This Month's Contents: No Man is an Island excerpt by Thomas Merton | True Desire by Dean Nelson | The Enigmas by Jorge Luis Borges | No Man is an Island by John Donne | What is Left by Shawn Nevins | On Ego by Tess Hughes | Video: Golem by Patrick Mccue & Tobias Wiesner | Quotes | Humor | Question of the Month Answers & Reader Commentary |
[(c) 1955 by The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani;
renewed in 1983 by The Trustees of the Merton Legacy Trust.
Harcourt Brace & Company]
….I consider that the spiritual life is the life of man’s real self, the life of that interior self whose flame is so often allowed to be smothered under the ashes of anxiety and futile concern. The spiritual life is oriented toward God, rather than toward the immediate satisfaction of the material needs of life, but it is not, for all that, a life of unreality or a life of dreams. On the contrary, without a life of the spirit, our whole existence becomes unsubstantial and illusory. The life of the spirit, by integrating us in the real order established by God, puts us in the fullest possible contact with reality—not as we imagine it, but as it really is. It does so by making us aware of our own real selves, and placing them in the presence of God….
….Our life, as individual persons and as members of a perplexed and struggling race, provokes us with the evidence that it must have meaning. Part of the meaning still escapes us. Yet our purpose in life is to discover this meaning, and live according to it. We have, therefore, something to live for. The process of living, of growing up, and becoming a person, is precisely the gradually increasing awareness of what that something is. This is a difficult task, for many reasons.
First of all, although men have a common destiny, each individual also has to work out his own personal salvation for himself in fear and trembling. We can help one another to find out the meaning of life, no doubt. But in the last analysis the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for “finding himself.” If he persists in shifting this responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence. You cannot tell me who I am, and I cannot tell you who you are. If you do not know your own identity, who is going to identify you? Others can give you a name or number, but they can never tell you who you really are. That is something you yourself can only discover from within.
That brings us to a second problem. Although in the end we alone are capable of experiencing who we are, we are instinctively gifted in watching how others experience themselves. We learn to live by living together with others, and by living like them—a process which has disadvantages as well as blessings.
The greatest of disadvantages is that we are too prone to welcome everybody else’s wrong solution to the problems of life. There is a natural laziness that moves us to accept the easiest solutions—the ones that have common currency among our friends. That is why an optimistic view of life is not necessarily always a virtuous thing. In a time like ours, only the coarse grained still have enough resistance to preserve their fair-weather principles unclouded by anxiety. Such optimism may be comfortable: but is it safe? In a world where every lie has currency, is not anxiety the more real and the more human reaction?
Now anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity. It is the fruit of unanswered questions. But questions cannot go unanswered unless they first be asked. And there is a far worse anxiety, a far worse insecurity, which comes from being afraid to ask the right questions—because they might turn out to have no answer. One of the moral diseases we communicate to one another in society comes from huddling together in the pale light of an insufficient answer to a question we are afraid to ask.
But there are other diseases also. There is the laziness that pretends to dignify itself by the name of despair, and that teaches us to ignore both the question and the answer. And there is the despair which dresses itself up as science or philosophy and amuses itself with clever answers to clever questions—none of which have anything to do with the problems of life. Finally there is the worst and most insidious despair, which can mask as mysticism or prophecy, and which intones a prophetic answer to a prophetic question. That, I think, is likely to be a monk’s professional hazard, so I purify myself of it at the beginning, like Amos who complained, “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet, but I am a herdsman, plucking wild figs” (Amos, 7:14).
The prophetic illusion—which is quite common in our time—is at the opposite extreme from the gregarious illusion, which is more common still in every time. The false prophet will accept any answer, provided that it is his own, provided it is not the answer of the herd. The sheep mentality, on the other hand, accepts any answer that circulates in its own flock, provided only that it is not the answer of a prophet who has not been dead for at least five hundred years.
If I know anything of intellectual honesty, and I am not so certain that I do, it seems to me that the honest position lies somewhere in between…..
