I am starting this thread because I believe it's essential to have a clear understanding of the human spirit, especially in discussions pertaining to mysticism, enlightenment, contemplation, etc.
I know this chapter is tough going, but take your time and really think about what Dr. Helminiak is saying. The distinctions he's making are, ultimately, rooted in the metaphysical insights of Aristotle/Aquinas, especially as explicated by Bernard Lonergan. The material discussed lends itself to experiential validation, and so it's not just "intellectual" in emphasis. You can verify what it's saying for yourself by examining your own experiences.
The executive summary:
Non-reflecting consciousness = Self (in my doctoral thesis); "I"; subject-of-attention; witnessing consciousness; the observational backdrop of all our experiences, even dreams. When one is awake to this and reflecting consciousness is stilled, there is a sense of deep unity with all of creation, and an intuition of existence-received, though from what or whom one cannot know in this state. It is my view that most of what people call enlightenment is human non-reflecting consciousness, though writers are sometimes likely to call it "divine nature" as well, though why I do not know except that it is not the Ego, so what else could it be?
Reflecting consciousness = Ego (in my doctoral thesis); "Me"; object-of-attention; self-image/concept. It also includes all active intellectual, affective, intentional and imaginative processes. Ordinary, everyday consciousness. Present even in dreams, where we see processing going on. Christian revelation and spirituality addresses the person at this level, inviting response of intellect and will . . . relationship.
Reflecting and non-reflecting consciousness are usually so bound up together that we don't usually distinguish between one and the other. Yet meditative techniques and even natural insights can see the distinctions.
Following up on this at some point, I will say more about theosis in this understanding. Helminiak does a superb job in distinguishing how participation in divinity through grace is different from some supposed realization of innate divinity (a dubious concept, imo).This message has been edited. Last edited by: Phil,
Where is that, Phil? Is it in one of the chapters we can freely view, or do we have to buy the book to see it?
I see on Amazon that your author also has another book out, Spirituality for Our Global Community: Beyond Traditional Religion to a World at Peace. That looks interesting, too, along with a forthcoming book I just learned about from the Publishers' Weekly Religion newsletter:
Derek, he has a lot about the theotic perspective in that book, but it's much more clearly described in a companion work, "Religion and the Human Sciences."
- http://tinyurl.com/lceksc (p. 123 > )
We have to add a piece, here, which is the four arenas of concern he deals with:
A. Positivist perspective -- essentially the empirical science; basic data of consciousness.
B. Philosophical perspective -- questions of meaning, truth, goodness, etc.
C. Theistic perspective -- utlimate origins; Creator; ultimate explanation.
d. Theotic perspective -- how creatures come to participate in the life of God.
There are some nice images of these perspectives in both books.
On p. 126 in Religion and Human Sciences he gets into why Christianity alone provides an adequate explanation of how human beings come to participate in divinity. Unfortunately, there are pages missing in the Google preview, so the explanation will be truncated. On p. 131 there's a great section on "The Essence of Christianity" and 132 begins "The Uniqueness of Christianity." This can help to indicate the significant differences from enlightenment spiritualities such as we find in Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism.
Yes. He is saying that the terminus of the human quest must be God rather than human consciousness (Religion and the Human Sciences, p. 124).
That sounds good, but I would raise two possible objections:
1. His reasoning does seem a bit circular, since it depends on the axiom that "the created cannot be the Creator" (p. 125). In other words, you would have to be at least a dualist/theist to accept his logic.
2. Moreover, I suspect that A. would argue that it is the Ego that is on a quest, and not Spirit (which he equates to awareness).
Helminiak then introduces the term "theotics," by which he means the study of theosis, or the process of becoming godlike (p. 126). He asserts that this theosis is the essence of true Christianity, as opposed to a mere moralistic theism: "An understanding of human life as an inchoate process of deification is the essence of Christianity." (p. 131).
His argument for the uniqueness of Christianity is then that only Christianity is unequivocally dualistic: humans and God are distinct.
(Actually, I don't think that's strictly true. There are dualistic sects within Hinduism; it's just that they don't get the same publicity as the nondualists.)
