Folio 1 - Set and Setting

SPECTRUM OF INTERPRETATION

1. DEVOTIONAL          2. ANALYTICAL          3. CRITICAL          4. HOLISTIC

 
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PRAYER

Dear God, kaleidoscopic in your scope, our All and Everything, draw close to us, that we may feel the intimate connection of our being with Your Being. Grant us vision—the higher sight into your enduring Mysteries, that we may see the world more through your Eye than our own. For we are small and finite, limited and most imperfect creatures. Open to us, from within, Your fullness and perfection, that we may draw from it, eternally, as from a living fountain. For the world, we know, is broken, and full of suffering and cruelty. We do not treat each other as we should: as equal bearers of the one True Self. Vainly we think that we might get ahead or better ourselves at others’ expense, not seeing this as folly. We do so because, clinging to our small self, we refuse to turn to you, our True Self, in all Your splendor and fullness, through which we learn the plenitude of reverence—for everything, and everyone. Remind us, always, to slow, to pause, to take a seat upon our cushions and think of You, to get in touch with that True Self inside, that we may visit daily your flowing fount and grow in Love for our fellows. In the meantime, forgive us our falling short of Your perfection and your fullness. Forgive us our lapses to our singular and partial needs, blind to the Whole. Forgive us our forgetting You, who we truly are, deep down, when we are one with Your perfection. Whisper, within, to our inner ear, the beauty of Your ways, that we might easier walk them, and find You there, our one True Aim and Purpose, close as our beating heart, and present as our most recent breath. Amen.

RIGHT VIEW

Though Julian makes mention of engaging in certain intentional practices (not just meditation, but even the ingestion of drugs!), it should NOT be assumed that what follows is merely the consequence of physical or chemical events, but is indeed truly spiritual and inspired. That is, these techniques are only an occasion, but not the cause of his revelation. One doesn't "make" Spirit do anything, of course. Spirit moves where it pleases.(1) As Gopi Krishna wisely recognized: “If drugs could induce the same state of divine inspiration that characterized the Buddha, Socrates, Christ, Shankaracharya, St. Paul, Rumi, Guru Nanak, St Francis of Assisi and other great prophets and mystics of the past, the present world would be crowded with models of perfection and sublime vision, making it a happier place to live in. On the contrary, what we see is a singular absence of these lofty men and women that won the greatest names in history. It is our own lack of insight and distorted thinking which is confusing drug experience with mystical ecstasy or bringing down these exalted souls to the level of drug or alcohol addicts.”

– Anonymous

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EXPLANATORY ANALYSIS

It may strike the reader as odd that, in his effort to gain insight into “the very structure of the universe,” Julian turns to meditation and psychedelics. Such practices might produce compelling and deeply meaningful subjective experiences, perhaps, but they will not reveal anything about the objective world of stars, galaxies, molecules, etc. Obviously, for such things, observation, logic, and experimentation are necessary. It should not be overlooked, then, that Julian has also been “steeping” his mind in books as well, the authors of which are (mostly) scientists and rational philosophers who rely on such procedural knowledge (or analysis of such findings). Indeed, the “story” the poet means to convey is precisely the one that has emerged from the STEM fields of empirical inquiry. It is precisely to render them more aesthetically and subjectively meaningful that Julian aspires, so that what has been “just for math” (i.e., expressed via physical and chemical equations) may at last be expressed in the form of “scriptures.”

