Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Aesetic life: One definition of spiritual?

aesetic - an attempt to extricate oneself from any worldly ties

Does spirituality dwell in some other realm or is it tied to everyday life. Does one have to go to the mountain top to find out about spirituality or does one go within or does one have to go anywhere?

Bhudda, after being born into a royal family, decided to live the life of the aesetic for a number of years. You can see representations of Bhudda, during this period, as a thin and gaunt. Bhudda then came up with the middle way as described in this quote...

"One should not pursue sensual pleasure, which is low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble, and unbeneficial; and one should not pursue self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, and unbeneficial. The Middle Way...avoids both extremes; giving vision, giving knowledge, it leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana."
Gautama Buddha from the Aranavibhanga Sutta

In early Christianity (370 AD) Saint Jerome began to endorse the aesetic life with an emphasis on female virginity. Jerome was educated in Rome and participated, as a young man, in a Roman hedonistic life style before becoming a monk. He is most known for his translation of the Old Testament into Latin from the Hebrew rather than from the Greek as was common at the time. He became the main contributor to what was called the Vulgate.

His letters reveal his ideas of what the aesetic life meant. Here is one example of his views when he wrote, years afterwards, to his friend Eustochium about his struggle to maintain his purity...

"In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the sun, so scorching that it frightens even the monks who live there, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome.... In this exile and prison to which through fear of Hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts, I many times imagined myself watching the dancing of Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them. My face was pallid with fasting, yet my will felt the assaults of desire. In my cold body and my parched flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was still able to live. Alone with the enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, though I grieve that I am not now what I then was."

He appears to be obsessed with female virgins when he writes rather erotic explanations of what it means to be with God by quoting from the erotic poetry of the Song of Songs contained in the Old Testament.

“But do you, having once for all cast away the burden of the world, sit at the Lord’s feet and say: “I have found him whom my soul loves; I will hold him, I will not let him go.” Song of Songs 3:4 And He will answer: “My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her.” Song of Songs 6:9 Now the mother of whom this is said is the heavenly Jerusalem. Galatians 4:26

Ever let the privacy of your chamber guard you; ever let the Bridegroom sport with you within. Genesis 26:8 Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you. When sleep overtakes you He will come behind and put His hand through the hole of the door, and your heart shall be moved for Him; and you will awake and rise up and say: “I am sick of love.” Then He will reply: “A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” Song of Songs 4:12”

He complains in this letter to the Virgins of Æmona that they are not returning his letters...

"Pardon, I beseech you, an aggrieved man: if I speak in tears and in anger it is because I have been injured. For in return for my regular letters you have not sent me a single syllable. Light, I know, has no communion with darkness, 2 Corinthians 6:14 and God's handmaidens no fellowship with a sinner, yet a harlot was allowed to wash the Lord's feet with her tears, and dogs are permitted to eat of their masters' crumbs. Matthew 15:27"

This aesetic teaching of Jerome led to a young girl dying from anorexia and Jerome taking her mother and her sister off to live a life of resisting sexual pleasures and denying anything that may suggest they have any pleasure or self beautification.

So the aesetic life didn't work for Bhudda and it appears to have created quite the opposite of the intended effect in Jerome. The aesetic life doesn't appear to bring one closer to the spiritual life and may, at times, bring about death and obsession.

Sexuality has been part of the practice of spirituality in the form of the sacred union in many cultural and religious practices and in the case of Jerome, avoiding sexuality, food, or any other sensation based life experience was thought to be the highest form of spirituality.

All of this teaching seems a little too self conscious for me. I don't know if spirituality is a primary practice. Maybe its a byproduct of something else?

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