Saturday, April 29, 2017


All this while on the sea floor
Breathing through two eyes
Until my lungs cut a door
Opening the skies.

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Monday, October 24, 2016

Notes and Quotes on the The Gaze

Who can fix a limit to the gaze? Who will dare to define it scope, point out its center, or draw a circle around its sphere? As far as I can see, everyone turns away. Where? To the gaze.

On the one hand, the gaze is limitless, extending in all directions, further than the eye can see. “The self,” says Ibn Arabi, “is an ocean without shore. Gazing upon it has no end in this world and the next.”

On the other hand, the gaze is nothing, nothing but itself, a zero through which only another I is looking. “All creatures are absolutely nothing,” says Johannes Tauler, “That which has no being is nothing. And creatures have no being, because they have their being in God; if God turned away for a moment, they would cease to exist.”

Is my gaze my own? Yes and no. I look, yet cannot see myself. I am seen, yet none sees me. Is that you, looking back at yourself in the mirror? No and yes. The gaze is the mirror of the gaze, every look a reflection of itself. Where would I be, what would become of you—everything—if that which sees and is seen by seeing, vision’s own visibility, were blotted out, blinded? If the gaze through which we gaze shut its eyes? “Do not separate from me,” says Hafiz, “for you are the light of my vision. / You are the peace of my soul and the intimate of my heart.”

I see that one is always turning toward and turning away, turning away from what one turns toward, turning toward what one turns away from. What an endless revolution, the restless conversion of the still, ever-spinning eye. Zoom in on planet pupil, a little nothing meaning all, suspended in its own universal reflection, projecting and filming everything through the point, the navel of itself. Is your gaze born from you or you from your gaze? “I believe,” says Dante in Paradiso, “because of the sharpness of the living ray that I sustained, that I would have been lost if my eyes had turned away from it.”

Admit it, the gaze is really too much. Who can withstand it? No one shall see me and live. That must be why Narcissus never stops spontaneously lying to himself about his reflection, never ceases to fall in love with his own image, seeing neither that it is an image nor his. If you are me then who am I? If I am me then who are you? Perpetual predicament of the illusion that sustains reality. As Meher Baba once rhymed, “Oh, you ignorant, all-knowing Soul / what a plight you are in! / Oh, you weak, all-powerful Soul / what a plight you are in! / Oh, you miserable, all-happy Soul / what a plight you are in! / What a plight! / What a sight! / What a delight!”

How eternally precious those passing moments, when the gaze opens itself a little more and sees, by some unfathomable magic or trick of the abyss which if you gaze long into it gazes back into you (N), that the image is no less in love with Narcissus. As Francis Brabazon said, “And so one arrives at the painful conclusion that the Beloved alone exists—which means that oneself doesn’t. And that’s a terrible predicament to find oneself in—for one is still there! The only solution I found was to accept the position: ‘You alone are and I am not, but we are both here.’”

Whose gaze is that? What eye calmly turns itself towards the gaze of the real, penetrating the sight of life, which is death to the living? It would seem as if the person who possesses this look also cannot sustain it. Are not saints, or the truly beautiful, forever ashamed of their own eyes? Here is a passage from Meher Baba to fall in love with: “A wali . . . has the power to open the third eye and grant divine sight, if he is in the mood. He can do so by simply looking into the eyes of the aspirant, even if the aspirant is at a distance. When the third eye is opened, all is light . . . It is so powerful an experience that the recipient either goes mad or drops the body . . . One type of wali is called artad. They are very, very few, quite rare. They are very fiery, with piercing eyes that break through anything, even mountains! Their gaze is sufficient to cut an animal in two, hence they always keep their eyes on the ground. That too is split apart.”

If the gaze splits, surely that is because it is without number, because the manyness of our eyes only sees by reflecting one. Thus the individual neither sees nor is seen by unity without being cut in two. Consider this as the principle of honesty or natural self-discernment. I am only whole, authentic, truthful, when I see how double, how dark to myself I am, when eye see myself seen by seeing itself. “Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me” (Song of Songs 1:6).

Imagine a map of all vision, a long tracing of its every line, individual and collective, from the beginningless beginning to the endless end, from the earliest emergence of anything to its final absolute evaporation. A one-to-one map scaled to the continuum of seeing itself, all of its sleeps and wakings, every stop and start across the seas of every kingdom of being, in short, from stone to human. What does it look like? In his Dialogue on the Two Principle Systems of the World, Galileo, in order to explain how “this motion in common [i.e. the motion of the earth] . . . remains as if nonexistent to everything that participates in it,” conceives the figure of an artist who draws, without separating pen and paper, everything he sees while sailing from Italy to Turkey: “if an artist had begun drawing with that pen on a sheet of paper when he left the port and had continued doing so all the way to Alexandretta [Iskenderun], he would have been able to derive from the pen's motion a whole narrative of many figures, completely traced and sketched in thousands of directions, with landscapes, buildings, animals, and other things. Yet the actual real essential movement marked by the pen point would have been only a line; long, indeed, but very simple. But as to the artist's own actions, these would have been conducted exactly the same as if the ship had been standing still” (Galileo Galilei). Is not the real hero of the story the hyper-saccadic story of the eye? Now raise that to the power of itself ad infinitum. What a line!

