Friday, January 18, 2013

Shakespeare or petroleum?

By Dr. Lucio F. Teoxon Jr.

Personality tests given the Organization Man often carry questions which call for an assessment of his values. One such question runs: “Who helped mankind most, Shakespeare or Newton?” This restates the question earlier raised in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed: “Which is more beautiful and precious, Shakespeare or boots, Raphael or petroleum?”

These queries suggest a dichotomization of culture into two camps which C.P. Snow explored in his “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.” Thus, if the first part of the question is chosen, one aligns oneself with the humanities; and if the second, with the sciences, the professions, or the practical arts.

The great scientific breakthroughs in contemporary times have so transformed civilization that the scales are strongly tilted towards the latter choice. On the macrocosmic scale, man has toyed with the prospect of interstellar travel past the threshold of the black hole to other universes. On the microcosmic level, he has not only charted the elusive tracks of particles in the world of the infinitely small but gone on to tinker with himself by cracking the secret code of life locked in the DNA.

This is all to the credit of science and technology. But have they helped man a whit in understanding the human heart? The humanities could not lay claim to a monopoly of the wisdom of the heart, but at least it has paid attention to the riddles it poses. To a great extent, literature, philosophy, or the arts have brought man back into the presence of himself—into self-awareness as it were.

But the nagging problem ever remains. Why did Hitler’s holocaust happen? Or Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The humanities did not do much to stay the hands that killed one’s own brother. Christ and the Buddha long ago showed that there is a different way of living. But love has not also saved man. What will save us from ourselves? Dostoevsky says beauty will, for without it nothing is left in the world. And if even that fails?

Then, perhaps, the fear of nothingness, of being blown up into smithereens, will make us learn at last.

(Version 2)

For forty years or so, I have stuck it out in the academe, driven as I was by pure and simple idealism. My great faith in the transformative power of knowledge and learning also sustained me across the years. As a professor in the liberal arts tradition, I put a premium on academic excellence and the cultivation of the intellectual life. I was chiefly interested in sound scholarship and free inquiry.

The invaluable importance of the humanities particularly literature (my field), philosophy, religion, and the arts as civilizing or humanizing components in one’s overall education is beyond dispute. Deep exposure to these disciplines brings about an integral development of the individual as a human person.

Midway in my academic career, I found myself up against a megatrend in college education—the downturn of the liberal arts vis-à-vis science and the professions. A keeper of the arts, I saw the dwindling number of students taking up degree programs in the humanities and their eventual dismantling as white elephants by university governing bodies.

These alarming developments cannot but call to mind the question that Dostoevsky posed in his novel The Possessed: “Which is more beautiful and precious, Shakespeare or boots, Raphael or petroleum?”

This query is of course wrongly put. In point of fact it is not a question of one or the other. Both are needed for our optimum advancement. Nevertheless, it suggests a dichotomization of culture into opposed camps which C. P. Snow so described in his “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.”

Thus, if the first part is chosen, one aligns oneself with the humanities; if the second, with the empirical sciences. The contemporary scientific breakthroughs have so transformed civilization that the scales are tilted in favor of science. Thanks to it scientists now speak about the prospect of interstellar travel in the immensity of outer space far across other universes. What is more, they have not only charted, if uncertainly, the elusive tracks of particles in the world of the infinitely small but also cracked what used to be the secret code of life in the DNA in the Human Genome Project completed a few years back.

That is all very well. But then it should be asked, Was there ever a corresponding scientific breakthrough in unlocking the riddles of the human heart? (By heart I mean the center of our being, the pure essence of our original nature.)

The answer to that question should be obvious. Although the humanities cannot claim to have done so either, in a definitive way that is, their votaries have consistently paid attention to the inner life of humanity. This much they have done: they have brought back man into the presence of himself — into an awareness of himself and his infinite possibilities — and helped him see his place in the order of the universe. What else could be more fundamental than this?

For the job of the humanities is to induce man to confront himself, understand who he is or what he is here for, and shake the truth out of himself. While the man in the lab occupies himself with testing the validity of his hypothesis about the phenomenal world, the humanist wrestles with questions of eternity, the timeless in you and me.

The decline of the humanities must by all means be arrested or reversed. Even if they do not occupy the center stage in higher education today as they used to do, they should be allowed their rightful place in the scheme of things. When for lack of the wisdom of self-knowledge our inward development as human beings fails to keep pace with advancements in science and technology, knock on wood, our very own inventions may well become Frankenstein monsters.

Now in semi-retirement, I have re-established connection with the academe. I hold my ground against the onslaughts of pharisaism hereabouts. Whenever and however I can, I afford myself the luxury of indulging my lifelong passion for the Platonic ideals of the Good, the True and the Beautiful.

The wolf-man

By Dr. Lucio F. Teoxon Jr.

Hermann Hesse rose to popularity as a writer among university students way back in the sixties and even up to the present in the US, Japan, India, etc. when his major works got translated into English from the original German. He was one of the early European fictionists who had a great interest in Oriental culture and lore. His writings showed the unmistakable influence of Eastern ideas. His novels indicate this: Siddharta, Demian, Narcissus and Goldmund, Magister Ludi or The Glass Bead Game. They all dramatize the fundamental conflict in which the battlefield is the human heart—flesh and spirit, body and soul, or the worldly versus the otherwordly pursuits. He shares with Dostoevsky the same knack for the introspective probing into the inner as well as the outer constitution of man. As the internal evidence of Hesse’s novels indicate, there is no doubt about his literary indebtedness to the Russian master. It might even be said that his Steppenwolf is a direct progeny of the Underground Man.

Very much like his fictional predecessor, Harry Haller, the Steppenwolf (or the wolf-man), withdraws from society which he abhors for what he perceives to be its mediocre culture and shallow bourgeois values. The whole structure of the novel and its complications purposefully and artistically depict the process whereby Harry finally understands and arrives at a knowledge of himself. Thus, the action of the novel moves inwardly, not linearly in a horizontal fashion. We are let a glimpse into his psyche and there behold what so troubles his spirit as he dreams and hallucinates his way into himself.

The truth about Harry’s case is that he is neither a saint nor a renegade. He stands midway between the extremes of asceticism and debauchery. So much so that given the auspicious initiation, he may yet ascend to the heights reached by immortals like Goethe or Mozart who had transcended the dichotomies of mundane existence in a sort of elevated universe where all of life is affirmed with the eternal Yes. However, these immortals are marked off as eminent for having been already shorn of the sense of the self, having lived out all its thousand habiliments.

Harry has to start with the necessary first steps upon the path to enlightenment. Because of his classicist temperament as an artist, he has despised popular culture or anything that smacks of the vulgar and the worldly. He has thus shunned contact with mass culture and lives in isolation from the stream of ordinary humanity to avoid the contamination of philistinism. He prefers his self-absorbed preoccupation with contemplation and communion with the Muses. This is the height of his elitist eccentricity.

