THE HESYCHASM OF ST. GREGORY PALAMAS &THE ASCETIC OF EASTERN
Исихазм свт. Григория Паламы и аскетизм восточных религий
(Archimandrite 'lack arias Zacharon)
Архимандрит Захария, монастырь св. Иоанна Предтечи (Эссекс, Англия)
Our subject is two-fold and it's second part makes it vast. The least they can assert is the empiric knowledge of both these spiritual traditions. The comparative studies that see the light in the West mostly present the serious flaw that is bound by the indefinitely and dogmatic inaccuracy of post-Augustine theological perspective. Indeed, many times they end up in the dismissal of hesychasm and the compromise of the absolute character of Christian revelation.
In the first part of this report, I will try to collate the basic positions of St. Gregory Palamas' thoughts about hesychia-as they are elaborated in the Triads-and to deal with the following subjects:
1) The method of prayer and its anthropological significance.
2) The aim of prayer and its perfect fulfilment.
3) Its theological presuppositions.
In the second part, I will undertake to compare and juxtapose the above positions with certain characteristics of Hindu spirituality, the fundamental matter is the proof of whether the experience of God-about which St. Gregory speaks-is unique to Christianity, or if there are parallel experiences in other religious traditions also. It has been pointed outjDom Henri Le Saux, Saccidanananda, p. 49] that both spiritual experiences-of Christian and Hinduism-assert ultimate perfection. One contemporary Catholic writer categorically states that:
"If Christianity is unable to classify the Hindu spiritual experience in the light of a higher truth, the conclusion that comes out is that advaita (the above experience) contains and surpasses the truth of Christianity, and operates on a higher plane than that of Christianity." [op. cit. p. 49]
I will return to this reference below.
At the end of the 13th century, and in the first half of the 14th century, the hesychastic ideal reached its peak and was related to a technical method, where the memory of the name of Jesus was accompanied by a disciplined control of breathing [Holy Hesycahsts 1,2,7, pp. 399-400]. St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) was the one who formulated the theological and anthropological foundation of hesychastic prayer and stressed its value as a means that renders man capable to enter into communion with God.
The ascesis of prayer starts with repentance and is inseparably connected with the keeping of the Gospel commandments and the work of the virtues [In Palamas' "Epitle to Xenia", the keeping of the commandments are especially emphasized as an indispensible presupposition of hesychia]. With reference to the technical method of prayer, St. gregory stresses that it is a necessity for the one praying to confine his nous inside the body, because "our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in us"(l Cor. 6:19). Thus, since the Holy Spirit dwells in the human body, it is not contemptible for the human nous to dwell inside it [Holy Hesychasts 1,2,1 p. 393]. Still, St. Gregory emphasizes that the ascetic can succeed in the desirable union with God inside himself, because "the Kingdom of God is within us"(Lk. 17:21). St. Gregory adheres to the biblical synthetic anthropology and supports/argues that the soul and body in man was created very good and was destined for immortality. Carnal thoughts-and the fact that the nous is able to be captivated by them-are evil [Holy Hesychasts, 1,2,1 p. 393], The ascetic is obliged to free the nous from their tyranny. In the journey of the struggle, the powers of both body and soul are cleansed and transfigured, but they are not abolished. Dispassion is achieved with the replacement "of the law of sin" which is consolidated in man's members, by the "overseeing of the nous".
The heart is designate as the place of the nous by St. Gregory, the heart is the "treasury of the intelligence["cou ^oyioxiKou] and the chief intellectual organ of the body"[op. cit. p. 396] Following St. Dionysios of Areopagite's terminology, the Saint speaks about two movements of the nous; the "direct"--misleading and deceitful after the Fall-and the "circular", which is natural and without deception. The direct movement causes the nous' diffusion towards externals, while the circular movement makes the nous return into itself and act internally. The aim of the Jesus Prayer is union with God and for this reason the aid of Divine Grace is indispensible.