My brain hurts after reading all this!
I think a much better argument against A's point of view comes from examining its implications.
If there is only one Spirit, universal and undifferentiated, then why does its witnessing only take in one mind at a time? If you realized yourself to be universal Spirit, wouldn't you simultaneously be aware of what's happening in all minds?
That's a good and simple explanation of what I've been wanting to say! Instead of focusing on the difference between consciousness and the Divine, you've pointed to a weakness in the assumption of the non-dual field, which doesn't seem to be so unified or undifferentiated, at least in relationship to the mystery of persons which enlightenment cannot fully penetrate; this would be consistent with the guru I've known and what I've read about those mind-states.
I don't think he'd say this, as he knows very well that Judaism and Islam are "dualistic" in the same sense that Christianity is. His point about the uniqueness of Christianity is that it alone explains how, through the union of Christ's human nature with ours, the divine Spirit can be communicated to our human nature in such manner as to preserve our individuality and effect union with God.
Re. the circular argument . . . I think the first part of chapter 6 (p. 63, for example) makes it clear that this awareness is "I" or the subjective basis for our experiences -- human. E.g., "Were you aware only in one mode -- reflectingly -- and only of one thing at a time -- only of objects -- you would have no experience on the basis of which to say you ever experienced anything. . . you would not be conscious of your experiencing." For Helminiak (and Lonergan, St. Thomas, Aristotle, etc.), this subjective observer and experiencer is human and not divine because its manner of observing and experiencing are human and not divine -- limited and, ultimately, contingent on a Giver of Existence for its powers. You and w.c. seem to be making similar observations (great minds think alike! ).
A few helpful references from http://tinyurl.com/lceksc on "Religion and the Human Sciences."
- p. 8 has a good summary of the four perspectives I mentioned above.
- p. 21 has some nice reflection on reflecting and non-reflecting consciousness.
- p. 214 > has his response to Ken Wilber
Yes, sorry, I overcondensed there. At this point in his argument he was comparing only Hinduism and Christianity.
I'd like to read his new book, Spirituality for Our Global Community: Beyond Traditional Religion to a World at Peace. It seems it will address some important issues.
I've just discovered there's a whole thread on that subject:
Somehow threads have been happening that I wasn't aware of!
Yes, but what you said, and the way you said it, reminds me of Phil's past posts, on various threads over the years, re: how we cannot know the other person with exhaustive depth - in fact not even close to that - or ourselves, for that matter. It's as though we are waiting to be known by God, by design. What a great mystery this is!! I'm so glad we can't know each other through and through, given the fallen nature of our wills. What damage we could do. And then the not knowing, or the limitation, is also a gift, an opening to Him if we can accept our condition. His knowing is always love and the restoration of our souls, whereas our knowing is full of . . . . . stuff, i.e, various agendas, acts or dispositions of will based upon pride and fear we're often not even aware of until somebody looks at us funny!
LOL! Well, yes, we've been over this topic again and again, as in the discussions about Tolle and Bernadette Roberts, for example. Somewhere I even have a thread on "Ego and Self," then there's my dissertation on "God, Self and Ego," which is a thread.
What's unique about Helminiak's work is the precision with which he explains what we mean by non-reflecting consciousness, and how this explanation avoids the circular argument you brought up earlier. His four perspectives approach also provides a helpful way to sort out which concerns belong to philosophy, which to theism, and which to theosis. Enlightenment spirituality really belongs to the philosophical perspective while Christian mysticism is theotic (hence, encompassing theistic and philosophic concerns).
OK, so given these understandings, one of the major implications is that it provides us with something of an idea of how the human spirit itself in its non-reflecting mode experiences reality. See, especially, p. 71 at http://tinyurl.com/n6n5jv where Helminiak notes that:
I think we find in the quote above a sound basis for affirming that enlightenment states can be understood as a deep experience of our own human non-reflecting awareness (Self) and the immediacy of its grasp of everything that is. The burden, then, belongs to those who would insist that this is an experience of God, especially in the same sense that the Christian mystics have described. We can presume that God is "there" in these enlightenment experiences, of course, as the Giver of being, and so hidden in a depth beyond which non-reflecting consciousness per se can grasp. Knowledge of God thus entails grace, which is a gift that communicates itself to both non-reflecting and reflecting awareness (Self and Ego), that we might integrate this knowledge of God into our active and passive consciousness.