Such an activity has led him farther away from ordinary life and in the process develops psycho mania. He feels a sense of extreme estrangement to the point of toying with the idea of suicide. In fact he made a vow to himself to cut his life on reaching the age of fifty as a way of ending his ennui that eats away at his will to live. What Harry in fact needs is a return to nature and rediscover the lost fragments of his personality long submerged in the thick layers of his past. He really should go back to the elemental passions which he scoffs at and undergo the bath of the senses in order to achieve a harmonious balance between the intellect which he overvalues and the strong passions which he blocks from running high.

Human beings are at once a creature of intellect and a creature of the emotions. Reconciling these warring aspects of his nature makes up the core in the process of Harry’s education. He further needs to come to the realization that man is more than just a creature of counterpositions. He towers above them. He must of necessity renounce the conventional idea of the fragmentation of life into such polarities as flesh and spirit, body and soul, etc. and know that man is actually a multivalent, multifaceted entity consisting not just of one or two or three but a thousand selves.

In other words, Harry must play the game of life by becoming everyman and yet nobody in particular.

But first, the multiplicity of the self should be recognized, accepted, and lived through—the sex life included to make him feel human enough and not some kind of abstraction as Dostoevsky’s Underground Man has so emphatically warned against. Obviously, the process of integration which consists of the piecing together of the splintered little selves and coming to terms with them must be done by going into life in all its expressions and dimensions. Before any man can face death as Harry intended to do, he must accept life to begin with and live it fully well. This is best facilitated by man’s innate sense of humor or the ability to laugh, and laugh at oneself and one’s follies. Then only may it be possible for the individual to grow into what Abraham Maslow called a fully self-actualized human being whose consciousness becomes pure, unqualified and all-embracing.

The root of Harry’s trouble is that he takes himself too seriously. He has forgotten the cleansing power of laughter. It is an affliction, a nasty form of self-deception to disdainfully think that one is superior to other people by reason of his elevated tastes, cultural literacy or even his individual achievements. As long as he sneers at what he considers to be the vulgarities of the man in the street, a snob like Harry is bound to remain alienated from ordinary reality and a question unto himself.

Carl Jung holds that the divorce of the intellectual from the emotional side of life leads to psychic disorder. The most unfeeling criminals are those intellectuals who skulk in their underground holes like spiders. Remember Raskolnikov who committed the perfect crime? So, man’s cerebrations must be balanced by his feelings so that to think is to feel, and to feel is to think. To live in harmony with himself and those around him, the pedant must let the intellectual colossus that he professes to be come to terms with the cloven emotional freak into which he has degenerated.

Seriousness or aloofness is a petty infirmity. We must, as Harry promised himself to do in the end, learn once again to laugh the cosmic laughter of the gods the way the immortals like Goethe or Mozart do in their rarefied existence.

The man from underground

By Dr. Lucio F. Teoxon Jr.

Among the continental masters, Fydor Dostoevsky stands out as showing the ability of the modern imagination to do the “paradoxical task of standing both inside and outside itself, articulate its own formlessness and encompass its own extravagant possibilities.”

In the Notes from Underground, Dostoevsky, whom Andre Gide regarded as the greatest of all novelists, demonstrated his unusual power in describing the lower depths of the human psyche and the inner states of the mind. His psychological penetration which made him a towering figure in world literature is matched with his equally powerful gift for new ideas, the philosophic import of which had a wide-ranging significance for the world at large. In Dostoevsky, therefore, as shown in the fictional work cited, we find the exemplar of the continental master who exhibits the ability of the modern imagination not only to take stock of the inner world of the individual self with all the mysterious forces locked up within it but also stand outside the self and discover awesome truths about itself and its relation to society.

The striking thing about the Underground Man, a forty-year old employee who retired from the civil service, is his exceptional ability to look with sharp clarity into himself self-critically. He knows and is fully aware of what troubles him—and that is the fact of his self-contradiction. He is sundered from within between his will on the one hand and his reason on the other. The root cause of his torment is the endless conflict between these two sides of his individuality. Underground Man also knows that his ultimate salvation lies in his ability to integrate these extremes of his makeup by means of the power of conscious will and freedom of choice. He is nameless, which means that he is almost a nonentity, and also that he could be everyman.

The primitive elements in him prompt him to stand up against the forces in society that do violence to the passions that make for a heightened sense of life and sensitivity to the natural pleasures they afford. And he sees quite rightly that so-called culture and civilization have only succeeded in crippling his natural human propensities such as the appetite for the pure act of living and its simple pleasures. Systematic morals and social conventions suppress the primal passions, the instincts and drives surfacing from the wells of the unconscious. Society has but succeeded in producing a new type of human being characterized by artificiality of manners, phoniness, and the cold sophistry of reasoning exemplified in the inexorable formula ‘two plus two makes four.’

But Underground Man scoffs at this systematic conditioning that stripped him of the true qualities that make him human. He argues that reason itself and the fanatical worship of the intellect have not really transformed him any better but instead estranged him from himself, from the foundations of his human reality as a flesh and blood individual. So, he affirms the will and passion as against mere intellection or cerebration, of involvement with life from which modern man is tragically divorced. He is for life minus the veneer of civilization, life in the most naked form that Camus’ Meursault enjoyed on the sun-drenched Algerian beach.

That is why he goes underground and lives apart from society which he cannot stand. In his underground hole on the outskirts of the town he sharpens his insights all the greater and gains the proper perspective to look at the world out there. He speaks truthfully if haughtily when he says: “…there is more life in me than in you. Look into it more carefully! Why, we don’t even know what living means now….”

For modern man has not lived a fully integrated life. He merely drifts along through existence as a walking corpse, having weaned himself away from the primal sources that give life its true sustenance and richness. “We are oppressed at being men—men of real individual body and blood, we are ashamed of it, we think it a disgrace and try to contrive to be some sort of impossible generalized man. Soon we shall contrive to be born somehow from an idea.”

All along, Underground Man is himself pretty much aware of his own self-divided nature. Right at the outset he confesses that he is a sick man and that he is not a pleasant man at all. It is true that he himself has the longing to go back to society; and in Liza, he is offered the opportunity to lead a normal life regulated by social institutions. She brings to the fore his own unconscious desire to join mainstream society, to be one among the many. That is why he loses his own self-respect because he sees his own transparency, his own unresolved self-contradiction. He even becomes spiteful and cynical about himself.

Yet in the consciousness of his freedom to make independent choice, he sets himself above the common run of mortals, the herds who are already dead but wander about the workaday world of socialized living. Salvation for the outsider like him, owing to his self-divided nature, lies in integration, in self-transcendence.

What ultimately Underground Man holds out to us is that what we most need in order to live fully is to cease from living in abstractions. We also need passion. The passion for life, for living. It is this passion, bordering on madness perhaps, that enables us to touch base with the universal force. It is this that builds and creates, the power that conjures up for you and me worlds upon worlds of infinite possibilities. This is the daimon referred to by Federico Garcia Lorca. This, too, is what Plato meant by an inspiring power that takes possession of the poet in the creative process so that what he says carries a density of significance.

All great works whether of art or philosophy extend our vision of what the world could be and sharpen our discernment into what or who we truly are. Yet in the final analysis, self-mastery is a matter too important to be left to the writers or philosophers alone since everyone is a stakeholder in the human enterprise. For we are all participants in the endless act of creation and the clearer we get to know our part in the grand scheme of the cosmic process, the better our chances of coming upon the deeper meaning of what our life is for.

