying substance of the spirit of man” that, if it is “destined to play a vital role in the advancement of civilization,” must today “be reborn out of its own ashes” (MMR, p.  15). In the hopes of furthering this rebirth in some small way, the remainder of my intrareligious “confession” will circle around just two traditions, those most responsible for the ongoing formation of my soul: Mahayana Buddhism and Esoteric Christianity. The wisdom of these traditions will be approached in light of the poetic insights of William Blake and John Keats, both of whom sought a new experiential revelation of Spirit at the personal level.

It is not only the various religious institutions that must renew themselves; each person’s consciousness of the religious must also be transformed before Spirit can adequately guide human civilization into the next century. The planetary is personal, since the planet can only be redeemed through the love of person for person. We must each continue to speak compassionately from within in search of the One who binds us all together:

When the two will be made one, both the inside and the outside, the outside and the inside, the superior and the inferior…then you will enter [into ‘The Kingdom’], (Gospel of Thomas, quoted in IRD, p. xix).

Soul-making with Christ and Buddha

Rather than attempt to sum up what are in and of themselves vast and diverse traditions with their own inner tensions and controversies, or deal with the intractable question of who should speak for either, I will take is as a matter of course that Buddha and Christ exist as spiritual beings who are potentially in communication with human consciousness independently of any specific institutions or canonized texts. Though I will still draw from the scripture and practice built up around them, I do so with the assumption that each being is eternally present on the imaginal plane of consciousness and so irreducible to (though not separable from) culture and history. This is a religious realism that stands in contrast to both relativism and exclusivism, since it takes seriously the reality of multiple more-than-human Teachers whose supersensible love and wisdom enters into the world through the power of Imagination. The respective teachings of Buddha and Christ will be brought into dialogue within my own consciousness to exemplify the activity of “intrareligious soul-making,” an activity growing increasingly relevant to the current generation of planetary citizens. A person is not a “conscious atom,” but “a knot in a net of relationships,” and so though what I have to say is peculiar to my own process, I say it in expectation of the resonance and dissonance that it will provoke in others. This internal dialogue is but an opening gesture humbly offered in service to the ongoing struggle for a more humane planetary mythos.

“Soul-making” is a “system of salvation” and “spirit creation” first articulated by Keats in a letter to his brother and sister-in-law in May of 1819. Keats was after a form of spiritual wisdom that did not “affront our reason and humanity,” and that would reframe many of the problems besetting traditional Christianity. “Intrareligious dialogue” has been defined by Raimon Panikkar as a “quest for salvific truth” that “takes place in the core of our being” as “an authentic prayer open in all directions” that is “no longer concerned with mere formulations of our own tradition or of other people” (IRD, p. xvii). This essay is my experiment in soul-making, which Keats defined as a search for the “proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming the Soul.” It could also be called an inward opening, or intrareligious prayer, to Buddha and Christ. I beckon these beings, asking them to reveal, if they will, “the whole human world and also the entire reality” as it is reflected within the microcosm of my soul (ibid., xviii).

Though Keats had but little conscious knowledge of the Buddha, the development of his system of soul-making was motivated by realizations nearly identical to the First and Second Noble Truths, that life is suffering caused by attachment to a transient world.

“Circumstances are like clouds continually gathering and bursting,” writes Keats,

…while we are laughing the seed of some trouble is put into the wide arable land of events—while we are laughing it sprouts [and] grows and suddenly bears a poison fruit which we must pluck…This is the world—thus we cannot expect to give way many hours to pleasure.

The world, or perhaps the soul’s relation to the world, has gone astray. It is this condition and circumstance from which all salvific religion emerges. It was only once I had awakened to the truths of suffering and impermanence—to the waywardness of the human world—that my spiritual path began. As Christ has said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Only upon recognizing and accepting my own fallen state can I hope to hear the saving Word within a receptive heart. Otherwise, without the inner silence brought by such recognition, my mind wanders endlessly, grasping at one temporary pleasure after the next, never finding in them the Love I so desperately seek. No matter the worldly progress I may make by achieving money and fame, it inevitably leaves me unhappy and wanting more, since, as Keats writes, I am “mortal and there is still a heaven with its stars above [my] head.” Unless I find Love, upon death I “would leave this world as Eve left Paradise”: sinful and with regret. Such a world remains fallen, what Keats called “a vale of tears.”

The Buddha’s Third Noble Truth suggests that there is a cure for the suffering of this world, and that it may be attained, if not in this life, then in one of the many lives to come. Rather than temporally relieving pain with pleasure, Buddha uproots it entirely, offering a way out of the cycle of samsara through the gradual elimination of karma. Christianity’s way of salvation is often contrasted with Buddha’s, since the former’s focuses on the overwhelming importance of this life as our one chance to prepare for death, after which we may be “redeemed,” writes Keats, “by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven.” Keats finds this a doctrine too “little” and “circumscribed” to be believable. But the larger possibilities of reincarnation are not entirely foreign to Christian theology. One of the first Christian theologians, Origen, articulated a doctrine of metempsychosis in the 2nd century based on the fallen soul’s need of passing through successive stages before returning to God. Rudolf Steiner, a 20th century seer, suggested that, without accommodating itself to the truths of reincarnation and evolution, Christianity would remain too narrowly focused on the salvation of the ego or private personality, rather than the whole cosmic community to which the individual is karmically tied (CMF).

“If we observe the various phases of karmic chain-reaction [or evolutionary reincarnation],” writes Tibetan Lama Anagarika Govinda,

…we become conscious of a supra-individual karmic interrelatedness, comprising nations, races, civilizations, humanity, planets, solar systems and finally the whole universe” (FTM, p. 219).

If I contemplate the life and teaching of Christ, it becomes apparent to me that the meaning of the resurrection is already suggestive of reincarnation, or our ability to be “born again.” If I die to myself, to the reactivity of my physical body and pleasure-seeking soul, I am born again free of sin, like Christ, “not of the water, but of the spirit” (Luke 3:16). This rebirth is my reincarnation, my second chance at life, through participation in the eternally resurrecting Body of Christ. The earth and the cosmos are within this Body, and only dying for the sake of its Life awakens consciousness to his invisible Soul. The meaning of the historical arc of Christian redemption becomes all the more clear when each particular soul is understood to participate in a multi-generational work of uniting itself with the World-Soul and the visible universe it animates. God cannot force change upon the world from outside time and space, since God’s omnipotence is not other than God’s Love, which works only from within the world through the power of animation and the magic of soul (i.e., Imagination). As the particular soul seeks identity with the universal anew in every age, Spirit incarnates more fully into history. Gradually, karma is undone and sin forgiven, since life after life the Love of God for the world becomes more present between persons.

