Thread: spiral form
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Old 05-18-2005, 09:03 AM   #13
Dennis Hooker
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Re: spiral form

I copied this from another site

Shinto, Ecology and Wholeness


The Looking-Glass God is an interesting curiosity as well as an unusual contribution to Shinto studies. Its is written by American physicist during a period of residence in Japan in the early 1970s. In the context of its time, it is a brave attempt to connect the ancient wisdom, embodied in Shinto teachings, with the insights of cutting-edge science. Indeed it is brave by today's standards, too. For while the holistic philosophies of Vedic India, the Dao and Native Americans are now widely disseminated, Shinto is still relegated to Cinderella status within the New Age.



Stiskin writes with the freshness of a pioneer and the reader should remember that his book was published more than a decade before Fritjof Capra's Tao of Physics or Blackfoot Physics by F. David Peat. The Looking-Glass God comes at the beginning of a new approach to Western science and fortunately it is free from the forays into political sloganeering that characterise many later works. The book holds up a critical mirror to the prevailing Western world view, and calls for a rebalancing of the relationship between yang and yin, masculine and feminine, humanity and nature. However there is none of the divisive anti-Western or anti-male rhetoric associated with ‘political correctness'. Such rhetoric, a product of the dualistic thinking it claims to oppose, has opened new wounds rather than create the conditions for healing and wholeness. Seekers of ecological and spiritual consciousness would do better to consider Stiskin's holistic insight, gained from Shinto, that ‘beginning and end, male and female, expansion and contraction, ascent and descent' all need each other and continually interact. The same process of interaction and overlap takes place between the material universe and the spiritual realm of the kami, and it is perception of this process that the Shinto path is all about.



In a sense, the strongest statement of the book's intention comes in the preface. ‘Although in modern times,' Stiskin writes, ‘we call a doctor when a man is dying, ask a priest to inter the body and resort to a philosopher to assuage our incomprehension of the world, there have been periods in human history when such a procedure was unnecessary. There have been ages in the past in which man approached nature as a complementary whole and understood the various aspects of experience as the parts of a single life process.'



The Looking-Glass God is a plea for wholeness, for an ‘integrated unity of nature' that reconciles human beings with the natural world and with the cosmos, science with mythology, reason with intuition, the sacred with the mundane and the individual with society. Western, Judaeo-Christian thought has been characterised in part by a negative form of dualism, a radical separation of humanity and nature, an emphasis on division rather than unity, on opposing rather than complementary principles. This approach has evolved in a secular form with the Enlightenment, industrialism and philosophies such as capitalism and socialism, in which economic forces are believed to operate outside the web of life.



In the modern age, a narrow, linear view of ‘progress' dominates political theory, economics and science. Linear thinking remains the norm, but is called increasingly into question because it fails increasingly to correspond with individual experience, artistic intuition or scientific discovery. Gaia theory, which again emerged years after Stiskin, presents a powerful case for the Earth as an integrated living system, in which humans are not the masters, but one influence among many. Biology and physics point increasingly towards complexity rather than linear development, with subtle connections between natural phenomena and life forms taking precedence over obvious links. Neuroscience suggests to us that the spiritual sense is hard-wired into human consciousness, that the instinctive sense of the divine in nature has a physical basis.



To some Westerners, this latter insight is seen as a negation of religious belief. To a Shintoist, it would surely be evidence that spiritual consciousness has an underlying truth. Indeed Shinto is well suited to the new approach to spirituality, both from science and the New Age. For the kami are not ‘gods' in the sense of extraneous, abstract entities separate from material realms, but embedded in nature, associated with streams, rocks and mountains as much as with the most complex thought processes. Stiskin does not mention weapons of mass destruction, but the nuclear age demonstrates that technology does not necessarily bring forth reason but can also be linked to irrationality and barbarism. The holistic world view is not anti-technological, nor is it anti-humanist. Instead it seeks a technology that works with, rather than against, the grain of nature, and a humanism that is spiritual and retains the sense of wonder at the divine expressed in nature, recognising limits rather than turning humans into false gods.