 

To whatever degree his work has objective merit, then, the emphasis should lie on Julian’s background knowledge—and not the ‘revelatory’ suggestion of his altered state of consciousness.(2) I feel it safe to presume that the latter be taken primarily as a pretense, a formal strategy by which the poet would link the contents of his account to the sort of authority once accorded to premodern visionaries and seers. Of course, the true source of authority here is diligent adherence to the highest scientific standards, which Julian inherits, and not the insight of meditation or the oracular utterances of psychedelic entities. While some readers may enjoy these fanciful elements most, the more naïve even assuming them literally true, we should take them as colorful condescensions to convention. Indeed, the thoroughly detailed and highly literary nature of the text should disabuse us of any inclination to read the work as in any way a genuine visionary account, anyway. The spontaneous inventions of the ecstatic brain do not produce highly ordered and meaningful stories, but just the opposite—strange and bizarre confabulations of images.(3)

– Prof. Demonstrand

 
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FOOTNOTES

(1) The pursuit of altered states of consciousness has been an enduring practice of religious seers, prophets, and mystics the world over. Contrary to the idealized notion that spiritual rapture necessarily seized the seer completely unexpecting and unaware (the “Road to Damascus” stereotype), comparative anthropological study of mystical practices has shed considerable light on a broad spectrum of activities that mystics participated in so as to catalyze transcendent experiences intentionally. The list includes practices such as fasting, sleep deprivation, incessant prayer or chanting, dancing to exhaustion, extreme meditation and contemplation, and, yes, the ingestion of psychoactive substances. Though crucial to mystical practice, such practices are themselves rarely mentioned explicitly in mystical texts, or, if they are, only obliquely. This lack of explicit mention has led to the erroneous assumption that irrupture of transcendent experiences generally come to the seeker unsought and unbidden. In reality, such experiences have always been instigated through various methods. It is therefore misguided to denigrate the insights of ecstatic experience solely on the assumption that, if it was cultivated and instigated and not a spontaneous divine rapture, it is mere hallucination. The line is much blurrier, as it always is.

This method of cultivating transcendence applies even to traditional accounts, such as the biblical prophets, who, in this regard at least, were no different than the seers of other religious traditions. The often bizarre and sublime experiences recounted by the likes of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Zechariah, Daniel, and John of Patmos were likely intentionally cultivated as part of their ancient inspired calling, as through fasting or and entheogenic ingestion, etc.

 

(2) While it may have been possible once (e.g., during the Enlightenment and its aftermath) to assume that the state of consciousness so valued by privileged White European men for its capacity to solve problems and think “objectively” about the world is indeed the only right and normal state of consciousness, such a position is hardly tenable. Just because one form of consciousness is the default for a particular powerful elite, and provides distinct material advantages within the society headed by said elite, should in no way blind us to the possibility and indeed reality of other modes of consciousness, all equally valid in their own way. The pursuance of other, non-default states of consciousness is not only inherently valuable, then, but actually a necessary endeavor for anyone supposedly interested in the nature of reality. The modernist privileging of their own default is not only narrow and parochial, then, but actually hypocritical, insofar as it limits the findings of its science (which it deems “truth”) to only those eyes who see as they do. As if only one man’s telescope were fit to trace the pathways of the stars, and those who used other equipment were, by definition, already wrong. In this sense, the cultivation of altered states of consciousness should be seen not as a deviation from knowledge, but an expansion of the scope of knowledge, for by having something different to compare it with, “normal” consciousness in the default mode can come into the field of study and become an object of awareness. Trance, meditation, substances, etc., would indeed become all but essential tools for the would-be seer, who would see not only the world as it’s given out, but as it may be in other ways as well.

  

(3) The idea that some visionary literature might be called “direct reporting” and other works “merely literary fabrications” is a false dichotomy with no basis in the realities of mystical practice. Highly formal texts, with rich references and quoted material, are not, because of their “artificiality,” to be deemed “mere fabrications” of art. Rather, art was the means by which complex and ineffable experiences were communicated and expressed. The highly intentional way that a John of Patmos, or for that matter Dante Alighieri, crafted their narratives should not imply that they are not originally rooted in direct, first-person experiences, or that their craft is anything secondary to their earnest, honest accounting. In this sense, Julian’s purported practices here are well in accord with those of ancient mysticism and prophecy, both in terms of his cultivation techniques as well as his literary formulation of his experience. 

– a. verte

 
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V I E W S