Week 12 - The Holy Grail

What's better than God
And worse than the Devil?
The Dead eat it
But, if you eat it,
You would surely die.

Guiding Question: Is the Holy Grail empty?

    We began the course by discussing beginnings, and we will end it with a discussion of Death.  Certainly every human being has wondered what lies beyond the portal we call "Death."  Our earliest remaining human artifacts have been found in graves which seem ritually prepared to help the departed in another world.  With the advance of civilization, these small artifacts will culminate in great Pyramids and Cathedrals, as well as tombs which honor and revere the departed in both artifact and ritual.  The question of what lies beyond the life experience even defines many traditional conceptions of faith. One’s faith is judged by the amount of confidence one has that one will continue to live on.
    The state of our consciousness and personality which may survive Death range in interpretations throughout the world's great religions.  Particularly of Hinduism, it is implied that we will go to that place where the karma of  our lives have best suited us.  If we were good, we will go where we choose.  If we have lead a life against the life principle itself, our souls may go to a hellish planet or we will be reborn as a lower life form in order to review some lessons before earning the privilege of being a human once again.  Such attitudes toward Death also tend to define the paradigms of various cultural values, from the eternal hunting grounds of some Native American religions to the Valhalla of eternal war and renewal in the religions of the ancient Vikings.  Our more positive options in the next world range from becoming higher angelic beings in paradise (such as the Christian Heaven) and there sharing in the presence of God, to becoming a part of the deity itself, while retaining some sense of our own personality (as in some conceptions in Hinduism), to losing our personalities in the ultimate Godhead (as in the Hindu Nirvana).
    There is too the Buddhist notion concerning an ascension to what could theoretically be the source of all Being itself; and which ironically, to the Western ear, is Nothing. Yet, this Nothing is not negative.  As in the Tao, it is the source of all that is, just as all that has form and substance in the appearance of the world, merely stands out from the greater venue of space which surrounds it.
    What may be most difficult in our Quest, even as a concept, is the idea of an all-encompassing Nothingness as emptiness.  Could this clairvoyant, pure absence untainted by matter, form or substance, be what Galahad saw when he looked inside and saw directly the mysteries of the Holy Grail?
    Is such a realization of pure emptiness pleasure or horror?  Is our highest state of consciousness (as some Oriental religions and philosophies might have it) merely realization and final acceptance of what we may fear the most?  And is this merely the sum reflection of ourselves?  Is this nothingness, as in the Tao, merely what we pour into it, but is never exhausted, always empty, and therefore pure, offering us back only our own reflection?  If so, what qualities must a person have within themselves to revere such Nothingness as one's “Thou?”  The word "Nothing" in English means "No Thing," thus not an It.  It is thus pure subjectivity.  Would those qualities be admired by our family, friends and co-workers?
    The required readings will explore ideas concerning Nothing from different cultural perspectives, drawing on various different human faculties in the process.   Reason as discursive thought will be employed, just as understanding is utilized as intuition of concepts, judgments and principles. Revelation as a realization communicated by Divine Will also comes into play.   The selection from Sartre’s Being and Nothingness will explore these approaches to Nothingness in far more detail, using terminology which has been developed in the field of philosophy over centuries of European history.  Though one may detect a sense of reverence in Sarte for Nothingness, this sense of reverence is even more apparent in some religious texts.  In both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, non-Being is juxtaposed against an array of deities whose personalities may be seen as representing philosophical concepts.  In a certain sense, for Chan Buddhism in China, which is later mispronounced as "Zen" in Japan, “Nothing IS better than God.”  Even God, as entity, bows to the void, and thus the realization of no-thing-ness manifests our highest state of consciousness. True Nirvana is a profound emptiness.  Thus it is suggested that to grasp our own subjectivity in time, even as this incorporates our consciousness of the fact of Death, may be the most vital aspect, the final goal, of being alive; and what is most vital about being alive has always been what has guided our Quest.

Required Reading:  "Week 12" in the Study Guide; The Quest of the Holy Grail, pp. 269-284; Jean-Paul Sartre: Being and Nothingness (1956), Part One: Chapter One: Section V "The Origin of Nothingness"; D. T. Suzuki: Manual of Zen Buddhism (texts from 406 CE - 1768 CE); Mandukya Upanishad and Karika Upanishad (600 BC).

Homework: We will continue our conferences our the next two weeks and the Instructor will be available for advisement during that time while you are completing you final papers.

(Note: Sections of the description of "nothingness" in the Study Guide for Week 12 are paraphrases or excerpts from a manuscript by Laurence L. Murphy and Dominick A. Iorio, both of whom are amongst the Authors of the general MAPS Curriculum. The general section is by Robert H. Price, also amongst the Authors of the general MAPS Curriculum.)

Course Description

Course Syllabus