Sunday, June 11, 2006

The World Beyond

JJ van der Leeuw
I just started reading Hilda Doolittle's Tribute to Freud, which she wrote in the forties after two different sessions as an analysand with Sigmund Freud in Vienna in 1933 and then later in 1934. In the very first pages of the first section of this book, "Writing on the Wall," she mentions the person who was seeing Freud the hour before her sessions with him, J.J. van der Leeuw, a leading figure of the day in the world of Theosophy. H.D. said he was a wealthy Dutchman who owned several plantations in the Dutch East Indies and had lived and travelled throughout India studying the occult. Freud called this man "The Flying Dutchman" because he flew his own airplane everywhere he went. During her first visit to Freud in Vienna, HD said she always saw this young Dutchman coming from Freud's consultation room, or she would pass him on the steps up to Freud's dwelling, and only once had a conversation with him when he asked her if she would trade hours with him the next day. That summer back in London, she read where J.J. van der Leeuw had crashed his plane and killed himself in Tanganyika after attending a conference in South Africa. HD was so moved by van der Leeuw's death, she returned to Vienna for more Freud sessions.

I became curious about JJ van der Leeuw. I had read of him somewhere back in my own tour of all the books I could get my mitts on in my younger days, but I knew nothing about him nor had I ever read any of his many books. So I looked him up. Aha! He was into Theosophy all right; in fact he was one of its intellectual participants. What? Theosophy? I tried to read Madame Blavatsky one time but I thought it mostly silly. van der Leeuw started out as a purist Theosophist but soon began to argue against its basic premise, where the spiritual world is the real world and man is the Higher Self who is comfortably at home in the Spiritual World but bitterly afraid of reality. Man is born into the Spiritual World. He then through study descends into the "lower worlds of matter" and there "through his lower bodies" he gathers experience through which "his Self has become perfected" and he can then return to "the World Beyond" from whence he came (the Spiritual World). Sounds familiar? Sounds to me like an intellectual approach to the Jesus Christ fable.

van der Leeuw wrote in his lecture, Revelation or Realization: the Conflict in Theosophy, that Revelation was only possible "when there is one oracle ("the World Teacher") or channel of revelation." See the Jesus connection here, too? Also Judaism, which is based on the interpretations of teachers (or rabbis). For this reason, one oracle's authority can't be questioned. "A plurality of oracles," van der Leeuw writes, "is death to revelation."

Theosophy is "the experience of the divine," whereas Theology is "discussion about God." Theosophists like the idea of a divine state and not the divination of certain individuals. It's like this, according to van der Leeuw, "This experience of the ultimate, of reality, of life, of truth is beyond discussion. It exists wherever a man has it and cannot be denied. Man is only a focus of reality and not a separate being."

In Theosophy, the World of Matter is outside. The World of Spirit is inside. It's materialism vs. idealism. To Theosophists, materialism is the enemy since the Spiritual World is the real world, the home of Man, "the Higher Self." Theosophy becomes the philosophy of the Beyond. One strives on earth for a perfection that is only possible in a future space and time (the Beyond). Spirit and Matter correspond to science's Force and Mass.

That was the Theosophy of the Victorian Age. This is the Theosophy van der Leeuw was lecturing against when he gave this paper at a conference in London. He shook the old Theosophists up by saying Theosophy must abandon the World Beyond for the "Here and Now," the experience of the moment. Theosophy, van der Leeuw felt had to become the philosophy of the Now. Theosophists crave explanation; that's their whole thing about experiencing real life. Once they accept the explanation, that's it; cased closed, and the Theosophist goes to sleep, so to speak, in the safety of his higher World Beyond. van der Leeuw states it as, "The Theosophist perfection lays in a system of thought that brings a state of mental certainty and repose in which there remains only one fear, that of being disturbed by doubt." van der Leeuw said, "Life beyond explanation scares man. Man feels safe only when nothing that happens to him in daily life escapes the system of rational explanation which he has built up." There is no place, in other words, for thinkers in Theosophy. Thinkers are a disturbing influence. It's weird bullshit. I find van der Leeuw an interesting "attacker" of life. What he says he said after he started flying, and flying in his day was by "the seat of the pilot's pants" since there were no radio beams to follow. You flew according geo maps with landmarks along the way marked on as well as estimated altitudes and all made relevant by your trusty compass. There is no certainty or perfection in flying; plus he said, Theosophy must become interested in thinking, especially psychoanalytical thinking, van der Leeuw's reason for consultations with Freud. He wanted to turn Theosophy into an educational tool.

Life, however, can never be reconciled to preconceived thoughts, neither can it be rationalized. Life is not an intelligence, therefore it is neither rational nor logical; it has no cause and no purpose. The attempt to rationalize the suffering that comes to us in life, to show that we have deserved it, and that it is "good for something" ultimately, is therefore doomed to failure; we cannot tame life in this way. J.J. van der Leeuw, Revelation or Realization.

And so van der Leeuw wrote off Theosophy as dead in the water unless they woke up from their reposing inclinations and started putting the 2 + 2 of reality together and face the fact there is NO WORLD BEYOND only the NOW. The ultimate has to be reached in the NOW or it will never be reached.

I Thought It Great Fun
I find thinkers like van der Leeuw interesting, though I find Freud and Hilda Doolittle much more interesting, though their lives weren't flown by the seat of their pants; therefore, van der Leeuw was more adventurous in his thinking than even Freud.

for The Daily Growler
on a tepid Sunday.


language said...

That's interesting stuff. You'd think, faced with the goofiness of Theosophy, somebody like that would just turn his back on it, but no, he wanted to reform it. I guess that's where schisms and heresies come from. Viva the heretics!

Adam Fletcher Sasse said...

Van Der Leeuw was far ahead of his time, and a lot of what he wrote towards the end of his life is in line with modern self-help literature. I'm fascinated by clear knowledge of Gnosticism, which, while nothing more than mystical mythology, makes a far better read than other religious literature of the era for its allegory alone. Thanks for sharing his story.