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.


The Sly Way




Crazy Russians

The Russian mathematician, journalist and ‘Fourth Way’ philosopher Peter D. Ouspensky (1878–1947) is largely ignored and seldom taken seriously today by intellectuals. One might say that Ouspensky’s contributions to the ‘Crazy Russian’ stereotype were not appreciated by his peers. His reputation was virtually ruined during his lifetime, not only because of his enthusiasm for the fashionable fourth-dimension discourse of his day and esoteric subjects as well, nor for preaching his rationalizations of the self-remembering method of his iconoclastic master, yet another black sheep, the self-remembered mystic and lover of distilled spirits, G.I. Gurdjieff (1872-1949), but also because of his eccentric, drug-enhanced lifestyle.

Following in the relatively fresh footsteps of the Russian seer, tobacco fiend and professional charlatan, Madame Blavatsky, first Gurdjieff and then Ouspensky embarked on a nomadic, Oriental search for golden nuggets and priceless jewels of ancient wisdom, for miraculous notions and alchemical potions, a quest that contributed to their popularity among disaffected radicals of all sorts, bohemians, beatniks, and hippies. The eclectic product of their adventures was rendered absurd by its often self-contradictory assortment of ancient lore posing as modern revelation. Ouspensky’s attempt to gloss the Absurd over with rationalizations was taken to heart by persons who found some security in its mechanical or systematic aspect, hence we occasionally encounter an apparently objective or heartless system that provides for emotion in name only, an awful burnished machine that does not, however, raise consciousness to the classically harmonious realm purposed by the ‘Work’ of his fascinating master, Gurdjieff, whom Time magazine referred to as “a remarkable blend of P.T. Barnum, Rasputin, Freud, Groucho Marx, and everybody’s grandfather.”

In sum, Gurdjieff’s hard ‘Work’ was based on ancient premises and techniques that are by no means proprietary or unique to his school, but are necessarily platitudinous premises still held. And the related techniques and rituals are still practiced by modern psychologists. His therapeutic work employed music, dance, rituals, and a sort of psychological shock therapy to prepare the novice for initiation into the version of reality Gurdjieff had became acquainted with on his peregrinations.

Gurdjieff stated that his semi-biographical work, Meetings With Remarkable Men, was intended to be “prepatory instructive material for setting of the consciousness of creatures similar to myself a new world”; that is, a real world instead of an illusory world. He wrote another work, Beezlebub’s Tub, “to destroy mercilessly the beliefs and views rooted for centuries in the mind and feelings of men”, by arousing unfamiliar thoughts in their minds. Of course he employed more than words to shock his students out of their wits.

Most importantly, Gurdjieff emphasized an artificial, triadic structure of human beingness: In the name of the mind, the body, and the feeling, as One. He supposed that, IF the three centers were brought into triunal harmony, THEN a higher level or state of being-consciousness would naturally follow. Gurdjieff the mystic, by the way, was a composer and hypnotist. Although Ouspensky’s intellectual analysis of Gurdjieff’s Work tends to divorce the mind from body and feelings and exalt the rational function, Gurdjieff’s version of classical Harmony, his harmonious level of being, is an emotional state of being, at least from the perspective of modern psychology.

Modern Emotions

When a bow is pulled across a string of a musical instrument in just the right way, strife is music to the ears. When strings conflict in such a way that they insult ears sensitive to an accustomed musical system, the result is deemed inharmonious. Life itself is a sort of lover’s complaint in its war against nature, and all against all after bliss is left behind and self-consciousness gained.

What is love? Love is simply your life, said Swedenborg. So we say each life is a lover’s complaint because the individual would persist without resistance forever if only s/he could, but s/he can not. An individual with power unlimited would not be divided within nor without, and would in effect be as powerful as the projected Holy Power or Almighty so many persons worship with all their might. Hence, albeit a form of complaint, self-love is essentially life, and therein is the unity of all lives.

While militant philosophers believed strife to be the general Good from which all goods flow, and held that blood must and should be plentifully and frequently shed to improve the moral fibre of the race, others, who hankered after peace among men, abhorred strife, and they opposed to strife an altruistic love, an overarching metaphysical Love that would transcend strife and purportedly bring harmony. That is to say, harmony within, to the basic anxiety of existential complaints, which would, in turn, be orchestrated, and harmony without, in forms of loving cooperation to mutual ends. Or perhaps we would better say, in mutual admiration or mutual self-love, inasmuch as all are to love their neighbors as themselves, as absurd and repugnant as that might seem.

Wherefore we hear of “Harmony” in several languages from many philosophers who profess to hold usually three-pronged keys to an emotional state of being we might all enjoy; in a word we might call it bliss, the best emotion of emotions.

Now emotion is widely regarded as the thinking-feeling basis of morality. Modern psychology’s frequently stated tripartite analysis of emotion disintegrates the notion of integral emotion into body (feeling), mind (thinking), and behavior (acting) components. In brief, an emotion is a conscious feeling of pleasantness or unpleasantness, accompanied by a biological activation and expressive behavior. Again, emotion has cognitive, physiological, and behavioral components, which have been referred to in popular terms as “centers”, namely the thinking, feeling, and acting centers. A person’s behavior communicates her emotional state, which is not always clear without corresponding context, which may include verbal communication. For instance, the facial expression of grief, crying, may be misinterpreted out of context as laughter or “crying with joy” until the context is made clear.

The modern “scientific” analysis of the mind-body organic functioning into components or parts is made for the sake of convenience, usually with an interest in understanding human behavior in order to manipulate it to profitable (“good”) ends. The emotional “centers” are not “facts.” Furthermore, the interpretation of the facts or behavioral events is necessarily value-laden; that is, the artificial divisions are to a certain extent arbitrary and based on the prejudicial social mores and personal biases of the analyst. Wherefore the serious student of psychology should always keep not only the unique identities but also the emotional integrity of analyzed subjects in mind. For instance, the limbic system, sometimes mislabeled the “emotional center”, has pathways to and from the cerebral cortex, particularly the frontal lobes involved in the interpretation and control of emotions.

The modern theory of emotion is generally optimistic and coincides in some respects to the optimism of Gurdjieff and other students of psychology. To wit: behavior, including  thinking or symbolic acting, can be so managed as to increase the happiness of humankind. Otherwise, why bother with psychology, or, for that matter, any other human art and science?

Modern psychology’s Opponent-Process theory of emotions has practical implications because the theory asserts that an opposing emotion will gradually render a strong emotion weaker. Conflicting emotions can be resolved in favor of an induced powerful or “empowering” congruency, or a “negative” emotion can be deliberately replaced by eliciting in its stead a “positive” emotion, via physical (e.g. smiling) or symbolic (e.g. visualization or positive thinking) action.

The Shacter-Singer Two-Factor theory, which is a cognitive theory, posits that emotions depend on the interpretation of arousal, which we variously label. For instance: a man yells at you; you are aroused; you label his behavior “anger,” and perhaps respond angrily. But he may not be mad at all; he may be a “loudmouth” with something else in mind. Nor should you reflect his anger if anger were in fact the case. In any case, different labels may be applied with different effects (your responses) to the same event.

The Cognitive-Appraisal theory asserts that different people may have different emotional responses to the same situation. Emotional experience depends on cognitive interpretations; therefore reinterpreting the situations can change emotions.

The James-Lange theory posits an order of functions. The standard example: we see a vicious-looking growling dog; we feel nervous; we run; and then we realize we are afraid. Therefore we suppose that, if the behavior (running) can be changed, then the emotion can be changed. Laugh, as Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote in her famous poem, and the whole world will laugh with you. We should observe that the James-Lange interpretation of the order of function mistakenly denies the fact of cognition at the very outset: the dog looks vicious and is growling viciously – perhaps the dog is not vicious at all.


Moral Psychology

Now we can see that Gurdjieff’s so called quasi-religious approach to psychology and therapy is by no means unique. The contrary claims of his postmodern followers who assert that modern psychology has ignored his contributions, are spurious and serve to bolster their egos with the belief that they possess something special that sets them and their practice apart from and superior to mainstream theory and practice.

Modern psychology’s primary directive is not to applaud certain persons and psychological cults but to recognize the general nature and operating laws, such as they might be, of the human “psyche”, however that might be defined, and, presumably, to offer some sort of therapy for human improvement, however that might be defined. Since man’s  fundamental nature has changed very little since his emergence as homo sapiens, we are not surprised to find ancient moral platitudes at the bottom of many of the theories of modern psychology and psychiatry. Only recently has the term ‘moral’ been disassociated with ‘mental’. Moral behavior implies mental choices. The moral or socially acceptable behavior of the person is tantamount. Once the drugs are dispensed with, moral or mental therapy remains applicable to “mental illness.”

Garth Wood, for one, is a modern psychologist who believes that far too many mental/moral problems are defined as diseases and treated with drugs and self-defeating psychoanalysis – e.g., dwelling too long on personal histories. A moral approach directed to present and future behavior, particularly in cases of neurosis, would be more effective, he insists, in The Myth of Neurosis.

“In reality, of course, to behave in a ‘neurotic’ way is not a disease but a misguided decision and such behavior is a function of our basic freedom to choose, of our self-determination, of our responsibility for our own lives. Perhaps in some perfect world of the psychodynamists, in which all were exposed to their teachings and methods, such freedoms would be superfluous and there would remain only well-adjusted people, their psyches working smoothly in accordance with the blueprint for some mental machine dreamed up by metaphysical conceptualists who were longer on theory than they were on common sense.”

