Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Beloved and Her Veils

One of the fascinating limitations of existing in this low dimension is that we see the higher through veils formed of concepts, symbols. There is that image of the finger pointing at the moon—and the ignorant observer staring at the finger. I’ve always liked that image. The high cannot be uttered—but does that stop us? No. It can be experienced, and somehow we shall express it. The problem is much worse than the finger and the moon. The moon is felt, not seen. The finger is a web of words and images that spring from the hidden inward parts of the person who has the feeling.

It occurs to me that the ineffable has been described in endless ways, but that traditional ways of uttering and picturing the transcendent are, superficially examined, radically unlike each other. There are, for instance, spiritual traditions identical at their core but one we describe as “religion” and the other as “poetry.” Music is another such tradition—radically different enough from the other two so that it appears embedded in each of them. Vast confusions also arise especially for those who will not (or sometimes sadly cannot) fuse the intellectual with the intuitive effectively—and this because no detectable, hard boundary can be mapped between so-called lower and higher feelings; they’re always interwoven or, put another way, are identical, and what we call the lower is just the high at a coarse or “lossy” sort of resolution.

All three are veils—and at our least developed level we attempt to appropriate, co-opt them for service of the bottom layer. We exploit religion for social conditioning and deform it in all manner of strange ways; we name poets-laureate to praise kings or to worship nations; and music must accompany even our boring elevator rides.

I find it interesting that some traditions ban the visual arts, e.g. in branches of Christianity and in Islam; Islam also frowns on music. These customs, of course, arise from a vague sense that it is the Beloved, and not her veils, that should be at the center of worship. What those who’d ban images or sounds don’t seem to realize is that their doctrines, too, are merely veils—and that veils are unavoidable. In this dimension we must attempt to discover the hidden mystery as best we can.

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