Sunday, October 08, 2006

Island (Aldous Huxley)

In his quasi utopian work Island, Aldous Huxley describes the functions and structures of a semi-enlightened society in the midst of an increasingly mad world riddled with greed and conflict. What makes the island's idealistic existence possible is the relative geographical isolation from outside influences. The island nation has evolved structures over a period of 150 years catalysed by a few semi-enlightened individuals, to support individual and social development into realms of higher consciousness. In fact, Pala is a forbidden island, a place no journalist has ever visited. However, as the madness of the outside world encroaches, these structures begin to be attacked, and the core values of this island nation fall into jeopardy. Nonetheless, by the end of the story, a broad panoramic portrait of an extraordinarily functional and enviable society is provided.

Interestingly, the ideological roots of this island society originate from a mix of Western and Eastern influences, in the persons of a Scottish doctor, Dr. Andrew, and a Palanese king, the Raja. An odd friendship between a Calvinist-Turned-Atheist and a pious Mahayana Buddhist. Dr. Andrew saved the life of the terminally ill Raja by using unorthodox techniques of Western medicine and hypnosis. They fast became friends, a pair of complimentary temperaments, talents, and philosophies, as well as complementary stocks of knowledge,

[...] each man supplying the other's deficiencies, each stimulating and fortifying the other's native capacities. The Raja's was an acute and subtle mind; but he knew nothing of the world beyond the confines of his island, nothing of physical science, nothing of European technology, European art, European ways of thinking. No less intelligent, Dr. Andrew knew nothing, of course, about Indian painting and poetry and philosophy. He also knew nothing, as he gradually discovered, about the science of the human mind and the art of living. In the month's that followed [...] each became the other's pupil and the other's teacher.

The story begins with Will Farnaby, a Westerner who is beached on the island of Pala after having failed to negotiate some difficult waters. Injured and traumatized, he is found by a young girl and her little brother. The young girl, cautious at first, applies some simple but powerful psychological first aid to get Will to confront the deep emotional pain surrounding the experience. The first aid consists simply in repeatedly reliving the traumatic experience until all blockages in the form of suppressed emotions have been palliated by finding a conscious avenue of expression and therefore release. After a cathartic episode, Will is able to enter into more normal interaction, having been freed from some of the psychological blockages caused by the traumatic experience. What is fascinating is the ease with which the technique is applied, even by a child. And even more, that all inhabitants of Pala have knowledge of such techniques at a very early age.

A recurring theme in Island is the use of hypnosis for dealing with pain in all its forms. The members of Palanese society are taught how to use self-hypnosis for relieving physical pain—and the women in particular employ this precise technique for painless childbirth. This same hypnotic procedure is also used to provide anaesthesia-less surgeries. The essence of the process is described when Susila hypnotizes Will after his traumatic ordeal, in order to speed physical recovery of his injuries. Susila later reveals in beautiful metaphor, that we must send our little "selves" into the garden to play, so the "grownups" can get to work on things. And it is at this moment that indirect suggestions can be made to great benefit. In the case of Will's injured knee, she makes some suggestions about his body image, making him imagine it much bigger than in everyday reality, and the knee much smaller. "There can't be any doubt as to who's going to win." Interestingly, this description of using hypnosis to treat injury and illness in general, was certainly influenced by Aldous Huxley's collaborations with renown psychiatrist and hypno-therapist Milton H. Erickson.

On a related note is the scathing commentary on the state of Western medicine. What transpires is a brilliant coup de grace in favour of holistic medicine, and treatment of the entire human being—with significant emphasis on prevention rather than cure. Will is speaking with the peppery little nurse Radha, who has brought him his afternoon meal.

     "So you think our medicine's pretty primitive?"
     "That's the wrong word. It isn't primitive. It's fifty percent terrific and fifty percent non-existent. Marvellous antibiotics—but absolutely no methods for increasing resistance, so that antibiotics won't be necessary. Fantastic operations—but when it comes to teaching people the way of going through life without having to be chopped up, absolutely nothing. And it's the same all along the line. Alpha Plus for patching you up when you've started to fall apart; but Delta Minus for keeping you healthy. Apart from sewerage systems and synthetic vitamins, you don't seem to do anything at all about prevention. And yet you've got a proverb: prevention is better than cure."
     "But cure," said Will, "is so much more dramatic than prevention. And for the doctors it's also a lot more profitable."
     "Maybe for your doctors," said the little nurse. "Not for ours. Ours get paid for keeping people well."
     "How is it to be done?"
     "We've been asking that question for a hundred years, and we've found a lot of answers. Chemical answers, psychological answers, answers in terms of what you eat, how you make love, what you see and hear, how you feel about being who you are in this kind of world."


