The cosmic dance: being for and of the world as delusion

Being for the world as delusion, for love of the world: the dance as God

I wrote this essay while reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s (DB’s) ethics of Christian imperative of participating in the world, in the context of the my personal tantric view of the “outside” world as we perceive and act in it as a projection of our minds, delusion, ignorance, etc.

Since I totally get that perspective, why am I participating so deeply in the world, and if I am going to continue interacting with it, how can I do it better and more successfully?

Perceiving and reacting to “the outside world” as reality rather than seeing it as delusion and projection doesn’t mean that freedom from the world somehow mitigates the effects of the delusion. Our delusion persists whether we work in the world or not — the question is how much damage we do when we engage without awareness, or withdraw into a state of narcissistic awareness, another delusion.

There seem to be degrees of delusion, hierarchies, though! According to DB, to Kuan Yin certainly, the suffering of the world entails action and engagement. But how do we engage ethically with delusion? That has to be a contradiction in terms!

Just as people, usually out of ignorance, built worlds from negative, destructive delusions, people can also, from a place of awareness and intentionality, reprogram our common, perceived reality, to more closely resemble the Kingdom. First we have to reprogram ourselves, though: download the divine software so to speak.

The strong challenge is always the temptation to identify ourselves with our perception of the world as it appears in our thoughts and desires. When we do that, we miss the connection with inherent, non-dual reality, that is the source of compassion.

The pathology of consumer, market driven society is that it tempts us to disassociate from that non-dual reality. Or has it always been so? Dogen said, “how could you waste your time delighting in sparks from a flint stone?” And that was back in the 13th Century!

Neo-liberal corporate/consumer culture intentionally and relentlessly urges people to delight in the sparks, to identify with our desires. I am my desires. I burn with them.

We may perceive there is less space to make a choice to identify or not. But we still do have that choice and that space, we just have to practice awareness of our thoughts and desires…especially the very charged ones like passion and aversion.

Jesus did give the world a model of resistance to false identification, and a free choice to love God in ordinary people, in everyone, from the leper to the centurion.. And Buddha gave us the method of training the mind, the noble eightfold path.

I need both, because J’s method of Kenosis, love, metanoia, love, is a tough feedback loop for those who live in their heads! Getting into it is easier said than done, and most people in today’s world at least need to suffer a lot before they can surrender like that.

Then it is hard to see it as voluntary self-giving except by some extraordinary souls like Simone Weil, Etty Hillesum, and DB of course, just to name some recent examples, although of course the community of saints is crowded with them.

DB, like Ignatius, was convinced that God is in the world, even making the strong existential claim that God is the world. DB’s ethics was that the Christian, the church, should be fully engaged in the world in order to live the Gospel and Jesus did.

This comes back to indifference though — but indifference to ends, not to process and means. Process can be deeply passionate, can lead to martyrdom, etc. Can we be deeply passionate about the process, but not attached to the ends?

The attachment to ends contaminates the free development of the process. I’m not sure why that is, except perhaps that it diverts attention from the present moment, which is the source of all knowledge.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t have an idea or a vision of what the ends should be or might look like. Jesus was very clear about the Kingdom of God being a “free for all,” with a welcoming, open door policy.

But the process is the path. Our attitude to our neighbour is the path. The ends are the means, as L said. It’s not about either “justifying” the other.

This is what the Tibetan/Indian iconography means by The Dance of Shiva/Shakti, the cosmic dance is a pretty universal symbol of non-duality. We participate in the dance passionately, erotically, with abandon — self-abandon, Kenosis, knowing that the participation in the dance of the World is The Kingdom.

That is the only way I can live and work — engaging with the delusion. Doing otherwise creates to much suffering, which unfortunately I am all too aware of, having received a visitation from Kuan Yin herself when I was nineteen. Kuan Yin’s thousand eyes and arms are always identifying and reaching out to offer what is needed to alleviate suffering.

If that is not activity for love of the world, I don’t know what is. We can envision that activity as our delusion just as we can join Jesus in envisioning the Kingdom, and thereby construct the sort of world God had in mind when S/he first created us.

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kpettus

I am a political theorist, oblate in the Order of St.Benedict, and advocate for universal rational access to essential controlled medicines for pain and palliative care in the lower and middle income countries. I work a lot in Vienna at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and in Geneva at the World Health Organisation, and the Human Rights Council representing the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care. Right now I am full time caregiver to my sister Ruth, who has brain cancer and lives in Baltimore. I am also writing a Catholic Caregiver's blog to document the experience.

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