To Love the World or Leave It – On the Problem of Inauthenticity and How to Respond to It


In the popular movie The Matrix,[note]Directed by The Wachowskis, 1999.[/note] the main character Neo is given a choice by Morpheus between taking a red pill or a blue pill. The red pill will “wake him up,” allowing him to see the truth of a reality beyond the virtual one he has until then perceived to be real. The blue pill will allow him to default back to his state of ignorance about the truth, forgetting about Morpheus and the events that led up to his moment of radical choice. 

Needless to say, he chose the red pill, taking him on a journey beyond the world of his previous perception, which, we find out, is nothing but a simulation projected by a tyrannical race of machines that have taken over Earth and that now use humanity to fuel their pernicious and perverse process. 

The Matrix plot is an easy catalyst into conversations about the nature of reality and our place within it, as its narrative resonates with teachings found in many of the world’s esoteric traditions. These teachings suggest that the world, as we know it, is an illusion, and therefore the goal of spiritual practice is to see the “zeros and ones” of this illusion – just as Neo does after he takes the red pill, wakes up in a battle ship, and sees that the Matrix is nothing but scrolling digits on a computer screen. After spending his entire life asleep, he finally sees reality clearly. 

It is perhaps no surprise that different traditions offer different theoretical understandings of what Andrew Holecek calls the “primary delusion” of waking life,[note]Andrew Holecek suggests that the “primary delusion” hinges on a belief that daily life as we perceive it is real, when in fact it is a dream. Waking up to our true nature is analogous to the experience of “lucid dreaming,” or waking up to the fact that we are dreaming while asleep. This can lead towards a feeling of empowerment within the dream state and an ability to construct it according to our will.[/note] and thus different paths for dealing with it. While there is undoubtedly rich material in The Matrix for the interpretations of many spiritual paths, it is my suggestion here that the “red pill” is largely an appropriate analogy for a certain trajectory of spiritual experience, one we can refer to as the way of via negativa. Another way exists, however, that we’ll refer to as the way of via positiva.[note]The terms “via negativa” and “via positiva” originate in the traditions known as “apophatic” and “cataphatic theology,” respectively. Apophatic theology (also known as “negative theology”) attempts to approach God through negation; we can understand God only by knowing what God is not. Cataphatic theology, contrastingly, approaches God or the Divine by making positive statements about what God is. While these traditions certainly inform my discussion here, the connection should not be taken too far, as my concern is less with discursive articulations about the Divine and more with modes of praxis and the degree to which they integrate us with or alienate us from the world. [/note] To express the difference of this approach, another Matrix analogy is necessary – one that might begin with Neo having chosen not the red pill, not the blue pill, but rather both pills.

Indian traditions can be categorized by the degree to which they proffer a world-denying (via negativa) or a world-affirming (via positiva) perspective.[note] The question, “should I love the world or leave the world?” might express the fundamental distinction between these two perspectives.[/note] Both world-deniers and world-affirmers see everyday attitudes toward the world as, in important ways, illusory; it is thus their respective responses to the world’s illusions that distinguishes them.  The world-deniers consider the task of contemplative practice either to get out of the world (in some future state of “heaven” or “enlightenment”) or to see beyond it. These individuals historically lean toward ascetic practice, monasticism, and rigorous meditation. World-affirming traditions see the task of spiritual practice as a transmutation of our perception and a re-figuring and re-situating of our conceptions of identity. These individuals tend toward practices and modes of behavior that can be integrated into the commitments and observances of everyday life. 

But in what shared human experience do these seemingly divergent paths of via negativa and via positiva find their origin?

The Problem of Inauthenticity

German philosopher Martin Heidegger considered his task as a philosopher to return to the perennial question, “What is Being?”, a question inaugurated in the Western philosophical tradition by the ancient Greeks. In his magnum opus, Being and Time, Heidegger couches this question partly in relation to a consideration of authenticity, or what might be called “genuine Selfhood.”[note]The notion of a “genuine Selfhood” immediately reminds the student of Eastern traditions of the concept of “Self-Realization,” which is itself the achievement of what might be referred to as one’s genuine Self.[/note] According to Heidegger, human beings are either immersed in inauthentic modes of being or they are struggling to attain some semblance of authenticity (with varying degrees of success).

