Metaphysics on A Brutal Planet
As the Internet has brought us greater access to the world, we are even more aware of the never-ending brutality of human existence. In Sanskrit, the words pleasure and pain are often written as one word: sukhaduhkha. The wisdom in equating pleasure and pain has always struck me as an understanding that could only emerge out of an ancient civilization with a deep, even primordial sense of history — a venerable culture that over time had repeatedly experienced all the inevitable, ineluctable, inescapable stages of all civilizations, the cyclical recurrences of initial purity and cohesion, followed by consequent corrupting disarray and decay.
Still the question lingers. Why has the Creator chosen to make this plane of existence, this planet Earth so brutal? The Tibetans call the earth plane the Realm of Endurance. The Sufis see life as a sacred crucible in which we are formed, challenged, forged and tempered. The Christian faith views life as a Valley we each walk alone, as we move towards death and Judgement. The Kashmir Shaivites understand life as the Play [Lila or Divine Drama] of the Oneness that Veiled within us - is enjoying it all, even the brutality! The Kashmir Shaivite saint and scholar, Swami Lakshmanjoo has said, “Everyone is suffering. Everyone is enjoying suffering.”
The Webs We Weave
History reveals man’s shocking capacity for mass madness and insane cruelty. What is the good, the purpose of pain, suffering, decay and so much abject brutality? One answer is simply that in a polarity universe the one extreme of purity and goodness cannot exist without the other extreme, meaning contamination and evil. In the temporal illusory hologram, everything rots. It is simple physics, or rather metaphysics. A more western oriented explanation of the purpose for such brutal and destructive energies is offered by the plain speaking, down-to-earth American philosopher Eric Hoffer in his classic astute and insightful book, ‘The True Believer, Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements’ :
“The discarded and rejected [of any society] are often the raw material of a nation’s future. The stone builders reject becomes the cornerstone of a new world. A nation without dregs and malcontents is orderly, decent, peaceful and pleasant, but perhaps without the seed of things to come. It was not the irony of history that the undesired in the countries of Europe should have crossed an ocean to build a new world on the [North American] continent. Only they could do it.”
From this pragmatic assessment we may approach the idea that those we consider to be the dregs of society, the losers, and the various forms of eroding contamination, chemical or ideological — are in fact the seed store of new forms. Bacteria and viruses, which destroy weakened living cells, have been with us forever. In a cyclical universe, there must be energies that decay, dissolve, and destroy. Often these are hidden beyond our sight, decomposing matter under rocks, in putrid slime yucky-goo rubbish, or silently lurking inside our human bodies.
"Only they could do it!"
Sometimes they are found in the malcontent, the alienated, misfits who in blaming others for their “spoiled lives” [Hoffer’s words] overthrow the existing order. Hoffer counts political and religious fanatics such as Hitler, Lenin, and others among these ‘true believers’ who throughout history have murdered thousands in the name of truth.
Eric Hoffer worked on the San Francisco docks as a stevedore in the 1940s. He was self-educated and his experiences in the realm of physical labour combined with a lack of ivory tower intellectual conditioning, which so is often removed from any real life, and therefore produced an extraordinary view of the human condition. I first read ‘The True Believer’ back in high school, perhaps 1962, and I admit that I did not and could not have understood it in those days — but even in my tender green teens, I realized that there was something deeply profoundly true in this book. Because of the recent rumours of revolution, I remembered and thus reread this classic, which was reissued in 2010.
Hoffer makes it unequivocally clear that what motivates the True Believer into fanaticism is his or her own lack. They are as he says the disaffected, the poor, the unemployed, the misfits, outcasts, minorities, adolescent youth, the ambitious, the obsessed, the impotent in mind or body, the inordinately selfish, the bored and sinners.
“…they are wholly without reverence toward the present. They see their lives and the present as spoiled beyond remedy and they are ready to waste and wreck both: hence their recklessness and their will to chaos and anarchy…Thus they are among the early recruits of revolutions, mass migrations, and of religious, racial and chauvinist movements, and they imprint their mark upon these upheavals and movements which shape a nations character and history.”
The Brutality of Human History
In his book 'Comanches, The History of a People' , the historian T.R. Fehrenbach warns us that ignoring the brutalities of human history leaves us vulnerable:
“The fact that Americans, for the most part, tend to reject a tragic view of human existence is probably the greatest source of the American difficulty in understanding Amerindian history. The People [the Comanches] were entirely true to themselves from first to last, and this faithfulness destroyed them. Their destroyers [both the Spanish and Americans] were also true to themselves, and it could not have been otherwise.”