The queer bird’s fate

By Dr. Lucio F. Teoxon Jr.

There is an interesting but little known story of a royal falcon that looked so different from others that the King’s minister decided to trim its claws, beak and wings. “Now you look like a decent bird,” said the man. “Obviously, your keeper has been neglecting you.”

History is replete with stories of individuals who suffered persecution, imprisonment or death simply because they chose to be unlike others or pursued their own vision uncompromisingly in defiance of conventions or authority.

Socrates was made to drink hemlock for remaining the way he was: a gadfly who made his fellow Athenians uncomfortable by pressing them into the realization that, for all their pretensions to the contrary, their fond beliefs or opinions were in fact without solid basis. His no-nonsense search for the truth earned him their displeasure and they falsely charged him with impiety to the Greek gods and corrupting the minds of the youth in ancient Athens.

Jesus was crucified for tapping into cosmic consciousness from which vantage point he declared that he and the Father are one. The Jews, particularly the scribes and priests whose knowledge about God was chiefly derived from books and in thralldom to their unenlightened minds, accused him of blasphemy, an offense punishable in their canons by death.

Both of them were given trial, or rather the semblance of a trial. They were meted out the sentence of death. Socrates died a martyr to the love of wisdom; Jesus died as a ransom for the sins of the world.

Jesus’ vicars in the person of the grand inquisitors were to commit similar crimes by consigning to the flames whomsoever they branded as heretics. The case of the great iconoclastic scholar and philosopher Giordano Bruno is well known. He was burned alive at the stake in Rome in 1600. His crime? He advanced the idea of an infinite universe and postulated the possible existence of an infinite number of worlds inhabited, like this one, with intelligent beings. He prophetically envisioned space travel and what we now dub as intergalactic odyssey.

Even Galileo, who sought to prove Copernicus’ heliocentric theory, would have suffered the dire fate of incarceration had he not the prudence to recant what the Holy See then regarded as heresy in blatant opposition to the authority of the Scriptures. Still, during his formal abjuration he muttered under his breath, “Nevertheless, it moves.” Meaning that the earth moves round the sun. For the rest of his life he was placed under house arrest in Florence.

Also lamentable was Baruch Spinoza’s misfortune. Called the God-intoxicated philosopher, his unorthodox thinking ran counter to the theistic beliefs of the Old Testament. He questioned the many contradictions in the Bible, the basis of the Jewish Torah. In his philosophic flights, God is conceived as the essence underlying reality, phenomenal nature or the cosmos. Both mind and matter are attributes of the Divine substance. Hence, Spinoza was excommunicated from the Jewish Synagogue of Amsterdam. He was anathematized by the Jewish community in Holland and from the people of Israel.

In contemporary times, there is the sad story of the Jesuit priest-paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He held that the evolutionary movement of the human phenomenon heads toward superconsciousness. This is the birth of the ultra-human, the Omega point in which the human and the Divine converge. His vision is a grand marriage of evolution and mysticism, of science and religion. But in his lifetime he was forbidden to publish his works. To a writer and thinker, what greater injustice and pain could there be?

That is the grim reality of intolerance in the realm of philosophy and religion.

Equally virulent, if not more so, is it in the social and political domains. On a massive scale at that. Any person or group of persons going against the grain is marginalized if not totally ostracized. Anybody who does not toe the line nor abide by the official doctrine ends up in concentration camps or else summarily liquidated.

Remember the purges of communists by fellow communists under Stalin? Or the Gulag Archipelago? Or Fort Santiago? Or Fort Bonifacio? Remember Kintanar? Or Tabara? You can add to the list what you will.

The academia where academic freedom is supposed to sustain the life of the intellect is not spared. Even right there, irrational prejudice and bigotry are just as rampant. Any local literatus knows Jose Garcia Villa who was expelled from U.P. for writing what was then considered as “obscene” poetry.

Again, we can multiply ad infinitum the instances. Why, oh why is this the case? Who will save us from ourselves?
The burden of self-importance

By Dr. Lucio F. Teoxon Jr.

There is an uncommon lesson that was discussed by the anthropologist Carlos Castañeda in several of his series of works (which span over thirty years) on the teachings of Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian seer in Sonora, Mexico. It will be recalled that Don Juan had introduced Castañeda into the world of non-ordinary reality by means of psychotropic plants like peyote, mushroom, and jimson weed. In the course of his apprenticeship, Castañeda went through various forms of initiation to which Don Juan had subjected him.

Don Juan told him that one formidable roadblock to becoming a warrior (a metaphor for a man of knowledge) is the lack of understanding about what the self is. He said that the self is the source of everything that is good in us but that it is also the core of everything that is rotten in us.

What prevents the full unfolding of the luminosity of man’s true nature and the unleashing of his unlimited powers, Don Juan in effect explained, is his self-importance. The main problem with the average man is that he takes himself too seriously. He is doomed whenever he thinks he is at the center of everything or imagines that he is the sun and all others outside his skin are but satellites going round him. His great undoing consists in allowing the centripetal movement to get the better of himself so that he always thinks in terms of what he can get for his own personal gain without the counterbalancing action of the centrifugal force which should enable him to consider what he can give of himself to others.

It is of the utmost importance to keep in mind that the laws of nature which regulate our surroundings out there equally govern our lives and they do not operate like a one-way lane. Life is a give-and-take affair. For instance, the very act of breathing which we do involuntarily involves the drawing in of air and expelling it. This is the universal rhythm. To try to hold our breath for long stretches is next to impossible and this can even lead to suffocation and death.

Self-importance is not the same as self-esteem. The former must not be mistaken for the latter. Self-importance glorifies the self at the expense of others. “I” increase and “you” or “they” decrease. The reverse of this is selflessness. Or better yet, altruism. But the I-increase formula is the governing principle in the culture of narcissism prevalent anywhere in the world. Self-esteem is a healthy sense of well-being which according to analytical psychologists results from the process of individuation or the integrated personality.

From what has been said, it should be clear that self-importance is an undue attachment to the ego, and thus a burden to man, a terrible encumbrance if not actually his own greatest enemy on the path to enlightenment. Yet there is a doable antidote, though by no means the only one, to being fixated on the lesser self, that is, a sense of humor, the ability to laugh at oneself and one’s follies. This is a time-tested way to lighten a bit his psychological luggage which is fraught with nothing but his own self-interest. Man, a wise Greek observed, is the only animal that laughs. What is suggested is not sardonic laughter which is a form of mockery or aggression but belly laughter which releases man from the tyranny of his shoddy little self.

Self-transcendence, in other words, is the much needed order of the day. This is the ability to rise above oneself or go beyond the constricting confines of the ego. There is, of course, no question of going beyond the self without a self to begin with. It is true that the factual self remains. But the pull of the lesser self must of necessity be overcome so that it grows into something larger than its pettiness, like a seed that must die to itself in order to attain the magnificence of a towering sequoia.