More locally, the gaze concerns the duration and depth of seeing, the extensity and intensity of its time and space. Gazing not only looks but looks beyond looking, exploring the very surface of vision as a dimension otherwise than surface. The gaze sees by seeing into seeing itself, in both senses at once. No need for a map, the gaze directs itself. As Merleau-Ponty explains, the focus of the gaze, through which we establish the qualities of objects by interrupting them from “the total life of the spectacle,” operates through an essential reflexivity: “The sensible quality, far from being coextensive with perception, is the peculiar product of an attitude of curiosity or observation. It appears when, instead of yielding up the whole of my gaze to the world, I turn toward this gaze itself, and when I ask myself what precisely it is that I see; it does not occur in the natural transactions between my sight and the world, it is the reply to a certain kind of questioning on the part of my gaze, the outcome of a second order or critical kind of vision which tries to know itself in its own particularity.”

So we are led back, willy nilly, to the essential gravity of the gaze as an exponent of will, to looking as the weight of the love of a being who is its own self-consuming question. But what of the one whose will is annihilated? “To those in whom the will has turned and denied itself,” says Schopenhauer, “this very real world of ours, with all its suns and galaxies, is—nothing.”

What does the gaze that sees nothing see? “And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing” (Acts 9:8).

I trust that both Dante and Hafiz agree that this gaze sees not only nothing, but everything. As their contemporary Meister Eckhart says, “A man who is established thus in God's will wants nothing but what is God's will and what is God . . . Even though it meant the pains of hell it would be joy and happiness to him. He is free and has left self behind, and must be free of whatever is to come in to him: if my eye is to perceive color, it must be free of all color. If I see a blue or white color, the sight of my eye which sees the color, the very thing that sees, is the same as that which is seen by the eye. The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing and one love.”

This makes me want to see what these two poets might see looking into each other. For both are so well versed in the mystery of the unitive doubleness of vision experienced in the gaze, wherein the two-ness of the eyes becomes one. As Hadewych explains, “The power of sight that is created as natural to the soul is charity. This power of sight has two eyes, love and reason. Reason cannot see God except in what he is not; love rests not except in what he is. Reason has its secure paths, by which it proceeds. Love experiences failure, but failure advances it more than reason. Reason advances toward what God is, by means of what God is not. Love sets aside what God is not and rejoices that it fails in what God is. Reason has more satisfaction than love, but love has more sweetness of bliss than reason. These two, however, are of great mutual help one to the other; for reason instructs love, and love enlightens reason. When reason abandons itself to love's wish, and love consents to be forced and held within the bounds of reason, they can accomplish a very great work. This no one can learn except by experience.”

And I am looking forward to this encounter all the more, not only because, as Vernon Howard says, “Anything you look forward to will destroy you, as it already has,” but because what is seen between the gazes of these two poets will no doubt be something neither could see—the beauty of a spark leaping between the eyes of two no-ones.

As Hafiz says, “اهل نظر دو عالم در یک نظر ببازند” [Men of sight can lose both worlds in one glance]. Or as Love tells Dante in the Vita Nuova, “Ego tanquam centrum circuli . . . tu autem non sic” [I am as the centre of a circle . . . you however are not so].

Friday, June 03, 2016


A spontaneous telegrammatic lyric sequence. Undersea ditties of love and despair.  

Split into one like all else | There’s nothing special | About a lost heart that melts | The fires of hell.

The alternate universe | Where this is published | Is probably worse | Than this one—I wish. 

"I imagine a reading of pNEuMenOn on a rooftop in New York City. Jozef van Wissem playing his lute in the background, seated next to a statue of the Virgin Mary. An audience standing in an oval around the poet and lute player, and twelve rows of cushioned white seats—no one sitting in them—garnished with silver cords reaching into the heavens." — Brad Baumgartner

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Sunday, May 08, 2016

The Miracle of the Sigh

[opening statement for Reading the Sigh]

