Lesser mysteries

From my phenomenological, hermeneutical and pragmatic inclinations and self-education, I cannot help but read Renee Guenon (and to a degree, Frithjof Schuon) critically, as conveying extremely sharp, clear and, above all, grounding insights into the human condition — that is the condition of finitude within and toward infinitude — but proceeding from these to unwarrantedly objective speculations about the structure of what extends beyond what can be objectively known.

Having ridden this planet around the sun more than fifty times — which, believe it, or not, continues to surprise even after twenty or even thirty rides, and not in ways you might derive from the first thirty — and having been spiritually humiliated out of (I hope) most of my youthful hubris, I’m saying this not only tentatively, not only cautiously, but with acute, apprehensive modestly.

When I say “I cannot help but” I say it with anxious awareness that this might very well situate my stage of understanding to someone who has transcended it — but also, to those who most definitely have not.

Such is the nature of transcendent insight: those who know can’t tell and those who can tell don’t know nearly as much as they believe. When evaluating claims to transcendent knowledge, one crucial thing I look for is signs of awareness of this “horizonal” condition. If you have been given a divine gift of unshakable certainty, I will suspect, perhaps wrongly, you are still in the early and paved stages of your journey. The first appearance of new-to-me always is always new-to-the-world, most of all with the most commonplace wisdom.

So, here it is, laid out flat for convenient scrutinty: The same human tendency that compels us to ground our subjectivity in an objective world, to attribute mind to the functioning of a brain, makes metaphysicians ground our subjectivity in a positive metaphysics. Or, to put it in Guenon’s language, from where I stand I see the Lesser Mysteries (of “true man”) as greater than the Greater Mysteries (of “transcendent man”).



I must really be where I really am if I wish to really go to other real places.


If you know better, please speak up.

1 thought on “Lesser mysteries

  1. This is one of my favorite koans regarding transcendence:

    ‘Whenever Baizhang delivered a sermon, an old man always followed the assembly in order to listen to the teaching. When the assembly left, the old man left too. Unexpectedly, one day, he remained behind. The Master asked him, “Who are you, standing in front of me?” The old man replied, “Indeed, I am not a human being. In the past, in the time of K??yapa Buddha, I lived on this mountain [as a Chan teacher]. On one occasion a student asked me, ‘Is a person of great accomplishment still subject to cause and effect or not?’ I answered, ‘He is not.’ [Because of my answer] I was reborn as a fox for ?ve hundred lifetimes. I now ask you, Master, to say a transformative word on my behalf to free me from this fox body.” He then asked, “Is a person of great accomplishment still subject to cause and effect or not?” The master answered, “He cannot evade cause and effect.” Upon hearing these words the old man immediately understood. Making a bow he said, “I have now been released from the fox, whose body remains behind on the other side of the mountain. I have presumed to tell this to you, and now request that you perform a funeral for me as you would for a deceased monk.”…

    That evening [after performing the funeral for the fox] the Master convened an assembly and related the circumstances [of the funeral]. [His disciple] Huangbo then asked, “The old man, failing to respond correctly, was reborn as a fox for ?ve hundred lifetimes. Suppose that, time after time, he made no mistake; what would have happened then?” The master said, “Come closer and I’ll tell you.” Huangbo approached [Baizhang] and gave the master a slap. The master clapped his hands and laughed saying, “I had supposed that the barbarian had a red beard, and now here is a red-bearded barbarian!”’
    ‘The Looping Structure of Buddhist Thought (Or, How Chan Buddhism Solves the Quantum Measurement Problem)’

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