Black Swan for Black and White Thinkers

Swan Header

Scene from Alexander Ekman’s ‘A Swan Lake’





For Virginie

Money and not morals is what counts most of all in the United States. If you do not have it you are nobody of note, no matter what you do, and if you have enough of it you may become President of the United States, whatever you happen to do. Yet, no matter who you are, your days on this earth are numbered, and your number may come up as quite a surprise to you although the statisticians have taken your demise into account when devising their mortality and accidental death tables for the insurance industry. And there is a chance you might win the $500 million lottery.

Enjoy the day the best you can because, as a matter of fact, you may be gone tomorrow as a result of some random, unexpected event, say, a bridge collapsing on your head, a plane crash, or perchance a terrorist attack. And on a larger scale, there are natural disasters, and do not rule out a pre-emptive nuclear attack. The planet itself is not perfectly secure since it might be encountered by a comet. I think it was Voltaire who remarked that this planet of ours might be a speck of dust in the road to be unexpectedly flattened by the hoof of a passing horse. So a lot of good your money will do you then.

Yes, there are some events even statisticians may not predict no matter their theories and how much historical data they may have. Every schoolboy knows that the mathematician and scientist Charles Sanders Peirce thought that nothing was determined for certain despite the habitual behavior we observe as laws. Chance events beyond the scope of those natural laws might irregularly occur. That is, there is such a thing a chance operating in the universe, the theory for which is dubbed ‘Tychism,’ after Tyche, the Greek goddess of luck, who was known to the Romans as Fortuna. Peirce, needless to say, was not a conventional man, though he was a great logician. His advanced scientific perspective aroused the jealousy of colleagues. He made some unfortunate choices including an unrewarding investment. Although he was helped out by relatives and his great friend William James, the successful philosopher who marketed his Pragmatism brand of philosophy, he fell upon hard times before he died destitute.

More recently, a nerdish Lebanese immigrant and Wharton School grad by the name of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who said he made enough “f*** you” money as a quant and securities trader to say “f*** you” to people, enlarged his small fortune by writing his best-selling book, The Black Swan. A so-called black swan or unexpected event, because almost all swans are white, had come out of nowhere to embroil Lebanon in war.

The same sort of swan might be to blame for financial crashes, the budding probability theorist proposed as he developed his Black Swan or reverse-probability theory into a nice day job for himself because he discovered that everyone including himself was incompetent when it came to predicting future market prices. An investor might as well hire a monkey to throw darts at a list of securities than trust his money to experts, but without those experts there would not be a secondary securities market.

I like Taleb. He preferred to study instead of pursuing an infinite number of dollars. Indeed, he said he was ashamed when he engaged in the pursuit of wealth. The “inelegant, dull, pompous, greedy, unintellectual, selfish, and boring” business world literally disgusted him. Journalists “cluster” around the same subjects. Everyone consumes the same “news,” the last thing one should do to know what is really going on; the more news consumed the less the cookie-cutter society knows about things except for things of “dubious value.” The “achievers” in suits who do not read books and who become more sycophantic the higher their income are even more ignorant than cab drivers because cab drivers know they are ignorant.

He was so ashamed of his business that he did not want to tell people what he did for a living:

“When people at cocktail parties asked me what I did for a living, I was tempted to answer, ‘I am a skeptical empiricist and a flâneur reader, someone committed to getting very deep into an idea,’ but I made things simple by saying I was a limousine driver.”

A flâneur was an 18th century artistic character or literary type who wandered Paris incognito without purpose, a random walker absorbed by the crowd although detached and somewhat cynical while experiencing the urban environment. He becomes blasé and disappears as the city is transformed into a modern capitalist hub and he into an insatiable shopper hypnotized by window displays. The whole of France may be said to heading in that direction as it is losing its distinct character to the European Union, much to the horror of Virginie in Nord France and millions of other French people.

I was an anachronistic flâneur some years ago, randomly walking the streets of New York City as its distinct neighborhoods were gradually being absorbed by big stores. In fact, my life has been a random walk. I knew people were supposed to have goals in order to succeed, and success was determined by wealth, by the things and people one owned, but even as a young boy I rebelled against “being somebody” in that bodily sense.

No way was I going to have goals and plans. When I was a little boy I was angered when people asked me “what” I was going to be when I grew up. Why should be other than “who” I am? I ran away from home for good two weeks after I turned thirteen years of age, and proceeded to wander the streets of Chicago. I was lucky that I was a tall boy who loved to read and seemed intelligent to others as I eventually lied my way off the mean streets into steady employment, falling, by chance, into office jobs, and, ultimately, into accounting, where I, ironically, used some common sense I had picked up as a kid in Kansas and my Chicago street smarts to help my employers devise plans to achieve goals.

I might have done very well if I had taken my own advice, but I was not interested in success, except perhaps to be the greatest author the world would ever or never know. As it is, I am what one might call a successful loser, an idler who loves to think about what others do and to write about it in my own way. I guess I am, like Taleb, a flâneur. I was on a random walk. I ventured to New York City from Chicago and took a liking to it because the drinking age was 18 back then. Turned down for a job on Wall Street because they found out I lied about my formal education, I randomly walked around, and chanced by the construction site for the World Trade Center. I was angry that my application was rejected, so I cursed the pit upon which the twin towers would be set. I knew I would have performed as well as the college grads if I had been given a chance to analyze businesses and pick the best securities to invest in. I did not know at the time that the market was on a random walk, and that a monkey with darts could do as well as the average expert.

If I had been hired that day, I would have enough “f*** you” money to write a Black Swan book! As it were, I crunched numbers, was luckily paid well for that, and otherwise applied myself to reading and the theatre arts, i.e. dancing, singing, and acting, dance being my favorite because it allowed the animal to express itself, without a goal in mind. My studies were as always at random. It appeared to me that everything was connected, that one could start with any detail within the book of life and tell quite a tale no matter how pointless it might be to sharpened pencil heads. Theoretically, dancers who actually dance instead of just doing technique make good writers because they are exhibitionists, and writing is thinking out loud.

Now the problem with the exercise of my aimless avocation in the city was that it was difficult to explain and seemingly absurd to everyone with plans and goals. Even after I ventured to Hawaii to marry and lead a straight life, my wife had difficulty explaining what I did for a living although I did well enough financially thanks to a German wheeler-dealer whom I helped make millions in real estate.

“What do you do for a living?” had required a short answer in Manhattan, especially when asked by beautiful Jewish American Princesses on the West Side, and I, like Taleb, preferred not to identify myself with money grubbing! I was, after all, a flâneur, if you please.

“Once, on a transatlantic flight,” wrote Taleb, “I found myself upgraded to first class next to an expensively dressed, high-powered lady dripping with gold and jewelry who continuously ate nuts (low-carb diet, perhaps), insisted on drinking only Evian, all the while reading the European edition of The Wall Street Journal. She kept trying to start a conversation in broken French, since she saw me reading a book (in French) by the sociologist-philosopher Pierre Bourdieu—which naturally, dealt with the marks of social distinction. I informed her (in English) that I was a limousine driver, proudly insisting that I drove ‘very upper-ended’ cars. An icy silence followed, and, although I could feel the tension, it allowed me to read in peace.”

That particular paragraph convinced me that Taleb is a kindred spirit. I would rather study than work, and study on my own at that. I do not write for money, I write to live, to avoid the end. I do not begrudge people their wealth, their escapes into matter no matter how professional. Whether I like it or not, man is a goal-seeking animal, and the goal of life is to avoid the goal fated for all things, with the possible exception of fundamentalist Christians.

I am too engaged in writing to market my work, and that does not matter. People ask me what I do for a living, and I just say I am retired, because if I say I am an author, they want to know right away if I have been published by major publishers. If not, I am immediately demoted, albeit politely, and find myself treated disrespectfully. Whatever happened to the importance of Being over Doing?

The woman on the plane who wanted to know what Taleb did for a living may have just been curious, or perhaps she just wanted to pass the time in conversation, which is most likely. He did not say how many rings she had on her fingers. According to my favorite songstress, Alicia Keys, a Real Man will know A Woman’s Worth and lay some diamonds on her.

Look, I took courses on the street in the school of hard knocks. I am not one to go around calling women prostitutes for renting their bodies when men are engaged in renting out their souls as well. People naturally want power, status has power, and wealth today buys the highest status in the minds of many competitors.

I lived on the Upper West Side, where I habituated a popular restaurant and bar on West 79th Street called Wilsons, and I cannot remember how many times a women asked me “What do you do?” and did not get around to asking my name after I answered. Clubs like Wilsons were called “meat markets” by guys who cruised meat markets to meet women.

The ladies were on the hunt as well, and usually for something more permanent than a handsome hunk of meat. A qualified man should have a substantial income, therefore, “What do you do?” No matter how smart or helpful a man might be, his “character” is determined by his wealth and how “generous” he is with it. I actually saw many women take the tips their dates had left on the bar as they departed, the gentleman leading the way, of course.

I did not like to be pegged down. I experimentally lied to assess the reactions, and discovered that if I loudly said, “I am a surgeon,” almost every girl at the bar took inordinate interest. If I wanted to be left alone, perhaps because I did not like the girl I encountered, I would just say, “I am a file clerk,” and she would turn her back on me to talk to someone else.

Now there was a jazz lounge on Upper Broadway, in the Nineties, called J’s or Judy’s, I think, where some great musicians appeared. It was not a meat market, far from it, so I was surprised when a woman I was chatting with asked:

“What do you do?”

“I’m a file clerk.”

“Did you say a file clerk?”



“Not only do I file things, I retrieve them as well.”

“You are just what I have been looking for, in my business,” she said, handing me her business card. Would you mind coming to my office on Fifth Avenue tomorrow?”

SWAN Petersburg

I may relate what happened afterwards in a novel, where personal truths are always better told as fiction. Yet another version of Swan Lake might do.

Taleb is probably right about the Black Swan. Dark matter is invisible so its effects seem to come out of nowhere. He relates that people were walking about shocked and dazed by the unexpected “Black Monday” stock market crash on 19 October 1987 when the average of the index decreased 29.2%, a virtually impossible event according to the Efficient Market Hypothesis; the odds against that happenening at the time were 1 in 10 followed by 45 zeros. I noticed something strange about the mood on the sidewalk when I came out of the Fisk Building near Columbus Circle. I stopped by a bar and asked what was going on. The stock market had crashed! Thirty-three years after I observed the foundations being laid for the World Trade Center, the twin towers had tumbled down! Who would have imagined such a disaster was forthcoming?

Swan Natalie Portman Black Swan

Natalie Portman as White Swan in Black Swan movie

We can never make ourselves completely secure from the untoward events fostered by the Black Swan. She is supernatural. We find no instrument between her as cause and her effects. Note that the Black Swan can be a male even though males like to characterize the opposite sex as hysterical.

The Black Swan is within so may not be walled out. Taleb arrived with the virtue of an immigrant after he became an ascetic rebel in a luxurious Lebanese setting “with a vastly sophisticated lifestyle, a prosperous economy, and temperate weather just like California, with snow-covered mountains jutting above the Mediterranean. It attracted a collection of spies (both Soviet and Western), prostitutes (blondes), writers, pimps, drug dealers, adventurers, compulsive gamblers, tennis players, après-skiers, and merchants—all professions that complement each other….”

And then…. “The Lebanese ‘paradise’ suddenly evaporated…. A Black Swan, coming out of nowhere, transformed the place from heaven to hell.”

The only exception I might take at length to Taleb’s classical thesis is the association of catastrophes with color and gender. Some lucky people think success is entirely their own doing, while others confess that luck played a large part. Lady Fortuna has been called a bitch because she is faithful to no man or woman regardless of race, color, or creed. She can bring incredible luck as well as misfortune. Besides, the Goddess of Night conceals not only criminals but lovers.

Is the Black Swan, the “dark side” or alter ego of the American ego, its death instinct, soon to be its suicidal undoing? Will the “Platonic” boxes people think in come tumbling down? Is the American ‘paradise’ about to suddenly evaporate?

SWAN black stallion poster 1979

Black Stallion 1979

The subtitle of The Black Swan is ‘The Impact of the Highly Improbable.” The highly improbable is still probable. The problem is too complex for the computers to figure out. We might enjoy the day before meeting our maker. We might remove the motive for hate with love and stop looking on people as numbers to be manipulated. The Black Swan might then become our Black Stallion.


SWAN Black Stallion 1979

My Volt Died but Life is Good





Oh, woe is me, my Life is Good LG Volt phone went into a vicious restart cycle and I was unable to manually factory reset it after reading a thousand and one solutions to the issue including putting it in an icebox, scraping the battery leads, dismantling it to fiddle with the start button mechanism, slapping it repeatedly against the palm of the hand, and depressing the down volume button and start button at the same time to reset it and so on, so I emailed Steven, a longtime executive with Sprint: PLEASE HELP!

Steven had changed my life when he sent me the Volt to replace a Samsung phone much lower on the totem pole. The Samsung phone became obsolete less than a year after I bought it. I was fond of it because of the full mechanical keyboard that slid out for the convenience of those of us who are amazed at how nimbly nimble-fingered kids can type on touch screens while we curse with almost every word mistyped or wrongly corrected. On the other hand it had a primitive little screen with no apps.

Steven forwarded my email to Donnetha, an Executive Service Analyst with Sprint’s Executive and Regulatory Services Department. Lo and Behold, the next day Fed Ex was at my door with a Certified Pre-Owned LG Tribute 5 device. Life is still good for the time being.

