Category Archives: Religion

The gods

The Greeks were right, X tells me, the gods are flawed. They laze around and bicker. The heavens aren’t serene, far from it, he says, they roar with laughter, earnest speech, drunken shouts, arguments about what to name us and what we’ve named them and how to interpret the events they’ve caused. Confusion reigns up there, he says, it’s a dysfunctional parliament of deities, and that’s the source of all our confusion, all our noise. If we’re weak imitations of the gods, imagine what it must be like up there, he says. If we’re the trailing off of their shouts, the ripples of their noise, at least we can rest sometimes in our limitation and our stupidity, at least we have the makings of silence, he says. And maybe that’s what they dream of, the gods, maybe that’s why they made us in their image, only infinitely weaker: to embody their wish for silence, like dying ripples, like shouts in the wind: to sacrifice us to silence. But they’re too noisy, X says, and they know that whatever they bring into being will be moved by their noise. Yet their hope is that as time moves into eternity, as we move into timelessness, their own noise will die out with us. That’s both their hope and our great mission, he says, that we can become silent even if they themselves can’t, that silence can exist in the world even if it’s only a silence of weakness, a silence that hears what can’t be silenced.


The annihilation of thought

Thought rises to contemplate its own innerness until its power of comprehension is annihilated.

— Azriel of Gerona

Being and nothingness

You may be asked: ‘How did God bring forth being from nothingness? Is there not an immense difference between being and nothingness?’

Answer as follows: ‘Being is in nothingness in the mode of nothingness, and nothingness is in being in the mode of being.’ Nothingness is being, and being is nothingness. The node of being as it begins to emerge from nothingness is called faith. For the term ‘faith’ applies neither to visible, comprehensible being, nor to nothingness, invisible and incomprehensible, but rather to the nexus of nothingness and being. Being does not stem from nothingness alone but rather from being and nothingness together. All is one in the simplicity of absolute undifferentiation. Our limited mind cannot grasp or fathom this, for it joins infinity.

— Azriel of Gerona

God spoke

(‘God spoke, and what He said became our symbols. The shape of a letter is perhaps the shape of His face. God has as many faces as there are letters in an alphabet. God is written in all languages.
   ‘You will be able to contemplate God once you have learned to listen to words, to look at them carefully, that is, once you have learned to read’, he had noted.
   ‘His voice is inaudible, but it is the supporting silence which allows our sounds to be discrete’, he had added.
   ‘You will shatter the image of words. You will take away their sound. You will divert them from their meaning. You will turn them into holes.
   ‘Then reading and writing will throw you into the vortex of a voice absorbed into the void’, he had also noted.)

— Jabés, El, or the Last Book (trans. R. Waldrop)

What you are asking is your treasure house

   Daiju visited the master Baso in China. Baso asked: “What do you seek?”
   “Enlightenment”, replied Daiju.
   “You have your own treasure house. Why do you search outside?” Baso asked.
   Daiju inquired: “Where is my treasure house?”
   Baso answered: “What you are asking is your treasure house.”
   Daiju was enlightened! Ever after he urged his friends: “Open your own treasure house and use those treasures.”

Zen koans

The pillar of fire

The saints of the past could live it, reach out and seize it, burn up in it. They say there are no saints today. And there’s no such thing as a holy fool now, of course, we’ve ruined it for them. We’ve dragged them down. We have names for them. They can clown around as much as they want, but we know they’re not holy, don’t we? Sadhus, bodhisattvas and sufis. Charlatans. So does the pillar of fire they burned up in just disappear? Maybe it expands and contracts through time. Maybe in these final days it can only burn those who desire to see it but can’t. Or maybe not.


 He’d whinged most of his life until he realised there was a difference between whingeing and suffering, Kierkegaard’s passive and active suffering — but what was ‘active suffering’? It sounded so old-fashioned, didn’t it? Medieval gloom, they’d call it. Romantic kitsch. Christian nonsense. Maybe the difference lay in the degree of sincerity with which you suffered. Maybe it was like the Samurai’s ability to prepare for death. Already he was way out of his depth, of course. To prepare for death properly, to see death in life and death as part of life. Like the Samurai? The Samurai who was undefeatable even in defeat, who stared Death in the face? Embarrassing in this day and age, wasn’t it? Absurdly anachronistic. Laughable. Ripe for comedy. In this age of Jung’s dissociation and inexorable opposites, this age with Jung’s problems but without his solutions, which would have disgusted the Samurai, if they ever existed, would have disgusted Kierkegaard even more violently than he was disgusted with his own time. He himself couldn’t judge either way, with his kitsch and his stupidity. What difference did active or passive suffering make to him, happily stuffing his face and watching sitcoms? Where was the bronze serpent of life, Moses’ fiery snake that healed the snakebites in the desert? Nowhere to be seen unless it was invisible, working unseen like they once said of God’s finger. But mostly it felt like the end of whatever Great Cycle the world was in — the Iron Age, wasn’t it, Kali yuga? — a degenerate age whingeing and backsliding into the End Times, out of control, until the Great Clock would click over and by some immense natural law begin a new Golden Age of Truth and Calm. Would ‘active suffering’ help usher in the Golden Age? Would it make any difference?