If I sigh for the miraculous, for the beauty that takes breath away in wonder, maybe it is because the sigh itself is a miracle. And if it is not, if as the song says, a sigh is just a sigh, perhaps that is the miracle, that a sigh, to be miraculous, need not be anything other than itself.
The miracle of this gathering is that we get to hear and speak the sighs of Dante and Hafiz together, to have them, side by side, in the same room.
Dante died in 1321. Hafiz was born in 1325. So this is something that could never have happened. Or, in light of the mystery of reincarnation, properly identified by one anonymous author as “in no way a theory which one has to believe or not believe . . . a fact which is [to be] either known through experience or ignored” (Meditations on the Tarot), this may be something that could never have not happened. Thus who knows, this gathering might be both and something better than either, the miracle of a third thing, the event of the presence of one in whose name two or three gather.
The impossible is inevitable. And in this case, there is also lightning, a striking resemblance. Above all, the greatness of these two poets, the height and depth of their sighs, belongs to the sphere of intense experience, ecstatic and torturous, of the intersection of human and divine love, more specifically, the noble love of a woman and the love of God. For Dante, it was the death of Beatrice which marked the center of his poetry’s turning toward the divine. Only from the abyss of sorrow and the poet’s death to himself within it does there spring the miraculous vision of the Commedia, the potentiality of a truly new poetry, of a word that authentically writes itself now, in light of the eternal present. As Dante states near the end of the Vita Nuova, “And to arrive at that, I apply myself as much as I can, as she truly knows. So that, if it be pleasing to Him for whom all things live that my life may last for some years, I hope to say of her what was never said of any other woman.” For Hafiz, the death of his beloved instead takes place virtually, in experience, upon the imminence of the long-sought moment when he could finally realize his desire. Where the death of Dante’s beloved is the ground of seeking her in God, Hafiz’s earthly love is eclipsed by desire for the divinity that grants him the opportunity to fulfil that love. With uncanny complementarity, the two poets’ experiences appear as different as they are similar. Hafiz’s story is recounted by Meher Baba as follows:
Once in his youth, Hafiz encountered a very beautiful girl of a wealthy family. That very instant he fell in love with her; it was not in the carnal way, but he loved her beauty. At the same time, he was in contact with his Spiritual Master, Attar, who himself was a great Persian poet. Hafiz, being Attar's disciple, used to visit him daily for years. He used to compose a ghazal a day and sing it to Attar. . . Twenty years passed and all this time Hafiz was full of the fire of love for the beautiful woman, and he loved his Master, too. Once, Attar asked him: “Tell me what you want.” Hafiz expressed how he longed for the woman. Attar replied: “Wait, you will have her.” Ten more years passed by, thirty in all, and Hafiz became desperate and disheartened. . . . Hafiz blazed out: “What have I gained by being with you? Thirty years have gone by!” Attar answered: “Wait, you will know one day.” . . . Hafiz performed chilla-nashini, that is, he sat still within the radius of a drawn circle for 40 days to secure fulfillment of his desire. It is virtually impossible for one to sit still for 40 days within the limits of a circle. But Hafiz’s love was so great that it did not matter to him. On the fortieth day, an angel appeared before him and looking at the angel’s beauty, Hafiz thought: “What is that woman’s beauty in comparison with this heavenly splendor!” The angel asked what he desired. Hafiz replied that he be able to wait on the pleasure of his Master’s wish. At four o’clock on the morning of the last day, Hafiz . . . went to his Master who embraced him. In that embrace, Hafiz became God-conscious. (Lord Meher)
Following love’s infinity in the face of the finite, through the domain of death, the poetry of Dante and Hafiz fills the space traversed by longing, the degree or mode of love which moves between desire and surrender, the form of eros that at once insists on satisfaction and grasps the futility of that insistence. As the word of the word of love, the tongueless articulation of the heart before and after speech, a murmuring of the heart as mouth around the spiritual limits of language, the sigh is the proper expression of longing, of desire across distance and the hopelessness of separation. Thus the sphere-piercing spatiality of the sigh, its mapping of the paradoxical parameters of the heart as something both excluded from and already established within its own home. Like a breath at the edge of the universe which is no less one’s own, the sigh traces the heart as no less exterior than interior, as both trapped within and containing what holds it. Augustine defines the heart as “where I am whoever or whatever I am [ubi ego sum quicumque sum]” and love as “my weight [which] bears me wheresoever I am borne [pondus meum, amor meus; eo feror, quocumque feror]” (Augustine, Confessions). So the sigh, echoing simultaneously one’s first and last breath, both the spirit which animates you in the first place and the expiration which becomes no longer yours, pertains to an essential openness and mobility, the unbounded wherever and wheresoever of things.
This for me is the sigh’s miracle—not anything supernatural, but that it marks the miracle of reality itself as infinitely open, as spontaneously expanding without limit or horizon into more and more of itself. Hear how, on the one hand, a sigh resonates with the sense of the weight of facticity and necessity, the crushing gravity of that (that things are as they are, that anything is, that something is not) and hear, on the other hand, how a sigh floats in the space between the actual and the ideal, in the sky of its own indetermination and freedom. The suspension of the sigh, its hovering, pertains to the paradox of freedom as realizable yet unpossessable, the necessity of freeing oneself from oneself, from one’s own freedom, in order to be free. As Meister Eckart says, “The just man serves neither God nor creatures, for he is free,  . . . and the closer he is to freedom . . . the more he is freedom itself.” The sigh is the dialetheia of freedom and necessity, the joy (and sorrow) of knowing that nothing is fixed and the sorrow (and joy) of seeing that it everything is—that thank God there is absolutely nothing and everything you can do about it. As Vernon Howard said, referring to yourself, “you want to take that to Heaven?”  
The admixture of joy and sorrow found in the sigh reflects the miraculous fact, the light weight and grave lightness, of reality’s paradoxical openness. As Agamben says in The Coming Community, “The root of all pure joy and sadness is that the world is as it is.” The intimacy with separation spoken in the sigh likewise manifests separation as a special order of intimacy. As Mechthild of Magdeburg, a Beguine of the 13th century says, “O blissful distance from God, how lovingly am I connected with you!” Or as Meher Baba once spontaneously rhymed, “Oh, you ignorant, all-knowing Soul / what a plight you are in! / Oh, you weak, all-powerful Soul / what a plight you are in! / Oh, you miserable, all-happy Soul / what a plight you are in! / What a plight! / What a sight! / What a delight!” (Lord Meher).
We are indeed in a fiX, in a spot marked by a great, unfathomable X. Such is the order of the truth of the sigh. That the mystery of the world is more than metaphysical. That not only is there something rather than nothing, but that one is. That there is not only eternity but time, not only good but evil, not only truth but illusion, not only oneness but separation, not only the universe but the individual, not only you but me. These are astonishing things, stupendous facts pointing to a reality more stupendous still. All is somehow more infinite for being finite. In other words, there is something about the sigh that turns everything inside out. I hear Levinas sighing as he writes, “Time is not the limitation of being but its relationship with infinity. Death is not annihilation but the question that is necessary for this relationship with infinity, or time, to be produced.”
The opening of the world, in both senses, is poetry, the miracle of the word which takes you aside and makes one hear its silence and speak what one cannot say. Thus the singular story in the Gospel of Mark of Jesus’s sigh: “And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him. And taking him aside from the multitude private, he put his fingers into his ears, and spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly” (Mark 7:31-4).
                Therefore, to close my opening of this gathering, to thank the sigh for making possible our being side by side with these two poets, I will read a poem by a third poet, one Pseudo-Leopardi, on the same theme: 

Unable to swim the ocean of each other’s eyes
We must sit side by side, gazing at a blind world
Whose dumb mouth has lost all taste for silence.