Growth and renewal involve the act of dying. Yes, the worship of the self must end. It is only when we are nothing that we become everything. (This must be understood not as a discursive statement but an intuitive truth disclosed by the seers of all time, Don Juan being just one of them.) Yet we are all afraid to be nobody and cling to being somebody.

It is the dethronement of overweening self-importance that the man of wisdom strives after. Toward this end he musters all the powers at his command. In truth he cannot do anything less if he is to fulfill his sublime destiny, which is the supreme experience of being attuned to the source of all that is.

Living the examined life

By Dr. Lucio F. Teoxon Jr.

When Voltaire’s father asked him what he wanted to do for a living, he answered that he would like to be a philosopher. His father, a prosperous Parisian lawyer, then said, Oh, son, so you want to die of hunger! Unfortunately, this remark expresses the popular conception of philosophy that it has no relevance, much less practical usefulness. Like its sister disciplines in the humanities such as literature, history, religion and the arts, people often frown upon it as the preoccupation of impractical dreamers or the peddlers of illusion. They invariably contend that philosophy “bakes no bread.”

But what could be more practical and useful than the pursuit of wisdom and truth? As Time essayist holds, without philosophy there could probably be no bread either. For, the very act of baking implies the prior philosophical decision that life is worth living!

It should be borne in mind that life and philosophy are not only related but interlocked. Socrates, the father of philosophy and also its first martyr, put it in words no one with a modicum of intelligence can afford not to know. He said, “For man, the unexamined life is not worth living. ”We are involved, directly or indirectly, in the philosophical enterprise. There is not one of us, observes James L. Christian, who is not trying to make sense of the mystery of existence, and at some level of our being each is seeking fulfillment. In our search for the meaning of life, we are all philosophers by default, though not by choice.

To be sure, many of us must seek broader understanding from those advanced souls who have searched hard and come up with answers that worked best in their own case. Even if in the final analysis no one else but ourselves can give us wisdom, there is this need on our part to sit at the feet of the masters and drink from their cup of wisdom.

Or to use another metaphor, we have got to stand on the shoulders of giants to obtain a wider vista on the nature and purpose of creation. We are of course talking of intellectual giants and the seeing which enlightenment is.

There is a world of difference between knowledge and wisdom. The former can be acquired through any competent instruction; the latter, which is largely unteachable, can only come about as a result of one’s inner orientation and lifelong endeavor to get to the bottom of things. True learning results in the heightening of awareness and self-knowledge, the deepening as well as enlargement of one’s discernment about the truths of the human heart, and the forging of a wholesome attitude to life.

How, if I may ask, do you regard life? What is your basic disposition? There is this story about two cellmates. One day, the jail warden took pity on the two prisoners under his charge. He allowed them, for the first time in years after having been shut off from the outside world, to look out from behind the prison bars.

What caught their attention was this—the first prisoner saw the muck; the second one saw the stars. Whether one sees the mud or the stars depends entirely on one’s kind of temperament and level of being. It is said that one’s stage of development or level of being attracts one’s life, the kind of circumstances or events in which one finds oneself. In the Reluctant Messiah’s Handbook we read: “Every person, all the events of your life are there because you have drawn them there.” Like attracts like. This is a cosmic law. So, the truly earnest seeker realizes that a comprehensive learning contributes to the birthing of his real self and the raising of his level of consciousness. He does not just attain a balanced outer personality. Even more, his center of gravity lies in the divine spark within that draws him toward the transcendent, toward the Infinite, toward God, in the same way that the plant, driven by an inner impulsion, leans toward the sunlight.

My fond wish, dear heart, is that you affirm the goodness and sacredness of life no matter how badly it may have treated you sometimes. Believe in the order of the universe; marvel, like Ivan Karamazov, at the sticky little leaves as they greet the early morning sun; slow down a bit your pace so as to admire the beauty of a flower in bloom or a woman in love; or yet enjoy the symphony of a nearby stream or the music of the spheres.

What you and I badly need now, given the storm and stress in our time that so bedevil our lives, is a rapt communion with nature and all creation till they reveal their secrets to us. All the while the moon was there. It was but the clouds that hid it from our view. Despite its marvels, we cannot forever be immersed in the virtual reality that our computers conjure for us. Ultimately, there can be no substitute for the real. Whatever shape our so-called borderless world may take on as it evolves across time, what is important is that we achieve on a personal level our own inward transformation. This is what really matters. This is what philosophy vouchsafes.

The teacher is here to stay

Dr. Lucio F. Teoxon Jr.

At a time when the revolution in communications technology has brought about a paradigm shift in education, changing the traditional role of the teacher as the dominant figure in the classroom being a dispenser of knowledge to his clientele who are like sponges taking in whatever is dished out to them, when distance learning and the so-called virtual college offer alternative avenues to a formal schooling, it becomes increasingly urgent that we take a synoptic look at our own system of education and see if it is still working in our best interest.

There is no doubt at all that the faculty in any school system occupies a crucial role in the delivery of effective instruction to students. It is fine indeed that the quality of the training of our prospective teachers is being ensured by taking to task diploma mill institutions that cannot but produce misfits in the profession. And it is just as fine that those already in the service should undergo further reeducation and special trainings whether in English or other disciplines. If the teacher is to be ever an efficient purveyor of knowledge, then he has to keep in step with the mind-boggling tempo of advancement in learning in his midst.

The teacher owes it to himself to do his own homework. This he must do if he is not to find himself one day as an anachronism.

It is not idle to speculate that in the not too distant future new knowledge tools may make the traditional function of the teacher as instructor superfluous. The future has in fact overtaken us. It is already right here at our doorstep. The digital technology has revolutionized almost everything round about us, our lifestyles, our ways of doing things, and it is anybody’s guess where all this is leading us. Yes, there is no turning back and no need to reinvent the wheel.

What compelling reasons then, if any, are there that would justify the continued presence of the teacher in the classroom? Surely this involves a rethinking of the whole concept of education and its true purpose. This also brings in the other equally important question of just what kind of students we would want to turn out.

If teachers are nothing but a knowledge-dispensing apparatus and students are but knowledge-absorbing sponges, then the computer can do the job even more efficiently. That is to look upon the learning process as no more than simple information transfer. But if education is taken as the unfolding of the student as a total person, then the teacher qua teacher makes all the difference. If we grant that the participants in the whole educative process are human beings to begin with and not automatons, then the human dimension in the educational enterprise cannot be dispensed with.

The teacher, I believe, is here to stay as long as he sees education as a directing force in the integral development of the human person, a leaven in the transformation of society, a bastion of the rational evolution of technical civilization. The teacher is here to stay as long as he is well aware that education is not just a preparation for life but a life experience by and in itself. The teacher is here to stay as long as he does not think it is his business to turn his students into just another edition of himself nor hone them to fit into the pattern of the rotten social order as unthinking conformists. The teacher is here to stay if he inspires his wards to answer the call to the heights of greatness by rising above their circumstances, reminding them of the eternal verities and the principles of life that make it possible to live a full, happy life in communion with others.