The fact that it is a “Certified Pre-Owned” replacement reminds me of the line of automobiles I received on the Big Island of Hawaii from Hawaii Auto Center, “Home of Pre-owned Cars.” The engine of the red Ford burst into flames as I drove up a mountain, so Sammy, the owner of the used car lot, replaced it with another Ford, and its transmission failed, except for reverse, three blocks away, so I drove it backwards to the lot, and got another Ford that lasted awhile after some maintenance, and then I traded that in for a Mark IV Lincoln Continental, which cost me a bundle in maintenance before the transmission dropped, which meant another transmission had to be obtained from a Mainland junkyard, so it seemed true back then that “Ford” meant “Fix Or Repair Daily.” Sammy, a former Ford sales director, threw in the towel and gave me a Chevy that lasted until I left the island. Sammy was good. He stood by his deals, and it helped that I was his accountant and lobbyist. Sometime later, by the way, the bartender at Don Drysdale’s Club 53 in Kona was bragging about the great car he had been driving for two years—it was my refurbished Mark IV!

Now since I have mentioned two low-end phones it is obvious that I am either poor or frugal, probably one of those prepaid phone people, someone that may someday own a refurbished high-end phone if he is extremely lucky. Anyhow, just because a person does not have a thousand dollars or more for the best of all possible phones at the moment does not mean s/he is not influential enough to get first class executive service, and that is what I received from Sprint via Steven and Donnetha.

As for the Tribute 5, it has its virtues and faults like everything else in the world including people like me who generally like to harp on the negatives to perpetuate innovation that will land us on a higher plane of existence, that is, a planet with better people and products including communication devices.

All friends have faults yet we keep them because they are friends even when they do not like each other, and the Tribute 5 is user friendly enough right now, its main faults being, as far as I am concerned, several in number.

Sometimes the music takes forever to play, if at all, even with Wi-Fi, and that is most disconcerting.

It does not have a call block function on the Calls Log. Several steps must be taken to block nuisances: go to the Calls Log: copy the number; go to Apps; go to Setup; go to Call; go to Reject Calls; paste the number.

I could not get rid of the Android upgrade notice after I upgraded it twice. After I left it to upgrade automatically at night for two nights in a row, the annoying notice disappeared.

The slender, wide body felt uncomfortable in my hand. It felt better, however, after I put it in a heavy duty EVOCEL carrying case, and it looked more substantial too. So much for going around naked with all the risks that entails.

The images taken by the camera are inferior to the ones I enjoyed with the Volt because there are not as many pixels nor does the aperture let in enough light, much to my chagrin for I am a frustrated photographer.

I could not find a microphone input on the keyboard that loaded with my new used phone. The SWYPE application with the microphone input is no longer available no matter what kind of phone you have; SWYPE went coincidentally kaput just before my Volt went on the blink. I got ahold of the LG Company and I was instructed how to change the board to Gboard, and I must say it is functionally superior to the moribund SWYPE board.

I must say that the web pages look better on the larger Tribute 5 screen. I hope the glass is the same kind as on my old one because it did not scratch.

The buttons are on the back of the Tribute 5, and I like that because side buttons can be accidentally depressed with undesirable results.

I heard on the Internet grapevine that the Tribute 5 is inferior to the Volt, so it seems I have been downgraded. What can one expect for nothing when a warranty runs out just before something dies? Almost everyone was badmouthing the Volt, but I liked my old friend. I had no problems with it until it did the vicious restart cycle, and I miss it. I am, however, growing fonder of the Tribute 5. If you live with an ape long enough you may learn to love him or her.

The fact of the matter is that I do not like change no matter how often I am told to accept someone else’s change. I feel like my body died and I was given another one. Well, at least I can remember who I am. Anyway, I shall not complain if I get an even better phone before I meet our maker.

Bad things happen in bunches, as I first learned as young hospital orderly when a certain wing of a floor would have a slew of deaths on the same night and I would have to wheel the bodies to the basement.

It just so happened that at the time my Volt died a friend of mine had been abusing me to no end as if my brand had grown psychologically obsolete for her. I felt I was invited for dinner only to be beaten like a dog, and to that end I was not allowed to share in its cost.

I think it was Buddha who asked a beggar, “To whom would food left out belonged to if a mendicant did not take it because of abuse?” “To the proprietor of course, and, likewise, the abuse would belong to proprietor as well, and, to make matters worse, a friend would be lost.”

The last straw came after I emailed her the news that steering wheels are coming off the latest Ford Fusions. She had already had a serious battery draining issue with her Fusion, which she loves dearly. Are we back in the USSR? The battery issue was resolved, and I thought she would want to know about this new problem. She said that she listens to the news all day and did not want any news from me, then ordered me not to communicate with her. Done, albeit sadly, mostly because she is an unhappy bird. I had a dream this morning that I was telling her “I am your prayer,” but she responded cruelly, and said I had no license to help people, so get lost.

My sorrow naturally moved me to consult the I Ching for advice. I tossed the coins instead of sorting yarrow stalks. I came up with Hexagram 63, After Completion, which advised me to be patient and not to look back. After Completion changed into Hexagram 10, Treading, as it were, on the tail of a tiger, I was advised to be pleasant while discriminating between the high and low roads.

The advice not to look back is well put because if I dwell on the past I may turn into a pillar of salty tears, not a good thing to do given the fact that big boys are not supposed to cry. And being courteous and pleasant during troubled times is wise though not easy to do. Sometimes the sheer traffic of the city makes me so anxious I wonder what sort of drug might take the edge off, and I think of having a pint of Fosters Ale while watching Leaving Las Vegas.

Now what about the high and low roads? Does that mean I should find better friends and phones and let go of the rest? But if I abandon the friends and phones that I have, I would be left alone, incommunicado, even more unlikely to get on the high road where I might have one of those thousand dollar phones with a little pen. I might as well be dead and gone, for a man is good for nothing without friends. He might imagine he is not lonely, that he is merely all-one in the One, but then he would be an incomparable nobody if not nothing.

Sometimes Customer Service is the only shoulder available to cry upon at any length. It is usually a rather cold, “professional” or robotic shoulder. Customer Service, please remember that we were born helpless and secretly yearn to go home again to be picked up and coddled for awhile.

Coincidentally or not, at the time my phone died, I was virtually retracing the steps of a linguist and trekker named Csoma de Koros from Hungary to Tibet. He was obsessed with going home again to what he thought was the origin of his kind of Hungarian people, somewhere in Siberia or Mongolia. He was dirt poor, a virtual monk, an almost barefoot scholar headed for the ancient Silk Road. He met an East India official by the name of William Moorcroft along the way. Moorcroft got him a contract to compile a Tibetan dictionary to facilitate the economic goals of the British Empire. Csoma proceeded with the project in Tibet, with the help of a lama, in bitter cold quarters in Zanskar, a province once within the ancient Guge Kingdom in Western Tibet, now in Ladak, North India. That led to his employment as a librarian in Calcutta for a few years, and then he ventured up to Darjeeling with the intention of finally going to Lhasa to resume research on the fabled origin of his ancestral race. Alas, he came down with a fever and died, going to the final resting place of all things material, the Better Place that might be Utopia or no place at all. So it was the means to his goal and not the goal itself that benefited the human race.

Of course my research into the physical and mental trekking of Csoma included studies of his translations and discussions of Tibetan Buddhism. Scholars are sort of monks naturally influenced by their studies. It occurred to me that Csoma had become a Buddhist monk.

I myself was called a Buddhist some years ago by photographers involved in a proposed revival of Life Magazine. I had abandoned my professional career and the beautiful Big Island of Hawaii to take up the study of dancing, the foundation of all the arts, in Manhattan. Of course I was soon reduced to impoverished circumstances and had to take a day job to pay for classes and a tiny room on the Upper West Side. The photographers encountered me at a studio in Carnegie Hall, and that resulted in extensive photo shoots in Central Park and in my small but cute room. “You are a Buddhist,” I was told.

So here I was in South Beach studying Buddhism, how the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path evolved, pondering the essential concept of dependent origination and its identity with karma. I arrived at the tentative conclusion that the goal, Nirvana, was death, that Buddhism is a form of virtual suicide, a nihilistic process of going home again forever after making an infinitesimal mark in infinity. The saving grace of Buddha, I thought, was his compassion and moderation. Come to think of it, Buddha and Jesus have much in common, and I dared to say that to the Watchtower ladies selling Jesus in my apartment building, undulling angering one of them.

And then, in the midst of a morose contemplation, my Volt died! I had a sinking sensation, like I had the time my father, who often spoke of voltage because he was an electrician, died up north as I was reading Kafka on the beach. Without my Volt in my left pocket I felt the Void that I am without communication. Excuse me while I put on Holtz’ Ode to Death because I cannot stand to think about Nothing without the choir.

Yes, it is true that everyone is suffering, even when they are laughing at loud. Even beauty makes people cry. The expression on the face is the same. Try dropping some acid with Dr. Timothy Leary if you do not believe me. On second thought, just say no. You do not want to know. Do not read Aldous Huxley or Carlos Castaneda.

In any event, existence and not being is the problem, and the solution is inevitable.

Suffice it to say that I was profoundly depressed with the loss of my Volt and my best friend, with the growing imminence of the living end without a phone to die for, the dark enlightenment shed by the existential core of Buddhism, and Socrates’ statement that philosophy or the love of wisdom is a preparation for death, and so on.I had been crushed by the All Mighty. Thankfully, the All Mighty is merciful as well as cruel. Sprint’s executive service reached out with a new phone for me to cling to. I began to gradually recover from my profound depression, like one of those amazing little flat frogs that rises and jumps when water is poured on it.

I have never been a goal-oriented person myself although I have advised others on how to have and achieve goals. I tend to lose my miserable self in processes: in play, in thinking, in dancing, in writing, in acting. Ironically, I am a financial conservative as a result of being penniless on several occasions, hence the low-end phones. So I beg your pardon for being a fool in art, that is, someone without a goal, for not being rich and famous.

My dead LG Volt and my LG Tribute got me to thinking about Existentialism again, and how Albert Camus found meaning in meaninglessness after realizing the vanity of goals. Just feeling the Sun on one’s face and the sight of kids playing with a ball is delightful no matter that everything comes to an end. I went for a walk and happened to notice the plants the kids had grown in the yard at the charter school, and, behold, there it was, that red sunflower! Life is good enough for now.

I had gotten the impression from Buddha that death is better because the suffering comes to an end; that is, until I read that the key to good and evil is how one thinks because like follow like. I am beginning to like the Tribute 5 better than the Volt, that’s for sure. Still I wish I had one of those phones with the little pen.


The Metaphysics of Personal Existence







“Personal life is the fine flower of life.” Emanuel Mounier

I. The Gist of Existentialism

Personalism might be a popular ideology or at least a household word today if existentialism had not better suited the aversive reaction to the cult of supreme personality that had fostered two massive world wars. Whereas personalism emphasizes the social human being, existentialism places the onus on the individual alienated from society, and affords bare existence priority over clothed being. Existentialism is an anxiety-bound mélange of rationalizations spawned by homelessness, alienation, the meaningless of life and absurdity of death made apparent in the horrors of two world wars systematically fought pursuant to the institution and breakdown of political and economic systems deemed “objective’, “rational”, “reasonable.” Not only irrational faith in a personal god but faith in impersonal reason and universal, abstract systems-of-being was also lost when confronted with the disastrous effects of being fanatically rational and reasonable. Considering humankind as a whole, it does seem suicidal and therefore unreasonable to murder others; yet it also seems quite rational to align individuals or divide the population into fractions that murder perceived enemies for the sake of individual and group survival – there is safety in numbers.

The term “existentialism” was picked up by the press in a smoky Paris jazz cellar from a casual remark made by a jazz singer to a reporter about the “scene” observed by the American tourists flocking to Paris in the aftermath of the war. Jean Paul Sartre and other “existentialists” dismissed the term at first – they were just philosophizing – but when the label came into vogue, they adopted and employed the appellation much to their advantage. Existentialism as they described it includes especially the notion that the particular individual must be solely responsible individual for his own thinking instead of relying on habitual culture or rationalized systems of being; but existentialists seek the impossible, for language itself is a social tool dependent on and responsive to the will of others. Existentialism is not a system at all, but is more or less an anxious and absurd reflection of the human predicament, particularly the predicament of a man’s individuality made obvious by the disturbing fact of death. Indeed, any sort of systematic existentialist thought put forward by a so-called existentialist would contradict the very premise of existentialism – thus did Sartre, for example, strive never to repeat himself.

The subject of Existentialism abstracted from human personality, the subject that is individual human existence as distinct from and prior to human being, is the broadest of subjects, the subject of all subjects subjected to particular existence. Kierkegaard appropriately called abstracted individuality the “category of one.” Being and existence somehow converge in the category of one. The category of one is presumably a general term for particulate being or qualitative individual existence, as if objects stripped of their predicates still had a quality in common – “existence” – but still remain unique in themselves. We might revert to Leibniz and speculate on independent existences as windowless monads that are identical but for number, yet, although identically constituted, somehow have slightly different perceptions.

Suffice it to say that the category of one is incomprehensible hence is compatible with irrationality; the non-categorical category of absolute individual freedom has no relation to hence no dependence for its category on others; thus is existentialism is non-systematic, indefinite, and irrational despite the volumes of rationalizations that justify it. A perceived individual or particular is a unique coincidence of universal qualities had in common by many particulars, qualities that “survive” the individuals involved, so to speak; the qualities are sorts of general beings that have no perceivable existence absent their coincidence in particular objects. The uniqueness of individuals, needless to say, does not preclude their being typecast according to their similarities, thus they are accorded with a higher, more conceptual being. But denuded existence, or the conception of existents stripped of the qualitative predicates necessary for being, is virtually nothing and unknowable to boot.

