Nothing


For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything.

First believe that God is a living being immortal and blessed, according to the notion of a god indicated by the common sense of mankind. For there are gods, and the knowledge of them is manifest; but they are not such as the multitude believe. Not the man who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude believes about them is truly impious. For the utterances of the multitude about the gods are not true preconceptions but false assumptions; hence it is that the greatest evils happen to the wicked and the greatest blessings happen to the good from the hand of the gods, seeing that they are always favorable to their own good qualities and take pleasure in men like themselves.

Accustom yourself to believing that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply the capacity for sensation, and death is deprivation of all sentience; therefore a correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, by taking away the yearning after immortality.

Epicurus – Letter to Menoeceus

Ignorance

The true nature of Reality is to be known by a first-hand personal experience through the eye of clear understanding, and not through the report of learned men. The beauty of the moon is enjoyed through one‘s own eyes. Can one appreciate it through the description by others? Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya [rational philosophy], nor by action, nor by learning, is liberation possible. Only by the realization of the oneness of the Brahman (Absolute) and the Atman (Self) is liberation possible, and in no other way.

A disease is not cured by merely repeating the name of the medicine, without taking it. Similarly, without direct realization, none can be liberated by a mere utterance of the word “Brahman.”

“I am the body,” thus thinks an ignorant person. A person of mere book-knowledge considers oneself to be a combination of the body and the soul. But the realized sage possessed of discrimination, knows that “I am Brahman” and looks upon the Eternal Atman as his Self.

Due to ignorance, a person identifies the Self with not-Self. This is the bondage and brings in its wake the miseries of birth and death. Through this, one considers the unreal body as real, identifies with it and nourishes, bathes and preserves it with the help of sense-objects. Thereby, one becomes bound like the silkworm in its cocoon woven by its own threads.

Sri Sankara – Vivekachudamani

Hide-and-seek

Here’s a parable, an analogy, which comes from India, from the Upanishads, and is thousands of years old. It presents a parabolic answer to the root question of all religion and philosophy (Who am I and what is this?), and does so in a way which everyone can relate to.

In the beginning of the world, there was only Brahma. Being all there was, and therefore totally known to himself, Brahma soon realized that this totality of awareness would eventually become extremely boring… after all, when you know everything there is to know, then there’s no surprise, nothing to keep you interested. It’s like reading the same book for the seventy-eight millionth time. Anyway, since he was omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (all-everywhere), Brahma decided to create a diversion for himself, a way of introducing the elements of surprise, intrigue and drama into his experience. He thought, “What would it be like to forget who I really am?”

So, he invented the game of cosmic hide-and-seek. According to the rules of this game, Brahma would pretend to break pieces of himself off from the whole so that to all appearances they would seem separate. That’s the “hide” part. Then, as the apparently separate consciousness at the center of each of those apparently separate pieces, and through their apparently separate and unique perspectives, he would “seek” to rediscover who he really was, which was, of course, everything.

Imagine seeing yourself from an infinite number of different perspectives, each one initially ignorant of its relationship to all the rest. Imagine going to sleep and dreaming a different lifetime each night, each lasting for more or less years, each complete with the full range and variety of emotional life and death details. Imagine having the same dream but playing a different role in it each night, seeing it through different eyes each time. Well, guess who those apparently separate pieces are? Since there is only one I Am in the universe, one consciousness, it’s all a game of hide-and-seek, and each one of us is in the same state: I’m It and You’re It!

Roger Stephens – A Dangerous Book

Honesty of thought

What had availed the fact that I had at least tried to make my thought honest? Indeed, what did we mean by honesty of thought? Was not that, too, vainglory and pride and delusion? What man – or, indeed, what beast – cared about such a bloodless abstraction, when he was warm in his bed, well fed, with his well-beloved close to him, comforting him and transforming existence from its original emptiness to an eternal triumph of comradeship and love? Why had we been created at all, if this agony of isolation could be our lot? How cheap seemed the agnosticism of youth, and yet how hopeless now to try to repudiate its skepticism. I could not say – I tried and tried again – “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” That was weakness and a desire to return to the warm protective womb.

