This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

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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Orthodoxy and universality

The jnanin will confuse and frustrate the bhakti by a paradoxical universality: he will insist on strict orthodoxy, since nothing is more offensive to him than error on any plane, but at the same time he may embrace the validity of alien religions. Since the world of human limitation is what it is, it is possible that there are multiple orthodoxies, and the jnanin will be capable—while the bhakta will not—of vigorously protecting the orthodoxy of “his world” without denying the existence of other orthodoxies, since he will understand that both are worth protecting in their own right.

For jnana, the protectors of knowledge, it is not this or that truth which matters, but Truth. Thus, it should not be surprising when these people are more offended by minor doctrinal extravagances within their own orthodoxy than by the existence of orthodoxies (other religions). The man of faith, on the other hand, is hardly able to perceive doctrinal deviations as they occur, and so heresy in his church isn’t a concern of his, and yet he is ready to go to war with any and every alien tradition as soon as he discovers them. We find this expressed in Christianity today, where most believers see no evil greater than “other religions,” particularly Islam; but the Magisterium seems little concerned about Islam, or about any other tradition, while spending a great deal of effort and energy to keep its own house in order. This is why the bhakta cannot be left to his own lights when it comes to the protection of knowledge: in the case just mentioned, he will permit his own house to be destroyed from within while spending all his energy trying to burn down the house of another faith, nor will it trouble him that he knows nothing about the people who live there. It is enough for him that they are “not of this house.” This all makes sense given the outward nature of the bhakta: what offends him is not the appearance of error but the absence of the love he feels for his God: in this sense, the Christian believer does not need to know and understand Islam in order to judge whether it possesses the truth and to what degree: it is enough to know that it rejects the Divine Name of Jesus Christ, which to the Christian bhakta is everything and beyond which is nothing.

For the believer, the disciple of love, religious conflict is always personal. It is all about Christ conceived as a person with whom one must be on good terms and to whom one must show the proper respect. For the jnana, religious conflict is intellectual, hinging entirely on the presence or absence of truth in a doctrine. He acknowledges the “personhood” of Christ but he does not relate to Him “as a person,” since personhood is relative. He relates instead via the Intellect, and so he relates not to the name Christ but to the Principle of which Christ is the manifestation, and so what is important to him is not so much that everyone speak the name of Christ but rather that everyone understand and know the Principle, and this Principle has many names.

Here we should pause to head off a confusion regarding the “intellectuality” of the jnanin. What we have in mind is not mere speculation or rational thought or philosophizing, much less do we mean erudition or “learning.” The intellectuality of the jnanin, insofar as he is truly following his path, is manifested in a contemplative communion with the Divine which proceeds via symbolism to the realization of supra-rational Truth. In other words, what the modern world calls an “intellectual” is not a jnanin but is something very different and—usually just an accumulator of profane data and theory. What we have in mind is instead the Intellect as understood by the traditional doctrine, which is to say the supra-human link with the Divine, which proceeds not by rational thought but by transcendent intuition. The intellect is “pure knowledge.” Rational thought is always proceeding by distinctions, whereas intellection does not and grasps things as they are, beyond relativity and distinction. If there is still confusion on this point, the reader should examine the other passages of this manual that pertain specifically to knowledge and the Intellect as an aspect of man’s becoming. It is true that the contemplative will display the same theorizing rationality of the modern intellectual, but the difference is that he does not pursue thought and theory for themselves alone or for any worldly end, but engages in these activity as a means to an end. Nothing matters but the contemplation of the Absolute.

The foregoing was necessary in order for us to be properly understood when we say that jnana as a way is situated beyond the human plane because it proceeds via the Intellect and seeks to “realize” God and not simply to be brought into a particular relation with him. This kind of intellectuality will always be trying to move beyond distinction and duality. Relation, as well as any “relationship,” is by definition “relative,” and the goal of jnana is to get beyond all relativity.