Christian existentialism, for instance, is a contradiction in terms; Christians in need of an seemingly objective standard or external authority in order to prolong isolated or “freed” subjective individuality beyond the inevitable fate of all individuals, death, project the vague qualitative impressions of the fleeting willful self within onto a screen: the eternal Subject external, the Immortal Subject of subjects, the unknown self-god painted large, the Divine Individualist crucified by existence in the world. But then the Christian existentialist has placed Being before denuded existence, and in the form of a social creature, a human being, thus slips from Existentialism to Personalism. Yet here the human being is still alienated from the Supreme Being although reflecting it.

As Boethius said, “Nothing is said to be because it has matter, but because it has distinctive form. But the divine substance is form without matter, and therefore one, and is its own essence. But other things are not simply their own essences. For each thing has its being from the things of which it is composed. The Pure Form “is truly One in which is no number, in which nothing is present except its own essence,” of “God that differs from God in no respect,” and “where there is no difference there is no sort of plurality and accordingly no number; here therefore is unity alone…..” Precisely how this Being differs from Nothing is unclear, but like the category of one that is said to be individual existence before being, the being before existence strips or alienates the godly person from material existence, and it remains to be seen how this person really exists at all.

However that might be, long before the term ‘existentialism’ was coined, the abstract yet irrational subject of individual subjective existence was considered to be unlimited by or even antithetical to grandiose systems-of-being such as those cranked out by theologians and the likes of Hegel and Marx. Indeed, we have a history of centuries of alienation, freedom, irresponsibility, guilt, despair, and dire circumstances of persecution unto death, not to mention other factors of enormous interest to today’s existentialists.

II. The Gist of Personalism Personalism shares existentialism’s concern with the plight of the existent individual; the rhetoric is similar is several respects. Yet we may draw a convenient distinction to posit that personalism is the hopeful affirmation of the absolute value of the socially organized human personality, in contradistinction to existentialism’s pessimistic denial of the virtue of socially organized being. Personalism’s social optimism is not the positive mental attitude of the bourgeois towards the rational organization of economic mass man for production and consumption. Shortly before the Great War, optimistic leaders at international peace conferences declared that free trade between countries had rendered war obsolete; for, they argued, unprofitable war would certainly be self-destructive hence insane. But self-destruction is the unconscious motive for war. Of what avail is it to tell angry competitive men, for whom economic trade is an unsatisfactory surrogate for war, that the murder of particular enemies is on the whole a form of mass suicide no matter who wins or loses? The enemy, sayeth the prophets, are the rods of god, thus does the death instinct serve the god of death and relieve the swarm of its crowded stress that the remainder can begin anew with more elbow room. Once the ground is leveled, the survivors clutch their bibles, glorify their god, and the say ‘never again’ during the reconstruction period; but once prosperity sets in, bibles are laid aside and the golden calves are reestablished on altars for a repeat performance.

Emmanuel Mounier, a pioneering Personalist of Catholic disposition who took refuge in Vichy France, where he was involved in the moral indoctrination of youth, had this to say of the vicious cycle wherein the cheap, hypocritical optimism of having a positive mental attitude no matter what transpires plays an important role when business is done as usual before the next apocalypse:

“But our countries, devastated by weariness, now need the builders of hopes and duties. I have developed the theme of triumphant history, because it is the Christian view of history, not in order to make the plethoric Christians feel more at ease than the cavaliers of anathema and scorn. Perhaps tomorrow we shall be invaded by worse than barbarians, by Babbitts, with crucifixes of gold, teeth of gold, and hearts of gold, coming to preach their new theologals in a big way: optimism, good temper and philanthropy, which can be achieved much more easily, we know, through using the right toothpaste, well-adjusted foundations and a Parker pen, than through the Word of God. Then once more we shall need those great sombre voices.”

Personalism is essentially conservative and at odds with modernism and the unrestrained advancement of objectivist science. “Material” science, with its emphasis on analytical thought, its obsession with breaking everything down into bytes and bits, disintegrates the various social masks upon which dynamic human intercourse depends, reducing the human being to the status of a bare unit, a programmed, windowless monad whose program gives him cause to perceive that his existence is independent, while, at the same time, responsible. Ironically, he has been thoroughly socialized in the totalitarian sense. Nothing stands between him and the political-economic dictatorship. So devoted is he to rational production and consumption that he has little or no time left for clan or club or community; as for the nuclear family, it is an empty vestige of the productive institution it once was.

Not only has science dispelled belief in spirits, gods and other mythical entities, but its mechanical way of thinking if taken to its logical conclusion would transform nature and man into machines. Thus God, Nature, and Man are dead. Yet if a man were acting like a machine, we would deem him insane; providing, however, that we were not machines ourselves – in which case his behavior would seem normal. Wherefore we must revitalized and restore the human person – the social human being. This person is at least metaphysical or spiritual if not “divine.” Biological evolution and scientific progress are irrelevant in the personal context: in that context, only the person is real; the rest is mere phenomena. Our thoughts about the phenomenal world may or may not be valid, but reasoning will never disclose the ultimate foundation of reality or nature; for thought itself is phenomenal, and Being is prior to thought. A being, say, a human being, then, is always more than and prior to a thought.

Personality has an individuality or existent aspect, but it is one shaped by society: the individual human being is naturally a social, thinking, rational and reasoning creature. Theological personalism – in contrast to anarcho-Christian protestations of anarchic individuality represented by an arbitrary, divine Anarchist, avers that the ultimate reality of the world is a Divine Person who sustains the universe by a continuous act of creative will. For Emmanuel Mounier, that incarnate god or Christ calls human beings to be Christian gods:

“Christianity gives man his full stature and more than his full stature. It summons him to be a god, and it summons him in freedom. This, for the Christian, is the final and supreme significance of progress in history.”

Mounier pointed out that the bourgeois conception of individualism emerged from the revolt of the individual against traditional society during the Renaissance; it was a revolt against an inflexible church and domineering economic system; the revolt lead to the Reformation and Industrial Revolution. But the conception of freedom that inspired the revolt doomed society to another sort of decadence, a corruption presided over by commercial speculators who profit from doing little or nothing.

“This speculation, in which profit is gained without the rendering of service, was the ideal towards which all capitalist endeavor tended. Thus the motive passion of adventure gradually gave way to the soft enjoyment of comfort, the passion of conquest to the ideal of the impersonal mechanism, of the automatic distributor of pleasures devoid of risk or of excess, regular and constant, derived from the machine and from fixed income…. The substitution of speculative profit for industrial profit, and the values of comfort for the values of creation, has gradually dethroned the individualistic ideal and opened the way to the spirit which we call bourgeois because of its origin and which seems to us to be the exact antithesis of spirituality.”

The new Christian “is a man without love, a Christian without conscience, an unbeliever without passion. He has deflected the universe of virtues from its supposedly senseless course towards the infinite and made it centre about a petty system of social and psychological tranquility…” Therefore contemporary man “needs the tragic, the Cross, as a goad to prick him along the right course.” God did not create man perfect because he wants him to work for a living, to perfect his self.

No doubt the socio-psychological disposition dubbed ‘personalism’ has ruled the sentiments of sages since prehistoric times. Even people who fervently believe in abstract existents denuded of personal qualities tend to imitate personal models and behave according to their socially derived personal biases and prejudices – Camus depicted the typical atheist of his day, who fell down on his knees and prayed to God in secret when he felt his life was at stake. Despite the many professions to the contrary, personality is the ultimate reality for personalists.

Mundane personalism strives for the full awareness and understanding of the human condition so that an happy accord may be realized between the universal WE and the particular I, or the person as the synthesis of individual existence with the socialized individuals or persons it introjects from its environment during the course of its development towards being an ideal human being in existence; that is to say, in a philosophical phrase, the human concrete universal, or, in theological terms, god incarnate. Personalism therefore is not contemporary individualism:

“Individualism is a system of … mutual isolation and defense,” Mounier explained. “Man in the abstract … the sovereign lord of a liberty unlimited and undirected, turning towards others with a primary mistrust, calculation and self-vindication; institutions restricted to the assurance that these egoisms should not encroach upon one another, or to their betterment as a purely profit making association…. (Personalism) is opposed to contemporary individualism. Personal man is not desolate, he is man surrounded, on the move, under summons…. It is the primal sin of the West to have departed dangerously from the original truth.”

Nor is personalism other-worldly: “It is not affirmed outside the world or separately from the other, but against the impersonal world of the ‘one’, the world of irresponsibility and flight, of lethal slumber, amusements, ideologies and chatter, it asserts the world of responsibility, presence, of effort, of ‘abundance.'”

Personalism, according to Mounier, is a form of communion: “There is one affirmation that is common to all Personalist philosophies… that the basic impulse in a world of persons is not the isolated perception of self (cogito) nor the egocentric concern for self… but the communication of consciousness…. We should prefer to call it the communication of existence, existence with the other, perhaps we should say co-existence.”

III. Religious Implications of Personal Existence

We find nothing fundamentally novel in the modern personalism that places being before existence and thus emphasizes social being over the individual existence or existential aspect of the personal unity we call a person. The late Polish pope was certainly conservative of the ancient personal tradition; his admirers may be unfamiliar with the term, personalism, yet the pope, whom they consider qualified for personal sainthood at his death, was committed to formal personalism early on in his intellectual career. And the ancient Eastern Orthodox Church has as a matter of course taken religion personally; that is, as a religious commune of individuals who have their personal identify in the Divine Person of Jesus the Christ.

Hindus have enjoyed a lively dialectic on the personal or impersonal nature of the divine Subject of subjects for many centuries. Religious personalists insist that persons can only have genuine and effective faith in personal deities or in Supreme Personal Being. They claim that impersonalists, who roundly deny the reality of personal deities, are in fact atheists. The Invocation of the Sri Isopanisad, purportedly the essential verse of the variegated Hindu religion, of ultimate importance since it seems to indicate that people would presumably overlook their differences and be at peace if only everyone would realize that everyone and everything is part and parcel of the infinite, has become the main bone of contention on that point:

Om purnam adah purnam idam
purnaat purnam udacyate.
purnasya purnam aadaaya,
purnam eva vashishyate

The Gita Society ( publishes this translation:

That is infinite, this is infinite;
From That infinite this infinite comes.
From That infinite, this infinite removed or added:
Infinite remains infinite.

This Purport follows:


Brahman is limitless, infinite number
of universes come out 
and go into the infinite Brahman,
Brahman remains unchanged.


If we assume that numbers do not exist in themselves but are merely invented counting terms of a contrived mathematical language, then the insertion of the numerical concept in the Purport to demonstrate the being of an ideal infinite super-reality abstracted from material existence is problematic, for there would be nothing in that infinite sphere to count. At first glance we find nothing particularly religious in the original verse, unless religion is the exaltation of the abstract idea of the infinite or unlimited, which can indeed be expressed metaphorically as the mathematical concept of the infinite series; it is not difficult to conceive that there is an infinite number of odd numbers within the infinite series of numbers. Infinity is certainly not a conception beyond the reach of mere mortals, for something is always beyond our grasp; we always want something more than what can be had: so when we think of an object, even the universe, we think there must be something beyond it, perhaps more universes, ad infinitum.

If the Infinite is the unlimited deity, then we might hold that the adoration of any particular form besides the metaphysical form named by an arbitrary term (e.g., the Infinite) is sacrilegious idolatry. There may be an infinite or countless number of finite things to dispose of, but Infinity itself, which transcends every particular thing, is not finite. One might say that Infinity is the feeling of something more to be had, something besides what is grasped and apprehended, the unsatisfied want or desire for complete satisfaction that constitutes the essential dissatisfaction of existential life; for each instantiated life would persevere forever without impedance if only it could, and thus be unlimited power. Each thing would want for nothing and no thing would stand in another’s way; in time, every other installation would be consumed by an existent’s absolute power, and likewise for each other instance – in fact all things do perish, but they perish variously in differing instants of time.

Individual identity depends on relationship. Mr. & Mrs. Jones say they want to be one with one another in marriage, yet once in holy wedlock both complain that they cannot be their true selves because they have lost their identities to each other. If they were in fact identical, they would not have their separate identities, and in fact they need each other and others to be themselves. By virtue of their individual existence they are moved to fly apart. Yet the two may, instead, because they abhor the isolation within which they would each, standing alone, as social creatures be worthless or unwholesome (not sane), work to make inherent strife harmonious, that their differences be concerted in the composition of a mutual personal relationship transcending occasional discordance and cacophony. And that ideal marriage would be naturally motivated – although its ultimate success would require personal education of the existential motive – for each existent would not perish, and to that end it seeks temporal refuge in relationships with others.

Although intimacy is lost in the crowd, safety is found in numbers greater than one, and the more the better. Hence the whole is called good. Absolute safety in an infinite number compounded is thought best. That ideal security might be called Infinity or Supreme Being; as a relationship between socialized individual existents, namely, persons, the whole that is greater than its parts might be projected as Supreme Personality. But compound things are bound to disintegrate, for each particulate as such is, in the final analysis, fated to strive for independence or absolute power over the others and the whole to the best of its ability, and to perish in the process. Even harmonious strife will eventually bring the particulates as they exist to an end, as if they must die for one another that each may live. But if each arrived at the same conclusion at once in the One, nothing finite would remain; call it not-finite or infinite nothingness, if you please. That is to say, the apocalypse would uncover Nothing. Everyone might set aside multiplicity at once to end the war over differences; they might then “enjoy” absolute peace, but the death of the struggle for life would be beyond celebration, wherefore we are naturally moved to struggle against total assimilation and to take pains to enjoy some independence. Wherefore the wave prays to the ocean to protect it from the other waves. Understanding the very process that seemingly makes fools out of us might move us to make sport of war and to take to the arenas instead of the killing fields.

