I am a verb, not a noun. The Self is not something––an entity––and, most certainly, it is not the brain. It is not located in the brain, in the chest, or anywhere else in space. The Self is the verb to feel, or knowing that is feeling. You may remember that earlier I quoted F.H.Bradley, the English philosopher as saying, “The total state[the Self] is an immediate feeling a knowing and being in one. Feeling here does not mean mere pleasure and pain…Feeling is immediate experience without distinction or relation in itself. It is unity, complex but without relations …..Feeling is not one differentiated aspect but holds all aspects in one.” Originally the Self is the feeling of love. The expression, “God is love,” has great relevance here. Let me emphasize, I am not saying that the Self feels love because, apart from feeling, there is no Self.
‘I am’ the direct emissary of dynamic unity, and so I am dynamic, active, restless, curious, and never satisfied. But I am not only dynamic; I am One. Each of us feels that we are individuals. ‘I am’ means ‘I am one,’ distinct form all others. As Jean Jacques Rousseau would have it, “I am not made like any of those I have seen. I venture to believe that I am not made like any of those who are in existence. If I am not better, at least I am different.” Our very struggle to survive, the struggle for autonomy––the will to resist being controlled by circumstances or by others––our striving to be unique, come from the will to unity that I am. It is worth noting that it was with the birth of Humanism in the seventeenth century that this will to unity took on political significance, and became a major factor in the French Revolution. Before then, the will to individuality had religious significance, and was expressed in notions such as “Each of us is precious in the eyes of God,” as well as the belief in personal salvation.
As well as being the will to unity, the self is also the will to perceive. To live is to perceive. “Seeing. We might say that the whole of life lies in that verb,” is the way the great scientist and theologian, Teillard de Chardin, expressed it in the opening paragraph of his Phenomenon of Man.
To perceive is to perceive from somewhere: the viewpoint; but it is also ‘to perceive something.’ The ‘somewhere’ is the viewpoint; but the ‘something,’ as I was at pains to show in the last posting, is also, ultimately, the viewpoint.
Thus the self is One; but it is also two: seeing and the seen: Zen master Bassui put it this way, “ The universe and you are of the same root, you and every single thing are a unity. The gurgle of the stream and the sigh of the wind are the voices of the master. The green of pine, the white of snow, these are the colors of the master, the very one who lifts the hands, moves the legs, sees, hears. The One who grasps this directly without recourse to reason or intellection can be said to have some degree of inner realization.” In this Bassui is saying that you are “the green of the pine and the white of the snow.” But you are also “the very one who sees” the green of the pine and the white of the snow.
The Self is a living ambiguity, an endless knot as the Tibetans would call it; the Gordian knot according to the Greeks. A dictionary of symbols says that the Gordian knot… “is a long standing symbol of the labyrinth arising out of the chaotic and inextricable tangle of the cords with which it was tied. To undo the knot was equivalent to finding the ‘Center,’ which forms such an important part of all mystic thought.”
The Self is two that is one. As one, the self is ‘awareness as,’ or, more poetically, lantern mind: a light that lights up all without distinction; in Zen it is sometimes called a light that casts no shadow. Zen master Nansen said, “It is like vast space.” The Self is also a viewpoint, a dimensionless point, a dynamic center. It focuses dynamic unity in a way similar to a magnifying glass focusing the light of the sun. It is by focusing dynamic unity that the dynamic center derives its power as the source of all value and meaning.
But these two––vast, boundless space, and a dimensionless point––are contradictory. It is like the wave and particle of Quantum Physics. The Self cannot be both, and yet it is both. Even so the Self, although a living ambiguity, is an emissary of unity and is not ambiguous. One that is two; two that are one. A unoambus as the Sufis would say. Out of this unoambus arises the tension in life that is so familiar to all. The tension is always with us, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the foreground. Often it is a feeling of dissatisfaction, dis-ease, or diffuse anxiety and anguish. Cyril Connolly, a writer and literary critic, said, “I wake up in anxiety: like a fog it overlays all I do, and my days are muffled with anguish. Somewhere in the mind are crossed the wires of fear and lust and all day long nature’s burglar alarm shrills out in confusion.”
Passing through the unoambus, Love becomes yearning, the longing to return to the lost paradise of unity. Yearning is the basic religion feeling, and is expressed in all religions.
Where are you hiding
Where have you gone
Oh Lord of my being
You left me alone.
Shepherds, you who wander
There by sheepfolds to the mountain height,
If you should chance to see,
the one I most desire,
Tell him I am sick, I suffer and I die.[i]
St John of the Cross
My feet were muddy
And burning where thorns had scratched them
But I had the hope of seeing you, none of it mattered.
And now my terror seems far away…
When the sound of your flute reaches my ears
It compels me to leave my home, my friends,
It draws me into the dark towards you.
A Bengali poet
“The Spirit, always present and pleading in us, prays with groanings that cannot be uttered.”
Theophan, Desert father.
“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
The source of my suffering and loneliness is deep in my heart.
This is a disease no doctor can cure.
Only Union with the Friend can cure it.
