An extract from "Resurrection", the last novel by Leo Tolstoy:
"Although Novodvoroff was highly esteemed of all the revolutionists, though he was very learned, and considered very wise, Nekhludoff reckoned him among those of the revolutionists who, being below the average moral level, were very far below it. His inner life was of a nature directly opposite to that of Simonson's. Simonson was one of those people (of an essentially masculine type) whose actions follow the dictates of their reason, and are determined by it. Novodvoroff belonged, on the contrary, to the class of people of a feminine type, whose reason is directed partly towards the attainment of aims set by their feelings, partly to the justification of acts suggested by their feelings. The whole of Novodvoroff's revolutionary activity, though he could explain it very eloquently and very convincingly, appeared to Nekhludoff to be founded on nothing but ambition and desire for supremacy. At first his capacity for assimilating the thoughts of others, and of expressing them correctly, had given him a position of supremacy among pupils and teachers in the gymnasium and the university, where such qualities such as his are highly prized, and he was satisfied. When he had finished his studies and received his diploma he suddenly altered his views, and from a modern liberal he turned into a rabid Narodovoletz, in order (so Kryltzoff, who did not like him, said) to gain supremacy in another sphere.
"As he was devoid of those moral and aesthetic qualities which call forth doubts and hesitation, he very soon acquired a position in the revolutionary world which satisfied him - that of the leader of a party. Having once chosen a direction, he never doubted or hesitated, and was therefore certain that he never made a mistake. Everything seemed quite simple, clear and certain. And the narrowness and one-sidedness of his views did make everything seem simple and clear. One only had to be logical, as he said. His self-assurance was so great that it either repelled people or made them submit to him. As he carried on his work among very young people, his boundless self-assurance led them to believe him very profound and wise; the majority did submit to him, and he had a great success in revolutionary circles. His activity was directed to the preparation of a rising in which he was to usurp the power and call together a council. A programme, composed by him, should be proposed before the council, and he felt sure that this programme of his solved every problem, and that it would be impossible not to carry it out.
"His comrades respected him but did not love him. He did not love any one, looked upon all men of note as upon rivals, and would have willingly treated them as old male monkeys treat young ones if he could have done it. He would have torn all mental power, every capacity, from other men, so that they should not interfere with the display of his talents. He behaved well only to those who bowed before him. Now, on the journey he behaved well to Kondratieff, who was influenced by his propaganda; to Vera Doukhova and pretty little Grabetz, who were both in love with him. Although in principle he was in favour of the women's movement, yet in the depth of his soul he considered all women stupid and insignificant except those he was sentimentally in love with (as he was now in love with Grabetz), and such women he considered to be exceptions, whose merits he alone was capable of discerning.
"The question of the relations of the sexes he also looked upon as thoroughly solved by accepting free union. He had one nominal and one real wife, from both of whom he was separated, having come to the conclusion that there was no real love between them, and now he thought of entering on a free union with Grabetz. He despised Nekhludoff for "playing the fool" as Novodvoroff termed it, with Maslova, but especially for the freedom Nekhludoff took of considering the defects of the existing system and the methods of correcting those defects in a manner which was not only not exactly the same as Novodvoroff's, but was Nekhludoff's own - a prince's, that is, a fool's manner. Nekhludoff felt this relation of Novodvoroff's towards him, and knew to his sorrow that in spite of the state of good will in which he found himself on this journey he could not help paying this man in his own coin, and could not stifle the strong antipathy he felt for him."
I find this extract from Resurrection interesting because Tolstoy's usual theme is that love for others and self-sacrifice are the solutions to human dysfunction, and in this story, about the fundamental flaws of the Russian system of criminal law, such love rests on the principles preached on the Sermon on the Mount, but here he confirms that the moral mind is (1) based on reason and not on feelings, and (2) is masculine and not feminine. In other words, the love preached by Jesus is not based on feelings, but on reason. It is not an emotional kind of love, even if it is expressed in pity, concern, and a gentleness, about others.
It is also interesting because Tolstoy regards the feminine-minded and immoral Novodvoroff to be a misogynist. Throughout this novel, sexual intercourse and sensual love is depicted as degrading, and disgusting in the way it importunes spiritual development. Both the main characters, the low-class prostitute Katusha Maslova, and the aristocrat Nekhludoff, are redeemed from a history of animal degradation, through becoming celibate.
Jul 26, 2016
An extract from "Resurrection", the last novel by Leo Tolstoy:
Apr 29, 2015
Are not Catholicism and Protestantism related to each other like - it may seem extraordinary but is really so physically - like a building which cannot stand, to a buttress which cannot stand alone, whereas the whole is even very firm and secure, so long as they keep together, the building and the buttress which supports it. In other words: surely Protestantism, Lutheranism is really a corrective; and the result of having made Protestantism into the regulative has been to produce great confusion.
As long as Luther lived it could not be seen clearly, for he was continuously in the tense atmosphere of battle, and straining every nerve as polemicist, as well as in the smoke and steam of the battle; and as long as the fight continues there is something which corresponds to steam and smoke and which prevents one having either the time, the peace, or the clarity to see whether the point can be carried and the transposition made. Luther fought, it is always said, polemically against Catholicism: but it cannot be achieved in this way; it becomes clear how it ought to be done, but there is no time to stop, we must go on to the next point; we are fighting: but it cannot be achieved in this way, etc., and that is as far as it gets.
Then comes peace. Now we shall see whether Protestantism can stand by itself. Whether or not cannot perhaps be seen distinctly in a country where Catholicism exists side by side with Protestantism, for although they do not fight and each look to their own affairs there will be a reciprocal relationship at many points. In order to be able to see clearly whether and to what extent Protestantism can stand alone it is desirable to have a country where there is no Catholicism. There one would see whether Protestantism would not - presuming that it degenerated - lead to a form of corruption to which Catholicism - presuming it degenerated - did not lead, and whether that does not show that Protestantism is not fit to stand alone.
Let us try and realise this more clearly. It was after a heavy yoke had been upon men's shoulders for a long, long time, after they had been frightened with death, judgment, and hell for generation to generation, with fasting and scourging, it was then that the bow broke. Out of a monastery cell broke the man Luther. Now let us be careful not the separate what belongs together, the background and the foreground, not to get a landscape without background, not to get something quite meaningless.
Now what Luther dared to do was, under the circumstances, the truth; for the opposite had been falsely exaggerated.
Luther then, broke out of the monastery. But that was not really the best opportunity of seeing with sweet reasonableness how much truth there was in the opposite, when it was not exaggerated. Luther knew he was hardly safe, and it was therefore rather a question of making use of the advantage he had won, by having broken out, in order to wound the opposite as deeply as possible.
Now take the order of things, just as they were when Luther broke out: they were in error: take away the assumption necessary for Luther, and Lutheranism is perfectly meaningless. Try and imagine that what Luther in extreme tension attacked as being the extreme, that it had become a sort of Result, in such a way that the extreme tension was omitted: and Lutheranism is absolute nonsense. Imagine a country, cut off from Catholic influence, to which this Lutheran Result had been brought - there the generation now living has never heard a single word about the aspect of the question which is expressed by the monastery, asceticism, etc., and which the Middle Ages exaggerated; on the contrary, it is brought up from childhood, softened from childhood with the Lutheran notion of calming an anxious conscience - though it is important to note that there is not a soul who has made his conscience anxious, however distantly. What then is Lutheranism? Is there any sense in calming the anxious conscience, when the assumption: "anxious consciences" simply does not exist? Does not Lutheranism become meaningless, and what is worse, does it not become a refinement, which will denote the difference between degenerated Protestantism and the corruption of degenerated Catholicism.