Heads dizzy as ours naturally lean together,
Kept from falling off only by the golden sighs
Suspending these bodies like puppet strings.

The soft tautness of the secret lines is thinning us,
Sweetly drawing all life-feeling inward and up
Into something pulling strongly from far above.

There is no doubt that the sigh-threads will one day
Draw our hearts right through the tops of our heads,
Eventually turning everything totally inside out.

Already my body is something much less my own,
As if the thought of your form is my new skeleton
And your memory of my flesh your new strength.

If I embrace you my own power would crush me
And if you cling to me I would surely evaporate.
Dying lovers do not touch without touching suicide.

Side by side we float and stand. It is our way of lying
Bound together across space on this lost world
Whose eyes will not survive seeing us face to face.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Floating Tomb: Black Metal Theory

Floating Tomb: Black Metal Theory (Mimesis, 2015). 300 pp. (sewn binding)
[available in print or ebook]

Introduction: Mystical Black Metal Theory
Black Sabbath’s ‘Black Sabbath’: A Gloss on Heavy Metal’s Originary Song - Nicola Masciandaro 
Leave Me In Hell - Edia Connole
What is This that Stands before Me?: Metal as Deixis - Nicola Masciandaro
Anti-Cosmosis: Black Mahapralaya - Nicola Masciandaro
WormSign - Nicola Masciandaro
On the Mystical Love of Black Metal - Nicola Masciandaro
The Missing Subject of Accelerationism: Heavy Metal’s Wyrd Realism - Edia Connole
Silence: A Darkness to Ward Off All Spells - Nicola Masciandaro
Les Légions Noires: Labor, Language, Laughter - Edia Connole 
Black Metal Commentary - Nicola Masciandaro and Reza Negarestani
Interview (Miasma) - Nicola Masciandaro
Interview (with Dominik Irtenkauf, Legacy) - Nicola Masciandaro
Interview (with Domink Irtenkauf, Avantgarde Metal) - Nicola Masciandaro
Interview (with Nina Scholz, Jungle World) - Nicola Masciandaro
Metal Studies and the Scission of the Word - Nicola Masciandaro
Reflections from the Intoxological Crucible - Nicola Masciandaro
Interview (with Dominik Irtenkauf, Legacy) - Edia Connole
What is Black Metal Theory? - Edia Connole

Friday, May 29, 2015

'Dark Wounds of Light' in VESTIGES_00: Ex-Stasis

VESTIGES_00: Ex-Stasis
beauty as an experience of the limit

Featuring: Daniele Bellomi, Louise Black, Gabriel Blackwell, James Brubaker, Mauro Javier Cardenas, Ryan Chang, Erin Fleming, Tristan Foster, Michaela Freeman, Róbert Gál, Evelyn Hampton, Anton Ivanov, M Kitchell, Sam Kriss, Emily Laskin, Robert Lunday, Stéphane Mallarmé, Nicola Masciandaro, Elizabeth Mikesch, Rebecca Norton, Yarrow Paisley, Andrei Platonov, Alina Popa, Tom Regel, Forrest Roth, Jacob Siefring, George Szirtes, Colin James Torre, Chaulky White

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Bask in the Glory of Bewilderment

  1. To perish with every breath in overwhelming astonishment.
  2. To be so far gone that you never arrived.
  3. Have no idea.
  4. To be so clueless that every clue is itself eternally stunned by its own inexistence.
  5. Obliterate multiverses by means of bewilderment.
  6. Become so lost in disbelief that everything is absolutely, unintelligibly true.
  7. Wonder so deeply why anything is happening at all that it never did.
  8. Mercilessly send all your questions back to the omnipresent front lines.
  9. Fail to meet me for fear of being swallowed alive by an enormous question.
  10. Fall into the gaping abyss under your feet until you shoot up out of the ground.
  11. Writhe in unknowing.
  12. Live in the midst of continual well-coordinated all-out attacks upon everything you ever felt or thought was true.
  13. To always already be inexplicably pierced by yet another incommunicable arrow.
  14. Watch the world vanish like mist before the glorious sun of secret maximal confusion.
  15. Leave me behind so fast that you bump into me in infinite regress.
  16. To give everyone a look that shows what they are in for.
  17. Lay your life aside in favor of becoming a cosmically autophagous query.
  18. See human knowledge for what it is: a messy mass of poorly formulated search terms.
  19. Drink wine of bewilderment until the tears wash away your face.
  20. To erase every trace of yourself with a free lifetime supply of the Ointment of Mystification.
  21. Think about something by evaporating the thought.
  22. Act in way that effectively accuses everyone of insufficient astonishment.
  23. Follow yourself off the cliff of total bafflement.
  24. Leap for joy into spontaneous senseless distress like a child into the arms of its mother.
  25. Indulge profoundly in the pleasure of forgetting everything people say.
  26. Offer everything as a reward to anyone who successfully steals all your answers.
  27. Infinitely reverse the ontological order of answer and question.
  28. Immediately become incapable of following any directions other than the irrepressible hunch that you are absolutely and hopelessly lost.
  29. Dive into delightful epistemological despair past the point of really needing to do away with yourself.
  30. Abandon inner connection to all persons who actually think they know what they are talking about.
  31. Exploit your friends to bust all of you out of the prison of knowledge.
  32. Deliberately refuse to know, no matter what the world offers you.
  33. Develop courage for greater and greater bewilderment by remembering all who have died in the depths of ignorance.
  34. To wonder why one ever bothered to . . .
  35. Fail to believe how you ever fell for it.
  36. Make no difference between small and great matters that do not make sense.
  37. Know not what to do, think, feel, or say.
  38. Place no secret hope in your absolute bewilderment.
  39. Figure out a way off the island of being that does not involve figuring it out.
  40. Suspect everything.
  41. Renounce your bewilderment for nothing (except greater and greater bewilderment).
  42. Know so little that the whole universe flocks to your for meaningless questions.
  43. To let no light ever escape the black hole of your non-knowledge.
  44. Offer no explanations, give nothing away.
  45. Die of unknowing.
  46. Remain unintelligible, especially to omniscience.
  47. Thrive by robbing yourself in the apophatic alleys of radically immanent auto-blindness.
  48. Eclipse all knowing in the perfect pitch blackness of your pupil.
  49. Wonder why until why itself never made any sense in the first place.
  50. Expose your whole system to the plague of inexplicability.
  51. Hypothetically blame everything on everything in order to be even more astonished by all that remains unaccounted for.
  52. Crack open your skull like lightning on the stone of pure astonishment.
  53. Bask in the glory of bewilderment.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Essay on Forgiveness