The Happy Machine

The modern mechanical elaboration and rationalization of man’s irrational incongruities in hopes of engineering a happy machine have rendered Gurdjieff’s relatively modern psychological system heartless. Gurdjieff and Ouspensky were no doubt duly impressed by the scientific, positive, and empirical schools of the West,  and the related modes of thought elaborated during the  Enlightenment; particularly in its later phase, represented in France, for example, by the academic Ideologues, whom Thomas Jefferson in America admired and emulated so much that he eliminated the subject of Theology from his university curriculum in favor of Ideology, a subject eventually taken up in its vulgar form throughout the country as the study of political religions rather than the “logic of ideas” recently abstracted by logical positivism (philosophical assertion of the primacy of observation in assessing the truth of statements of fact, while insisting that metaphysical and subjective arguments not based on observable data are meaningless). In any case, the Occident already has the Orient, in the persons of brilliant Arabs, Persians, and Jews, to thank for recovering classical metaphysics and for developing  inductive reasoning and the rudiments of modern science.

Of course Newton’s cosmic machine and the notion that man and his society are machines as well, to which mechanical principles or laws apply that heaven on Earth might be engineered, was all the rage back then, an optimistic fashion soon to be interrupted by the Romantically inclined – often to Gothic depression. And then a mysterious, fourth dimension was brought to light, and the human mind speculated on the nature of time and space, and curiously, timespace, waveparticles, and other subjects so occultly contradictory that even the most absurd doctrines of the ancient Brahmins were seemingly  upheld by quantum physics.

But the modern mechanical man was not to be thrown out with the bathwater. No, he was to be deprogrammed of his traditional, presumably bad habits, and reprogrammed to suit the times, that he might become a well-oiled machine. The well-oiled machine is not habitually engaged by negative emotions; the well-oiled machine doesn’t squeak. Yet the truth of the matter is that a machine depends for its motion on inherent contradictions whether it squeaks or not; moreover, life is largely a form of complaint we tire of hearing.

But never mind, if we are to be happy machines, we must, first of all, know that we are machines. After Jeremy Bentham applied the Inspection Principle to prison architecture, establishing an unseen monitor in the center of the Panopticon, he thought the concept might be suitable for the conditioning of students as well – his brother had already applied it to industry in Crimea. Someone asked Bentham, “Would not men, under the rational Utilitarian regime of  the greatest happiness of the greatest number, conditioned in panopticons, become machines?” No matter, replied Bentham, they would be HAPPY machines. Now the Panopticon has been liberally introjected into everyone, in part thanks to Bentham’s disciple, J.S. Mill, and his dad. Each thoroughly socialized individual – he thinks he is free – is his own indoctrinated and inoculated warden; yet, ironically, the number of external prisons and prisoners is accelerating, as if machines cannot be very happy even when they stop squeaking – perhaps because of the necessary mechanical contradictions that make the machine work. The brick and mortar prisons,  observes an upside-down postmodern sociologist, are necessary: the visible presence or prisons causes virtually imprisoned people outside the walls, who are in virtual chains to believe they are free.

Likewise Ouspensky, reflecting further than Gurdjieff on man’s propensity for automatic or habitual behavior, discovered that we are machines subject to certain behavioral drives or centers. Yes, he imagined, we are asleep, and our waking consciousness is really  a sort of dream state; we are mired in the psychological mud, so to speak, of our  habitual modes of life. Our salvation, at least as self-conscious beings, is to wake up from our stupor and remember our selves, whatever the self may be, if it exists at all.

Many of today’s Fourth Wayers have, instead of remembering themselves, lost the selves sought for in Ouspensky’s over-rationalizations of Gurdjieff’s work. They tend to tinker with the machine for the sake of tinkering, becoming so preoccupied with the parts, with telling the difference between a screw and a bolt, that the objective of the Work, the United Emotional State of Harmony, is forgotten, as if the tinkerer or gypsy had fallen asleep at the reins, unconsciously demonstrating, as it were, the cultish tendency of psychological pseudo-scientism to get lost in classification for its own sake. The Ouspenskian machine does, by virtue of its absurdities, work to disenchant and to destroy, at least in those who love nonsense, the hated habits and traditions that provoked Gurdjieff and like creatures to search for ancient oriental lore and habitude. We are left today, in my lay opinion, with a virtual rubbish heap; but a few precious things can be found therein, providing that the vanities are submitted to the bonfire.

Mind you that Ouspensky is not entirely to blame for the tinkering. Since Gurdjieff identified the Fourth Way as the “Sly Way”,  we might suggest that Ouspensky used slight-of-hand to fulfill an ulterior motive. Once the presumably sleeping or stupefied subjects are stripped of the old habits and traditions which block the recognition of revolutionary new masters,  said masters can distract them and virtually enslave them with yet another complicated  bureaucracy. We might tax lazy people to get them to work for us so they can pay their taxes; otherwise dissident intellectuals can be preoccupied figuring out the absurd tax code. There are many ways for a sly creature to fleece the sheep.

Personal Breakdowns

It might be best not to interfere with our machinery once we know we are machines. Gurdjieff was much impressed by the wisdom of a certain dervish who noticed him methodically masticating his food in an effort to get its maximum nutritional value. Well, so much for the traditional parental command, “Chew your food!” Too much chewing will over exercise the jaw and under excercise the stomach.

“It is not necessary to masticate carefully,” said the dervish to the delighted Gurdjieff, whose main childhood game was to avoid doing things the ordinary way. “At your age it is better not to chew at all, but to swallow whole pieces, even bones if possible, to give work to your stomach.”

Likewise, for the Hatha yoga that Gurdjieff was practicing at the time. No, we are not to take a deep breath, as old wives and others say, to improve our health, for breathing is automatic, an autonomous function. Artificial breathing will damage the machine! So forget the folk wisdom, still practiced to this day with “scientific” justification, that breathing exercises will drive the lymphatic system and thus eliminate toxins, improving tissue and organs and prolonging the person’s life.

“Without the knowledge of the fundamental laws of breathing in all particulars,” said the dervish, “the practice of artificial breathing must inevitably lead, very slowly but none the less surely, to self-destruction.”

From these instances the following induction is drawn:

“If you know every small screw, every little pin of your machine, only then can you know what you must do. But if you just know a little and experiment, you risk a great deal, because the machine is very complicated. There are many tiny screws which might easily be broken by a strong shock and which cannot afterwards be bought in any shop.”

So favorably impressed was young Gurdjieff by this revelation of mechanical laws that he reverently solicited the dervish’s instructions on “how to live in order to put an end to this tormenting struggle.”

We might spin large with the dervish’s assumption, project it onto the entire population, and assume that a radical disturbance of the social machine, namely, a revolutionary overthrowing of the traditions and mores much despised by the youth, say, when Gurdjieff and Ouspensky were young, might result in the utter destruction of civilization; that is, unless the population’s consciousness is simultaneously raised through class-conscious propaganda, and a new state machine installed, totally organized and regularly oiled by party technocrats led by an intellectual dictator.

Revolutionary  Breakdowns

Several social psychologists have noted that the revolutionary breakdown of social systems has perverse results: instead of elevating people to harmonious intercourse, they become primitive and brutish.

“Revolutionary society… loses its memory… it forgets traditions, beliefs, ideas…” wrote Pitirim Sorokin in THE SOCIOLOGY OF REVOLUTION, discussing the “perversions” or abnormal behavior that ensued after revolutionary intellectuals woke up and enlightened the masses and proceeded to rid the people Russia of their bad habits.

Pitirim Sorokin was certainly aware of the effects of “waking” people up in the middle of the night and making them acutely conscious of their bad habits and mechanical behavior – he was secretary to Alexander Kerensky in 1917. The complete breakdown of the state machine that resulted from the advance in revolutionary personal consciousness had many perverse effects besides famine. For instance, you might be a beloved comrade one day and executed on the next day simply because your spectacles and belly made you look bourgeois. Or maybe it was something you said again, but it was taken in another way. Sorokin was eventually arrested by the Communists, sentenced to death, released at the last moment due to the influence of friends, and, later on, banished. He became Professor of Sociology at Harvard in 1930.

“The gray cortex grows similar to a complex telegraph and telephoning station…. Often various contradictory messages are ‘sorted’ there…. ‘Sorting and appraisement’ demands time and energy…. The more intense and serious the process of reflection and thought, the more time will it require to come to a conscious definite decision…. The influence of inhibiting factors… makes us careful….”  The extinction of habitual processes results, according to Sorokin’s mechanical model, in “primitiveness” and “simplification.” “This degradation of spiritual activity is the fundamental feature of the psychical perversion of revolutionary society and render it akin to the psychology of the savage and the animal…. When a great quantity of reflexes… grows extinct in man, his nervous apparatus begins to resemble a complicated machine in which the screws have gone slack…. Because of this, the machine begins to work all wrong….  

“The perversion of conduct provoked by the first stage of revolution renders society more primitive and brings men nearer the conduct of animals…. Every extinction of conditioned reflexes means both the rupture, the annihilation of the former communication between the world and the organism; and a simplification, a returning to primitive motives; a decentralization of activity of the cerebral matter and the whole nervous system …. The mechanism of associating and of combining perceptions and ideas in revolutionary society shows a resemblance to that of primitive society….  It is primitively chaotic, inconsistent and unstable…. Today the Girondins are termed ‘Saviors’; tomorrow – ‘Executioners of the People.’ Today certain groups fight against each other; tomorrow they embrace.”

Eventually people become exhausted: “During the second period of revolution… ‘restraining factors’ and the exhaustion of energy sets in. Society loses all will-power…. You can do what you please with it…. Dictators strike…. It is like ‘new-mown flax’ ….”  The mob becomes like children and savages, more imitative, and it is then that the masses sleep: “They have grown to be somnambulists,” Professor Sorokin concluded.