One exoteric means that helps to bring the nous back "to itself" is the circular contortion of the body. By this, the attention is concentrated on the chest or the navel and the nous' power descends into the heart with the aid of restrained breathing. In this manner, the acquisition of the cyclical movement of the nous is aided, as well as, the achievement of "unified concentration", because "after the Fall, the inner man naturally adapts itself to outward forms".[op. cit 398-400]. In general, however, the bodily method in prayer is not essential. The same result can be achieved with various methods. However, whichever exoteric technique it may be, the emphasis is always given to the body's participation in prayer, in order for man's sanctification by the Incarnate God to be complete [op. cit. pp. 431-32]
Up to this point-at least with the first glance-someone could find impressive samples of parallelism between the hesychastic technique and the technique of Hindu ascesis. Having renounced everything and having cleansed himself with ascesis (yama and niyama), the one searching out brahmavidya(the knowledge of the Transcendent Being) is immersed towards the internals. And he also uses a psych-somatic method. Whether it is the classic technique of yoga or not, he contracts his body's posture in combination with the control of breathing (pranayama), in order to achieve concentration. This can be accompanied with the recitation of a brief mantra, the purpose is to reach the heart, because "the truth", namely that of the Vedantic experience (the abolition of every double nature and dualism) is hidden there [Saccidnanda p. 29] And here, also, the beginner's need of benefit by the advice of a guide
(guru) is stressed, as well as, the attention is drawn to the fact that the technique-whether psychosomatic or not-is not particularly significant in meditation, but rather the content and purpose. Just as in hesychasm, thus here also an analogy is confirmed between the spiritual and bodily factors and the value of the latter in the quest for theoria.
As for the perfection of hesychastic prayer, St. Gregory confirms that it is crowned with the hesychast's union with God inside the vision of the Uncreated Light. The Saint defends the hesychasts against the accusation that they receive demonic visions, by saying that the Light is divine and deifies those worthy of its communion. The man filled by this same light also sees the light inside and outside of himself.
In India, abundant luminous experiences are recorded by the Upanishads as Tantric. The participants of these experiences perceive them as "sudden divine brightness" or as vision of esoteric light (antah yoti). The light is mainly the image of atman(of the human self) as well as of Brahman(the Supreme Absolute)[Mircea Eliade, History of Religious Ideas, Vol. 1, p. 243]. One Hindu holy text says:
"From delusion lead me to Truth.
From darkness lead me to Light.
From death lead me to immortality"[Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad 1:3]
the implication that man becomes God are equally abundant in the sacred writings and texts of Hinduism. Let's examine the following:
"In truth who knows God becomes God; because that man disappeared in glory-he who wanted to know the glory-just as the moth who fell in the flame and herself became flame and vanished"[Mundaka Upanishad 3:2; Saccidananda p. 8]
But let's look at the content of hesychasm and Indian meditation separately.
In principle, the hesychastic prayer is an invocation and as such is founded in the dogmatic teaching of the Church. It is true, as Florovsky emphasizes, that theology cannot be separated from "spiritual knowledge and experience"[St Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers, in "Bible, Church, tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View" p. 108], And the reverse is also valid: Orthodox spiritual life and experience are based on "upright dogma"(upright glory). Just as Fr. Florovsky correctly underlines, the entire teaching of St. Gregory Palamas presupposes the energy of a Personal God [op. cit. p. 117]. The God Who creates "out of nothing", and the unabridged chasm that exists between the uncreated and created. The Saint's distinction between essence and the energies in God is logically posterior by the fact that God is ontologically personal. While God remains absolutely transcendental in His essence, He creates, maintains, transfigures and is revealed through His energies. Basically, man's deification, which we spoke about earlier, comprises a free gift of the personal God. Man was created with the destiny of theosis. Therefore, the creature also remains in deification. An enlightening text of St. Makarios, who is one of the first authorities of St. Gregory Palamas, says that God created man "eis eautou sunapheian kai tin eautou koinonian, eis idion katoiketerion, eis idian timian kai katharan numphen"[St. Makarios of
Egypt, Homily 26]. Nevertheless, God remains that which He is--uncreated-and the deified man remains that which he is-creature:
"God is God, the creature not God; God is Lord, the creature is slave; God is Creator, the creature created; God is the Fashioner, the creature fashioned..."