[written, in 2011, for Don Stevens]

Looking for a way to begin—a chance to start without knowing how—I take a ‘fal’ or sortes from the poetry of Hafiz. My finger finds this line:

When there is no purity, one are the Ka’ba and the idol-house.[1]

Encountering these words immediately suggests two insights. First, that forgiveness is a work of purification on which rests the very possibility of authentic religion, that is, religion as the practical love of Reality as opposed to the mere veneration of self-projected idols, what Meher Baba defines as the religion of life.

The Religion of Life is not fettered by mechanically repeated formulae of the unenlightened, purblind and limited intellect. It is dynamically energized by the assimilation of Truth, grasped through lucid and unerring intuition, which never falters and never fails, because it has emerged out of the fusion of head and heart, intellect and love.[2]

Second, that the work of forgiveness, for all of its difficulty and seeming impossibility, proceeds paradoxically, not unlike the act of taking a ‘fal’ from a text, through the freedom of an essentially negative condition, in the midst of the experience of not knowing, not remembering, not worrying.[3] Real forgiveness is necessarily on the way to forgetfulness, a state of being that, rather than leading to oblivion, proceeds by the mind’s own perception that there exists an infinitely important unknown what at once beyond and essential to itself. As Meher Baba explains, such forgetful forgiveness arrives at real remembering.

[W]hen the same mind tells him that there is something which may be called God, and, further, when it prompts him to search for God that he may see Him face to face, he begins to forget himself and to forgive others for whatever he has suffered from them. And when he has forgiven everyone and has completely forgotten himself, he finds that God has forgiven him everything, and he remembers Who, in reality, he is.[4]

Here we must consider the relation between these two dimensions of forgiveness, between what it is and how it is. The necessity of the act of forgiveness defines the identity of forgiveness and its act. Over and against the narrower impulse towards forgiveness as project, towards what can be accomplished by means of it, what matters here above all is that one forgives, regardless of the result. The external power of forgiveness, its ability to open ways out of intractable individual and collective problems, rests wholly within its intrinsic value, in its being its own ‘reward’. This means that forgiveness is not simply a virtue or something good to do, but a true value in the sense elaborated by Meher Baba.

Mistakes in valuation arise owing to the influence of subjective desires or wants. True values are values which belong to things in their own right. They are intrinsic, and because they are intrinsic, they are absolute and permanent and are not liable to change from time to time or from person to person. False values are derived from desires or wants; they are dependent upon subjective factors, and being dependent upon subjective factors, they are relative and impermanent and are liable to change from time to time and from person to person.[5]

So forgiveness demonstrates the truth of its value by virtue of being itself an exercise in freedom from subjective factors. In these terms, the impulse to forgive is to be understood as something different than a desire or will for something. Instead, forgiveness is ordered toward the actualization of its own truth, the making real of its own potential to be.[6] One forgives, not so much by aiming at some concrete end, such that one could definitively arrive at the success or completion of forgiveness, but rather by staying within the truth of forgiveness, by not transgressing the imperative to forgive. Thinking of forgiveness in this way, as the activity of remaining inwardly free from (and not necessarily rid of) the forces that cannot forgive, helps to clarify the deep relationship between forgiveness, spontaneity, and forgetfulness. Meher Baba’s words on this relationship are inextricably linked with the idea of freedom from results. With regard to the practice of forgiveness as a kind of good work, we find the general principle that service or work bound to the objective good of others, though “of immense spiritual importance,” is from the perspective of the goal of life, a kind of interminable dead-end.

[A]s long as the idea of service is . . . tied to the idea of results, it is inevitably fraught with a sense of incompleteness. There can be no realisation of Infinity through the pursuit of a never-ending series of consequences. Those who aim at sure and definite results through a life of service have an eternal burden on their minds.[7]

The principle of freedom from results is defined more absolutely in Meher Baba’s description of the purposelessness of divine, infinite existence, our arrival at which is the very goal, or purpose, of everything.

Reality is Existence infinite and eternal. Existence has no purpose by virtue of its being real, infinite and eternal. Existence exists. Being Existence it has to exist. Hence Existence, the Reality, cannot have any purpose. It just is. It is self-existing. Everything—the things and the beings—in Existence has a purpose. All things and beings have a purpose and must have a purpose, or else they cannot be in existence as what they are. Their very being in existence proves their purpose; and their sole purpose in existing is to become shed of purpose, i.e., to become purposeless. Purposelessness is of Reality; to have a purpose is to be lost in falseness. Everything exists only because it has a purpose. The moment that purpose has been accomplished, everything disappears and Existence is manifested as self-existing Self. Purpose presumes a direction and since Existence, being everything and everywhere, cannot have any direction, directions must always be in nothing and lead nowhere. Hence to have a purpose is to create a false goal. Love alone is devoid of all purpose and a spark of Divine Love sets fire to all purposes. The Goal of Life in Creation is to arrive at purposelessness, which is the state of Reality.[8]

Forgiveness enters this purpose-enflaming fire. Rupturing the chain of never-ending consequences, it relieves beings from the burden of results and opens the way into actually living within the inherent purposelessness of Reality. Far from fleeing life, forgiveness gives life back to itself as the very place of freedom.