A suggestion: let's use Ego in reference to reflecting consciousness, and Self in reference to non-reflecting consciousness. It will make for easier writing.
Today I was thinking about non-reflecting consciousness and I realized something. Christianity sees human being in a very paradoxical way. On the one hand, it points out the shortcomings of our fallen nature, inability to overcome sin, to save ourselves by our efforts. St. Augustine puts it powerfully saying that we are spiritually sick and we cannot do anything good by ourselves.
On the other hand, human nature as it was designed by God, is so beautiful and amazing that Buddhists and Hindus call it "divine" or "God". We say that our transcendental "I", the witness, non-dual awareness or whatever is our own human spirit. But the splendor of this spirit is so great that so many intelligent people like Tolle, Wilber, Adyashanti and many others think this is God! How amazing!
And God is infinitely greater! Glory to Him!
And at the same time we are fallen, sinful, weak, unable to attain salvation by our efforts...
Any thoughts on that? :-)
Yes. It is clearly confined to one person's experience -- even if that person's consciousness has transformed to the extent that they no longer experience themselves as separate. As Helminiak puts it (great minds think alike!) in your quote, "the 'I' really is not everything." BTW my local public library has a couple of his books, though not the ones mentioned so far, and I've put them on hold.
What we need now is a few enlightened individuals to come along and explain to us in what sense they consider non-reflecting consiousness (either pre- or post-transformation) to be divine. Any volunteers?
I think "Ego" and "Self" might have connotations beyond the terminology of consciousness. But to save typing, I wouldn't object to "rc" and "nrc".
Not wanting to add more notions to the fire, but what of personness? Perhaps some people see this and "I" as inseparable. But I'm thinking of what we see when we look into a baby's eyes: somebody is looking back! We'd probably say "self" hasn't emerged, and obviously not consciously. But what I saw when I gazed a bit into the sweet face of my friend's baby was "personness," or "personhood," not just "being," and uniquely a quality of that particular child. I don't know anybody who'd say there wasn't something peculiar and beautiful about that gaze as an expression of a person. And for some reason I want to say that what I saw was as much or more "Thou" as "I." It seems as though the infant is still so under the impression of where she has come from, before the womb, that this quality of "Thou" registers.
Hi, w.c., yes, you rightly point out that our sense of personness and our sense of encountering another person are indeed something precious. How do you see it fitting into the question of the divine and nrc?
Yes, that is where this leads, no? I was just talking with Phil by phone, and we were discussing how this quality of presence in the baby, which isn't so much embodied in the contractions of the nervous system, suggests devotion. I was relating my experience to Phil of this friend of mine and her children. As I sat with these babies whose eyes were pools of wonder, there was a sense of devotion; it wasn't nrc, as it was this "I-Thou" exchange. I would also say that this Thou-ness was arising from that soul having belonged somewhere else than this world. "Thou" is already more than "I," and this changes "I" into something non-self referencing.
And it occured to me in talking to Phil that perhaps the soul's firt impression, prior to embodiment, is this "Thou-ness," in which the potential for "I" arises, since "Thou" is the first response to Him as supernatural - prior to any self-contraction, although fallenness is in everyway a given in human tendencies.
And I also thought that our fallenness must continually register in some basic way, automatically via archetypes. In the non-dualist tradition this appears as the self referencing itself as source, which is a never- ending effort of non-effort, and a habit of the nervous system. There is really no rest of "Thou-ness," where the rest is received as is suggested in the baby, although not perfectly (the child's will is imprinted with Adam's irrevocable gesture). And so while we can say the baby's mind-state isn't mature like the non-dualist who sees unity, there is a receptivity that isn't captured very well in those descriptions.
do you believe in the preexistence of souls? how can be any imprint prior to embodiment?
derek, I suppose the non-dualist call the nrc divine because (1) it's so different from our normal fallen functioning, (2) it's an image of God.
