Thoughts On Life
Entries are alphabetized and followed by a short summary phrase. For more quotes, see the Bon Mot Archive.
"The person who meets the problems of human life successfully acts as if he recognized, fully and spontaneously, that the fundamental meaning of life is interest in and co-operation with other people. Everything he does seems to be guided by the interests of his fellow beings, and where he encounters difficulties he tries to overcome them in ways that do not impinge on the welfare of others...
"We are not determined by our experiences but are self-determined by the meaning we give to them; and when we take particular experiences as the basis for our future life we are almost certain to be misguided to some degree. Meanings are not determined by situations. We determine ourselves by the meanings we ascribe to situations."
We are the voices of the wandering wind
Which moan for rest, and rest can never find;
Lo! as the wind is, so is mortal life,
A moan, a sigh, a sob, a storm, a strife.
What pleasure hast thou of thy changeless bliss?
Nay, if love lasted, there were joy in this;
But life's way is the wind's way; all these things
Are but brief voices breathed on shifting strings.
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
"Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too are wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquillity. . .above all do not distract or strain thyself, but be free, and look at things as a man, as a human being, as a citizen, as a mortal. But among the things readiest to thy hand to which thou shalt turn, let there be these, which are two. One is that things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; but our perturbations come only from the opinion which is within. The other is that all these things, which thou seest, change immediately and will no longer be; and constantly bear in mind how many of these changes thou hast already witnessed. The universe is transformation: life is opinion."
Some say this Atman
Is slain, and others
Call It the slayer:
They know nothing.
How can It slay
Or who shall slay It?
Know this Atman
Unchanging for ever.
How can It die
The death of the body?
Knowing It birthless,
Knowing It deathless,
Knowing It endless,
For ever unchanging,
Dream not you do
The deed of the killer,
Dream not the power
Is yours to command it.
Are shed by the body:
Are shed by the dweller
Within the body.
New bodies are donned
By the dweller, like garments.
Not wounded by weapons,
Not burned by fire,
Not dried by the wind,
Not wetted by water:
Such is the Atman,
Not dried, not wetted,
Not burned, not wounded,
Being of beings,
For ever and ever.
On Self Control:
That serene one
Absorbed in the Atman
Masters his will,
He knows no disquiet
In heat or in cold,
In pain or pleasure,
In honour, dishonour.
Who The Greatest Is:
He who regards
With an eye that is equal
Friends and comrades,
The foe and the kinsman,
The vile, the wicked,
The men who judge him,
And those who belong
To neither faction:
He is the greatest.
"The desire for money takes the place of all genuinely human needs. Thus the apparent accumulation of wealth is really the impoverishment of human nature, and its appropriate morality is the renunciation of human nature and desires -- asceticism. The effect is to substitute an abstraction, Homo economicus, for the concrete totality of human nature, and thus to dehumanize human nature. In this dehumanized human nature man loses contact with his own body, more specifically with his senses, with sensuality and with the pleasure-principle. And this dehumanized human nature produces an inhuman consciousness, whose only currency is abstractions divorced from real life -- the industrious, coolly rational, economic, prosaic mind. Capitalism has made us so stupid and one-sided that objects exist for us only if we can possess them or if they have utility.
"...Having no real aim, acquisitiveness, as Aristotle correctly said, has no limit. Hence the psychological premise of a market economy is not, as in classical theory of exchange, that the agents know what they want, but that they do not know what they want. In advanced capitalist countries advertising exists to create irrational demands and keep the consumer confused; without the consumer confusion perpetuated by advertising, the economy would collapse...
"No one has denounced the dehumanizing consequences of the civilized division of labor more emphatically than Marx. It is fatal to freedom; it produces the development in a man of one single faculty at the expense of all other faculties, and to subdivide a man's faculties is to kill him; it produces a crippled monstrosity, industrial pathology; intelligence is alienated into the process as a whole while the individual specialist becomes stupid and ignorant. More dispassionately, Durkheim has demonstrated that the division of labor is not a consequence of the individual's search for happiness and does not promote the happiness of the individual; progress, the work of the division of labor, has nothing to do with human happiness."
"When I confront a human being as my You [thou] and speak the basic word I-You to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things.
"He is no longer He or She, limited by other Hes and Shes, a dot in the world grid of space and time, nor a condition that can be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. Neighborless and seamless, he is You and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light.
"Even as a melody is not composed of tones, nor a verse of words, nor a statue of lines -- one must pull and tear to turn a unity into a multiplicity -- so it is with the human being to whom I say You. I can abstract from him the color of his hair or the color of his speech or the color of his graciousness; I have to do this again and again; but immediately he is no longer You.
"...I do not find the human being to whom I say You in any Sometime and Somewhere. I can place him there and have to do this again and again, but immediately he becomes a He or a She, an It, and no longer remains my You.
"As long as the firmament of the You is spread over me, the tempests of causality cower at my heels, and the whirl of doom congeals.
"The human being to whom I say You I do not experience. But I stand in relation to him, in the sacred basic word. Only when I step out of this do I experience him again. Experience is remoteness from You.
"The relation can obtain even if the human being to whom I say You does not hear it in his experience. For You is more than It knows. You does more, and more happens to it, than It knows. No deception reaches this far: here is the cradle of actual life."
"We have, in my view, created a society in which people find it harder and harder to show one another basic affection. In place of the sense of community and belonging, which we find such a reassuring feature of less wealthy (and generally rural) societies, we find a high degree of loneliness and alienation. Despite the fact that millions live in close proximity to one another, it seems that many people, especially among the old, have no one to talk to but their pets. Modern industrial society often strikes me as being like a huge self-propelled machine. Instead of human beings in charge, each individual is a tiny, insignificant component with no choice but to move when the machine moves."
"Can any rational person believe that the Bible is anything but a human document? We now know pretty well where the various books came from, and about when they were written. We know that they were written by human beings who had no knowledge of science, little knowledge of life, and were influenced by the barbarous morality of primitive times, and were grossly ignorant of most things that men know today. For instance, Genesis says that God made the earth, and he made the sun to light the day and the moon to light the night, and in one clause disposes of the stars by saying that 'he made the stars also.' This was plainly written by someone who had no conception of the stars. Man, by the aid of his telescope, has looked out into the heavens and found stars whose diameter is as great as the distance between the earth and the sun. We know that the universe is filled with stars and suns and planets and systems. Every new telescope looking further into the heavens only discovers more and more worlds and suns and systems in the endless reaches of space. The men who wrote Genesis believed, of course, that this tiny speck of mud that we call the earth was the center of the universe, the only world in space, and made for man, who was the only being worth considering. These men believed that the stars were only a little way above the earth, and were set in the firmament for man to look at, and for nothing else. Everyone today knows that this conception is not true.
