Saturday, March 20, 2010

limping limitations

A curious matter to me....

Talking, friendly-fashion, with an ex-Jesuit today, I asked a little about God and the seeking of God. What I asked was, "what happens when you find what you seek?" He said it was not possible for a limited human being to know God. "I am limited," he said. To which I replied, "How do you know that?"

But another sideline question I didn't ask was this: If, roughly speaking, you seek "God" or "enlightenment" or whatever other transcendent something-or-other and it is not possible to find what you seek, how can you possibly know that you are seeking anything at all? It takes some pretty sophisticated gyrations to say, implicitly, "I am seeking something, but I don't know what it is."

All of this relates, in my mind, to the limitations of intellect and emotion -- the two capacities anyone brings to bear at first when seeking out a peaceful life that in some way settles matters (intellectual and emotional matters) once and for all.

There are books and there are institutions and there is a hierarchy of authority and there are a lot of other intellectual and emotional props and encouragements that relate to past habits. If what I have known up until now is intellectual and emotional, then where else would I start? It's OK ... it's what human beings do when they are inclined to seek out whatever it is they are trying to seek out.

But if the intellect and emotions are the arbiter of finding what is sought, it can never work and the search is endless and endlessly defeating. Why? Because intellect and emotion are limited ... and most of those who set out on a quest know that in little and large ways. Yesterday's joy is today's sorrow; yesterday's failure is today's success; yesterday's anger is today's love ... and so forth. Limited. Unreliable.

So what is reliable? Is it just some elaborate fairy tale? Some pie-int-the-sky-when-you-die-it's-a-lie concoction? Some Jesuitical legerdemain? Some teenaged wet dream with adult trappings?

No one can know until they find out. Nothing else will suffice. Intellect and emotion, no matter how ornate or how compelling, simply cannot reach anything that might be called limitless because they are limited. This is not a criticism ... it's more like observing that a car runs best on four tires.

But to settle for some extended coitus interruptus -- poor old limited man has no way of settling the matter of a limitless god -- is, while understandable, pretty idiotic, for my money.

No one can know intellectually or emotionally whether the limitless either is or is not true. Intellect and emotion is the belief realm ... and how well does that work out when compared to a sneeze or a kiss? You can make up a religion and find many followers and pray until Christmas, but you simply cannot know for sure.

Nevertheless there are hints that the limited is not the only lot a (wo)man is bound by.

There are many words from many sources that echo the Zen teacher Ta Hui when he observed, "I have always taken a great vow that I would rather suffer the fires of hell for all eternity than to portray Zen as a human emotion."

Pretty tall talk.

But for my money, it is talk worth heeding ... and making a serious effort to actualize.

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