Consider the following four quotes and their accompanying questions in sequence. Take some time to consider each quote and also your answer to the question before going on to the next quote. The titles for each quote are not part of the quote, but are meant to guide a progression of thought. First, we try to identify our desire and then examine how we recognize that desire is unfulfilled. In the recognition, can we detect a counterpoint of knowledge that puts our ignorance in relief? If so, what is it?
“I hold certain facts from which I cannot separate. What I know, what is certain, what I cannot deny, what I cannot reject--this is what counts. I can negate everything of that part of me that lives on vague nostalgias, except this desire for unity, this longing to solve, this need for clarity and cohesion.”
~Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus
Camus examined his desire and identified it as a “desire for unity”, a “longing to solve”, a “need for clarity and cohesion”.
How do you describe your desire?
(Job speaking to God)
“I was the man who misrepresented your intentions with my ignorant words. You have told me about great works that I cannot understand, about marvels which are beyond me, of which I know nothing…Before, I knew you only by hearsay but now, having seen you with my own eyes, I retract what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.”
~Job 42: 3,5-6
Job realized his ignorance when he saw God.
How do you recognize your ignorance?
knowledge or Knowledge
“F. H. Bradley, writing after Kant and in the critical age of philosophy, admits that ideal and perfect knowledge would not be anything like what we now mean by knowledge; it would be more like feeling, in that the distinction between the knower and the known would have disappeared altogether, and knowledge would no longer be mediated through the forms of language or through our limited categories of thought. It would be direct and intuitive, an identification of the mind with reality.”
~S. N. Hampshire in The Nature of Metaphysics
If Hampshire is right, Knowledge is direct and intuitive.
Is there anything you Know in this way?
(Speaking in the passive voice)
“More and more there is increasing awareness that, other than the complete certainty of what is known…, I know nothing…all this world is not; all there is is Presence streaming here in perfect Outpouring; and this Presence is what ‘I’ is. Yet even this is not something I know: It is what I Am. And other than this, everything is simply, ‘Don’t know.’”
~David Carse in Perfect Brilliant Stillness: Beyond the Individual Self
Carse seems to be describing a Knowing which consists of a perpetual I Am.
Do you have any access at all to this kind of Knowing?
I who am singing these lines today
~Jorge Luis Borges, translated by John Updike
No man is an island,
What is left
Two words in this question stand out: ego and quality. And there is a problem with both words in that, since they are in common usage, they have multiple shades of meaning, depending on the context in which they appear.
In order to think clearly and precisely about the question it is necessary to define the words as I am using them. Self-inquiry is all about clear precise thinking about the nature of your own thinking and how that affects your experience. It is a matter of making accurate discriminations between what are usually fuzzy concepts and consequently, hidden and incompatible beliefs.
Freud’s use of the word ego is more or less what we mean by the rational, logical part of the mind. Jung used the word to mean all that we are conscious of, as opposed to what we are not conscious of but which nevertheless has huge influence on us. The Buddhist use of the word ego is about the sense that we are a separate “I” and this causes desires and attachments, which is seen as the root cause of suffering. Vedanta uses the word in the sense of that aspect of us which takes credit for the results of our actions. In other words, the ego assumes we are in control of our destiny. Both Freud and Jung use the word in a psychological sense and its reference is to do with survival in the world, in a broad sense.
Buddhism and Vedanta use the word in reference to spiritual matters and are identifying “ego” as part of the problem in attaining spiritual fulfilment.
I have come across alternative words used to refer to this spiritual interpretation of ego. The ones I have come across include: the false self, the impostor, the self (as opposed to The Self), the little one, the person, the tenant, the faker, and so on.
Whatever the specific definition, it is obvious that the word “ego” as used in a spiritual context refers to something that interferes with spiritual progress.
Attributes, descriptions, essence and features are a few of the many synonyms for quality. Following is a list of ego strengthening behaviours taken from an article credited to Ram Chandran I found on indiadivine.org.