Gautama and Jesus were enlightened human beings whose bodies nonetheless bled upon the cross of time and space, there dying to finitude in order to more fully realize the infinite. “Do you not see,” asks Keats, “how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school a [divine] Intelligence and make it a Soul?” Without living and dying upon the earth, these beings could not fully grasp the nature of the eternal realm from which they came. Even divinity has something to learn from the condition of suffering. But rather than dissolving into the bliss of nirvana or remaining with the Father in heaven after their earthly deaths, they returned as bodhisattvas, vowing to remain in connection with the earth until the sin and suffering of all sentient beings is alleviated.

What form have they taken in their return? It does not seem to be physical or sensible, as then surely more would recognize their presence among us. Rather, these beings have taken up residence within the human soul, there acting as friends and advocates along our path through the school of the world toward spiritual happiness. The supersensible, rather than plainly visible presence of Buddha and Christ accounts for why the current state of human discussion concerning their reality tends to circle endlessly around the relative merits of belief or disbelief. While the secularization thesis (that modernization would inevitably lead to reduced religiosity) has failed, leaving the world more religious today than ever before, in general, the return to religion has tended to construe spiritual claims as merely notional, available for conceptual assent or not depending on one’s psychological disposition or moral inclination. Therefore, while religion can offer justifiable ethical standards, the ontology of Spirit has been bracketed, since no empirical proof has yet been made available that might scientifically verify its reality. For religion to meet both the practical and theoretical needs of a planetary civilization, it must respect the validity of the scientific picture while at the same time pointing out the limited scope of its empirical method. Religion cannot only be critical of science, however; it must also develop its own techniques of transformation to bring the soul into relation to supersensible spiritual realities. Soul-making is an example of such a technique, and can be the catalyst of a new consciousness of religion.

Empiricism has honed only one of the soul’s powers, namely, sensory perception, and due to its great practical successes in technologically extending the reach of sensation, science has tended to ignore the soul’s other capacities. The soul is dynamic, always in motion between its active (poeisis) and passive (paschein) poles. In its sensory mode, the soul passively suffers the world; in its thinking mode, the soul actively creates the world. The reality of Spirit must be considered in the context of this polarization in the life of the soul. A soul whose productive half remained dormant could not experience Christ or Buddha, since these beings are not simply waiting in the outer world for us to perceive. Nor could a soul released from its passionate attunement to the outer world experience their being, since then they would be but figments of inner fantasy evaporating as soon as the fervency of our belief grew tired. The reality of Spirit cannot be known through sensation or conception alone, but must be participated, or enacted, by the organ of Imagination. Imagination unites passivity and activity, perceiving and thinking, and is cultivated by the mutual work of heart and mind one upon the other.

“I am certain of nothing,” writes Keats,

but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination—What the Imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth—whether it existed before or not… The Imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream—he awoke and found it truth (from a letter to Benjamin Bailey on November 22, 1817).

Science, of course, also draws from both ends of the soul’s polarization, being as much a logical as an empirical method. It is primarily a tool of the mind used to read the book of nature, but its emphasis on empirical data alone prevents it from hearing the divine Word spoken in the heart. The role of religion is to remind humanity that the eye of the mind is in need of the heart’s ear, lest we forget our real desire and true identity.

Who is the soul, what does it desire, and why? These are the questions besetting each individual person, and it is through our unique participation in the imaginative process of soul-making that they are answered. Regarding the issue of identity, Buddha taught some of his students the doctrine of anātman (no-self), while to others he granted the reality of the ātman (whose true identity is Bráhman) (GH, p. 81). This is no contradiction, but rather the result of Buddha’s upāya, or skillful means. His teachings are never final, but offered provisionally as helpful aids tailored to the students that he happens to be speaking with in any given moment. Perhaps in the Buddhist context, the soul is best conceived of as a principle, rather than an entity. According to D. T. Suzuki, the soul is tṛṣṇā, the principle of thirst, or desire. In this sense, the soul does not have desires, but in fact is desire (the polarity of the soul discussed above is here preserved, since as desire it is both an active seeking and a passive suffering). Suzuki also suggests that tṛṣṇā is the creator, not just of the individual soul, but also of the material universe itself. We are the microcosmic reflections of its macrocosmic extent.

“As its highest and richest expression,” he writes,

[the human being] can have an insight into the nature of tṛṣṇā and its working. When we really see into ourselves, tṛṣṇā will bare itself before itself in us…Tṛṣṇā lies in us not as one of the factors constituting our consciousness, but it is our being itself. It is I; it is you; it is the cat; it is the tree; it is the rock; it is the snow; it is the atom” (MCB, p. 107-108).

As was held by Christian scholastics, Suzuki is describing how, from a Buddhist perspective, “the soul is, in a way, all things” (Anima quodammodo omnia). In our literalistic age, the soul is looked for in the body, as if in the heart, the lungs, or the pineal gland. For a pre-modern seer like Aquinas, it is rather the body that is in the soul. As tṛṣṇā, the soul creates and gives form to the physical organism, which is “the coagulated, crystallized, or materialized consciousness of the past” (FTM, p. 68). The organism is the product of billions of years of accumulated desire, the materialized memory of past mental activity. In other words, even the body does not escape the process of soul-making. “Man can never be large enough to possess his psychic organs,” writes psychologist James Hillman, “He can but reflect their activities” (RP, p. 173).

Soul-making is an attempt to become more conscious of how our desires shape us, in body and in mind. Both Buddha and Christ teach that the desire that made the universe can, in the awakened, anointed human soul, become a Love that glorifies and redeems all things.

Trinity and Trikaya

When the teachings of Christ first encountered Greek culture, the Biblical account of the creation of the universe through the power of divine speech was understood to be akin to the role of the philosophical concept of Logos, or cosmic intelligence. The incarnation of Christ meant a radical change had occurred in the nature of the world and the human being. For the Greek convert to Christianity, the meaning of the incarnation is that, as John’s Gospel puts it, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). No longer simply a philosophical concept, Logos became a living human person made of flesh and blood. Logos, understood macrocosmically, entered fully into the microcosm.

A deeper understanding of the 2nd person, and of the Trinity generally, may be garnered from considering them in relation to the Buddhist Trikaya. My reading of the similarities between the Trinity and Trikaya is predominantly an imaginative exercise or experiment, not a textual exegesis of Buddhist or Christian sources (though these will be consulted). I do not mean to equate the two concepts, but to consider them as unique attempts to articulate the differentiated unity of ultimate reality. I’ll begin this exercise by describing the Trinity and Trikaya each in turn, before moving on to draw out their similarities.

