Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Atman Discovery

Primers For The Age of Inner Space VI: Cracking the Code Of the Ultimate Enigma: The Atman Discovery: An Unperceived Revolution
By John E. Whiteford Boyle
Academy of Independent Scholars/Essentialist Philosophical Society/Wheat/Forders Press

$15.00 paper
ISBN: 0-917888-012

This book is a quagmire, a sinkhole of enormous proportions. I found it on a dusty college library shelf. The premise sounded interesting: what if all the world’s religions, quantum physics, and analytical psychology were all connected? The scene is the mid-twentieth century in California, and a group of writers and mystics gather at a Vedantist retreat center called Trabuco. Among the attendees are Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood. “Here,” the book jacket promises, “finally is the Pantheist monist philosophical and religious trend line, discernible in their work, extended to our time.” I should have run the other way.

I struggled through several weeks of trying to decipher author John E. Whiteford Boyle’s twisty prose. His work is full of trapdoors that plunge the reader into a mess of philosophical ideas. Sure, there is the occasional intriguing notion here, but much of the book takes what has been written much more clearly elsewhere and needlessly muddies it up. Go read Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy. Or, take another look at Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays. I stuck with Boyle because I kept hoping he would lead me somewhere. Instead, he doubles back on himself and writes so incoherently that I am left scratching my head in disbelief.

For my own mental health and well-being, let me try to frame Boyle’s argument in coherent language. The world is part of a larger energy force known in several theologies as atman, or spirit, or substance of life. We all have a piece of this life force inside of us. We call it the soul. Boyle calls it The Substance, and we who issue from it, “The Forms.” He compares it to a wave washing on the sand. That is us, and when we die, we ebb back into the sea to become part of the ocean again. We might be part of a new wave that crashes on the shore—that would be reincarnation—but it is not us. It is a part of us. Therefore, all human beings contain multitudes, to borrow from Walt Whitman. We have a collective conscience and a conjoined soul. How this translates into quantum physics and near death experiences is not clear, or Boyle does not make it so.

Boyle finds his evidence in a literal plethora of literature and scientific research. He cites the ancient Greeks, the philosophy of Stoicism, the work of Freud and Jung, and the Transcendentalists, just to name a few of the fish caught in his wide net. He tells us that “philosophy takes its rise in science and issues in religion.” Yes, but he makes several huge leaps that are simply nonsensical because Christianity and, say, Buddhism, have some interesting overlaps, but they approach existence and human endeavors with radically different philosophies. Because Jesus preached and exhibited many elements with parallels in Buddhism does not make him a Buddhist. There is a shared mythological underpinning to the history of the world. There are shared connections, but there are problems with Boyle’s clarity and cohesion as he leaps from religion to science to psychology.

For a moment, let us leave content behind and look at the vehicle Boyle rides into town. His prose is so inept and confusing as to be nonsensical. His errors in syntax, grammar, punctuation, and spelling are simply ridiculous for a published book. Then, he attempts to use his own poetry to distill the difficult scientific and philosophical concepts he wants to present. The poetry is god-awful; there is no other way to say it. And it makes no sense to use a poem as a statement of Einstein’s theories and then spend several pages explaining the poem. Here is an example: “Death, the great lacuna in our wit / is first among arcanae / concerning who and what we are / and what we may become; or where we go, / or who it is has writ our final destiny. / Unreasoned fears of Thanatos are plants, / whose roots are buried deep in psyche’s soil of ignorance. / But That which we cannot ken, we still may yet intuit, / and thus explore the meaning, and even crack the code / of this Ultiimate Enigma, which holds the world in thrall.” The poetry does not breed clarity, of that I am sure.

I do believe there is common ground among the world’s religions, philosophies, sciences, and histories. Yes, I believe we are all interconnected, part of some greater life force that is divine and metaphysical. I know enough not to discount any religion, any path, any philosophy. However, if one seeks clarity and insight, I have to vote for Henry David Thoreau’s advice to “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” That means to haul out Emerson, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, and Lao Tzu. Sink into the Bible, the Talmud, the Koran, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita. Go to Herodotus and Pliny, and John Henry Newman. We are lucky in that we have access to countless thousands of books and writers who tell us what our lives mean, and in what context our experiences are placed in the pantheon of history.

As for John E. Whiteford Boyle and his unperceived revolution, can a revolution pass unperceived? Only if it is written up in syntactical nonsense by a writer who forsakes clarity for the love of his own muddled ideas.


Woman in a Window said...

I don't know, when you frame Boyle’s argument in your own coherent language I am a buyer! I almost wanted to read the book. What you say he says is pretty much what I feel beneath any conscious belief system that I have. However, after reading just the one poem, I'm ready to take your intitial warning and turn to run! Yikes and yikes.

Hope your holidays are good ones, Paul. Hope you are finding light, perhaps not in this book, but maybe somewhere deeper.


Paul L. Martin said...

Erin, thank you for the comment and the hope you expressed at the end. I find inspiration in whatever I read. Always something to be learned, I guess. The concept behind the book is one that endlessly fascinates me. I wish I could gather a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu, etc. in a room to hold a discussion, open and freewheeling about our beliefs. I have only managed to do this once at a Catholic school, and unfortunately, the discussion only included a Jewish studies/philosophy professor and a Catholic priest. I was not able to get other faiths to join us. Even so, it was amazing to really discuss the overlaps and intricacies of faith. I think faith is so personal, and people often mistake the dogma for the religion. A Catholic priest friend of mine told me once that people must follow their conscience. We must make every effort to inform our conscience, but that God is not a Church or a set of rules. God is us. We must recognize the divine in all things, even those whose beliefs differ from ours. I thought he was, and still is, very wise.

Take care.