And that is exactly what I wanted to show, together with the fact that it indicates that Protestantism is not fit to stand alone.
When Catholicism degenerates, what form will the corruption take? The answer is easy: hypocritical sanctimoniousness. When Protestantism degenerates, what form of corruption shall we find? The answer is not difficult: shallow worldliness. But in Protestantism this will show itself with a refinement which cannot occur in Catholicism.
Set them off one against the other, hypocritical sanctimoniousness and shallow worldliness; but I maintain that into the bargain there is a certain refinement which does not appear in Catholicism, and that is the result of Protestantism being calculated upon an assumption. That is the refinement I want to show.
Let us take a perfectly simple instance. Imagine a Catholic prelate who is completely worldly - naturally not to such an extent that the law cannot punish him, or that nature itself will take its revenge, no, he is altogether too worldly to be so stupid; no, the whole thing is shrewdly calculated (and this is the worldliest thing about it) for shrewd enjoyment, and then in turn for the enjoyment of this very shrewdness - and thus his whole life is the enjoyment of all possible pleasure such as no worldly-wise Epicurean could exceed. How then will the Catholic judge him? Well, I assume that he says (quite becomingly), it is not my business to pass judgment upon the higher clergy; but none the less the Catholic will readily see that it is worldliness. And why will he readily see this? Because the Catholic sees at the same time an entirely different side of Christianity expressed - a fact which the prelate must put up with, for side by side with him there walks one who lives in poverty, and the Catholic thus has a profound sense that this is truer than the prelate's way of life, which, alas, is mere worldliness.
Now imagine on the other hand a Protestant country, where there is no trace of Catholicism, where for a long, long time people have accepted the Lutheran view, but without its original premise, where for a long, long time they have been rid of asceticism and fasting, of monks and of those who preach Christianity in poverty - and not only that, but have got rid of it thoroughly, as of something ridiculous and foolish, so that if any such figure were to turn up now, people would burst with laughter as at an outlandish beast; they have got rid of it as of a lower, an imperfect conception of Christianity. Imagine now in this Protestant country a Protestant prelate who is the exact counterpart of the Catholic. What then? Why, in this case the Protestant prelate possesses a refinement of pleasure, a refinement for which the Catholic prelate's mouth may water in vain, inasmuch as in the whole Protestant environment there is not a living soul that has a profound sense of the significance of renouncing the world (the sort of godliness which had its share of truth, even if it was exaggerated in the Middle Ages), because the religion of the land is built upon the Result of Lutheranism (without its original premise), that godliness is nothing but a frank-hearted enjoyment of life (which is indeed wonderful when one has witnessed Luther's fear and trembling and tribulation). Thus the Protestant prelate possesses a refinement of pleasure - the luck of it, the Catholic prelate might exclaim, the deuce take him! - the refinement, namely, that his contemporaries look upon his worldliness and worldly enjoyment as godliness! Look, say the contemporaries one to another (and remember that in Catholicism the situation was that one said to the other, let us not look upon it or dwell upon it, it is just simply worldliness), behold frank-hearted Lutheranism, watch him over the turtle soup, there is no connoisseur like him, watch him at the oyster feast, see how he can suck enjoyment from every situation, and how shrewdly he looks after his own affairs; so let us admire this frank-hearted Lutheranism! High he soars - in frank-hearted Lutheranism - high above the lower and imperfect ideal of entering a monastery, of fasting, of preaching Christianity in poverty, high he soars above it all in freedom of spirit and frank-hearted Lutheranism! The noble thing is not to wander away from the world, to flee from it - no, genuine Lutheranism is like the prelate, for this is godliness. His contemporaries do not merely put up with this or take pains to ignore it; no, they regard it with admiration - as godliness. . . .
Luther set up the highest spiritual principle: pure inwardness. It may become so dangerous that we can sink to the lowest of lowest paganism (however, the highest and the lowest are like one another) where sensual debauchery is celebrated as divine worship; and so in Protestantism a point may be reached at which worldliness is honoured and highly valued as - piety. And this - as I maintain - cannot happen in Catholicism.
But why can it not happen in Catholicism? Because Catholicism has the universal premise that we men are pretty well rascals. And why can it happen in Protestantism? Because the Protestant principle is related to a particular premise: a man who sits in the anguish of death, in fear and trembling and much tribulation* - and of those there are not many in any one generation.
It is not my intention herewith to introduce monasticism, even if I were able to; my endeavour is only directed towards contributing to our coming to an understanding with truth, with the help of a few admissions.
- Soren Kierkegaard
*Kierkegaard defines tribulation thus: "The difference between sin and tribulation (for the situation in both can be surprisingly alike) is that the temptations of sin are with desire, and the temptations of tribulation are against desire. The opposite tactics have therefore to be used. Those whom sin tempts with desire do well to avoid the danger, but in relation to tribulation that is precisely the danger, the danger becomes greater next time. The voluptuary does well to fly the sight or the attraction, but the man to whom desire is not the temptation, but on the contrary a dread of coming into contact with it (he is in tribulation) does well not to avoid the sight or the attraction; for tribulation really wants to frighten him continually and keep him in a state of dread."
Dec 27, 2013
My misfortune or what makes my life so difficult is that I am
stretched one key higher than other men and where I am and what I do are
concerned not only with the particular but always with a principle and
idea as well. The most the majority do is to think about which girl they
should marry; I had to think about marriage. So it is in everything.
It is basically the same with me now. The most the majority do is to think of which appointment they should seek, and I am at present deeply involved in the tension, in the battle of ideas, the question of principles, concerning the extent to which these so-called Christian professions are legitimate from the essentially Christian point of view.
No doubt what makes me unpopular is not so much the difficulty of my books as it is my personal life, the fact that even with all my endeavors I do not amount to anything (the finite teleology), do not make money, do not get appointed to a job, do not become a Knight of Denmark, but in every way amount to nothing and on top of that am derided. To my mind this is what is great about me if there is anything great. And this costs me struggle and strain, for I, too, am flesh and blood — and yet this is precisely why I am unappreciated and mistreated.
— Søren Kierkegaard
Promptly to become emotional in the pulpit — instead of acting in actuality — and then to have it seem to the person himself and the audience as if the man had acted. Yes, Plato and Socrates were right: banish poets and also orators from the state.
On the whole, the Greek concept of a philosopher (that is, a thinker in ethical character) is much more appropriate to the communication of the essentially Christian than this spineless concept: an orator, a declaimer — instead of an implementer.