Those of us who have not experienced, because of our time and circumstances, extreme social shocks, might, out of sheer boredom, secretly long for them, just as we might unwittingly long for death, as if we were subject to some sort of death instinct that would vacate the mind and resolve the body into dust. Indeed, not only do the young often long for revolutionary change, the old, as they approach the end, believe a general apocalypse is nigh. And then there are those who would just plod on and on in the same old ruts, even against their own interest – at least as defined by others – perhaps a cloud of LSD sprayed over cities or a voluntary course of shock therapy would wake them up so they could be reengineered.

The People of Byt

Beware, however, before taking a radical course of action, for there is some merit after all in repetitious or mechanical behavior. Moderation may be the key to success. Maybe orderly reform instead of violent revolution is the way to progress. A certain social platform is needed, a place where we can safely stand on habit, and then innovate if we happen to be disposed to innovate; but we must not be pulled under into the slough of despond by that platform. Russian was backwards; its traditional society was stagnant; something had to be done to wake up the masses, the majority of whom were peasants. Ouspensky noted that a certain, “unsuccessful”  type of people, the “people of byt”, are seemingly subject to eternal repetitive behavior. The Russian word ‘byt’  is difficult to translate. It can mean a habitual lifestyle, say peasant-life, merchant-life, rut-life and so on; or, in theatrical life, the typical voice or tone, the typical bit part, and so on.

“There are, first of all, people of byt, of deeply rooted, petrified, routine life. Their lives succeed one another with the monotony of the hand of the clock moving on the dial. There can be in their lives nothing unexpected, nothing accidental, no adventures. They are born and die in the same house where their fathers and grandfathers were born and died and where their children will be born and will die. National calamities, wars, earthquakes, plagues, sometimes wipe thousands and hundreds of thousands of them from the face of the earth at one stroke. But apart from such events their whole life is strictly ordered and organized on a plan…. It is just this absoluteness of repetition that creates in them some vague consciousness of the inevitability of everything that happens, a belief in fate, fatalism and, at times, as strange sort of wisdom and calmness, in some cases passing into an ironical contempt for people who are restless, seeking for something, striving for something.”

Ironically, like other Russians of literary note, Ouspensky seems to have a certain occult admiration for this repetitious type of person, the “unsuccessful” person whose, consciousness of repetition does not lead to reform but seems to ironically save him from fate by resigning him to it. But Ouspensky is divided against himself. He seems to push the doctrine of eternal recurrence to rid himself of it, but it rolls right back on him. He was a Russian fatalist who dreamed of the New World. East looks West, West looks right back.

In effect, the People of Byt were the Russian peasants whom the nihilists and other revolutionaries idolized and whom they even ventured to live with out in the sticks in order to wake them up and overthrow the Tsar’s state machine. The peasants were certainly creatures of habit, sticks in the mud, set in their ways. The regularity familiar to farmers was reflected in their religious rituals – a regularity that is disastrously interrupted, presumably by the deity, from time to time; a deity whose arbitrary behavior is rationalized by secular authority, whose own tyranny is therefore excused. The population of peasants was very large, and the urban intellectuals’ mission to wake them up was politically motivated. But the people of Byt, like today’s proud “Rednecks”, are not easily converted from their habits. The revolutionaries were disillusioned; millions of peasants were eventually murdered or starved to death. This is the context in which Ouspensky and Gurdjieff and the like should be discussed in order to be understood.  

Stupidity and Self-Remembering

Ouspensky reiterated the fact that Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way is the Sly Way; The First Way is the way of the Stupid Fakir. The Second Way is that of the Silly Saint. The Third Way is the way of the Weak Yogi. The Fourth Way apparently consists of cunning and deceptive tactics devised to manipulate people, hopefully for their own good; for instance, towards the usual, harmonious unity desired by alienated people. During our own stage of the Age of Dissolution, we strive to perfect a Fifth Way, the competitive cult of individualism, which we might call My Way, an anarchic way that further aggravates the isolation or alienation from  unity  associated with Original Sin, the diremption or violent divorce, if you will, from the Supreme Being.

Just as one dimension after another is being discovered or invented by modern science, no doubt more ways to salvation shall be forthcoming. Indeed, until the Final Hour of the Last Day, there shall be no end to the number of ways proposed for salvation. After all, alienation is the condition of self-conscious beings, creatures who are aware of their seemingly independent existence. Human beings are exiled for life. The estranged individual would seemingly persist forever as such if he could, even against his longing for a return to unity, an urge some thinkers have identified with a death wish. Yet he has no choice in the matter, for gravity is a tyrant unto him. No matter how far he strays from his origin, the exile must return home for dissolution and reprocessing. Again, it seems that the individual wanted to perish all along the way, for, despite the cultivation of individuality necessary for survival of the species, he seeks to lose himself by identifying with broader forms of alienation. Even the rebel who tears down all the fences has nothing to declare of himself in the end, except, “I am just another cattle.”

Perhaps most stupefied of all are those discomfited messiahs who are unaware of the Absurd and the Ubiquitous Ambiguities rooted in the underlying crisis or hypo-krisis of humankind. It is all too easy to go around with a lamp in broad daylight looking for an good man, or to climb up on a pulpit and accuse everyone of sin, or to set oneself up as a prophet and cry AWAKE! in the public arena; and not recognize that the accuser, in his witless arrogance and hypocrisy, is dishonest and asleep, even more so than the rest, and that the prophetic alarms are really unenlightening, perhaps even based on self-contempt extended to hatred for the race – the race of course is not so admirable in the light of higher ideals, hence it is easy to condemn. Of course the appearance of impropriety is concealed today by the modern scientific messiah with an objective, detached, facade of concern for the race being anal-ized or mentally butchered into machined parts. Indeed, the essential ambiguity, ambivalence, and hypocrisy of human nature should be the first recognized quality recognized by the self-remembered!

By the way, what is the self to be remembered besides some happy integer in the nebulae? We can safely assume that the entity remembered should be the true self, as opposed, to the false or conditioned, mechanical self. It is an ideal self by virtue of its current non-existence, a self to be perpetually strived for. Only nothing is permanent and perfect in itself. We doubt that the self is a reconditioned paving machine. We observe that Socrates’ Know Thyself results in skepticism, and not in an assertion that man is a machine, or should be machined after he is put in charge of machines instead of subjected to them.

Self-remembering, Gurdjieff remarked in Meetings With Remarkable Men, “is to take cognizance of one’s own individuality.” He rightly complained that journalism and advertising were putting people to sleep, causing them to forget their selves. Indeed, any mention of a person besides the third person casts doubt today on the truth of the speaker – therefore the ‘I’ here is usually ‘we’  – the plurality has more authority in a democracy. But in this paper ‘we’ are presumably the elite we of meritocracy, if not aristocracy.

Four Mechanical Manifestations

Ouspensky’s notion of self-remembering depends on the objective observation of certain psychological facts, four manifestations of mechanical life that prevent us from remembering what we are. Self-remembering is an awakening, as from a dream. Since we personally identify with the four manifestations, which are presumably bad habits, self-remembering or waking up is no easy task.

Habitual Lying is the first dysfunctional manifestation identified. Liars include persons who presume they know what they do not know, or who presume they are in possession of characteristics they do not possess. Imagination is the second mechanical fault, our tendency to imagine things then believe they are true to please ourselves. Negative Emotions and Unnecessary Talking are the third and fourth malfunctions.

Most misleading of all, claimed Ouspensky, is the notion of the possession of consciousness. Only a man can know if he is conscious or not. Others cannot tell, from direct observation, whether someone else is conscious: he may be a robot for all they know. Consciousness is a matter of degree: duration, frequency, extent of penetration of the objects of consciousness – Ouspensky was convinced that most people are dozing off or sleeping. A man cannot long sustain attention to himself. He is usually unconscious of himself. Hence “self-remembering” awakens him to himself. We cannot control consciousness itself, said Ouspensky claimed, but we can control our thoughts in such a way that we remember ourselves; that is, once we become aware of the fact that we have forgotten ourselves, or are, to wit, asleep. Hence the Work proceeds with the confession, “I do not know myself, I have forgotten myself.” This self-remembering process, he says, has immediate alchemical results on the body.

Well, the honest man will probably admit that human beings are habitual liars. Of course Native Americans observed that the invading European barbarian, the Western White Man, was a liar; one tribe went so far as to name him ‘Liar’ after getting to know him. Some peoples lie more than others. We might imagine that lying would not be the practice in small groups when the everyday existence of members depends on the communication of truth. Of course a people might lie to one’s neighbors as a matter of practice if they are perceived as enemies. But to make friends for mutual safety the truth is better told on essential matters.

The Vice of Lying

We note that the famous Ten Commandments enjoins adherents from bearing false witness against neighbors and from swearing falsely; rather narrow injunctions indeed, leaving a great deal of room for the propagation of all sorts of falsehoods. When populations are civilized through conquest, the competition continues by more civil means, and much of it is deceptive, as if man and his business were corrupt at the core and in need of legal restraint lest all hell break loose again.

As for the individual, we should remember that the child discovers the freedom of his individuality, at least that of his inner life, by lying and getting away with it from time to time. Hopefully he will learn to restrain himself and do no harm, and perhaps even do a great deal of good by virtue of a sort of white lie. He may discover that lying to himself, when restrained by the reality of his circumstances, is a very good thing for him and for his civilization; that is, if there is any such thing as positive progress to be had. In a certain sense, civilization itself is based on systematic lying, of presuming that we are better than we presently are. Religion, Freud said, is an illusion. But for all its faults, we might claim, it has served humankind well over the long run, and now we have other forms or religion besides religion, so to speak; for instance our political and scientific religions.

If man is a natural born liar and it is in his natural interest to lie and to imagine that he is something that he is presently not, then Ouspensky’s lie, that man will improve himself by ridding himself of lying to himself, is not the way to go. Perhaps Ouspensky’s Sly Way would simply replace one set of lies with another.