This realisation must and does take place only in the midst of life, for it is only in the midst of life that limitation can be experienced and transcended, and that subsequent freedom from limitation can be enjoyed.[9]

Felt from the perspective of this goal, forgiveness is less a duty or responsibility than the radical activation of the seemingly passive power of not-worrying, a very difficult and profoundly enjoyable exercise in the freedom of one’s inherent divinity. The exercise of forgiveness accordingly has a spontaneous character or style. Practicing it might be called a form of immediate cooperation between the impasse of experience and the ultimate independence of reality.

[B]y virtue of being absolutely independent it is but natural for God to exercise His infinite whim to experience and enjoy His own infinity. To exercise a whim is always the mark of an independent nature, because it is whimsicality that always colours the independent nature.[10]

Meher Baba thus places forgiveness within the broader category of positive forgetfulness, a happy state combining awareness of and non-reaction to both adverse and favorable circumstances that flowers in conspicuous creativity.[11]

Positive forgetfulness . . . and its steady cultivation develops in man that balance of mind which enables him to express such noble traits as charity, forgiveness, tolerance, selflessness and service to others. . . . Positive forgetfulness, although it lies at the very root of happiness, is by no means easy to acquire. Once a man attains this state of mind, however, he rises above pain and pleasure; he is master of himself. This forgetfulness, to be fully effective for the spiritual life, must become permanent, and such permanence is only acquired through constant practice during many lives. Some people, as a result of efforts towards forgetfulness in past lives, get spontaneous and temporary flashes of it in a later life, and it is such people who give to the world the best in poetry, art and philosophy, and who make the greatest discoveries in science.[12]

The practical crux of positive forgetfulness lies in this developmental relation between steady cultivation and spontaneity, in the fostering of an impulse not to react that bears abiding and unforeseeable fruit, what Meher Baba calls “manifestations of genuine spontaneity of forgetfulness.”[13] The doing of forgiveness resides in dynamic relation to the inevitable unfolding of perfect, universal individuality.     

The limited individuality, which is the creation of ignorance, is transformed into the divine individuality which is unlimited. The illimitable consciousness of the Universal Soul becomes individualised in this focus without giving rise to any form of illusion. The person is free from all self-centred desires and he becomes the medium of the spontaneous flow of the supreme and universal will which expresses divinity. Individuality becomes limitless by the disappearance of ignorance.[14]

The imperative to forgive must thus be understood in the broader phenomenal context of the paradoxical correlation between habit and freedom. Forgiveness is spontaneous, but its free exercise is a development of habitual practice, the liberating result of ongoing intentional action.            

The life of true values can be spontaneous only when the mind has developed the unbroken habit of choosing the right value.[15]

The crucial distinction to be drawn, the distinction across which the decision to forgive operates, is thus between habits that bind and habits that set free, between, on the one hand, actions whose impressions [sanskaras] limit life and intensify separateness and ignorance, and, on the other, actions whose impressions liberate life and generate knowledge and enjoyment of its inherent unity—a spontaneous state of being also known as love.

In love . . . there is no sense of effort because it is spontaneous. Spontaneity is of the essence of true spirituality. The highest state of consciousness, in which the mind is completely merged in the Truth, is known as Sahajawastha, the state of unlimited spontaneity in which there is uninterrupted Self-knowledge.[16]

The core of this distinction (between binding and liberating actions) lies in the inevitable deconstruction of the ego, “the false nucleus of consolidated sanskaras.”[17] The restrictive and ultimately eroding ego is the recurring obstacle on the path of experience, the imprisoning framework that each and every action works to reinforce or destroy.   

Any action which expresses the true values of life contributes towards the disintegration of the ego, which is a product of ages of ignorant action. Life cannot be permanently imprisoned within the cage of the ego. It must at some time strive towards the Truth.[18]

As a mode of relation to this inevitable disintegration or decay of the limited ego—limited because it persists only in ignorance and active denial of the inviolable unity of all life[19]—forgiveness is definable as a movement of giving experience over to the unitive gravity of spiritual reality. Taking direct action against the very constraints of action, against the psychic chains that would determine it as re-action, against the interminable self-condemnations encapsulated in the separative rallying cry of never forget!, forgiveness forcefully and non-violently asserts the absolute spontaneity of reality, the inescapable freedom of which the pseudo-whims of personal interest are a pale shadow.              