— Søren Kierkegaard
Nov 23, 2013
To reduplicate [reduplicere] is to be what one says. Men are therefore better served by someone who does not speak in lofty strains but is what he says. I have never had the nerve to say that the world is evil, I make a distinction and say: Christianity teaches that the world is evil. But I do not dare say it, for that I am far from being sufficiently pure. But I have said: the world is mediocre, and my life expresses exactly that. But many a greenhorn of a clergyman stands and thunders that the world is evil — and what does his life in fact express. — I have never had the nerve to say that I would venture everything for Christianity. I still am not strong enough for that. I begin with something smaller. I know that I have ventured various things and I think and believe that God will educate me and teach me to venture more. But Mynster weeps at the thought that he is willing to sacrifice everything, that even if everyone falls away he will stand fast. God knows what he has ventured. One should never talk that way. The little bit of fever for an hour on Sunday only leaves more languor and indolence. A person should never talk about doing what he has not done. One may say: Christianity demands it, but since I am not tested in this way I dare say nothing of myself. I have always been independent, therefore I have always talked with great caution about the cares of livelihood. I am often reminded that I really have no experience, that here I speak as a poet.
O that there were truth in communication between man and man! One person defends Christianity, another attacks Christianity, and after all is said and done, when it comes to auditing their experiences, neither one nor the other cares much about Christianity — perhaps it is their career.
For my part, I have a thorn in the flesh from my early years. If I had not had it, I would easily have been far gone in worldliness. But I cannot, even if I wanted to very much. So I have no meritoriousness whatsoever, for what is meritorious about going along the right way when one is riding in a go-cart or about a horse's following the track when it is bridled with a sharp bit.
-- Soren Kierkegaard, 1848
May 25, 2013
So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth--wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin--
By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o'er-leavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,--
Their virtues else--be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo--
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault
- Hamlet, Act I, Scene IV
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height.
- Henry V, Act III, Scene I
Dec 25, 2012
Conversion goes slowly. As Franz Baader rightly observes, one has to walk back by the same road he came out on earlier. It is easy to become impatient: if it cannot happen at once, one may just as well let it go, begin tomorrow, and enjoy today; this is the temptation. — Is this not the meaning of the words: to take God's kingdom by force—?
This is why we are told to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, for it is not finished or completed; backsliding is a possibility. — No doubt it was in part this unrest which drove people to seek so zealously to become martyrs, in order to make the test as brief and momentarily intense as possible, a test which is always easier to endure than a prolonged one.
Jul 8, 2012
Without bodhicitta, and without complete faith in the ability of reason to carry one beyond this world, there will be continued striving for ego security. Without bodichitta, no matter how great one's mental attainments and knowledge of Reality, a portion of the ego, the core, will remain fixed. Great happiness, even Nirvana may ultimately be experienced, but the long-term consequences are horrible to contemplate, because each and every action of one who lacks bodhicitta is tainted with a solid and unchallenged faith in the very core of the ego.
One with bodhicitta may inititally try to save himself, but reason soon gets the better of him, and will push him relentlessly onwards, into the arms of the Infinite.
--- Kevin Solway, Poison for the Heart
Jun 29, 2012
It can be a scary thing to leave ordinary life behind, and enter the spiritual realm, the realm where reason is taken to extremes in understanding what is true for all things, and then applied conscientiously to all aspects of one's being. Spirituality is not about airy-fairy, feel-good, no-thinking-allowed flowieness. It is extremely demanding, to the point of cruelty, and it is completely unknown to virtually every human being on the planet.
What frightens the beginner, or "stream entrant", is the way the mind automatically reacts to leaving a normal existence behind. The mind is habituated to a particular set of perceptions and habits. When one willingly abandons "everything", for the sake of truth, then this means normality is left behind, and that everything is up for grabs. So, what can one expect? What is going to happen? Can one actually survive, down the path few ever venture to explore? Such questions evoke terrifying answers for the highly imaginative beginner. Reason takes them to mind-blowing visions and possibilities. No extreme is off-limits. This is the stuff of nightmares, literally.
It is a dangerous time for the baby Buddha. If they haven't sunk roots deeply down into the mode of rationality, and have not yet come to trust logical thought deeply, then they can easily believe in their dramatic and imaginative visions, and genuinely experience psychosis. If such an individual continues to have such visions of life and death, of grand escapades and world-changing revolutions, and really invests in these visions, then, with the mass of egotistical reactions that they're inevitably subject to, they will experience such great stress that it is quite possible to traumatise the brain and body. It is no joke. Be careful.
It is not surprising, therefore, for one who hasn't fully entered the "logical realms" --- and most have not done so yet --- to draw the label "mentally ill". Any mainstream psychiatrist or psychologist will see the manic-depressive mood-swings, distress, lack of mental coherence, and self-obsessiveness, and quite rightly conclude that they're dealing with a psychologically unbalanced personality.
Go easy with things at this stage. It's unfortunate, but it's likely that the diagnosis of serious clinical mental illness - psychiatric, not psychological - can make things a lot worse for the vulnerable and suggestible baby Buddha, who is over-blown about their abilities (this is an inevitable aspect of the ambition for Buddhahood), and prone to believing they ought to have a great impact on the world - or else it is their fault. When a perceived authority has the power to schedule you into a psychiatric ward, and you are actually in a pretty bad way and therefore, it's quite possible you look the part, the likely result is paranoia. The youth is trying to save face, by saying the world is always set against the one who seeks enlightenment. But the more rational explanation here is, the spiritual youth has not put down their roots into reason and wisdom enough, and are terrified of the venture they've undertaken.
Don't get paranoid about the clinical diagnosis. Don't start building up a persecution complex, or painting yourself as a sage out to save the world if it weren't for the bloody psychiatrists controlling the system. Get yourself grounded first. You may actually get some help from mainstream or alternative psychologists, because even if they don't know emptiness from a toothbrush, they do know how to soothe a troubled ego --- and to stop it roaring and obstructing your spiritual progress, is the main priority for anyone in those circumstances.
It is also possible for psychiatrists to label one's states of mind with terms like "prodromal psychosis", "schizophrenic", "disassociating from reality", and so forth, when one isn't in that frightened, unbalanced phase. Anyway, in both situations, what they mean by this, is merely: the client no longer conforms to mainstream culture. You are not fitting-in, and you are not bothering to. That is all. Don't worry about it.
The upshot is, the young spiritual traveller needs to recognise more honestly where they're at, and look after themselves. It avoids unnecessary suffering, and it avoids destabilising the mind.
Remember that everything one is experiencing is inevitable: it's caused by one's past choices, personality and genetics, one's upbringing and teachers and other influences. The key question about one's capacity to undertake the entire journey to the very end, no matter what it demands, or what sacrifices are required, is likely to bring up a lot of fear and guilt. But much unnecessary and gruesome suffering can be avoided. Simply, remember it is not exactly one's own responsibility. You are not a stand-alone agent directing your life. All you have to do is remember what enlightenment is, and let everything else follow its natural course.
Alternatively, for those who feel substantially prouder of taking on the difficult path if it's advertised widely with notes of travail and suffering, orgies of wild mental upheaval and random and eccentric "discoveries", and adamant declarations of the insanity of everyone else, then one can't be surprised if the normal outsider (and psychiatrist) draws the conclusion that one is in the thick of a psychotic episode. They're not far wrong.
Basically, don't make things more difficult than they already are. This is no joke. There are lasting consequences for one's mental health, and it's a precious thing to look after.