"The origin of the human race is not as blind a subject as it once was. Let alone God creating Adam out of hand, from the dust of the earth, does anyone believe that Eve was made from Adam's rib--that the snake walked and spoke in the Garden of Eden--that he tempted Eve to persuade Adam to eat an apple, and that it is on that account that the whole human race was doomed to hell--that for four thousand years there was no chance for any human to be saved, though none of them had anything whatever to do with the temptation; and that finally men were saved only through God's son dying for them, and that unless human beings believed this silly, impossible and wicked story they were doomed to hell? Can anyone with intelligence really believe that a child born today should be doomed because the snake tempted Eve and Eve tempted Adam? To believe that is not God-worship; it is devil-worship.
"Can anyone call this scheme of creation and damnation moral? It defies every principle of morality, as man conceives morality. Can anyone believe today that the whole world was destroyed by flood, save only Noah and his family and a male and female of each species of animal that entered the Ark? There are almost a million species of insects alone. How did Noah match these up and make sure of getting male and female to reproduce life in the world after the flood had spent its force? And why should all the lower animals have been destroyed? Were they included in the sinning of man? This is a story which could not beguile a fairly bright child of five years of age today."
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
Will you interrupt your work for a moment and play the game of philosophy with me?
"I am attempting to face a question which our generation, perhaps more than any, seems always ready to ask and never able to answer -- What is the meaning or worth of human life? Heretofore this question has been dealt with chiefly by theorists, from Ikhnaton and Lao-tse to Bergson and Spengler. The result has been a kind of intellectual suicide: thought, by its very development, seems to have destroyed the value and significance of life. The growth and spread of knowledge, for which so many idealists and reformers prayed, has resulted in a disillusionment which has almost broken the spirit of our race.
"Astronomers have told us that human affairs constitute but a moment in the trajectory of a star; geologists have told us that civilization is but a precarious interlude between ice ages; biologists have told us that all life is war, a struggle for existence among individuals, groups, nations, alliances, and species; historians have told us that 'progress' is a delusion, whose glory ends in inevitable decay; psychologists have told us that the will and the self are the helpless instruments of heredity and environment, and that the once incorruptible soul is but a transient incandescence of the brain. The Industrial Revolution has destroyed the home, and the discovery of contraceptives is destroying the family, the old morality, and perhaps (through the sterility of the intelligent) the race. Love is analyzed into a physical congestion, and marriage becomes a temporary physiological convenience slightly superior to promiscuity. Democracy has degenerated into such corruption as only Milo's Rome knew; and our youthful dreams of a socialist Utopia disappear as we see, day after day, the inexhaustible acquisitiveness of men. Every invention strengthens the strong and weakens the weak; every new mechanism displaces men, and multiplies the horror of war. God, who was once the consolation of our brief life, and our refuge in bereavement and suffering, has apparently vanished from the scene; no telescope, no microscope discovers him. Life has become, in that total perspective which is philosophy, a fitful pullulation of human insects on the earth, a planetary eczema that may soon be cured; nothing is certain in it except defeat and death -- a sleep from which, it seems, there is no awakening.
"We are driven to conclude that the greatest mistake in human history was the discovery of 'truth.' It has not made us free, except from delusions that comforted us and restraints that preserved us. It has not made us happy, for truth is not beautiful, and did not deserve to be so passionately chased. As we look on it now we wonder why we hurried so to find it. For it has taken from us every reason for existence except the moment's pleasure and tomorrow's trivial hope.
"This is the pass to which science and philosophy have brought us. I, who have loved philosophy for many years, now turn back to life itself, and ask you, as one who has lived as well as thought, to help me understand. Perhaps the verdict of those who have lived is different from that of those who have merely thought. Spare me a moment to tell me what meaning life has for you, what keeps you going, what help -- if any -- religion gives you, what are the sources of your inspiration and your energy, what is the goal or motive-force of your toil, where you find your consolations and your happiness, where, in the last resort, your treasure lies. Write briefly if you must; write at length and at leisure if you possibly can; for every word from you will be precious to me.
Excerpts From Durant's Introduction:
"It is not merely the War of 1914 that has plunged us into pessimism, much less the economic depression of these recent years; we have to do here with something far deeper than a temporary diminution of our wealth, or even the death of 26,000,000 men; it is not our homes and our treasuries that are empty, it is our 'hearts.' It seems impossible any longer to believe in the permanent greatness of man, or to give life a meaning that cannot be annulled by death. We move into an age of spiritual exhaustion and despondency like that which hungered for the birth of Christ. . .
"All the hopes of the Enlightenment were realized: science was free, and was remaking the world. But while the technicians were using science to transform the earth, philosophers were using it to transform the universe. Slowly, as one science after another reported its findings, a picture was unfolded of universal struggle and death; and decade by decade the optimism of the nineteenth century yielded to the pessimism of today...
"Our schools are like our inventions -- they offer us new ideas, new means of doing old things; they elevate us from petty larceny to bank wreckages and Teapot Domes. They stake all on intellect, only to find that character wins in the end. We taught people how to read, and they enrich the 'tabloids' and the 'talkies'; we invented the radio, and they pour out, a hundred times more abundantly than before, the music of savages and the prejudices of mobs. We gave them, through technology and engineering, unprecedented wealth -- miraculous automobiles, luxurious travel, and spacious homes; only to find that peace departs as riches come, that automobiles over-ride morality and connive at crime, that quarrels grow bitterer as the spoils increase, and that the largest houses are the bloodiest battlegrounds of the ancient war between woman and man. We discovered birth-control, and now it sterilizes the intelligent, multiplies the ignorant, debases love with promiscuity, frustrates the educator, empowers the demagogue, and deteriorates the race. We enfranchised all men, and find them supporting and preserving, in nearly every city, a nefarious 'machine' that blocks the road between ability and office; we enfranchsed all women, and discovered that nothing is changed except clerical expense. We dreamed of socialism, and find our own souls too greedy to make it possible; in our hearts we too are capitalists, and have no serious objection to becoming rich. . .
"The greatest question of our time is not communism vs. individualism, not Europe vs. America, not even the East vs. the West; it is whether men can bear to live without God."
H.L. Mencken: "I do not believe in immortality..."
"You ask me, in brief, what satisfaction I get out of life, and why I go on working. I go on working for the same reason that a hen goes on laying eggs. There is in every living creature an obscure but powerful impulse to active functioning. Life demands to be lived. Inaction, save as a measure of recuperation between bursts of activity, is painful and dangerous to the healthy organism -- in fact, it is almost impossible. Only the dying can be really idle...