Variety is indeed the spice of life. A little girl in a pink blouse with the word SWEET embroidered across its front appeared with her mother at the Starbucks on South Pointe – the south end of Miami Beach. She had her mom’s facial features and her dour expression as well. Her mother got her a glazed donut, a bottle of orange juice, and a plastic cup of ice. As the tot chewed on her donut, without much interest despite her serious countenance, her mom offered her orange juice from the plastic bottle; but she reached for the ice instead, picked up and popped a cube in her mouth. Instead of pouring the juice into the container with the ice, her mother starting dropping cubes into the bottle, as if to show her child what should be done with ice cubes if picked up one by one. But the girl did not have that objective: she insisted on pressing the plastic lid on the bottle; then she took another ice cube from the glass and popped it into her mouth, whereupon her face lit up with delight. She did not want the liquid; she wanted the ice: she appreciated the sensational difference of form, and no doubt she appreciated the fact that she had obtained it for herself.

Again, nothing in particular would exist without differences; nothing exists within the simple unity and absolute self-identity of the perfect wholeness sometime called the final cause or the end for which all things were created and in which they are presumably perfected and therefore have their truth and beauty; to wit: Good. All existents in unity have hypothetically canceled each other out; nothing but Infinity remains once the vanities are consumed by the bonfire; but That would be Nothing in Itself, which is to say nothing in particular.

On the verge of the abyss, then, we might say “From Nothing to Nothing” instead of “From dust to dust.” We find variations of such nonsensical nihilism or idiotic iconoclasm at the esoteric or occluded core of several religions. Religious ascetics whose sacrificial religion constitutes the good death or virtual suicide, and who identify absolute being with nothingness, might deny the charge of negativity by stating that the affirmation of what is tantamount to Nothing is in fact an affirmation of the All; for example: empty space is the positive permanent fact; the forms of space are ephemeral negations.

In any event one might want eternal life, but in the end each must submit, so perhaps it is best to accept the fact of existential death forthwith and be glad and thankful for one’s small quota of life instead of grasping selfishly and vainly beyond the grave for more than one’s allotment. Of course the end of a finite existence in the infinitude does not erase the fact of its existence in time, wherefore the finite has its infinity within the Infinite. Yet even this scant thought is too much for those freedom fighters who would be finally done with determined existence at its end, and who loath even the idea of being remembered and thus further defined after their bodies are cremated and the ashes scattered in the river. The idea of reincarnation or survival in any form or a marker somewhere is a horror to them. They love Infinitude.

Brahman was not originally identical with the Infinite. We would have no problem with the interpolation of the term in the Gita Society’s Purport if it were yet another term for the Infinite, an arbitrary label completely unladed of its historical predicates. In fact, the accidental qualities attributed Brahman over time unduly limit the substance they are attributed to. The honest etymologist and lexicographer will warn us that the origin and meaning of ‘Brahman’ is rendered uncertain by various, often conflicting attributions. We may for instance boil the word down to the root, brh, which ancient Indian exegetes said meant “being strong,” hence we might conclude that Brahman, a neuter noun, names the absolute or unconditioned power that endures forever and ever, hence is permanent and eternal. Of course our denotation falls apart with the conception of “eternity”, for that which is eternal is timeless hence does not, strictly speaking, “endure” over time; so we dispose of time, the commonsense notion rooted in the experience of succession, and claim that time is an illusion.

Absolute power might be personified as an almighty god and named Brahma. But that would be a waste of breath according to other scholars, for the Brahman found in the Vedas is not eternal or immutable but is said to be “carpented” or made. According to Hindu lore, the personification of Brahman, Brahma, was the first created living being. Accordingly, Brahma does not get the attention or reverence due to an almighty god, not even from his wife, who considers him as her subordinate in one context. Indeed, Brh might have been made by Ma, she who draws out or gives birth to “breathing” things – Maya is at once the maker, the making, and the made. Now brh might also mean “swelling”, as in the swelling of “breath” or speech, or “formation” and “formulation”; wherefore our strongest power might be the creative power that formed the one verse or universe in one breath, perforce in a big bang from a non-dimensional point.

Such an incredible inflation presents a paradox or riddle to this very day – the term barh, incidentally, means “riddle.” Such enigmas are best presented by poets in poetic form. We might imagine Brahma as the poet who utters the universe as a poem; Vishnu maintains the verse by chanting it; Siva finishes it when he decapitates Brahma. Of course there is quite a debate as to this illusory process of creation, maintenance, and destruction. The riddling contest is called Brahmodya; it is a life or death ritual because the maintenance of life above and below depends on it. The loser must submit to becoming the disciple of the Brahmin who wins the contest, or else lose his head. The winners inhabit Brahman, “the highest heaven of speech.”

Now the intellectuals are at leisure to ponder at length and to weave finer and finer abstractions out of nothing and mount the metaphysical ladder or Chain of Being to the Vacuum of Being-in-itself, where they have their faith in Supreme Being, which is indistinguishable from Nothing, The vulgar lot below, who are given to working for their living or who do not want to wither away chained to their computers at the tops of towers, have cause to believe that the highly educated brahmins, no matter how pure they might be, are in fact atheists. What is sorely needed is an exoteric and practical religion; a material religion with representative objects to adore; a personal model, if you please, for the vulgar masses. A totemic idol, say a black bull or golden calf or redheaded jackass will not suffice: only a perfect person will serve the purpose of realizing completion of the whole as god-headed Good. Yes, a perfected human person, a supreme being, an absolute power incarnate might do very well. But how could That be That if the essence of That or the being of Being has no delimiting form or positive definition? We are confronted with an absurd riddle if not the Vanity of human vanities, the sort of contradiction that Luther liked to confidently refer to as “one of God’s mysteries.” For example, in Hinduism we are confronted with Krishna.

The mystery is further compounded by those who claim that the cosmos is really the body Brahman created out of itself, which is nothing in particular; and if we subtract that finite creation, we are somehow left with the universal infinite form, that of the famed person, Krishna, who would seem to be, at least to an ignoramus, a formless form or nothing at all that can somehow, nevertheless, take fantastic personal form on our planet. The Gita Society puts it this way:

”After taking away the infinite creation from the infinite Brahman during the creative cycle or adding infinite universes to the infinite Brahman during the great dissolution, the infinite Brahman remains in His infinite Universal form. This can be mathematically expressed as infinity, plus or minus infinity, equals infinity. This infinite Universal form of Krishna, the Brahman, was revealed to Arjuna and is described in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita in great detail.”

How the infinite Brahman wound up as an He, instead of a She or S/he or It, to begin with, we do not know as of yet. How a form might remain after the forms of the universe are subtracted remains a mystery – we might suppose the possibility of a formless form, whose gender is merely metaphorically male, a He who may be described in detail when He appears on earth to tell warriors it is their duty to make war even against their own relatives because that is what warriors are ordained to do – we are mindful of the fact that the cause is ethical, for the society our enemies fight for is decadent and dissolute, as the Brahmins who sanction war know very well. Suffice it to say that Brahman may be considered as a fictional persona, a mask over reality, as it were, analogous to a man’s personality, a mask worn by, say, Brahma, the primordial living being, who is analogous to the super man who composes the constituent castings of humankind – His feet are the lowest caste of people, the Sudras, his head the highest class, the Brahmins. How Brahman can be a presumably subordinated form of Krishna, allegedly the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is a question only bona fide spiritual masters can answer appropriately. And answer they must, for the most of us are left clutching at thin air despite the mention of the being of a divine personality.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society For Krishna Consciousness, examined the Invocation to Sri Isopanisad and declared that om literally means, “the Complete Whole, and purnam means, “perfectly complete.” He is not satisfied to leave it at that, and goes on to discuss the traditional implications. He rejects the obvious meaning, that, since no persons were mentioned, the deity must be impersonal. He says the Sanskrit words ‘Sri Isopanisad’ means “the knowledge that brings one nearer to the Supreme Person, Krishna. “ He identifies “Brahman” as eternal existence. In that impersonal sense, Brahman alone is insufficient for the Hari Krishna swami and his followers; although they do celebrate Arjuna on the warpath, Bhakti yoga, the path of love, is their path to the union with the godhead; they would be conscious of their dance and blissfully blessed in it. So the ‘Prab’ the acarya rendered this interpretative translation of the verse:

“The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the Complete Whole is also complete in itself. He is the Complete Whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance.”

“Realization of impersonal Brahman or Paramatma, the Supersoul,” Prabhupada explains in his ‘Purport’, “is incomplete realization of the Absolutely Complete. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is sac-cid-ananda-vigraha. Realization of impersonal Brahman is realization of His sat feature, or His aspect of eternity, and Paramatma realization is the realization of His sat [existence] and cit [consciousness] features, His aspects of eternity and knowledge. But realization of the Personality of Godhead is the realization of all the transcendental features – sat, cit, and ananda, bliss. When one realizes the Supreme Person, he realizes these aspects of the Absolute Truth in their completeness. Vigraha means “form.” Thus the Complete Whole is not formless.”

The impersonalists speak of an infinite number of finite things, and hold that human beings can rest peacefully as replicated common denominators of the common denomination called infinity; they are somehow comforted by knowing there is no fundamental difference between the waves in the ocean, or between the material forms of energy; fundamentally speaking, a cow, a man, a rock and a tree are the same. In fine, Thou art That, so stop fighting it, just accept it.

But contemporary Western culture would rather demolish the traditional forms or render them into commercialized relics in order to accept each other as equals in mutual animosity and make a profit to boot. Once the war of democracy on the world is won and the booty distributed according to merit rather than privileged rank, everyone shall presumably live most complaisantly. The disintegration of traditional cultural modes is graphically represented by the iconoclastic assault on the old art forms that paid ample respect to common human beings if not allegorical or divine persons. Art became increasingly abstract, and eventually the order or structures abstracted fell under the iconoclasts’ hammers, until the art world was converted to a post-modern anti-art world, a veritable junkyard or trash heap where ‘Thou art That’ means the individual is a junkyard dog. The only value remaining was the subjective appreciation of junk, perchance expressed idiotically as an absurd concept that nobody understands, particularly the anti-artist, whose popularity is determined randomly as each rebel contends to be more original or idiosyncratic than the next rebel, not understanding that the their rebellion is stultifying conformity with the status quo of the junkyard. No particular production is really worthy of praise or blame, not according to the dictum, “Art is not right or wrong.” Everything has equal moral value or is amoral, and this is all very democratic and seemingly peaceful and tolerable until the bombs start exploding at home – democracies thrive on wars abroad to tame anarchism at home, and are inherently imperialistic in their pre-emption of competition. Underneath the appearance of peaceful existence in substantial equality lurks an alienated crowd of potential suicide-bombers who would be glad to finally settle any remaining differences between people.

All this would be perfectly acceptable to someone who recognized the Supreme Impersonal Being in it all, for such is life and one might as well enjoy it.

Swami Prabhupada also believed that peace could be found in the Complete Whole, but only if it were a Supreme Person. A human personality, in contrast to the ‘personalities” of animals, is a cooperative fabrication learned and in part fashioned by individuals – hence we use the term “person” in the sense that a person is a synthesis of individual existence and social being. For Swami Prabhupada, the Person of persons, or Supreme Person, seen by Arjuna as Krishna, was the ultimate or transcendent reality of personal life. People who believe civilization causes their discontent may want to revert to wild-animal life, figuratively speaking, they would fain don an animal mask and dance around their totemic fetish. At least there would be no sin, then, in fighting over the kill and its scraps.

“Men face one another in enmity and snarl just like cats and dogs,” observed Swami Prabhupada in his Purport to Mantra One of the Sri Isopanisad, which advises individuals to want no more than their quota. “If they do not recognize the proprietorship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, all the property they claim is stolen…. Animals, birds, reptiles and other lower life forms strictly adhere to the laws of nature; therefore there is no question of sin for them, nor are the Vedic instructions meant for them. Human life alone is a life of responsibility.”

Human dignity is obviously at stake in this controversy between the impersonalists, for whom existence is sufficient reason to live, and the personalists, who desire an ideal personal example for their improvement. Krishna takes some delightfully human and superhuman forms in the literature, a literature far more entertaining than the published episodes of the life of Jesus the Christ, whose dignity was sacrificed to the mundane human order; he was all too human when crucified by existence. Jesus put a kind face or personal mask on the impersonal god – although ineffable Yahweh was, as the Lord, a “He” and a “Father”, he was no respecter of persons, particularly idolaters, and even murdered innocent children to have his way with the folk. Whereas Hinduism was an umbrella over diverse cults and was tolerant of diverse beliefs and behavior providing everyone kept to their kind, Judeo-Christians demanded a choice of either this or that: one choose this saving form of behavior or be doomed to that hell. Fundamentalists may have believed in the fundamental equality of individuals, who are “born equal in the eyes of God,” but not in the equality of developed personal qualities. Their religious form or social system of being takes precedence over naked existence.

Modern existentialist thought, the mainstream of which tends to impersonality in its rejection of social systems of being, professes individual responsibility: the responsible individual is faced with Either/Or and makes a choice: the existentialist does not choose, first of all, a system of being social, a system of relatively defined good and evil, but chooses his or her existence or self, or at least all subsidiary choices are meant to obtain that “selfish” end, an end compatible with certain protesting forms of Christianity, where the eternal salvation of the individual self and the will to endure forever of the existent meet and embrace.

IV. Existentialist Godfather

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is the godfather of the anti-systematic movement of thought we call existentialism. His corpus elevates the arrogant individual to divinity and therefore gives us due cause to pause and distinguish between existentialism and personalism, a less well-known response to the horrors of the two world wars.