When education serves not simply as a tool of the state for its own purposes but as a means of the full flowering of the individual’s own humanity, and when it enables him to see the truth as the truth and the false as the false, to know the difference between right and wrong, then what we call as academic excellence in our schools is not a hollow buzzword after all.

For education in the highest form is not the mere dissemination of facts which could so easily result in information overload or intellectual constipation. Neither is it a window-shopping of sorts down the information superhighway. Rather it is the liberation of the mind from all its shackles so that it is free in discovering the truth for itself. Learning then becomes not a thankless cerebral exercise but a rewarding experience that is not divorced from the realities of daily living.

The crowning glory of the teacher comes about when he succeeds in enabling his student to become his own teacher and take responsibility for his own life. For no teacher can teach a person to come upon the truth of existence or make sense of it. In the shifting scenes of human drama, the individual has to fend for himself and face the problems of living. Then may it be said that “the teacher affects eternity” not because “he can never tell where his influence stops” but because at some point in time he had touched the life of a fellow wayfarer and inclined his gaze towards the light.

The name is not the thing

Dr. Lucio F. Teoxon Jr.

A time comes in the life of every serious writer when he begins to feel the utter futility of words to bring about the desired changes he would love to see in the world around him. Deep within those who have made a career of writing is the grinding hunger for excellence not only in their own craft but in the actual shape of things they so earnestly attempt to delineate with consummate passion and dedication. This state of perfection remains an illusive ideal that could possibly exist only in the heart but not in the order of ordinary reality.

Here is an exceedingly odd problem. The very medium which the writer uses in the exercise of his calling works against him. Until this matter has come within our ken, who could have suspected this anomaly? This insightful observation is really nothing new. But first, let us be clear on some peripheral issues related to the word question.

Why should the word be a problem at all? Has it come to pass that in our time the currency of words has suffered a devaluation of sorts? If so, what has contributed, if at all, to their waning power? Could it be that we ourselves have our share in their corruption when, for instance, we do not really mean what we say, when our language does not correspond to the hard facts (so-called truth of correspondence), or when we say one thing and do another, which is a violation of the principle of consistency.

For sure you must have heard of what Orwell termed as “doublespeak” indulged in by notorious politicians to deceive the people; and certainly you know “gobbledygook” which the pedantic specialists use to clothe their ideas to create an impression or the nasty trick of “obscurantism” played by wordsmiths upon the reader to hide the poverty of their ideas. Not the least is the threadbare ads peddling items from soap to prime lots on the moon. All these outrageous forms of verbalization carry very little meaning and only serve to undermine the integrity of our language.

Now, inherent in the nature of the word itself is its built-in inadequacy as a means of expression. A character in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying points this out as she thinks aloud about her dead husband: “That was when I learned that words are no good, that words don’t ever fit what they’re trying to say at…. He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others, just a shape to fill a lack….”

Words are thus tenuous. Do you still recall Juliet as she addressed Romeo to doff his name Montague so he may take all of herself? She said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,/By any other word would smell as sweet….” Korzybski, in his work on general semantics, enunciated this dictum: The map is not the territory. The modern sage Krishnamurti in the same vein stressed that the word is not the thing, the description of a thing is not in fact the same as the thing itself being described. So, the menu in a restaurant will not fill an empty tummy. “Fire” won’t set this page ablaze. The teachings of the Buddha are not the teachings of the Buddha. Do not get scandalized but God is not God.

You and I possess a metaphorical consciousness. We metaphorize. We denote one thing in terms of something else. We make a representation of things by using symbols or words which are the skin of thought. In the process of verbal expression the elements involved are a signifier (the word), a signified (the idea or concept denoted by the signifier), and the referent (the actual person or thing represented by the signifier,  that which is pointed at.) Even when there is a literal one-to-one correspondence such that we call a spade a spade, still the term “spade” does not cease to be a mere representation of the real tool. If the referent is nonspecific, say, a metaphysical concept like Reality, various labels are used--the Absolute, the Godhead, Brahman, Tao, Oversoul, Ain Soph, etc.

The crux of the problem with the word is this. We confuse the vehicle with the passenger, the finger pointing at the moon with the moon itself. Consequently, what happens is that we wittingly or unwittingly live on words, on pale abstractions far removed from concrete actuality. To many of us the symbol that is but the embodiment of human experience has become all important. The fundamentalists exemplify this matter to a T. They value the letter more than the spirit of scriptures contrary to evidence of the truth of St. Paul’s teaching that it is the spirit that gives life. They are lost because they stick to the letter that kills.

Chuang Tzu said that as long as the fish-trap and the rabbit-snare have served their purpose, one can forget about them and attend to the catch. Similarly, once the meaning conveyed by words is comprehended, one can forget about the words. He then said he would like to have a word with the person who has forgotten about the words. He definitely had in mind not the aphasiac patient but one who is not stuck at words. Times are when we need to get away from words so that the mind can touch base with the truth, the universal source, or what is.

The “I” Conundrum
(To Mickey, Thrice My Brother)

By Dr. Lucio F. Teoxon Jr.

The one thing that is truly intriguing to me till now is the question of what the self really is. In my other articles I have touched upon this matter here and there albeit cursorily. The riddle of the self comes back to me again and yet again with a nagging urgency.

Make no mistake about this though. I have no philosophical pretensions nor do I intend to deal about the issue at hand as an authority on the subject. Know that I am but grappling with the problem as an ordinary man who happens to have earnestly studied the writings of a number of thoughtful luminaries whose cast of mind resonates with my own and who made a no-nonsense inquiry into the human makeup. Foremost among them are Jiddu Krishnamurti, Aldous Huxley and Ken Wilber whose works on spirituality have exerted a great influence on my own thinking on the subject.

My interest in the deeper aspects of human reality has been fired up by my excursions into esoteric literature. I also have to some extent familiarized myself with some of the world's available sacred writings including those considered as unorthodox or unofficial. Likewise, I am enamored of the wisdom teachings whether of the Western or Eastern traditions. All these have somehow galvanized my inclination to move ahead in the direction of this enigmatic territory. Upon these sources I have drawn some pertinent insights in endeavoring to shed some light, if I could, on the knotty questions I zeroed in.

Let's face it. The identity problem is not anything new. It is really as old as humanity itself. Sages and saints and ordinary folks from different times and climes have wrestled with the puzzle and tried to crack the code of who we really are. The Delphic oracle even made it into an injunction and thus underscoring its utmost importance: "Know Thyself." Socrates echoed it when he pointed out to his fellow Athenians the value of self-knowledge. Its significance for contemporary man however has taken on great proportions as numberless people the world over go through the phenomenon of alienation of various shades--man becoming a question unto himself in spite of his vaunted 'progress' and in the face of his marvelous technology. Already, there is this talk of a 'posthuman' civilization fashioned by artificial intelligence that is purportedly designed to surpass the collective intelligence of present-day humanity. Furthermore, among mankind's countless scourges, the culture of narcissism, which the hard-core secular humanists support by propagating their perverted creed of man's ascent to the status of the ‘superhuman’ independent of God, has brought about horrendous havoc upon the world.