"I have done, in the main, exactly what I wanted to do. Its possible effects upon other people have interested me very little. I have not written and published to please other people, but to satisfy myself, just as a cow gives milk, not to profit the dairyman, but to satisfy herself. I like to think that most of my ideas have been sound ones, but I really don't care. The world may take them or leave them. I have had my fun hatching them. . .
"The act of worship, as carried on by Christians, seems to me to be debasing rather than ennobling. It involves grovelling before a Being who, if He really exists, deserves to be denounced instead of respected. I see little evidence in this world of the so-called goodness of God. On the contrary, it seems to me that, on the strength of His daily acts, He must be set down a most stupid, cruel and villainous fellow...I simply can't imagine revering the God of war and politics, theology and cancer.
"I do not believe in immortality, and have no desire for it. The belief in it issues from the puerile egos of inferior men. In its Christian form it is little more than a device for getting revenge upon those who are having a better time on this earth. What the meaning of human life may be I don't know: I incline to suspect that it has none. All I know about it is that, to me at least, it is very amusing while it lasts. Even its troubles, indeed, can be amusing. Moreover, they tend to foster the human qualities that I admire most -- courage and its analogues. The noblest man, I think, is that one who fights God, and triumphs over Him. I have had little of this to do. When I die I shall be content to vanish into nothingness. No show, however good, could conceivably be good forever."
Sinclair Lewis: Life is worth living without religion.
"It is, I think, an error to believe that there is any need of religion to make life seem worth living...I know several young people who have been reared entirely without thought of churches, of formal theology, or any other aspect of religion, who have learned ethics not as a divine commandment but as a matter of social convenience. They seem to me quite as happy, quite as filled with purpose and with eagerness about life as any one trained to pass all his troubles on to the Lord, or the Lord's local agent, the pastor.
"Their satisfaction comes from functioning healthily, from physical and mental exercise, whether it be playing tennis or tackling an astronomical problem. . .
"If I go to a play I do not enjoy it less because I do not believe that it is divinely created and divinely conducted, that it will last forever instead of stopping at eleven, that many details of it will remain in my memory after a few months, or that it will have any particular moral effect upon me. And I enjoy life as I enjoy that play."
Charles Beard: The world is not a mere bog.
"When we analyze ourselves we find conflicting motives. We have moments of shivering selfishness, when we think only of our personal gain. And we have moments of exaltation when we feel the thrill of the prodigious and hear the call to high action. That seems to be true of all men and women, high and low, and the outcome in each case is a matter of proportion.
"For myself I may say that as I look over the grand drama of history, I find (or seem to find) amid the apparent chaos and tragedy, evidence of law and plan and immense achievement of the human spirit in spite of disasters. I am convinced that the world is not a mere bog in which men and women trample themselves in the mire and die. Something magnificent is taking place here amid the cruelties and tragedies, and the supreme challenge to intelligence is that of making the noblest and best in our curious heritage prevail. If there was no grand design in the beginning of the universe, fragments of one are evident and mankind can complete the picture. A knowledge of the good life is our certain philosophic heritage, and technology has given us a power over nature which enables us to provide the conditions of the good life for all the earth's multitudes. That seems to me to be the most engaging possibility of the drama, and faith in its potentialities keeps me working at it even in the worst hours of disillusionment. The good life -- an end in itself to be loved and enjoyed; and intelligent labor directed to the task of making the good life prevail. There is the little philosophy, the circle of thought, within which I keep my little mill turning.
"This is the appearance of things as I see them, and even profound philosophers can merely say what they find here."
Durant's Advice To Those Contemplating Suicide:
"I received, in 1930," Durant says, "several letters, from separate persons, declaring their intention of committing suicide. I have brought together here the substance of my correspondence with them..." -- below are a few excerpts from a long but interesting chapter:
"Let me confess at once that I cannot answer, in any absolute or metaphysical sense, your question as to the meaning of life. I suspect that there is some ultimate significance to everything, though I know that our little minds will never fathom it. For the meaning of anything must lie in its relation to some whole of which it is a part; and how could any fragment or moment of life, like you or me, pretend to rise out of its individual cell and survey or understand the entirety of things? . . .
"The meaning of life, then, must lie within itself; it must be independent of individual death, even of national decay; it must be sought in life's own instinctive cravings and natural fulfilments. Why, for example, should we ask for an ulterior meaning to vitality and health? -- they would be goods in their own right, even if they were not also means to racial ends. If you are sick beyond cure I will grant you viaticum, and let you die; let me not to the ending of botched lives put an impediment. But if you are well -- if you can stand on your legs and digest your food -- forget your whining, and shout your gratitude to the sun. . .
" 'Be a whole or join a whole,' said Goethe. If we think of ourselves as part of a living (no merely theoretical) group, we shall find life a little fuller, perhaps even more significant. For to give life a meaning one must have a purpose larger than one's self, and more enduring than one's life.
"...we can say of any life in particular that its meaning lies in its relation to something larger than itself. Hence the greater fulness of the married and parental, as compared with the celibate and sterile, life; a man feels significant in proportion as he contributes, physically or mentally, to the entity of which he acknowledges himself a part. We who are too superior to belong to groups, who are too wise to marry or too clever to have children, find life empty and vain, and wonder has it any meaning. But ask the father of sons and daughters 'What is the meaning of life?' and he will answer you very simply: 'Feeding your family.' . . .
"Where, in the last resort, does my treasure lie? -- in everything. A man should have many irons in the fire; he should not let his happiness be bound up entirely with his children, or his fame, or his prosperity, or even his health; but he should be able to find nourishment for his content in any one of these, even if all the rest are taken away. My last resort, I think, would be Nature herself; short of all other gifts and goods, I should find, I hope, sufficient courage for existence in any mood of field and sky, or, shorn of sight, in some concourse of sweet sounds, or some poet's memory of a day that smiled. All in all, experience is a marvelously rich panorama, from which any sense should be able to draw sustenance for living."
"The meaning of life is not a solution to a problem, but a matter of living in a certain way. It is not metaphysical, but ethical. It is not something separate from life, but what makes it worth living -- which is to say, a certain quality, depth, abundance, and intensity of life. In this sense, the meaning of life is life itself, seeing in a certain way. Meaning-of-life merchants generally feel let down by such a claim, since it does not seem mysterious and majestic enough. It seems both too banal and too exoteric...It takes the meaning-of-life question out of the hands of a coterie of adepts or cognoscenti and returns it to the routine business of everyday existence. It is just this kind of bathos that Matthew sets up in his gospel, where he presents the Son of Man returning in glory surrounded by angels for the Last Judgement. Despite this off-the-peg cosmic imagery, salvation turns out to be an embarrassingly prosaic affair -- a matter of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, and visiting the imprisoned. It has no 'religious' glamour or aura whatsoever. Anybody can do it. The key to the universe turns out to be not some shattering revelation, but something which a lot of decent people do anyway, with scarcely a thought. Eternity lies not in a grain of sand but in a glass of water. The cosmos revolves on comforting the sick. When you act in this way, you are sharing in the love which built the stars. To live in this way is not just to have life, but to have it in abundance."