Take the fact that the young spiritual venturer is typically totally alone. If they are lucky enough to know another spiritual man, who is living, then they are probably never going to meet in person. They won't get the chance to see the physiological nuances of resting transparently in God, but remain much like the spoon that cannot taste the soup. So the transitional period is a really difficult time. It's rough working these things out by yourself. But it's necessary.
All I would like to say is, keep things simple. Don't exacerbate the mental disturbances and afflictions, by letting the mind rage about like a gruesomely undisciplined brumby. The more you let emotions and worries afflict you, the worse your spiritual progress.
Keep things simple, and just focus on one thing only: making your understanding of the Totality perfect, which is both an intellectual and experiential process.
When wisdom is your purpose in life, you don't have anything else to do, but that. Just being wise. You are not required to do anything else. So don't worry. Don't make countless projects. There is no criteria for qualification, like writing a book, or finding disciples, or starting a movement or a religion, or debating intellectuals. You are fully paying your debt to the world simply by making your life count in the truth stakes.
The first and only thing that counts, is that one is as wise as one can possibly be. Don't pretend, or try to jump levels. This harks back to what I mentioned earlier about keeping afflictions and psychological agitation to a minimum. If you strive at too high a level for your own actuality, you become demonic and hypocritical. Others can tell. And you bring unnecessary suffering onto yourself, confusing and agitating the processes of thought.
Give yourself time to develop, and be patient as you keep applying yourself every day. This is the real ground for spiritual trial: it's considered privately and quietly in a calm way, thinking the ideas through to oneself.
Spiritual trial and spiritual suffering are not indicated by rampant and dramatic turmoil of the mind. If you are in agonies, it isn't really a spiritual trial, but rather, you are losing the battle. Spiritual trial can only start if you abandon the egotistical urges to have an emotional orgy of self-pity, or are experiencing a troubled, doubtful mind. It's only when you are resigned to letting the Infinite be your mainstay, and are no longer resistant or disquieted, that the trial can begin, and spiritual suffering becomes pure, the ego dying progressively.
One last thing. If you decide you would like to help others, and you are conscientious about purifying and emptying yourself of the mind of attachment, so as to be qualified to help others, then don't turn it into a revolution. Your aim is to draw the mind into the relationship to truth. It's an individual task, quite private, and quiet.
If you dream that the best way to educate others about the realm of spirit, and enlightenment, is to start a revolution and gain followers, you're going down the wrong path. Wisdom is not about worldly power, numbers, disciples, founding a school of thought, or starting a religion. Everything that draws the mind away from the quiet, private realm of contemplation and inwardness, from that special one-on-one conversation with reason, is wrong-headed. To be able to speak to the solitary individual, just talk simply and plainly.
If you are a beginner exploring the mind and its power, and you feel desperately in need of publishing your ideas, then fine, do it. But try to discipline yourself, so that you steer overall towards simplicity. The more you publish, especially randomly in venues like Facebook, Twitter, and so forth, the less help you are to others. Being random, posting whatever comes into your head, again exacerbates demonic mental agitation and ego. It doesn't lead to the depth and single-mindedness necessary to sustain enlightenment. And it also says to the world you're a fly-by-night, a creature of emotions and moods, who will transform back into an ordinary sod tomorrow. Of course they will like you, and applaud your craziness. You're good entertainment. But you're not touching them in a spiritual sense. I recommend, if you're in this phase of the path, where you feel compelled to express yourself publicly and prolificly, then discipline yourself. Concentrate your mind and ideas, and write some coherent, focussed essays. Work on letting the ideas sit in your skull for days, rather than feeling urgently that you have to show off to others. Try to explore a single topic deeply, and benefit from it yourself quietly and alone.
Enjoy the trip as a student, and look after yourself. Remember cause and effect: your future lives.
May 20, 2012
The following is copied from David Quinn's website, as his essay is accurate and down-to-earth, and well worth saving. Incidentally, there are other quality writings by others from the same site. David strikes me as having been able to put down deep roots into enlightenment, and to keep striving courageously onwards through the tremendous, sometimes tortuous, difficulties of the spiritual path. With wisdom, it is all or nothing. And the all means no less than absolute sacrifice, and a willingness to endure and suffer all. It is no surprise, perhaps, that the following essay should reveal how utterly unequal an academic is for the task of philosophy.
I could see from the beginning, even before I began posting, that it was not a suitable forum for spiritual and philosophical discussion. Although Ne Plus Ultra promotes itself as an exclusive, invitation-only forum for highly intelligent, creative people, the intelligence and creativity on display was of a very narrow kind. The discussion threads were dominated by MENSA-type personalities who like to write in convoluted, hyper-complex sentences about issues that generally have little connection with reality. They were extremely academic in their mode of thought, as well as ultra-scientific in that peculiarly shallow American way. They displayed little or no capacity for deeper modes of thought and, as far as I could see, no interest in wisdom . The signs didn’t look good.
No doubt this explains why my colleague, Dan Rowden, only contributed a couple of token posts during the entire affair, even though he too received an exclusive invitation from Tommy Smith, the forum owner. He took one look at the forum, concluded it was an insane asylum and felt no inclination to write. I didn’t really blame him, because that was my initial reaction as well.
There is something very Pythonesque about academics with high IQs. It is the way they need to inject spectacular, over-the-top mental pyrotechnics into everything they do, regardless of whether or not it is warranted, combined with an inability to discriminate between what is important and fundamental to an issue and what is not. Thus, we have the image of a pompous know-all who, even while continuing to pour forth tortuous lines of hyper-complex reasoning, doesn't know how to resolve even the simplest of problems, and ends up losing himself further and further into the labyrinths of academic madness.
As if to illustrate this point, there was an amusing incident during the discussions at Ne Plus Ultra in which I translated, just for fun, a needlessly complex paragraph by Sergei (Plato) into a short sentence of four words:
Because of this, the academic intellectual of high IQ has no trouble convincing himself that any attempt to solve issues and uncover fundamental truths is a complete waste of time. What he wants, always, is ever more complexity. More puzzles, more questions, more intricacies, more opportunities to throw himself into the labyrinth of academia. In this way, every neuron in his brain can be filled up with mountains of useless facts and complicated reasonings, and he can avoid having to face reality.
I have long held the view that the main purpose of academia is to act as a refuge for highly-intellectual people to prevent them from going mad. If it wasn't for the endless array of trivial puzzles that constitutes academia, the brain of the intellectual would automatically begin to wander down the pathways towards a deeper comprehension of Reality and thus towards a great deal of personal suffering and danger. Indeed, the individual in question wouldn't be able to stop himself. His high IQ brain has far too much energy and drive. It is always seeking puzzles to solve, regardless of how trivial or serious their nature. His only course of action, then, is to constantly distract his brain with countless meaningless crossword puzzles. Such is the life of an academic.
One of the interesting things that the Ne Plus Ultra incident revealed is that although a person with a high IQ might be very intelligent when it comes to academic issues, his intelligence very quickly deserts him whenever real-world issues are touched upon, or issues that affect him personally and emotionally. The participants on the Ne Plus Ultra forum repeatedly demonstrated they were unable to grasp even the simplest logical points put to them during my various discourses – even though they were points that a ten-year-old child could easily understand. There were two classic examples of this during the NPU fracas, which I will now analyze:
The first concerned my comments that science possesses limitations and cannot yield absolute truth. Although I made it very clear that I thought science had its place in society, that it was an excellent method for gaining empirical knowledge, the NPU forum members consistently interpreted my approach as a blanket attack upon the whole of science. Indeed, they concluded that I was advocating a complete rejection of science altogether.