(1) I take from Polish philosopher and mystic from 20th century, Henryk Elzenberg. He wrote that he didn't understand why all the positive qualities are ascribed to the Indefinite (as he called the nrc or emptiness). He was convinced that it's the influence of religious sentiments that make people call this Reality "good", "happy", "free", "divine" etc. He said that looking without any religious background (as he was) he must say that Emptiness can be said only NOT to be something. But since our life here is slavery, corruption, destruction, death, sin etc. we call Emptiness pure, free, happy, immortal etc.
He's got a point, doesn't he? Maybe "divine" is just a way of saying "different from what we have down here".
(2) My way of thinking is along the lines of Gregory of Nyssa (I elaborated on this on other threads): the essence of our mind is in image and likeness of God, ergo: it possesses all the qualities of God but in a way confined to our created nature. Our mind is incorporeal like God, immortal, indestructible, aware, "all seeing,hearing and feeling", one, simple, indivisible, free etc. So we are like God but we're not God. If we don't have faith or experience of the transcendental Nature, we may think we arrived at God himself, when we behold the purity of His image in ourselves.
This is a bit Platonic, since it divides the nrc, spirit, and the rest of us. Perhaps, tomists would say that we shouldn't do that. Yet the non-dual experience is a bit Platonic.
It's interesting how our experience of our own spirit may be "colored" by our beliefs, faith, ideas, feelings... I always felt I was in contact with God during states of cosmic awareness and energy. I didn't doubt that until I got here on SP. But still I think there is something "Godly" in that state, at least there may be, some sort of grace. I don't know if we put it precisely in our theology, but there's something.
Yes, I guess I've sort of backed my way into that notion from various sources. But not just intellectually. From what I've seen in hospice work, in my own dreams where visitations of the dead sometimes occur, and from the large body of indirect evidence in NDEs, it does seem like the soul is its own body or substance, although always in conditional relation to God. Granted the limits of my own perception, the dead seem to already have their new bodies. But I'm not sure if that is to be equated with what Paul describes as the resurrection body given at the end of time. "As above, so below," seems true from my own experience in some ways.
And so I've never really found the Thomist notion thoroughly compelling (obviously it could still be true!), where the soul is so closely coupled with the body that it has no volition or ability to respond post-death. As for babies, they seem alert in this way of "Thou-ness" before they make the discovery of the limiting terrain of their bodies. They look like they have seen something magnificient, and their squeals of delight for no apparent reason than existence are better than any words we might have. Perhaps the infant has beheld Love, and the memory of this is formative to her gaze; she has "beheld," and is "beholden," to Him. So perhaps the child's inability to verbalize, although a developmental limitation, also preserves the reverence of "I-Thou." We can only gaze, and this gaze in appreciation of the wonders of the child has seemed to me, at times, like "prayer of quiet," where we're disposed to the gift of contemplation (unless you're a parent waking up in the middle of the night to change diapers!). No surprise, then, that a child's play so resembles an act of gratitude, even praise. If we respond in this way to young children, what does that suggest about aspects of their inner state of being that we can't remember and they can't verbalize?
And I hope you don't misunderstand me to over-idealize the child as a kind of spiritual icon, as little kids do demonstrate fallenness in some strong and clear ways.This message has been edited. Last edited by: w.c.,
I know what you mean, Mt. What strange, amazing creatures we are!! In the very same body, we are both and can experience both terrible ugliness and incomprehensible beauty.
And yes, Glory to God that He is greater than His creation, that Christ in us is God's New Creation underway, which is better than the original, pre-fallen humanity.
BTW, what do you make of so many intelligent people claiming they've found God in enlightened consciousness? Is it a blind-spot or an empty spot, a lack of right knowledge and/or maturity? Is there something amiss with their ego or their Self, (rc or nrc)?
Many Christians would say they haven't as yet received the Holy Spirit, and hence are not equipped to mature into the knowledge that Jesus is Lord.
The later Helminiak books I've put a hold on at the library won't be here for a few days yet. But I saw you'd reviewed one of them on Amazon.
