Friday, May 31, 2013

The absolute value of truth

In contemplating the nature of our relationship with things — which seems to be the main preoccupation of modern culture — it occurs to me that we equate things with the good.

By things, I mean material objects, that is, the necessities and luxuries of life. Not only in the West — readers may recall I've spent a great deal of time in Asia, including impoverished countries such as Pakistan and Cambodia — but all over the world, men and women are constantly bombarded with a barrage of advertisements that claim having things is what is good about life. If it's not the things that are good, then it's the ways in which we can get and keep them. The quality of life is defined not by the quality of relationships, the cleanness of the air and the water, the quietness of the environment, the living qualities of the creatures, but by the stuff we collect.

Getting stuff, collecting stuff, keeping stuff, have all weirdly become the aim of what is called the "good" life. It is as though the action of possession alone has merit. This has been taken so far down the path that even religion is a thing to have. The fact that this is an intensely blind and deeply stupid representation of the world seems to escape most people.

We have forgotten that goodness does not stem from things. Goodness is an inner quality that can only begin in and emanate from the human heart, and then only when the human heart is open to a higher influence. This divine spark we all have in us is where goodness begins and ends; if it is not expressed, there is no goodness. Assigning goodness to outer objects, events, circumstances, and conditions is only possible in so far as that goodness begins in human hearts and flows outwards from them.

Yet take a look around us at the advertising, the media, the culture we live in. If we actually pay attention to the garbage that is being shoveled at us constantly, we'll see that goodness, supposedly, always lies in the objects. This vacation is good; that cruise is good. This hospital is good. That food is good.

If one pays enough attention to it, it ultimately gets tiring. The real goodness is in the gentle touch of a hand from a loved one; the feeling you have when you see your child make an effort to move out into the world. The goodness is in a kindness done, a wealth shared; the extension of hope and support to someone who does not have enough.

Yet we are all victims of the disease of seeing goodness in things, rather than in humans. A good friend of mine whose brother died several years ago went to a memorial for him a few weeks ago, at which some objects from his parent's household which he was attached to and wanted were displayed. (One, ironically, was a Buddha.) He didn't end up inheriting them; and his brother, who did, left them to other family members.

This friend was able for one brief moment see the objects divorced from his desire, and he saw that the objects themselves had never had the values he assigned to them. They weren't good or desirable. It was the idea of having them that was good and desirable, to him.

So the limits of goodness were defined by his ego, not by anything objective.  Once he saw this, it conferred a kind of relief — and freedom. It turns out that his understanding of things as good was a burden, not the blessing that he experienced it as when his desires were in action.

 Perhaps it's just me, but there are times when I think that the majority of the world is, like my friend, completely hypnotized by this idea that goodness resides in things. I live in a world where the living quality of relationship is where goodness arises; and the majority of that is in the interactions of nature, not in the aberrant creations of mankind.  This resides in an organic vibration and sensory experience of the world that is both emotional, physical, and intellectual. The world is quite different under these circumstances.

Now, I'll admit, it's true that there is goodness in everything that man does, from a certain point of view, but it isn't the kind of goodness we think it is. It is a goodness that emerges from the Dharma, from the absolute value of truth that each thing has — not the material wealth it represents to the ego.

The absolute value of truth, this quality of the Dharma, is the ground floor not only of goodness, but of Being. When Plato argued in favor of a higher good that stood above all things, surely, he was referring to this quality. And this absolute value of truth, of goodness, emanates directly from the divine and is what inwardly forms every material manifestation. Even the ones that outwardly manifest in ways that seem to be evil originate from within the good.

This leads us to a paradox, because we must accept the materialistic world we find ourselves in, and these perverse values, this grasping, even though they are clearly incorrect. The most we can do, in the face of this tidal wave of desire, is to manifestly and steadfastly attempt to represent our own inner values to the outer world according to the dictates of our understanding.

Everyone of us who seeks inner understanding finds ourselves on the horns of this dilemma, trying to navigate the treacherous waters between Scylla and Charybdis. Perhaps we even hear the voices that goad us in one direction or another. All of this is lawful; part of the yes and no that creates the inner friction which can transform a soul.

So perhaps we should be grateful to materialism and its excesses; after all, it gives us a yardstick to measure the value of life against. All it takes is a little separation from it to see it for what it is; and in that seeing, the wish arises to discover something more than this.

 May your soul be filled with light.

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