Thursday, February 06, 2020


KENOSIS is the formal fancy name for the point of view that is "emptiness".  At one time I was pleased to find the word and thought of it as meaning putting aside all purposes and desires and just letting existence be enough.  Just now I looked at Wikipedia and discovered that the entry was written by some conservative Christian who inevitably translated the concept to obedience, submission to the big Ol' Theos in the sky.  Some pin it on Jesus accepting his fate. Accepting God's will quickly twists into codependence and enabling, handing over all responsibility to the Lord instead of taking hold of one's own life.  This is culturally reinforced according to gender or social status.

So I went to an article in Tricycle:  "What do Buddhists mean when they talk about emptiness?" by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.  "Emptiness is a mode of perception, a way of looking at experience. It adds nothing to, and takes nothing away from, the raw data of physical and mental events. You look at events in the mind and the senses with no thought of whether there’s anything lying behind them.
"This mode is called emptiness because it is empty of the presuppositions we usually add to experience in order to make sense of it: the stories and worldviews we fashion to explain who we are and the world we live in. Although these stories and views have their uses, the Buddha found that the questions they raise—of our true identity and the reality of the world outside—pull attention away from a direct experience of how events influence one another in the immediate present."

I take this to mean something like really and completely washing the dishes when you are washing the dishes, being fully present to feel the slick surfaces, the bubbling warm water, the sluicing sound of rinsing.  This seems important when reflecting on rituals.  Maybe it means something like floating on your back when swimming, total relaxation trusting the water to hold you up.

The opposite of Emptiness is MonkeyMind when one's inner voices, all interrupt and chatter at once with too many ideas to process, never shutting up and even sneaking into dreams, little organic iPods channeling too many people, most of them critical.  Some young people seem only able to control it with loud pounding music.  Or drugs.  I know of no ceremony for MonkeyMindedness but maybe a rave comes close.

Ninian Smart, another Glasgow boy like Victor Turner, is not often brought into this sort of discussion, though he educated many people with his TV series called "The Long Search," in which he compared many religions on camera from a secular point of view.  That is, he had no major "axial" religion to promote him, but remained academic in a California inclusive and celebratory way, but keeping the rigor of his Scots education.  

I find his wikipedia entry to describe a position very much like my own.  In regard to this blog series, consider this quote from the entry:  "Mysticism is the practice of religious ecstasies, together with whatever ideologies, ethics, rites, myths, legends, and magic may be related to them."  I'm not sticking to the mystical or ideological, but trying to get a hold on the underlying human physiology that is kindled when the individual experiences the Sacred or the Holy.  

At the end of "The Long Search", Smart goes home and quietly performs the ritual of making tea, an act that has become a literary trope that combining middle-class propriety and prosperity with the Far East where the leaves are grown.  The kettle boiling, the steam rising, and the footsteps to a place to sit are part of this liturgy.

All my life I've kept the practice of playing symphonic "classical" music while I read or wrote.  This was related to feeling a need to be "superior" and separate from my peers. In those days it was a NPR marker.  It also masked city noise and imposed a kind of rhythm of familiar sounds.  When I came to Valier, the first night was so quiet -- no sirens, no gabblng bunches of people passing, not even dogs barking or tires swishing in the streets -- that I got up and looked out the windows to see whether everyone had simply left.  The most common noise here is a high wind tearing at the eaves or in summer at the leaves.  Soon I stopped playing music and kept a silent household, though cats can interrupt that.  Thus began a new stage of writing and thought.

It's conventional when memorializing remarkable people or events to observe a moment of silence perhaps, in this era of measured time, at the same synchronous time over great distances.  People stand still for a length of time, so stillness goes with silence.  No religious institution claims the practice.  When mass shooting events happen, they are observed at the time and then every year afterwards as memorials, again touching time.

Ironically, a band named "Ceremony of Silence" bends this aspect of meditation back to black despair and dissonance. "One does not normally associate a meditative state with the dissonant rage normally tied to the violent fury of central European extreme metal, but that is the contradictory image put forth by the newly formed blackened death metal duo under consideration. In much the same manner as the highly successful, Polish-born promoters of this fiendish union of extreme metal subsets Behemoth, Ceremony Of Silence is a band that walks a fine line between an atmospheric and an impact-based approach."  At the very least they can make one long for silence, but also they are social comment, fighting back against that old Christian demand for compliance, surrender of autonomy, and acceptance of authority.

So the range of hearing ceremonial performance goes from stilly silence to death as a chaotic sound tumult.  It is a human capacity rather than a prescribed liturgy and can be full of nothing or everything, depending on the time and place.

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