What is this entity that calls itself as 'I'? Will knowing its nature give the knower anything of value? And what is it to 'know' one's true identity? Is it at all possible to do this? How does one go about it? Or are these questions bound to remain open-ended--meaning there is no final answer to this mystery?

In the same vein, what is it in you (and me) that is aware of yourself as 'you' (and myself) as 'me'? Mind you, this personal self-sense in us has persisted ever since a ray of consciousness has dawned in each one of us. In fact, given a normal existence, there never was a time when we lost our own sense of being ourselves, of who we are; that is, when our basic consciousness became aware of the outer as well as inner world.

(I am reminded here of the story my mother used to tell me that as a baby only a few months old I was already a victim of various sorts of illness to the point that she feared for my life saying to herself: "This my son was born into the world but should death snatch him away in no time at all it is as if he had never been born since he did not see the light.”) That light is the light of ordinary consciousness.

This does not mean that consciousness had not permeated and enlivened the baby but that it was still in the unconscious state as in the deep sleep. (Take note that new studies have shown the fact that even while still in the womb babies are already starting to learn, being already sentient and conscient though the thought process is yet inoperative.) The stirrings of our sense of the self begin the moment our ordinary consciousness becomes aware of itself in a reflexive manner as it were. Hence, we say 'I am I.' Or colloquially, 'I'm me.' 'I'm no other than myself.' 'You are you.'

Remember the formula of the law of identity? 'A is A.' A thing is the same as itself. 'Being' means an entity remaining identical with itself so that it is nothing else but itself. In rhetoric this is obviously tautological but that is how dualistic logic goes. Be warned that dialectic discourse won't help us much in our exploration. In fact reason itself poses as a stumbling block in our attempt to understand our ultimate identity. In this we have the testimony of the sage-mystics and rishis. Then, too, talking about the nature of the self necessitates bringing in the big interrelated issues such as the meaning of life and man's relation to God. These are evidently large universal issues which a paper of this length cannot do justice to.

At this point, you might be constrained to say, "So then, why make a fuss of who or what we are when we know ourselves well enough so that we have even learned to take ourselves for granted?" That is just an assumption and precisely that is the shape of the trouble afflicting us. We suffer from what is called as 'snow blindness,’ which prevents us from taking notice of something simply because it has always been there right under our nose. We seldom, if at all, bother to doubt, to question or to take a second look.

Why our self-identity should prove to be problematic may still be unclear. After all, ever since our ordinary waking consciousness got activated, we have always known ourselves to be our usual selves. Moreover, in the normal state of affairs we rest comfortable with that knowledge. That includes our personal history, our name, physical appearance, social relationships, achievements, educational attainment or lack of it, possessions, likes and dislikes, beliefs, aspirations, what we do for a living, socio-cultural conditioning, and so forth.

Our favorite game is to define ourselves in terms of the role we play in society. Accompanied by breast-pounding and desiring recognition and approval, we declare to all and sundry: I am the president, the general, the champion of the masses, the advocate par excellence of reforms in government, a crusader for transparency, a prizewinning writer, a peerless scientist, the richest tycoon hereabouts, a saintly clergyman fit for sainthood, a 'floor manager,' you name it.

Or, haunted by a bad conscience our egoic pendulum swings to self-deprecation; and we say under our breath: I am only an incurable hypocrite or a craven coward or an incorrigible crook or an opportunistic wheeler-dealer or an ingratiating sycophant or a crazy charlatan or a self-righteous bigot or a vengeful, power-hungry and unprincipled politician or a hardened criminal or a usurious money-lender driven solely by cupidity or a philandering husband or a sensual D.O.M. or a foul-smelling, shameless faggot or a despicable A.H. or what have you.

The implication of the foregoing is that an individual can at any one time or at once be any one or two or three or four or five of the characters just enumerated. It is thus a reasonable possibility if not an actuality for a man or woman to have a plurality of personalities or many selves. This idea is apparently preposterous in conflict as it is with the common-sense assumption that an individual has but one self. Yet there are actual cases of individuals with not only split but multiple personalities treated as disorders. A number of authors, too, had explored this condition in stories like that of Dr. Jykll and Mr. Hyde or of Dostoevsky's Golyadkin whose double in a dream multiplied itself numerous times so that it filled the whole town. Apropos of this, let Meister Eckhart have his say: "A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don't know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox's or bear's, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there."

A thinker like the English empiricist David Hume held that there is no metaphysical self that can be conceived by the mind. He advanced the view that humans can have no concept of the self except as the totality or 'bundle of sensations.'  Buddhism, an Oriental religion founded by Gautama Siddharta who lived some five centuries before Christ, likewise maintained a somewhat similar theory that there is no such thing as the transcendental self. Unlike Hume's position, however, which is based on complete reliance upon the evidence of the senses and stopping there, the doctrine of anatta (no-self) which is central to Buddhism rests on a quite different foundation. The ontological status of the personal self as an entity is denied. What is affirmed however is that the mind itself by its very nature and in its pure state has inherent qualities that constitute what it calls the Buddha-Nature or Buddha-Mind, an underlying sacred reality behind the phenomenal personality.

There are many schools of thought in Buddhism concerning the concepts of anatta and Buddha-Nature or Buddha-Mind. There are seven or so major branches of this religion with their own differing viewpoints. In any case, a commonly used metaphor to illustrate the core principle of Buddha-Mind is the sun being covered over by the clouds. The pure state of the Mind is hidden by defilements, which prevent its radiance from shining through.  These incrustations are the sense perceptions including the physical, emotional and mental reactions to them. These extraneous elements engender the sense of selfhood. However, this generated self-sense is an illusion as it is but the invention of thought, and therefore unreal or non-existent. It is the clinging to the false sense of self that accounts for man's entanglement in suffering (dukkha). One has to shed one's blinders or awaken to the Buddha-Nature submerged beneath one's outer shell in order to attain absolute peace and release from Samsara into Nirvana, postulated as a rarefied order of reality that is a far cry from the former. This is supposed to involve the mind reaching the ultimate state of consciousness obtained through rigorous spiritual disciplines like meditation, contemplation, centering prayer and other religious practices.

Which of these perspectives makes sense? Obviously, for all its claim to objectivity, Hume's empirical stance is incomplete and lopsided. It shows us only one end of the pole of reality. As a theory of the nature of the self it leaves the impression that something of great moment is lacking in the naturalistic picture it presents. I would concede a good deal of validity to the Buddhist view of the impermanent as well as illusory nature of the self and therefore its relative non-existence. In the phenomenal world, the self as ego has a factual basis. This cannot be denied. It is from the absolute point of view that it is considered to be non-existent. The Buddha himself, seeing the utter futility of a discursive disquisition on the matter, declined to engage himself in any sort of metaphysical speculation. Instead, he focused his energies on the more practical concerns like finding the causes of human sorrow and ending it.

