Digging out

I’ve been thinking more about the “sins” I mentioned in the previous article. Yes, they may be a mere symptom of a fallen state, and “virtues” might be a mere symptom of being in touch with God on some level, but the problem with this line of thinking is that it leaves very little room for personal agency; if you don’t feel God’s presence, you will wallow helplessly in your fallen state, exhibiting symptoms of depravity, and if you feel God’s presence, the ecstatic bliss will be manifested as all kinds of virtues, as you adhere to it diligently and allow it to change you and make you grow.

However, how do you get from one to the other? If you’re not in the presence of God, how do you change that, because just decomposing in your misery or trying to find some pathetic amusement for yourself in this empty cardboard world is the opposite of helpful. It’s as if there are two parallel paths – that of the worldly and demonic, and that of the saintly and angelic, and they are distinguished by absence or presence of God in one’s consciousness, and this can feel like an unsurmountable chasm. This is where we get to the point where the concept of sins and virtues starts making a different kind of sense, if we understand them not as mere symptoms of absence or presence of grace, but a destructive or constructive approach to life in general and our spiritual condition in particular.

Because, you see, whatever your condition may be, your attitude and actions can make it much worse; and if so, it is reasonable to assume that they can also make it much better. This is why my approach to sin is “when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging downwards”. Sure, absence of grace and the resulting emptiness of spirit can make you want to lash out or do all sorts of things in either a self-destructive rage, or a misguided wish to make yourself feel better, but here is where one needs self-control, in order to stop thrashing like a crazy person, cool down, and do the exact opposite – in essence, practice kindness and goodness in little things. Make someone’s day better with a small act of kindness. Pet a cat and talk to it. Say “hi” to a dog. Notice how nicely the sunlight plays on the tree leaves. Take a deep breath. Notice how your eye movements from left to right are connected with whirlpools of your thoughts and emotions. Pay conscious attention to it, try to make it faster. Try to make it slower. Feel what it wants you to do. Let it go and just observe – ride the wave first, and then fly above it and observe. Feel the pain and suffering beneath, the force that makes your mind and feelings move, and let it hurt, don’t try to escape. Let it expend itself instead of just rolling off into motivations. As you suffer, you will see that you are calmer, deeper, no longer a leaf carried by the waves on the surface, but a creature of deep waters of your mind. As you do this for minutes, maybe hours, maybe days, you will feel a change – suffering is no longer the only thing in your consciousness, because you start to feel a hint of something blissful, ecstatic, yet calm and peaceful. Let it in. As you take a breath, inhale this bliss and open your body and mind to it. Don’t think about it, just allow its presence to heal you. Happy thoughts and pictures will start going through your mind; let them. Things where you saw and admired something good and beautiful. Don’t rush it, let it unfold slowly, don’t spoil it by trying to get all the way to God immediately; feel that peace and beauty of a sunset, or sunlight catching the yellow leaves over a waterfall. Feel the calm and kindness as you watch a cat sleep. Feel it unfold, as you feel touched to tears by someone’s beautiful and virtuous actions – it can be a character in a book or a movie, doesn’t matter. Feel touched by goodness and virtue, breathe it in, keep it in, breathe it out. Slowly, imagine yourself acting it out in the world, seeing yourself as this person you admire, and do little things at first – just imagine yourself doing virtuous and good things, and just release all the obstacles and counter-arguments that pop up. Once you feel no opposition, rest in this state, and when you act, act from it, in such a way that your actions don’t contradict your inner state, so that they manifest it and act it out instead.

Do it consistently enough, and go deep enough, and you’ll be the grace of God that is manifesting itself in the world, and the question of God’s absence will become quite ridiculous. Be to others what you want to receive from God, and you will become one with the grace and presence of God. In that state, when you’re acting out goodness, you will understand that you are on the upward-gradient, and avoid things that put you on a downward-gradient, and in this perspective the concept of sins and virtues starts to make sense – not for the sake of judgment directed at oneself or others, but for the sake of practicality on the path of making your existence not hell.

Sins and virtues

I was recently reading a book where seven sins were mentioned – pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth.

I looked at this list, and my first thought was that this just doesn’t feel right; those don’t really look like sins. They look like symptoms.

You see, a sin, by definition, would be a choice against God. This choice would then produce a spiritual fall, and once in a state of depravity and fall from Divine grace, a soul would exhibit symptoms of what Bhagavad-gita would attribute to the gunas of the Prakrti: tamas, rajas and sattva, where qualities of tamas would be laziness (sloth), ignorance and so on, symptoms of rajas would be wrath, pride, envy, lust and so on, and symptoms of sattva would be, essentially, religion and mysticism devoid of transcendence – basically, attempts to be virtuous but without a true connection with God, without whom virtue is impossible.