First of all, claims Ouspensky, a man must not lie. He must know what he has. He must know that he does not possess a thing in order to make an effort to attain it. A man is not going to pay dearly for something he already has. What he does not have yet ascribes to himself, is unity, permanent ego, individuality, will, consciousness, will-power.

“The change will begin with those powers and capacities which man ascribes to himself, but which, in reality, he does not possess. This means that before man can acquire any new powers and capacities, he must actually develop in himself those qualities he thinks he possesses, and about which he has the greatest possible illusions.”

The Virtue of Lying

Well, we suffer from the underlying crisis or hypo-krisis of our fundamental nature as hypocrites: we are not yet what we want to be, what we say we are. The Greek word for actor was hypocrite; Hebrew scholars, and then Christian thinkers with a vengeance, took up the word to provoke feelings of guilt for not realizing the ideals, for not treading the ideal ways.

Ideals are, fortunately for continued progress, moving targets. To become what we would be, something better than we presently are, we act as if we are just that. Thus, in a certain sense, we lie. We stand up on our hind legs, put our head in the heavens and imagine that we are more than animals; yes, undoubtedly we are much more than that: we are gods too, obviously because of a higher or divine will, a will that we seek unity with, and perhaps we may have it at the last moment.

Thus speaks cock-eyed optimists. People subject to negative emotions may beg to disagree, and point out that history is nothing but the continued history of man’s inhumanity to man, crimes of perpetual war waged in the name of perpetual peace and the one-god, crimes against humanity made large by high technology – low morality is still the rule. Furthermore, there is nothing we can do about it: we are determined to evil, to eventually run down like a machine or self-destruct. But let us not forget what Dr. Pangloss said: men are bound to corrupt themselves for their own good; for instance, to create war machines and slay one another.

“All that was indispensable,” said the Master, “and individual misfortunes create general welfare, so the more individual misfortunes there are, the more all is well.” As for free will in the best of all possible worlds, “Freedom can subsist with absolute necessity, for it was necessary that we be free…..” In fine, said Pangloss, “The fall of man, and his curse, were necessary components of the best of all possible worlds.”

The failure to recognize the truth behind the lies of Dr. Pangloss and other optimists has subjected the race to the misery necessary for its improvement. The few who realize what is really going on will prosper. Take, for example, a contemporary optimist, Jerome Robbins, who went from rags to riches and from fat to thin, pocketing a great deal of our hard-earned money by writing such books as UNLIMITED POWER. Many of us lack unlimited power and would like to have some of it at least: Unlimited Power is the subject of much religious worship. Mr. Robbin’s has entitled one of his chapters ‘The Seven Lies of Success.’ Mr. Robbins believes in lies and knows his Pangloss well:

“Belief #1: Everything happens for a reason and a purpose, and it serves us. Belief #2: There is no such thing as failure….”

If we would succeed, we should retrace our steps, learn painful lessons, examine the possibilities, mend our ways, and so on, says Robbins. Represent your experience in a positive way, imagining that it is just another step to success – don’t dwell on your lessons as mistakes unless you want to be a loser. Everything makes good sense if positively construed according to the drift of one’s wants and wishes. We’ve heard it all before. We find nothing new here for the price of a self-help book but copyrighted twists of the old hat, including the ‘novel’ NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) approach to imagination advocated, which Gurdjieff, a masterful hypnotist, and Ouspensky, a sly fellow in his own right, would find familiar although they have never seen the trademark.

Ouspensky’s derogation of the power of imagination is absurd.  Mr. Robbins owns technique-trademarks. His redundant tautologies of ancient wisdom have done many people a lot of good; white lies are a good thing; that is precisely the point.

Robbin’s fictitious or As If approach is not to be disparaged as mere pop-psychology. It is based on the common experience of the race and has been examined and deemed useful by professional philosophers and psychologists.

“The practitioner of Moral Therapy is not so interested in ‘objective truth’ …. In the absence of hard, permanent, unalterable purposes we should encourage the individual to settle for ‘useful fictions’… basically in tune with his moral heritage. He must behave as if he has a firm goal whether it is a realistic one or not. Garth Wood THE MYTH OF NEUROSIS.

But that makes a liar of Ouspensky, who would professedly rid people of their habitual lying and illusory imagination, as well as the negative emotions without which we would have no morality whatsoever. Remember that a negative emotion is often a response to a positive ideal disappointed. S/he who completely ignores evil is good for nothing. Of course that is not to say, for example, that love will not conquer hate in the long run. Popular psychology needs a better definition of “positive”, that the so-called “negative” emotions can be recognized and worked out and turned to more productive and harmonious endeavors.

There are limits to the power of belief or the credulity of the believers. The power of blind faith has no limit because it dishonors all refutation. But belief is not faith: belief is the gradual perfection of knowledge. One may, like Hitler, come to have faith in the truth of one’s own lies, but when  lying  has destructive effects, people cease to believe in the positive value of the lies and turn on the liar. Hence Mr. Robbins deliberately and rightfully provides in advance for certain painful adjustments.  

The Wrong Word For Good Intentions

And perhaps “lying” is the wrong word for our good intentions given the ingrained negative connotations of the term. It is not that we must lie but that we are entitled to our creative illusions. Gurus are right about maya and illusion. Things appear other than they are, as illusions. At least they are real illusions, and we accordingly refrain from jumping through plate glass windows. We are not deluded or hallucinating when we have certain illusions in common, just as we all see water glistening on a dry highway on a hot day due to an unusual refraction of light. Such is the law of phenomenal life, so why not accept that fact and turn it to good account?

Since we are always something other than we might think we are, why not take the illusion in hand and intentionally conceive of and imagine ourselves as otherwise? In our search for unattainable “Reality” or “Truth”, we may create our own illusory realities, conceived ourselves as other than we are, and, by virtue of this continual division of subject from object, live in accord with the law of motion which is the law of life. Such illusionism takes  therapeutic advantage of the restless urge for progress in general, or, conversely, nothing in particular – the will to freedom – and applies certain common sense guidelines for its exercise so that the individual will have a more satisfactory or healthy life.

The Ways

G.I. Gurdjieff and Peter D. Ouspensky were remarkable characters to say the least, and their eccentric ways of life and apparently unorthodox manners of thinking captured the imaginations of inspired many thousands of people, creative and progressive people, particularly creative and progressive persons drawn from the dissident or non-traditionalist ranks of the avant-garde -several variations on the Fourth or Sly Way persist today. Indeed, it is surprising that we find scant or no mention of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky  philosophical in dictionaries and encyclopedias. Their approach was hardly novel, and some of the theorizing is rather absurd, but the same may be said of much of contemporary philosophy and psychology today once the complicated elaborations of the platitudes are dispensed with.

Moreover, professional philosophers have remarked that eclecticism is inherently mediocre and necessarily logically absurd because of its contradictory borrowings; but we think they are too proud of their systems, rendered virtually incomprehensible by self-defensive rationalizations. I think it was Hume who noted that philosophy is an elaboration of common sense; we might turn a paraphrase and say that philosophy is usually a lot of nonsense about common sense

G.I. Gurdjieff, it is said, was quite a rake, and, in my opinion, somewhat of a fool; but he was a far more fascinating character than the professor of his Fourth Way, Peter D. Ouspensky. Ouspensky was no mean thinker. Some of his observations are perspicacious. His opus makes me think but leaves me emotionally cold, as if he were himself a thinking machine over-identified with his own intellectual center.

Ouspensky, like our contemporary superstitious PMA (positive mental attitude) pop-psyche preachers, is afraid of “bad” feelings, which he equates with “negative” emotions and thoughts. He preaches control as a way of avoiding negative information, and he seems to believe the repression of negativity, whatever that might actually be, constitutes the “objectivity” he preaches. His denial of imagination is destructive.

One might say that Ouspensky was a natural born ‘liar’, in a certain sense of that term, who gave the lie to his prohibition against lying. But his Sly Way was Gurdjieff’s – if Ouspensky was entirely sincere, then Gurdjieff gave the lie to him and made a fool of him. Credulous adherents are following suit to this very day. We hope it does them a lot of good. Such are the wiles of Lady Folly, that we are amused by all this, and can positively say so without negative emotions.

The High Way

Humankind has naturally developed many different folkways over the ages. Mutual animosity, or negative emotions, if you will, reduced the number of ways and cleared broad paths to several great civilizations. Wherefore people have had good cause from time to time to yearn for the security of one peaceful way rather than the many warring ways that depend on hate-based love or hate-others self-love.

Yet people soon tire of an single or universal way and long for personal identity with certain groups and ways of thought. Of course democracy or individual freedom promised a plurality of ways, even a unique way for everyone who wanted a singular, but individualism in fact constitutes, by way of dissolution and reduction, the utter socialization of existential units, achieving an massive unity in anxious singularity – the basic anxiety is masked by optimism – the smiling face and corresponding philosophy of life denies death.  

As for the unique aspect, we can only say, in optimistic self-contradiction ala Leibniz, that we are monadically unique because we differ in the quality of our perceptions. More abstractly, we might hold that each individual, as an absurd (unity of universal and relevant particularities) concrete universal, is a unique coincidence of universal qualities. We might find objective proof of our personal variety in the consumption of a wide array of mass-produced products, whereby each one of us might represent himself as visibly unique in the quantity and quality of his personal possessions, despite his identification with his caste, status, class and so on.  For a sense of particular identity in contrast to mass society, we might all represent ourselves as hyphenated-people; for instance, as African-American or Nigerian-French, and so on; and citizens of the cosmos may be cosmopolitan and thus retain their respective nations, and so on. Indeed, the possibilities for identification with different things and thoughts and people are infinite – for instance, a new kind of anarchism has recently been identified: Anarcho-Neanderthalism.