For the Christian, ultimate reality is conceived of as a loving communion between Father, Son, and Spirit. God, though of one substance, is nonetheless three persons, since otherwise, there would be no differentiation in the Godhead, and therefore no possibility of love or relationship. The Father is traditionally described as unknowable and infinitely transcendent (GH, p. 152). The First Letter to Timothy says of the Father that “…no one has ever seen or ever can see him” (6:16). The Son is the image of the Father, the transcendent made immanent by being given concrete form. The Son issues forth eternally from the Father, which is why Jesus says “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself commanded me what to say and how to speak” (John 12:49). The Son could be described as a doorway, or gate, leading to the Father (GH, p. 105). The Spirit is the advocate who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and who remains on earth after Christ’s resurrection to council humanity concerning the power of Love. The Spirit has also been identified with the personal spirit or breath of Jesus that inhabited his disciples (GH, p. 154).

For the Buddhist (of the Tibetan lineage), ultimate reality is conceived of as infinite spaciousness, though not a spaciousness that is opposed to form. As the Heart Sutra says:

…emptiness [or spaciousness] is form; form is emptiness. Apart from form, emptiness is not; apart from emptiness, form is not. Emptiness is that which is form, form is that which is emptiness.

This spaciousness that is not other than form is called the body of truth, or the Dharmakaya. It is the primordial law and cause of all things (FTM, p. 213). The Dharmakaya, when envisioned and expressed in its mode of creative formation, is called the Sambhogakaya. This is the body of enjoyment and bliss. “From it,” according to Lama Govinda, “flows all deep wisdom and profound truth” (FTM, p. 214). The Sambhogakaya might be conceived of as akin to the Imagination discussed above, the organ of soul-making that unites the spiritual and the sensible through the wisdom and compassion of the heart-mind. When the inspired bliss of the Sambhogakaya is transformed into visible activity by incarnating into human form, it is called the Nirmanakaya, or emanation body (FTM, p. 213). In Tibetan, Nirmanakaya is translated as “tulku,” which refers to a reincarnate lama (GH, p. 190) who has re-entered the physical plane not on accident, but consciously. The Nirmanakaya, then, is a consciously created body (FTM, p. 221). Lama Govinda suggests that only through the Nirmanakaya, as seen from within the world of physical embodiment, can the other two bodies be experienced and realized (FTM, p. 222):

Only in the Nirmanakaya can we realize the Dharmakaya effectively, by converting it into an ever-present conscious force, into an incandescent, all consuming focus of experience, in which all elements of our personality are purified and integrated. This is the transfiguration of body and mind…achieved only by the greatest of saints (ibid.).

The parallels between the Trinity and the Trikaya may already have become apparent, but I will attempt to make them more explicit. It must be acknowledged that there is no perfect one-to-one correspondance between the three bodies and the three persons, but rather a rich ambiguity testifying to the deeply evocative meaning inherent in each doctrine.

Thupten Jinpa links the Dharmakaya with the Father, the Sambhogakaya with the Spirit, and the Nirmanakaya with the Son (GH, p. 189). In this scheme, the Dharmakaya and the Father are both recognized as the inexpressible mystery from which all things freely arise. They are the Truth and the Law underlying the manifest cosmos. The Sambhogakaya and the Spirit are recognized as the love, wisdom, and enjoyment of being that pervade the world at a level subtler than the physical dimension. The Dalai Lama describes how, after Gautama Buddha’s parinirvana, though his physical body decayed and disappeared, his Sambhogakaya, or “state of perfect resourcefulness,” continued and remains ever-present (GH, p. 119). Those still devoted to the Buddha’s teaching benefit by relating to this subtler form of his being. This is very close to the message of John’s Gospel, where Christ says that, after his ascension, the Spirit will be sent to remind the faithful of his message and to aid them in its practice (14:25). Finally, the Nirmanakaya and the Son are recognzied in Jinpa’s scheme as emanations or physical embodiments of subtler forces that have been “stepped down” so as to benefit the temperament of ordinary mortals like ourselves. Were it not for the historical emanation of Gautama Buddha, or the incarnation of Jesus Christ, normal human beings could never have accessed their divine teachings.

Another reading is possible. Relating the Dharmakaya to the Father is unproblematic, but Son and Spirit may also be fruitfully understood as parallels to Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya, respectively. The relation between the Sambhogakaya, understood to be the organ of Imagination (as discussed above), and the Son becomes clearer in light of William Blake’s oft repeated insight, that “Jesus is the Imagination.”

Jesus is the Imagination, the creative power at the core of man’s being. All things are comprehended in their Eternal Forms in the divine body of the Savior, the true vine of eternity, the Human Imagination” (BD, p. 159).

If, as Lama Govinda suggests, the Sambhogakaya is the body that provides an exalted vision of higer forms and ideas (FTM, p. 214), perhaps Christ is not (only) a historical emanation, but an eternally born, universal potency lying dormant in the human soul. Through the processes of interplay between heart, mind, and world at work in soul-making, Christ may be resurrected within each of us as an organ of Imagination, thereby granting us participation in eternal Love and bliss. On this reading, Christ is not (or at least not only) an individual who lived and died in Jerusalem during the first century CE (as in Jinpa’s scheme, where He is equated with the Nirmanakaya), but an ever-flowing creative presence available to those whose heart-mind’s are adequately prepared to witness Him.

The Nirmanakaya, then, can be related to the Spirit, or that which is awakened in the individual human being to the imaginal presence of the Son. As Blake put it, the Spirit is “the intellectual fountain proceeding from Jesus to man” (BD, p. 158). It would be impossible to remain a Christian while denying that Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully divine, and that he indeed walked the earth as a man in 1st century Jerusalem. That Christ is currently present to  consciousness on the imaginal, rather than the physical plane, does not mean he wasn’t once physically incarnate. His birth, death, and resurrection as a physical being prepared the human vessel for Spirit to enter into and be realized by our consciousness. The ambiguity between the Son and the Spirit, or the Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya, is a reflection of the permeability of the physical plane to the supersensible influence of the Imagination. According to Steiner, this permeability is a result of the spiritual transformation of the very substance of the earth brought about by the Christ event (CMF).

