Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sutra 1.25

sutra 1.25
tatra niratisayam sarvajna bijam

God is the unequaled source of all knowledge

I don't know...sometimes it seems like Patanjali is conducting a psycho-spiritual hazing in the Yoga Sutras. There is a lot of discussion about how SUPRA God is and how incredibly difficult it is to know the SUPRA Being. And even though, according to Patanjali, our little being is a reflection of the big BEING— we are constitutionally confused and deluded, so the chances of  knowing God in any kind of authentic way is pretty slender. Even as Patanjali defines God, it seems that God recedes with each characterizing word. God seems like a distant great aunt who sends unreliable presents on some of your birthdays.

Some years ago  I stumbled upon a book called The Divine Names by Dionysios the Areopagate. The strange little book came into my life during a time when I was convinced that if I jammed enough information in my head, I would eventually order it into some coherent map of ecstasy, divinity or just pure beauty. I cultivated a grotesque appetite for information and images. I couldn't stop gathering, storing and computing. I was on a constant information binge, as the world revealed itself in all it's unfathomable color. The more I consumed, by way of books, magazines, TV, art and music, the more I wanted. What was I trying to figure out? 

I suppose was trying to gather enough information to sort out the world and to give name to it in one succinct unified theory. If I could do this, I would be in control. I would not suffer. I would have success! Yet all my efforts by way of art and writing fell feebly short. I could never get what was going on in my head or heart out into the world in such a way that reflected the ideas or feelings within. It was maddening and this failure only redoubled my efforts to gather information.  I was adrift on a sea of books. Lost. 
 "Sounds like you need a little via negativa," a colleague in graduate school said to me. He was a student of theology and said stuff like that all the time. 
"Well I am sort of negative," I replied. 
"No, it's not being negative...it's Latin for the negative way. In this case it means naming everything that GOD is not."
"Ugh...God..." I was in the thrall of cool atheisim at the time. 
He was good-natured about my adolescence. "It's really just the process of chipping away the stone to find the sculpture inside. You don't need more words and pictures. Start telling yourself what your work is NOT."

In The Divine Names, Dionysios writes that one can never name God or really define God, but the symbolic efforts to do so are a natural compulsion of the human condition. We LOVE to do it. We can't stop doing it. Why? Because we want to get closer. We want to reflect that purpose, mystery, feeling, and wonder that can grip our souls at particular times in our life. We want to connect with some other soul who yearns to express his or her experience of the Divine. And in uttering these words, in good spirit, we can get closer to the Divine, though our words, images, music and science will always be eluded by the One. According to Tantric Shaivism, this occlusion is a playful game that God enjoys, so that when true revelation occurs the sweetness surpasses any familiarity at all. 
In Advaita Vedanta the ancient practice of negation is called "neti, neti" which means "not this, nor that, " a process discussed in the Upanisads where one is directed to negate all in life that that is not God. 

And is not this in reality the wonderful Name 0 that which is above every Name----the Nameless----that fixed above every name which is named, whether in this age or in that which is to come? Also, as "many named," as when they again introduce It as saying, "I am He, Who is----the Life----the Light----the God----the Truth." And when the wise of God themselves celebrate Him, as Author of all things, under many Names, from all created things----as Good----as Beautiful----as Wise----as Beloved----as God of gods----as Lord of lords----as Holy of Holies----as Eternal----as Being----as Author of Ages----as Provider of Life----as Wisdom----as Mind----as Word----as Knowing----as preeminently possessing all the treasures of all knowledge----as Power----as Powerful----as King of kings----as Ancient of days----as never growing old----and Unchangeable----as Preservation-----as Righteousness----as Sanctification ---- as Redemption----as surpassing all things in greatness----and as in a gentle breeze.----Yea, they also say that He is in minds, and in souls, and in bodies, and in heaven and in earth, and at once, the same in the same----in the world----around the world----above the world----supercelestial,  superessential, sun, star----fire----water----spirit----dew----cloud----self-hewn stone and rock----all things existing----and not one of things existing.
—From the Divine Names
 Dionysios the Areopagate

Can you define God?

What is the purpose of defining a spiritual principle?

What can you learn about saying what something is NOT?

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