The horizon of choice

When I was writing my last article, re-reading my first book made me think about all the things that changed since then, because my thought processes then were obviously different.

The thinking behind the “Approach” is, essentially, that God is the ultimate reality and the ultimate goal; the humans are generally unaware of this and are trapped in all kinds of illusions, and they should revise their ideas about life and its goals and meaning, because the goal is to not only be in the presence of God, but be a presence of God. Also, there is the implicit assumption that there isn’t much time, that this is an important and urgent matter, and there will be consequences for failure.

So, what changed?

In 1999, I felt the urgency to impart this message on as many people as possible, in order to move them in the right direction while the window of opportunity is still there. I would argue with them, try to convince them, explain things, show things by example. But now, I feel none of that urge anymore. It’s not that those who are already on the right path should despair because the window of opportunity has closed, but for quite a while now if you asked me what is it that I want to tell people, I would shrug and leave, because there’s literally nothing I have to say. That’s the thing about time and the horizon of choice. The time runs out, and the only thing that remains when you fall below the horizon of choice is to experience the consequences of the choices you made.

Fault finding

There’s something that crossed my mind last night that I want to put into words.

It’s about fault-finding.

The immediate context was spirituality; people seem to pre-condition being able to learn from someone by absolute perfection and absence of all kinds of flaws and errors, supposedly because they want to guard themselves against failure or wrong paths or whatever, and the logic is that if you find one flaw or error, you proved that this person is not perfect and you don’t have to learn from them.

What that actually means is that a person that really doesn’t want to learn can make sure they stay exactly where they are by trying very hard to find fault with every person that could possibly help them, and this interpretation is actually a very good approximation of my experience with such people, especially since their thinking vastly differs from what I, myself, was doing when I wanted to learn.

You see, I approached things not with a loupe trying to see specks of dirt, but with a magnet. I went through lots of stuff and just picked up things that are useful from all kinds of sources, in order to clarify my own thinking and get better ideas. I even read many books by authors I vehemently disagree with, because by thinking about all the ways in which they are wrong I clarified my arguments as to why I actually think or feel what I do, and I would usually end up with a very concise argument that disproves the author’s position. Also, when I found an idea that clicked with me, I didn’t require the author to have literally everything about his other ideas or life in general perfect as a prerequisite for my acceptance of his idea. The idea sounded great, it clicked because it concisely expressed something I couldn’t properly verbalise before; now I replaced a vague concept with a clear one, thank you very much. I am also known for taking a vague and diluted concept from somewhere and condensing and purifying the line of thought into something much more coherent and concise, but you won’t see me going on about how the original author is an idiot. No, he’s good, maybe even great, and he came up with something great; I just focused it and enhanced the mantra.

This approach of using a magnet in order to collect needles from all sorts of haystacks is not really that different from the approach from the Upanishads, where one is advised to emulate a swan that can use his beak to separate milk from water, or the concept of a pure lotus flower that grows in a swamp. Basically, you are expected to do granular filtration and identify even a single good thought in a book that is otherwise rubbish, not throw out an otherwise great book because it contains one typo which proves that the author is not God.

Hello, fuckers: even the greatest of angels is “not God”, but you will not see God discarding him for that reason. No, you will see God loving and admiring him greatly because he is almost God. I see all kinds of idiots finding faults with obvious saints, ignoring the fact that God didn’t mind. Yes, Theresa of Avila was all kinds of flawed. Pray that you are that kind of flawed; that way, maybe God will show Himself in visions to you as well, so that you might see and achieve true perfection. Finding fault means one thing, really: it means that you are trying really hard to find an excuse for rejecting God and for keeping your sinful life intact. That’s what it really is. If you’re so perfect in your intellectual ivory tower that you can see all kinds of faults with saints and gurus, and God is absent from your vision, maybe your fault is much worse than those you are noticing with others. Maybe they have a problem here and there, but you are a problem, in the sense that your fundamental life choices are all sinful and wrong, and your intellect is merely a tool that rationalizes your sin.

It’s quite easy to make sarcastic quips about all the flaws and mistakes made by someone who was desperately trying to find their way around a difficult problem, and reach a solution they couldn’t properly grasp yet. Trying to solve a problem is hard. Being firmly entrenched in the problem and throwing rocks at others is much easier. It almost makes you forget how worthless you really are.

Love your enemies

Unlike what you might imagine without diving deeply into the subject matter, the litRPG series I’ve been reading, “Salvos”, is in fact one of the most profound works I’ve read. Sure, some of it is just funny and silly, but there is really deep philosophy and emotion there, too. For instance, probably the best elaboration upon the concept of “love your enemies” is the chapter 81: “Lord of lies” of the book 9, where Salvos the protagonist talks about her personal philosophy and motives with a terrible bug-demon, a lord of illusions and curses, who is smart, calculating and cruel, responsible for the deaths of millions; essentially, someone that makes Hitler look like a little bitch. She talks to him while they fight, and it’s not the kind of talk you would expect, where someone tries to make the enemy doubt himself in order to weaken him, trying to instil fear and doubt. No; she talks to him with her heart open, explaining why she does everything for selfish reasons, but her selfishness encompasses other beings, those she loves and cares for, within her own identity, while in his selfishness there is place for none but himself.

She strikes him down with a mortal wound to his chest, and kneels by his side, gently talking to him about all the things she loves, that make her act to protect them, and in his final moments he has a change of heart, remembers one truly precious and unselfish moment from his childhood, and dies.

There is no obvious afterlife for the characters, yet the impression you get is that she saved him, in his last moments, and she just keeps kneeling beside his corpse later, and you try to guess her thoughts – probably something along the lines of “we could have been friends or even companions, had you only figured this out in time”.

She is portrayed as a character that is primarily driven by pride and selfishness, and yet she expands her sense of self to embrace so many different beings of different races, that her selfishness feels like divine protective love and inexplicable kindness, that heals even the soul of a mortal enemy, in death. Her enemy tried to argue that they are both the same: they act for selfish reasons, to which she answers, as a rebuttal: “And yet, I am Salvos, while you are Belzu.”, meaning that their selfishness is not the same because their sense of self is not the same.

This sentiment, where she is forced to kill her enemy in order to protect the world and the people she loves, but she doesn’t do it out of hatred or anger, and doesn’t even separate herself spiritually from her enemy even when she is forced to kill him, somehow does a better job at explaining the concept of loving your enemies than most Christian theologians. “Salvos” does an excellent job of portraying love as something with real dimension to it; something alive and powerful and fierce and fun; kindness and compassion that wields the power of a thermonuclear warhead.

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.