Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Essence and Egoism, part II

  One should first know, and it is in fact obvious, that man has two kinds of nature: body and spirit. Accordingly it says in one book, 'Whoever knows himself knows all creatures, for all creatures are either body or spirit.' Thus too the scriptures say of man that there is in us an outer man and another, inner man. 

To the outer man belongs all that is attached to the soul but embraced by and mixed with the flesh, and co-operating with and in each bodily member such as the eye, the ear, the tongue, the hand, and so on. And scripture calls all that the old man, the earthly man, the outward man, the hostile man, the servile man. 

The other man who is within us is the inner man, whom scriptures call a new man, a heavenly man, a young man, a friend, and a nobleman. And it is he whom our Lord means when he says, "A nobleman went away to a distant country, and gained a kingdom for himself, and returned." 

Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, p. 557

My writing tends to follow my ponderings, and after yesterday's post, I got to thinking about this question of essence a bit more.

The whole point of contact with essence, of the inward facing ego, the one that faces towards God — and which pertains to conscious egoism — is to see who and what one is. The motive force that points from within towards God looks within, that is, it actually is able to see within, so to speak, from the surface of the skin inwards.

This is the part that can examine the inner being.

The whole point of examining the inner being is to understand exactly who one is outwardly, with all the boils and blisters; and one can't understand how damaged and delusional personality is without inhabiting it fully while, at the same time, the inward part looks inward. This is how one begins to see one's contradictions; and if one tries to get rid of one's contradictions by any means before this process begins to take place, the process becomes hopeless, because instead of seeing one's contradictions, one buries them — that is to say, one erects buffers, obstacles, so great that they become nearly impossible to see. This kind of thing often happens, unfortunately, the exactly the same time that a person thinks they are "developing" spiritually.

This is the danger in seeking some place of blissful tranquility. In order for essence to undergo a process of purification, it has to see the most painful parts of what I am — which is, of course, the point of the essay I so highly prize on this subject, not for happiness. Of course, this idea of conscious egoism is hardly part of the Buddhist lexicon; they probably call it mindfulness, but the way mindfulness is discussed in Buddhism, it doesn't, to me, at least, convey the precision that the expressions conscious egoism and essence do to describe the situation, just as the (Buddhist) expression attachment is not, for me, as precise as the word identification. The one implies that the self glues onto objects; the second one implies that the self loses itself in them, which I think is much more to the point.

In any event, this question of the development of essence, the connection to something that is real and alive in oneself in a completely new and different way, is — well, you will have to forgive me — essential. I seek to become connected in a new way to my life — to inhabit it, every single part of it — and to become human in a way that is at once quite simple and at the same time goes much deeper into what it means to be human than to just do things and get stuff.

Shockingly, I can't go deeper without doing things and getting stuff; I can't go deeper without fully participating in everything that's going on.

This is the meaning, to me, of work and life; and this is why I become increasingly suspicious of cloistered environments, retreats, long periods of meditation and silence, and so on as I grow older. I find that my work is most alive and my questioning is most profound and disturbing — and yes, I want to be disturbed by my questions, otherwise, how real are they, really? — when I am in the middle of life, in the most ordinary of circumstances. There is an incredible amount to see here. Going on retreats and special weekends and sitting in well-behaved little groups of people who have well-rehearsed modes of expression and exchange just doesn't do it. It's too tame. I find my work is most alive when some other person is absolutely horrible to me, or I to them, and then I have to deal with it.

Whether I respond with compassion, intelligence, and tolerance, or blow my top, that is where the rubber hits the pavement — that is where I find out how I really am in all of my reactions, or — conversely, if I'm blessed with some presence — I suddenly recognize how helpless we all are.

And if I am really seeing anything, when someone else is truly horrible to me, the first thing I see is myself. That is, I am exactly this way. But I usually don't admit it.

Inner work is supposed to be conducted in the midst of the most terribly confusing situations, where events are unpredictable and messy. It wonders me at times that we want to make it beautiful by conducting it in serene environments, surrounded by beautiful objects, where things are controlled and polite. I often wonder whether this isn't just a way of putting us more soundly asleep while we dream that we are working.

 So essence, this inward vision, this conscious awareness of self through sensation, has the potential to look inward from the surface of life that contacts Being, and see how the inner parts are arranged relative to all the outside influences.

This is really the question all along, anyway, isn't it?

The more that this vision penetrates, the more remorse of conscience begins to arise.



  1. amen,,, do we detect a certain distance from the work house :) or are we just imagining...
    after all that's where the movements happen....

  2. and life can indeed be 'terribly confusing'

  3. I'm going for 3 today :):

    U have never mentioned osho on this blog...and he doesn't get much space on Parabola...or am I missing something? Biological terrorism etc...?


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