Okay… Jim’s post stuck out to me because he mentioned existentialism and doubt. The context of the discussion that Jim is responding to is whether the belief in reincarnation provides mere consolation or whether it can be part of a transformative practice.
Jim said May 16, 9:17 AM:
In Victor Hori’s book on the Rinazi Koans, Victor interprets the Great Doubt (the death of meaning?) as a kind of “samadhi,” and what follows it (in which meaning is reconstituted?) as kensho or satori. I’ll post what he says in his intro at the enlightenment thread.
I look forward to reading it.
I’ve heard “Great Doubt” likened to Jaspers’ notion of the “Grenzsituation” or “boundary situation,” a condition or situation through which a person can neither escape nor transcend. Jaspers describes it as a cul-de-sac where the person can neither go forward nor backward forcing the person back on her own resources so that she experiences existential “Existenz.”
Hakuin (1689 – 1769), said of his own “Great Doubt” that “It was as though I were frozen solid in the midst of an ice sheet extending tens of thousands of miles. I could neither go forward nor retreat.”
Hakuin says that great doubt is like hanging over an abyss: “we have no where to go (really) but down – eventually we must all let go and jump – it is supposedly that act which propels us to the next level – to enlightenment. What would bring us to this point – where we are willing to give up the self? Does the fall into the abyss always result in enlightenment? How would we know? What do we have to give up or suspend to make such a leap?”
(I’m just cutting and pasting from some old notes.)
I don’t wish to comment on whether reincarnation exists or its relation to transformative practice. Instead, I want to bring in another quote that connects to the theme of existentialism and doubt. The following is a quote of Eric G. Wilson from his book The Melancholy Android. Wilson, in speaking about Hans Jonas’ book The Gnostic Religion, has this to say(p. 68):
The greatest task of the fallen anthropos is not to work through his anxiety, alenation, and confusion. It is to keep his melancholia acute. His sadness corresponds to his readiness for gnosis. But the world conspires against his dejection, offering him either the brief comforts of matter or the more lasting solaces of soul. Hedonism seduces in the first case; orthodox religion in the second. The Gnostic must defend against the wretched contentment of these modes and hold open his wounds of the spirit. Malcontented with outward forms, he turns inward to his hidden spark. The spark, trapped and stifled, faintly flares, repeating in each flicker the homeward call.
And, in speaking about Martin Heidegger’s(Hans Jonas’ teacher) book Being and Time, writes:
For Heidegger. the only hope for authenticity — a secular, psychological equivalent of gnosis — is anxiety. Heideggerean angst, like Gnostic longing, performs a double function. On the one hand, it constitutes the basic mood through which one comes to understand one’s own authenticity; on the other, it forms the aggravating condition from which one flees to the collective. Heideggerean anxiety is directed toward the “nothing” of being in the world without the help of the mass. This condition descends when all familiar ideas fall away and one feels as if one hovers in an unfamiliar abyss. This unfocused floating can push the sufferer in one of two ways — either cravenly back to the lotus doses of the mass or courageously into possibilities for being. If one chooses the former path, one can never return to the ignorant bliss of the collective but spends long days neurotically attempting to repress the unsettling sense that existence is a sham. However, if one embraces the latter way, one undergoes an uncanny experience: insight into the relaionship between individual being and the Being of all beings.
Once one commits to understanding one’s connection to Being, one never rests but realizes that the profoundities of this origin are beyond comprehension. However, one also knows that this perpetual insecurity will lead to deeper intimacy with the abyss and a greater care for individual being and other beings. As we have seen, Heidegger in “What Is Metaphysis?” likens this chronic melancholia to a “bewildered sort of calm… a cheerfulness and gentleness of creative longing.”