Why such a moronic response, you might ask? I think it is mainly due to their unquestioning belief that science is wholly beyond criticism, especially as far as the acquisition of knowledge is concerned. To them, any kind of attack on science, no matter how insignificant or minor, is unthinkable. Society has inculcated them with the belief that science is the be-all and end-all of knowledge and the highest of all things, and they literally cannot comprehend how any intelligent being could question it. It is like questioning the existence of gravity, or that the earth is round. Only a complete madman or a religious kook could possibly do it. And so it has become natural for them to instantly dismiss all challengers in this mindless manner, regardless of the quality of the challenge.
A large part of the problem stems from the fact that people with high IQs tend to be very enclosed and insular. They usually prefer to work and socialize with their own kind only, and thus they rarely have to confront any serious challenges to their core beliefs. In many ways, they are no different to the person who is born and baptized a Christian, raised by a Christian family, works within a Christian culture, and never once thinks to question this state of affairs. They are fundamentalists, not of Christianity, but of the religion of scientific materialism, which has as its core tenet the belief that the scientific method is the only valid method of acquiring knowledge. This brand of fundamentalism has become a very serious problem in the world today as far as wisdom is concerned, as serious and problematical as Christianity was in the Middle Ages.
The second example concerns the infamous “women and dogs” remark that I made during the second half of the discussion. It was this remark which triggered the avalanche of animosity towards me and eventually led to the hysterical demands to have me removed from the forum. That these people completely misinterpreted the comment goes without saying. Note the context in which it was made:
Andrew Beckwith: Why does your genius site reek of such hate for women ? It's palatable.
David Quinn: There is no hatred for women on the Genius site, at least not from me. Where is your evidence or reasoning for this? I do think that women are significantly inferior to men when it comes to the higher activities of life, such as spirituality and philosophy, and even art and science. But in saying this, I am simply expressing the truth. There's no hatred involved.
Kitten: Did you really say that? I'm not dreaming this...you said that you have respect for women, and no hate of them...then said that?
David Quinn: I also think dogs are inferior to men when it comes to higher activities, but it doesn't mean I hate them.
Kitten: You compared women to dogs?
David Quinn: No, I compared my dispassionate attitude towards dogs with my dispassionate attitude towards women.
Again, the point I was making was abundantly clear. My judgment that women are seriously disadvantaged when it comes to philosophy, wisdom and science is no more an expression of hatred towards women than is my judgment that dogs are incapable of wisdom an expression of hatred towards dogs. It is a very easy point to grasp. Who could possibly misunderstand it? No one above the age of ten, you would think. And yet somehow, a group of academic intellectuals with stupendously high IQs weren't able to fathom it at all.
Admittedly, my choice of the word “dogs” didn't help matters. If I had compared my indifferent attitude towards women with, say, my indifferent attitude towards tree or cats, the members of Ne Plus Ultra may not made such a big fuss. Even though my point would be unchanged, it is likely they wouldn't have been so offended. In hindsight, I should have known that linking women to dogs, no matter how tenuously, automatically invites trouble. It is a sexually-loaded term and expresses a far worse crime than merely thinking women are incapable of wisdom. It suggests - horror upon horror - that women are sexually repulsive. If I had made reference to cats (which are graceful and cute), instead of dogs (which are hairy and smelly), the lynch mob may not have been formed at all.
No matter! The fact still remains that the forum members' strong attachments and emotions seriously undermined their ability to reason coherently. This raises an interesting issue, one that has many ramifications. Imagine if IQ tests were composed, not of trivial academic puzzles, but of real-life puzzles such as the two examples I gave above. It is not difficult to see that people's scores would be very different. The test might look like this, of example:
Q23: When a philosopher affirms the usefulness of science in the empirical realm, and yet articulates its limitations when it comes to ultimate knowledge, is he:
(a) rejecting science altogether as a tool of knowledge?
(b) describing the relative worth of science as he sees it?
Q57: When a philosopher compares his dispassionate attitude towards women with his dispassionate attitude towards dogs, is he:
(a) comparing women to dogs?
(b) comparing his own emotional attitude towards women and dogs?
Given that the academic intellectuals at Ne Plus Ultra totally flunked out with these two questions, we can only infer that they would do very poorly in an entire test of this kind. Their IQ scores would thus drop dramatically. They would be considered among the least intelligent in the community.
This suggests that IQ tests, as they are currently structured, are unreliable and wholly inadequate to measure intelligence. At best, they merely measure the raw intellect of a person, and perhaps his level of education, and not much more. They do not address his character, or his level of detachment, or his ability to apply his intellect in intelligent ways under emotional stress. Thus, we often find that those who are judged to have high IQs by the current methods of measurement have a very narrow form of intelligence, one that is strictly confined to being able to solve academic puzzles and the like. These kinds of people often give the appearance of being autistic to a degree, akin to the idiot savant who can do astonishingly complex arithmetic in his head and yet is barely able to deal with reality on any other level. IQ testing has, in many ways, become a measurement of “freakhood”, rather than of intelligence. As a society, we need to rethink our premises with regards to IQ testing and devise more appropriate forms of measurement.
Related to this issue is the devastating effect that emotions and attachments have upon one's ability to reason. I made mention of the fact during the discussion at Ne Plus Ultra that fundamentalism renders all of its adherents equally stupid, regardless of how high their IQs are. Not only is this very true, but it is also inescapable. A strong attachment to a blind belief automatically puts one in the position of having to defend the indefensible, which is a form of madness. It doesn't matter how great your intellect is, you will never be able to rationally support an irrational belief. Not even a genius can do it. So if a fundamentalist wants to maintain his attachment to his blind beliefs, he has no choice but to erect large mental blocks, hone his skills in evasiveness and generally put a halt to any rational thought-process that even looks like heading in the direction of his beliefs. That is to say, he has to become mentally stupid. There were many examples of this process on the Ne Plus Ultra forum, wherein its members allowed their strong attachment to science, academic knowledge and women to undermine their intellectual ability to reason.
Another interesting characteristic of the academic intellectual is his habit of confining his reasoning skills to academic matters only, leaving the rest of his life almost untouched by logical thought. A kind of split-personality emerges, where, on the one hand, the academic is sober, clear-sighted, and highly logical when it comes to his academic work, but as soon as he leaves his office or turns his attention to non-academic issues, his reasoning skills abruptly go out the window and he suddenly transforms into an emotional, flaky, loopy kind of person who gullibly believes all sorts of irrational nonsense and can barely string two coherent sentences together.
One observes this stark duality in academics the world over, and it is no different with the inhabitants on the Ne Plus Ultra forum. Andrew Beckwith, for example, exhibits this trait markedly. A theoretical physicist by trade, he is a person who appears very knowledgeable, authoritative and clear-sighted whenever he operates in the mode of an academic. Although we are currently not able to witness him in this mode (since they have closed the forum to outsiders), I can assure the reader that he really does come across as a sophisticated, cultured, well-read man of science who commands respect from other academics. But as soon as you take him out of this mode, such as what happened during our little stoush on the forum, he becomes a completely different person. Phroosh! Gone is the ability to reason in a coherent manner; gone are the listening skills which are so vital in his work as a scientist; gone are the sobriety and civility of his demeanour. Instead, a whiny, immature, even paranoid form of behaviour takes over. It is a transformation which is utterly amazing to behold. One cannot believe, when witnessing him in this mode, that he is indeed a practicing scientist.