Conclusion: Soul and Spirit

“As various as the Lives of Men are,” writes Keats, “so various become their Souls, and thus does God make individual beings, Souls, identical Souls of the Sparks of his own essence.” If religion is to return to play a fruitful role in our post-secular context, it must re-envision itself so that it might speak to the needs of modern people. Nearly a hundred years of depth psychology have made it increasingly difficult to deny the inherently polytheistic tendencies of the soul. According to Hillman, for whom psychology was akin to soul-making, “The soul’s inherent multiplicity demands a theological fantasy of equal differentiation” (RP, p. 167). Each of us is uniquely shaped by our respective traditions, which is not to deny that all of us are also universally drawn toward Spirit. Spirit is such that, as soon as it is named, it becomes multiple. Christ and Buddha are the voices most easily heard by my soul, but it is through a devotion to their teachings of love and kindness that I become capable of hearing the voices of other traditions. There is no more important challenge, and perhaps none more difficult, than this openness to the wisdom of others.

The “New Age” approach taken in this essay could be criticized as leading to a “religion of the supermarket” (DRB, p. 44), wherein an uprooted individual borrows various elements from the world’s wisdom traditions in order to construct a spiritual orientation most comfortable to their personal inclinations. There is indeed a danger of superficiality in such practices, but the growing interpenetration of traditions in our new planetary context has also created new possibilities for soul-making.

As Chaudhuri has written,

…modern man is uniquely privileged to draw upon the manifold richness of world culture. He can select according to the needs and requirements of his growing soul. The selected material, however diverse in form, can be transformed into the harmony of balanced self-development by the creative spark within him, by his authentic self, which shines most in free communication with the boundless universe (MMR, p. 74).

The world becomes a vale of soul-making when earth is no longer radically separated, due to our sin (or clouded perception), from heaven, nor soul (or desire) separated from Love (or Spirit). Instead, an economy can be opened between the Above and the Below, such that creative divinity participates directly in the life of the soul, and, eventually, in the shaping of the body igniting it.

Works Cited

 MMR = Chaudhuri, Haridas. Modern Man’s Religion. 1966. J. F. Rowny Press: Santa Barbara, CA.

DRB = Cornille, Catherine. “Double Religious Belonging: Aspects and Questions.” Buddhist-Christian Studies, vol. 23. 2003. University of Hawaii Press.

BD = Damon, Samuel Foster. Eaves, Morris. A Blake Dictionary: The ideas and symbols of William Blake. 1988. University Press of New England: Hanover, NH.

FTM = Govinda, Lama Anagarika. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism. 1959. Rider & Company: London, UK.

RP = Hillman, James. Revisioning Psychology. 1977. Harper: New York, NY.

GH = Kiely, Robert. The Good Heart: A Buddhist perspective on the teachings of Jesus. 1998. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA.

IRD = Panikkar, Raimon. The Intrareligious Dialogue. 1998. Paulist Press: New York, NY.

CMF = Steiner, Rudolf. Christianity as Mystical Fact. 1997. Anthroposophic Press: Hudson, NY.

MCB = Suzuki, D. T. Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist. 2002. Routledge: New York, NY.

Excerpts of John Keats are from the letter dated Feb 19th, 1819 to George and Georgiana Keats (unless otherwise noted by in text citation).

I am Time

Time is unwinding

through its eternal hour

and life is heading always

toward the grave.

The sun is being born

and dying

every day

as the earth

rolls across the sky.

Toward the Origin

all creation flows,

though once upon a time,

the destiny of this world

was written with words.

History:

the dreadful deeds

of speaking animals

become fallen angels,

the confession of earthly prisoners,

their struggle

to be set free

from certainty,

from Fate.

The human being will fly

when with wings of light

it takes the leap into darkness,

dying into its depths.

There, at the still center of a eye-less world,

the soul catches wind of heaven

and begins to rise.

Through the wisdom of love

death is unmasked

as the bleeding heart of God.

In paradise, now twice,

the sun sets into night

revealing astral signs

of years far greater

than its height.

Here, I find my destiny,

who takes me for a fool.

She does not test me,

but trusts in my simplicity.

I judge not evil

the world that birthed me,

but good,

for my soul returns

to her same

secret womb

when my last breath

unbinds me

and in my body

only room remains.

The course of my earthly life

is guided ahead of time

by eyes divine and wiser

shouting silent words

from eternity

at my deaf reveries.

I live life

chasing the scents

of muses;

possessed by the songs

of sirens;

enamored with the endless tales

of Time.

These are the moods

of my soul’s relation

to the world’s.

Together, the world-soul,

you and I,

imagine eternity.

Time is a temple,

enter,

pray,

let its spirit

undo you.

Die.

Where have you gone?

Where had you come from?

Time tells its secrets to no one.

Time is one,

and though without a name,

time still speaks in me.

I am time.

You are time.

We are the world-soul,

a moving image

made eternally.

So far as I know, John Keats coined the phrase “soul-making” in a letter to his brother and sister in May of 1819.
He writes:

“…suppose a rose to have sensation. It blooms on a beautiful morning. It enjoys itself–but there comes a cold wind, a hot sun–it cannot escape it, it cannot destroy its annoyances. They are as native to the world as itself: no more can man be happy in spite, the worldly elements will prey upon his nature.

The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is ‘a vale of tears’ from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven. What a little circumscribed straightened notion! Call the world if you Please ‘The vale of Soul-making.’ Then you will find out the use of the world. (I am speaking now in the highest terms for human nature admitting it to be immortal which I will here take for granted for the purpose of showing a thought which has struck me concerning it): I say ‘Soul making.’ Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence…There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions–but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself. Intelligences are atoms of perception–they know and they see and they are pure, in short they are God. How then are Souls to be made? How then are these sparks which are God to have identity given them so as forever to possess a bliss peculiar to each one’s individual existence? I–low, but by the medium of a world like this? This point I sincerely wish to consider because I think it a grander system of salvation than the Christian religion–or rather it is a system of Spirit-creation. This is effected by three grand materials acting the one upon the other for a series of years. These three Materials are the Intelligence, the human Heart (as distinguished from intelligence or Mind), and the World or Elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming the Soul or Intelligence destined to possess the sense of Identity.”

Keats offers his scheme of salvation as an alternative to the Christian religion, which he says later in the same letter has disenchanted and depersonalized the world because of its obsessive monotheism. Without an “elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other,” the Intelligence is unable to mature into Individuality. The Soul remains a potentiality unable, through the schooling of a living universe, to self-actualize.

I’m interested in the spiritual fruits that may mature by bringing Keats’ scheme into conversation with Mahayana Buddhism and Esoteric Christianity. For the Buddha, selfhood was an illusion to be dissolved. Ego is not only a source of suffering, but its cause, since only such a false sense of identity allows one’s inherent Buddha-nature to become deformed by grasping after the fleeting images arising and perishing in the round of samsara. Samsara, for Keats, is the vale of tears. Nirvana is realized when our true identity, dependently co-arising with all that is and is-not, replaces the false identity of the ego.

