Non-fiction: "Mystical Fist of the Vajrayana Exorcist" - by Jonathan C. Sampson
© 2008 Jonathan C. Sampson
My hiking boots are filled with icy water. The fancy grooves in their soles are clogged with mud. My expensive science -- or faith -- has backfired in this terrain: the traction of mud on mud is worse than anything. Children in grooveless flip-flops run past me down the slippery stones. Their unpredictable strides weave webs over a mountain stream. At length, I am grateful for a stretch of dry dirt. An hour ago I left Sapa, a resort fitted by French colonists to the Tonkinese Alps. Now my steps return to the present.
These mountains are less the product of geology than of endless and arduous labor. What had been a mountain is a gentle stairway of rice paddies. The edges of these paddies are both walls and aqueducts, the water unused by one layer irrigating those below. How can it be that this fabricated earth feels natural, more natural than nature? The quality of awe that we attribute to a vista is profoundly diminished by this kind of alteration. Proportional to its extremes, there is less suggestion of the infinite.
The mist of this mountain does not detract from the view. The view is a living depth. If one flattened the view, it would constitute a scroll of imaginary meanderings. Its infinity has doubled back on itself.
I approach the village. A water buffalo is tethered to a post. A complex knot wraps through its nose, around its fearsome horns. Why does this fetishized creature, genetically the product of human symbiosis, feel more natural than a wild beast?
Our cattle, grazing the steppes of Wyoming, possess a singular majesty; but for nature, onward to the next state park. Nature is jagged, moody, and indifferent, throwing down the gauntlet to man. In the devil's myth, we are liberated from a finite garden.
A man is chopping wood in measured swings. After unsnagging his axe, he takes a moment to sense the grain of the wood, to determine the arc of his next swing. Here, wood is cut long, right along the grain. Long contours of wood, visibly pregnant with knots, are inserted slowly into the fire. Wood is not cylindricized, exploited without comprehension.
Stirner (1844), most radical of the Young Hegelians, construed life as the quest to define oneself amidst the engulfing chaos. As life progresses, the ego attempts to extricate itself from objects of increasing subtlety, from social objects Stirner calls ghosts.
In the ego-dialectic, all that is not ourselves is correlative to our uses. In its essence, then, an object must be finite, like us. To overcome the object, we test and define its limits. Infinity, for the ego, is flat and homogeneous. In the ego-dialectic, location is inherently arbitrary and extraneous.
Infinity is identified with the vertigo of an infantile space, in which ego floats around with all its objects. In the finiteness of its needs and use-objects, in the fable of a fixed orientation, the ego feels the security of the known; in the infinity of perspectives and interstices, the ego perceives a mystery whose comprehension is death.
Our gardens are on the shallow side of things. Our fence demarks a sphere of the finite, lest tempestuous man or nature overrun the boundaries of reason. The trampling of our fence signals the hunt. Dark nature, which includes the twisted heart, is captured by the hunter in his operas and frescoes. Such was the Geist of Stirner's egoism.
In the infinite fractal accretions of the object, by which mother nature gives the lie to its dialectic, the ego persists in its hunt for vertigo. To qualify as art, even a still life must dislocate our mental and emotional compass. Form, color, a language of style are all mere design. Van Gogh's bouquet is no longer art.
In the egoless complementation that defines man as nature, we suddenly find an aesthetic of finiteness and compression. Wittgenstein (1922) identified mysticism with a sense of the all as finite. Later, we were told that the physical universe is finite but unbounded. In its contours, pregnant with knots of mass that bend the space around them, our finite physical universe alludes to driftwood.
In the house where I sleep, the floors are made of dirt.
The garden of meanderings follows me home. Stones emerge from this floor that is ever more floor. Our low stools cluster round the campfire. That fire, the only source of heat in the house, indiscriminately smokes the bamboo walls and ceiling.
My host, an indigent tribeswoman, speaks my language. As we pass the pipe, her fire slowly encircles us. We are a mandala.
Her beauty, in and out, is as from some time forgotten. There is contentment, of a color that bleeds freely into joy. Her face, that is youthful, is gaping, as with age. Her broken face welcomes all the agonies and ecstasies of the gods. No, this dumbfounded joy wears no face, it is a broken receptacle; their nectar will be squandered on the other side. Her brow is drenched, but her eyes widen easily around the task. In a smooth and rhythmic seppuku, she inserts my wood.
By day, our large wooden door is always open. This house makes no sense as a separate enclosure. People, young and old, stop over. Some are friendly, some coy, some distressed. Their comprehension of the ordinary is magical and dramatic.
The space in front is another sitting place. The view, that is not framed, appears framed. As we all sit quietly together, I am immersed in its solid continuum.
Eventually I leave, with my elaborate backpack and hiking boots.
There is no closure of the possible. The set of all sets comes up against Russell's Paradox.
A single line of Shakespeare might unravel into a thousand monkeys with typewriters. The text of possible go games is larger, roughly 5 times 1090 times the number of whole atoms in the universe. The set of possible Woodin games has the number of the continuum. But this number, c, is tiny: c may or may not quantify the smallest uncountable set.
Confronted with the open infinity of the possible, the ego projects the same onto the actual. The ego sings of a hunt that never ends, even though its prey remains in sight. This hunt is the fable of its origin and the romantic tragedy of death. Like Descartes (1641) and his god, we suppose that our sense of an open infinity can congeal in finite minds because it is real. With a fanciful, paradoxical, and dichotomous usage of come, we say that it must come from somewhere. But the dreams the ego sees are not real. It is its nature to flatten Earth. Upon learning that the universe is finite, we grope instinctively for a set of higher power, in which ours is only one among uncountable parallel worlds.
In the end, it is only with difficulty that we can imagine the actual as finite and closed. The mystical fist of the finite lulls the ego-dialectic to sleep. With a painstaking bluntness, we are informed that absolutely nothing is arbitrary. We return to ourselves.
In the ether of possible selves, we discern a vast population of demons. These demons are not our rivals, but temptations that we design and manufacture. Like succubae, they redirect our natural energies. This ether is familiar as Samsara, the grand masque of hell.
Even as a flesh and blood person has a factual history, a demon has a myth. Among thinkers, there is a butterfly effect to these myths. Outrageous conclusions amassed from small forays into the possible attract schools of like-minders. Generations of demons overlap, wrangle and breed.
Wittgenstein taught us to return to the soil, to the ordinary usage of language. He forswore (for example) a positive sense of love, which he consigned to the language game of uncertainty (Wittgenstein 1994: 129). If a Christian died and met Jesus, she wouldn't say "I love you." Thus was my mandala.
Like Descartes and Stirner before him, Wittgenstein tried to mold the philosopher into a kind of exorcist.
Tokyo, two weeks earlier.
"What is your original face?" That koan, the gauntlet of a Rinzai master, offended my Western sensibilities. The question stemmed and plumed in a lacework of assumptions that are all easier questions. Its arc was smoother than jade.
In such fullness, no din might resound.
Descartes, R. (1641) Meditationes de Prima Philosophia.
Stirner, M. (1844) Der Einzige und sein Eigentum.
Wittgenstein, L. (1922) Tractatus logico-philosophicus.
Wittgenstein, L. (1994) The Wittgenstein Reader, ed. Anthony Kenny, Blackwell
Publishers, Malden, Massachusetts.
All work is copyrighted property of Jonathan C. Sampson.
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