The subject of existentialism, the individual existent, when socialized, is a person. The person, the socialized individual, is a synthetic system. While existentialism focuses on the individual, personalism emphasizes the socialized individual. Indeed, its adherents may go so far as to claim that the person is a blessed spiritual substance.

For example, Karol Wojtyla (the late John Paul II), confronted with the despairing and anxious mental processes of war-shocked intellectuals whose main concern was their dreadful existence as alienated individuals, worked to rejuvenate the conception of the substantial person in his early work, The Acting Person. As a devout Catholic, he undoubtedly had a universal model in mind; that is to say, a supreme personal model people could systematically imitate and identify with rather than losing themselves speculating on an incomprehensible unknown god or impersonal force. A number of existentialists, all too familiar with the crimes against humanity fomented by charismatic personalities, abhorred the cult of personality in any shape or form, and they decried the “rational” systems of thinking and corresponding ways of acting that had apparently led to widespread havoc and panic instead of a new world order.

Many but not all existentialists were atheists. Some Christians among them were “protesting” Christians if not philosophical anarchists. After all, Soren Kierkegaard, existentialist godfather, studied for the Lutheran ministry and was in effect an independent Danish theologian. Most of all, existentialists are supposed to hate systems – Kierkegaard believed intricate systems of thought were big lies leading the world to ruin. The greatest existentialists systematically decried systems at length. Their literature often interchanged the term “person” with “individual,” but make no mistake about it, inasmuch as the person is a social system, anti-systematic thinkers would rid the world of that fictional entity along with the lies of the Establishment. But the reduction of the person to a supposedly “responsible” individual would unwittingly leave him, in his discontent, vulnerable to the charismatic likes of Mussolini and Hitler. Thus do we notice that some of the philosophical notions of the existentialists who survived World War II resembled in some instances the ideology of the enemy – not that the existentialists knowingly or willingly collaborated with the occupiers. Of course, the same might be said of personalists – after the war was over, the ranks of the Resistance swelled dramatically.

In any case, one cannot get rid of the vulgar person and still communicate effectively. Although Kierkegaard’s contempt for society led him to prefer the abstract individual or “category of one” behind imperfect personal masks, he preferred to project his inner conflicts and conceal his self-contradictions and hypocrisy by speaking indirectly through several personifications: his thought-provoking Either/Or , for instance, is presented as a conversational work of fiction involving fictional persons, and not as a direct philosophical tome in the form of a coherent system of thought. Prominent existentialists deliberately tried to popularize their abstract philosophy by presenting it in fictional form, in plays and novels, behind which their fundamental incoherence would be hidden by the obvious absurdity of characteristic life. Albert Camus, for instance, who admired Kierkegaard, is best known as the philosopher of The Absurd; he noted in his diary that a good novelist must be a philosopher. Jean Paul Sartre and others followed suit.

Philosophers have traditionally identified the highest good if not god with social goodness; however, as far as Kierkegaard was concerned, an ethical man had no choice but to choose himself, the penultimate good; the religious man worshiped the unknown god, his ultimate good; while the aesthete was a sort of pantheist, finding his good in anything he pleased. We concoct three equations for Kierkegaard’s three types. For the Aesthete, the relative: I am that multiplicity. For the Ethical, the duality: I am not that world. For the Religious, the absolute: I am I. We shall see that Kierkegaard’s distinction between the Ethical and Religious realms was in vain. Despite his assertion that the ethical man chooses his true self instead of creating it from scratch, his fondness for the individual reveals the individual, as an abstract “category of one”, as the indefinite or infinite wherefore unknown I-god, the YHWH or I-AM of yore.

“Only when I absolutely choose myself,” wrote Kierkegaard, “do I infinitize myself absolutely, for I myself am the absolute for only myself can I choose absolutely, and the absolute choice of myself is my freedom, and only when I have absolutely chosen myself have I posited an absolute difference, the difference, that is to say, between good and evil…. The good… being in and of itself, and this is freedom…. It is… not so much a question of choosing between willing the good or the evil, as of choosing to will, but by this in turn the good and evil are posited….”

Hence it appears that the Absolute One chosen by Kierkegaard is a private and absolutely free godhead, an Anarch, in a word, that disposes of and therefore transcends relative good and evil. Of course the essence of this “category of one”, the universal individual and god presumably chosen by all self-chosen, self-integrated, hence ethical individuals, differs from the nature admired by unethical persons, the dissolute aesthetics who are preoccupied with the highest sort of feelings called beauty. Beauty is normally identified with pleasurable feelings ascetics abhor because the painful contrary, the want of pleasure or pain, is implied by pleasure felt – in either case, of pain or pleasure, the dignity of the self-caused person, an arrogance found in his freedom, is threatened to be demolished by an external cause. To rid themselves of pain, ethical ascetics would dispose of pleasure as well; they throw out the baby with the bath water and lay claim to transcendental indifference to the felt qualities of life, the relative value of which philosophers tend to dispute.

The aesthete’s preference for felt qualities instead of abstract ideation seems mistaken because the feelings vary one from the other, hence provide no absolute escape from the disturbing dialectic rooted in the basic social conflict between the existent individual and its society. The basic conflict is internalized and gives the person over to normal anxiety. The person’s joint role as an “I” and a “We” – the “I” as part and parcel of “We” – are both “introjected” as social conditions, yet the mystical unification and at-one-ment of subject and object wanted by the anxious ethical individual in flight from his existence cannot be obtained in fact short of death; and then the objective world ironically survives the particular subject, which was in fact the temporary, unique coincidence of universal conditions, but who when alive might find take pleasure in his existential crucifixion, on the crossbars of time and space, in the notion of eternal life free of the impediments that gives him cause to suffer life in hopes of salvation from it. This supreme arbiter loves himself only, in his finality, and cannot part with himself to merge with the nymphs calling to him from the social forest. Life then, for Kierkegaard’s ethical person, burdened by the necessity of dreadful choices, which in effect constitute a negation of possibilities, is a bitter thing. But the lemon can be made sweet by a faithful leap to the religious sphere, a transcendental planet far removed from both the aesthetic and ethical planets.

That ideal religious sphere, fortunately for Kierkegaard’s temperament, would not be inhabited by the established church of socially compromising and therefore hypocritical Christians he knew on Earth. As a devout Christian-of-one, Kierkegaard, instead of loving his neighbors wholeheartedly despite their sins, was moved to hatefully denounce professed Christians for falling far short of his fundamentalist notions. He chose to elevate himself to the rooftop and to cry out to his neighbors, “Hypocrites!” When he collapsed on the street in the midst of his violent attack on the Danish National Church, he told a friend that someone must die for the cause, and he died shortly thereafter.

It is no wonder that the seemingly absurd commandment, to love thy neighbor as thyself, had to be written down long ago for lip services, since it is so easily forgotten by the human heart. Thus does the anarcho-Christian become the reflection of his fellow enemy – a bigoted, irrational, unethical hypocrite – instead of the reflection of the only Christian who has walked upon this Earth thus far, the very Criterion of Christianity, Jesus the Christ. Although Kierkegaard may not have been the Strange God of Love’s prophet, he was certainly a seer, and in his prescience he was himself, in his representative anxiety and egoism, a prefiguration of our own time. The godfather of Existentialism is highly regarded as a theologian. Indeed, he was a good Christian as far as many of our contemporaries are concerned, a Christian who died for a good cause: calling organized Christians hypocrites for the usually reasons: for selling their souls to the devil and their consciences to the state.

Kierkegaard advocated individual integrity and responsibility. But to what end? What does he integrate his self with? The ethical individual abandons his reasonable reflections, which are the very means to ethical conduct, and leaps blindly to faith in What, which, when described, turns out to be some quiddity or the other. He evidently no longer has faith in his ability to choose, so he chooses nothing, really, but non-sense, and he does whatever might come to mind in the form of an authoritarian command from the charismatic leader of a totalitarian state of being – Kierkegaard admired the biblical willingness of a father to kill his own son (Isaac) upon command of the unknown god. Thus do intelligent men whose criticism eventually leads them to suspend judgment even in the value of criticism fall prey to the preaching of that ignorance in which they find their bliss, and may go forth to wreak havoc throughout the world for its sake. Wherefore, until freedom is realized in death, let individuals rebel. “Down with the Establishment! Down with the System! Give me Liberty or give me Death!” are the slogans of misfits; that is, until their own system is firmly established on uncompromising, fanatical principles. Freedom from compromise is found only in the omnipotent god, and those who believe they are gods have the noun spelled backwards.

Kierkegaard, to pursue what he believed was the ethical life of either/or, ultimately choose himself alone. Some of us may choose things to get rid of them, so that we may feel miserable for doing what we thought was the self-righteous thing to do. Only a mate can adequately sum up humanity. Kierkegaard dismissed the flawed queen of his mundane affections, his girlfriend, Regine, upon whom he thereafter literally reflected at length, in lieu of the consummation he had forsworn. She was not good enough or god enough for him: only the unknown god was worthy of his debasement. The true lover must always be wrong; the beloved must always be right. He thought he had ditched her to save her from the mistake of loving the likes of him, a man with cold feet. He eventually made the ultimate choice, a suicidal leap to faith in perfection. Only god can do no wrong despite appearances to the contrary. But nothing is perfect. Kierkegaard’s faith was really in his own reflection in the pool slowly swirling around the drain, the very mirror of his perturbations, as it were, from which only a chimpanzee with distorted figure could foolishly grin back, for the apostle gazing therein had renounced his reason with an open proclamation of his foolhardiness. Only faith in something absurd can escape the torment of doubting reason; absolute certitude can only be had in ignorance. Nothing, no thing in particular, is really worthy of unadulterated love.

“(The Ethical) is not a question of the choice of something…. The alternative is the aesthetical, the indifferent ….” The aesthetically inclined person would find his escape from the ultimate cause of anxiety – mortality – in the enjoyment of ephemeral feelings and the appreciation of beauty found in nature and art, including the art of personal living, But Kierkegaard’s ethical individual finds his solace in absolute solitude, in premature or living death, in virtual suicide. He mistakenly charges the aesthete with his own melancholic indifference to the world at large: he claims that the ethical realm is an infinite movement along hierarchically arranged values whereby one realizes (not creates) what he is by making important choices, but the choices available in the aesthetic realm are relative hence of equal value, constituting a flight from the ultimate Either/Or, that of good or evil. Of course Kierkegaard’s ethical doctrine does not require a preoccupation with choosing good things: his point is that an individual must make willful decisions, and it is in those decisions and not the particular things or acts chosen that he eventually finds his real self.

Kierkegaard was an idealist in the Platonic sense: the ideal is the real; reality is in heavens unknown as of yet – if only horses had wings. “The poetic ideal is always a false ideal, for the true ideal is always the real. So when the spirit is not allowed to soar up into the eternal world of spirit it remains midway and rejoices in the pictures reflected in the clouds and weeps that they are so transitory. A poet’s existence is therefore, as such, an unhappy existence, it is higher than finiteness yet no infiniteness.” Infiniteness is, to wit, the ineffable X – we might aptly call it Nothing, or, if you wish, the Origin. The path to X is heady stuff; as Kierkegaard himself remarks: “There is hardly an anaesthetic so powerful as abstract thinking.”

[Indeed, we who are given to infinite reflections recommend that aesthetes withdraw from their addictive substances and take up philosophy instead. Still, we would not have them forsake the fine arts. In truth, the highest aesthetic expression of intelligent love of life found in fine art varies largely in technique but little in principle. Works of fine art would be worthless without social agreement, and that accord or harmony is common to human nature. The so-called anti-art movement of the modern cult of individualism that rejected the traditional and only principle of art, the feeling of beauty, amounts to a lazy reduction to an absurd claim that art is merely subjective, hence one individual work is as good as another, and any criticism of an individual work is an unwarranted intrusion into the right of “contemporary” artists to individual equality. Since the anti-artist is unable to think coherently, that is, along social lines, his concepts are as incoherent as his constructions – he is unable to give us a beautiful drawing of a person; may heaven forbid if he does turn to fine art, and that his gift of personal beauty is the ideal beauty of a clothed Madonna or nude Venus. The anti-artist’s success of course is a matter of whimsical chance – some piece of nonsense or an accident widely publicized may turn him into a celebrity].

Kierkegaard’s self craves its very self, apparently the highest good or Good, or even God. The dualist refrain is familiar: Self is Good, wherefore World is Evil. Kierkegaard wants it all for himself: unity, freedom, omnipotence. He chooses nothing in particular: he chooses will in general, the will to the Good, or goodwill. But that constant choice is really of the self, for Self is Good. Such a choice would make a subjective god of a man, a man whose will is free no matter what the objective circumstances might be.

Kierkegaard’s iconoclastic self, in its constant flight from objective determination by sensation, would be perpetually becoming and not a choice of a permanent being; only Nothing or God is permanent. His subjectively omnipotent self-god would apparently be, in opposition to its circumstances, more reliable than a projected hence ambivalent objective god, particularly if that unreliable objective god represents Good, in the social sense that the good of society is Good, or in the sense that society itself is god. In that case, Power would have to be gradually rationalized, no doubt by political intervention – religion worships Power, politics distributes it. No, the individual must be absolutely free.