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us . . .
I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit . . .
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
"Common to [religions] is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God. In general, only individuals of exceptional endowments, and exceptionally high-minded communities, rise to any considerable extent above this level. But there is a third stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.
"The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this.
"The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man's image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another.
"How can cosmic religious feeling be communicated from one person to another, if it can give rise to no definite notion of a God and no theology? In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it."
(The main character, Folly, is speaking here). "Only look at those heavy, solemn fellows who've devoted themselves to philosophic studies or to serious and difficult business -- they have started to grow old even before their youth, their vital spirits and animal juices all dried up as a result of constant worry and the pressure of painful, intensive cogitation. But my morons are all plump, with sleek and glistening skins. . .never feeling any of the sorrows of old age unless by chance they pick up some trouble by contagion from the wise. So true it is, that into each life some rain must fall."
"There are so many things in contemporary society that I dislike that it is difficult to decide with which particular complaint to begin...
"The first dislike...is the fact that everything and almost everybody is for sale. Not only commodities and services, but ideas, arts, books, persons, convictions, a feeling, a smile -- they all have been transferred into commodities. And so is the whole of man, with all his facilities and potentialities.
"From this follows something else: fewer and fewer people can be trusted. Not necessarily do I mean this in the crude sense of dishonesty in business or underhandedness in personal relations, but in something that goes much deeper. Being for sale, how can one be trusted to be the same tomorrow as one is today? How do I know who he is, in whom I should put my trust? Just that he will not murder or rob me? This, indeed, is reassuring, but it is not much of a trust.
"This is, of course, another way of saying that ever fewer people have convictions. By conviction I mean an opinion rooted in the person's character, in the total personality, and which therefore motivates action. I do not mean simply an idea that remains central and can be easily changed...
"Many of the younger generation tend to have no character at all. By that I do not mean that they are dishonest; on the contrary, one of the few enjoyable things in the modern world is the honesty of a great part of the younger generation. What I mean is that they live, emotionally and intellectually speaking, from hand to mouth. They satisfy every need immediately, have little patience to learn, cannot easily endure frustration, and have no center within themselves, no sense of identity. They suffer from this and question themselves, their identity, and the meaning of life...
"What I dislike most is summed up in the description in Greek mythology of the 'Iron Race' the Greeks saw emerging. This description is -- according to Hesiod's Erga (lines 132-142) -- as follows: 'As generations pass, they grow worse. A time will come when they have grown so wicked that they will worship power; might will be right to them and reverence for the good will cease to be. At last, when no man is angry anymore at wrongdoing or feels shame in the presence of the miserable, Zeus will destroy them too. And yet even then something might be done, if only the common people would rise and put down rulers who oppress them.'"
"I do indeed know what morbid compulsion feels like. Fungus, erosion, disease. The taste of flannel in your mouth. The smell of asbestos in your brain. A rock. A sinking heart, silence, taut limbs, a festering invasion from within, seeping subversion, and a dull pressure on the brow, and in the back regions of the skull. It starts like a fleeting whim, an airy, frivolous notion, but it doesn't go; it stays; it sticks. . .It foreshadows no joy -- and takes charge, and you might just as well hang your head and drop your eyes and give right in. You might just as well surrender at the start and steal that money, strike that match, (masturbate), eat that whole quart of ice cream, grovel, dial that number, or search that forbidden drawer or closet once again to handle the things you're not supposed to know are there. You might just as well go right off in whatever direction your madness lies and do that unwise, unpleasant, immoral thing you don't want to that you know beforehand will leave you dejected and demoralized afterward."
"There is, in fact, no way back either to the wolf or to the child. From the very start there is no innocence and no singleness. Every created thing, even the simplest, is already guilty, already multiple. It has been thrown into the muddy stream of being and may never more swim back again to its source. The way to innocence, to the uncreated and to God leads on, not back, not back to the wolf or to the child, but ever further into sin, ever deeper into human life...All birth means separation from the All, the confinement within limitation, the separation from God, the pangs of being born ever anew. The return into the All, the dissolution of painful individuation, the reunion with God means the expansion of the soul until it is able once more to embrace the All...
"Looked at with the bourgeois eye, my life had been a continuous descent from one shattering to the next that left me more remote at every step from all that was normal, permissible and healthful. The passing years had stripped me of my calling, my family, my home. I stood outside all social circles, alone, beloved by none, mistrusted by many, in unceasing and bitter conflict with public opinion and morality: and though I lived in a bourgeois setting, I was all the same an utter stranger to this world in all I thought and felt. Religion, country, family, state, all lost their value and meant nothing to me any more. The pomposity of the sciences, societies, and arts disgusted me...at every turn my life was harsher, more difficult, lonely and perilous. In truth, I had little cause to wish to continue in that way which led on into ever thinner air, like the smoke in Nietzsche's harvest song."
"Poverty indeed is the strenuous life, -- without brass bands or uniforms or hysteric popular applause or lies or circumlocutions; and when one sees the way in which wealth-getting enters as an ideal into the very bone and marrow of our generation, one wonders whether a revival of the belief that poverty is a worthy religious vocation may not be 'the transformation of military courage,' and the spiritual reform which our time stands most in need of.
"Among us English-speaking peoples especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sung. We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise any one who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient idealization of poverty could have meant: the liberation from material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are or do and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly, -- the more athletic trim, in short, the moral fighting shape. When we of the so-called better classes are scared as men were never scared in history at material ugliness and hardship; when we put off marriage until our house can be artistic, and quake at the thought of having a child without a bank-account and doomed to manual labor, it is time for thinking men to protest against so unmanly and irreligious a state of opinion.
"It is true that so far as wealth gives time for ideal ends and exercise to ideal energies, wealth is better than poverty and ought to be chosen. But wealth does this in only a portion of the actual cases. Elsewhere the desire to gain wealth and the fear to lose it are our chief breeders of cowardice and propagators of corruption. There are thousands of conjunctures in which a wealth-bound man must be a slave, whilst a man for whom poverty has no terrors becomes a freeman. Think of the strength which personal indifference to poverty would give us if we were devoted to unpopular causes. We need no longer to hold our tongues or fear to vote the revolutionary or reformatory ticket. Our stocks might fall, our hopes of promotion vanish, our salaries stop, our club doors close in our faces; yet, while we lived, we would imperturbably bear witness to the spirit, and our example would help to set free our generation. The cause would need its funds, but we its servants would be potent in proportion as we personally were contented with our poverty.
