Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Aldous Huxley: The Divine Within

As I've traveled through the woods of mystics and mysticism, I've discovered that the mystics I relate to the most are those who have experienced intense ambivalence about religion and God at some point in their lives. I suppose it's not surprising that I would feel the most in-sync with those who have pushed back on whatever religious beliefs they were raised with, and/or have been culturally and socially immersed in, to come to their own understanding of the Divine. For one thing, they speak more plainly, thus to me authentically, on the subject.

Enter Aldous Huxley who in his novels and essays of the 1920s "was scathingly skeptical of religion and its 'life-retreating' pious aspirants." At that time, Huxley would have been in his first decade of adulthood. I can totally relate. But somewhere along the way Huxley became associated with the Vedanta Center of Southern, CA and a devotee of Swami Prabhavananda, a monk of the Ramakrishna Order of India, who was head of it. The path from West to East is a common one for western mystics. Eventually, there was a rift between Prabhavananda and Huxley over the use of mescaline and LSD on the path to enlightenment. In the end, Huxley was drawn to Krishnamurti who espoused freedom from any prophet or path. Often it takes us awhile to get there.

Anyway, I'm a big fan of Huxley's Brave New World as I read it in the 80s, right around the time pharmaceuticals really began pushing anti-depressants on the population. How could I not think of Soma and applaud Huxley's prescience?

In 1944, Huxley published The Perennial Philosophy. "A documentation of the common doctrine in all major religions: that the truth is universal, that God is One." It's a book I haven't read and probably won't.

However ... I was drawn to Huxley's: The Divine Within, a selection of the over forty articles he wrote between 1941-1960 for the bi-monthly magazine Vedanta and the West published by the Vedanta Center mentioned above.

One of the overall qualities I enjoyed about the essays was the sparing use of any secondary religious language as Huxley analyses, confronts, and deconstructs common beliefs and perceptions about the human race's collective wisdom of the Divine. He covers a lot of ground.

He writes on Being:

[The Divine] is. That is the primordial fact. It is in order that we may discover this fact for ourselves, by direct experience, that we exist. The final end and purpose of every human being is the unitive knowledge of [The Divine's] being.

And on Beauty:

The first principle of order is [the Divine], and [the Divine] is the final, deepest meaning in all that exists. [The Divine], then, is manifest in the relationship which makes things beautiful. [It] resides in that lovely interval which harmonizes events on all the planes, where we discover beauty. We apprehend [It] in the alternate void and fullness of the cathedral; in the spaces that separate the salient features of a picture; in the living geometry of the a flower, a sea shell, an animal; in the pauses and intervals between the notes of music, in their differences of tone and sonority; and finally, on the plane of conduct, in the love and gentleness, the confidence and humility, which give beauty to the relationships between human beings.
And on Love:

[The Divine] is love, and there are blessed moments when even to the unregenerate [someone who refuses to believe in the existence of the Divine] human beings it is granted to know [It] as love.

Thus, Huxley professes three basic comprehensions common to the mystic: the seeking of a unitive relation with the Divine, beauty in all its manifestations as evidence of the Divine presence, and the direct experience of the Divine presence as Love. Again and again, mystics speak of these three elements.

At times, Huxley assumes a tone that is harsh, rigid, and unyielding. His hot-button issues are idolatry, mortifications, unregenerates, and time itself; pounding on these points he sometimes evokes an atmosphere as stultifying and repugnant as that of any religious fundamentalist. However, when he uses this critical voice to skewer both denominational and secular religions, Huxley is at his most incisive.

There are the nominal religions—Christianity, Mohammedanism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and so on; but if you inquire what the actions of the people mean, it is perfectly clear that the real religion is nationalism; that we worship the national state; and that the new religions like Communism are also used in the service of great national idolatry.

And ...

For the revolutionary, whether of the right or the left, the supremely important fact is the golden age of peace, prosperity, and brotherly love which, his faith assures him, is bound to dawn as soon as his particular brand of revolution has been carried through. Nothing stands between the people's miserable present and its glorious future, except a minority, perhaps a majority, of perverse or merely ignorant individuals. All that is necessary is to liquidate a few thousands, or it may be a few millions, of these living obstacles to progress, and then to coerce and propagandize the rest into acquiescence. 

Because ...

Dogma turns a man into an intellectual Procrustes [a robber who stretched or amputated the limbs of travelers to make them conform to the length of his bed]. He goes about forcing things to become the signs of his word-patterns, when he ought to be adapting his word-patterns to become the sign of things."

Huxley was not a humanist ...

The higher idolatry may be defined as the belief in, and worship of, human creation as though it were [the Divine].

Thus we are lead to the conundrum between the collective and the individual ...

... all evidence points to the fact that it is the individual soul, incarnated at a particular moment in time, which alone can establish contact with Divine ...

And the basic failure of our human efforts to figure it all out ...

In all actual human situations more variables are involved than the human mind can take account of; and with the passage of time the variables tend to increase in number and change their character.

And then there's our endless fascination/obsession with the apocalyptic ...

Another form frequently taken by temporal religious is apocalypticism—belief in an extraordinary cosmic event to take place in the not-to-distant future ... [this] preoccupation with hypothetical events in future time takes the place of ... the eternal present.

Although not a light read, I recommend Huxley's The Divine Within if you're so inclined, and have the patience and the time.

Tuesday, I’ll be circling back to my third discovery in my research of Christian mysticism, a discovery that will bring us back into the 21st century.