The “inauthentic” life is defined as a life “thrown” into the always-already organized and over-determined situatedness of the “they” world (or what Heidegger calls das Man). To be embedded in social life is to be embedded in a network of social relations that you had no role in creating. Dasein[note]Dasein literally means “there-being;” it is Heidegger’s term for those beings who are aware of their being and therefore for whom their being is an issue. By contrast, animals do not question their being, and it is this questioning that makes Dasein unique. Heidegger’s use of “Dasein” (instead of, for example, “humans”) is grounded in the Western phenomenological tradition’s commitment to bracketing out those assumptions about the human that have accumulated through a history of theoretical and ideological development. When we say something is “human”, we’re importing a certain story, a framework of meaning that limits access to our own immediacy. By avoiding the category of “human being,” Heidegger, following his teacher Husserl, is trying to get closer to the immediacy of what we are, without all the habits and knowledge we’ve created that often obscure such understanding.[/note] (Heidegger’s term for “what we are” prior to the socio-historical knowledge that tells us what we are), in other words, gets lost. As Stephen Mulhall puts it in his commentary on Being and Time, Dasein “typically loses itself in the ‘they,’ its Self is a they-self – a mode of relating to itself and to Others in which it and they fail to find themselves and so fail to achieve genuine individuality.”[note]Stephen Mulhall. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Heidegger and Being and Time, 2nd Edition. London: Routledge (1996: 68).[/note] To be a member of society is to already be given over to the expectations and arrangements of life, to a set of laws and values that reign over us, and in turn alienate us from individuality and authenticity. 

It’s important here to avoid interpreting terms like ‘individuality’ and ‘authenticity’ from the perspective of liberal individualism, which is arguably today’s most pervasive moral injunction (“just be yourself!”). The cultural context in which a notion like ‘being yourself’ makes sense is one that is already constructed around conceptions of selfhood that sanction and encourage authenticity and individuality, but only according to and within the coordinates of what has already been “decided” (and therefore unconsciously and implicitly deemed permissible) by das Man. It is a curious thing to consider, then, what an authentic individuality that rids itself of the branded categories of so-called authentic identity that sustain the current projections of social life might look like. 

According to Heidegger, in the state of being thrown into the world of das Man, our true nature (the Being of beings) becomes occluded and thus hidden. As Heidegger says,

Yet that which remains hidden in an egregious sense, or which relapses and gets covered up again, or which shows itself only ‘in disguise’, is not just this entity or that, but rather the Being of entities […]. This Being can be covered up so extensively that it becomes forgotten and no question arises about it or its meaning.[note]Martin Heidegger. Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson. New York: Harper & Row (1962: 59)[/note]

Here, Heidegger is highlighting our tendency to play out inauthentic lives without a sense of their inauthenticity, thereby forgetting our Being so fully that no question ever emerges about what else there might be, or about who we might be. 

One way we may understand the common origin of via negativa and via positiva paths of spirituality, therefore, is by conceiving them both as human responses to the problem of inauthenticity in the world. It is an arguably altogether human experience to, at various points in life, become uncomfortable with the habituated and petrified modes of living to which we’ve become accustomed and to yearn for an expression of life that one could call poetic, artful, or even divine. We crave a taste of something that frees life from its fetters; we desire a return to an untamed potency of life beyond (or before, or beneath) the conceptions we’ve built around it.

The Matrix & the Grace of Waking Up

The world of das Man (the “they” world) has many parallels with the concept of māyā from the Indian tradition. Māyā means “illusion” or “magic” and refers to the world of appearances that “hides” reality from us and ensures inauthenticity. By supporting ignorance of our true nature, māyā  is the source of inauthenticity. Māyā is the matrix  – the world of appearances that is ephemeral and, from the perspective of Absolute reality (or Brahman, in the Vedānta), a veil of ignorance that keeps us asleep. 

But what could stir us from our slumber? What could call us away from the empty gestures of das Man? In other words, what function of Being does Morpheus symbolize – that character who turns Neo’s gaze away from ignorance and toward the Real?