Personally, I am more inclined to favor the basic tenet taught in Advaita Vedanta. As enunciated in the Upanishads it says: "Tat twam asi." (You Are That.) This sits well with the old Hermetic principle of correspondence contained in the Emerald Tablet, "As above so below, as below so above." In coming to grips with the meaning of the former proposition, it is imperative to comprehend the meaning of the abstract term 'essence' not only in its philosophical but more so in its spiritual sense. This word is a derivative of the verb 'to be,' with  its present form third person singular 'is,' present form first person singular 'Am,' present form second person singular and plural 'Are' and its gerundial form, 'being,' In its simplest denotation, essence refers to the core elements or central attributes that constitute what a thing is.

It should also be borne in mind that 'You Are That' is neither a simple logical proposition nor a mental construct. It is rather a statement, which is the product of original spiritual intuition revealed in the deepest (or highest) level of the consciousness of many seers and mystic-sages across the ages. The sage or saint has come to the realization that in essence the spark is no different from the blaze although to a lesser degree, in much the same way that the ripple is not separate from the pool. Again, this realization comes not as a mere intellectual conclusion but as an experiential event that does not easily lend itself to verbalization.

If 'I Am That,' it follows that there is something in me that is greater than what I have always known as my shoddy little self. One inexorable certainty is that this self, which in psychology is known as the 'ego,' is bound to die. It is just 'dust in the wind.' My deepest essence, my real identity, however, lies beyond the field of time. The personality, the ego or 'lower self' as it is called in philosophia perennis, is evanescent even as the dew on the grass is. But what I really am, which is labeled as the Higher Self or simply the Self with the capital 'S,' is eternal. Among the Hindus it is referred to as the Atman, which is equivalent to Brahman, the Ground of Being, the Godhead. In the ‘Crest-Jewel of Wisdom’ Shankara wrote: “As being essentially pure consciousness, the oneness between the Real and the Self is known by the awakened; and by hundreds of great texts the oneness, the absence of separateness, between the Eternal and the Self is declared.”

In that light, everyone has a dual nature: a Divine spark emanating from the Eternal flame and a mortal frame kneaded from out of the muck. As Goethe put it, "Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast, and each will wrestle for the mastery there." The battle between these two warring elements or forces, which is played out in the heart of man as the battleground, makes up the sublime story of his sojourn on earth. It may be said that his greatest triumph or his crowning glory is self-transcendence, that is, when he succeeds in rising above himself like the way a lotus flower shoots itself up from the mud onto the pond’s surface and there display its splendor. For man’s worst enemy is himself; and he is a great conqueror indeed who masters himself way beyond his natural human limitations and proclivities.

So then, to be born a human being is both at once a challenge and a privilege. The psalmist sang: "When I look at the heavens and the work of thy hands, what is man that thou shouldst take thought of him or the son of man that thou shouldst care for him? Thou hast made him a little less than the angels...." Or here is Hamlet  musing: "What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals...." Well, whatever else is predicated of man, one thing remains true about him; and it is the fact that he is a work in progress, not a finished project. This is not to say that he lacks anything for his full functioning but that he needs to 'realize,' or better yet 'actualize,' the latent Divine heritage that is already his all along. Unlike the angels who remain as such, humans can make their way to being one with God in direct communion.

And yes, considering his state as an evolving being he must fully understand what sound reasoning dictates, and it is that whatever has a beginning must end; that which has no beginning has no end. What is born must die. That is the immutable law of nature. But what is unborn or unmanifested is undying, right? This particular personality had a beginning in time and therefore must end in time. But that entity, whose consciousness is aware of itself as 'I am' but can step back from the personality and look at it as an observer, has no beginning and is therefore timeless, eternal. This is the abiding 'watcher' in us that has ever been continuously mindful of our identity as ‘I am.' "Before Abraham was, I am," Christ said. This 'I am,' this silent 'I'-Witness is our original nature long before our parents and forebears were born or even before the physical universe came into existence. This is our true, authentic self--our Self. Truly, more than anything else we are spiritual beings whose true substance is Divine. You and I should thus break through the bounds of selfhood and constantly live or abide in the infinite consciousness of 'I am' that I am.  Notice that the Divine Being who identified Himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai as "I Am Who I Am" gave expression to His statement in the eternal present, in the timeless now.

Now, this eternal 'I am,' this Self that is the essence of our individuality can assume countless forms or outer masks ('persona' in Greek). Just as a stage actor can impersonate many characters on stage without in any way losing the sense of his own original identity, so does the Self, without ceasing to be itself, take on the many vestures of the human being who goes through rounds upon rounds of multifarious experience of life on this plane of manifestation.

The root cause of man's estrangement from himself and from his fellows is his total identification with his lower self, his ego that is basically separative and prone to aggression. In other words, he absolutizes the relative. For him all that he is consists of everything that is connected to and forms his personality. He fails to realize the fact that what he customarily takes to be himself is in point of fact not his true Self at all. This is a patent case of mistaken identity, an all too common human delusion. He mistakes his ego or his outer form for his authentic Self. He needs to wake up to the truth that everything he identifies with is in actual fact not who he really is. This point has been especially stressed by the Buddhists by insisting 'Neti, Neti,' or 'Not This, Not That.' When we have completely 'dis-identified' ourselves with everything which we are not, then we are inevitably left with--nothing. That, truly, is what we are in our deepest being. We are literally 'no-thing,' that is, nothing that can fall under the category of things perceived or conceived or fancied or verbally pinned down. By the way, this is not a mere play on words. This is what is the case.

It is quite unfortunate that the ordinary run of mortals is not aware that in fact they are of God--not theoretically but actually. In the Holy Scriptures it is written: "What? Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" To know in the spiritual sense is not like grasping by the subject the object of knowledge. To know something metaphysically is to be that thing in a kind of direct, inner sense and not an intellectual exercise. Meister Eckhart said, "The knower and the known are one. Simple people imagine that they should see God as if he stood there and they here. This is not so. God and I, we are one in knowledge." And how can one know the Divinity in oneself when it eludes conceptual thinking itself which is our accustomed instrument of knowledge? The lad’s pool in St. Augustine's legend cannot understandably contain the ocean. As Lao Tzu mystically put it, "The name that can be named is not the Eternal Name." This is so because the Ultimate Reality is indefinable, not lending itself to the mental operations of definition, classification or analysis. Thus, to somehow comprehend, if at all, the Godhead the negative way (via negativa) is resorted to. In the Jewish Kabbalah, for instance, the Godhead is called as 'Ein Sof,' meaning 'end-less' or the 'In-finite.' Being bound-less, Ein Sof pervades everything so that "there is nothing outside of it."

Actually, the attempt to know God has been likened to a sword trying to cut itself or to the eye trying to see itself or a hand trying to grasp itself. In other words, the 'I' as subject can never turn itself into an object, or else it ceases being a subject. The seer cannot be the seen any more than the seen can be the seer. So, it is a settled fact that the subject cannot by any means reduce itself into an object of knowledge. Doing so is the workings of the dualistic mind and ends up in utter failure. That is why we have said early on that 'dialectical reason' cannot carry us very far in unlocking this ineffable mystery. In Zen the cerebral aspect of the mind is brought to the end of its tether and rendered futile with 'koans.' Try this: "In clapping both hands, a sound is heard. What is the sound of the one hand?" Or "Pick up a stone from the bottom of the sea without getting wet." Or "Walk from downtown Naga to Mt. Isarog in three steps." You say, "Impossible! A dead end!" That's it.