In the same way also, Hindu spirituality is based on its own "theology", cosmology and anthropology. In contrast with Christianity, however, the notion of a Creator God is absent from the Hinduist cosmogonies. The birth of the world is an emanation rather than creation. In a certain way, the world "originates" from the Divine Principle, moved by a kind of centrifugal power. Thus, there is no clear distinction between the two. While the earlier Upanishads were clearly pantheistic, the later ones visualize a Divine transcendentalness so otherworldly, so that it becomes outer worldly, the only Reality that excludes all the others. Therefore, due to the essentially impersonal character of the Absolute, the world tends to be merged together with it. The basic axiom is "if there existed something that was not God, God would not be God"[compare Saccidananda p. 86]. And certainly pantheism has both been completely surpassed anywhere in the Upanishads. Just as Zaehner rightly observes, in the Upanishads "monism, pantheism and monotheism co-exist and are not regarded as mutually incompatible"[op. cit. p. 88] The impersonal of the Hindu Absolute clearly presupposes the absence of whatever is antithetical within the Absolute itself. For the Indian mind, "infinity is an ocean vast palm, without coast and without wave or purl...."[op. cit. p. 82]. ???? (difficult to translate photocopy didn't pick up) Consequently, it is concluded that Hindu meditation differs according to much from Christian hesychasm, because it visualizes an impersonal Primordial cause and for this reason it is not entreaty with the same notion as in Christianity. It is also known that in meditation the body's full relaxation predominates, whereas in Christian prayer the body and nous are found in extreme appeal in their appearance before the Personal God.
The above leads us to the following point: Hesychastic prayer is essentially Christ-centric. It is accomplished with the invocation of the name of the Saviour Jesus Christ and is a quest for union with Him. The central argument of St. Gregory Palamas against his accusers is precisely: it is the light of Christ which they see and in which the hesychasts participate and it is the same light that was revealed to the disciples on Tabor and will be manifetsed to the Saints at the time of His Second Coming [see Holy Hesychasts 1,2,39 Vol. 1 pp. 439-40]. The basic presuppositions of St. Gregory's teaching (which is, of course, the position of the entire patristic tradition) is that without faith in Christ's divinity, it is impossible to be given the true vision of God. Elder Sophronios states categorically that the Apostles were vouchsafed to enter the sphere of the Divine Light upon Tabor after they previously confessed the divinity of Christ [We Shall See Him As He Is, pp. 243-44]. He also emphasizes that the same Divine vision testifies about Christ's Divinity, this also occurred with the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus [op. cit. p. 259]. For St. Gregory, all the visions of the Light of the Absolute which are witnessed in the Scriptures are also Christ-centric. In this manner, he interprets the New and Old Testaments [see Holy Hesychasts 3,3,5 p. 683 where Palamas emphasizes that the Angel who spoke with Moses(Ex. 33:11) was the Divine Logos]. According to St. Gregory's teaching, hesychastic prayer is inseparable from the history of salvation, within which the Divine Logos took on flesh (sarkotheke) "for us and our salvation". It is
manifest that Hindu meditation doesn't have such a content. It is not oriented towards the Personal God and does not comprise a cry for redemption in the Christian sense.
As we already mentioned, the fruit of hesychastic prayer for St. Gregory Palamas is man's union with God and the following deification of man. This happens with an ecstasy of the human nous above its nature. But also God "moves" towards man surrounding him with His Grace with a kind of condescending ecstatic love, nevertheless, without leaving the "unapproachable light" in which He eternally dwells...
