“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest…a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in it’s beauty.”
Pertinent to mention that most of this month’s blog contributions have been made under the influence of another proving!
This one’s particular focus at the more philosophical end of its spectrum has to do with the way in which the underlying state gives rise to its outward manifestations, and vice versa in how outer manifestations reflect the nature of the underlying state. It highlights the frequently paradoxical nature of the process – or at least paradoxical to western thought – and the way we tend to get things twisted back-to-front and inside-out.
It was interesting that in response to January 27th’s post, Carol Willis mentioned the Golden Rule (see the Comments to that entry), and it’s right enough that it infuses the moral and ethical standards of most cultures on the planet right down to children’s stories such as Charles Kingsley’s 1863 classic The Water Babies featuring the redoubtable rulers of the water-babies’ kingdom, Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. If recognition of the value of such principles is pretty much universal, how is it that we fail so dismally to carry principle through to action?
It lies in the nature of the mirror. The underlying state is not something that can be perceived directly. It’s evident only by the manifestations it gives rise to which are like a mirror to its nature. Since our attention is captured by the reflection, rather than its source, we mistake this for the fundamental “reality” and see things back-to-front and inside-out, often entirely oblivious to the fact that there’s an underlying state generating these manifestations in the first place. The result of this is that we aim for the ultimates, the manifestations of the underlying state, as goals in and of themselves. Because we perceive them as goals, rather than reflections, we attempt to impose them on ourselves and others rather than focusing on the underlying state that naturally and spontaneously gives rise to them (much as Paracelsus highlights in the quote beginning the last post).
“What we are looking for is what is looking.”
St Francis of Assisi
As our self-discipline (or imposed discipline) strengthens and we succeed in acting in ways that are selfless, compassionate, etc, we believe we’ve achieved our aim. Which indeed we have – we’ve succeeded in imposing these qualities on ourselves. But the underlying state remains unchanged. It’s merely been strait-jacketed into a facsimile of the genuine article, but will continue as it always has to make its nature known in acting out, projection onto “other”, or in internal dis-ease, while we, delighted with our successes in overcoming our “base nature” and “doing the right thing”, remain ignorant of the fact.
We’ve made this error with each of the major world religions; the main reason why we’re left now with so much profound fragmentation, conflict and empty ritual. We’re making the same mistake again with the re-emerging spirituality of the “New Age”. Everywhere people are concentrating on the ultimates; trying to be in the eternal now, in universal compassion, etc, etc, learning techniques to impose this discipline or that discipline on themselves in the hopes it will lead to realisation, and ignoring all the reflections in the mirror which tell us what state we’re really in.
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
This isn’t to say that practicing such techniques can’t help us along the path to the realisation we desire, only that we’re very good at fooling ourselves into thinking we’ve “got it” when we haven’t. We want it so bad we ignore all the signs telling us we’ve still got stuff nailed under the carpet to attend to.
A lot of the stuff under the carpet comes from the basic assumptions we’re conditioned with since childhood, passed down from generation to generation, and which are so universal we can’t see them for what they are. The doctrine of original sin, for instance, has one helluva lot to answer for. The idea that we’re born bad and have to spend the rest of our lives struggling to keep the badness under control accounts for an awful lot of our bad behaviour, not to mention the backlash notion that we’re really full of fundamental goodness and anyone pouring cold water on the unending feel-good fest is just being negative. We’re born neither bad nor good. W’e're just born: with the potential to destroy or create, to fragment or amalgamate. A potential almost as diverse and limitless as the life-force of which we’re an inseparable part, and equally free of value judgement. How we’re conditioned to see and value ourselves, how we come to terms with that, and the choices we make as a result, are what determine the “reality” of our lives and the quality of our actions.
“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity … and I’m not sure about the universe.”