Friday, May 07, 2010

Tat tvam asi...NOT.

One of the experiences associated with certain kinds of evolved religion and mysticism is a disengagement from identification with the ego and a recognition (or at least an assertion) of transcendental unity. The Sanskrit phrase Tat tvam asi, meaning "That thou art", is often quoted as a marker of this kind of non-dualistic consciousness.

In the words of the immortal prophet John Lennon, "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. Coo coo ca chew."

Reminds me of a story I once heard (apocryphal?) about a dialogue between a Christian and a Buddhist.
Christian: "We are taught to love and forgive our enemies. What does Buddhism teach about enemies?" Buddhist: "Enemies? What enemies?"
It was supposed, of course, to show the higher truth of the East, which dissolves those pesky Western dualisms. Very cool.

But I am such a Western dualist. (And I wonder how the Buddhists of Tibet under the heel of China feel about the reality of enemies?)

There are things which may be true on higher planes of existence, or in the Kingdom of Heaven, or in Berkeley or Marin, but on planet Earth, in time and space, here and now, as far back as the eye can see, dualism is the order of the day.

And needs to be. It is how we survive, if we manage to survive at all.

For better or worse, it seems to me that all our identities and identifications require an Other which we are definitely not. It was the universal and constant phenomenon of group splitting that made me think of this. What is more common than one tribe hating and warring against its neighboring tribe? Adam and Eve very quickly were at odds and their two sons came to murderous blows. Part of what makes the Old Testament both compelling and offputting is the constant conflict. But this, IMHO, is archetypal truth about who we are, post-lapsarian human on the third planet out from Sol. One afternoon in the schoolyard during lunch should be enough to indicate the truth of things.

Enemies are real and constant. They help to make us who we are. And we return the favor.

Rather than wringing our hands over this --which combines moral masturbation and exhibitionism in one fetish-- I suspect it would be wiser to accept it and then to pay attention to how we handle it. Conscious enmity?

For some reason I remembered the hapless Pope Paul VI* speaking at the UN in favor of the higher values, repeating the elegant pacifist slogan "Jamais plus la guerre! Jamais plus la guerre!". War never again. So Sixties. Such a waste of breath.

Highminded and spiritual people have their uses. Usually in a monastery where they can do little harm except to others of their kind. Not running countries or writing for newpapers or teaching our children. But for the real world of schoolyards and armed tribes of actual humans, Heraclitus is a better guide than the Pope or the Dalai Lama: "War is the father and king of us all."

Which reminds me, I have to order The Man's new book.


*PS I was a student in Rome in 1973 and heard him preach at his cathedral church of San Giovanni Laterano. He was a pitiful figure, poor man, unable to deal with the storms of the 60's in his Church. I remember a line where he departed from his text and cried out rather pathetically, "Cosa posso fare? Non sono ch'un vecchio uomo." "What can I do? I am just an old man."


Anonymous said...

I have long thought that the quest for ego-dissolving-into-cosmos enlightenment actually is motivated by an ego's desire to subsume the All of Everything into itself, albeit in a (not unusual) sort of person who wouldn't admit to such a thing.

I could describe with some depth why I think that, but it would prob'ly turn into a stones-into-bread sort of discussion pretty fast.


Mr. Freeze said...

That whole "love your enemies" thing gives me pause sometimes. I've found the purest, truest hatred can only be born of love lost.

Due to betrayals and such.

In the case of "warring tribes" ... my hatred for Teh Ghey and it's requisite liberal leftism couldn't exist if I hadn't at one time loved it all dearly. Still loving it, in a way. If only nostalgically.

Same goes for my Family.

Birth, adoptive, and 'found' ... respectively.

Makes me wonder if loving ones enemies is somehow unavoidable. Achieving Indifference seems far more difficult.

But way more preferable.

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