The split-personality of academics is largely generated by the belief that logic is strictly an academic tool only, and has no other application. That this belief is nonsensical is of little consequence to the academic, as it coincides nicely with this deeply-held desire to avoid thinking about reality at all costs. This relates to a point I made earlier, which is that academics consistently turn to the labyrinthine world of academia as a refuge from serious thought. By submitting to the belief that logic has no other application beyond that of solving academic or scientific puzzles, the academic is constantly able to nip his reasoning processes in the bud before they can begin to probe real-life issues of a philosophical nature. It is a process so habitual that he no longer has any consciousness of doing it. He thus renders himself completely safe from the possibility of entering the philosophical path.
This also goes some way to explaining why the posts of Andrew Beckwith were tinged with hysteria from the outset, and also why some of the other forum members were becoming increasingly hysterical as time went on. I was introducing reality into a domain that was specifically designed to keep reality out. The thoughts I was expressing were simple, direct, unarguable, and brimming with philosophic wisdom – the sort of thing that is far too powerful and heady for most academic intellectuals to deal with. Faced with this onslaught, the academic often begins to panic and attempts to throw anything he can at the perpetrator, no matter how unrelated it might be to the conversation at hand, all in the desperate hope that the perpetrator will go away and take reality with him.
We can see, then, that forums such as Ne Plus Ultra are not just places to exchange information between intellectual people, but they serve a religious purpose as well. Just as Christians form churches so that they can bond together and block out everything in reality they don't like, academic intellectuals also feel a strong emotional need to close themselves off from the outside world altogether. This partly explains why they love talking to each other in hyper-complex sentences littered with obscure jargon, even in the many instances where simple sentences and straightforward language would perfectly suffice. It is as though they are deliberately talking to one another in code. It is similar to the way the Catholic Church used to conduct Mass, and even theological discussions, in Latin. There is great pleasure and comfort in thinking that one is part of an exclusive, inner circle, complete with its own private language; it makes one feel very special and constitutes an exquisite form of revenge against the wider world, which most people of high IQ feel persecuted by. Because of these strong psychological realities, it is very difficult to persuade academics to conduct their discussions in simple jargon-free language, understandable by everyone. Any inclination to make their knowledge more accessible is completely swamped by their desire to remain ensconced within a lofty, inner circle.
There were moments during my time at Ne Plus Ultra in which members deliberately flaunted their love of hyper-complex language, as though they felt a need to openly demonstrate their allegiance to a club which I did not belong. A particular example of this was when I posted in those Humphrey Appleby quotes which mocked their convoluted mode of speech. The immediate response from one or two of the forum members was to send their convoluted speech into overdrive and make it even more hyper-complex, as if to say, “You may mock us, but there is nothing you can do to make us change our ways. Our allegiance lies elsewhere.” It was at this point, when they were all beginning to close ranks, that I knew that my involvement on the forum was quickly coming to en end.
So was my time at Ne Plus Ultra worth it? My initial reason for going there was the hope that there might be one or two members who were human and open to non-academic forms of intellectualizing – and perhaps even open to wisdom. That it turned out there was no one of that calibre (as far as I know) was certainly disappointing. But I did learn a little bit more about the psychology of academic intellectuals, so that at least was something. I gained a deeper insight into the fears which drive a person of high IQ into the extremes of hyper-complex academia and political correctness, and discerned more clearly just how much of a barrier to wisdom a high IQ can be.
Jan 21, 2004
May 17, 2012
The film "Rashomon" is a great example of the astonishing velocity by which humans distance themselves from consciousness of truth. Human falsity is demonstrated by the film's content, the director's own character (for it is he who chose to represent human falsity in a false way), and, how the film is commonly and ongoingly received. This latter is confirmed by the cinematography device called the 'Rashomon effect', but any number of film reviews or film buffs' opinions will redemonstrate what I mean. For instance,
"In a Grove" is an early modernist short story, as well as a blending of the modernist search for identity with themes from historic Japanese literature, and as such is perhaps the iconic work of Akutagawa's career. It presents seven varying accounts of the murder of a samurai, Kanazawa no Takehiro, whose corpse has been found in a bamboo forest near Kyoto. Each section simultaneously clarifies and obfuscates what the reader knows about the murder, eventually creating a complex and contradictory vision of events that brings into question humanity's ability or willingness to perceive and transmit objective truth.
- Wikipedia snippet about "In a Grove", the storyline on which Rashomon is based.
No, no. The film is only superficially about contradictory perspectives offered by eye-witnesses in a murder trial, but this is partly the fault of the director, Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa has focussed on the confusion of two idiotic narrators, whose sorrow and confoundment about the event create a sense of mystery. Like a child with innocent-face, trying to hide its crime, saying, "How did the chocolate get into my mouth!? It's a mystery!", this film 'Rashomon' is cringingly trying to hide how humans bury their consciences by saying "It's a mystery!" and this is the real 'Rashomon effect'.
A demonic temptation took hold of me. Oh, the breeze blew, or I wouldn't have killed him. Evil is not a human tendency, but a disembodied force, and we are all hapless victims of circumstance. Oh, the world is a confusing place. We're not responsible! Oh, we're truly not responsible! None of us know the truth, what is really happening. We are just dupes, victims of a greater force out there; we are mere empty-headed idiots caught up in the mystery --- we are mere morons.
Well, I can agree with the latter.
Kurosawa's choice to use the two moronic narrators - rather, the storyline is by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, but Kurosawa was a dupe for swallowing his tale 'In a Grove', hook, line, bait, and gob-choking sinker - not only falsifies the real story ("How did the chocolate get into my mouth?! It's a mystery to me!"), but shows his own character. Their confusion and bewonderment emphasises the notion that truthfulness is impossible, because each person's perspective of events differ. It's the post-modernist gaffe, everyone has their own truth, or its corollary, there is no truth.
And thus, following Kurosawa's "authority on truthfulness", the scene is now set for all his viewers for many years to come. How innocently they rapidly distance themselves from truthfulness, taking his cowardly example. And now the film buffs talk of his skillful cinematographic devices, the notion that truth cannot be grasped by any mind ...... Ah, it's sickening.
The two moronic narrators are a wood-cutter, chosen for being a simple honest John, a family man, just like you and me, and therefore a reliable man; and a youngish Zen priest, chosen for being a contemplative and personally virtuous authority on morality. The self-deceit in chosing these two is laughable. It shows that Kurosawa believes the ordinary human being - himself, namely, or, at a pinch, his viewers - is not evil, but are reliable presenters of the human relationship to truth; moreover, it shows his gullibility, by choosing as an authority of virtue an imposter Zen priest: a sleepy, incorrigible fool, like the dopey monks Hakuin Ekaku likened to useless sacks of rice decked out in black robes, with no insight on Zen whatsoever. So this is his second gaffe, ordinary, simple-minded, gullible people are truthful and innocent.