At the pre-spiritual level, man is engulfed in unrelieved ignorance concerning the goal of infinite freedom; and though he is far from being happy and contented, he identifies so deeply with sanskaric interests that he experiences gratification in their furtherance. But the pleasure of his pursuits is conditional and transitory, and the spontaneity which he experiences in them is illusory because, through all his pursuits, his mind is working under limitations. The mind is capable of genuine freedom and spontaneity of action only when it is completely free from sanskaric ties and interests.[20]

Forgiveness is an act of relinquishing interest, not for the sake of becoming disinterested, but on behalf of a deeper interest that absolutely exceeds the framework of determined interests. The one who forgives is not uninterested in the particular problem that forgiveness addresses. The one who forgives is instead hyper-interested in the problem, interested to a degree that is totally uncontainable by the relation to the problem as object of worry or negative concern. Forgiveness puts into play a profound need to relate to reality in a non-reactive way, to become more intimate with it precisely by remaining outside the confining and ultimately uninteresting patterns of self-interest. Forgiveness thus partakes of the “divinely human life” embodied in the Avatar whose appearance, like the advent of forgiveness itself, takes place in the middle of seemingly terminal conflict:

The Avatar appears in different forms, under different names, at different times, in different parts of the world. As his appearance always coincides with the spiritual birth of man, so the period immediately preceding his manifestation is always one in which humanity suffers from the pangs of the approaching birth. . . . There seems to no possibility of stemming the tide of destruction. At this moment the Avatar appears. Being the total manifestation of God in human form, he is like a gauge against which man can measure what he is and what he may become. He trues the standard of human values by interpreting them in terms of a divinely human life. He is interested in everything but not concerned about anything. The slightest mishap may command his sympathy; the greatest tragedy will not upset him. . . . He is only concerned about concern.[21]

This does not at all mean, however, that forgiveness should be conceived as a solely individual process of human spiritual self-development. Like the unseen work of the God-Man that occurs on all levels of being and is only partially perceivable to humans,[22] the mystery of forgiveness is that it is radically for the other and the world itself. One does not ring the doorbell only for oneself, for the ringing of it effects a real alteration in the objective world, in oneself and others. This fact is essential to the meaning of Meher Baba’s description of the “charity of forgiveness”:

People ask God for forgiveness. But since God is everything and everyone, who is there for Him to forgive? Forgiveness of the created was already there in His act of creation. But still people ask God's forgiveness, and He forgives them. But they, instead of forgetting that for which they asked forgiveness, forget that God has forgiven them, and, instead, remember the things they were forgiven—and so nourish the seed of wrongdoing, and it bears its fruit again. Again and again they plead for forgiveness, and again and again the Master says, I forgive.

But it is impossible for men to forget their wrongdoings and the wrongs done to them by others. And since they cannot forget, they find it hard to forgive. But forgiveness is the best charity. (It is easy to give the poor money and goods when one has plenty, but to forgive is hard; but it is the best thing if one can do it.)

Instead of men trying to forgive one another they fight. Once they fought with their hands and with clubs. Then with spears and bows and arrows. Then with guns and cannon. Then they invented bombs and carriers for them. Now they have developed missiles that can destroy millions of other men thousands of miles away, and they are prepared to use them. The weapons used change, but the aggressive pattern of man remains the same.

Now men are planning to go to the moon. And the first to get there will plant his nation's flag on it, and that nation will say, It is mine. But another nation will dispute the claim and they will fight here on this earth for possession of that moon. And whoever goes there, what will he find? Nothing but himself. And if people go on to Venus they will still find nothing but themselves. Whether men soar to outer space or dive to the bottom of the deepest ocean they will find themselves as they are, unchanged, because they will not have forgotten themselves nor remembered to exercise the charity of forgiveness.[23]

Forgiveness is charity, not only because it expresses divine love, but because it actually gives something to the other, something better than all other possible gifts. What does forgiveness give? The answer lies in connection to the question of sanskaras or impressions, the very of medium of conscious experience.

There are two aspects of human experience—the subjective and objective. On the one hand there are mental processes which constitute essential ingredients of human experience, and on the other hand there are things and objects to which they refer. The mental processes are partly dependent upon the immediately given objective situation, and partly dependent upon the functioning of accumulated sanskaras or impressions of previous experience. The human mind thus finds itself between a sea of past sanskaras on the one side and the whole extensive objective world on the other.[24]

Forgiveness gives a new past. This is not only a metaphor, but a literal and actual fact. Forgiveness effects a real and palpable alteration in the impressional stuff through which the limitations of past actions remain operative in the present. It accelerates the decay of dead forms and clears new pathways to “the Present, which is ever beautiful and stretches away beyond the limits of the past and the future.”[25] More than the violence and suffering to which it most characteristically responds, forgiveness participates in and attests to the struggle of life itself.

All life is an effort to attain freedom from self-created entanglement. It is a desperate struggle to undo what has been done under ignorance, to throw away the accumulated burden of the past, to find rescue from the debris left by a series of temporary achievements and failures. Life seeks to unwind the limiting sanskaras of the past and to obtain release from the mazes of its own making, so that its further creations may spring directly from the heart of eternity and bear the stamp of unhampered freedom and intrinsic richness of being which knows no limitation.[26]

For no less than evil, goodness must be also be forgiven.

