Originally posted by lucifershammer
My counter-question would be -- at what point does a fear of idolatry become a refusal to touch / engage with Mystery in the first place?
My counter-question would be -- at what point does a fear of idolatory become a refusal to touch / engage with Mystery in the first place?
I am reminded of a small joke sometimes posted in this forum. A man is drowning and calls out to God for help. A couple rowing nearby hears his calls and arrives at the scene to help, but the man snubs them and ...[text shortened]... hing is a red gaseous giant instead of a white rocky satellite not make him alter his course?
I don’t understand the question...
A mental representation of Mystery is not the same as Mystery, but can one truly engage with or enter into a relationship with Mystery if one refuses to form or evaluate mental representations?
My initial thought was to give an unequivocal “Yes.” But I have to add some major qualifiers (the answer is still “Yes,” but a qualified “Yes” ):
(1) In communion with the Mystery, it can be difficult to get beyond/behind such representations, because the habitual conceptualizing activity of the mind seems to try to immediately translate any “experience” into conceptually coherent terms. (Analogy, which also goes to your Moon question: the visual cortex translates certain energy patterns into a picture inside the head.)
Even when such mental activity ceases, it is difficult to sustain that communion behind/beyond the conceptual/representational makings of the mind. The more one is able to relax into it, rather than make an “effort” to “sustain” it—that is, to simply allow that activity of the mind to rest—the longer (at least in my experience, perhaps because it’s really a quite natural state).
I’m not sure how long such a non-representational communion is sustainable. Perhaps some can sustain it even during such activities as reading or debating. I have only ever had that happen a few times, and it just seemed that it happened with no conscious volition on my part (as opposed to, say, meditation/contemplation).
(2) Even if one is able to sustain (again, ignore that “effortful” kind of language if you can) such a state for some duration, as one returns “from fullness to form,” the conceptual translation process seems to begin immediately—so that I do not know if one can come away from the “experience” without any mental representations forming.
The Zen masters counsel against attaching any significance whatsoever to any such representations, and all of their paradoxical poetic and “koanic” statements are supposedly intended to point away from themselves toward the _______________. I still think that such representations can serve an iconic function—as long as the word, picture, symbol, concept is not taken for the “thing-in-itself.”
That is why, although I have a pretty broad understanding of idolatry, I generally hesitate to say this or that is
idolatrous. For example, I have quoted rabbi and talmudic scholar Marc-Alain Ouaknin with reference to the rabbinical notion of “the idolatry of the one absolute right meaning” of a Torah text; and yet we certainly seek for meaning to arise out of engagement with the text. I don’t think that mental or physical or graphic representation is necessarily idolatrous; I think that they can all be iconically useful. (Like the boats.)
(3) I can not honestly be certain that it isn’t past engagements with representational symbols, even if no longer remembered, that now evoke an “experience” of _______________. Or that today’s engagements (e.g., contemplative reading) will not have their effect in the future.
With regard to your “Moon” example— I would say that one can only know if the picture is accurate (recognizing the limitations of analogy here) if
one has been to the Moon. (A better example might be a place that one has not only never been to, but does not physically view either.) Also, one has to take into account our being accustomed to seeing dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface; in other words, we can’t read the symbols if we don’t already know what they symbolize. (This is true, I think, even of such symbols as “the Mystery”—which you and I both use.)
I am not certain that the world is really as represented by the pictures created by my brain. But those pictures are pragmatically sufficient (generally) to enable me to navigate in that world. And even though that tree over there seems to be separate and at some distance from myself, we are connected—else I could not see it. I think it is because I am of
, and not merely in
, this world that there is such congruence between the grammar of my brain and the larger syntax of which I am.
To try to put it another way, we can’t know if the sign (signifier + signified) actually even has a referent, unless we have some experience of the referent, let alone whether the representational signified is accurate at all with regard to the referent it presumably represents. Further, in this matter, the only real “referent” I am likely to have is my own limited, participatory experience—that is, why I have been recently exploring use of the word communion
as a kind of dialectical synthesis vis-à-vis mystical union on the one hand, and Buber-esque I-Thou relationalism on the other. The boundaries of my “I” expand into the “We”—I am not sure that that communion is not the extent of my “referent” in the matter, and that I can say anything definitive about the “Other” outside of that. Everything that I might be foolhardy enough (as you know I am) to say about the Other really reflects just that “We” communion.