Yet during our metaphysical ascension of the pyramid to the presiding apex or non-dimensional  vanishing point, we tend to look down our long noses on everything below, and to have faith in Nothing if not the High Way. Nothing is better than the Fourth Way or any numbered way howsoever defined – the definitions are problematic hence stand in the way. The end of everything teaches us to expect Nothing, and, in the end, to have faith in Nothing, as if Nothing is best. Nothing is better than an infinite number of ways.

That being said by way of monologue, I beg your leave to sign off here and resume my visualization and breathing exercises.


Hegel’s Hypocrisy per Eric Voegelin

Eric Voegelin




Hypocrisy connoisseurs will certainly enjoy Eric Voegelin’s work, On Hegel. Voegelin charges Hegel with hypocrisy, in the sense that hypocrisy is the sin of pride in contradistinction to the humble role played by virtuous Christians, including himself, the arrogant author of a book condemning another man for his arrogance. According to Voegelin, Hegel fabricated a philosophical system that was bound to be false because it was founded on his own weakness, which, of course, Hegel was well aware of because he wrote it to overcome his own sickness. In other words, Hegel tried to pull himself up by his bootstraps. He acted like god while knowing he was not god.

“Thou hypocrite!” was once a favorite expression of Christians who derived its pejorative connotation from Alexandrine Jews who used it as a synonym for hanef – a godless person. Reverend James Marsh wrote a famous discourse on the subject, published in Boston by Crocker and Brewster in 1843 as part of Marsh’s literary Remains. Marsh quoted Luke XIII: ‘For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore, whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness, shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets, shall be proclaimed on the housetops.’ Reverend Marsh wrote, “These words of our Savior were uttered in connexion with a warning, addressed to his disciples, against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. In their immediate application, they were intended as a dissuasion from that conscious purpose of concealing selfish and corrupt principles under the show of respect for the law of God, by which the Pharisees were distinguished.” Thus does Reverend Marsh’s love for Jesus Christ – to whom he believes we must flee to since we cannot hide from him – based on hatred of another religious group.

In fact the Christian cult evolved from the liberal Pharisees sect whose rabbis taught, besides survival of the soul, not only the strict observation of religious law which the Christians were wont to reject in part, but also the gradual, humane reformation of that law. There would be no Christians without the Pharisees. Early Christians then turned on the Pharisees and called them hypocrites for pretending to be good, and even for actually doing good works while presumably having bad or selfish intentions; that is, for having bad faith: not believing in Jesus Christ as the one and only savior of humankind. Hence the great scapegoating injustice perpetrated against the Pharisees, rendering their name synonymous with ‘hypocrite’ as if they were all godless persons. On the other hand, Christians presumed that they were the only ones in possession of the real god, incarnated in a single man; but this was a supreme arrogance that Jews simply cannot stand for and still be Jews.

A man may think he is a god unto himself, but the sane man knows he is not god of the world or universe; every man who knows himself knows that he is limited and is not omnipotent. He who acts like a god while knowing he is not god is a hypocrite. Of course pessimistic Christians live not for this necessarily evil world but for the good world beyond, hence any attempt to bring the good order of heaven to Earth is hypocrisy. Wherefore Voegelin believes that Hegel is the typical system-building philosopher who would set himself up as a savior of the corrupt world, yet who is a hypocrite because he knows his salvation plan is built on his own sickness in the sick world, the rotten ground of the original sin of pride. Such spiritual rebellion is the product of an existentially deficient man; it aggravates the troubles of this world, making itself yet another source of the disease plaguing

Voegelin argues that, while prophets are not bound by history, philosophers are so bound. Philosophers wrongly assumed a religious role and declared that philosophy had emerged from religion to finally reveal the pristine primordial deity, ridding the world of the old evil god. In effect, such a philosopher implies that “History is an immanence of god leading up to Me, the One who will inaugurate the New Life.” He discards mysterious symbols, replacing them with “scientific” explanations of the good old mysteries; those intellectual fabrications are disguises for hypocrisy and are mistaken for knowledge by gullible and credulous people who would struggle for personal freedom from tyranny. Witness, for instance, the 1789 French Revolution, an historical example of such salvation-activism and its horrible result in anarchic freedom instead of the totalitarian outcome outlined in Rousseau’s little book that the rioting revolutionaries waved above their heads as their guide although many were illiterate and did not know a word of it.

No, says Voegelin, man is no god, he is merely a sorcerer – he can only see the directions of history, and, with the help of language, evoke its shapes, ghosts, fictions. Hegel tried to use his imagination to eclipse God’s Creation – unable to redeem himself, he created a holy book of philosophy and recommended the diabolical system therein to the world as its salvation. Therefore Hegel’s conceptual spiritualism should be replaced by unquestioning humility, voluntary suffering, repentance – by a pessimistic religious system of virtual suicide – that the individual person might be saved by his unconditional surrender to his own god and in effect to the status quo on this Earth, in order live the life of Riley in the hereafter.

The hypocrisy of all this is unavoidable, for, if hypocrisy is arrogance concealed to deceive, everyone is a hypocrite. Hence it takes a hypocrite to know one and to say – like perverse Christians who love to cast stones first yet cannot see the beam in their own eyes – “Thou Hypocrite!” Not that they all do; not that we should agree with the proposition that Christianity on the whole is the epitome of bigotry, of hate-based group love, of the most awful sin of pride, of the very apotheosis of hypocrisy.

Christianity has no monopoly on hypocrisy. Nor do the Pharisees, or the Alexandrine Jews who gave the Greek term for ‘actor’ its pejorative connotation. Judaism and Christianity are inseparable – Christianity does not have its own religion for it is unwilling to reject its Old Testament tradition with its barbaric patriarchal god, and admit that a genuine god of Love would have to be a complete Stranger to this world. Judeo-Christianity has often been debited or credited with the creation of the Western world, curse or blessing that it might be. But we might want to consider that religion did not make the man, it discovered him in his hypocrisy or underlying crisis between the real and ideal, between Earth and heaven. We find profound truths about men and women in Judaism and Christianity. We note well its revolutionary nature in the Jewish revolts against political empire; but the fiercely independent Jews would have had a virtual tribal theocracy under their messianic king; whereas we note the tendency to individualism and the multiplication of sects among Christians – this author’s favorite Christian, by the way, lives in a cave in the watershed, and calls Christian churches in the area “dens of iniquity” and “pits of vipers.”

In fact, for many Christians of all kinds, god is synonymous with freedom. Now the individual in its will to exist forever without impedance is an anarch. It would brook no resistance to its will, it would be omnipotent, it would be free from everything – absolutely free, as if it were the one and only god almighty, the supreme arbiter who has no reason to think before acting. God is the social projection of such individual freedom, a positive abstraction without any content at all, for any content would limit such a god. Above all, ‘god’ stands for the abstract unity of a group, just as the imaginary ‘I’ stands for the abstract unity of the individual divided from and confronted by the multiplicity of the world about him.

So much for omnipotent, absolutely free gods. The rest of us are free FROM something or the other. For instance, a certain strain of Christians, taking their cue from revolutionary Jews, would be free from the state. They might admit that a police force and a few public works are necessary given the original evil of humankind whose salvation by universal love will not be accomplished until the return of the god’s solitary son – the Greeks called the solitary son, who appeared as the brilliant and pure (Phoebus) Sun of Zeus, ‘Apollo’, for far-flung ‘unity.’ Throughout history Christians like everyone else have had a love/hate or ambivalent relationship with absolute states. The absolute god is an indefinite abstraction or Power whose forms cannot be maintained without the political distribution of that power; hence Christianity owes its present existence not only to its god but to absolute tyrants whose ‘might makes right methods’ were often similar to those employed by the unpredictable Terrorist Almighty of the Sky who did not let even innocent infants stand in his brutal path; the Hebrew thunder-god El, for instance, and the volcanic YHWH down south. On the other hand, with the advance of civilization, for which Christianity and Judaism does get ample credit, tyranny was curbed by the legal distribution of its own power.

With that in mind, we are not surprised by Voegelin’s attack on Hegel. Indeed, many good Christians hated Hegel with a passion, and called him a madman because his philosophy spelled absolute political tyranny, to be provided on Earth according to the systematic providence of the World Spirit. Hegel was initially a ‘liberal’ or an advocate of democratic liberty; his sympathies were with the French Revolution until its excesses caused him to violently back-pedal to the absolute state, which he conceived as the concrete embodiment of the god of the universal ethic, the nebulous Good (of course there is no etymological relationship between ‘god’ and ‘good’). For Hegel, individuals were so much dust to be ground up by the universal world mill operated by the world spirit. And whatever is here and now, is here because it ought to be as it is. Of course a few heroes or representative men are of greater moment as they help the wheel roll from China to its future in parts West; as certain Chinese Buddhists know, the Pure Land is in the West, the future into which the Sun descends – it appears that China may rule the world after California falls into the ocean.

It takes a hypocrite to know a hypocrite. As his critic Voegelin knew, Hegel himself wrote about hypocrisy from a similar perspective, that hypocrisy is the pretense of godliness, which is in itself an arrogance. Hence it would suit this occasion to provide a brief description of Hegel’s definition on hypocrisy for the hypocrisy connoisseur to savor.

In hypocrisy there is a difference between the good appearance presented by the subject and the subjective reality of his evil or selfish intent. Insofar as the subject is wholly self-interested or selfish, and conceives that he alone is a law unto himself, as if he were god almighty or the universe, he represents evil; for the particular subject in itself without any object other than itself is an empty or false universal. “On its formal side, evil is most peculiarly the individual’s own, since it is precisely his subjectivity establishing itself purely and simply for itself….” On the other hand, the moral man has the universal social good in mind and intends to conduct himself accordingly.