An on-line etymological dictionary says, “According to the best efforts of linguists and researchers, the root of the present word God is the Sanskrit word hu which means to call upon, invoke, implore.” The word Allah, interestingly enough, also means sadness, its etymology being in a word connoting sad, to be overwhelmed with sadness, to sigh toward, to flee fearfully toward, all of which is the emotional counterpart to yearning. Henri Corbin, from whom I have just been quoting, goes on to say, “For Ismalian Gnosis, the supreme godhead cannot be known or even named as ‘God;’ Al-Lah is a name which indeed is given to the created being, the Most-Near and sacrosanct archangel. This name then expresses sadness, nostalgia eternally to know the Principle which eternally initiates it: the nostalgia of the revealed God (i.e. revealed for man) yearning to be once more beyond His revealed being.” This is stated succinctly in ‘I was a hidden treasure and I yearned to be known. Then I created creatures in order to be known by them,’ or ‘in order to become in them the object of my knowledge.’ ”
Plato also helps to explain the origin of yearning in the following myth. He used the myth to explain the origin of romantic love, which, as we shall see in a later posting, has much in common with the love of God. According to the myth, the earth was once populated by a race of hermaphroditic beings that possessed both male and female characteristics. They had both male and female sexual organs, they had two heads, four arms and four legs. They were so stable that the gods came to fear them, and decided to cut them in two. This gave rise to beings of one sex or the other, male or female. Each retained in his or her memory the earlier state of unity. Plato says that we long ‘to form one single nature from two distinct beings. …It is really the burning longing for unity which bears the name of love.” The longing for unity is the longing is to be free from the underlying schism, the original sin of separation induced by ambiguity.
In spotlight mind the yearning becomes desire: the need to find a form in which to invest the yearning, and so find rest and peace from the conflict, the unoambus, that initiates yearning and which is intrinsic to yearning. Originally, desire, and the form in which it is invested, had religious overtones, the most potent form being the Messiah, the Second Coming. In this the yearning for Unity, wholeness, the holy finds its perfect investment. That the Second Coming is in the future is significant because desire is a promise, a promise that is never fulfilled, but a promise, even so, of perfection, of some absolute satisfaction. The Promised Land, the Holy Grail, Moby Dick, humankind has forever pursued a dream of heaven, the perfect form. We have turned to the form of God, of Jesus, and of the Virgin Mary, of Buddha, Kannon, of Krishna and Allah, in our insatiable desire for a form that will offer indefinable but assured completeness. That this desire increases as our life becomes more anxious, uncertain, or threatened, shows clearly that the origin of desire lies in suffering. Desire, as the Buddhist second Noble Truth would say, causes suffering, but only because suffering causes desire. No final rest from desire is ever possible, and the wheel of Samsara turns forever.
Language makes it possible for us to invest yearning in a form. Contrary to the scholars, who would say that the first words were, “Kill it!”, the first word was most likely “Om.” We must make a clear distinction between communication and language. All sentient beings, even plants and trees, communicate. (See article: Plants communicate with each other by using clicking sounds) However, only humans have language. Language, among other attributes, enables knowledge, which becomes increasingly complex, to be accumulated and passed on to subsequent generations. It may well be that hunting enabled communication to be to be developed to a high degree, but the leap to language would have come through our yearning to rediscover lost unity, and so the leap would have been a religious event. The first word would have been humankind’s first God; the one who spoke it would have been God incarnate. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” is the way that St John expressed it. I have emphasized ‘the word was God’ because it is very important.
St John wrote in Greek, and he would have used ‘Logos’ instead of ‘word,’ and logos is one of those words that is extremely difficult to translate into another language. A philosopher who lived at the same time as John, whose name was Philo, once wrote, “the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated.”
This is the function of language: it fixes experience. We, in our twittering and tweeting age, have no idea of how important language is. We have completely lost sight of the magical power of language, and of how, because of it, we are able to create a whole world. Without language we are nowhere for no reason; everything dissolves and merges with everything else in a dreamlike phantasm. We have no past and no future, we can neither remember nor foretell. Things do not exist, there is just action, fleeting and momentary.
Helen Keller, who was born blind and deaf, tells in her autobiography of her first encounter with language. “Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over my hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, and then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten…and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, set it free.” (My emphasis)
The first word meant equally God, the world and me. It was probably danced and almost certainly sung. When I say that the first word meant God, the world and me, this is another way of saying the word incarnated God, the world and me. The incarnation of God (dynamic unity) is the investment of the dynamic center. For the Christian this investment is in Jesus Christ, God incarnate. The ‘incarnation’ of the world means the world becomes material. Materialism is the result of identifying the word with its meaning. The incarnation of me makes me something: a soul, a self, a person. The first word would have appeared instantaneously, in a flash; its incarnation is ongoing. The function of what we have come to know as religion, that is spotlight religion, has always been to protect and nurture the dynamic center through the medium of the word. This helps us to understand why the Bible is of such importance.
[i] Brenan, Gerald (with a translation of the poetry by Linda Nicholson (1973) St. John of the Cross: his life and poetry (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge) p. 149.