This naïve refusal to view human existence as cyclical tragedy and catastrophe is particularly American — and something I know all too well having grown up in the USA post WWII. I was raised on optimism, on ‘progress is our most important product', and the 'can do' mentality. The work of Edward Bernays had saturated my country in Madison Avenue advertising and propaganda, a bizarre and all pervasive miasma and delusion that was designed to promote commerce. Of course, we suspected otherwise and the atrocities in Viet Nam forced a generation’s rebellion against the prevailing belief system. Again from T.R. Fehrenbach:
“History is brutal; only future peril lies in omitting or obscuring man’s continuing brutalities. Generations that have been sheltered from the brutalities of the past are poorly equipped to cope with those of their own times.”
Brutality is the decomposing, dissolving catalyst menacing all established forms. Life on Earth is often mass madness. One such era was the 14th Century Europe when the plagues known as the Black Death scourged thousands. The historian Barbara W. Tuchman envisages a cyclical perspective in her book, ‘A Distant Mirror, The Calamitous 14th Century’ :
“Survivors of the plague, finding themselves neither destroyed nor improved, could discover no Divine purpose in the pain they had suffered. God’s purposes were usually mysterious, but this scourge had been too terrible to be accepted without questioning. If a disaster of such magnitude, the most lethal ever known, was a mere wanton act of God or perhaps not God’s work at all, then the absolutes of a fixed order were loosed from their moorings. Minds that opened to admit these questions could never again be shut. Once people envisioned the possibility of change in a fixed order, the end of an age of submission came in sight; the turn to individual conscience lay ahead. To that extent the Black Death may have been the unrecognized beginning of modern man.”
Did it take such a massive catastrophe to begin the erosion of the feudal system, which for centuries robbed most men of their freedom, wealth, and creativity? We humans seem able to get used to anything and tend to resist change. This compulsion to repeated behaviours stems from what is called the GUNAS in Sanskrit metaphysical teaching. The literal meaning of Sanskrit word gunas is ‘knots’ — and thus refers to modes of human behaviour that form from the accumulations of our own thoughts and acts, and which bind & tie us, weaving our consciousness into the temporal illusory hologram. We create these knots over countless lifetimes as we pass through the endless Cycles of Time. I have explained the gunas in detail in previous articles and include the links below.
“What you wish not to do, through delusion, you shall do..."
The gunas are our own creation and are the rather Borg-like modes of our inclinations, proclivities, and compulsions that form our genetic programming, our individual human nature. Compelled as we are by our own ‘natures’ we are driven to repeating patterns that draw us to certain experiences, to particular groups of people, perhaps ancestral links, and even to nationalities, races, and religious affinities. Most of us have no idea how controlled we are by our own programming mechanisms, and thus most remain unconscious as we wander from one life time to another.
We are all compelled by our gunas. The Sanskrit texts teach that in fact we are powerless to act against our own natures. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna in spite of his temporary reluctance to do so, Arjuna will fight, because he is a Rajasic warrior and thus fighting is his nature.
“What you wish not to do, through delusion,
You shall do that
Against your will, Arjuna,
Bound by your own karma, born of your own material nature.”
- Bhagavad Gita, XVIII.60; translated by Winthrop Sargeant
Our free will resides solely in Enlightenment, in the observation of and non-attachment to our habitual tendencies and compulsions. We become “the observer, observing the observed” as the wise Krishnamurti said. Otherwise we will remain in this brutal polarity universe, trapped in webs we weave in the bondage of illusions within ever recurring cycles, yuga after yuga, manvantara after manvantara, kalpa after kalpa — world without end.
The Cycles of Time are states of consciousness; they are simply the collective states of consciousness. Remember that we came here voluntarily to enjoy the crucible the Tibetans call the Realm of Endurance. It was our choice, so it must be that in our original state, this earth plane location looked like a challenging adventure, an exciting test. Perhaps weariness with it all, especially brutality is a sign we are indeed ready to come Home!
V. Susan Ferguson
The True Believer, Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, by Eric Hoffer, 1951; Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2010.
Comanches, The History of A People, by T.R. Fehrenbach; Anchor Books, Random House, N.Y.,1974.
A Distant Mirror, The Calamitous 14th Century, by Barabara W. Tuchman; Ballantine Books, N.Y., 1978.
The Bhagavad Gita, Translated by Winthrop Sargeant; State University of New York Press, 1994.
Links on the Gunas:
The Gunas that Rule you
How the Gunas Rule this life and the Next
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