A hypocrite has a bad conscience when he is aware that his will conflicts with the “true”, or social, universal; yet, despite hits bad conscience, he sets himself up as pious and righteous in order to deceive others; or, he may use one good act performed as justification in his own eyes for his bad deeds; he may also justify some evil deed by finding a single good reason for it – say the recommendation of a single minister.

Hegel addresses the “empty formalism” of preaching duty alone. “Because every action explicitly calls for a particular content and a specific end, while duty as an abstraction entails nothing of the kind, the question arises: what is my duty? As an answer, nothing is available except to… strive after… one’s own welfare, and welfare in universal terms, the welfare of others…. Specific duties, however, are not contained in the definition of duty itself…. Duty itself in… self-consciousness… is inwardly related to itself alone… is abstract universality… it has identify without content, or the abstractly positive, the indeterminate…. In every end of a self-consciousness subject, there is [this empty or abstract] positive aspect necessarily present because [this general] end is what is purposed in an actual concrete action. This aspect he knows how to elicit and emphasize, and he may proceed to regard it as a duty or a fine intention. By so interpreting it, he is able to pass his action off as good in the eyes of both himself and others, despite the fact that, owing to his reflective character and his knowledge of the universal aspect of the will, he is aware of the contrast between this aspect and the essentially negative content of his action. To impose this way on others is hypocrisy; while to impose on oneself is a stage beyond hypocrisy, a stage at which subjectivity claims to be absolute.” (The Philosophy of Right)

The hypocrite’s deeds give the lie to his fine words. Even if they do not, we can accuse him of having bad intentions. Hegel, in Phenomenology of Mind, describes the psychological strategy of the hypocrite who knows his moral duty is socially determined yet takes his own individuality as the whole to which he alone has a duty. “(The particular self’s) pure self, as it is empty knowledge, is without content and without definiteness.” Yet it becomes “conscious of the opposition between what it is for itself and what it is for others, of the opposition of universality or duty and its state of being reflected into self away from the universal…. Over against this internal determination there thus stands… the universal consciousness; for this latter is is rather universality, duty, that is the essential fact, while individuality, which exists for itself and is opposed to the universal… is held to be Evil by the consciousness which thus stands by the fact of duty, because of the lack of correspondence of its internal subjective life with the universal; and since at the same time the first [empty individual or evil] consciousness declares its act to be congruency with itself, to be duty and conscientiousness, it is held by that universal consciousness to be Hypocrisy.

I think we get the picture. We see evil and good in their extremities at opposite ends of the continuum. Individual and society, particular will and universal will. With the horrors of the French Revolution in mind, Hegel favored the right-wing authoritarian end. It is no wonder that men and women pretend to be good as publicly defined. Are we all hypocrites? It seems that both Hegel and Voegelin, the critic who called Hegel a hypocrite, might agree that humans, as anti-social individuals, are originally evil. Is the man who admits he is evil and acts accordingly a hypocrite? Or is the sociopath a hypocrite?

Hegel presents the concrete state as the solution for dissolution of evil – the state is somehow provided by the World Spirit – we fear that it is a dystopian Totalitaria, a virtual prison. Voegelin would apparently have an indefinite, abstract god preside, but this personal god is the projection of the individual anarch in its original evil which both philosophers rightfully fear. In any event, may god forbid theocratic tyranny under fictitious gods. Further, we have good reason to fear the man-made calamities of the personification and deification of nations and states even more than the irregular natural wrath of the Terrorist Almighty.

We hope for a happy medium or golden mean rather than an “either good or evil” for our conversation or dialectic, that our conversant life may never end. Yet progressives may not be rid of the either/or, even if they say progress is from a lesser good to a greater good instead of from evil to good. Divided as individuals from unity by self-consciousness, we are given an underlying crisis or hypokrisis that requires decisions. We suspect that hypocrisy is the human predicament. But we do not want to water the pejorative term down and render it meaningless in its application to certain individuals who are much bigger hypocrites than others. Hypocrisy connoisseurs will appreciate the sophisticated philosophical hypocrites only in comparison to the vulgar ones in their collection.


Voegelin, Eric, HISTORY OF POLITICAL IDEAS, V.12 ON HEGEL, Columbia, Mo: University of Missouri 1997

Hegel, G.W.G., THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND, transl. J.B. Baillie, London: George Allen 1949

Hegel, G.W.G, HEGEL’S PHILOSOPHY OF RIGHT, transl. T.M. Knox, Oxford: Clarendon: 1942

Robinson, Jonathan, DUTY AND HYPOCRISY IN HEGEL’S PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND, An essay in the real and idea, Toronto: University of Toronto

The Great Atheism Controversy in Germany

ATHEISM resurrection of reasoning.JPG
The Resurrection of Greek Reason by Darwin Leon






German philosopher, religious thinker, and political radical, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, was accused of atheism. After being appointed professor of philosophy at Jena in 1794, he had begun a series of public lectures on Sundays, from ten to eleven o’clock, much to the consternation of the clerics. A local journal declaimed on Fichte’s revolutionary politics, accusing him of subversively substituting the worship of Reason for the worship of God.

That was a very serious charge in view of the situation over in Paris, where images of the savior and saints had been pulled down in churches renamed “Temples of Truth” and replaced with effigies of Reason and Liberty and paintings of natural objects such as flowers. Atheism was in vogue there to the extent that, if a priest bothered to even mention god in church, people openly guffawed.

Fichte, however, had no such mummery or cynicism in mind, although he was enthusiastic about some of the French Revolution’s basic principles, and he had written such tracts as “Reclamation of the Freedom of Thought from the Princes of Europe and Contributions Designed to Correct the Judgement of the Public on the French Revolution.”

The formal charge brought against Fichte, for worshiping Reason on Sunday, was resolved in his favor by the university senate of the Weimar government, with the proviso that any future lectures be given at three o’clock on Sunday afternoons instead of in the mornings. No such compromise was available however, in the matter of Atheismusstreit, the great Atheism Controversy which arose out of the publication of his 1798 essay on divine governance, “On the Basis of Our Belief in the Divine Governance of the World.”

The grand duke of Weimar had a liberal respect for scholarship, yet he wanted the whole thing hushed up; nevertheless, Fichte insisted on raising a vigorous public response to the anonymous charges against him, because, he said, the matter at hand was a vital public issue concerning the most fundamental of all freedoms. After all, a public airing of both sides of the atheism controversy would expose the stupidity of the authoritarian morons. Fichte had promised that he would resign if censured by the governing authority. As it were, he was mildly rebuked, but his offer to resign was accepted and he was dismissed from his university post. His dismissal was followed by anonymous public attacks on his character. The political authorities of various regions in Germany were embarrassed by the scandal, and they, in turn, ordered the journal publishing Fichte’s purportedly atheistic views confiscated, and they forbade students from their precincts to enroll at the university in Weimar.

What did Fichte say that outraged the anonymous religious authorities? In fine, he averred that god is the “World Moral Order.” That sufficed to outrage the theists.

Fichte thought that a person truly believes in god if he does his duty “gaily and without concern,” without fear or doubts about the consequences. A true believer is not afraid of the hateful hypocrites who go about casting anonymous aspersions on someone else’s version of faith.

As for the atheist, Fichte claimed that “the true atheist… raises his own counsel above god and thus raises himself to god’s position” by concerning himself with the consequences of doing his duty. The real atheist is a religious hypocrite who is concerned with what he can get out of his religion, the selfish person who does his duty concerned only with what is in it for him. As far as Fichte was concerned, doing one’s duty is imperative and not categorical, for duties by definition must be done regardless of the consequences. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about moral imperatives; for instance, the imperative not to lie: “You must not lie,” Fichte said, “even if the world were to go to pieces as a consequence.” So one should be willing to sign his own name to his beliefs and suffer the consequences therefor.

It may appear to the reader that, if the same good works are done, then the practical effects of selfish atheism and dutiful theism are the same, leaving the question of a person’s faith in god, which is really nobody else’s business. As long as the outward observances are dutifully observed, whether or not someone believes in god or not is between her and god. As for lying, the biggest lie of all is told by those who profess the existence of god but do not really believe god exists. If only people would start telling the truth about god, nation, party, family, and person, we would embrace our common humanity, in which pessimists believe a world war might break out.

Do not worry, advised Fichte, the truth will not cause the world go to pieces. If the truth is good for anything at all, surely it will keep the world intact. “The plan of its preservation could not possibly be based on a lie,” quoth he. Obviously, if god does exist, god is not a liar. Wherefore for Fichte, the moral world order that is god does not have to be proved; rather, it is the objective ground or presumed hypostasis necessary for certitude.

Fichte was not an atheist at all in the learned opinion of many great theologians who happened to be influenced by him. He was, one might say, an ethical pantheist who believed that god’s moral order or logos was present in every individual and available to each conscientious individual. That perspective naturally led bigoted dogmatists to charge Fichte with the mortal sin of deism, for intolerant bigots insist that deists are atheists. Deism affirms the existence of god and of rewards and punishments after death, and posits that each person aided by reason can discover the few simple truths of religion. Since god gives all normal humans reason, god’s doctrines are no secret; there are no specially anointed authorities who alone are able to understand and interpret god’s word. Conscience is a private matter. The deity winds up the universe like a clock and leaves us to do our duty or not. Finally, as to the form of worship, the deist worships god with good works. Deism, incidentally, was not unique to Europe; several founding fathers of the United States of America were democratically oriented deists.

The professors of stupidity charged Fichte with “making himself God” because of his reliance on reasoning rather than their irrational objective dogma. Fichte’s moral world order, however, was not the mundane mores of the mob or crowd, but was the real moral order of a supersensible realm where duty is not done for pleasure’s sake but for its own sake. His concept of Absolute Transcendental Idealism and the Absolute Ego or “I” smacked of heresy to bigots who wanted some godly object to idolize, a god of self-hate projected somewhere out there opposed to man and nature.

