This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Christian contemplation in relation to metaphysical realization

Because of the unique differences between Eastern and Western intellectuality, the Christian notion of contemplation, which you will encounter if you spend any time at all in the literature on prayer, is the closest that the West comes to something like “intellectual intuition” or the “pure intellection” of the Hindus and the Muslims. Notice, however, that I said that it is the closest thing, and not that it is the same thing. The differences between the two worlds, implying two different spiritual temperaments, make equivalencies in epistemology impossible. First, in the East man is seen as having at his core an ever present union with God that allows him at any moment to “realize” the Truth that was never separate from his true Self. For Christianity, which in its mainstream (but not, granted, always end everywhere) begins in the duality of Man-God instead of the underlying identity between self-Self, man is never acknowledged as possessing, by nature, the capacity to “realize” higher knowledge. He can obtain it, but only by specific acts of God which “infuse” this power in him. In other words, it is not something present that he must develop, but something injected from outside. This is why one of the greatest Christian contemplatives, St. Theresa of Avila, called true contemplation “infused prayer”, which would have sounded strange in a Hindu or Buddhist text.

This leads us to a second issue, which is that in Eastern traditions this is seen as the realization of knowledge, since to be man is to know and to know God is his highest act. All things are placed in terms of knowledge. In Christianity, which has more of a passional way of expressing itself, this is described as an ‘experience’ of God, and encounter, almost as something ‘felt’, which explains the prevalence of terms like ‘ecstasy’ and ‘ecstatic union’. Here we have again come upon the important distinction between the Christian experience of life and others, and it implies no inferiority or superiority in this regard.

Of course, these categories are never perfect, and there are those in the Christian tradition who speak as if they were Hindus, such as Thomas Merton whose ‘contemplation’ is less like St. Theresa and more like Shankaracharya, and there are Hindu sects whose practices lead them to ecstatic prayer, and would be more analogous to the Christian ‘mystics’. But what I have said above is true as a general principle, and helps us to understand what in general is meant by the representatives of ‘contemplation’ in Christian prayer literature, and will help you understand any apparent contradictions between their approach and the Advaita Vedanta, and this will further help you understand what is happening when you come upon the rare spiritual writer, like Merton, who manages to describe the intersection between the two ways as if they were not different at all. And ultimately he is correct, even if his approach was doomed to be misunderstood by some of his peers as a departure from orthodoxy.

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