When the mind has completely gone haywire, or rather, when it has ceased its compulsive, endless chatter and is utterly still, in the heart of that deep silence the moment of pure seeing, of illumination, takes place so that the duality is snapped; and the seer and the seen at last become united as one. This is the coincidence of opposites, the split between subject and object transcended. In the words of Krishnamurti, "The observer is the observed." This is the moment of unitive vision beyond conceptual thought 'when the seer is absorbed into the seen.' To use the traditional metaphor in this instance, the wave is merged into the ocean, though not vice versa. The Divine essence of the individual or the Self remains and finds its true home in the Absolute. As the mind recoils in utter helplessness before the awesome riddle of God's existence and our own; and when the lesser self finally dies to itself, it is then that one's spiritual intuition begins to quicken so that the Atman within, which is none other than the Brahman, is unveiled. This is what the Holy Scriptures must mean by the second birth or being born anew--the inner metamorphosis of the dense human substance into a luminous spiritual being. This involves coming to a higher level of consciousness and heightened awareness thereby raising the individual’s own level of being or spiritual evolution. In ancient alchemy, it is the transmutation of base metal into gold--the so-called Philosopher's Stone. In the legends of Christendom, there is the quest for the Holy Grail that in recent years has become a favorite theme of Hollywood.

While hearing the Holy Mass at the ancient Naga Cathedral, we intoned the responsorial psalm which says, "Cagurangnan, ipahiling mo samo an saimong lalaogon." (Lord, allow us to see your face.) It struck me as an expression of simple faith, but at the same time triggered a series of questions such as, "What is it to see God's face?" "Is God's visage the same as ours?" "Is the act of 'seeing' to be done through our physical eyes?" "Doesn't this amount to anthropomorphizing God, reducing God in our image?"

The truth is that the whole business is not really that simple. For one thing, many of us know only how to look but not how to see. Christ said He taught the people in parables because "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear. Neither do they understand." Why so? Because we cannot help but distort what we see. No sooner do we see than thought takes over. The thought process of interpretation or reflection instantly follows the moment of vision, or seeing, and at this point clarity is impaired. For another, God the Supreme Being, is spirit and thus can only be seen through the eye of spirit in us. Matters spiritual cannot be fully understood on the purely intellectual level. It is in this sense that Meister Eckhart said, "The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love." One spiritual consciousness, that is.

It becomes thoroughly plain therefore that the whole purpose of man's life is to awaken to his Divine descent by going within, right into the depths of his being, and there in a superconscious state arrive at a unitive knowledge of God. When Siddharta was asked who he was, he denied all the ascriptions to him but for the one thing that matters. He said that he was one who had 'awakened.' This is the meaning of the epithet attached to him. 'Buddha' means 'the Enlightened One or the One Who Knows.' He attained 'Nirvana' after sitting in meditation for forty-nine days under the bodhi tree. In the same  breath, Jesus Christ pointed out one accessible and unmediated way to immortality when he told the superficial Pharisees that the 'Kingdom of Heaven' can be found neither in the air nor in the sea. If it were so, then the birds or the fish will be the first ones to get there. Rather, He said, "The kingdom of God is within you." Similarly, He said in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, "The Kingdom is inside you and outside you. When you know yourselves, then you ... will understand that you are children of the living Father."

This is what enlightenment is, this is perfect wisdom--a rediscovery of what the human person has relegated into oblivion: his real Self. This is man redeeming what he has forfeited as his birthright, transforming his humanhood into his true essence that from the start has always been there--the Spirit that breathes life into his soul and animates his carnal body. This is man coming home. Note that the supreme act of awakening spiritually is preceded by being in the thralldom of darkness, which is the darkness of ignorance. In the esoteric teachings of Gurdjieff this ignorance is likened to being 'asleep,' the unfortunate condition most human beings are locked in until some shock wakes them up.

There is this utterance in Bicol that says, thus; "An dai tataong comeleng sa pinaghalean, dai macacaabot sa padodomanan." Its Filipino version reads: "Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan." If one ponders carefully enough the significance of this text, one cannot fail to discern the hidden wisdom behind the words.

Why can't he, who cannot call back to mind whence he came, reach where he is going? Isn't it because the place of origin and the destination are one and the same? If, to begin with, I cannot recall where I came from, how can I possibly tell where I am going to? Remembering is thus the precondition of his arrival. Keeping in mind from moment to moment that we came from God, that we live and move and have our being in God, serves as a sort of spiritual compass steering our course back to our Source. (Incidentally, 'self-remembering' is a key technique in Gurdjieff's system. It is a function of consciousness that serves as an antidote to our tendency to be inattentive or unaware. Self-remembering draws us back into our own presence, into the conscious awareness of 'I am.')

Moreover, this popular proverb, to my mind, captures the primal movement of man's beginning and final end, his alpha and omega as charted in the literature of the Ancient Wisdom. Graphically, this involves the twofold processes of involution or the infolding of Spirit in matter, and then evolution, the continual unfolding of Spirit immanent within matter. The latter is a transcendent return journey of the soul back to God. In Dante's vision of man's supreme experience, the soul is symbolized by a butterfly that "flies to judgment, naked and alone." This echoes Plotinus' description of the mystical process as "the flight of the Alone to the Alone."

It bears repeating, at the risk of tediousness, that in this life an individual's paramount duty is to remember (re-member or to join again), to be consciously aware of his Divine Source and work out his supernal destiny.  Christ told His disciples to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all their other needs will be given to them as well. This is a call to the heights -- and to this we ought to respond of our own accord; and with God’s grace the door will be opened. In Catholicism, it is called as Salvation, or better yet, beatific vision; in mysticism, cosmic consciousness; in Oriental lore, samadhi. In the end these terms do not really matter. They are but labels that point to the apex of man’s ultimate experience.

Truth to tell, there is no such thing as the common man in the street or the hoi polloi as they are derogatorily dubbed. In fact everyone, just as he or she is, has been richly endowed right from the beginning. "All perfection of which the outer man is capable," wrote Sri Aurobindo, "is only a realizing of the eternal perfection of the Spirit within him." For this reason, if for nothing else, every human being is precious and sacred. This faith in human perfection and perfectibility is professed by the inner schools of the world's major religions. Yet as far too many of us have gone astray like the Prodigal Son that we are, being born anew as an illumined individual has become the rare privilege of a few. Christ said, "… narrow is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it."

That in broad strokes, if a bit oversimplified, is what you and I are cut out for. We are all pilgrims en route to the Promised Land in pursuit of our vision of eternity. It cannot be overemphasized that our eventual redemption as enlightened individuals lies in our hands, that is, in our own ability to rediscover the living Divine Presence lodged in the inmost core of our heart. For, as Ramana Maharshi assures us, that is where our true identity, the real 'I,' resides. Not, of course, the physical heart but heart as the spiritual center of our being.

In winding up, let us take it once again from Shankara: “Raising the thought of 'I' from the body to the Self that is Consciousness, Being, Bliss, and lodging it there, leave form, and become pure forever.”