"I recommend this matter to your serious pondering, for it is certain that the prevalent fear of poverty among the educated classes is the worst moral disease from which our civilization suffers."
"...our science is a drop, our ignorance a sea. Whatever else be certain, this at least is certain, -- that the world of our present natural knowledge is enveloped in a larger world of some sort of whose residual properties we at present can frame no positive idea.
"Agnostic positivism, of course, admits this principle theoretically in the most cordial terms, but insists that we must not turn it to any practical use. We have no right, this doctrine tells us, to dream dreams, or suppose anything about the unseen part of the universe, merely because to do so may be for what we are pleased to call our highest interests. We must always wait for sensible evidence for our beliefs; and where such evidence is inaccessible we must frame no hypotheses whatever. Of course this is a safe enough position in abstracto. If a thinker had no stake in the unknown, no vital needs, to live or languish according to what the unseen world contained, a philosophic neutrality and refusal to believe either one way or the other would be his wisest cue. But, unfortunately, neutrality is not only inwardly difficult, it is also outwardly unrealizable, where our relations to an alternative are practical and vital. This is because, as the psychologists tell us, belief and doubt are living attitudes, and involve conduct on our part. Our only way, for example, of doubting, or refusing to believe, that a certain thing is, is continuing to act as if it were not. If, for instance, I refuse to believe that the room is getting cold, I leave the windows open and light no fire just as if it still were warm. If I doubt that you are worthy of my confidence, I keep you uninformed of all my secrets just as if you were unworthy of the same. If I doubt the need of insuring my house, I leave it uninsured as much as if I believed there were no need. And so if I must not believe that the world is divine, I can only express that refusal by declining ever to act distinctively as if it were so, which can only mean acting on certain critical occasions as if it were not so, or in an irreligious way. There are, you see, inevitable occasions in life when inaction is a kind of action, and must count as action, and when not to be for is to be practically against; and in all such cases strict and consistent neutrality is an unattainable thing. . .
"Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact. The 'scientific proof' that you are right may not be clear before the day of judgment (or some stage of being which that expression may serve to symbolize) is reached. But the faithful fighters of this hour, or the beings that then and there will represent them, may then turn to the faint-hearted, who here decline to go on, with words like those with which Henry IV greeted the tardy Crillon after a great victory had been gained: 'Hang yourself, brave Crillon! we fought at Arques, and you were not there.' "
"[I]n our time, there are millions of people who have lost faith in any kind of religion. Such people do not understand their religion any longer. While life runs smoothly without religion, the loss remains as good as unnoticed. But when suffering comes, it is another matter. That is when people begin to seek a way out and to reflect about the meaning of life and its bewildering and painful experiences.
"It is significant that the psychological doctor (within my experience) is consulted more by Jews and Protestants than by Catholics. This might be expected, for the Catholic Church still feels responsible for the cura animarum (the care of the soul's welfare). But in the scientific age, the psychiatrist is apt to be asked the questions that once belonged in the domain of the theologian. People feel that it makes, or would make, a great difference if only they had a positive belief in a meaningful way of life or in God and immortality. The specter of approaching death often gives a powerful incentive to such thoughts. From time immemorial, men have had ideas about a Supreme Being (one or several) and about the Land of the Hereafter. Only today do they think they can do without such ideas.
"Because we cannot discover God's throne in the sky with a radiotelescope or establish (for certain) that a beloved father or mother is still about in a more or less corporeal form, people assume that such ideas are 'not true.' I would rather say that they are not 'true' enough, for these are conceptions of a kind that have accompanied human life from prehistoric times, and that still break through into consciousness at any provocation.
"Modern man may assert that he can dispense with them, and he may bolster his opinion by insisting that there is no scientific evidence of their truth. Or he may ever regret the loss of his convictions. But since we are dealing with invisible and unknowable things (for God is beyond human understanding, and there is no means of proving immortality), why should we bother about evidence? Even if we did not know by reason our need for salt in our food, we should nonetheless profit from its use. We might argue that the use of salt is a mere illusion of taste or a superstition; but it would still contribute to our well-being. Why, then, should we deprive ourselves of views that would prove helpful in crises and would give a meaning to our existence?
"And how do we know that such ideas are not true? Many people would agree with me if I stated flatly that such ideas are probably illusions. What they fail to realize is that the denial is as impossible to 'prove' as the assertion of religious belief. We are entirely free to choose which point of view we take; it will in any case be an arbitrary decision.
"There is, however, a strong empirical reason why we should cultivate thoughts that can never be proved. It is that they are known to be useful. Man positively needs general ideas and convictions that will give a meaning to his life and enable him to find a place for himself in the universe. He can stand the most incredible hardships when he is convinced that they make sense; he is crushed when, on top of all his misfortunes, he has to admit that he is taking part in a 'tale told by an idiot.'
"It is the role of religious symbols to give a meaning to the life of man...A sense of a wider meaning to one's existence is what raises a man beyond mere getting and spending. If he lacks this sense, he is lost and miserable."
"Most of us are never alone. You may withdraw into the mountains and live as a recluse, but when you are physically by yourself, you will have with you all your ideas, your experiences, your traditions, your knowledge of what has been. The Christian monk in a monastery cell is not alone; he is with his conceptual Jesus, with his theology, with the beliefs and dogmas of his particular conditioning. Similarly, the sannyasi in India who withdraws from the world and lives in isolation is not alone, for he too lives with his memories.
"I am talking of an aloneness in which the mind is totally free from the past, and only such a mind is virtuous, for only in this aloneness is there innocence. Perhaps you will say, 'That is too much to ask. One cannot live like that in this chaotic world, where one has to go to the office every day, earn a livelihood, bear children, endure the nagging of one's wife or husband, and all the rest of it.' But I think what is being said is directly related to everyday life and action; otherwise, it has no value at all. You see, out of this aloneness comes a virtue that is virile and which brings an extraordinary sense of purity and gentleness. It doesn't matter if one makes mistakes; that is of very little importance. What matters is to have this feeling of being completely alone, uncontaminated, for it is only such a mind that can know or be aware of that which is beyond the word, beyond the name, beyond all the projections of imagination."
human anxiety and fear is fundamentally -- which means from birth onwards
-- fear of separation. Fear makes us lonely. Fear isolates us. Fear
strikes us dumb. Does fear and anxiety also isolate us from the foundation
of our being, from the meaning of life, from God?...
numerous fears and anxieties continually crystallize into a general
anxiety about life. It is this heightened and diffused anxiety which
spreads, takes on independent existence and robs men and women of their
self-confidence and their very identity. It can be described as the fear
of fear. It wins the upper hand and drives us into a corner if we fail to
identify it for what it is, or if we try to ignore it. Then we feel that
our situation is hopeless. We no longer know who we really are.
faith identifies this anxiety with abandonment by God. It is a separation
phobia, a dread of separation from the foundation of existence, the
meaning of life, what is worthy of trust. To identify anxiety and give it
a name is not enough to free us from it, or to let us conquer it.
have to be 'released' from anxiety. That is the experience of faith in
anxiety. When we remember Christ's fear and anxiety, what he has already
done with us and for us is repeated: he has endured the fear of being
forsaken by God -- the fear of separation; and he has opened up a way
through this experience for those who trust and follow him. In fellowship
with him we discover that we are released from anxiety as we endure it. By
recognizing our anxiety in his, and by seeing it as abolished in his, we
experience that 'blessed' anxiety which kindles an unconquerable hope.”