An object-god, say an imagined father-god who is out there somewhere, say in an imagined heaven, and who is opposed to man and to nature, is more of devil than a god. And it is for that reason that we should also be wary of Fichte’s absolute idealism, his apparent divorce of the subject (god and man) from the object (world and society). Furthermore, his idealistic con-fusion of god and man on the subjective side is dangerous, for an idealist who thinks his personal ideals are the one and only reality may dutifully be as intolerant as the religious bigot.

Indeed, an examination elsewhere of Fichte’s patriotic German utopia reveals a totalitarian dystopia. If he had known what we now know about the consequences of that line of thinking in World War instead of World Moral Order, he would not have been so enthusiastic about his German nationalism.

On the other hand, the wild, anarchistic hand as opposed to the totalitarian, heavy hand, we might admire Fichte for his assertion of the freedom of the will, the absolute freedom of thought and expression associated with the subjective nature of individualism.

In any event, Fichte was viciously and anonymously slandered by the professors of faith for expressing his conscience. The cowardice of the professors in remaining anonymous indicts their religion of ignorance, fear and hate. A profoundly faithful person rests secure in her faith; she is not pressed to prove the existence of her god; she certainly feels no need to make anonymous personal attacks on others. Naturally those who are insecure in forced faith fear that someone else’s reasoning might pull the rug called faith from beneath them, a rug laid on the shaky ground or shifting sands of their irrational fear, hence they respond anonymously unless they have a supporting mob; they answer with hate instead of love and would disallow any song except their own, desperately strident one.

College students conducting a recent study of hate-mongering cults were surprised by the loving friendliness the hate-cult members showed towards each other and towards new recruits. They love not the god of neighborly love piety raves about, for they condemn all to hell who do not agree with them. Surely this is not the worship of the god of love so many man-hating magpies chatter about in their assemblies, in churches, in neo-fascist meeting-places, but is rather the worship of hate itself. It is in effect hate-others-based group-love, a love based on fear.

Whether or not we like Fichte’s philosophy, the Great Atheism Controversy he was involved in, even though the atheism issue has grown increasingly moot since then, raises questions pertinent to our own time.

For instance, why would someone hide their name when expressing an opinion on an abstract subject unless they are terribly ashamed of their own existence expressed in words? Why are they so ashamed of themselves? Why do so many people hide behind false identities simply to insult people? And why do so many “religious people,” anonymously or not, resort to slander and libel, just as their forbears did about Fichte’s private life and sexual philosophy? Why, indeed, does their real god seem to be Satan, slander personified?



The General Lie


The dystopia 1984 was premature: the title should have been 2084. The year 1984 has past but the spirit of 1984 is still at work in capitalism despite the failure of the national socialist and communist campaigns. But not to worry. The number of dissident intellectuals who worry about the evils of The System diminishes because their minds are being submerged, nay, are being assimilated and absorbed by the homogeneous, gelatinous gray matter, the Borgian Blob beneath the gargantuan mechanical carapace.

Who needs a liberal education or a self-education? The human race has already been systematically liberated by science and technology. We near the end of human history whose objective is freedom. WE are almost free enough to totally obey now: The System is freedom in obedience. The once adamantly independent intellectual has joined the amorphous population of irresponsible credentialed narcissists staring into the corporate pool of Echo’s tears. Credentials, indeed. The sausage-factory graduate is handed a pigskin at the commencement exercise: “Here is your brain.” With this football he or she can proceed to beg in hyphenated broken English at corporate back doors:

“Extremely well organized, detail-oriented, highly self-motivated, ambitious, career-minded team-player with a can-do attitude and excellent communication skills seeks key place on winning team. Highly energetic self-starter. Eager to hit the ground running to meet deadlines long before they arrive for cutting-edge, rapidly expanding, fast-paced company. Works best under pressure. Dynamic, multi-tasking, customer-driven, high-expectations environment preferred. Loves constant change and long hours without overtime pay. Willing to make sacrifices: integrity, conscience, family, and three chickens a week.”

What communication skills? and to what end? Never mind, just push the right sequences of buttons and everyone will get it and obey it and produce it and consume it. The hackneyed phrases of form letters no matter how inapplicable to particulars will more than suffice when ‘integration’ and not ‘integrity’ is the key word. We are racially, politically and economically integrated now. We do not worry so much about our liberty for we find virtual liberty in our freedom to choose from an amazing variety of optional dressings on goods and services mass produced by virtue of scientific management. Fascists and communists and capitalists alike loved America’s scientific management scheme. Yet the intellectual roots of modern business administration are not in America but in Europe, in the Jesuit’s educational ‘conspiracy’ hatched in monasteries and cultivated in universities and military schools.

Today’s neo-liberal masters of business administration are jesuitical monotheists devoted to the disciplined rational pursuit and compound accumulation of an overarching abstract value: money. Money is god because it gives any person no matter how honorable or dishonorable power over things and persons. It is not so much the thing as the power that is wanted. Money is worth dying for and profit is salvation. Profit is frantically sought no matter how many heart attacks one survives: we look at the fast-paced businessman and say, “He is a walking heart attack,” but he does not know his condition; if he does, he just keeps on going anyway, like that battery in the commercial. Money comes not in peace but with a sword to destroy not only the family but traditional morality with its plural values. Morality becomes a pretense as exchange value replaces it. Profitable individualism is perfected in the universal hypocrisy of This Lying World of Ours. In any event, the army of workers must be organized and managed undemocratically in order to reduce costs and increase sales so that the kept class may be kept up with unearned income – the executive officers who aspire to join the kept class are entitled to obscene salaries and perquisites whether they lose or win the battles.

No doubt with the advance of technology many benefits trickle down to obedient employees as a consequence. As a matter of fact, there exists an open dirty secret: if the furnace were allowed to go full blast and the products were broadly distributed, poverty would be eliminated forthwith. But we must not allow that to happen, because people are basically lazy and prefer to lay around all day, smoke pot, drink booze, shoot up drugs, gamble, and fornicate. In fact, they would stop working without the fear of poverty to motivate them. Civilization would soon be destroyed. Therefore a system must be maintained, a system based on the scarcity principle – if there is no real scarcity, a false scarcity must be created.

The System is painful at times, but as long as the masses are systematically preoccupied with bread and circus, with standard trash, junk, and garbage, the elite are secure in their luxurious compounds furnished with custom-made things. We are an option-rich people, therefore we are free to choose between things. The choice is between buy and buy, or consume and consume; and to have that liberating choice one must sell and sell, or produce and produce, or be born rich or otherwise come into some unearned money. The surgeon general of the United States defined mental health as leading a productive life, and recommended mind-bending prescription drugs for those who cannot stand it. As long as one goes along, one is free in his or her obedience. There is always freedom of thought and conscience, and in the creative imagination, even in prison where great libertarian tracts have been written. If one can find enough leisure in voluntary poverty or wealth, religion or art-for-art’s sake might set one virtually free.

Do we like The System? Not really. If people were allowed to pitch tents or to build lean-tos, huts and cabins wherever they liked, without paying rent or mortgage payments, the residential real estate bubble would burst – there would be no affordable housing shortage. But that cannot be. That is why the military junta of Myanmar, for example, wants everyone to live in regular Western houses instead of bamboo houses that can be built in a day if they happen to burn down because a woman is not careful smoking her cheroot – she was once the freest woman in the world, the envy of British women who visited Burma.

However, something is wrong with the the dark view of our race, especially with the allegation that humankind is a kind of sloth – that is a lie. We are not all lazy prostitutes: we do not work for the money alone or the thing that it can buy. We are not natural born bums and wicked welfare recipients. We know wealthy and poor people who love to work. We love action. We are natural born creators and builders. We cannot stop building when we should stop and be as lazy as a sloth sometimes appears to be. Moreover, men and women have built up fabulous fortunes not merely for love of money or power but because they love to be building something for people and they just cannot stop themselves; and those projects have enormously benefited our kind. So there.

On the other hand, the restlessness has gotten out of hand, and we are right to criticize it, to give ourselves a break, to take more and longer breaks from the compulsive make-work that consumes so much time in the ‘advanced’ economies of the world. Making work just to work is presently working the ruin of the physical, mental and spiritual resources of the the world, and does so in the false name of inevitable progress to a nebulous, indefinite utopia or X, but we know better, for we residents of This Lying World of Ours are hypocrites.

The utopia of our modern forefathers is here; we know it is rapidly becoming a dystopia. Yet we praise it. We put up a pretense that it is a good thing, for instance, to welcome change; to be welcome mats for somebody else’s perpetual innovation; to change for the sake of change; to upgrade everything just to keep our jobs; to spin our wheels producing superfluities just to have private crappers; – to do all this falsely, on command from the top down, in the name of individual liberty. It is the liberty of an army ant. We are just going through the motions. We have no idea where the the military-industrial complex will strike on its next pre-emptive, self-defensive campaign to save the world for its own good whether the world likes it or not. We know the generals are lying through their whitened teeth; one lies to the whole world because he has high office; the other to the American people because he wants high office. The generals know they lie, but here we go again, we prefer the lies. The general’s colleagues warn us: they say he an untrustworthy, ambitious, self-infatuated liar, but otherwise he a good general. The “otherwise” is good enough for us. Hypocrisy has become the norm, hence ‘hypocrite’ has ceased to be the epithet the Alexandrine Jews and Christians made of it.

