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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Living Religion III: Discerning Good - Where Does It Reside?

In my prior posts in this "Living Religion" series, I discussed Belief and the Self, in which I dismissed both as unnecessary, and indeed destructive, concepts. I now wish to artfully segue into a discussion of "Good" (which may very loosely be interpreted as a marker for "God" or "holiness" - words which I take pain to avoid as they are far too loaded and tend to evoke a constellation of distracting preconceptions.)

When I speak of "discerning" Good, it once again brings up the question of the "self," as in "Who is discerning, who is the "discerner?" As I am struggling to not be too verbose in these posts (you! Stop snickering.) I will give the easy, positivistic answer which is not very helpful, but true nonetheless - there is no discerner of Good. Good has no relationship whatsoever to thought, which is the only thing which defines, or creates, the self.

In like fashion, any attempt to define Good, to circumscribe its attributes, is to merely create another concept which has no relationship to its actuality. How then, one may fairly ask, does one even posit that there is indeed "Good?" Realistically, one cannot, if one is limiting the sphere of observation to that which is built up by thought, logic, and "rational" discourse. And yet, here I am, discussing this. I will say as little as possible about this, as language (the exterior representative of thought), tends to muck it all up by boxing things into the slice-and-dice of our customary noun-verb thought habits. I cannot stress enough that thought cannot, and will never, be able to apprehend reality in its entirety.

What I will say, and I caution the reader not to mistake the words as the thing itself, is that when one suspends the operation of thought, then the unthinkable (like "Good") has the opportunity to enter consciousness. (There are so many things wrong with that sentence that I shudder to put it this way, but I trust that the reader will faithfully respect my caveat about language.) Now, the philospher Krishnamurti spoke on this subject until he was blue in the face for over 60 years, and from what I've read of some of his most dedicated listeners leads me to conclude that he had little success in articulating what it was that he meant. I have no hope to be any more successful here, to say the least. One of the charming things about K was his approach to truth-telling through negation, for the most part avoiding the stupid trap of positivistic statements like the opening one to this very paragraph. (I use "charming" ironically, as for the first few years of struggling with K's work I was struck with how depressing he can sound with this negation technique. I knew he was on to something, but hearing over and over again that "no, you don't get it" can put a philosopher in a very black mood indeed.)

OK - "suspends the operation of thought." Lord, the monkey-shines that have historically grown out of that hoary phrase. Meditation, prayer - the techniques for stopping the hamster-wheel that is thought are legion... and all pretty well bogus. From my own experience, "suspending the operation of thought" doesn't actually involve the stopping of thought at all. I will now go out on the stupid limb again and say something positivistic about this - again from my own experience - I would say it could also well be described (just a description, not the thing itself!) as "putting thought into its proper place." The problem with this, however, is that it is thought's immediate response to this is to create yet another layer of self which "puts" the rest of thought into place. That will not do at all.

I will say more about this thought-suspension thing in follow-up posts, but for now I just want to say that to "discern" Good, which resides nowhere yet does exist, is not something that thought has anything to with.


I hope perhaps that this meditation on "Good" will become clearer in my next post ("Discerning Good - What Is It Good For?"). I will also be discussing other aspects of living religion, in which all of this nonsense will suddenly all make sense (snark.) Among other things.

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