"If one does not examine the megatechnic bribe too circumspectly, it would appear to be a generous bargain. Provided the consumer agrees to accept what megatechnics offers, in quantities favorable to the continued expansion of the whole power system, he will be granted all the perquisites, privileges, seductions, and pleasures of the affluent society. If only he demands no goods or services except those that can be organized or manufactured by megatechnics, he will without doubt enjoy a higher standard of material culture -- at least of a certain specialized kind -- than any other society has ever achieved before. If anything, the luxuries will be more plentiful than the comforts, though many basic human necessities that do not lend themselves to megatechnics will in fact be starved out of existence. In 'Fun City' one is not supposed to notice their absence.
"For many members of the American community, which has been hastily subscribing to this system under the specious title of the 'Great Society,' or the 'Economy of Megalopolis,' the further development of this process-centered technology seems not merely inevitable but desirable: the next step in 'Progress.' And who dares resist Progress? Given the proper reward a population sufficiently coddled by the Welfare State asks for nothing better than what the market offers.
"Those already conditioned from infancy by school training and television tutelage to regard megatechnics as the highest point in man's 'conquest of nature,' will accept this totalitarian control of their own development not as a horrid sacrifice but as a highly desirable fulfillment, looking forward to being constantly attached to the Big Brain, as they are now attached to radio stations by portable transistor sets even while walking the streets. By accepting these means they expect that every human problem will be solved for them, and the only human sin will be that of failing to obey instructions. Their 'real' life will be confined within the frame of a television screen."
"Most men tolerate life without grumbling too much and believe thus in the value of existence, but precisely because everyone wills himself alone and stands his ground alone, and does not step out of himself as do those exceptional men, everything extrapersonal escapes his notice entirely, or seems at the most a faint shadow. Thus the value of life for ordinary, everyday man is based only on his taking himself to be more important than the world."
"In man [the] art of simulation reaches its peak: here deception, flattery, lying and cheating, talking behind the back, posing, living in borrowed splendor, being masked, the disguise of convention, acting a role before others and before oneself -- in short, the constant fluttering around the single flame of vanity is so much the rule and the law that almost nothing is more incomprehensible than how an honest and pure urge for truth could make its appearance among men. They are deeply immersed in illusions and dream images; their eye glides only over the surface of things and sees 'forms'; their feeling nowhere leads into truth, but contents itself with the reception of stimuli, playing, as it were, a game of blindman's bluff on the backs of things."
"...life is at the start a chaos in which one is lost. The individual suspects this, but he is frightened at finding himself face to face with this terrible reality, and tries to cover it over with a curtain of fantasy, where everything is clear. It does not worry him that his 'ideas' are not true, he uses them as trenches for the defence of his existence, as scarecrows to frighten away reality.
"The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from those fantastic 'ideas' and looks life in the face, realizes that everything in it is problematic, and feels himself lost. As this is the simple truth -- that to live is to feel oneself lost -- he who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look round for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce. He who does not really feel himself lost, is lost without remission; that is to say, he never finds himself, never comes up against his own reality."
"Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.
"All our divinity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.
"A thinking reed. It is not from space that I must seek my dignity, but from the government of my thought. I shall have no more if I possess worlds. By space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; by thought I comprehend the world."
Socrates: Now compare our condition with this: Picture men living in a cave which has a wide mouth open towards the light. They are kept in the same places, looking forward only away from the mouth and unable to turn their heads, for their legs and necks have been fixed in chains from birth. A fire is burning higher up at their backs, and between it and the prisoners there is a road with a low wall built at its side, like the screen over which puppet players put up their puppets.
Glaucon: All that I see.
Socrates: See, again, then, men walking under cover of this low wall carrying past all sorts of things, copies of men and animals, in stone or wood and other materials; some of them may be talking and others not.
Glaucon: This is a strange sort of comparison and these are strange prisoners.
Socrates: They are like ourselves. They see nothing but their own shadows, or one another's, which the fire throws on the wall of the cave. And so too with the things carried past. If they were able to talk to one another, wouldn't they think that in naming the shadows they were naming the things that went by? And if their prison sent back an echo whenever one of those who went by said a word, what could they do but take it for the voice of the shadow?
Glaucon: By Zeus, they would.
Socrates: The only real things for them would be the shadows of the puppets.
Socrates: Now see how it will be if something frees them from their chains: When one is freed and forced to get on his feet and turn his head and walk and look towards the light -- and all this hurts, and because the light is too bright, he isn't able to see the things whose shadows he saw before -- what will he answer, if someone says that all he has seen till now, was false and a trick, but that now he sees more truly? And if someone points out to him the things going by and asks him to name them, won't he be at a loss? And won't he take the shadows he saw before as more real than these things?
Glaucon: Much more real.
Socrates: And if he were forced to look straight at the light itself, wouldn't he start back with pained eyes? And if someone pulled him up the rough and hard ascent and forced him out into the light of the sun, wouldn't he be angry? And wouldn't his eyes be too full of light to make out even one of the things we say are real?
Glaucon: Yes, that would be so at first.
Socrates: He would need to get used to the light before he could see things up there. At first he would see shadows best, and after that reflections in still water of men and other things, and only later these things themselves. Then he would be ready to look at the moon and stars, and would see the sky by night better than the sun and the sun's light by day. So, at last, I take it, he'd be able to look upon the sun itself, and see it not through the seemings and images of itself in water and away from its true place, but in its own field and as it truly is.
Glaucon: So. [meaning, "it is so," not "so what?"]
Socrates: And with that he will discover that it is the sun which gives the seasons and the years, and is the chief in the field of the things which are seen, and in some way the cause even of all the things he had been seeing before. If he now went back in his mind to where he was living before, and to what his brother slaves took to be wisdom there, wouldn't he be happy at the change and pity them?
Glaucon: Certainly, he would.