Kurosawa's weakness of character and lack of insight into the nature of evil (humans' willingness to deceive themselves about their lack of truthfulness) is evident in the shallowness of his characters. He has no human beings, but only shallow, one-sided cartoon people. They are puppets, victims of circumstance, empty-headed and moral mediums who soullessly receive their decisions from agents outside their skulls. That the key players in the murder drama are all depicted variously as variously helllish also showns Kurosawa believes evil is reserved only for the worst personalities, rather than something he himself, and all human beings, are prone to. His bandit is a stereotype barbarian, one of those idiotic, hefty, big-muscled, greatly agitated and loud-mouthed fghting demons, has a maniac barking laughter used to punctuate things he is afraid about but seeks to dominate by his barking, and evidently chosen to show that evil is reserved for only professional killers with base, coarse, hellish personalities. Similarly, he paints the virtuous goddess-like beauty as having fits of amoral hysteria, with the same desperate barking laugh, when she tries to taunt two male rivals to kill each other, and refuses to consider suicide, (for the sole reason that she doesn't want it to be widely known that she has had sex with more than one male). Lastly, the same demonic hatred and hellishness is given to the samurai husband, as depicted by the imaginative medium called in to represent the dead man's soul at the murder trial. Basically, Kurosawa's characters are used to make the cowardly argument that the average human being is a decent, honest, truthful, and good person. In consequence, he demonstrates that he doesn't know what evil is, and doesn't want to know.
With the scene set for a grand goose chase, the murder trial is recounted by these two narrators, mostly by the awed and demoralised wood-cutter, with intermittent, shallow psychological commentary by the worried and paranoid priest.
No, no, no. Rashomon is not about the impossibility of anyone's knowing the truth. This is more of the old commonplace self-deception. If it were about that, about the post-modernist trope that no one knows the truth, and that everyone perceives differently, then the tale would not centred on --- blatantly --- murderers and lying!
Rather, it is about the propensity of human beings to lie, covering up their ugliness and their cowardice, and pretend all the while it is not happening. It is so obvious.
And the commonplace old self-deception continues with how the film is received. Oh, it is about how everyone sees events differently, and how no one can know what really happens. The Rashomon effect --- the main legacy of the film in the cinematographic world --- is multiple narrators offering conflicting accounts. More lies.
In fact, if film reviews focus on aesthetics and artistic or cunning cinematographic devices, you can be sure it's the same old propensity to race for your life --- as far away from truth-consciousness as possible.
Truth is not such a mystical, otherworldly, impossible thing. It is just the courage to face up to who and what you are. Not details, like an autist trying to describe absolutely all the things consciousness flings at him. Reality. The fundamentals: the nature of all things. The truth about how things really exist.
Apr 20, 2012
Extracts from Walden, by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
"... the man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off."
"You must have a genius for charity as well as for anything else. As for Doing-good, that is one of the professions which are full. Moreover, I have tried it fairly, and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution. Probably I should not consciously and deliberately forsake my particular calling to do the good which society demands of me, to save the universe from annihilation..."
"...Persevere, even if the whole world call it doing evil..."
"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root..."
"Philanthropy is almost the only virtue which is sufficiently appreciated by mankind. Nay, it is greatly overrated; and it is our selfishness which overrates it."
"I want the flower and fruit of a man; that some fragrance be wafted over from him to me, and some ripeness flavor our intercourse. His goodness must not be a partial and transitory act, but a constant superfluity, which costs him nothing and of which he is unconscious."
"If anything ail a man, so that he does not perform his functions, if he have a pain in his bowels even, - for that is the seat of sympathy, - he forthwith sets about reforming - the world"
"I never dreamed of any enormity greater than I have committed. I never knew, and never shall know, a worse man than myself."
"I read in the Gulistan, or Flower Garden, of Sheik Sadi of Shiraz, that 'they asked a wise man, saying: Of the many celebrated trees which the Most High God has created lofty and umbrageous, they call none azad, or free, excepting the cypress, which bears no fruit; what mystery is there in this? He replied: Each has its appropriate produce, and appointed season, during the continuance of which it is fresh and blooming, and during their absence dry and withered; to neither of which states is the cypress exposed, being always flourishing; and of this nature are the azads, or religious independents. - Fix not thy heart on that which is transitory; for the Dijlah, or Tigris, will continue to flow through Bagdad after the race of caliphs is extinct: if thy hand has plenty, be liberal as the date tree; but if it affords nothing to give away, be an azad, or free man, like the cypress.' "
"The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?"
"I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor."
"What news! how much more important to know what that is which was never old!"
"Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous."
"When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality."
"By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on purely illusory foundations. Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure."
"I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that that is which appears to be."
"Men esteem truth remote, in the outskirts of the system, behind the farthest star, before Adam and after the last man. In eternity there is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places and occasions are now and here. God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages."
"...we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds us. The universe constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions; whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us. ... Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on the rails."
"With unrelaxed nerves, with morning vigor, sail by it, looking another way, tied to the mast like Ulysses. If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its pains. If the bell rings, why should we run? ... Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opiinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin..."
"Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business."
"Time is the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains."
"The intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things."
"The modern cheap and fertile press, with all its translations, has done little to bring us nearer to the heroic writers of antiquity. They seem as solitary, and the letter in which they are printed as rare and curious, as ever."
"To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem. ... Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written. It is not enough even to be able to speak the language of that nation by which they are written"
"What is called eloquence in the forum is commonly found to be rhetoric in the study. The orator yields to the inspiration of a transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who can hear him; but the writer, whose more equable life is his occasion, and who would be distracted by the event and the crowd which inspire the orator, speaks to the intellect and heart of mankind, to all in any age who can understand him."
"The symbol of an ancient man's thought becomes a modern man's speech."
"The works of the great poets have never yet been read by mankind, for only great poets can read them. They have only been read as the multitude read the stars, at most astrologically, not astronomically."
"Most men have learned to read to serve a paltry convenience, as they have learned to cipher in order to keep accounts and not be cheated in trade; but of reading as a noble intellectual exercise they know little or nothing; yet this only is reading, in a high sense, not that which lulls us as a luxury and suffers the nobler faculties to sleep the while, but what we have to stand on tip-toe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours to."
"..for the recorded wisdom of mankind...which are accessible to all who will know of them, there are the feeblest efforts anywhere made to become acquainted with them."
"A man, any man, will go considerably out of his way to pick up a silver dollar; but here are golden words, which the wisest men of antiquity have uttered, and whose worth the wise of every succeeding age have assured us of; - and yet we learn to read only as far as Easy Reading .... our reading, our conversation and thinking, are all on a very low level, worthy only of pygmies and manikins."
"We should be as good as the worthies of antiquity, but partly by first knowing how good they were."
"The solitary hired man on a farm in the outskirtsof Concord, who has had his second birth and peculiar religious experience, and is driven as he believes into silent gravity and exclusiveness by his faith, may think it is not true; but Zoroaster, thousands of years ago, travelled the same road and had the same experience; but he, being wise, knew it to be universal, and treated his neighbours accordingly, and is even said to have invented and established worship among men. Let him humbly commune with Zoroaster then, and through the liberalising influence of all the worthies, with Jesus Christ himself, and let "our church" go by the board."