He suggests that you rate yourself with points 1-10 for each ego quality you find in yourself. Add them up and get a rating on how strong your ego is out of 100.
This is not an exercise you can do spontaneously. You need to observe your ongoing behaviours in order to get a true picture of your repetitive patterns. I am using the word behaviours to include emotions and thought patterns.
1. Ego of (Excitement-Grief-Overreaction) -------------- (Uncontrollable Expression of grief and joy and failure to control reckless actions).
2. Ego of (Exploitation - Greed - Oppression) ------------- (Direct greedy action that oppresses and exploits others).
3. Ego of (Exaggeration - Gimmick - Opportunism) ---------- (Gain personal profits through gimmicks and exaggeration of facts).
4. Ego of (Exorbitance - Glory - Ornamental) ----------- (Conduct useless actions that are Glamorous just for personal glory).
5. Ego of (Excuse - Grumble - Opinionated) ------------ (Accuse others for own mistakes and fail to listen due to one's own preconceived notions).
6. Ego of (Embarrassment - Guilt - Oscillation) -------------- (Develop unsteady mind filled with guilt generated from disputed beliefs).
7. Ego of (Extremism - Grudge - Opposition) -------------- (Express extreme views and animosity and organize hostile actions).
8. Ego of (Empty-headed - Guesswork - Obnoxious) ---------------- (Irritating behaviour and lack of respect for others propelled by ignorance).
9. Ego of (Enrage - Goof - Offensive) --------------- (Outburst of anger causes temporary insanity and loss of discriminating).
10. Ego of (Enmity - Gloomy - Obstruction) --------------- (Gloomy facial expression showing animosity and trying hard to be obstructive).
To look at ego deflating qualities, here is a list of spiritual qualities that can be cultivated as an antidote to ego enhancing behaviours:
Love: or compassion is the most important quality to cultivate as it promotes all the other qualities. The love referred to here is not an emotion. It is about behaviour, how you treat others and everything on the earth. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. You do not even have to like them to treat them well. They do not have to notice that you treat them well. You are cultivating this quality for your own spiritual benefit.
Gratitude: for what you have or may not have. It is about learning to look at every aspect of yourself and your life from the point of view of how you can use it to your spiritual advantage. It's about developing an appreciation that you have sight or not, that you have enough to eat, that you can read, that you have various afflictions as a reminder that ego is trying to dominate your experience. It's about developing an appreciation of the suffering that others endure, whether they are aware of it or not.
Tolerance: for whatever conditions you find yourself in. It's about cultivating an attitude of steadiness and acceptance for whatever comes your way. It's about appreciating that no matter what happens here in the relative dimension, it is a passing phenomenon.
Kindness: is about not causing harm or suffering to anyone or anything. The word kindness has its origin in kin, family. Treat everyone as if they are your kin for in truth they are.
Gentleness: is the quality of always intending to add lightness and easiness to everyone in every situation. It's about being ordinary, without artifice and sophistication. It's about being natural and sincere in your dealings with others.
Discipline: is about taking responsibility for taking care of your own needs at all times. Avoid being dependent on others when you can. It's about managing your life so as to reduce crisis and anxiety.
Peace: learn to appreciate contentment over excitement. Simplicity and calmness contribute to feeling of peacefulness, which in turn leads to a quiet joy in life.
Goodness: or rightness is the quality of always doing the right thing according to your values. Regardless of what circumstances arise you have a built in sense of what is right and wrong. All children are born with a sense of fairness and honesty and goodness, which can be uncovered and reactivated at any time, regardless of having gone off course along the way.
Trust: trust in God or whatever created you, use whatever word is meaningful to you. As Bob Marley used to sing, “Everything little thing will be alright.” You are not in control anyway, so instead of trying to be you can develop an attitude of trust that you will be taken care of, maybe not to your liking but in a way that is adequate to your real needs. Gratitude and trust go hand in hand.
