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On awakening and Understanding

Ken Wilber on hermeneutics (A Brief History of Everything, pp. 91-92)

Spiritual Interpretation
Q: But how is interpretation important in spiritual transformation or spiritual experience?

KW: Give an example.

Q: Say I have a direct experience of interior illumination—a blinding, ecstatic, mindblowing experience of inner light.

KW: The experience itself is indeed direct and immediate. You might even become one with that light. But then you come out of that state, and you want to tell me about it. You want to talk to yourself about it. And here you must interpret what this deep experience was. What was this light? Was it Jesus Christ? Was it Buddha-mind? Was it an archetype? An angel? Was it an alien UFO? Was it just some brain state gone haywire? What waqs it? God? Or a piece of undigested meat? The Goddess? Or a food allergy?

You must interpret. And if you decide it was some sort of genuine spiritual experience, then of what flavor? Allah? Keter? Kundalini? Savikalpa-samadhi? Jungian archetype? Platonic form? This is not some unimportant or secondary issue. This is not some theoretical hair splitting. This is not some merely academic concern. Quite the contrary. How you interpret this experience will govern how you approach others with this illumination, how you share it with the world, how you fit it into your own self system, and the ways you can even speak about it to others and think about it yourself. And it will determine your future relation to this light!

And like all interpretations—whether of Hamlet or of the inner light— there are good and there are bad interpretations. And in this interpretation, will you do a good job or a bad job?

In other words, even if this experience of light was transmental, or beyond words altogether, still you are a compound individual. Still you are composed not only of this spiritual component—which is perhaps what the light was; you are also composed of mind and body and matter. And mentally you must orient yourself to this experience. You must interpret it, explain it, make sense of it. And if you can't interpret it adequately, it might very likely drive you insane. You will not be able to integrate it with the rest of your being because you cannot adequately interpret it. You don't know what it means. Your own extraordinary depth escapes you, confuses you, obscures you, because you cannot interpret it adequately.

Q. So interpretation is an important part of even spiritual or transmental experiences.

KW: Yes, definitely.


Wilber says this so well that I'm tempted to just go on and quote several more paragraphs, but the summary point (partly his, but ultimately mine) is along the following lines: This matter of interpretation is at the same time a matter of choice and discipline, and also inescapably a contextual thing.

My own encounter with the Light is interpreted (by me) to be Jesus Christ; I still say, that I met Jesus that day. This way of understanding limits me, perhaps, to a certain given set of images and ideas associated with a range of texts, many of them ancient, that bear upon the understanding of Jesus; but those limitations are also gifts, because the interpretive body that comes to me from the Christian tradition is rich and helpful for me in the task of communicating, in some measure, the ineffable fullness of that experience. I am therefore inescapably and unashamedly committed to the person of Jesus Christ, because I can say that on May 15, 1970 I met Jesus, and my life has never been the same since. But because my context is not limited to a narrow interpretation of even that most Christian of testimonies, I have had to think further about whether it might be possible for someone with an experience or encounter essentially identical to mine, to draw on a different interpretive context/tradition. I do not then say that such a person has rejected Jesus and embraced a rival in the form of Allah or Buddha-mind or or the rising of Kundalini, but rather (as my tradition teaches me) that the living Christ, now freed from death, encounters people upon their own pathway and teaches truth to them, and can do so without specifically declaring to them who it is that has brought that light and truth to them. My own interpretive matrix thus remains specifically, and perhaps narrowly Christian, because of a series of choices that I have made, and perhaps had to make. After all, my own revered sacred text says that the true Light which gives light to every person has come into the world. But I choose to believe the literal truth of that text, and do not insist that that Light is available only to people who share my context and worldview.

The result is that I hold to the Christian idea that all things are ultimately to be united together in one, which is Christ—but that this is not to be understood in some sort of triumphalist, my-religion-is-better-than-yours sense. These matters have, plainly, nothing to do with religion as such at all.

I think that those who would be threatened by the suggestion that Christ is a powerful symbol for something that transcends religion and culture, do so because they buy into the notion that a symbol is somehow less real than a historical personage. I disagree. I think the man Jesus, Yehoshua ben Yosef, intentionally became a symbol for the cosmic movement toward the uniting of humanity and divinity, God and man, by being the proleptic embodiment (incarnation) of the same.

godnix

Comments

spiritofnow
Dec. 21st, 2005 10:15 am (UTC)
This is a really great excerpt and post. :-)

I see these experiences as a kind of art: we are artists in interacting with the greatest Muse of all, and our interpretation of that contact depends on the type of paint and canvas we use.

The other really important thing to remember is that although the Light itself is absolute, what we hear during contact with it is not. What we hear from the Divine changes with the state of our egos. The Divine is infinite and we each can only receive and comprehend a finite piece of the infinite Light and wisdom. We craft our interpretation of the 'dream', the mystic vision. Each interpretaion is our own understanding - inspired by the Divine - but it is crafted in human finite
words so we each are the ultimate agent responsible for the result. It is a human result. It is important to recall that Hitler believed that he talked to God and that he was doing God's will. I cannot deny that he talked to God but I can deny that his understanding of that communication was not God's words but only his own. So it is important not to hold on to the words as if they are the "literal word of God", etc.