We are uneasy. Our wealthy friends feel the malaise or malease precedent to the outbreak of mortal disease; they continue to gain weight. The much less well off know what they are afraid of and are accordingly terrified and stunted in their growth. The dogs are behaving in a peculiar fashion; Californians are are beginning to freak out; a quake impends. The world is working hard on the verge of another major heart attack. We must take a break and reflect on the meaning of hypocrisy. We must drop the false pretenses and admit that we are at an either/or crisis in human history. Either life and truth; or death and lies. No, everything is not black and white – there are gray areas. But in this case we have Truth and Lie separated by a void. The lying and spinning must stop. We must pause, rest, reflect, withdraw from the deceptive course. We are lying to ourselves and to each other. The lies we tell to protect ourselves, to give ourselves separate and important identities as individuals and as groups, have been repeated so often that they are almost believed; we know better because of the spark of light in the emptiness, yet we continue apace. Thus has lying and pretense made devils and hypocrites of us all in This Lying World of Ours. It will not be easy, but that much can be changed, and at the grass-roots level.


The Grotesque God & The Taste of Shit



Our frustrated realist, Gustave Flaubert, a romantic at heart, bitterly said that reality, meaning the way things really were from his perspective, tasted like shit. He contrived an imaginary reality to escape from his distasteful perception, a construction that Jean Paul Sartre, in his voluminous psychoanalysis of Flaubert,The Family Idiot, analyzed according to his Psychology of the Imaginary.

An artist’s job, as jazz-dance master Luigi Facciuto once averred (may he rest in peace although his motto was Never Stop Moving) is to make shit smell good: “This shit just came to me out of nowhere,” he told his dancers after he moved, “and now it’s our job to make it smell good.” Still, given the materials employed, the result has scatological implications to critics with an acute sense of smell.

Flaubert’s Imaginary was ‘romantic’ to the extent that his flight from stinking, excremental reality was an heroic adventure into another, mysterious realm of his own fashion, a monstrous, grotesque realm. There was no room for Love in that kingdom; mystery vanished accordingly, for Love a secret does not abhor. He was haunted by the odor of the ordure in his sandbox, thus was motivated to leave his sense of taste and smell behind if not the substance itself, and embrace nothing, which he idolized as Nothing.

Nothing is absolute freedom: Nothing is freer than the freedom at the bottom of Sartre’s Existence, for freedom is always freedom from something or the other. Sartre, however, would leave us a shred of something to cling to, bare existence, while Flaubert would be free of everything altogether, in the perfect Form of forms: absolute vacancy.

Sartre pointed out that Flaubert attempted to believe in and therefore feel love by neurotic or “pithiatic” means: auto-suggestion. He asks, “Is there not, however, in the very act of composition a still unreal but more immediate gratification? Yes: a gratification of the desire to desire.”

He quotes Flaubert’s letter dated February 8, 1841: “I wrote love letters for the purpose of writing, not because I love. Yet I would like to delude myself that I do: I love, I believe while writing.”

“At stake for Gustave is the credibility of language: in what form will discourse—his own discourse—be most likely to engage the pithiatic adherence of the boy? His answer is precise: writing. The reasons for this are apparent: writing seems like a passage to action, like an extemalization as well as a composition. It is not a matter of copying ‘I love you’ a hundred times; that would be a schoolboy’s punishment. You must invent love, do something original, come up with passionately authentic phrases, put yourself in the position to recognize them from the inside. This means you must imagine you are in love…. Of course, on the surface the pithiatic aspect of the enterprise is undeniable: it isn’t only a game (it is also a game), it is a successful attempt, at least as far as his pen is concerned, at autosuggestion.”

A difference between lust and love is asserted. Sublime love is a cultivated emotion, a synthesis of feeling and judgment. It is a suggestion from without, introjected and reinforced within by imitative auto-suggestion.

Flaubert was hardly devoid of passion in his youth. We think he feared for his sanity when the Sibyl raved within him at Hecate’s crossroad. He resorted to Reason—which god-fearing religious scholars have identified with Being or Logos—to quash the hysterical passion he suffered, obsessively endeavoring to restrain the Dionysian dragoness with Apollonian virtue, compelled to do so until she was incinerated and there was nothing left but the restraint itself, the blinding light said to be the mystic source of wisdom for Teiresias, Apollo’s proverbially blind sage.

The vanishing point of Flaubert’s Imaginary was death, beyond which is infinity. Flaubert named his devil Yuk, who was the living end, the licentious god of the grotesque who exposes the human world as it really is: cursed by shit and rotting corpses. Satan loved God so much that he hated man and tempted him with the finite world, which is the death of man because everything finite must have an end. The factual world is evil; in fact, there can be no truth, beauty and goodness in fact. There is not enough antiseptic in the putrid world to rid it of its rottenness. So let the facts of science be damned if its facts taken alone would damn the human spirit. Prosperity is a help but is no utopia.

A psychoanalyst characteristically takes pause to examine not only the familial details of an analysand’s biography, but he would also carefully scrutinize the character of his patient’s relationships with friends during his impressionable youth. After all, a boy’s best friend is likely to leave a lifelong impression.

Young Gustave Flaubert’s best friend happened to be Alfred Le Poittevin (1816-1848), a pessimistic philosopher and poet who lived in Rouen, who was, incidentally, Guy de Maupassant’s nephew. Their mothers were also best friends.

Alfred and Gustave, together with their friend Ernest Chevalier, shared pipes and conversation on Sundays and Thursdays, and on school holidays, they practically saw each other every day in Rouen, where they loitered in cafes, swam, rowed, and played billiards. Flaubert eventually followed Alfred to Paris to study law. In his correspondence he wrote that he and Albert sometimes conversed for six hours at a time, discussing hothouse ideals to break the boredom. The young fellows were most profoundly influenced by the Romantic reaction to materialism, with its Gothic, aristocratic, and evolutionary predilections, the philosophical movement being neo-Kantian. Alfred, already a published poet and infatuated with Goethe and Spinoza, loved poetic impersonality, which elaborates historical ideals to which the poet surrenders his personality, becoming a literary channel for traditional development.

Gustave shared many of those ideals with Alfred; for example, the traditional idea of Satan expressed in Alfred’s romantic-revolt poem by that name. Indeed, Flaubert had been fascinated by Satan ever since he had discovered Byron, who with Shelley led the so-called Satanic School; the school was credited with an attitude somewhat like that of the Goths of our day, of impious, imperious pride, unduly preoccupied with the grotesque, with monstrous horrors and lewd subject matter, a decadent demeanor that psychiatrists would soon diagnose as evidence of evolutionary degeneracy, a sort moral insanity brought to the fore by crowded civilization’s foul air and other poisons, especially alcohol—absinthe concocted from wormwood was the devil’s favorite hallucinogenic drink in France.

Ah, rebellious youth! Flaubert was imbued with the attitude that a reconciliation of reality with ideality was impossible. Ultimately, the ugliness of reality presided over by Yuk wins out, an attitude in contrast to that of the Zoroastrians, whose god representing Good runs slightly ahead of its twin god representing Evil to extinguish the negating factor in the final moment.

Alfred, intrigued by the exotic Orient, penned ‘L’Orient,’ depicting a youth weary of “the black vapors of civilization.” In ‘Heure d’ angoisse,’ a poet crushed by despair in a faithless world doubts the reality of immortality and providence. ‘Ahasverus’ embodies a longing for death and annihilation. In ‘La foi,’ the loss of faith is regretted.

Flaubert would correspond in 1851 about his gang of “young rascals,” recounting how they inhabited a “strange world” of insanity and suicide. He said hopeless love and vain philosophy had rendered him gloomy. The boys created a grotesque character which they used to satirize conventional beliefs; not only materialism but romanticism as well. In one play a boy says, “Gothic architecture is fine, it’s so inspiring!” Garcon replies, “Yes, it is fine, and the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day, too, and the Draggonades, and the Edict of Nantes too!”

He expressed his disdain for the bourgeois or town merchants in his 1839 school essay, ‘Les arts et le commerce,’ pleading for art set free from bourgeois ideology. “Has not the soul, too, its needs?” The commercial obsession of historical Carthage in particular seemed “monstrous and ferocious” to him. Even art for the sake of art he thought was vain at the time.

Flaubert conceived a nihilistic mystery play in 1838 where one would come face-to-face with the infinite: ‘Smahr—an Old Mystery Play.’ The play is obviously indebted to Goethe’s Faust, not to mention the literature of Byron and Quinet.

Smahr, an anchorite, is tempted by Satan, dressed as doctor of theology. They mount winged steeds to survey the world. Satan, demonstrating the nothingness of everything that is known, summoned Flaubert’s newly created god of the grotesque, Yuk, to explain life to him along the way. Yuk was disguised as a beautiful woman, an allegory for Truth. Smahr fell in love with her, but Satan loved her too. She turned out to be Yuk, who then preoccupied himself for awhile with persuading a married woman to give herself to every comer.

Yuk demonstrated to Smahr that life is a period filled with horrors such as bodies being devoured, blood raining down, orgies and the like. Smahr naturally craves power to preside over the world as it is for his own good, but his longing fills the world with death and destruction; alas, his desire is in vain because the power he wants has destroyed the very thing he longs for.

Yuk had initially been proud of his bravery, even joyful, but his plunge into the abysmal eventually made him feel fatally crushed in his finiteness by infinitude. All his knowledge, based on doubt, had been proved false and vain, empty. Yuk, emblematic of ressentiment embodied by the living No, then cries out that he alone is eternal, not even death can defeat him:

“I am reality, I am eternity, I am the power of ridicule, the grotesque, the ugly; I am what is, what has been and what shall be…. I am a whole eternity in myself….”

As the Sun sets on the dying universe, an angel would redeem Smahr, but Satan snatches the angel away. Yuk seizes the angel and rolls with her into the abyss, literally fucking her to death.




Graphic Credit: Darwin Leon