The teachings of Christ suggest that within each of us dwells an innocence akin to Adam’s prior to the Fall. Through love of our neighbor, the world, and God, each of us may be born again, “not of the water, but of the Spirit.” Then, “not I, but the Christ in me” lives eternally within the heart of the Creator. The world becomes a vale of soul-making when Earth is no longer radically separated, due to our sin (or clouded perception), from Heaven. Instead, an economy is opened between the Above and the Below, such that creative divinity participates even in the shaping of the dust from which our bodies emerge and return. Each becomes, like Christ, a Son or Daughter of God. The Soul gains an identity by making itself particular, learning from the trials of the World aided by the universal Intelligence aflame within it. Soul-making is no less a task for humanity than incarnation is for divinity. To become who we really are: perhaps in this mission both Buddha and Christ are our partners.

I’ll be exploring some of these ideas further in an essay to be posted soon!

Conference put on by the Interdisciplinary Dialogue Forum, a student group in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at CIIS.

The History of Access: An Introduction to the Speculative Turn – Sam Mickey and Adam Robbert

Ganga – River, Goddess, Thing – Elizabeth McAnally

The Astonishing Depths of Things – Sam Mickey

Objects in Action: Promiscuous Applications of an Ecological Realism – Adam Robbert

SR in 3 minutes – Sam Mickey

Wizards, Corpses and Ferris Wheels: The Ever-Weird Frontiers of Enlightened Activity – Aaron Weiss

Schelling’s Naturephilosophy: Platonic Lessons for Speculative Realism – Matt Segall

Participatory Realism: Two Cheers for Meillassoux – Keynote speaker Professor Jacob Sherman

Final Q&A

Adam Robbert has written a nice summary of the panel discussion last week (4/8) on Speculative Realism. I’ve pasted it below. For the audio from the event, click HERE.

Here are a few reflections on last Fridays event “Here Comes Everything: An Introduction to Speculative Realism.” Video of the event will be posted later today (hopefully!).

The evening was split roughly into two halves with three presentations on each side of a short break. The first three, as you shall see, focused heavily on the Latour-OOO branch of Speculative Realism, with the second half focusing on Buddhist dialogues with Speculative Realism as well as excellent treatments of the work of Iain Hamilton Grant and Quentin Meillassoux.

The evening started off with Sam Mickey and myself (Adam Robbert) recounting our own version of “The History of Access” a little piece riffing on the many facets of the post-Kantian scene in philosophy. Fortunately for everyone, Sam is one of those people who can summarize a book in three words, an auspicious asset considering that we gave ourselves only 25 minutes to explain the major philosophical insights gained since the late 18th century.

Correlationism is of course the centerpiece of any attempt to introduce Speculative Realism to those unfamiliar with the disparate and divergent movement. Charting the history of philosophy, Sam took us through the multiple adumbrations of correlationism including German idealism, phenomenology, deconstruction, analytic philosophy and their assorted subgenres, showing how correlationist thinking has left anti-realist and anti-metaphysical philosophies in its wake.

My own task in this introduction was somewhat easier and focused on the relevant strands of philosophy that, in their own way, had continued a tradition of speculation, ontology and metaphysics despite their increasing unpopularity throughout 20th century philosophy.

Where Sam articulated post-Kantian prohibitions against speculation, I focused on those figures that I felt had admirably maintained an avid love of speculation. William James seemed an obvious choice, as it was he who had such an impact on both Whitehead and Latour. There is something about James’ phrase “everything is ever not quite” that I felt captured so well both the desire to articulate an ontological position, and the inevitable failure of any attempt at complete metaphysical description. James in this way anticipates central figures to speculative realism.

Where Whitehead sought to systematize James’ ontological pluralism, and Latour so adequately applied both the Jamesian notion of radical empiricism and the Whiteheadian metaphysical love of process, one could also read into James’ “ever not quite” a hint of what Heidegger would later articulate as the withdrawn nature of the tool- a position that, as anyone familiar with OOO knows, would become a cornerstone of Harman’s articulation of the ontology of objects.

Though the connection between James and Heidegger is perhaps not canonical in any recognized philosophical sense, the tie between the “withdrawn” and the “ever not quite” seems to situate both thinkers in a way that makes both the phenomenological background of Heidegger and the psychology of James as important precursors to at least the OOO branch of Speculative Realism. Of course, “ever not quite” and “totally withdrawn,” are phrases from different traditions with notable distinctions; nevertheless an evasive ontological quality is present in both.

Whether or not Speculative Realism is still a term that can be used to describe the work of people as diverse as Ray Brassier and Graham Harman is a matter of contention. Our own group seemed ambivalent about the distinction, but it seemed clear that OOO and Speculative Realism, though historically related, are growing further apart.

Our introduction rounded out with further reflections on the use of speculative philosophy in connection with other movements in thought that occurred during the 20thcentury. In addition to the psychology of James and the cosmology of Whitehead, we also noted the contributions of Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stenger’s with regards to the “Parliament of Things” and the “Cosmopolitics,” respectively. Donna Haraway’s work in feminism, science studies and her work on companion species were also noted. Haraway seems to be the figure most rooted in both the 20th century critical continental scene drawing on the likes of Foucault, as well as exhibiting a strong connection to Whitehead’s own speculative philosophy (on a side note, her capacity to hold these distinct positions is one of the reasons she is such a hero of mine).

That Stengers and Haraway were both central to the Claremont conference “Metaphysics and Things,” which was attended by three of the six panel members at our event was noteworthy as well. Haraway and Stengers are not, strictly speaking, members of the original four speculative realists (which most now know consisted of Ray Brassier, Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman and Ian Hamilton Grant), nevertheless their ongoing contributions to philosophy, anthropology and science studies make them central figures in the ongoing need to articulate not only new ontologies, but also new political and ethical systems of practice in relation to the work of metaphysics. One of the recurring themes and questions at our Friday event centralized ethics, the problem of evil and practice. There seemed to be an air of question as to whether the potency with which Speculative Realism has approached ontology has left it vulnerable, at least at this stage in the game, to political, ethical and moral criticisms (are we forsaking crucial considerations vis-à-vis praxis in the rush return to metaphysics?) Important questions abound here.