That which triggers a turning away from the inauthentic and opens up a trajectory of genuine Selfhood might be referred to as “grace” – something that calls on us to reflect on our own illusions, stirring our sense of wonder and curiosity about the very structures of reality itself. 

In The Matrix, a poignant illustration of this stirring occurs in the scene where Morpheus and Neo walk against a current of suit-clad business people who are aimlessly, one-directionally performing their various tasks and responsibilities. The oppositional gesture of Morpheus and Neo is symbolic of beings for whom the question of Being has become an issue. Neo is suddenly challenged by the question of his own authenticity, and the tide of humans represents those mindlessly directed by the world of das Man and its inauthenticities. The fact that Neo keeps bumping into people further symbolizes how difficult it can be to follow the call of authenticity when everything and everyone is pushing you (literally, in this case) to “go with the flow.” 

Heidegger refers to this function that turns us against the tide of illusion as “conscience,” which he defines as a call that Dasein[note]That is, “beings for whom Being is an issue.”[/note] makes from itself to itself. As Heidegger puts it, “the call comes from me and yet from beyond me.”[note]Heidegger (1962: 320).[/note] It is the call of our own potential for authenticity. In the terms of Indian philosophy, this is a call from our very own Self (Ātman, Śiva-nature) – that Self which is eternal, limitless and unchanging and which is simultaneously and paradoxically immanent within and utterly beyond absolutely everything. 

As with all familiar-looking words we find in Heidegger, it is important not to confuse his notion of conscience with something like an internalized moral discourse. The call of conscience, for Heidegger, is precisely not that, because moral discourse would be another inauthentic discourse. Contrastingly, the call of conscience “is devoid of content: it asserts nothing, gives no information about world events, no blueprints for living – it merely summons Dasein before itself, holding up every facet of its existence, each aspect of its life choices, for trial before its capacity to be itself.”[note]Mulhall (1996: 139).[/note] Hence, a conscience that gives directions or advice is a conscience-with-content and therefore already subject to the discursive predilections of das Man

In the Indian tradition, experience that is “devoid of content” yet summons us before ourselves (in order to be fully our Self) is called śaktipat, which literally means “descent of grace.” It is a radical moment in the course of life, the result of which is a turning toward the true nature of reality and therefore the Self. In some traditions, śaktipat is an exoteric ritual of initiation in which the guru bestows a transformative grace on the student. However, from a more esoteric perspective, śaktipat actually happens before any such institutionalized religious rituals. Śaktipat is that subtle hand of grace that, for no reason that can be encountered in the discourses of the “they” (the world), turns each one of us eventually toward the possibility of our own authenticity. It is that glimpse of awakening that can be experienced as a kind of mystical attunement or as an event as subtle as an intuition that indicates there is something more than the habits, values, and mores of this world. Or, as Paul Muller-Ortega puts it, “shaktipat initiates the process by which a human being recognizes the intrinsic unboundedness of love that already dwells within his or her very own heart.”[note]D.R. Brooks; S. Durgananda; P.E. Muller-Ortega; W.K. Mahoney; C. Rhodes Bailly; and S.P. Sabharathnam, Meditation Revolution: A History & Theology of the Siddha Yoga Lineage. South Fallsburg, NY: Agama Press (1997: 443) emphasis mine.[/note] 

Let us pause on this notion of a “call without content” (conscience for Heidegger or śaktipat in the Indian tradition), as it is at once both paradoxical and profound. To say that this call lacks content is to say that it doesn’t arrive in the way that Morpheus arrived. Or, we might say, someone like Morpheus could have arrived only if Neo had already received the call-without-content. It is the same with profound teachers we encounter in life. The finding of a teacher isn’t the beginning of the process but is rather a culminating event that arises as the result of a process that is already in motion. 

This call of conscience (or grace) has no content precisely because any content is always conditioned by a world already articulated, a world already structured and systematized according to its own logic, signs, and symbols. Thus, in a certain sense, the call is a call from no-thing (or nothing, or nothingness), and any attempt to speak forth this experience is somehow already saying too much. Put another way, śaktipat or the call of conscience is, as Muller-Ortega suggests, a recognition of unboundedness, and to try and articulate this call is to ultimately try and bind the unbounded.