Has Helminiak moved toward a "spiritual but not religious" position? Or perhaps "spiritual with religion as an optional extra"?
If so, is this an inevitable consequence of experiencing pure nrc?
Derek, I became aware of his works during the years when he was a Catholic priest. He's since left the priesthood and teaches at a small university in Ga. He's also gay, and has written a book on homosexuality and scripture, which I didn't much care for. I don't know what his religious persuasion is, but given his deep understanding of Christianity and theotic transformation, it seems likely that he's still a Christian. He's also written a book on meditation which seems to be about getting in touch with nrc. I welcomed this as it makes it clear that this is what he'd call spirituality in the philosophic perspective rather than a thesistic or theotic approach.
See http://www.visionsofdaniel.net/ to find out more about him and what he's up to.
Phil, I've had a quick look at the newer books.
Meditation without Myth (2005), as you noted, under the heading of Centering Prayer gives instructions for what is actually John Main's Christian Meditation, and not Centering Prayer at all.
Chapter 17, "Confusing the Spiritual and the Divine," addresses the questions we've discussed on SP. He says that assuming transcendent consciousness to be God is "mistaken" (p. 137) and "jumping to conclusions" (p. 138).
Then Chapter 18, "God and Spiritual Experience," goes on to take something of an agnostic position. After dismissing the kinds of belief in God that most people have, he states, "we do not really know what God is" (p. 150). "In practice, a humble theism comes down in the same place as a humble agnosticism. I would not want to pass judgment on one or the other."
In The Transcended Christian (2007) he self-identifies as Catholic. However, his view of what that means is simply a kind of ethical theism. "To talk of following Jesus is just the Christian way of talking about being a good person" (p. 57). And so on. Much of the book consists of a rant against "fundamentalists" in favor of a very liberal interpretation of Christianity.
I'm rereading Daniel Helminiak's Meditation without Myth. Just to resurrect the topic of this thread:
Helminiak's view in Meditation without Myth is that God is so remote from human knowability that one can profitably discuss spirituality without bringing God into the picture at all.
This reminds me of that essay by Hans Urs von Balthasar that I've mentioned before, "The Unknown God" (it's in a book titled Elucidations). Von Balthasar points to St. Augustine's "Si comprehendis, non est Deus," "If you can understand it, it ain't God," and to the Fourth Lateran Council's assertion of the ineffability of God. If nothing can really be said about God, von Balthasar asks, all the "towering theological buildings" constructed by Christians become of questionable usefulness.
This is somewhat where Helminiak is coming from. His God is the God who sets the wheels in motion and then leaves the universe to continue on its own. For Helminiak, spirituality thus becomes a wholly human activity.
Hence his point of view that transcendent experiences are a product of innate human spiritual capacity, and that it would be unwarranted to conclude they are evidence of God's intervention in reality.
Yes, that's pretty much how he puts it in that book. In earlier works, when discussing theosis, he readily acknowledged that God's grace could communicate real knowledge of God, though not comprehension of God's essence, of course.
- e.g., http://books.google.com/books?...#v=onepage&q&f=false - p. 123>
One thing that has happened through the years is that Helminiak has "come out," as it were, to affirm his homosexual identity and to act on this. He left the priesthood and I'm not sure where he is with Christianity.
On Helminiak's website there is (or was) an article about Christian meditation. He stated there that every meditation is a prayer, even if we're just concentrating on a mantra, because the Holy Spirit is in every Christian and transforms whatever we do in a theotic manner. He says that if we become more human, we become more godlike, due to Christ's redemptive action. He doesn't deal with differences between contemplative graces and this kind of Christian meditation, but he seems to think that it's irrelevant to the process of theosis, if we experience special graces or not. He's got a point there, but his treatment of meditation might be taken by some Christian meditators as a discouragement to pray verbally and sacramentally, since meditation "does the work" of transformation anyway.
Btw, I used Helminiak anthropology in my M.A. thesis in psychology this year and it looks like a good theory to write about relationship between spirituality and psychology, precisely because he underlines the human dimension of spirituality (he doesn't deny the possibility of God['s action within us - he just deals with the natural dimension, at least in "The core of human spirituality").
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