I had tasted of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and now, when so passionately I wanted to sink back into a kind of animal faith, I could not. I could do nothing; thought availed not at all, except to sharpen and intensify the sense of impotence and helplessness and de-personalization. Things – even the rocks and the sea – and myself were in the same blind, sensless category of non-being, of eternal death – made all the more piercing to us by the transient illusion of existence.

Yet if existence is only an illusion, perhaps no reality is stronger than it seems to be; its validity lies in that seeming. For where else could it lie? In an external world, the very awareness of which is necessarily a part of our limitations? There was no clear answer. I was caught in the old solipsistic net. Nor could I extricate myself from it – that is, so long as the pain of knowing I was aware (or the burden of consciousness, if you wish) could not be assuaged.

Harold E. Stearns – The Street I Know: The Autobiography of the Last of the Bohemians

Anarchist

There is a perfect likeness between Christian and anarchist: their object, their instinct, points only toward destruction. Those holy anarchists made it a matter of “piety” to destroy “the world,”which is to say, the Imperium Romanum, so that in the end not a stone stood upon another — and even Germans and other such louts were able to become its masters. The Christian and the anarchist: both are decadents; both are incapable of any act that is not disintegrating, poisonous, degenerating, blood-sucking; both have an instinct of mortal hatred of everything that stands up, and is great, and has durability, and promises life a future.

These stealthy worms, which under the cover of night, mist and duplicity, crept upon every individual, sucking him dry of all earnest interest in real things, of all instinct for reality — this cowardly, effeminate and sugar-coated gang gradually alienated all “souls,” step by step, from that colossal edifice, turning against it all the meritorious, manly and noble natures that had found in the cause of Rome their own cause, their own serious purpose, their own pride. The sneakishness of hypocrisy, the secrecy of the conventicle, concepts as black as hell, such as the sacrifice of the innocent, the unio mystica in the drinking of blood, above all, the slowly rekindled fire of revenge, of Chandala revenge — all that sort of thing became master of Rome: the same kind of religion which, in a pre-existent form, Epicurus had combated.

One has but to read Lucretius to know what Epicurus made war upon — not paganism, but “Christianity,” which is to say, the corruption of souls by means of the concepts of guilt, punishment and immortality. He combated the subterranean cults, the whole of latent Christianity — to deny immortality was already a form of genuine salvation. Epicurus had triumphed, and every respectable intellect in Rome was Epicurean — when Paul appeared…

Paul, the Chandala hatred of Rome, of “the world,” in the flesh and inspired by genius — the eternal Jew par excellence. What he saw was how, with the aid of the small sectarian Christian movement that stood apart from Judaism, a “world conflagration” might be kindled; how, with the symbol of “God on the cross,” all secret seditions, all the fruits of anarchistic intrigues in the empire, might be amalgamated into one immense power.

The genius of Paul showed itself. His instinct was here so sure that, with reckless violence to the truth, he put the ideas which lent fascination to every sort of Chandala religion into the mouth of the “Saviour” as his own inventions, and not only into the mouth — he made out of him something that even a priest of Mithras could understand. This was his revelation at Damascus: he grasped the fact that he needed the belief in immortality in order to rob “the world” of its value, that the concept of “hell” would master Rome — that the notion of a “beyond” is the death of life.

Friedrich Nietzsche – The Antichrist

Man is the Measure of All Things

The truth is as I have written, and that each of us is a measure of existence and of non-existence. Yet one man may be a thousand times better than another in proportion as different things are and appear to him.

And I am far from saying that wisdom and the wise man have no existence; but I say that the wise man is he who makes the evils which appear and are to a man, into goods which are and appear to him. The sophist accomplishes by words the change which the physician works by the aid of drugs. Not that any one ever made another think truly, who previously thought falsely. For no one can think what is not, or think anything different from that which he feels; and this is always true.

