Monday, April 09, 2007

Salvation I

There are various sorts of sublime transformations of one's psychology, I suppose. The sort I have in mind involves three things:

1. The redirection of one's attention from the flow of thoughts (reasoning, desires and emotions) that usually fill the mind as it occupies itself with its countless concerns.

2. The resulting recognition that until now one has been inadvertently subject to that flow of thoughts such that the perspective of complete immersion in it has kept one from noticing that this world and one's existence in it are vastly better than nothingness.

3. The resulting beginning of deep and genuine patience: the recognition that upon re-immersion of the mind into the flow of mundane thoughts, one need not be subject to the frustration, resentment and anger that they so often inflict but may instead rest assured by one's allegiance to the values one cherishes.

I'd like to develop the idea that these together describe salvation. #3 requires a little more explanation. One's external perspective on the flow of thoughts - the extraction of the mind from the flow and awareness that that flow is no longer present while yet one's mind is still present, makes it obvious and simple that one is not a reed adrift in that flow but rather a container and controller of it. From this external perspective, one may consider the proposition that subjecting oneself to the flow of thoughts and coping with it only by doing things that will maximize the agreeable thoughts and minimize the frustration, resentment, and anger is a strategy that cannot but fail to result in happiness since frustrations and resentments will continue to sting forever, abated only marginally by one’s efforts. One must also recognize that one’s own allegiance to cherished values and action in accord with them is a strategy likely to create a happy life, and that in view of this recognition, the events that formerly would have caused frustrations and the like are not able to do so anymore. This is not a merely cognitive change. It is a psychological reorganization in which the disposition to react to adversity with resentment is all but eradicated.

This salvation is not an emotionally powerful event. On the contrary, although it is likely accompanied by a profound sense of peace, it is chiefly the development of an aloofness, a tendency not to generate certain emotions (frustration, resentment and anger.) The reason it counts as salvation is that #1-3 describe a psychological transformation in which the basic facts of the existence of this world and one’s existence in it are recognized as enormously good, while the emotive reactions that are a primary cause of unhappiness are almost entirely left behind. I don't see much to argue about in that point. The controversy lies in the religious or theistic person’s likely contention that #1-3 are an incomplete description of salvation.

More on this later in Salvation II.