The Discourse of Silence

This important teaching of a call-without-content points to the illusory dimension of verbal language, which distorts reality by domesticating it through signification. To be beholden to a verbal language is to have decided reality in a particular way, to be entrenched in a mode of meaning-making that is inherently split between a subject and an object. In order to say anything at all, one must employ the discursive tools particular to language and therefore turn reality into something “inauthentic” by trying to articulate it. To receive a “call” or an impulse from something beyond language is, from the perspective of language, nothing at all, because every “something” is constitutively a linguistic something. 

Heidegger puts it this way: “conscience discourses solely and constantly in the mode of keeping silent.”[note]Heidegger (1962: 318).[/note] This sentence might easily read as paradoxical, because we typically assume that discourse and silence are mutually exclusive – that the presence of one assumes the absence of the other. But Heidegger is suggesting that silence too has a discourse, that something is spoken or transmitted through silence.

A fruitful theory from the Indian tradition that might help to flesh out what a “speaking silence” could mean emerges from the Tantrik teachings on Parā Vāc. Parā Vāc is the Supreme Word, which, by contrast to a word as representation or as signifier, is the primordial ground and source of all discourse and signification. As such, it “abides in the interval between two dualistic cognitions, when one ceases and the other appears.”[note]Andre Padioux, Vac: The Concept of the Word in Selected Hindu Tantras. Delhi, India: Sri Satguru Publications (1990: 181).[/note] In other words, Parā Vāc makes itself known through the silence that is found between, beneath, and beyond words, but at the same time, Parā Vāc is the ultimate condition of the manifestation of all discourse. 

According to this theory of language, the discourses of das Man are a kind of densification or grossification of what is, in its most subtle state, pure silence. The Supreme Word is silent, because it is beyond dualistic articulation and therefore beyond the gross levels of interaction that are characterized by thoughts and verbal speech. When reality as the Word “grossifies,” it becomes contracted, and its degree of contraction is proportional to its capacity for illusion[note]“Finally there arises, at the level of the nonsupreme energy (aparā), the last stage of Speech, vaikharī, that stage where differentiation is fully manifested, and which is linked with time since with it the process of language becomes fully manifest. Here we are in the sphere of objectivity, of māyā, in the empirical and limited world brought about through the agency of cosmic illusion.” Padioux (1990: 216). [/note] – or, in Heidegger’s words, its inauthenticity.

Being immersed in an inauthentic mode of living is not to coincide fully with one’s true Self (the Parā level of the Word, or Heidegger’s Being) by misidentifying oneself with the concepts and categories of what is called in this theory the vaikhari level of reality, or the gross level of the Word. The Self, in this theoretical architecture, is aligned with the Parā level, however, because the grosser levels of manifestation are also ultimately derivative of that supreme Parā level, one can see that even the grosser levels are also an expression of that very Self. 

The distinction among levels lies within recognition. When stuck at the surface of life, individuals recognize themselves in dualistic categories of surface experience; they in turn see themselves as separate, like the seemingly separate cognitions that characterize the surface. Contrastingly, when the Parā level is recognized through contemplative practice, one “sees through,” as it were, the dualistic illusions of the surface and begins to embody fully the wholeness and interconnectedness of Reality.

Given this theoretical context, meditation arises as a worthwhile practice. It cultivates the conditions whereby an individual begins to discover moments when cognition is suspended. What then remains is the vibratory aliveness of silence, or the whisper from Parā Vāc that contains no content and yet can stir an experience of camatkāra[note]Ibid, 174.[/note]an objectless wonder.

Having unpacked some of the theoretical context, let’s now return to the two paths that we started with – via negativa and via positiva.

Via Negativa & Via Positiva

Just as individuals are diversely constituted, responses to the call of conscience and the descent of grace may be likewise diverse. Here, we are considering two possible responses in the form of via negativa and via positiva (the way of negation and the way of affirmation, respectively). The way of negation acknowledges the inauthenticity of the world and then forges a path of complete transcendence, leaving the inauthentic world behind and neutralizing its impact on the body-mind complex by “becoming no-thing” – by giving up the “thingness” of one’s egoic individuality and so too the world. The way of affirmation,  by contrast, deals with the world’s inauthenticity by reclaiming the presence of “no-thing” (or silence) within everyday life, re-situating one’s identity and in turn “becoming everything” through antinomian practices  – for the seeker/yogi, meditation or other forms of contemplative practice and devotion. 

