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Divine balance

Experience can range between two extremes. On the one hand, there is the experience of an infinite, absolute principle, all-being, all-delight, all-consciousness. On the other hand, there is the experience of contracted finitude, the spasm of the ego, the cramp of the mine. Assume for a moment that we do not want to reject one or the other extreme (neither reject the infinite in the name of the finite, nor the finite in the name of the infinite). Then it becomes possible to ask the crucial question: how do they relate? And even deeper: why do they relate?

Those how explored this question, came to the conclusion that if everything finite is expression of the infinite, and if the infinite is all-delight, then everything is all-delight—even the experience of contracted finitude, the spasm of the ego, the cramp of the mine. This sounds counterintuitive enough, if we did not know how art provide myriads of examples of how sorrow, tragedy, or sheer dumbness can be turned into something extremely moving and beautiful. This is because the beauty is not in what is seen (it is not a content of experience) but it is in the fact of experiencing as such, and the darkness of suffering makes experience particularly intense, alive in its own way, hence also makes the fact of experience (its beauty) particularly vivid. This is also not too far away from what Nietzsche realized in his Birth of Tragedy: we can’t dissolve away the chaotic abyss of existence (Dionysus) but if we can observe it in the right poise (Apollo), then we feel its immense beauty, despite the dread.

But this is just a starting point. Its main implication is that the Infinite needs the suffering of the finite in order to experience the fullness of its own beauty. To put in more theological terms: God (I mean, Spinoza’s kind of God) would not need the world in order to experience pure delight, since God is that pure delight (ānanda). But the particularly intense delight of the experience of fall, dissolution, the delight of destruction, tragedy, death, boredom—none of this is something that God can experience by itself without the world. Hence, God needs the world (God needs to become the world, as the world cannot be anything else but an expression of God) in order to experience this special form of delight, hence in order to experience the fullness of its own delight. A very hard thought to bear, difficult to swallow, yet still just a first approximation.

To the question ‘why the world with its suffering?’ the answer is ‘because the aesthetic experience of the beauty of that suffering is needed to God’s own experience of the fullness of its own delight.’ Notice: there is no aesthetic enjoyment of suffering except from the point of view of God (only Apollo can see the beauty of Dionysus). But what is suffering, ultimately? God hiding its own infinite nature, hiding itself in something finite and limited, which is unconscious or unaware of its own divinity. Suffering, ultimately, is only ignorance. Hence, ignorance is the means through which God (the Infinite, the Ultimate, however you want to call it) creates the possibility for its own exploration and enjoyment of that form of delight that can be enjoyed only by leaving the infinite behind. Becoming finite, rooting itself in the cloud of ignorance, God suffers from its own self-dejection, in order to become able to enjoy the beauty of this drama (its own drama).

The next question, thus, is how to bring about that enjoyment. If the finite is subsumed back into its infinite source, then there is the delight of the infinite, but no enjoyment of the suffering, no tragedy to play and contemplate. If the infinite is entirely obliterated and rejected, if the finite represents itself as entirely ungrounded, alone, thrown into a hostile and meaningless reality, then there is no broader horizon to reabsorb and integrate its vicissitudes, save them, savor their beauty, because beauty itself has to be reduced to just another neurobiological drug. This is Macbeth (“life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”) but without an audience, without knowing of being a character, believing of being Macbeth and nothing else.

Clearly, in order to enjoy the beauty of the negative (the beauty of suffering, the beauty of ignorance), there must be a way of keeping the two perspectives together (infinite and finite), without abdicating to either, without subordinating one to the other. As we phrase the issue in this way, it becomes clear that it is a false issue: the two perspectives are already and necessarily together, because the infinite cannot exist without its finite expressions, and the finite cannot be finite without its rooting in the infinite (doubts? Ask Spinoza). Hence, the only problem is the masking of this original relation between finite and infinite. Through this masking, the finite seems to be detached from the infinite and ungrounded, or the infinite (if it appears at all) seems a remote and empty principle that denies the world of experience. This mask is ignorance itself—in its transcendental form (as the condition of possibility of any form of ignorance). The mask is thus also the transcendental form of suffering. Since the point is not to erase suffering but to find the right poise to enjoy it, the mask should not be removed, tired apart, or destroyed in any way.

The question seemingly turns into a paradox: the mask of ignorance that induce all suffering should not to be put down (otherwise there would be no negative, no suffering to enjoy), and yet it does hide the context that would make that suffering enjoyable (thus vanishing the whole idea of an aesthetic enjoyment of suffering).

The solution is to look at the mask as a mask. Macbeth is a mask, we can look at Macbeth, without taking a comma out of the depth of his dreadful nihilism, and yet acknowledge that he is just a mask, an actor. We do not deny or reject Macbeth when we appreciate that he is playing Macbeth, because that is what he is doing anyway. But when we do appreciate the play (when we see how the mask is used as a mask), then we suddenly access a broader background. In the limited context of theater play, we find ourselves as witnesses of the tragedy, safe in Apollo’s seat. In the wider context of existence, we discover the infinite rooting from which everything arises and where everything ceases.

In actual practice (and this is actually the only practice) we have to acknowledge that we’re playing, but then, without putting down our mask, we have just to find the right poise to be aware simultaneously of our part in the play (and play it fully, to the utmost of its potential) while also being aware that we are not the mask nor the character—we’re irreducible to any mask and any character, we’re infinite. This is not a paradox, nor a contradiction, this is the solution—this is liberation, awakening, fulfilment, this is it.

But how? Recover the broader context of experience, namely, boundless soul and boundless body (two expressions of the same boundless root). Within that context, hold space, allow anything to arise and manifest, to play, to express itself, to come and go. Then, be in the play, without losing the context, and keep the context, without undermining the play. Balance the two poles. If the context is too narrow (or insofar as it remains narrow), it won’t allow everything, it will resist, push against, hence preventing a complete enjoyment of the experience that manifests. If the contents are undermined, subsumed, neutralized in the name of the vast emptiness of the context, then there will be nothing to play out, and the whole purpose of enjoying the drama of finitude will be undermined. All that is needed is a progressive movement from both sides: expansion of the context, and deepening of the contents, holding space for anything to arise, and allowing nothing that arises to undermine the broader context. This is true balance—divine balance.

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