[1] The Divan-i-Hafiz, trans. Wilberforce Clarke (London: Octagon Press, 1974), 216.3.
[2] From a message sent by Meher Baba to Mildred Kyle in 1948, published in Seattle by Warren Healey, and cited in Bal Natu, Glimpses of the God-Man, Volume VI: March 1954-April 1955 (Myrtle Beach: Sheriar Foundation, 1994), 87.
[3] Such a relation between forgiveness and unknowing is suggested by Jesus’s “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), which presents forgiveness as grounded in the knowledge of ignorance, in the recognition of not knowing. Nor is it necessary to read the line as predicating forgiveness on intellectual superiority and/or better knowledge of the other. My knowledge that the other knows not what he does can very well include and in fact grow from recognition that I also know not what I do. So the words might be rescribed into a general imperative description of the act of forgiveness: do not what you know.
[4] Meher Baba, The Everything and the Nothing (Beacon Hill, Australia: Meher House Publications, 1963), 69-70.
[5] Meher Baba, Discourses, 6th ed., 3 vols. (San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented, 1967), 3.139, original italics elided.
[6] Insofar as forgiveness is constituted by a negative movement, a decision not to be angry, hate, seek revenge, and so forth, and more deeply, a decision in some sense not to decide, it participates in the negative essence of freedom or potentiality, which resides not in the ability to do as one wants, but in impotentiality, or the ability not to do. As Giorgio Agamben explains via Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener, it is precisely impotentiality that preserves ethics from reduction to law: “Our ethical tradition has often sought to avoid the problem of potentiality by reducing it to the terms of will and necessity. Not what you can do, but what you want to do or must do is the dominant theme. This is what the man of the law repeats to Bartleby. When he asks him to go to the post office (“just step around to the Post Office, won’t you?”), and Bartleby opposes him with his usual “I would prefer not to,” the man of the law hastily translates Bartleby’s answer into “You will not?” But Bartleby , with his soft but firm voice, specifies, “I prefer not” . . . But potentiality is not will, and impotentiality is not necessity . . . To believe that will has power over potentiality, that the passage to actuality is the result of a decision that puts an end to the ambiguity of potentiality (which is always potentiality to do and not to do)—this is the perpetual illusion of morality” (“Bartleby, or On Contingency,” in Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, ed. and trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999], 254). Impotentiality is proportionally essential to Meher Baba’s cosmology with respect to the infinite whim that causes the created cosmos: “Whim after all is a whim; and, by its very nature, it is such that “why—wherefore—when” can find no place in its nature. A whim may come at any moment; it may come now or after a few months or after years, and it may not come at all. Similarly, the original infinite whim, after all, is a whim, and too, it is the whim of God in the state of infinitude! This whim may not surge in God at all; and, if it surges, either at any moment or after thousands of years or after a million cycles, it need not be surprising” (Meher Baba, God Speaks: The Theme of Creation and Its Purpose, 2nd ed. [New York: Dodd, Mead & Co, 1973], 83-4).  
[7] Meher Baba, Discourses, 1.133. Cf. “Worrying about the results is no good and of no use. If a person wishes to do anything for others, he must do it sincerely. And having done it, he should not worry about the results, for results are not in human hands. It is for humans to do, for God to ordain. To remain aloof from results is not difficult, but men do not try. Because it is human nature to think of the results of one's actions, however, it does not mean one should worry! Man must think, but he must not worry” (Meher Baba, cited from Bhau Kalchuri, Lord Meher, 5.1866, ).
[8] Meher Baba, The Everything and the Nothing, 62.
[9] Meher Baba, Discourses, III.12.
[10] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 83.
[11] “One who is not equipped with this positive forgetfulness becomes a barometer of his surroundings. His poise is disturbed by the slightest whisper of praise or flattery, and by the faintest suggestion of slander or criticism; his mind is like a slender reed swayed by the lightest breeze of emotion. Such a man is perpetually at war with himself and knows no peace. In the exercise of this positive forgetfulness, not only is non-reaction to adverse circumstances essential, but also non-reaction to favourable and pleasurable circumstances. Of these two the latter is the harder and is less often described, although it matters just as much” (Meher Baba, God Speaks, 213-4).
[12] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 213-214.
[13] Meher Baba, God Speaks, 214.
[14] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.41, original italics elided.
[15] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.64
[16] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.192
[17] Meher Baba, Discourses, II. 66.
[18] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.65
[19] “Only spiritual freedom is absolute and unlimited. When it is won through persistent effort, it is secured forever. Though spiritual freedom can and does express itself in and through the duality of existence, it is grounded in the realisation of the inviolable unity of all life, and is sustained by it” (Meher Baba, Discourses, III.101).
[20] Meher Baba, Discourses, II.162.
[21] Meher Baba, Discourses, III.15, my italics.
[22] “It is very difficult to grasp the entire meaning of the word ‘Avatar.’ For mankind it is easy and simple to declare that the Avatar is God and that it means that God becomes man. But this is not all that the word ‘Avatar’ means or conveys. “It would be more appropriate to say that the Avatar is God and that God becomes man for all mankind and simultaneously God also becomes a sparrow for all sparrows in Creation, an ant for all ants in Creation, a pig for all pigs in Creation, a particle of dust for all dusts in Creation, a particle of air for all airs in Creation, etc., for each and everything that is in Creation. When the five Sadgurus effect the presentation of the Divinity of God into Illusion, this Divinity pervades the Illusion in effect and presents Itself in innumerable varieties of forms—gross, subtle and mental. Consequently in Avataric periods God mingles with mankind as man and with the world of ants as an ant, etc. But the man of the world cannot perceive this and hence simply says that God has become man and remains satisfied with this understanding in his own world of mankind” (Meher Baba, God Speaks, 268-9)
[23] Meher Baba, Everything and the Nothing, 69.
[24] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.54. The situation is not, of course, exclusively human. Rather, human consciousness is itself the last stage in the evolution of individualized consciousness through the various pre-human kingdoms (stone, metal, vegetable, worm, fish, bird, animal), the form through which the soul exhausts all impressions: “It is the evolutionary struggle that enables the soul to develop full consciousness as that in the human form, and the purpose having been achieved, the side-issues or by-products of evolutionary travel (the nuqush-e-amal or sanskaras) have to be done away with, while retaining the consciousness intact. The process of reincarnation therefore is to enable the soul to eliminate the sanskaras by passing through the furnace of pain pleasure” (Meher Baba, God Speaks, 29 note).
[25] Meher Baba, cited from Bhau Kalchuri, Lord Meher, 5809, ).
[26] Meher Baba, Discourses, I.113, original italics elided, my emphasis.