Our brief introduction was followed by the work of doctoral student Elizabeth McAnally, whose recent return from India gave her presentation a concrete and direct feel for us all to engage with the value of speculative realism in general, and with the philosophy of Bruno Latour and Graham Harman in particular. Having written her MA thesis on Latour, her ability to describe the value of actor-network theory with confidence and ease was apparent. The Ganges River in India, her particular site of study, afforded everyone with the opportunity to explore just what an object-oriented philosophy could perform in terms of on the ground research. The Ganges is a goddess, a river, a sewage canal and much more. That religion, politics and ecology are intertwined with the river goes without saying, the problem lies in allying these disparate perspectives into a kind of “water democracy” that adequately situates each perspective. Latour’s notion of “irreduction” was particularly prescient here as it becomes easy to see that any mode of abstraction (be it religious, scientific or political) has the capacity to reduce the Ganges to a particular set of relations, something that both Latour and Harman provide robust grounds for arguing against. Elizabeth’s presentation highlighted the value of Latour’s work in terms of religious, ecological and political praxis.

Next, Sam Mickey was given the floor once again to explore “The Astonishing Depths of Things,” a philosophical exegesis that opened us into the philosophical roots of Graham Harman’s philosophy. Mickey, once a devout Heideggerian, explained how through reading Latour he was able to break the Heideggerian circle and return to “the things themselves” through both Latour’s critique of Heidegger in We Have Never Been Modernand Latour’s political musings in The Politics of Nature. Anyone familiar with Harman will note Sam’s historical kinship with him. As a student of the works of Heidegger, and then of Latour, Sam was uniquely positioned to understand Harman’s position perhaps better than any of us. A simple synthesis of Heidegger and Latour was not, however, Sam’s highlight. In my opinion, Sam was at his strongest when articulating a “philosophy of touch” as both an integral philosophy (from the etymology of “integral” meaning “untouched”) and an object-oriented philosophy following, for example, Whitehead scholar Roland Faber’s comments at the Claremont conference that Harman’s is also a “philosophy of touch.” Drawing on Harman’s concepts of vicarious causation and allure, Sam argued that all objects are both always already touching every other object in the universe and are always withdrawn from all relations, planting him firmly in Harmanian grounds. I am definitely looking forward to see how the project of touch unfolds in both integral and object-oriented philosophical modes.

I will abstain from producing an account of my own talk for the panel as I have already posted the paper I delivered for the event HERE. My own notions of an ecological realism and a fourfold research method are nascent, but suffice to say that they at least seemed well received.

Shifting gears in the second half (after food and some wine), Aaron Weiss, doctoral student in the Asian Comparative Studies department regaled us with an account of both Buddhist cosmology and Harman’s chapter in Circus Philosophicus entitled “The Ferris Wheel.” Aaron is another one of those rare scholars that is as funny as he is deep. Starting with a description of the god-king Indra’s jeweled net –in which each faceted gem is connected to an infinite amount of other gems strung together through an n-dimensional array of threads- Aaron invited questions that could be considered alongside of Harman’s own accounts of objects as they rotate above and below ground, traveling as they do upon a gigantic Ferris wheel. Praxis was also a central theme of Aaron’s talk. We had heard about touch, we had heard about actors, objects and networks, but what are the practices associated with these ontological musings, asked Aaron. As a practitioner and scholar of Buddhism, practices are central to both Aaron’s studies in general and to his reading of integral philosophy in particular. The “Latourian Litanies” –those lists of cheetahs, leprechauns and patriot missiles for which Latour is so famous (and from which Harman seems to have learned so much) are for Aaron, modes of mindfulness where one can consider the interconnections of disparate things. Aaron’s talk seemed to me a call not just philosophize, but also to consider philosophy alongside non-philosophical modes of practice, to which philosophy (being that it cannot be its own self-contained island) must remain in relation to.

Thus far in the evening a disproportionate amount of attention had been paid to the likes of Bruno Latour and Graham Harman, so much so that I had a creeping feeling of anxiety that we should have named this event “Introduction to Object-Oriented Philosophies” rather than the more general title “Introduction to Speculative Realism.” It was true that we had centered Quentin Meillassoux’s work and his term “correlationism” in the introduction (and again in a brief recap after the break for those folks who had arrived late). Sam had also on more than one occasion invited us to explore and try out not just nihilism, but Ray Brassier’s more sophisticated  “transcendental nihilism.” Nevertheless with four out of six presentations complete, the original speculative realist crew seemed ill represented. Our final two presenters, however, would serve to help remedy this imbalance as both Dr. Jacob Sherman and philosophy doctoral student Matt Segall would take us through the works of both Quentin Meillassoux and Iain Hamilton Grant, respectively.

Matt Segall’s ambitious presentation sought to argue the well taken point that, although speculative realism may be new in name, the mode of philosophizing advocated by speculative realists is as old is Plato (Segall’s blog, named FOOTNOTES2PLATO after Whitehead’s famous comments about the history of philosophy being “footnotes to Plato” gives you a sense that returning to Plato is a common practice for this young philosopher). Working through three central texts: Kant’s Critique of Judgment,Schelling’s Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature, and Plato’s Timaeus, Segall sought to justify and explore the insight of Iain Hamilton Grant’s own contributions to Speculative Realism in Nature after Schelling. Aside from all the heavy philosophizing, Segall has a background in cognitive science and biology, which gives him the unique power to move between philosophical and scientific discourse in a manner unfair for someone of his age. Alongside of Kant’s Critique of Judgment, one finds Segall’s talks peppered with references to geology, evolutionary theory and in particular, a love of the work of Francisco Varela and Evan Thompson. “There will never be a Newton of the grass blade,” remarked Segall, echoing Kant’s famous phrase. For Segall, following in Grant’s footsteps, correlationism is overcome by a reversal of the Kantian position that ‘all of existence must be grounded in the mind.’ No such thing is necessary, argues Segall. Rather, the earth itself is the transcendental ground that anchors consciousness and not the reverse. Segall’s tagline could have been “no earth, no geology” a quick phrase that demonstrates the thesis that were there no earth prior to mind, no experience as such would be possible by any human. In this way Segall persuasively argued for Grant’s “geocentric realism,” and that questions of the “thing in itself” need also consider that “the thing itself thinks!” In other words, for Segall and for Grant, there is more to the phenomenal realm which renders it immune to any simple distinction from the noumenal, as the two can be seen to act concordantly in all living things, with our without human mediation.

After repeated criticisms of correlationism from the prior presentations, our keynote speaker Dr. Jacob Sherman’s presentation returned our attention to the origin of the problem of correlationism in modern philosophy, including insightful overviews of the philosophies that led up to Kant’s Copernican turn (including Locke, Berkeley, and Hume).  Focusing on After Finitude, Sherman introduced the penetrating arguments and refreshing style that have helped Meillassoux gain a wide readership.  Honoring the elements of “participatory realism” in Meillassoux’s response to the problem of correlationism, Sherman called for “two cheers for Meillassoux.”  Instead of offering a third cheer, Sherman raised some critical concerns about Meillassoux’s mathematical understanding of real (primary) qualities.