Bhakti as a way is, on the other hand, situated on the human plane, as evidenced by the fact that it pursues the Divine through a “relationship” with the Divine Person. The bhakta accepts relativity as a given and does not seek to transcend it and cannot imagine transcending it. Because of this foundational relativity, he cannot avoid conceiving of God as “other.” This explains the importance of Christ-as-historical-person for the bhakta. The jnanin accepts the same historicity, but does not really worry too much about it, and if he does consider Christ he will find more nourishment in contemplating the cosmic Christ “through whom all things were made” and who precedes history itself and individuality as such. In other words, the “believer,” the man of faith and love, must relate to God as “someone”—as an individual like other men, or if not like them at least resembling them—and this someone must be “out there” rather than inside oneself or beyond oneself.  According to the bhaktic way, salvation itself is a matter of the believer’s proper relation to this “other,” and through this relation (faith) to the other (Christ) the believer is brought into right relation with God. To simplify, in other words, through faith in Christ the believer is saved. Moreover, the framework of love guarantees that this way will take the form of action and affection, which again are means firmly situated on the human plain. The emphasis on belief or “faith” likewise excludes the purely intellectual element and acts as an alternative to it, since the disciples of love are not called to the path of knowledge and participate in the Intellect indirectly, via their traditional context and its doctrinal moorings.

To summarize, the believer takes for granted the human context and works out his salvation according to its means. For the knower, the point of departure the Intellect, which is already beyond the ego. For such a one, it makes no sense to frame everything in the context of ego-other.

Because of what we have just said, it must be acknowledge that there is a hierarchical relationship between jnana and bhakti, in that one is situation on the human plane and one on the supra-human plane.

Through faith in the Divine Name the believer is saved, but the jnanin is not a believer, he is a knower, and as such and according to his nature his way of being “saved” does not coincide with that of the believer. He needs to “know” God directly and does not and cannot pursue salvation strictly within the moral or legal framework of righteousness that is the end-all-be-all to the believer. For both the believer and the knower, we are separated from God by sin, but for the believer this always implies a moral failing and therefore a question of legalistic redemption, whereas for the knower sin is first and foremost a question of ignorance, a separation from God-as-Truth by the fact of relativity. In other words, morality is important but it is a symptom of a separation that exists on a higher plain, and so moral action, however necessary and important it may be to the pursuit of the Divine, is always secondary, which is to say “relative.”

Christ Himself was clear on this point. Again and again he confronts those obsessed with the moral law and with righteousness-as-a-legal-question, and each time he places moral law on a lower plane and demonstrates with clarity that salvation is not ultimately a question of right action. For this reason we must insist that whenever we are confronted with the supposed representatives of doctrinal knowledge and we find that they are obsessed with moral action, that we are not dealing with jnanin or the representatives of jnana. That is to say, the Pharisees were not an example of jnana persecuting bhakti, but were an example of what happens when the class responsible for jnana allows themselves to be ruled by a bhaktic mentality and becomes moralistic rather than contemplative. In other words, the class responsible for the preservation of knowledge is often, in the history of the religion, overwhelmed by individuals who do not belong to that class and whose path is not jnana.

We have gone to great lengths to distinguish between bhakti and jnana as separate paths, but it should be admitted that they are never, in actual fact, completely separate. This is true of traditional religions as a whole, which always contain a mix of the two that may or may not be neatly separated. It is also true of individuals, which may be called primarily to one or the other path, but in whom the tendencies of both will always be present to some degree. In other words, there is no “pure” jnana, since such a one would be identical with God and cease to exist separately from him; and there is no “pure” bhakta, since this person would be locked into the relative and could never reach the Divine.

What we have just said requires an additional clarification. Both paths intermix but it is union with the Divine that is in a sense the ultimate goal of both: the difference is that one pursues it directly and the other indirectly. This is why, although one can never really “get beyond” jnana without losing everything, one can in a sense abandon bhakti if one is in a position to transcend it. But this should be considered a lost resort or a final end, and not something that even the greatest contemplative can do at will. It is simply the admission in practice that moral action does not have the last word. Here we can cite Ananda Coomaraswamy:

“There always remains a last step, in which the ritual is abandoned and the relative truths of theology are denied. As it was by the knowledge of good and evil that man fell from his first estate, so it must be from the knowledge of good and evil, from the moral law, that he must be delivered at last. However far one may have gone, there remains a last step to be taken, involving a dissolution of all former values. A church or society—the Hindu would make no distinction—that does not provide a way of escape from its own regimen, and will not let its people go, is defeating its own ultimate purpose.”[1]

[1] Hinduism and Buddhism, I, “The Social Order.”

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