"We need to be provoked, - goaded like oxen, as we are, into a trot."
"We spend more on almost any article of bodily aliment or ailment than on our mental aliment. It is time that we had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when we begin to be men and women."
"I kept neither dog, cat, cow, pig, nor hens, so that you would have said there was a deficiency of domestic sounds; neither the churn, nor the spinning-wheel, nor even the singing of the kettle, nor the hissing of the urn, nor children crying, to comfort one. An old-fashioned man would have lost his senses or died of ennui before this. Not even rats in the wall, for they were starved out, or rather were never baited in. ... No yard but unfenced nature reaching up to your very sills. ... Instead of no path to the front-yard gate in the Great Snow, - no gate - no front-yard - and no path to the civilised world."
"There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of nature and has his senses still. ... I have never felt lonesome, or in the least oppressed by a sense of solitude, but once, and that was a few weeks after I came to the woods, when, for an hour, I doubted if the near neighbourhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy life. To be alone was something unpleasant. But I was at the same time conscious of a slight insanity in my mood, and seemed to foresee my recovery. In the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficient society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighbourhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since."
"Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rainstorms in the spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting; when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves."
"Men frequently say to me, 'I should think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially.' I am tempted to reply to such, - This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be the most important question. What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another."
"By a conscious effort of the mind we can stand aloof from actions and their consequences; and all things, good and bad, go by us like a torrent."
"I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely wehen we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers."
"Soceity is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other. We meet at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are. We have had to agree on a certain set of rules, called etiquette and politeness, to make this frequent meeting tolerable and that we need not come to open war."
"Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realise where we are and the infinite extent of our relations."
"I never fastened my door night or day, though I was to be absent several days; not even when the next fall I spent a fortnight in the woods in Maine. And yet my house was more respected than if it had been surrounded by a file of soldiers. The tired rambler could rest and warm himself by my fire, the literary amuse himself with the few books on my table, or the curious, by opening my closet door, see what was left of my dinner, and what prospect I had of a supper. Yet, though many people of every class came this way to the pond, I suffered no serious inconvenience from these sources, and I never missed anything but one small book, a volume of Homer, which perhaps was improperly gilded, and this I trust a soldier of our camp has found by this time. I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough. Then Pope's Homers would soon get properly distributed."
"YOU who govern public affairs, what need have you to employ punishments? Love virtue, and the people will be virtuous. The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass; the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends."
"Though the youth grows at last indifferent, the laws of the universe are not indifferent, but are forever on the side of the most sensitive. Listen to every zephyr for some reproof, for it is surely there, and he is unfortunate who does not hear it."
" 'That in which men differ from brute beasts,' says Mencius, 'is a thing very inconsiderable; the common herd lose it very soon; superior men preserve it carefully.' Who knows what sort of life would result if we had attained to purity?"
Mar 22, 2012
1. The baby idealist: the aesthete
The baby idealist is enchanted with idealising the senses. They seek mind-altering experiences, take concepts to the extreme (since consciousness is one of the senses), and glory in their escape from the conventions, narrow-mindedness, and shabby materialism of the society in which they are always found.
An artist, completely inventing new values, and worshipping freedom from mediocrity's brain-dead relationship to the sensory world, this stage is characterised by heavenly highs, exploration of many kinds of trances (not necessarily those created by drugs), and by the confidence and world-conquering egotism of a hero.
This is the aesthetic stage, where perfection is sought in what is beautiful. The mind is seeking a "something" to satisfy a deep primitive feeling of finding "home".
To avoid stagnating, the idealistic aesthete must guard from losing themselves in thinking infinite ideas about perfection, instead of realising their meaning. There are countless ideas: but do you want to be a mere puzzle-solver, instead of a genius? The old aesthete is one who was afraid of the consequences of dancing apart from the herd, and fell back into escapist pleasures in art, music, dance, drugs, literature, inventions, and science.
2. The youthful idealist: the discriminator
If an aesthete loves conceptual coherence, then the teenage idealist is born, who loves true ideas. Now the mind seeks reason as the guiding light, and the stage of right discrimination has begun.
But love of reason takes great courage as well. Ordinarily, many people have a small degree of discrimination, but because they lack the courage to discriminate inwardly, all their judgments lack quality. They are loud-mouthed and opinionated, but have no rational consistency. They fail to find the great treasure of reasoning in solitude, and their discrimination is fruitless.
The stage of discrimination is a deeply disciplined, serious-minded, earnest invention of new values for oneself, and the consistent application of these values.
The discriminator's idealism is about truthfulness, in having a perfect conscience, in consistency of mind. Because of seeking to ground and reground themselves privately in reason, consequently, the suffering of introspection and self-examination is more easily born, and, also, because of this deeply inward and centralised character, they are able to transcend the fears of being mistreated by others, and misunderstood. So the discriminator is also characterised by a profound solitude.
Yet the discriminator faces pitfalls. The very weakest cannot bear the demand of truth to empty themselves of egotism at the same time as being judged by the egotistical masses: they become hermits, monks, political activists, and fathers. Such as these have insufficient faith in reason, so crumble when under the egotistical pressures of their fear of others.
The mentally stronger, more internally collected, do not yet have a complete desire for perfect wisdom. They still hold some desire for recognition, for a reputation, for mental relief, for egotistical rewards, for a rare companion, and other psychological stimulation. Perfection is yet a long, long way off. So, they are not truly ready for spiritual trial, for absolute solitude over a lifetime, 24/7/265. Most of these rare individuals find ways to sabotage their spiritual goals in various ways, and fall back into subtle mental pleasures or coarser pursuits.
3. The empty idealist: the disciple
The last stage of idealism, in which "something" is still sought, is extremely rare. Very few enter this, the longest and highest stage of idealism: that of discipline.
Knowing deeply the importance of reason as a corrective, and striving to correct all subtle delusions, such as the desire for recognition, for mental relief, for companions on the way, and for various psychological rewards or stimulations, the disciple is "locked-on" to the goal of perfection, guarding their mind minute-by-minute like a wound, from every falsehood.
This rarity seeks the goodness of emptiness, of non-attachment, of perfect wisdom. The more fully immersed in these attainments, the less capable of suffering and relapse into lower states. To achieve the highly conscious, perfectly logical mind of samadhi, there must be an absolute willingness to drop the desire for achievement of mindstates and states of perfection, instead seeking only Reality.
But very few can bear such boundlessness and selflessness, and the weak not only prolong this stage, but typically avoid it.
To be a disciple is to acknowledge the greatest war known to the human mind, where all the inherent cunning of one's mind is reinvented and reintensified, to prevent progress. The genius is the one with the greatest capacity for evil, because the greatest awareness; the genius is therefore the only one who is capable of being a disciple, and has the enlightened skill to combat each subtle lie, whether an entrenched cherished habit, or a newly developed version of old lies, with the means uniquely designed for each problem.
The genius as disciple has the will to love Reality and sacrifice themselves into emptiness and selflessness, over and again, no matter how difficult or tedious the process. The subtlest of errors now become the pitfalls of the disciple, including the desire for goodness or to achieve truthfulness. He transcends truthfulness not by being false or thoughtless, but by realising what truthfulness is; so his truthfulness is Reality which does not depart.