The fundamental difference between these paths can be illustrated through an analogy of ocean and wave. The wave is our individuality, and the ocean is that ground of being that is the source and destination of everything. In the paths of negation, the wave must flatten itself into a still, calm ocean. The individual ego must be eradicated. In certain renunciant traditions, this necessity is institutionalized by the holding of funeral rites for one’s departed ego. The point of these traditions is to dissolve wave-like individuality and merge into the oceanic totality of Being, where no difference (and therefore no inauthenticity) remains. 

For example, in certain (but not all) understandings of the Advaita Vedānta, the everyday world is considered māyā (literally “illusion” or “magic”). It is a virtual reality that, in the last instance, is not real at all. According to this understanding of the Vedānta, the only thing that can be real is eternal and unchanging – what the Upaniṣads refer to as Brahman: the Absolute, non-personal consciousness that is the ground of everything. Because the only thing that can be real is non-different, unitary, and unchanging, the changing, differentiated world of our experience cannot be real. It is a play of shadows like those in Plato’s cave allegory, sure to pull us into delusion if we fail to see past its beguiling play, to the light of realization beyond. 

The fundamental premise of the world-negating schools is that the world is something to “see through,” to get past, or to transcend altogether (much like Neo symbolically does in waking up from the virtual world to find himself in the real one). If the world appears differentiated, this is only due to ignorance (avidyā), and once that ignorance has been eradicated, Brahman (or Absolute Reality) will reveal itself in its eternal, unchanging nature.

Returning to the ocean/wave analogy, in the paths of via positiva, the wave does not need to dissolve itself, but rather it must recognize that it is not separate (nor was it ever separate) from that deep stillness of the ocean of which it is a part. The practices of these traditions involve cultivating an experience of the oceanic within the particularity of the wave. We, in a sense, call upward the depths of the ocean (what initially appears as nothing from the perspective of the world) to alchemically transmute and transform our individual life-wave.

This image of an individual life-wave being informed and transformed by the ocean from which it has never been separate maps easily onto the theory of the Word that we just explored. The individual life-wave can be completely identified with the vaikhari (or stuhla[note]Gross (as opposed to subtle).[/note]) level of life and be quite content in the belief that this is all there is. Just as the wave can be almost infinitely described in terms of its variable temperature, texture, peaks, and valleys, so too could the life of a seemingly autonomous individual see no end to the narrative possibilities expressive of its presumably separate experience. 

So while both paths under consideration see everyday perception as illusory, traditions that fall within one or the other can have differing conceptions of the nature of this illusion. If, as in via negativa traditions, dualistic perception cannot be predicated of the Absolute, which is eternal and unchanging, then naturally to align with the Absolute must include a complete negation of that dualistic perception. Therefore, dualism is the fundamental illusion. But, if, as in via positiva traditions (notably, the one coupled to the theory of the Word), dualistic perception is itself also an expression of the Absolute, then illusion (insofar as it exists) pertains to the intellectual and experiential sense of separateness. Thus, an individual’s sense of separateness may be eradicated (therefore attaining liberation) while still negotiating a world of dualistic perception. From this perspective, we need not throw the baby out with the bath water. 

Antinomian Practices

As we have seen, via negativa traditions respond to the world’s illusion by negating it and leaving it and inauthenticity behind altogether. By contrast, one of the ways that via positiva responds is through antinomian practices. Referring to a quality of rejecting established moral values, antinomian practices aim to penetrate into the world’s inauthenticity – the sense of separateness that often arises out of dualistic perception.

