Being human with what we’ve got

Dear Vincent
A long gap between communications tends to blur thoughts that were sharp when originally conceived – ie: when I first read your excellent last post. Maybe that’s a salutary reminder of how ephemeral our thoughts are anyway! Now that there’s a quiet moment I want to try to sum up what I wanted to say regarding Fingers Pointing Towards the Moon. . . .

A letter from Natalie d’Arbeloff, whose blog is at https://newnatalie.blogspot.com/, received July 16th 2015, in response to my post “Fingers and Moon“. In a subsequent post, “The Organizing Power of Words“, I quoted a few lines from it. We both agreed it would be timely to publish the whole thing now.

If I single out this part it’s not because I’m ignoring the rest of what you wrote – not at all, I was moved by the whole of your post. It’s more for the sake of articulating to myself what it is I so deeply disagree with in the outlook expressed by ‘Wei Wu Wei’ (Terence Gray) in that book, and in similar books by other authors presenting the same point of view. This is simply a sharing with you of me talking to myself! I appreciate the fact that you take from this book, or other books and other philosophies, just what you need and leave what is not relevant to you. I do much the same in my own search for truth.

So, here’s how I see it: an essential aspect of being human and resident on this fragile, overcrowded, dangerous, beautiful, ugly, inspiring, stunning. astonishing, terrifying planet is that we are hypersensitive creatures, equipped not only with the necessary physical senses but also extra-sensory faculties, intelligence, imagination and the capacity to feel profound emotions of which love is at the apex on one pole, and hatred at the apex on the opposite pole. To use the equipment we have as humans, in whatever version we’re given at birth by heredity, environment, culture etc. is our task: to re-create ourselves, mould a self that is an improvement on what we’ve inherited, one which makes better use of all our faculties, senses and extra-senses, intelligence, imagination and, crucially: emotions. The difficult task of being human, re-creating ourselves, is like alchemy:

— to transmute those emotions which drag us down into emotions which lift us up, give us metaphorical wings, thereby being able to love
— Love being the element which both transforms and forms the Self (the gold, the “philosopher’s stone”)

This takes hard work, and involvement in the realities that life presents us with. I see the Self as tool, a transformative tool. Like a brush in a painter’s hand, or a hammer in a carpenter’s hand: it has to work on something and it transforms the material it works on.

I would need to quote too many passages from Fingers Pointing… to illustrate why the concepts it expresses are the contrary of what I’ve described above. I understand their premise, I am familiar with the doctrine and its sayings and I respect its importance and its positive aspects. But as I see it, those concepts (which are the basis of Buddhism and related philosophies) have more to do with what I call Life Afer Life….in other words, a state which may exist after our physical death, when some form of consciousness may remain and merge with some form of cosmic consciousness which we are, in our present physical state, unable to comprehend although we can occasionally experience it intuitively. I for one do believe in this ‘Life after life’ and it makes perfect sense that in that state we would see the reality of the lives we lived as illusions, the various ‘selves’ we adopted as illusions, and the attachments we formed as handicaps.

But while we are still alive in this world, in the specific realities of our specific lives, I don’t feel (and I stress that this is simply a personal view) that the emphasis on the illusory nature of everything, and the definition of a Sage as one who has reached total detachment, is helpful to the work we are called upon to do as individual inhabitants of planet earth.

I could go on expounding on this but I think I’ve already gone on too long. Thank you for making me think about these things.

Hope all’s well and that this summer heat wave isn’t uncomfortable where you are.
All the best,
Natalie

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