Man (humankind) is naturally social. But thou shalt not have any god before god; wherefore thou shalt not idolize Man, for man exists by virtue of original sin – he is aesthetically inclined. Thus it seems to follow that, at least for Kierkegaard, the individual soul is, ironically and actually, the sole good, and not the Absolute God or Supreme Being. He does not mention the possibility that the real original sin is the sin of individuality, of being born individuals, and that his choice of self as the category of one adds insult to injury. Of course one might imagine that the microcosmic god reflects the macrocosmic god, or is part and parcel of god, or is in fact god in mystical unity with himself. Ah, but that would be utterly selfish and solipsistic. Kierkegaard avoids that conclusion with ambiguity or doublespeak:

“The mystic chooses himself abstractly … out of the world … The truly concrete choice is that wherewith at the very same instant some instant I choose myself out of the world I am choosing myself back into the world. For when I choose myself repentantly I gather myself back into the world … in all my finite concretion, and in the fact that I have thus chosen myself out of the finite I am in the most absolute continuity with it.”

Furthermore, “I do not create myself. I choose myself. Therefore while nature is created out of nothing, while I as an immediate personality am created out of nothing, as a free spirit I am born of the principle of contradiction.”

Is not that the principle of original sin? Is not that the hypocrisy or underlying crisis of man? Is not that the principle of original slavery that dooms us to choose or to die? Free will disobeys to god’s law, hence Kierkegaard’s formerly lauded ethical choices were in fact sinful acts. He says he repents even of his father’s sins. Why does he not repent of original sin? In effect he has repudiated his creative choice and his freedom. Afraid to love another, he had no choice but to choose himself, but that self must die. In the end, once he finds his true nature, he must resign his freedom and accept god’s law, that all individuals are born in sin and must therefore must die.

Repenting of it all, the existentialist theologian gets it all back: “He repents himself back into himself, back into the family, back into the race, until he finds himself in God.” Repentance, he says, is the only word that expresses love for God. He chooses to surrender to X. His choice destroys all options. He sets the self up as god and chooses god, thus destroying self and god for he has not chosen something but has rejected everything. From nothing he came and to nothing he returns – god or nothing is permanent. It appears that he identifies his instinct to survival with his particular self or the apotheosis thereof.

“I do not create myself. I choose myself. Therefore while nature is created out of nothing, while as an immediate personality I am created out of nothing, as a free spirit I am born of the principle of contradiction, or born by the fact that I choose myself.”

Kierkegaard would forsake the evil world for himself, for the category of one; but once he is at one with the category of one, he shall love the world: “If the despairing man makes a mistake, if he believes that his misfortune lies in his multifarious surroundings, then his despair is not genuine and it will lead him to hate the world…. When in despair you have found yourself you will love the world because it is what it is.”

And what is despair? “Despair is doubt of personality,” he says. Again, the assumption is that this self, whatever it is, is good if not the highest good or Good or God. It seems that if only one would love the self for what it is, first of all, then love for the world would follow, just as night follows day. If one loved himself rightly, he would love the world so much that he would gladly stretch out his neck for his executioner if need be.

It is a matter of attitude, really, and one’s attitude in choosing oneself must be sincere, for as one believes, so one is. What counts, says Kierkegaard, is the energetic sincerity of choosing the real either/or over the mere either/or, such as choosing to visit the bank or barber. The real choice is ultimately between good/evil, good being the real self. Kierkegaard admits that many other worthwhile decisions may be made along the way to finding/receiving one’s self.

We hear the familiar song hand down from ancient times: the treasure is within, in the inner unity where man is reconciled with himself if not his collective self projected as god. Kierkegaard criticizes critics for not taking up the inner life, for losing themselves in illusions, professions, callings and other forms of escape. Yet his own approach is also an escape. Indeed, life is an escapade! Are we to deride the philosopher who said, “As a matter of fact, I am not slightly interested in self-spelunking, given all the objects the universe has to offer.”

“You are capable of spending a whole month reading nothing but fairy tales – Kierkegaard writes in his either/or novel – you make a profound study of them, you compare and analyze, and your study is not barren of result – but what do you use it for? To divert your mind; you let the whole thing fire off in a brilliant display of fireworks.”

Kierkegaard opines that philosophy mediates the past but cannot mediate what has not occurred yet: it cannot choose the future. And philosophers would have no past to mediate unless there were an absolute Either/Or. One obviously has to do something besides philosophize to get something done. Life would come to a dead stop with philosophy alone.

“We have the disgusting sight of young men who are able to mediate Christianity and paganism, are able to play with the titanic forces of history, and are unable to tell a plain man what he has to do in life ….”

That is true. We must not entirely abandon self-spelunking – and we study others to discover our own nature. Nevertheless we find in Kierkegaard’s philosophy the usual Christian activism without specification of particular deeds. Kierkegaard’s philosophical protagonist offers nothing in particular except marriage and family to the hypothetical young man addressed in the book-long letter constituting the novel Either/Or.

“In my capacity as a married man it is my custom on every occasion to maintain against you, both orally and in writing, the reality of love….” In real life Kierkegaard did not marry his sweetheart Regine Olson. He broke of the engagement in 1840; supported by his inheritance, he took up philosophy while she embraced another in holy matrimony.

It is evident that Kierkegaard’s novel is a self-divided letter, a dialectical epistle to himself from himself, expressing a conflict or dialogue between his artificially divided emotional and moral nature. In a fugue of bourgeois self-contempt, he poses a conflict between art for its own sake and the realistic business of the mind, that he might continually choose something valuable upon which profit can be realized and infinitely accrued rather than something for fleeting gratification to be eliminated as waste. Why not pile up treasure in heaven instead of counting on earthly things that are bound to be relatively disappointing because they fall short of the ideal? He chooses for the sake of choosing, thinking he is making the ultimate choice, of his absolutely good self, as distinguished from creating art for its own sake – today students of contemporary art are taught that there is no such thing as good or bad art.

The primary ethical action we find in Kierkegaard’s is symbolic action – thinking – and that to criticize others for not acting ethically, for not taking the one-god versus the satanic multiplicity seriously. It is no wonder that confident persons of the enthusiastic confession conclude that almost anything goes as long as one has faith and hopes for self-salvation. Kierkegaard means to say that a man thinks before he acts if he would act of his own accord. He thinks self-importantly: his choice is very important because he believes he is choosing himself, whatever that might be. We think that in his feeling of self-importance he has self-consciousness, or his unity of consciousness as a subject posed before virtually infinite objects. He is an I or individual, a Category of One at Dodge City, facing down the multiplicitous world, a world rendered as multiple by the psychological interpretation of diverse inchoate sensations that the mind is delighted to organize and represent as a reflection of its microcosmic god, the individual.

V. The Russian Philosopher of Freedom

Nicolai Aleksandrovich Berdyaev, the “Russian philosopher of freedom”, is mistakenly labeled an existentialist because he emphasized anthropocentric subjectivity in his theory of “objectification”. His nods to Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Jaspers, and other non-systematic philosophers also served to place him in the existentialist camp. Berdyaev, nonetheless, was more of a personalist than an existentialist.

According to Berdyaev, personalism idealizes the human person. There is no such thing as a national person. That is a self-conceited lie, stupid and ludicrous. The nation is the projection of everything evil as a collective ideal. Evil is called good. Hate, violence, egoism, pride, will to power are all converted into virtues. Do not idolize Nation or Volk. Do not be a slave to “the People.” Real personality has an existential center – of conscience. Real personalities are individual, and therefore Volk will crucify them.

Egocentricity and personalism are contrary concepts.

“Egocentricity is the original sin of man … an illusory, distorted universalism … a false perspective … under the power of objectivization, which it seeks to turn into an instrument of self-affirmation … Man is the salve of the surrounding external world, because he is the slave of him ….”

Of course, “The genius lives near to primary reality and to real existence whereas the culture elite is subject to the laws of objectivization and socialization.”

“All possession, whether it is possession by base passion or by lofty ideas denotes the loss of the spiritual center in man.”

The very notion of the soul as a unity derived from physical processes is false. The unity of the soul-process is the dynamic spiritual principle itself and not arbitrarily conceived points or ‘souls.’ The notion that the individual of individualism constitutes resistance to its environment and is thus constituted by isolated exercises of its own will is an illusion.

Such an individual would have to be exterior to the world in order to rebel against it, hence the individual would have to be alienated, impersonal, and self-determined or self-caused, as if it were a god facing a violent enemy. The enmity projected onto a seemingly violent world would define the supposedly self-determining individual who blames the objective world for everything perceived to be in opposition; thus is he in fact determined by objectivity rather than his presumed subjectivity. As ‘subject’ in distinction from ‘object’, he thinks he is a free individual, but the emperor has his foot on his neck. Since humankind is natural and human beings are a social species, the individual of individualism has dissociated himself from nature and society. For him, nature is dead; god is dead; society is dead. Since society comprises individuals, the person is dead as well, for the person is a social individual who enjoys not only individuality but the commune as well.

Ironically, the individualist believes he is free when in fact he is enslaved. Today he is in reality the over socialized, bourgeois individual of the militant protestant-capitalist system. He is fully engaged in the war of all against all where each individual crushes other and is crushed in the material arena of economic forces and interests. He has internalized the anti-social rules of engagement that subjugate him. Like a prisoner in Bentham’s panopticon-prison, he is constantly under observation and control by unseen wardens. But he is a virtual slave; a slave not to his circumstances, but to himself. He is, as it were, self-imprisoned, and is like the animal that stays put when the fence is torn down.

“The individualist is the slave to himself, he is under the spell of slavery to his own ego, and, therefore, he cannot resist the slavery which comes from the non-ego …. Man is always a slave of the non-ego through the ego…. The object world can make a person a martyr but it cannot make him a conformist.”

On the other hand, whereas individualists are “wolfish” and vicious, Berdyaev’s person of personalism is virtuously communal and fraternal. For personality is emancipation from slavery to the ego, and, at the same time, to the non-ego

“The fundamental nature of the person is not originality nor self-knowledge nor individual affirmation. It lies not in separation but in communication.”


Slavery and Freedom by Nicolas Berdyaev, New York: Scribner’s 1944

Be Not Afraid, a Denunciation of Despair by Emmanuel Mounier, transl. Cynthia Rowland, New York: Sheed and Ward ’62

EITHER/OR by Kierkegaard

Going Home Again – To Tibet and Beyond





Prior to all Buddhas and sentient beings
When even their names do not exist
Is ancestral wholeness, mind-nature.

Know thyself advises the oracle at Delphi. I am a frustrated nomad. No matter where I happen to live at the moment, I do not feel completely at home alone, all-one, at-one with myself, in the womb, where everything was done for me. Cast out into the challenging world, between life and death, I am unable to be still, to settle down for good, as I am always in between something or the other, between the past and the future, in the present, where I am compelled against my will.

The one we ultimately want to know is within, the very god one would worship yet casts without lest his peers crucify him for arrogance. He does not have to seek far afoot for clues to what he might find within himself nowadays if a great library is nearby, and then there is always Google Books. There I discovered curious old books about a Hungarian traveler and philologist by the name of Alexander Csoma de Koros, a name I had encountered long ago in a hardcopy of Arthur Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Idea.

During his Asian studies, Schopenhauer came across a story in the Tibetan Buddhism canon, the Kangyur (“Translation of the Word”) about a conversation the dying Buddha had with Brahma, wherein Buddha asked him if he had made the world. Brahma denied he had done so, and then asked Buddha if he knew who created the world. Buddha said the world is unreal, an illusion, empty, nothing. “Brahma, being instructed in his doctrine, becomes his follower.” Wherefore it would seem from that revolutionary moment that we are not of this world, that we must seek our origin elsewhere.

We learn from our virtual exploration that Csoma, born on the 4th of April 1784 in the village of Koros in Transylvania, “belongs to the rank of those noble minds who devote their lives unselfishly to a worthy, though apparently thankless object, yet in the pursuit of which nothing but death will stop their efforts.” He took up liberal studies, his favorite subjects being philology, geography, and history. He began in 1799 at Bethlen College at Nagyenyed (Aiud) in Transylvania, Romania, well known at the time for those courses, and remained for fifteen years. Besides the regular curriculum, his courses included Latin, Roman Literature, Greek and Logic, and he earned English, German, Romanian, and French as well, and some Turkish.

From 1816 to 1818, he studied at the University of Gottingen in Hanover, renowned for its lectures in public law, history, and the sciences. Its famed students would eventually include the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck among others. Csoma loved, most of all, the enormous library at Gottingen. Nationalism was in vogue at the time, wherefore the international students were enthusiastic about their respective nations. Besides, German scholars were exceedingly curious about the history, religions, and languages of Asia. Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, Gottingen’s Professor of Oriental Languages, so-called founder of modern Old Testament criticism, whetted Csoma’s curiosity as to the origins of the Hungarian people, proposing they were from Western Turkey, beside the Caspian Sea, in what is now Turkmenistan.

Csoma found a goal at university. He could have had a comfortable ecclesiastical career in Hungary, but he determined to know the origin of his Szekler tribe of Hungarians settled in Transylvania. Many ethnic groups wanting an identity secured by their faraway roots were curious about their native origins with the rise of nationalism and the recent French Revolution, but Csoma’s curiosity was insatiable.

“As my parents were dead,” Csoma recounts, “and my only brother did not want my assistance, I resolved to leave my native country and to come towards the East, and by some means or other procuring subsistence, to devote my whole life to researches which may be afterwards useful to the learned world of Europe in general, and, in particular, may illustrate some obscure facts in our own history.”

He planned on traversing Persia and eventually going up the northern route of the old Silk Road to Bukhara, Uzbekistan, and on to Turkestan towards Mongolia. He set out from Bucharest, Romania, to Sofia, Bulgaria, and ventured to Constantinople, went down from there to Alexandria, Egypt, shipped up to Beirut, Lebanon, then headed to Aleppo and Mosul, Baghdad and Tehran, where he finally changed into Persian garb before proceeding to Baghdad and Kabul. He did not write much about his journey, as if it were a matter of course, except to mention his study of languages.