The point of spiritual activities is to deflate the ego--the false self--and to enhance the attitudes or attributes that bring us closer to our True Nature. Our True Nature is always with us; it could not be otherwise but the something (ego) that interferes with its expression and recognition needs to be diminished in order to reach a full and final recognition of what/who we truly are at core.
Golem XIV is a science fiction novel written by Stanisław Lem and published in Polish in 1981. In 1985 it was published in English by Harvest Books in the collection Imaginary Magnitude.
"So that when you come down to the final self it will not be by logically finding a kernel inside of a kernel inside of a kernel. It will be a cracking of the final kernel. And when this occurs, then all of these things are – not illusory; in their own dimension they are real and necessary – but they are not the real self. They are all relative and describable. The final realization of course isn’t necessarily describable, because of the nature of what happens, and by what has been demonstrated or talked about by people who made the breakthrough."
~ Richard Rose, from a public lecture, A Method of Going Inside, delivered in Pittsburgh, November 1977
"THE SUMMATION OF ME"
I shit and eat.
What do you see as ego strengthening qualities, and ego deflating qualities?
Desire and fulfillment of; strengthens ego.
Fear and culmination of; deflates.
Ego is irrelevant.
Confrontation is very painful but it is also the most unpleasant experience the ego can have. Confrontation of another individual is probably the one experience all egos work to avoid. Confrontation of the self is unthinkable to the ego, which is why no one ever does it. Confrontation of the self could be described as watching the mind.
Confrontation creates a chemical reaction in the brain. Confrontation strips the ego of its crutches because of the fact that the chemical reaction eliminates the usual thought process. If a man is identified with his thought, then the confrontation is glossed over and put away as quickly as possible. If a man is not identified with his thought then a confrontation can provide value.
Habitual thoughts are put away for the time the confrontation takes place. Because these thoughts are really the functioning of habit, they can provide no insight. Habitual thoughts are really mechanisms that take over when the instance of confrontation is passed.
Self-confrontation is actually a solemn journey that allows for insight in every hour. Self-confrontation is different from confrontation of another. The chemical reaction in the brain, which strips away habitual thought, can be cherished instead of resented when a man undertakes to confront the self. Because it is cherished, the chemical reaction can be welcomed, and because it is welcomed, the chemical reaction can be extended. Because it is extended it can have a less deleterious impact.
I am aware that a number TAT members have an interest in the works of Bernadette Roberts. I want to inform you that Bernadette has published a truly extraordinary new book, The Real Christ. A description of the book and a "Warning" that Bernadette asks people to read before purchasing the book can be found at bernadettesfriends.blogspot.com
Please note that I write just as person who has gotten much from Bernadette's works, and am not directly connected to that site.
Hi all at TAT Forum,
Attached is writing that is the outcome of reading the great Heart Sutra [in November's Forum].
This seems to capture the very essence of understanding human conditioning as the human condition. The attached writing explores this.
The problem, so it seems, is those human organisms interested in understanding what it is to be a human organism, and its spiritual possibility, want to discover something that is their own personal interpretation. Whereas there is no such thing as a personal solution to being a human organism, only TRUTH as what is taking place as a human organism. The Heart Sutra, so it seems, allows no escape into a personal solution. But then that is also, for many who read this, its failing because there remains the illusion there is an entity/person/agent existing inside brain/body.
from Greg's article:
Amongst all the growing illusion of existence, as human organism ‘personal’ consciousness, is the eternal anchor Heart Sutra as TRUTH.
The Heart Sutra strikes at the illusion of the human organism’s very existence. The Heart Sutra, amongst all the constructions of a spiritual existence, is the total stripping away of all illusion.
Where were you last year at this time? (spiritual seeking progress-wise, goal-wise, etc.)
And where do you want to be, next year at this time?
Your answer can help others (as well as yourself). Please send us your reply through the Contact tab above and we'll feature it in next year's first Forum issue. Thank you.
Did you enjoy the Forum? Then buy the book! Beyond Mind, Beyond Death is available at Amazon.com.