     "So whether it's prevention or whether it's cure, we attack on all the fronts at once. All the fronts," she insisted, "from diet to autosuggestion, from negative ions to meditation."

Nurse Radha offers this telling little rhyme that every student nurse must commit to memory on the first day of training:

'I' am a crowd, obeying as many laws
As it has members. Chemically impure
Are all 'my' beings. There's no single cure
For what can never have a single cause.

On the issue of family and parenting, Island offers a refreshing alternative to conventional family structures. The centrepiece of Palanese family life revolves around the mutual adoption club or MAC. These are groups of about twenty families where children are raised in communities of mothers and fathers. Every member of society is a member of an MAC. Most children reside with their biological parents as with conventional family structures. However, in the event of family difficulties, children know they are free to leave their parents' home, and stay at one of their adoptive parents' homes until the difficulty passes or is resolved. The beauty of this approach is the exceedingly desirable side-effect of having children protected, to a large degree, from the repeated and extended exposure to the neurosis of a single set of parents. These children become the recipients of a number of diverse parenting styles, and derive tremendous benefit from a pool of role models. This dramatically curbs the passing of neurotic patterns from one generation to the next, as so often occurs in conventional parent-child relationships. Children are virtually guaranteed the love and attention they require at all stages of their development. Further, this care and attention is extended to every member of an MAC, from infants to centenarians. These communities are organic, fluid, and easily adapt to changing situations and circumstances of individuals.

So what does the educational process look like for a semi-enlightened society? In short, there is a great deal of attention given to the question of how to educate children on the conceptual level without killing their capacity for intense non-verbal experience. To begin with, education in Pala centres around a kind of practical semi-mystical deep psychology of mind and essence. First principles are discussed early on, the nature of being, mind, language, symbols, how language influences perception, and how the map is not the territory. Oddly, in our Western world we think these are high and flighty concepts, but only because most never encounter them until later in life. But if they are presented skilfully, these ideas can easily be grasped by children, and most importantly, could then inform all future learning, placing it in the correct context. But why is this so important? Well, briefly, when a human being sees the difference between language and the reality language attempts to approximate (albeit poorly), there is a marked reduction in one's identification with verbally expressed ideas, opinions, and views. And it's precisely this identification (and subsequent attachment) with the verbal expression of an idea, opinion, or view which is the cause of so much human conflict and suffering. Mr. Chandra Menon, the Under-Secretary of Education provides this explanation:

[Children] are taught to pay attention to what they see and hear, and at the same time they're asked to notice how their feelings and desires affect what they experience of the outer world, and how their language habits affect not only their feelings and desires but even their sensations. What my ears and my eyes record is one thing; what the words I use and the mood I'm in and the purposes I'm pursuing allow me to perceive, make sense of and act upon is something quite different. So you see it's all brought together into a single educational process. What we give the children is simultaneously a training in perceiving and imagining, a training in applied physiology and psychology, a training in practical ethics and practical religion, a training in the proper use of language, and a training in self-knowledge. In a word, a training of the whole mind-body in all its aspects.

Further, the point is made that a trained mind-body learns more quickly and more thoroughly than an untrained one. That it is more capable of relating facts to ideas, and both of them to life. And this includes wonderful visualization exercises, that bring to mind elements touched upon in the Harry Potter series, and techniques for dealing with powerful negative emotions. Some specific examples of teaching methodology include, how logic and structure are taught in the form of games and puzzles; children play and incredibly quickly catch the point, which can then be followed with practical applications. Children begin learning about ecology very early on; they are never given the chance of imagining that anything exists in isolation. And what's especially important about this early teaching is the way in which it roots children in the development of an ecologically-based morality. The child isn't taught by way of constrictions and prohibitions, but rather indirectly through ecological investigations on the effects and repercussions of various actions in the environment. This gradually and naturally transforms itself into a higher Morality in relation to all things, a Morality that develops from clear understanding, rather than being imposed from without.

The morality to which a child goes on from the facts of ecology and the parables of erosion is a universal ethic. There are no Chosen People in nature, no Holy Lands, no Unique Historical Revelations. Conservation morality gives nobody an excuse for feeling superior, or claiming special privileges. 'Do as you would be done by' applies to our dealings with all kinds of life in every part of the world. We shall be permitted to live on this planet only for as long as we treat all nature with compassion and intelligence. Elementary ecology leads straight to elementary Buddhism.