Instead of continuing north to Bukhara, fearing Russian troops in the northern area, he took the southern route of the Silk Road, and travelled with two Frenchmen he had met in Kabul. They paused at Lahore, India, before going to Kashmir, and on to Leh, the capital of Ladak, from whence he would have continued to Yarkant County in Xinjiang (Sin Kiang), China, bordering Mongolia, but he intended instead to return to Lahore because he believed to go on to China was too expensive and fraught with danger for a Christian. Along the way he met an English explorer and prominent East India official by the name William Moorcroft, who ventured to Leh with him. Moorcroft, by the way, was the first Englishman qualified as a veterinarian; what he coveted in his exploration was the hardy Turcoman horses made famous by Marco Polo five centuries prior. He found none, and died 1825 in Turkestan of a fever.

It was in Leh that Csoma diverged fatally from his original goal of travelling to the geographic origin of his presumably Hun tribe somewhere in China, Siberia or Mongolia. He had picked up a few languages that he expected would help him achieve his original goal of knowing more about where he believed his folk had come from: Slavonic, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Mogul, and Tibetan. He did not think of himself, however, as a mere linguist, but as a cosmopolitan who could fit in anywhere.

“I beg leave to confess that I am not merely a linguist—I have learnt several languages to learn polite literature, to enter into the cabinet of curiosity of remote ages, to acquire useful knowledge, and to live in every age and with every celebrated nation, as I do now with the British.”

Moorcroft was impressed with Csoma’s linguistic skills, particularly with his knowledge of Tibetan. Great Britain was naturally interested in civilizing remote parts of the world for economic exploitation, and there was Tibet just north to India, and to that end a dictionary of Tibetan would be more than useful, for Tibetan was the lingua franca of the educated in Buddhist countries and therefore learning Tibetan was a means of “penetrating” them.

The Tibetan language, however, is not directly related to the Hungarian, which is controversially said to be a ‘Finno-Ugric’ member of the ‘Uralic’ family of languages, a linguistic theory that denies the traditional Hungarian history of a Sumerian via Carpathian-Central Asia origin, the controversy being over whether or not ethnic Hungarians are basically barbarians instead of civilized Europeans due to their origin. Sino-Tibetan, in any case, is a primary language in its own right. The written Tibetan alphabet is derived from Sanskrit.

There is no evidence suggesting that Csoma himself found a relationship between the Tibetan language and the Hungarian language other than a word or two. An ancient Greek historian, Theophylaktes Simocatta, claimed that the Turks conquered the Ugar nation in 597 AD. Hungarian authors naturally noticed a similarity between “Ugar” and “Hungary,” not to mention “Hun.” The word “Hun” became, as we know, a foul epithet for “German” in the mouths of Churchill and Roosevelt during war against the Nazis. German researchers at one time proposed the Nordic origin of Hungarians and Germans, while the Hungarians looked towards Turkey and beyond, and the word “Turk” was a word for a wild robber or barbarian warrior wearing a helmet reminiscent of their view of a high mound or mountain in their original country, presumably in Mongolia or Siberia if not the Tibetan plateau. Csoma, as we know, had in mind the ancient nation of Kiang, i.e. Sin Kiang or Xinjiang in far Western China north of Tibet.

Suffice it to say that different folk have different strokes and that peoples believe they will know themselves better in comparison to other peoples, especially if the others are enemies with whom combat is waged to improve the moral fiber. That is, the human being may not need a particular identity but wants one anyway. No less than Hitler confessed in his talks that he did not really believe in the Nordic superhuman race, but it was convenient to propagate for popular consumption for people to identify with. Sympathetic anthropologists who went along with the myth also admitted that human beings are mongrels; there is no such thing as a pure race. Humans probably came out of Africa; some of them went to Tibet, Mongolia, Siberia, and China, and some came back. DNA analysis of Hungarians indicates a mixture of origins including Uralic and Turkic and others.

The overall results remind one of today’s popular DNA analysis advertisements where a woman wears a peculiar ethnic hat because the high percentage of her DNA was associated with a particular country in Africa. Yet she may think she cannot really know herself until she actually goes to the spot where her ancestors had their being, so she makes reservations, say, for Uganda, where she will venture to the so-called cradle of humankind, Lake Victoria. What will she find—mosquitoes and old bones? Why are we so fascinated with history that we have become gravediggers? Why are we discontented? What are we looking for?

That being said, what would induce Csoma to delay his search for his origins in Turkestan, Mongolia and Siberia, and devote nearly ten productive years to the study of Tibetan? For one thing, he was a linguist, and here was an opportunity to be paid at his profession. A thorough study of Tibetan was related to his quest, for he hoped to eventually travel to Lhasa, “Place of The Gods,” and peruse the Dalai Lama’s grand library to research the history of the Huns and Mongols to find what he suspected, that his tribe of Hungarians had come down through Tibet with Attila the Hun. And, as “exceedingly indifferent” or modest as he was described by his acquaintances, he might make a name for himself assisting the advance of Western civilization; indeed, he bragged a little on his death bed in Darjeeling about the recognition of his accomplishments.

“For the first time since I had seen him,” reported Campbell, Superintendent of Darjeeling, “he this day showed how sensitive he was to the applause of the world, as a reward to his labors and privations. He went over the whole of his travels in Tibet with fluent rapidity, and in noticing each stage of the result of his studies, he mentioned the distinguished notice that had been accorded in Europe and India to the facts and doctrines brought to light by him. He seemed especially gratified with an editorial article by Prof. Wilson, in the Supplement to the Government Gazette of 9th July, 1829, which he produced, and bid me read; it related to the extreme hardships he had undergone while at the monastery of Zanskar, where with the thermometer below zero for more than four months, he was precluded by the severity of the weather from stirring out of a room nine feet square; yet in this situation he read from morning till evening without a fire, the ground forming his bed, and the walls of the building his protection against the rigors of the climate, and still he collected and arranged forty thousand words of the language of Tibet, and nearly completed his Dictionary and Grammar. Passing from this subject, he said, in a playful mood, “I will show you something very curious,” and he produced another number of Wilson’s paper of September 10th, 1827, and pointing to an editorial paragraph, desired me to read it first, and then hear the explanation….” (Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol, ii, 1844)

Previous to meeting Moorcroft, Csoma had been living on a pittance as a virtual mendicant monk. Why not, thought Moorcroft after they met, contract to send Csoma to Western Tibet to compile a dictionary? Moorcroft obtained an initial funding of 200 rupees and a stipend of 50 rupees per month from the Government, arranged for an introduction to Sangye Puntsog, the Lama of Ladak. Wherefore Csoma went off with the lama to Yangla in the Zanskar District of Ladak, a part of the ancient Kingdom of Guge within what was Western Tibet, now North India. It was in Yangla that he, with the help of the lama, studied Tibetan literature in a small room in sub-zero weather without the benefit of a fire.

We doubt that the lama, whose evolved DNA would enable him to withstand cold and deprivation of oxygen, instructed Csoma in tumo, a magical technique that allows a carefully trained person to go about naked in subzero weather. Csoma’s reticence to tell traveler’s tales is regretted by occultists who wish he had recounted the paranormal events of his visit to what was then Western Tibet. If his lama, however, had in fact levitated off the floor, or had transported him to Lhasa by magical means and back, surely he would have related that in his papers. All we hear about is the painstaking, page-by-page documentation of records by candlelight in bitter cold.

“I arrived at Yangla, and from 20th June 1823 to 22d October 1824 I sojourned in Zanskar, the most south-western province of Ladak, where I applied myself to the Tibetan literature, assisted by the Lama. During my residence in Zanskar, by the able assistance of that intelligent man, I learned grammatically the language, and became acquainted with many literary treasures shut up in 320 large printed volumes, which are the basis of all Tibetan learning and religion. These volumes, divided in two classes, and each class containing other subdivisions, are all taken from Indian Sanskrit, and were translated into Tibetan. I caused to be copied the contents of these immense works.”

Among the canons he transcribed was an interesting biography of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha of the Shakya clan that is believed to have inhabited what is now Nepal, and an account of the rules followed by his male and female disciples regulating their attire, cleanliness, compassionate attitude, and the drugs they were allowed to carry and use. It is believed that Buddha himself was illiterate, so the religious canons were eventually developed by councils of learned monks after his death in memory of a charismatic man, who in reality was a rich prince sorely moved by the sight of suffering because it had been kept out of sight during his youth, resolved to find its causes to alleviate the effects, and did not intend to start a new religion, just as Luther in the West did not intend to found Protestantism.

Buddhists may protest that mundane view of Buddha, claiming that it amounts to a polite Western de-mystification by Christian missionaries of a divinely inspired being, depicting him as a humane hero in order place him beneath the divine Jesus. In any event, Europeans were keenly interested in Buddhism because its compassionate ideal and the notion that every human being has a potential savior or First-Buddha within reminded them of their Christian doctrines of love and the individual imitation of Jesus. Wherefore it was opined that Jesus visited India during the missing years of his biography, where he learned the Krishna lore and the heretical tenets of Buddhism, and that Buddhist monks had even influenced the Jews prior to the birth of Jesus the Christ, the world’s most famous Jew.

Csoma returned to Zanskar in 1826, stayed until 1831, and went on to Calcutta in 1832, where he reportedly delivered thirty volumes of Tibetan works he had collected. He settled in Calcutta for quite awhile, serving the Asiatic Society from 1837 to 1842 as librarian. Upon his death in 1842, his monetary effects included banknotes and government notes for 5,300 rupees, 224 rupees in coins, and 26 gold ducats.

Archibald Campbell, a surgeon with the Bengal Medical Service, attended to the dying Csoma. Campbell was the superintendent of Darjeeling, a sanitarium town for the British elite, at the time, and had been acquainted with him for several years. He is well known for the development of Darjeeling, including the gardens of a strain of tea he introduced, dubbed The Champagne of Teas. He had endeavored to assist Csoma with his mission before Csoma fell ill, and left within his Report of the death of Mr. Csoma de Koros, made to G. A. Bushby, Esq. Officiating Secretary, Political Department, from A. Campbell, Esq. Superintendent, Darjeeling, and communicated to the Society, an account of the virtual monk’s effects and intention.

Other than the money noted above, “His effects consisted of four boxes of books and papers, the suit of blue clothes which he always wore, and in which he died, a few shirts, and one cooking pot. His food was confined to tea, of which he was very fond, and plain boiled rice, of which he ate very little. 0n a mat on the floor, with a box of books on the four sides, he sat, ate, slept, and studied; never undressed at night, and rarely went out during the day. He never drank wine or spirits, or used tobacco or other stimulants.”

“All his hopes of attaining the object of the long and laborious search were centered in the discovery of the country of the ‘Yoogars.’ This land he believed to be to the east and north of Lassa and the province of Kham, and on the northern confines of China; to reach it was the goal of his most ardent wishes, and there he fully expected to find the tribes he had hitherto sought in vain.”

Csoma never set foot in the geographical origin of the Magyars, wherever that is, but he found some solace in life in the means or Journey to the goal of existence, the alpha and omega of things with innumerable names. Man is necessarily a goal-seeking animal. Some men are not satisfied with mundane goals. A nebulous, idealistic, unattainable goal has given many people hope for a better future if not immortality, and we witness numerous worldly achievements on the physical side roads, including several civilizations. It was either coincidence, or Jungian synchronicity, or divinely fated in the best of all possible worlds that Csoma was born a Hungarian and wound up sacrificing himself learning Tibetan culture from a lama in the vestiges of the ancient Kingdom of Guge, never making it to Lhasa, simply because in his youth he heard that Hungarians are Huns from back East.

The Tibetans themselves had a deep abiding interest in understanding the nature of human existence, why humans are born, where they come from and where they go. Csoma found some of their answers in Yangla. His room in the palace there is being restored and a solar school has been built for the children thanks to the endeavors of outside volunteers: Google Guge – The Lost Kingdom of Tibet, and Csoma’s Room Foundation, and related titles for fascinating YouTube videos.

Csoma, as mentioned, became familiar with the doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism if not its tantric practices while compiling his Tibetan dictionary and living as a virtual monk with the assistance of Sangye Puntsog, whom he frequently referred to as “the lama.” The lama of Ladak was imminently qualified. He began his religious career at an early age as a novitiate in a monastery, and embarked on a six-year, 3,600 mile tour of monasteries in Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet. At the palace of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa he learned the official administrative dialect. Back in Ladak, where he attended court functions, he was its highly respected chief doctor. He married the widow of the Prince of Yangla. He had a great library, and, besides medicine, was well versed in astronomy, poetry, linguistics, and the canon of Lamaism. It was said that he was an unusual lama for his breadth of education and open mindedness or lack of religious bigotry.

Some of Csoma’s essays of what had learned of Tibetan Buddhism at the time were published in the journal of Bengal Asiatic Society. We find there in his ‘Notices on Different Systems of Buddhism Extracted from Tibetan Authorities’ that the objective of the novice is Sangye, “the generic name for expressing the Supreme Being or the Supreme Intelligence in the Buddhist system. This word signifies ‘the most perfect Being,’ that is, pure and clean and free from all imperfections and abounding in all good qualities.”

“Sangye” means fully-eliminated ignorance, wisdom, i.e. buddhi, born again Buddha. This state is achieved by a compassionate bodhisattva who desires Buddha-hood, an enlightened one who would, once liberated, stay behind to free others from suffering by showing them how to eliminate its cause in attachment to desires except, it seems, except the desire for enlightenment.

