Wednesday, November 30, 2011

cause and effect

Swami Vivekananda, the "Hindoo" who ignited a good deal of journalistic fire during the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, once suggested in ways that I found useful a small exercise in spiritual endeavor. As I remember it, the suggestion went something like this:

Since everything is the product of cause and effect, it can be informative to retrace the Yellow Brick Road. If 'B' is the conclusion or effect, what was it that constituted the 'A' or cause? And since 'A' is itself an effect of some preceding event or thought, what was the before-'A' cause. And what was the cause of the before-'A' cause ... etc. Back and back and back and back -- follow the Yellow Brick Road. The topic doesn't matter. The exercise is informative.

Back and back and back and back until those who run out of energy pronounce themselves content with "God" or something similar. But when it comes to cause and effect and the road they construct, "God" is just a manifestation of laziness ... understandable, human and whatever all else, but still, laziness. Whose creation (cause) is "God?"  Who utters "enlightenment?" Who schmoozes about "Tao?"

This is a useful brick wall to hit, I think. Where intellect falls flat, where emotion is left gasping ... this is not a time to give up and build a cathedral. This is an arena in which religion and philosophy lose their footing, an arena in which the lions of fact gobble up the woozy Christians of belief, where "cause" and "effect" are silenced, where the imperatives of actual-factual life challenge and defeat the comforts of control and story-telling. This ... is ... alive. This is the place in which safety and danger dissolve. This is the place where the carelessly-employed hammer hits a very tender thumb. And is no good cringing and retreating ... the obvious remains obvious and any unwillingness to address that obviousness leads to a life of continued uncertainty.

The wily 'Hindoo' Vivekananda offered a suggestion to those willing to take up the challenge: "The mind [he meant intellect] is a good servant and a poor master." Who then is the master, the one who chuckles before cause and effect were brought to bear, the one who wouldn't be caught dead bending a knee to "God" or "enlightenment?"

I don't know, but I think some questions are wilier and more useful than others.

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