So, if those “deadly sins” are more symptoms of a fallen state than causes of the fall itself, what then are the true sins – the actual causes of apostasy from God? It is a very difficult question, because, obviously, people who compile the lists of sins and virtues always try to moralize, and I don’t think it’s actually helpful, because the actual saints never actually seem to live up to those expectations, and yet that is what makes them feel alive, impressive and fun: things that would make them seem flawed from a moralistic perspective are actually a spark of life that makes them feel real and impressive. I have read exchanges between St. Augustine and St. Jerome, and I find them really entertaining, because they are both right and wrong about certain things, they can argue from different points of view, and they both make mistakes. They are not virtuous because their lives are devoid of all sins from some list; they are virtuous because it is obvious that they both are trying to do the right thing – establish truth, guide people from ignorance to knowledge, and seek supremacy of God over the lowly things of this world. Sure, they are sometimes prideful, wrathful, ignorant and commit logical fallacies, but I don’t mind – it makes me smile and even laugh, because I see the spark of Divinity in their flaws. Their “sins” don’t feel like some terrible depravity they are made out to be; if anything, they are funny, the way a small scared kitten hissing at you is funny.

On the other hand, I’ve seen lots of fake saints, people who work from a list of saintly virtues and try to act as if they are holy by appropriating them, and my reaction to those is the opposite – I feel disgust and anger at their falsehood, despite the fact that such a fake person can formally have less flaws than St. Augustine, whose flaws don’t bother me in the slightest, and I instead feel joy because of his goodness and accomplishments. Obviously, those lists of virtues and sins are somewhat or fully misguided, because they miss the actual point of what it is like to be in this terrible hell of a world, because, you see, to be here and not manifest all kinds of symptoms of terrible anguish, and not resort to all kinds of coping mechanisms during your mostly failed and futile attempts to break through and find your way out, means you’re closer to a rock in your nature, than an angel. In the language of Bhagavad-gita, it’s easy to tell whether something comes from the mode of rajas or not. It is easy to say whether something is of pride, anger or wrath. It is much more difficult to distinguish whether the things that are not of rajas are in fact of tamas or sattva, because some things that look like virtues are merely symptoms of being a lifeless, spiritless husk, devoid of any valuable and positive content.

This might sound abstract, so let me make a thought experiment. Let’s imagine an angel of God who somehow got stuck here in this world, for some unknown reason, and is born in a human body. What will he feel, not being able to sense God’s presence, being separated from all knowledge and power, and being assailed by a torrent of uncomfortable sensations? If you think he’ll act like a paragon of virtue, you’re an idiot. No, he’ll try to find his way out by testing what reminds him of his dear Lord, whose presence he can no longer establish. He will try all kinds of things, failing repeatedly and suffering in his loss and depravity. He will metaphorically try to scrape his nails at the impenetrable illusion of this world until his fingers bleed, alternating between hope, frustration and despondency, he will try to find comfort in sex, food, music or other things in this world, and feel despair as it all fails, and the stupid moralisers who compile lists of sins will find abundant examples in his behaviour, and scarcely any “virtues”, yet I will recognize him as sinless and virtuous in all his terrible suffering and depravity, because all he is looking for is God, and it is not a sin to fail.

On the other hand, how pathetic does one have to be to fake virtues in order to impress human audience? How pathetic would you have to be to even care about the opinion of other deluded humans in this place, instead of trying to break free? How pathetic would one have to be not to feel terrible pain of God’s absence, and instead fuck around with this foolish nonsense?

Because, in my world, the actual virtue is to need God above all things, and if the symptom of this profound need in this world is terrible suffering, which results in all kinds of mistakes and coping mechanisms, I see none of this as a sin, no more than I would see a desperately hungry man’s attempt to eat tree bark as sinful. If anything, it would merit compassion.

So, what are true sins, then? That is a much harder question for me to answer, because I’m not sure reality works that way. Is a rock sinful? Is it virtuous because it is not sinful? You can’t be either sinful or virtuous if you lack the capacity, and this, in most cases, will be the answer. I personally observed “souls” of many beings; a wasp is unrefined and cruel, but if you ask me whether it’s better than a rock, I would have to agree. A bird or a dog has a soul that is more refined than that of a wasp – still coarse, but less so. So, evolution and growth in refinement, sophistication and general quantitative increase of merit across multiple dimensions makes for the difference between a rock and a divine being, but when you take a divine being and put them into this world, if you expect them to act like some paragon of virtue adhering to a list compiled by some philosopher or a theologian, you are a fool. You would be right to expect them to suffer terribly and struggle fruitlessly, try to cope with failure and fail even at that. If you see the motivation behind their struggle, their pain, humiliation and steadfast attempts to break through, and instead of tears of compassion this invokes sanctimonious judgment, it only means that in the coordinate system of spiritual advancement you are closer to a rock than to a holy angel of God.