Antinomian practices have played a central role in the history of the tradition known as “Kashmir Śaivism.” In medieval India, meat, wine, and sex were wrapped up in moralized notions of purity and impurity. To engage with them was a scandal to the prevailing social norms and mores. Tantrik Śaivites of the “left-handed” paths in particular engaged in antinomian practices of eating meat, drinking wine, and engaging in ritualized sex because doing so assisted the practitioner in destabilizing the socially imposed dualistic valuation of these things as “impure.” The very dichotomy of pure/impure is problematized and debunked through such practices, in turn revealing the inherent “emptiness” of these dualistic categories and discovering that they amount to nothing. Antinomian practices, far from being a “road to hell,” become a gateway to the divine in these traditions. 

Although the pure/impure dichotomy is, to some degree, still operative in India, it does not show up similarly in our contemporary culture. Meat-eating, drinking alcohol, and kinky sex might be frowned upon by some, but it certainly doesn’t amount to the kind of cultural taboo that these things symbolized in medieval India. Therefore, in order to preserve the spirit of antinomianism as an effective tool in seeing through the artifices of an inauthentic culture, one needs to ask oneself the difficult question: what is antinomian in our culture? What is the prevailing morality that one doesn’t dare to challenge? 

Challenging culturally sanctioned discourses of morality is not an easy task. Indeed, if engaging in such a practice doesn’t alienate you from at least a few people, you’re probably not doing it right – perhaps just skirting the edge of the antinomian and peering in with curiosity (like this article might be said to be doing). Every culture has its things that “should not be done” or “cannot be said;” every society has its blasphemies. Ultimately, this dualistic appraisal of things that puts one thing on the “good side” and another thing on the “bad side” is symptomatic of an inauthentic mode of being, because it fails to acknowledge that the outrage and righteousness that arise are contextually contingent expressions made possible by a certain narrative organizing of ultimately nothing at all.[note]We see this very clearly in the example of meat and wine. If they were, in reality, impure, then they wouldn’t simply be impure during one historical moment or in one specific culture; they would be impure eternally and across all historical contexts. It is in this sense that pure and impure are revealed as “empty;” they lack any self-existent nature and are, in Heidegger’s sense, inauthentic. There is nothing like an “authentic” morality or an archimedean standpoint from which an absolute moral principle can be derived. Because Dasein is temporally and historically situated, moral principles are only relatively true. The Buddhists are onto something here in observing that liberation requires an experiential understanding of the fluid, ephemeral nature of all concepts. [/note] 

Given the current political climate, let us pause to reflect on a possible misinterpretation of what we’ve suggested. One could read the above (regarding things that “cannot be said”) and easily mistake himself for engaging in antinomian practice simply by rejecting certain political values that he disagrees with. For example, someone who frowns upon “political correctness” might imagine himself an antinomian by virtue of his outspoken mockery of such a principle. This person is what we might call the ‘inauthentic antinomian’ – he challenges a value that is popularly supported but from an inauthentic perspective, one that, in its positing of some ‘other’ as enemy, is just as conditioned by the significations of das Man. By contrast, the ‘authentic antinomian’ is one who has cultivated a more expansive perspective through practice, a perspective that has subsumed the duality of ‘us and them’ politics into a broader perspective. In other words, the authentic antinomian blasphemes by not submitting herself to the ideological options available but rather forges an image of things that reorients and re-situates these ideologies in a way that might even dissolve their apparent contradiction.

This is why the question of what constitutes the antinomian has to be reconsidered again and again. What was once antinomian may become acceptable in the eyes of society, thus neutralizing the effectiveness of practices that grounded themselves in once-taboo beliefs or activities. The antinomian must always remain that which cannot be embraced by the world, because the authenticity that antinomianism expresses would be neutralized and made inauthentic were the culture to approve and, in turn, domesticate it.  

Both Pills as an Antinomian Practice

Here, we can pose the question provoked by our initial thought experiment: what would it be like to take both pills as a response to inauthenticity and the illusions of daily life? 

On the one hand, the blue pill reinforces our illusions of the world and affirm its shadows (to become some-body), while opting for the red pill negates the world in an attempt to transcend it and rest in a pure, objectless Absolute (to become no-thing). Taking both pills, on the other hand, is to leave nothing behind, or rather to integrate an encounter with the universality of nothing into the parade of particulars. It is to experience non-duality, not as a negation of duality, but as an affirmation of duality from a situatedness grounded in silence. In both hands, it is to experience of immanence saturated with transcendence. 