Stiskin finds this approach, at once humanist, spiritual and ecological, to be inherent in Shinto teachings and practices. For Shinto recognises that polarities within nature and human consciousness -- hot and cold, masculine and feminine, tradition and change -- are not opposites, but complementary positions that overlap and intersect in a constantly evolving cosmic spiral. The polarities are expressed in terms of the yin and the yang, the ‘negative' and ‘positive' or ‘passive' and ‘active' points of energy intuited within the holistic philosophy of ancient Japan, but then further refined by Shinto from the Dao. Yin and yang balance each other, but they also have a point of origin -- the cosmos itself, in which the infinite and infinitesimal unite. Again it is worth noting that The Looking-Glass God was written before string theory, which presents similar theories of the universe, and in which Japanese scientists, such as Michio Kaku, have played a significant part.



The interplay of polarity and unity is described by Stiskin as ‘dualistic monism'. To understand this better, it is necessary to reintegrate modern science with ‘an organic experience of the orderliness of nature'. ‘What appears to modern man as prescientific mysticism,' he writes, ‘can, from a broader view, be understood to be a religio-scientific expression of an intuited order in the workings of the universe'. He finds such intuition in the very aspects of Shinto that Western commentators, religious and secular, have often characterised as primitive: the existence of the kami within natural forces rather than outside of nature, the underlying unity between the visible and invisible worlds. In other words, Shinto expresses a holistic world view, based on overlap, merging and continuity, rather than isolation, separation and opposition. Shinto texts, such as the Kojiki, express in mythological terms the ‘precedent, fundamental energies and principles that govern the emergence of the relative world from the Plain of High Heaven', the evolution of life and consciousness. It expresses the evolution of life in terms of complementary deities, notably Izanagi and Izanami, the ‘Male Creator' and the ‘Female Creator' who are prototypes for humanity as well as divine beings.



For Stiskin, Izanagi and Izanami represent humanity's two halves. This is not merely in terms of biological gender, but as the right and left hemispheres of the brain, reason and intuition and the complementary strengths of passive calm and active exploration. Much of Stiskin's analysis of the Kojiki is speculative and based on conjecture. This does not really matter, however, because he has a powerful, intuitive understanding of Shinto as a search for unity and wholeness, for cosmic harmony through the positive interplay of complementary forces. The concept of Musubi, for instance, he expresses as ‘the supreme unifying power of the August Deity of the Center'. In its verbal form, ‘the word musu-bu means to tie together, as in making a knot from the two ends of a string. The knot is a new synthesis constructed out of the unification of the two antagonistic ends of the original continuum'.



Thus the Shinto devotee searches less for personal enlightenment as for cosmic -- and social -- harmony, or Wa. Attunement to Wa is achieved through Kannagara, or ‘flow with the kami'. This idea similar to the more familiar Daoist conception of wu-wei, which does not mean passivity, but acting only in harmony with nature's laws, or living creatively within natural limits. Similarly, Makoto, ‘being oneself' or self-realisation, is achieved through Kenshin, in which the individual surrenders his or her immediate interests and instincts for the social good -- and by extension the interests of the planet and the cosmos. Through Misogi, the ritual purification characteristic of Shinto, the spiritual seeker ‘enters a realm of consciousness of higher dimensions'. The cleansing of the body liberates the mind, so that the individual experiences him or herself as part of an interconnected universe. In Wa, the individual and the social, the earthly and the divine are reconciled, and humanity is re-integrated with nature.




Summary:

The Looking-Glass God is therefore a contribution, in its own slightly quirky way, towards the history of ideas. It lays the foundations for a universal, rather than specifically Japanese, appreciation and practice of Shinto, and for a genuinely holistic approach to science, spirituality, social organisation and human approaches to the environment. For surely the ecological movement should not simply be about banners and revolutionary rhetoric, but the attempt, in Stiskin's closing words, to ‘share in the treasures of Wa'. What is ecological consciousness, after all, but Misogi on a planetary scale?


Contributed by:

Aidan Rankin - London

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