Sainthood ain’t easy

If self-abnegation is easy, then it’s a false death. If it stops at Saturday morning yoga, Starbucks, and a buddha statue from Ikea, then it is worse than everyday selfishness.

Slavoj Zizek rightly (I think) identified what he calls “buddhism” as a perfect complement to capitalism: after a day of robbing widows and orphans, you meditate and empty yourself of the stress you rightly and naturally feel. The next day, you return more cutthroat than ever.

Such violence-affirming “buddhism” cannot be buddhism at all. Meditative methods can be used for opposite ends: one can become less and less selfish (emptier), or one can become more and more selfish (“full of oneself”). The “buddhist economics” of E.F. Schumacher is a decent example of how buddhism is not strictly speaking the complement of capitalism, but how pop-buddhism IS a perfect pairing.

The void is terrible and mundane, universal and particular. It is the shaped void in which I find myself in every single moment. As Aldous Huxley said, a soldier can suspend his everyday sense of ego and perform superhuman acts in moments of crisis. The difference between a soldier and a saint is that a saint sees EVERY moment as a terrifying crisis. The saint/sage falls outside the conventional morality of the polis. Where Aristotle said that the man who lives outside of the polis is “a beast or a god” he should have said beast/god. From the vantage point of the polis, a sage is impossible to pin down.

The feral divinity of those who do not conform to conventional political norms appear as both bestial and celestial, profane and holy. If a saint were not both vilified and deified, he would not be a saint. Why do you think Jesus is so controversial? He was a beast/god who met each moment with a ferocity which appeared both violent (overturning tables and expelling the moneylenders from the temple) and pacific (turning the other cheek).

But this is why the prophets of old were cut in half with wooden saws, why Jesus was crucified, and why Socrates was executed — and why those who speak truth to power will continue to be hated.

If Aristotle is to be taken seriously and taken ON HIS OWN TERMS, then, since he denies that universals exist “elsewhere” and that everything is always a particular instantiation, then where he speaks of God as “thought thinking thought” it is always SOMEONE’s “thought thinking thought” and not some floating abstraction. As Heidegger said: “Being is always and in every case mine.” It took me a long time to come to this realization since I came to Aristotle with far too many theistic prejudices.

God, as the fundamental unifying principle, is the Absolute. And the Absolute, which has no rival, is its own opposite: God is also the fundamental differentiating principle. And what differentiates/unifies more than Thought itself? God is MY thought and YOUR thought. God is consciousness itself, which creates the world around us, separating the heavens from the earth and yet holding them together.

Every moment is an act of creation, and is also an absolutely unique crisis. This can never be the casual pop-buddhism of the new age hipster.

~ Stewart Kahn Lundy

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