Saturday, September 17, 2016

Contradiction in the nature of one's whole being, part II

Arjuna finds himself confronted by the inward struggle of his entire life: the two families lined up against each other to do battle. He doesn't want to engage. Yet for all its spiritual teaching, all of the philosophy, insight, ideology, and guidance that Krishna's commentary delivers, the overall message, the essential message, is that Arjuna has to go out and engage with his Being, engage with his life. And it is this inward life, the one locked in apparent conflict, that he must engage with: because somehow, his identity, his awareness, and his consciousness have not accepted the task of placing themselves in the midst of this struggle with a willingness to sacrifice, and even to die.

In order to see myself, I need to place myself in the middle of these contradictions and the battlefield engagement that they represent in an inward sense. This was the insight that struck me when I was meditating last week. I can't escape from myself; and in me, the unreal has no being, the real never ceases to be.

This saying isn't a philosophical gadget meant to distinguish reality from illusion in an outward sense; and trying to understand it in terms of outward existence in the world around me isn't that helpful. It is about what takes place in me. There are parts that have Being and awareness, and parts that are mechanical and automatic.

 Above all, in order to do this, I have to live my life. The whole of my life, formed as it is, provides not only a field of action — a "battlefield" inscribed on a scroll that extends from my innermost being to the outermost world and cosmological events — it provides a material of suffering where alone I can prove my worthiness.

Victor Frankl characterized it thus:

 Dostoevsky once said, "there is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings." These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom — which cannot be taken away — that makes life meaningful and purposeful...

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even in the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.
Do not think that these considerations are unworldly and too far removed from real life. It is true that only a few people are capable of reaching such high moral standards. Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man's inner strength may raise him above his outward fate. Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.

—Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, Beacon Press, Boston (hardcover edition) pgs. 63-64.  The passage has been edited for brevity; refer to the original for the full scope of his remarks in this section. 

 I think it's fair enough to say that Arjuna's struggle is one to become worthy of his own suffering; this is the battlefield all of us operate on, and it is not an outward battle with the world. It is a struggle between our two natures and the effort to manifest them honestly alongside one another. We can't engage in the struggle if we try to eliminate our lower nature; it is only with its presence and action that any better side of ourselves can be manifested.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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