If a philosopher who meditates spends five hours per day on philosophy, how many hours should he spend on meditation? One corresondent of mine, a retired philosophy professor and Buddhist, told me that if x hours are spent on philosophy, then x hours should be spent on meditation. So five hours of philosophy ought to be balanced by five hours of meditation. A hard saying!
What are the possible views on this topic?
1. No time should be wasted on philosophy. Pascal famously remarked that philosophy is not worth an hour's trouble. But he didn't say that in defense of Benares, but of Jerusalem. Time apportionment as between Athens and Jerusalem is a separate topic.
2. No time should be wasted on meditation. Judging by their behavior, the vast majority of academic philosophers seem committed to some such proposition.
3. Time spent on either is wasted. The view of the ordinary cave-dweller.
4. More time ought to be devoted to philosophy. But why?
5. The two 'cities' deserve equal time. The view of my Buddhist correspondent.
6. More time ought to be devoted to meditation than to philosophy.
What could be said in defense of (6)? Three quotations from Paul Brunton (Notebooks, vol. II, The Quest, Larson, 1986, p. 13):
The intuitive element is tremendously more important than the intellectual . . . .
The mystical experience is the most valuable of all experiences . . . .
. . . the quest of the Overself is the most worthwhile endeavour open to human exertions.
The following is from an interview with A. C. Grayling who is speaking of the open mind and open inquiry:
It’s a mindset, he reveals, that “loves the open-endedness and the continuing character of the conversation that humankind has with itself about all these things that really matter.”
It’s also a way of thinking that marks a line in the sand between religion and science. The temptation to fall for the former—hook, line, and sinker—is plain to see: “People like narratives, they like to have an explanation, they like to know where they are going.” Weaving another string of thought into his tapestry of human psychology, Grayling laments that his fellow human beings “don’t want to have to think these things out for themselves. They like the nice, pre-packaged answer that’s just handed to them by somebody authoritative with a big beard.”
A. C. Grayling, like many if not most militant atheists, sees the difference between religion and science in the difference between pre-packaged dogmas thoughtlessly and uncritically accepted from some authority and open-ended free inquiry.
That is not the way I see it. For me, mature religion is more quest than conclusions. It too is open-ended and ongoing, subject to revision and correction. It benefits from abrasion with such competing sectors of culture as philosophy and science. By abrasion the pearl is formed.
All genuine religion involves a quest since God must remain largely unknown, and this by his very nature. He must remain latens Deitas in Aquinas' phrase:
Adoro te devote, latens Deitas, Quæ sub his figuris vere latitas; Tibi se cor meum totum subjicit, Quia te contemplans totum deficit.
Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore, Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more, See, Lord, at Thy service low lies here a heart Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
But as religion becomes established in the world in the form of churches, sects, and denominations with worldly interests, it becomes less of a quest and more of a worldly hustle. Dogmatics displaces inquiry, and fund-raising faith. The once alive becomes ossified. All human institutions are corruptible, and are eventually corrupted.
Mature religion must be more quest than conclusions. It is vastly more a seeking than a finding. More a cleansing of windows and a polishing of mirrors than a glimpsing. And certainly more a glimpsing than a comfortable resting upon dogmas. When philosophy and religion and mysticism and science are viewed as quests they complement one another. And this despite the tensions among Athens, Jerusalem, Benares, and Alexandria.
The critic of religion wants to pin it down, reducing it to dogmatic contents, so as to attack it where it is weakest. Paradoxically, the atheist 'knows' more about God than the sophisticated theist -- he knows so much that he knows no such thing could exist. He 'knows' the divine nature and knows that it is incompatible with the existence of evil -- to mention one line of attack. What he 'knows,' of course, is only the concept he himself has fabricated and projected. Aquinas, by contrast, held that the existence of God is far better known than God's nature -- which remains shrouded in a cloud of unknowing.
The (immature) religionist also wants religion pinned down and dogmatically spelled out for purposes of self-definition, doxastic security, other-exclusion, worldly promotion, and political leverage. This is a reason why reformers like Jesus are met with a cold shoulder -- or worse.
How is it that someone as intelligent as Grayling could have such a cartoonish understanding of religion? The answer is that he and his brethren utterly lack the religious sensibility. They lack it in the same way many scientists lack the philosophical sensibility, many prosaic folk the poetic sensibility, and so on.
This is why debates with militant atheists are a waste of time. To get a taste of the febrile militancy of Grayling's atheism, see here.
If you are blessed by a good thought, do not hesitate to write it down at once. Good thoughts are visitors from Elsewhere and like most visitors they do not like being snubbed or made to wait.
Let us say a fine aphorism flashes before your mind. There it is is fully formed. All you have to do is write it down. If you don't, you may be able to write only that an excellent thought has escaped.
"But there is more where that one came from." No doubt, but that very one may never return.
The problem arises in an acute form during the meditation hour. Properly installed on the black mat, one is installed in nondiscursivity. If philosophy is disciplined thinking, meditation is disciplined nonthinking. But then a thought, rich in content and fully formed, intrudes. You would honor it as you honor Athens. But it is the meditation hour: the time to attempt the flushing out of all thoughts without exception, the hour for rapt listening from within the depths of mental quiet. You are pulled between Athens and Benares. If you think one thought you will think two, ten, twenty and you will move farther and farther away from the thoughtless root of thinking. What to do?
If you arise from the mat to go to the desk you break the spell. But you don't want to ignore the thought. Truth must be chased down every avenue. Perhaps the solution is to keep a special notebook by the meditation mat. Write the thought down for later rumination, then get back to thougtlessness.
God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son" Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on" God say, "No." Abe say, "What?" God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but The next time you see me comin' you better run" Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?" God says, "Out on Highway 61."
Which is more certain, that I should not kill my innocent son, or that God exists, has commanded me to kill my son, and that I must obey this command? That I must not kill my innocent son is a deliverance of our ordinary moral sense. But wouldn't a command from the supreme moral authority in the universe trump a deliverance of our ordinary moral sense? Presumably it would — but only if the putative divine command were truly a divine command. How would one know that it is?