Friday, 7 June 2013

"The Old Way To The One"?

In Poul Anderson's A Circus Of Hells (London, 1978), Ydwyr, a Merseian, has learned mystical and magical practices from members of other species, including Aycharaych of Chereion. In this book we first learn that:

there is an ancient planet called Chereion with an inhabitant called Aycharaych;
a Chereionite civilization may have reached beyond the galaxy a billion years ago but that civilization disappeared for unknown reasons;
Chereion is a dominion of the Roidhunate but its inhabitants probably serve Merseia for their own ends.

This is the only place where we read of Aycharaych's "'...castle at Raal.'" (p. 116) Does that sound like the place where Cthulhu sleeps?

Ydwyr tells the human being, Djana:

"'...the Old Way is not for you to tread to its end - nor me, I confess. We have the real world to cope with, and we will not do so by abandonment of reason.'" (p. 118)

And Djana later mentions, "'The Old Way to the One...'" (p. 120).

Let us agree that reason should not be abandoned ("the sleep of reason brings forth monsters") although sometimes transcended, as in aesthetic experience? Although Anderson creatively imagines other intelligent species, his only source of information on ancient practices is humanity. So is there an "old way" and must it involve abandonment of reason? Let us summarize human traditions.

(i) The Greek tradition of intellectual inquiry from Thales and Socrates to modern science.

(ii) The Abrahamic prophetic tradition culminating alternatively in Torah, Gospel or Koran. This tradition assumes not only a world to be explored but also a single extra-cosmic but historically intervening deity. However, this tradition of urgent social interpretation and intervention can be secularized by synthesizing the prophetic urgency with rational analysis. Thus, oppression is to be ended not because God says so but because it alienates human beings, preventing their self-realization.

(iii) The Hermetic tradition of Occidental mysticism. I do not know much about it.

(iv) Zen ("meditation") synthesizes Chinese Tao ("the Way") with Buddhism which I regard as a reformed version of Jainism (just as Sikhism is like a reformed Islam). Jainism is very old - pre-Vedic? Jains practise asceticism but the Buddha's "reformation" involves a Middle Way between asceticism and hedonism and a meditation that is relaxed awareness, not enforced concentration.

(v) Vedism is polytheism with monism. Hindu philosophy variously synthesizes Vedic and pre- or non-Vedic traditions, for example in Yoga and Vedanta.

I value reason and meditation so I think that we should learn from the "old ways" but not return to them in a way that would negate either rational analysis or scientific knowledge of the external world.

14 comments:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    I'm skeptical Mohammedanism or Islam can be truly called "Abrahamic." Largely because of what I read in Harry Austryn Wolfson's book THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE KALAM. Far too briefly, Islam has a conception of God which is at odds with the Judaeo Christian. That is, God is conceived in Islam as an arbitrary and capricious God.

    Also, I'm a bit puzzled by your comment about the Sikhs. I thought they began by spliting away from Hinduism as a monotheistic protest against its polytheism and fatalism.

    Sean

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  2. Muslims prefer "Islam" (submission to God's will) to "Mohammedanism" which they think gives too much importance to a mere man. From my perspective, Mohammed was a prophetic monotheist like Elijah and the Koran incorporates Biblical stories and reinterprets the role of Jesus so I see it as a development or re-presentation of the Abrahamic tradition rather than as a different tradition. If the concept of God changes, that's part of the deal, like Christianity introducing Trinitarianism. Abraham is important to Jews because he received the Promise, to Christians because he was the ancestor of the Savior and to Muslims because he submitted to God's will.

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  3. I think Guru Nanak was Hindu. If not, then Muslim. Because all he did was led a Hindu-Muslim ecumenical movement, the Sikhs. That movement was so disliked by both sides and oppressed by Muslim rulers, that it had to defend itself, then to differentiate itself from both, the exact opposite of the original intention. So Sikhism became a third religion after Nanak's death. Their scripture, the Granth, is hymns, some by Hindus, some by Muslims and some by Sikh gurus. Thus, some authors of the Granth accepted the Koran which incorporates stories from the Bible. Sikhism's insistence on monotheism is Muslim, its acceptance of reincarnation is Hindu. Gurus and Granth replace prophets and Koran.

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  4. Hi, Paul!

    I still disagree with you about Islam. The conception of God preached by Mohammed simply is not TRUE, in my Catholic eyes. That is, God is arbitary, capricious, and willing to contradict Himself or whimsically violate the laws of nature. And the "Biblical" elements in the Koran came from either heretical or apocryphal sources rejected by both Christians and Jews. Hence, I don't consider Mohammed and his religion "Abrahamic."

    But look up Harry Austryn Wolfson's book when you have time.

    Understood, re the Sikhs. I was a bit surprised it took over some Muslim elements as well as Hindu ideas. I had thought it wholly Hindu in origin.

    Sean

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  5. So, on this view, Judaism is the preliminary revelation, Christianity is the completed revelation and Islam is a heresy (which, to my view, still makes it part of the tradition but that's debatable!) A systematic world view.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      Yes, I can agree with that, Islam is merely a heresy. I don't know if you ever read Hilaire Belloc, a friend of GK Chesteron, but that was his view of Mohammed's religion: that it was a simplified, stripped down, Arianizing imitation of Christianity.

      Sean

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  6. Hi, Paul!

    I've been forgetting to add in my previous notes that there was another "Way" in ancient China which afected neighbors like Korea, Japan, and Vietnam: Confucianism. In many ways I found that philosophy noble and admirable. The closest analog to it in the West being, I think, Stoicism (e.g., see the MEDITATIONS of Marcus Aurelius).

    Sean

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  7. There are 2 approaches to studying religions: emphasise disagreements or emphasise agreements. My interest in the monotheist traditions is academic because I practise Zen.

    Traditions developed: Abraham and Moses each had a covenant with only one god but might not yet have believed that there was only one God.

    Yes, I omitted Confucianism, preferring to concentrate on Taoism because of its interaction with Buddhism.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      But Confucianism was far more dominant and influential in China than Taoism ever became. In fact, Christianity now has more adherents in China today than Taoism.

      Sean

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  8. No denial of the predominance of Confucianism. The Taoists were the anarchists, nonconformists, dropouts etc. But what I was really after was magical or mystical practices that might correspond to the "Old Way" referred to in the novel and Taoism certainly provides both mysticism and magic.

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  9. Hi, Paul!

    I know very little about Taoism, really. Mostly from reading Robert van Gulik's mystery novel set in T'ang times called THE HAUNTED MONASTERY. One little bit I know being how some Taoist mystics sought for immortality. Which kinda reminded me of Tu Shan, a real if accidental immortal, in THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS.

    Sean

    Sean

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  10. Extraordinarily, there is a Taoist philosophy and a Taoist religion which different founders, texts and traditions. The religion even has someone called a "Taoist Pope". Magical means to physical immortality were in there somewhere.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      Two types of Taoism opposed to one another? That does surprise me. I have vaguely heard of the Taoist "pope," who was, I think, some kind of Taoist Chief Abbot.

      And, yes, I recall reading of Taoist "magicians" seeking for immortality. Which makes me wonder if the Tu Shan we see in THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS was a remote progenitor of Taoism!

      Sean

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  11. Not opposed perhaps. Claiming to be the same but really going different ways.

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