Sunday, January 18, 2015

The scales of Being

Sunset in Tallman State Park, New York

 I have engaged, over the last few years in this space, in wide-ranging conversations about the nature of good, of sin, and of evil. 

This morning, while contemplating, it occurred to me that there is a great danger in the language of philosophy becoming a philosophy of destruction.

 This takes place when language is used to construct relativistic cosmologies, where everything is mutable, and nothing has a fixed value.  One may accidentally—or, worse, deliberately—strip everything of meaning in this way; challenge the cathedral stone by stone, until nothing is left but a pile of rubble. There are times when I think that the modern world is engaged in exactly this practice: some even propose a world without cathedrals, even without worship. The danger — and it is ever present, and growing — is that in the end, man will worship nothing but himself.

When we begin to assign meaning — the original Sanskrit root comes from a word meaning mind — already, we must begin by assigning value — without values, there can be no meaning. That is to say, meaning begins with finding out what things are worth.

Worthiness, value, cannot be determined by magnitude alone. The most extraordinary events can be reduced to nothingness using the value of magnitude in conjunction with mind — one example being Stalin's observation that a million deaths is nothing more than a statistic. 

Value, then, must consist of something more than magnitude — the sheer quantity of what is present. It must consist of the quality of what is present; and the quality of what is present is determined not by its inherent nature, but by perception within the mind.

Once we admit that there is such a thing as quality, it cannot be discarded. Even philosophies of absolute abandonment — everything from Buddhism to Meister Eckhart's esoteric Christian theology — invest their understanding within the quality of abandonment, which has an absolute, albeit transcendental, value. Even the complete dissolution of value, in other words, is of value — which becomes a dilemma that renders value inescapable.

 If value is inescapable, we must struggle with it. That is, it is the responsibility of perception to discover value, to discriminate, to perceive and assign. This is a difficult task; and every man or woman who undertakes it seriously comes to moments when it seems hopeless. Value does not yield itself easily in a world of infinite variety. How ought one discriminate? Sometimes, one simply doesn't know.

Society and civilization have designed external yardsticks used to measure such things; more often than not, we call them moralities. They can serve as guidelines; yet they themselves are not infallible. In the end, each human being is called within the context of the responsibility of their own life to engage in an effort that challenges moralities, even as it affirms them.  We can't just take value as it is handed to us on platters, whether they be lead or silver; we have to weigh it on the scales of our own Being as we live.

It is in this evaluation, this weighing and measuring, that I encounter the unknown within myself. Like all human beings, I have my likes and dislikes, my preferences, my inclinations, and I also know what religion, society, ethics, morality, and so on have told me. The first is an inner state; the second, an outer one. They form a conjunction within me at this singular and immediate point of awareness; and I don't know for the life of me know in my bones which is true, unless I come into relationship with an inner energy that can inwardly form a center of gravity on the question.

Each human being will come to their own experience within this question. My own experience is that the inward flow of energy provides a truth that weighs these questions accurately. It weighs using a metric beyond my own understanding, and without words to describe its parameters; yet the metric, the measurement, is real indeed. It is, furthermore, not just a statistic, like a million deaths — it is a living thing. 

And this is what interests me in life, that encounter.


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