Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Surrendering from vengeance.


Awhile back I wrote of post called, “Surrendering from inflexible positions” and a reader responded with a suggestion that I write about surrendering from vengeance. I didn’t take the advice at the time but given the current state of affairs, with so much at stake, maybe it’s time to track this human tendency through to its logical conclusion. I don’t have much wisdom to offer on the topic since the downside seems rather obvious. However, since the dominant forces today seem locked into this pattern of back and forth violence, perhaps the downside isn’t so obvious after all. And then I recently wrote about the findings of Peter Cathcart Wason, the English cognitive psychologist, who discovered that we humans are much more interested in our egoistic desires to protect our preconceived opinions than to seek truth. So maybe vengeance has more to do with covering our vested flanks than anything else. If so, then this post probably wont succeed in chipping away at that crusty vest. We seem to be slow learners and our collective ignorance leads us all to more suffering.

In one of my books, More Over, I wrote about this idea called kleshas (or afflictions; causes of suffering). The five following kleshas were described by Patanjali at the beginning of Book 2 of the Yoga Sutra (1, 2, 4). So I don’t claim any special knowledge. I just took the time to read because learning about causes of suffering seemed like a good thing to do. When these kleshas are laid out end-to-end the logic of vengeance can be fathomed.

The first of the kleshas was called ignorance of the true nature of reality (avidya in Sanskrit). However, Patanjalis perspective here is contrary to Mark Twains advice who said: To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.” Perhaps so, but thus far evidence is lacking.  Then comes misidentification (asmita), attachment (raga), anger following loss (dvesha), and finally misunderstanding life and death (abhinivesha). Having identified these five, Patanjali makes it simpler yet by saying that all of these five are contained in the first: ignorance of the true nature of reality. As a human species this simplicity seems to be lost since we proceed to go forward with this tit-for-tat practice of violence (otherwise called vengeance). 

The downside is rather simple, when viewed in terms of one person in relationship with another. If someone strikes you, the immediate response is to strike back. This response leads to their response to strike back at you, and this unending pattern leads to where we are today: nowhere. The lure to right all wrongs is magnetic and we gnash our teeth struggling to find wisdom for solutions to raging conflicts around the world. The carnage is unquestionably awful but the essential question is this: how does meeting violence with more violence lead to anything other than more responsive violence? 

According to Patanjali the entire flawed tendency can be reduced down to the first klesha: a misunderstanding of the true nature of reality. The untrue nature of reality is what we have today (and apparently have had all the way back to a beginningless beginning) and that understanding is that every person on earth, and beyond, views him or her self as purely an individual with no meaningful connection. We have a term that fits the bill for this view. It’s called mutual discretion and is the basis of the entirety of human failings.

Just for the sake of consideration, let’s think about the consequences of this view. If I am mutually discrete from you, then I will do as Patanjali suggests and misidentify myself (and you, and all others) as an image, which we call a self image (otherwise known as an ego). The nature of an image is unreal and the nature of an ego is individual self-preservation. And we have an infinite number of ways of preserving a separate self. The number one way is to attach our sense of identity to stuff we like (power, material possessions, other people, ad infinitum) and bulwark ourselves from stuff we dislike. The problem is that stuff doesn’t stand still. It moves and changes, one moment here, gone the next. And with the demise of what we have clung to (or resisted, which has the nasty tendency to find its way to us anyway) comes a sense of lost or precarious identity, self-worth and power. Then we get royally ticked off, blame others for our pain, and strike back at the perceived source of our suffering, thus vengeance.

So if that is the pattern (and who can deny that it is) then what’s the alternative? Simple: that we are not, at the core,  mutually discrete. Feed back loops define our existence  Instead we are essentially united with everything. That, of course, is easy to say and very difficult to experience. Just saying it is not enough. Unity must be experienced to be of any worth, otherwise it remains a figment of our imagination. The experience of unity is what goes by the handle of transformation or enlightenment: where the sense of  being an individual, separate identity melts into an irrevocable unity with everything. And when that happens the image we previously held of ourselves (self image) evaporates into thin air.

From that point forward vengeance becomes an impossible matter because we realize that striking another, or destroying our world, is the same as destroying ourselves and we come to understand, in a new way, a commandment offered by Jesus when asked which commandment was the greatest. He answered by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

There is just one tiny, yet all-important issue here. All of these: God, soul, mind, neighbor and self are a single, never born, never die, united entity. If this is not so, then the commandment falls apart and we are left with mutual discretion, all of us claiming, with self-righteous indignation, that individually each of us is justified in preserving our egocentric identity and never-ending vengeance continues forever. The arms race never ends, nor does the associated cost in blood and money.
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