God operates freely and invites man to freely answer in an act of synergy. We see in this a dynamic relationship of God and man face to face. After man's deification, the union doesn't abolish the distinction of God and man[Just as in the Incarnation, the union occurs "without confusion, change, division or separation"]. Moreover, when this union is achieved, man's self-knowledge is not annihilated but acquires a without prior limpidity spiritual view: the vision of a terrible contrast between he himself--of the ? creature—and the Merciful God. St. Gregory writes: (???difficult to translate)
Subsequently, that which occurs is that man. after he is increased to the perfect measure and becomes "truly man/human", "exeisi[?]....epi tin ontos ergasian autou". With the operation and guidance of the Light "he is exalted upon eternal mountains"(Ps.) and in a wondrous becomes an overseer "of hyper-wordly things". Then with a spiritual and unspeakable view, he hears "unutterable words" and "sees the unseen...aggelos os alithos epi yis theou yegonos". And this is not the end. Moreover, he becomes an intercessor between God and creation and the carrier of the universal fullness/flock...In this manner, the "in the likeness" is realized with accuracy and testifies that the true work of the deified man is the intercession between creation and God. This ontological broadening is the perpetual fulfillment of man as person. Elder Sophronios expresses the same experience writing that "through the energy of the Light inside of the repentant...????"[We Shall See Him As He Is p. 287]
Contrarily, in eastern meditation, the wise, returning towards within, is liberated from all things, including himself. The aim of meditation is to achieve "self-consciousness" or the awareness of "pure being". However, this eventually means that the "I/Ego" of the person who is immersed in meditation doesn't exist anymore; his "I/Ego" is the "I/Ego" of the Absolute.
"Just as pure water raining on pure water becomes one and the same, so becomes the soul of the sage who knows"(Katha Upanishad, 4).
It's an objection that has the purpose of "the annihilation of the fluctuations of the conscience"(classic definition of Yoga-Sutra). In contrast to Hesychasm, where the deified person enters into a new relation with the Saviour God-the relationship of son and father, bride and Bridegroom, new creation and Creator—in eastern mysticism, the end of meditation is the abolition of every relation including also the relationship with the Absolute. The death of the human person is described as follows: "Finally, the Arunachala (another name for the Absolute) is no longer either Father, nor Lover, nor Creator. There is only Himself. Who else remains for which he could be Father, Lover, or Creator?"[Saccidananda] This
means that Hinduism essentially has the negative character of man's escape from the world, the body and finally from his own self.
Yet, what is the nature of the light that the Hindu sees? In his writings, St. Gregory distinguishes between the different kinds of light. Besides the Divine and God-made light, there is also the natural light of the human nous and demonic light. In reference to the second—the noetic light-the Saint maintains that the nous, created in God's image, has a luminous nature and consequently is able to be seen as light by natural means [Holy Hesychasts 1,3,9 pp. 418-19], As for the last kind of light, he points out that the light which proceeds from demonic deception can be distinguished from the light of grace "by it's activities." It doesn't bring about "good energy" in the soul and above all "neither joy, nor peace, nor humility"[op. cit. p. 459]. Despite the widespread respect towards eastern asceticism, by virtue of the arguments we developed above, the probability of the vision of the first light [i.e. Divine and God-made] in tradition is excluded. It does not resemble the light of the Creator God. In relation with the two last probabilities, the choice/option is likely to not be perfectly clear. It is interesting to note here that the author Aldous Huxley needed to take the narcotic mescaline in order to acquire the sacred Vedic experience[Concordant Discord p. 85; The mescaline plant is a plant of the Indian Shamans(mescaleros) ot Mexico. In all of Central and South America, but also generally in the Shamanistic world, the Shamans use various plants for their out of body experiences. We also have the same phenomenon in the ancient Greek Mysteries (Eleusinian, Orphic, etc.)] Thus, this shows that this experience can be achieved by natural means. It would also be relative to mention here that in the catalogue of the virtues of yoga, humility is not referred to, but also neither is pride an obstacle for the achievement of experience[Experience chretienne et spiritualite orientale p. 91].
In general, everything that has been said above gives the solution to the "dilemma" with which the Western theologians wrestled with. The experience of Hindu asceticism is not simply lower than hesychasm, but has a completely different origin and content. It presupposes a radically different theology-or better yet, it presupposes the absence of theology-and the existence of a different cosmology and anthropology. The phenomenal parallelisms remain on the plane of the physical and technical. Yet, there is an inclination in spiritual orientation that is equally distant from the created and uncreated.