Csoma quotes a verse, purportedly from a letter sent by Buddha to Ratnavali, a princess of Ceylon who begged the Buddha for wisdom, that he said sums up the entire doctrine of Tibetan Buddhism:

No vice is to be committed;

Virtue must be perfectly practiced;
Subdue entirely your desires.
This is the doctrine of Buddha.

Also included in the letter of instruction was this sloka:

Arise, commence a new course of life,
Turn to the religion of Buddha;
Conquer the host of the lord of death, the passions,
As an elephant subdues everything under his feet in a muddy lake.
Whoever has lived a pure life,
According to the precept of this law,
Shall be free from transmigration,
And shall put an end to all his miseries.

“The ten commandments (precepts) of Buddha are these:—I. Not to kill. 2. Not to steal. 3. Not to commit adultery. 4. Not to tell falsehood. 5. Not to use abusive language. 6. Not to speak nonsense. 7. Not to slander. 8. Not to be covetous. 9. Not to bear malice.10. Not to be stubborn in a wrong principle.”

He extracts sixteen rules from a work entitled Subashlta Eatna Nidhinama Shastra composed in a Tibetan monastery by Sakya Pandita, who flourished during the time of Genghis Khan and his successors. He may have suffered badly for taking the advice of a woman during that time.

“These sixteen rules should be added to the ten commandments of Buddha. 1. Reverence God; this is the first. 2. Exercise true religion; this is the second.3. Respect the learned.4. Pay honor to your parents. 5. Show respect unto superiors and to the aged. 6. Show good-heartedness to a friend.7. Be useful to your fellow-countrymen. 8. Be equitable and impartial. 9. Imitate excellent men.10. Know how to enjoy rightly your worldly goods and wealth. 11. Return kindness for kindness.12. Avoid fraud in measures and weights. 13. Be always impartial and without envy. 14. Do not listen to the advice of woman. 15. Be affable in speaking, and be prudent in discourse. 16. Be of high principles and of a generous mind.”

Csoma essays the adherents to Buddhism according to three vehicles, the three degrees of intelligence found in people.

“1. Men of a common capacity must believe that there is a God, that there is a future life, and that all will obtain, according to their deeds in this life, a reward hereafter. Those of common capacity are content with the observance of the Ten Commandments. Those of the first degree, seeing the miseries of those who, by virtue of the metempsychosis, suffer in the bad places of transmigration as beasts, &c, desire to be born again among men, or among angels, or among gods.

“2. Men of a middle degree of intellectual or moral capacity, in addition to the above doctrines, must understand that every compound thing is perishable; that there is no reality in things; that every imperfection causes suffering, and that deliverance from suffering, and eventually from bodily existence, is final beatitude. Those of the middle degree also endeavor to excel in morality, meditation, and wisdom. Those of the second class are not content with the lot of the former, and wish to be entirely delivered from all bodily existence.

3. Men of the highest capacities will know that between the body and the supreme soul nothing exists by itself, nor can we prove whether the supreme soul will continue forever, or absolutely cease; because everything exists by a casual concatenation. Those of the highest capacities practice, besides the above, the six transcendental virtues as well. The highest class, regarding existence, under whatever form, as suffering, crave for final emancipation, and by arriving at the supreme perfection, are enabled to assist others out of their miseries.”

Several devotional services are recommended:

“1. Take refuge only with Buddha. 2. Endeavor to arrive at the highest degree of perfection, and to be united with the Supreme Intelligence. 3. Adore Buddha. 4. Bring such offerings to Buddha’s image as are pleasing to any of the six senses. Such offerings are: flowers, garlands, incense, perfume, eatables and drinkables raw or prepared, cloths for garments or ornamentation, curtains, etc. 5. Practice music or singing, and to utter praises to Buddha, extolling his person, or his love and mercy towards all. 6. Confess one’s sins with a contrite heart, to ask forgiveness, and to repent sincerely. 7. Rejoice in the moral merits of all living beings. 8. Pray to those Buddhas who are now in the world, that they should teach religion, and not leave the earth but remain here for many ages, to come.”

Why does not Csoma dwell on the famous Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path? Well, numbered prescriptions for liberation were refined much later by the noble religious for popular consumption, mainly by the West, from literally hundreds of numbered truths and paths or theories and practices in Buddhist and Hindu literature, and these simple ones are enshrined in the West. The Truth is the theory, and the mundane path is the Practice or yoga of being Righteous.

Now, then, it appears that the end of existence is the end of suffering, and that “final emancipation” is a sort of virtual suicide or dissipation of egotism, yet we would like altruistic Buddhas to remain on the earth to liberate everyone else.

Of course the notion that human existence is unsatisfactory if not always suffering, and that we find its cause in our desires, not only desire for what we need to exist but the frivolities we crave and would even kill for, is nothing new, nor is the notion that the way to end the suffering is to somehow put an end to or transcend selfish desire by doing the right things or just knowing what the truth about suffering is, and maybe even becoming ascetic monks if that suits us. In sum, what we have in the Four Noble Truths is a logical formula or prescription:

We must know what the truth is, what can be done about it, and how that can be done. In other words, given the evidence that we suffer, we must to know what suffering is, what causes it, what will cure it, and what the exact remedy or process is.

To wit: 1. Suffering exists. 2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires. 3. Suffering ceases with the end of attachment to desires. 4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path of Right View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration.

Gautama Buddha aka Siddhartha Gautama, whom some pundits count as the 28th Buddha, was reportedly counseled when young by one Arada Kalama, a follower of the atheistic Sankhya (“number”) philosophy, so-called for its numbered lists. A form of that wisdom is described as already very old in the tale of the great war of the Bharata clan occurring around 1400 BCE. The dualistic Sankhya theory is naturally based on observations of sexual reproduction and reflections thereon, the female role, which in India is active, being troublesome and even terrifying for males, the principle there being passive yet somehow enormously influential. Reasonable males have the privilege by virtue of superior strength to watch the hysterical proceedings of the female; indeed, they cannot take their eyes off her because she is beautiful hence blamed. The abstract partners, material nature and personal nature, would rather detach themselves and return to their original homes, but they are, as it were, in love with one another, and what is love of another but love for oneself? Their selfish desire causes their suffering. How can we go home to our principle, the Beginning, our Origin; our communal Cause?

We admit to the misogynist aspect from which equality is evolving. We would not return to two origins but to the One. Who is that One? It is the One to whom we trace back the evolution of humankind to the first being, namely Ma, or he who was drawn out of the womb. We call him Man. This philosophy is not really atheistic since Man is its unnamed god, and this original principle can be represented by totemic persons such as buddhas or enlightened ones and christs or anointed ones in whom it is incarnate, and, in fact, everyone has one within whether s/he knows it or not.

Wise men analyzed the situation, and proposed that the fact of existence is universal suffering, that emancipation would require cessation of the birthing process, which is perceived not as a transmigration of souls but as the reappearance on Earth of a fixed inventory of entities, and that, if an individual realizes the real nature of the difference between nature and persons, then interest in nature will be lost and the individual will be liberated. The ego or “I” must not stand in the way of the realization, wherefore it may be repeatedly said, “This ego is not me, it is not mine, I am not it,” until one is absolute one, or alone without qualities.

The Four Noble Truths are primary to the Theravada tradition, but secondary in the Mahayana strain of Buddhism from which the Vajray?na practices of Tibetan Buddhism is derived although not peculiar to Tibetan Buddhism. The so-called Hinayana school, purportedly a defunct element of the Theravada school, on the other hand, asserted that the self is non-existent or insubstantial hence the Truths do not apply for there is no real self to suffer. It was the so-called Voidism of the Hinayana school that caused it to fall into disrepute and even be disowned by Buddhists intent on saving a transcendent heaven as a place for immortal souls albeit indescribable because of the absurd merger of subject and object.

Yet common to Buddhism is a fundamental doctrine called pratityasamutpada i.e. dependent origination, a doctrine intimately related to the truths that all beings suffer. Everything is linked in a chain of twelve links that depend on hence suffer the rest; not one exists by itself so each is essentially nothing or empty without the others, and, besides, the chain itself is empty; break one link and the chain of suffering ends. Old age, disease and death follow birth, and birth is a becoming motivated by the will in which delusory passions abide, and wherefore covetousness and clinging to things touched because of desire, the outcome of feelings, which may be pleasant or unpleasant according to the intimacy of mind and body, and so on; wherefore to mitigate and eliminate suffering we may attend to, say, the pleasure link, to make sure we do not cling to pleasant things, nor would we shun unpleasant experiences, and so on. Furthermore, what we learn in this process we would not forget; forgetfulness is death and awareness is life.

Integral to the chain of suffering are the five skandhas, elemental bundles constituting the complex personality, which in itself is empty for the complex has no singular self or being; to wit: (1) physical form (2) feelings (3) perception (4) volitions (5) consciousness.

Priority in the Mahayana school is given to the notion of a blissful emptiness beyond description, attained by the Buddhist who becomes a compassionate Buddha, a bodhisattva who despite achieving nirvana, or liberation from suffering, self, birth and death, decides to stay around to save others from suffering because she or he is compassionate. That would be a spiritual leader, called a lama in Tibet, and we see that Tibet was a theocracy ruled by lamas with greater or less autonomy given Chinese influences until the Dalai Lama (big guru) fled and it became absolutely dominated by Communist China in 1959.

Again, the main philosophical doctrine of the Tibetan Buddhism that Csoma perused is that phenomena are inconceivably empty (sunya), that is, without substance or essence or independent existence because everything is interdependent. Just how empty or inconceivable emptiness is depends on your Tibetan school. That is, what seems to be empty of everything or nothing may not be absolute nothingness, but could be degrees of nothing made capital. Nonetheless, that the emptiness central to the religious aspects is indefinite and identifies Being with Nothing no matter how many different capitalized names are given to Nothing to glorify the emptiness, wherefore the associated rituals may appear to be apologia for nothingness, forms of nihilism or virtual suicide motivated by an instinct for death. Hopefully there “exists” an independent, transcendental realm for the salvation of immortal souls, and perhaps that realm may be populated according to imagination.

So it would seem that the essence of Buddhism, despite its cultural accretions, is atheistic, and that its relation to Hinduism, the catholic umbrella to many diverse sects, is revolutionary, notwithstanding the fact that Buddhism retains Hindu concepts and rhetoric, and that Hinduism is tolerant of personalist and impersonalists prejudices, for ‘god’ no matter its thousand names must be something or the other and not nothing at all. But perhaps this critique of the manner of dealing with the crisis of life is applicable to the theosophical world religions, that they are all, as Socrates said of philosophy as well, preparations for death, a return to our common Origin, the Home from whence we came.

The argument that we do not choose to be born into the world and then to die is denied by the doctrine of karma, which asserts that, once we are conscious of its workings, then a choice can be made to be liberated from the cycle of birth and death, and go to heaven for good unless we want to be nice and stay behind to help others meet their maker.

The idea that we have future lives to elevate ourselves excuses the miseries of the present life: hope springs eternal. Indeed, in the contemplation of death we detect the contrary to the fatal instinct, the erotic will to persist forever and ever without resistance, to be everything we can be within oneself, and, if immortality could be had without religions and gods, they would be dispensed with forthwith along with philosophies and their ethical tenets and moral codes. Tragically, no individual can exist as such without resistance to define it, so the baby would be tossed out with the bath water.

Now the Bhagavad Gita informs us that, even if this entity we call the soul is not imperishable, we should not grieve. If the “I” that seems to persevere is just a congeries, an incidental collection of habits or bundle of influences, why grieve for its disposition? Still, whatever it is, it is convenient for the time being to conceive of it as a singular entity, whatever name we use to that end in order that each one of us is responsible to our kind, and at the end of that time, or the time of times, so we shall go home again, relieved of whatever burden we may suffer. Of course there are those of us who find the very idea of the end insufferable, who love life so much they would rather be dragged out the door screaming and kicking than to go willingly into the darkness, and, if we are compassionate, we hope that in the end they will see the Light. Until then they too might heed the advice of buddhas not to cling too adamantly to what we shall lose in the final analysis.

As I said at the beginning, I am a frustrated nomad. No matter where I happen to live at the moment, I do not feel completely at home alone, all-one, at-one with myself, in the womb, where everything was done for me. Cast out into the challenging world, between life and death, I am unable to be still, to settle down for good, as I am always in between something or the other, between the past and the future, in the present, where I am compelled against my will. Yet, after making the preceding inquiry, I am not as frustrated. I no longer wonder, like Csoma, from whence my people came, for humanity is one, and what difference does it really make? I can look within myself for my home.

I wanted to go home again in and wound up in South Florida. The Dalai Lama visited South Florida in the wake of hurricanes to say that he did not know what existence is, and that he had showed up to smile and show his teeth to people who are miserable enough to want to go home again. In the wake of the destructive material whirlwinds, suffering was the Stick. Behind his smile was the Carrot.

If you find Tibetan has an exotic appeal, consider the awareness or rigpa of Dzogchen, the perfectly incorruptible, indivisible state of Being, the permanent essence without which nothing exists, in which you may lose your ephemeral personality and its delusory self-identity in relation to the objective world. That being or nothing made capital would be a version of nirvana, the Tibetan form being a griefless state. Do not be disappointed by the prevailing etymology of the word, that it means “blown out,” that your flame will be extinguished in nirvana. You may be pleased to know that nirvana may mean “not blown out,” that everything but the light itself shall be extinguished. Whether that light is singular or plural remains to be seen.

Contact the Dalai Lama or any bona fide spiritual master for more information about achieving that blissful state and what it would be like without your senses, perceptions and passions. Maybe there is no such heaven. Maybe you cannot go home again. Yet you may be happier on the road back to your beginning if you are god’s fool.