Socrates: And if their way was to reward those who were quickest to make out the shadows as they went by and to note in memory which came before as a rule, and which together, would he care very much about such rewards? And, if he were to go down again out of the sunlight into his old place, would not his eyes get suddenly full of the dark? And if there were to be a competition then with the prisoners who had never moved out and he had to do his best in judging the shadows before his eyes got used to the dark -- which needs more than a minute -- wouldn't he be laughed at? Wouldn't they say he had come back from his time on high with his eyes in very bad condition so that there was no point in going up there? And if they were able to get their hands on the man who attempted to take their chains off and guide them up, wouldn't they put him to death?
Glaucon: They certainly would!
Socrates: Take this comparison, dear Glaucon, with all we have said before. The world seen through the eyes, that is the prison house; the light of the fire is like the power of the sun; and if you see the way out and that looking upon things of the upper world as the going up of the soul to the field of true thought, you will have my hopes or beliefs about it and they are what you desired -- though only God knows if they are right. Be that as it may, what seems clear to me is that in the field of deep knowledge the last thing to be seen, and hardly seen, is the idea of the good. When that is seen, our decision has to be that it is truly the cause, for all things, of all that is beautiful and right. In the world that is to be seen, it gives birth to light and to the lord of light, but in the field of thought it is itself the master cause of reason and all that is true; and anyone who is to act wisely in private or public must have seen this...
Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcernedly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mixed; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown,
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.
God is not "out there." He is in Bonhoeffer's words "the 'beyond' in the midst of our life," a depth of reality reached "not on the borders of life but at its centre," not by any flight of the alone to the alone, but, in Kierkegaard's fine phrase, by a "deeper immersion in existence." For the word "God" denotes the ultimate depth of all our being, the creative ground and meaning of all our existence.
...the line between those who believe in God and those who do not bears little relation to their profession of the existence or non-existence of such a Being. It is a question, rather, of their openness to the holy, the sacred, in the unfathomable depths of even the most secular relationship. As Martin Buber puts it of the person who professedly denies God,
When he, too, who abhors the name, and believes himself to be godless, gives his whole being to addressing the Thou of his life, as a Thou that cannot be limited by another, he addresses God.
For in the conditioned he has seen and responded to the unconditional. He has touched the hem of the eternal.
"Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly...the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing -- fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. . .
We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world -- its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create."
"There is much forgetfulness, much callow disrespect for what is past or alien; but there is a fund of vigour, goodness, and hope such as no nation ever possessed before. In what sometimes looks like American greediness and jostling for the front place, all is love of achievement, nothing is unkindness; it is a fearless people, and free from malice, as you might see in their eyes and gestures, even if their conduct did not prove it. This soil is propitious to every seed, and tares must needs grow in it; but why should it not also breed clear thinking, honest judgment, and rational happiness? These things are indeed not necessary to existence, and without them America might long remain rich and populous like many a barbarous land in the past; but in that case its existence would be hounded, like theirs, by falsity and remorse. . .
"[Academic] [f]reedom, when nominally allowed, was a provisional freedom; if your wanderings did not somehow bring you back to orthodoxy you were a misguided being, no matter how disparate from the orthodox might be the field from which you fetched your little harvest; and if you could not be answered you were called superficial. Most spirits are cowed by such disparagement; but even those who snap their fingers at it do not escape; they can hardly help feeling that in calling a spade a spade they are petulant and naughty...it is only here and there that a very great and solitary mind, like that of Spinoza, can endure obloquy without bitterness or can pass through perverse controversies without contagion."
"The unique characteristic of a dead life is that it is a life of which the Other makes himself the guardian...To be forgotten is to be made the object of an attitude of another, and of an implicit decision on the part of the Other. To be forgotten is, in fact, to be resolutely apprehended forever as one element dissolved into a mass (the 'great feudal lords of the thirteenth century,' the 'bourgeois Whigs' of the eighteenth, the Soviet officials,' etc.); it is in no way to be annihilated, but it is to lose one's personal existence in order to be constituted with others in a collective existence...
"Thus the very existence of death alienates us wholly in our own life to the advantage of the Other. To be dead is to be a prey for the living. This means therefore that the one who tries to grasp the meaning of his future death must discover himself as the future prey of others...
"So long as I live I can escape what I am for the Other by revealing to myself by my freely posited ends that I am nothing and that I make myself be what I am; so long as I live, I can give the lie to what others discover in me, by projecting myself already toward other ends and in every instance by revealing that my dimension of being-for-myself is incommensurable with my dimension of being-for-others...to die is to be condemned no matter what ephemeral victory one has won over the Other; even if one has made use of the Other to 'sculpture one's own statue,' to die is to exist only through the Other, and to owe to him one's meaning and the very meaning of one's victory."
"The vanity of existence is revealed in the whole form existence assumes: in the infiniteness of time and space contrasted with the finiteness of the individual in both; in the fleeting present as the sole form in which actuality exists; in the contingency and relativity of all things; in continual becoming without being; in continual desire without satisfaction; in the continual frustration of striving of which life consists. . .
"The scenes of our life resemble pictures in rough mosaic; they are ineffective from close up, and have to be viewed from a distance if they are to seem beautiful. That is why to attain something desired is to discover how vain it is; and why, though we live all our lives in expectation of better things, we often at the same time long regretfully for what is past. The present, on the other hand, is regarded as something quite temporary and serving only as the road to our goal. That is why most men discover when they look back on their life that they have the whole time been living ad interim, and are surprised to see that which they let go by so unregarded and unenjoyed was precisely their life, was precisely that in expectation of which they lived."
"We must, indeed, take care to be tactful, and not mix ourselves up uninvited in other people's business. On the other hand we must not forget the danger lurking in the reserve which our practical daily life forces on us. We cannot possibly let ourselves get frozen into regarding everyone we do not know as an absolute stranger. No man is ever completely and permanently a stranger to his fellow-man. Man belongs to man. Man has claims on man. Circumstances great or small may arise which make impossible the aloofness which we have to practise in daily life, and bring us into active relations with each other, as men to men. The law of reserve is condemned to be broken down by the claims of the heart, and thus we all get into a position where we must step outside our aloofness, and to one of our fellow-men become ourselves a man."
"Seeing. We might say that the whole of life lies in that verb -- if not ultimately, at least essentially. Fuller being is closer union...But let us emphasise the point: union increases only through an increase in consciousness, that is to say in vision. And that, doubtless, is why the history of the living world can be summarised as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always something more to be seen. After all, do we not judge the perfection of an animal, or the supremacy of a thinking being, by the penetration and synthetic power of their gaze? To try to see more and better is not a matter of whim or curiosity or self-indulgence. To see or to perish is the very condition laid upon everything that makes up the universe, by reason of the mysterious gift of existence. And this, in superior measure, is man's condition. . .