The experiential unfolding of such a condition cannot be realized without those contemplative techniques that allow for the dissolution of cognitive limits and that forge a capacity to listen to the discourse of silence that is always-already present as the ultimate condition of each and every expression – be it a stone, a fact, or a feeling. 

Given their widespread acceptance in today’s culture, practices of meditation may strike us as less than antinomian. However, an orientation toward meditation that integrates-with rather than escapes-from reality may pry open an antinomian lens into the structures of daily life in such a way that new possibilities can emerge from the empty cracks of māyā’s seemingly well-sutured facade. Meditation situates us directly in these cracks, where discourses break down and silence reigns, and where nothingness vibrates with potency. As a result, we find ourselves closer to life, more vividly aware, and less constrained by the social structures and sedimented thought-forms of our present paradigm.

If these final thoughts strike you as mostly poetic and less than concrete – a certain blasphemy to the pretenses of intellectual puritanism – perhaps we can grasp them as an unavoidable consequence of channeling the spirit of antinomianism. For what could be more antinomian to the world of das Man than moving beyond the orderly gestures of academic posturing and finding ourselves more than intentionally immersed in the love-drunk waters of that-which-cannot-be-named, where poetry and silence dance in an infinite dialectic of life and practice.[note]In his later writings, Heidegger, too, ended up celebrating poetry.[/note] 

Conclusion: Truth-Procedures

Although it is beyond the modest scope of this reflection to do justice to the work of another thinker, the frequent connection between Reality and Truth invites us to close with a brief consideration of the work of Alain Badiou, particularly his notion of a truth-procedure. For Badiou, truths are not synonymous with facts. Facts are more like bits of data that have become petrified by a kind of social consensus. Truths, on the other hand, are radical comportments of life, procedures of activity that bring into being new ways of seeing, acting, and thinking. They are, in turn, antinomian, because they build themselves brick by brick on the foundation of a kind of vision that cannot be accounted for by the prevailing norms of life (what Badiou calls the “state of the situation”, or, what in our Heideggerian reflections we have been calling the world of das Man).

A truth-procedure is something that is forged in the wake of an event that lives ‘at the edge of the void.’ These events arise – like grace or the call of conscience – as punctuating moments of realization that have no content. Therefore, they are moments during which the veil of illusion is lifted and a glimpse of the effulgent untamed abundance of life shines through. If left unattended to, these events will be described and domesticated by the terms of the “situation” or by the world of das Man. It is the task of a subject who encounters such an event to forge that event’s meaning into existence against the tide of influence that is characteristic of the movements of acceptable discourse. 

Key to this process is repetition – to continuously rearticulate the novelty of this event over and above the forces that would seek to domesticate it.  No less than the political, amorous, aesthetic, and scientific events of which Badiou speaks, spiritual events are also subject to such domestication.[note]Whereas Alain Badiou restricts his analysis to four types of events including love, science, art and politics, we suggest there is another kind of event – the spiritual – that cannot be so clearly distinguished from Badiou’s four and in fact may be seen as containing elements of each of those events.[/note] Spiritual events can be written off as “just” chemical interactions in the brain or “just” a kind of hallucination, thereby denying their meaning. Against such dismissal, the vocabularies of spiritual traditions can be rich resources for expanding our understanding of mystical states and meditative insights.[note]Nevertheless, and despite using the connection with Badiou’s analysis to provide another entry into this discourse, our considerations here invite us to tread lightly with regards to how easily spiritual concepts can be mapped onto the boundlessness of contemplative experience.[/note]

One of the repetitions particular to a spiritual truth-procedure is the repeated act of practice, steeping in silence and bathing in a nothingness that is the very birthplace of truth. This is what we mean by being ‘situated in nothingness’: the spiritual truth-procedure adds a new trajectory of life that grounds itself not in a principle or value, but in silence. Again and again, this procedure charms the snake of kuṇḍalinī, the creative potency of life that arises from the silent source of all manifestation  –  Parā Vāc  – and permits the emergent unfolding of the newly true.