In an odd turn of events, Sherman opened his talk with the verse of Wordsworth, but perhaps this was not so strange when considering some of Meillassoux’s choice words inAfter Finitude. Meillassoux’s “great outdoors,” or “absolute outside,” that aspect of the world to which no human correlate need correspond, is for Sherman a central component of the original Romantic project. Sherman traced the original coinage of the phrase “the great outdoors” to Keats in 1819. The Romantics, Sherman noted, were not concerned with producing mathematical descriptions of primary qualities “outside” of human experience, but rather sought explicitly to explore the sensible qualities that pervaded, with a strange uncannyness, not just the great outdoors, but also, to quote Sherman’s phrase “the great indoors.” For Sherman, Meillassoux has offered just critiques of correlationism in general and of Romanticism in particular, critiques that should and must be heeded by the continuation of any Romantic project.

It is better to watch Sherman so carefully take us through his arguments than it is for me to try and reproduce them here as I can do them no justice, however, Sherman’s final remarks are noteworthy. Meillassoux, who is so eager to a think a world apart from the mind, to consider the arche-fossil as a serious challenge to any honest correlationist position, and who wants, and may have succeeded, in producing a mathematical proof of existence before manifestation, still leaves Sherman wanting. If we are thinking qualities, and not maths, does this not imply that we are also thinking interiority, asked Sherman. And if so, are not the sensual relations, qualities and stories what we want to break free from the correlation? Sherman ended with a challenge for us to thinkqualities non-anthropocentrically.

During the Q&A that followed, it was mentioned that Harman’s metaphysics provides ways of discussing real qualities without mathematicizing them.  The rest of the brief Q&A touched on a variety of big topics for speculative realism, including beauty, time, and the future of philosophy.

Graham Harman and Alfred North Whitehead have a lot in common, but they differ in what they say about substance as a metaphysical category. I think Harman overstates this difference. Whitehead suggests “the whole universe consists of elements disclosed in the experiences of subjects” (Process and Reality, p. 166). This multiple disclosure of the One is an ongoing creative process, where the momentary subject (or “superject”) who apprehends the universe’s local appearance becomes a monad, a word Whitehead remarks “expresses [the subject’s] essential unity at the decisive moment, which stands between its birth and its perishing” (PR, p. 88). In this moment of concrescence, “the many become one, and are increased by one.”

Whitehead, then, does recognize the way in which an actual entity withdrawals from its relations and qualities: it does so precisely as a subject. An object’s (or “subject-superject’s,” in Whitehead’s terms) private subsistence apart from the sensual world is fleeting, almost immediately perishing back into the world, but because in this brief moment it enjoys and decides upon the ideal possibilities of its own future, it adds something new to the cosmic process. An object is withdrawn, for Whitehead, because this enjoyment and decision can never be directly caused by any of its relations.

“What is essential in science is movement; deprived of this vital principle, its assertions die like fruit taken from the living tree.” –Schelling, The Ages of the World

——————————–
The Copernican Revolution had the exoteric effect of throwing the Earth into motion, decentering human consciousness in the Cosmos. We, like the other planets, became a wanderer lost in the Chaos of empty space. Esoterically, the imaginations of Galileo, Newton, and Descartes steadied the Copernican Chaos by revealing the mathematical order underlying the motion of matter in space—a space poetically conceived of as the sensorium of God, an invisible world-soul uniting all things in His infinite Wisdom. Gravitational motion, celestial and terrestrial, was initiated and sustained by the power of this unmoved Mover. He was imaged to be an intelligent designer, and though the perfection of his plan kept the world-machine in stable order, it was a deterministic order.

Kant‘s Ptolemaic counter-revolution re-framed this new scientific knowledge of mechanical nature in order to leave room for freedom, which he understood to be a practical necessity. Freedom, Kant realized, is the ground and condition for the moral existence of an individual human being, as without it we are but the cogs in a great universal machine. Our movements would not be true animation, since we would be chained to forces external to ourselves. There would be nothing human about us were it not for our capacity to will the good. In a universe determined by the cause and effect of soulless bodies upon one another, Kant saw only one way to salvage our birthright and duty in life: “I have found it necessary to limit knowledge to make room for faith.” The human being was thereby lifted out of the realm of nature into the transcendental ideality of the mind. Knowing the True was sacrificed for willing the Good. Nature became, not the condition of our determinism (nor of our freedom, as Schelling would surmise), but the passive place and matter of our active rise in time toward Providence. As Kant put it, “He who would know the world must first manufacture it.” Nature becomes a mere product to be manufactured.

But scientific knowing would not remain bound by the transcendental limits Kant set for it. The early 19th century brought with it a further revelation about the nature of Earth. The burgeoning sciences of geology and paleontology were revealing the depths of the past out of which the life of our planet had come to be. Fossils of strange creatures no longer living raised the question of species extinction (and therefore also of species generation), long assumed an impossibility within the context of a mathematically perfect machine. Added to our understanding of the position of Earth in space was an understanding of its ancestral genesis. Of all those thinkers to take up Kant’s philosophical trajectory, perhaps it was Schelling who most clearly grasped the significance of these sciences of deep time.

Iain Hamilton Grant argues that Schelling sought a geocentric philosophy even more radical than Kant’s. If Earth had been around for hundreds of millions, if not billions of years before the human mind, then the latter could not claim to be its transcendental condition. On the contrary, Earth was the ground from which the human mind had emerged, and if the transcendental conditions of its freedom were sought, they must be discovered in the materiality of Earth itself. Schelling’s naturephilosophy accomplishes this without an eliminativist strategy.

The body of Earth, of course, has also come to be in time. It is itself still conditioned, and so cannot be the unconditioned ground of mind that Schelling is after. As Plato recognized in the Timaeus, there is more to matter than meets the eye. The Idea cannot enter into space and time as an already finished thing, but comes to be through the infinitely receptive productivity of the Receptacle, the mother of all forms, which itself remains formless. Corporeal matter is only the visible half of this “wet-nurse” allowing ideas to materialize and is not itself the source of invisible mind. “Beneath,” or “behind,” or “before” the ground of Earth and all the living bodies upon it, Schelling discovered the primordial abyss (ungrounding) of nature itself. As he put it: “Nature IS a priori,” or “Nature is subject.”

The abyssal dynamism of nature is hidden from view, but its incorporeal power allows ideality to participate in materiality. Through what Plato called “the becoming of being,” the Idea is eternally made Real. How such a seeming contradiction should be possible is difficult to understand; for Plato, it was the highest and most secret teaching.