"When studied narrowly in himself by anthropologists or jurists, man is a tiny, even a shrinking, creature. His over-pronounced individuality conceals from our eyes the whole to which he belongs; as we look at him our minds incline to break nature up into pieces and to forget both its deep inter-relations and its measureless horizons: we incline to all that is bad in anthropocentrism. And it is this that still leads scientists to refuse to consider man as an object of scientific scrutiny except through his body.
"The time has come to realise that an interpretation of the universe -- even a positivist one -- remains unsatisfying unless it covers the within as well as the without of things; mind as well as matter. The true physics is that which will, one day, achieve the inclusion of man in his wholeness in a coherent picture of the world."
“The anxiety of meaninglessness is anxiety about the loss of an ultimate concern, of a meaning which gives meaning to all meanings. This anxiety is aroused by the loss of a spiritual center, of an answer, however symbolic and indirect, to the question of the meaning of existence. . .
“The anxiety of emptiness is aroused by the threat of nonbeing to the special contents of the spiritual life. A belief breaks down through external events or inner processes: one is cut off from creative participation in a sphere of culture, one feels frustrated about something which one had passionately affirmed, one is driven from devotion to one object to devotion to another and again on to another, because the meaning of each of them vanishes and the creative eros is transformed into indifference or aversion. Everything is tried and nothing satisfies. The contents of the tradition, however excellent, however praised, however loved once, lose their power to give content today. And present culture is even less able to provide the content. Anxiously one turns away from all concrete contents and looks for an ultimate meaning, only to discover that it was precisely the loss of a spiritual center which took away the meaning from the special contents of the spiritual life. But a spiritual center cannot be produced intentionally, and the attempt to produce it only produces deeper anxiety. The anxiety of emptiness drives us to the abyss of meaninglessness.”
"My lapse from faith occurred as is usual among people on our level of education. In most cases, I think, it happens thus: a man lives like everybody else, on the basis of principles not merely having nothing in common with religious doctrine, but generally opposed to it; religious doctrine does not play a part in life, in intercourse with others it is never encountered, and in a man's own life he never has to reckon with it. Religious doctrine is professed far away from life and independently of it. If it is encountered, it is only as an external phenomenon disconnected from life.
"Then as now, it was and is quite impossible to judge by a man's life and conduct whether he is a believer or not. If there be a difference between a man who publicly professes orthodoxy and one who denies it, the difference is not in favor of the former. Then as now, the public profession and confession of orthodoxy was chiefly met with among people who were dull and cruel and who considered themselves very important. Ability, honesty, reliability, good-nature and moral conduct, were often met with among unbelievers.
"The schools teach the catechism and send the pupils to church, and government officials must produce certificates of having received communion. But a man of our circle who has finished his education and is not in the government service may even now (and formerly it was still easier for him to do so) live for ten or twenty years without once remembering that he is living among Christians and is himself reckoned a member of the orthodox Christian Church.
"So that, now as formerly, religious doctrine, accepted on trust and supported by external pressure, thaws away gradually under the influence of knowledge and experience of life which conflict with it, and a man very often lives on, imagining that he still holds intact the religious doctrine imparted to him in childhood whereas in fact not a trace of it remains."
"When this self gets to weakness, gets to confusedness, as it were, then the breaths gather round him. He takes to himself those particles of light and descends into the heart. When the person in the eye turns away, then he becomes non-knowing of forms.
"He is becoming one, he does not see, they say; he is becoming one, he does not smell, they say; he is becoming one, he does not taste, they say; he is becoming one, he does not speak, they say; he is becoming one, he does not hear, they say; he is becoming one, he does not think, they say; he is becoming one, he does not touch, they say; he is becoming one, he does not know, they say. The point of his heart becomes lighted up and by that light the self departs either through the eye or through the head or through other apertures of the body. And when he thus departs, life departs after him. And when life thus departs, all the vital breaths depart after him. He becomes one with intelligence. What has intelligence departs with him. His knowledge and his work take hold of him as also his past experience.
"Verily, when a person departs from this world, he goes to the air. It opens out there for him like the hole of a chariot wheel. Through that he goes upwards. He goes to the sun. It opens out there for him like the hole of a lambara. Through that he goes upwards. He reaches the moon. It opens out there for him like the hole of a drum. Through that he goes upwards. He goes to the world free from grief, free from snow. There he dwells eternal years."
* The passage above can be found in Mircea Eliade, From Primitives To Zen: A Thematic Sourcebook of the History of Religions (1977)
"...the "brainy" economy designed to produce...happiness is a fantastic vicious circle which must either manufacture more and more pleasures or collapse -- providing a constant titillation of the ears, eyes, and nerve ends with incessant streams of almost inescapeable noise and visual distractions. The perfect "subject" for the aims of this economy is the person who continuously itches his ears with the radio, preferably using the portable kind which can go with him at all hours and in all places. His eyes flit without rest from television screen, to newspaper, to magazine, keeping in a sort of orgasm-without-release through a series of teasing glimpses of shiny automobiles, shiny female bodies, and other sensuous surfaces, interspersed with such restorers of sensitivity -- shock treatments -- as "human interest" shots of criminals, mangled bodies, wrecked airplanes, prize fights, and burning buildings. The literature or discourse that goes along with this is similarly manufactured to tease without satisfaction, to replace every partial gratification with a new desire...Generally speaking, the civilized man does not know what he wants. He works for success, fame, a happy marriage, fun, to help other people, or to be a "real person." But these are not real wants because they are not actual things. They are the by-products, the flavors and atmospheres of real things -- shadows which have no existence apart from some substance. Money is the perfect symbol of all such desires, being a mere symbol of real wealth, and to make it one's goal is the most blatant example of confusing measurements with reality."
...I have felt
"There is a wealth of humbug in this life, but the multitudinous little humbugs have been classified by Chinese Buddhists under two big humbugs: fame and wealth. There is a story that Emperor Ch'ienlung once went up a hill overlooking the sea during his trip to South China and saw a great number of sailing ships busily plying the China Sea to and fro. He asked his minister what the people in those hundreds of ships were doing, and his minister replied that he saw only two ships, and their names were 'Fame' and 'Wealth'. Many cultured persons were able to escape the lure of wealth, but only the very greatest could escape the lure of fame. Once a monk was discoursing with his pupil on these two sources of worldly cares, and said: 'It is easier to get rid of the desire for money than to get rid of the desire for fame. Even retired scholars and monks still want to be distinguished and well-known among their company. They want to give public discourses to a large audience, and not retire to a small monastery talking to one pupil, like you and me now.' The pupil replied: 'Indeed, Master, you are the only man in the world who has conquered the desire for fame!' And the Master smiled."
Copyright © 2001-2012 philosophical society.com. All rights reserved.