But as the inferior habit of mind has thoughts of kindred nature, so I conceive that a good mind causes men to have good thoughts; and these which the inexperienced call true, I maintain to be only better, and not truer than others. And so one man is wiser than another; and no one thinks falsely, and you, whether you will or not, must endure to be a measure. On these foundations the argument stands firm.

Plato – Theaetetus

Māyā

In time each instant is, only in so far as it has effaced the preceding one, its generator, to be itself in turn as quickly effaced. The past and the future (considered apart from the consequences of their content) are empty as a dream, and the present is only the indivisible and unenduring boundary between them. The substance of this doctrine is old: it appears in Heraclitus when he laments the eternal flux of things; in Plato when he degrades the object to that which is ever becoming, but never being; in Spinoza as the doctrine of the mere accidents of the one substance which is and endures. Kant opposes what is thus known as the mere phenomenon to the thing in itself. Lastly, the ancient wisdom of the Indian philosophers declares:

It is Mâyâ, the veil of deception, which blinds the eyes of mortals, and makes them behold a world of which they cannot say either that it is or that it is not: for it is like a dream; it is like the sunshine on the sand which the traveller takes from afar for water, or the stray piece of rope he mistakes for a snake.

These similes are repeated in innumerable passages of the Vedas and the Puranas. But what all these mean, and that of which they all speak, is nothing more than what we have just considered.

Artur Schopenhauer – The World As Idea. First Aspect

Intellectual Vagabonds

The commonalty professes a morality which is most closely connected with its essence. The first demand of this morality is to the effect that one should carry on a solid business, an honourable trade, lead a moral life. Immoral, to it, is the sharper, the demirep, the thief, robber, and murderer, the gamester, the penniless man without a situation, the frivolous man.

The doughty commoner designates the feeling against these “immoral” people as his “deepest indignation.” All these lack settlement, the solid quality of business, a solid, seemly life, a fixed income, etc.; in short, they belong, because their existence does not rest on a secure basis to the dangerous “individuals or isolated persons,” to the dangerous proletariat; they are “individual bawlers” who offer no “guarantee” and have “nothing to lose,” and so nothing to risk. The forming of family ties, e. g., binds a man: he who is bound furnishes security, can be taken hold of; not so the street-walker. The gamester stakes everything on the game, ruins himself and others – no guarantee.

All who appear to the commoner suspicious, hostile, and dangerous might be comprised under the name “vagabonds”; every vagabondish way of living displeases him. For there are intellectual vagabonds too, to whom the hereditary dwelling-place of their fathers seems too cramped and oppressive for them to be willing to satisfy themselves with the limited space any more: instead of keeping within the limits of a temperate style of thinking, and taking as inviolable truth what furnishes comfort and tranquillity to thousands, they overlap all bounds of the traditional and run wild with their impudent criticism and untamed mania for doubt, these extravagating vagabonds. They form the class of the unstable, restless, changeable, and, if they give voice to their unsettled nature, are called “unruly fellows.”

Max Stirner – The Ego and His Own

The Age of Volatile Belief

The age of volatile belief is intimately linked with the impact of the technetronic revolution on existing ideologies and outlooks on life. What man thinks is closely related to what man experiences. The relationship between the two is not causal but interacting: experience affects thought, and thought conditions the interpretation of experience.

Today the dominant pattern seems increasingly to be that of highly individualistic, unstructured, changing perspectives. Institutionalized beliefs, the result of the merger of ideas and institutions, no longer appear to many as vital and relevant, while the skepticism that has contributed so heavily to the undermining of institutionalized beliefs now clashes with the new emphasis on passion and involvement. The result for many is an era of fads, of rapidly shifting beliefs, with emotions providing for some the unifying cement previously supplied by institutions and with the faded revolutionary slogans of the past providing the needed inspiration for facing an altogether different future.

Zbigniew Brzezinski – Between Two Ages. America’s Role in the Technetronic Era