“Everything,” says Schelling, “begins in darkness” (The Ages of the World). This darkness is the essence of God, that oldest of all beings. But in God there is both an essential (and so necessary) darkness as well as a spontaneous (and so free) light. God is both a Great No and a Great Yes, an eternal return onto self and an eternal giving of self. Without this contradiction, there could be no motion, no life, no genesis or creation. All of visible nature, for Schelling, is an image of this ever forthgoing and returning movement of invisible spirit: “This is the center, the hearth of the life which is continually perishing in its own flames and rejuvenating itself anew from the ash” (ibid.).

At every level of creation, in every creature, the image of eternity is recapitulated. A tree comes forth from a root and grows fruit, which falls to the ground depositing a seed in the soil to take root again. As for a human being, “it is certain that whoever could write the history of his own life from its very ground, would have thereby grasped in a brief conspectus the history of the universe” (ibid.).

…to be continued…

[For a text review and audio recording of the presentations, click HERE.]

Here Comes Everything:An Introduction to Speculative Realism

Featuring Keynote Speaker Professor Jacob Sherman at 830pm

Food and beverages will be provided!

When: Friday, April 8th , 5:30-9:30pm (with a break at 7:15)

Where: The California Institute of Integral Studies, Room 210

5:30pm – “The History of Access: An Introduction to the Speculative Turn” w/ Adam Robbert and Sam Mickey

Since Kant initiated a Copernican turn in philosophy, the trajectory of philosophy has steered away from a serious study of ontology and metaphysics, entrenching itself ever deeper into epistemology, critique, and language analysis. Rather than studying the reality of things in themselves, philosophers have devoted the majority of their efforts to studying access, or the ways humans come to interpret things and the world. This move to access (i.e., correlationism) has had many benefits, from compelling critiques of philosophies and social systems to profound explorations of the relationships intertwining humans with the world.  However, a new movement is bringing forth with renewed intensity a passion for speculating about the weird and wild reality of things in themselves. Dubbed Speculative Realism, this movement questions philosophies of access and seeks to return to philosophical engagements with the real world. This short introduction to the history of access since Kant provides a background for the following presentations that, in their own ways, contemplate the meaning and value of the speculative turn.

6:00pm – “Ganga: River, Goddess, Thing” – Elizabeth McAnally

This presentation explores the philosophy of Bruno Latour through an account of Ganga, the Ganges River of Northern India.  By considering various perspectives of Ganga (including those from sciences, religions, and politics), it is possible to see how this river-goddess can be understood as a “thing” in terms of object-oriented philosophy, such that it is an actor in a complex network of relations.  Latour’s sense of water democracy can help us take into account multiple perspectives regarding Ganga, from local to international levels, bringing these perspectives into dialogue with each other so that comprehensive, long-term solutions to water issues can be reached.

6:25pm – “The Astonishing Depths of Things” – Sam Mickey

Sam will give an overview of Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy—a form of speculative realism—by highlighting Harman’s postsecular integration of three philosophical movements: 1) phenomenology, including Martin Heidegger (whose phenomenology indicates that all objects are withdrawn and not exhausted by theoretical or practical relations) as well as Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Alphonso Lingis (“carnal phenomenologists” who articulate the elemental medium through which things interact), 2) process-relational philosophy, particularly Bruno Latour and Alfred North Whitehead, for whom human-world relations are not primary but are merely a special case of any relation, different only by degree, and 3) occasionalist philosophy, which asserts that objects do not touch each other directly but only through occasional causation (Harman’s “vicarious causation”).  A call echoes throughout object-oriented philosophy and, hopefully, throughout most of 21stcentury philosophy: to rejuvenate our sense of astonishment and renew our contact with things themselves.

6:50pm – “Objects in Action: Promiscuous Explorations of an Ecological Realism” – Adam Robbert

Alfred North Whitehead is considered one of the most formidable philosophers of the 20th century, and certainly one of its most metaphysically inspired. Bruno Latour was perhaps one of the first to make serious use of Whitehead’s cosmology in an applied research setting.  Rethinking Whitehead’s “actual occasion” with the term “actor,” Latour initiated an ontological depiction of reality that led to a novel interpretation of the construction of scientific facts and a description of ecology that leveled the distinction between ecology and society without resorting to reductionism. At the beginning of the 21st century, Graham Harman sought to return to the adventure of metaphysics by again transforming the notion of the “actor” into the more general term “object.” Harman’s object-oriented philosophy follows both Whitehead and Latour, but adds a surprising twist: the withdrawn nature of all objects. Adam will engage objects to forward a notion of “ecological realism,” the startling suggestion that ecology is not the study of organisms in relation to their environments, but rather the study of objects in relation to their environments. Such an experiment in thinking lends to the unusual hypothesis: ecology goes all the way down.

— 20 Minute Break: Snacks and Refreshments! —

7:35pm – “Wizards, Corpses, and Ferris Wheels: The Ever-Weird Frontiers of Enlightened Activity” – Aaron Weiss

What can we learn from the dialogue between Graham Harman’s “Object-Oriented Ontology” and Buddhism? In his presentation, Aaron will articulate some of the work that lies ahead for those wishing to explore this uncharted territory. Incorporating themes of mindfulness, myth, and liberation into a discussion of interobjective relations, Aaron’s presentation will ask participants to think about these subjects in new ways, suggesting novel patterns of thought beyond both dualism and monism.

8:00pm – “Schelling’s Naturephilosophy: Platonic Lessons for Speculative Realism” – Matt Segall

In his study of Schelling’s naturephilosophy (Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, 2006), Iain Hamilton Grant offers a novel characterization that supplants the vitalist and idealist labels usually attached to him. The speculative realist movement is full of delightfully strange ideas, but Schelling’s naturephilosophy presents an especially surprising case study. Schelling breaks the correlationist circle imposed by Kantian transcendentalism by thinking the becoming of the universe with Plato, of all people, whose philosophy is generally considered to be the paradigm case of idealism. Grant’s reading of Plato’s physics challenges those who would call him a two-world metaphysician. Instead, Plato is interpreted as a participatory realist, struggling to account for the way Ideas are realized in the becoming of the universe. My presentation will review Schelling’s speculative response to Kant’s transcendentalism by focusing on three texts: Schelling’s “Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature,” Kant’s “Critique of Judgment,” and Plato’s “Timaeus.” I will argue for the plausibility of Schelling’s geocentric response to Kant’s Copernican Revolution, wherein the earth itself becomes the transcendental ground of human consciousness.

8:30pm – Keynote, “Participatory Realism: Two Cheers for Meillassoux” – Professor Jacob Sherman

**The title alludes to Finnegans Wake (“HCE,” “Here comes everybody”) and to the UCLA conference on SR and OOO (“Hello, Everything”).