Also, training in receptivity becomes the complement and antidote to training in analysis and symbol manipulation:

If one chooses to [...] one can always substitute a bad ready-made notion for the best insights of receptivity. The question is, why should one want to make that kind of choice? Why shouldn't one choose to listen to both parties and harmonize their views? The analysing tradition-bound concept maker and the alertly passive insight receiver—neither is infallible; but both together can do a reasonably good job.

As we move forward in our discovery of the infrastructure of a semi-enlightened society, we approach the hallowed realms of economics, politics, and media influence. These three areas are examined more-or-less simultaneously, as they are all directly to do with one grand over-arching idea: power. As Will Farnaby is given a tour of the productive resources of Pala, and the efficiency with which the society produces goods and services, he asks his guide on where ownership lies. His guide describes a co-operative system that lends itself to streamlined co-operative techniques for buying and selling and profit sharing and financing, without the need for commercial banks.

[...] Most of the time we're co-operators. Palanese agriculture has always been an affair of terracing and irrigation. But terracing and irrigation call for pooled efforts and friendly agreements. Cut-throat competition isn't compatible with rice-growing in a mountainous country. Our people found it quite easy to pass from mutual aid in a village community to streamlined co-operative techniques for buying and selling and profit sharing and financing. [...] No commercial banks [as] in your Western style. Our borrowing and lending system was modelled on those credit unions that Wilhelm Raiffeisen set up more than a century ago in Germany. Dr. Andrew persuaded the Raja to invite one of Raiffeisen's young men to come here and organize a co-operative banking system.

And to the question of what is used for money or the means of exchange, Will's guide indicates a paper currency that is 100% backed by physical gold, silver, and copper. The benefits of this approach is at first somewhat unclear, but with persistence of examination its power becomes painfully obvious; such an approach prevents excesses in government spending (the welfare state); it also prevents inflation and hyper-inflation, by way of terminating the virtually endless supply of unbacked paper (or electronic) currency, which dilutes the money supply and dramatically reduces purchasing power, the diseases of most modern Western economies.

There is a very interesting relationship presented in the effects of overpopulation, and the attendant inability to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, and education, and the subsequent rise of megalomaniacal demagogues due to civil unrest and discontent. The point is made that solving ones economic problems is not possible until the issue of overpopulation and its immediate side effects are adequately dealt with.

Solving [our economic problems] wasn't difficult. To begin with, we never allowed ourselves to produce more children than we could feed, clothe, house, and educate into something like full humanity. Not being overpopulated, we have plenty. But, although we have plenty, we've managed to resist the temptation that the West has now succumbed to—the temptation to overconsume. [...] Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence—those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste, and moneylenders were abolished, you'd collapse. And while you people are overconsuming the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster. Ignorance, militarism and breeding, these three—and the greatest of these is breeding. No hope, not the slightest possibility, of solving the economic problems until that's under control. As population rushes up, prosperity goes down. [...] And as prosperity goes down, discontent and rebellion, [...] political ruthlessness and one-party rule, nationalism and bellicosity begin to rise. Another ten or fifteen years of uninhibited breeding, and the whole world, from China to Peru via Africa and the Middle East, will be fairly crawling with Great Leaders, all dedicated to the suppression of freedom, all armed to the teeth by Russia or America or, better still, by both at once, all waving flags, all screaming for Lebensraum.

Further examination reveals the deep connection between economics and politics. Will questions how the people of Pala prevent the arising of so-called "Great Leaders." His guide responds that they don't engage in warfare and therefore have no need for military hierarchies, or a centralized government. And this lack of centralized power structure is further supported by virtue of Pala's policy preventing anyone from becoming more than four or five times as wealthy as the average. The result, of course, is to prevent the arising of centralized power structures that are economically-based. A related premise is presented in Buckminster Fuller's The Grunch of Giants where he maintains that large multinational corporations have become the worlds true (but hidden) governing elite, due to the economic power they possess to influence everything from public opinion (through mass media), education, religion, commerce, and the body politic.

Well, to begin with we don't fight wars or prepare for them. Consequently, we have no need for conscription, or military hierarchies, or a unified command. Then there's our economic system: it doesn't permit anybody to become more than four or five times as rich as the average. That means that we don't have any captains of industry or omnipotent financiers. Better still, we have no omnipotent politicians or bureaucrats. Pala's a federation of self-governing units, geographical units, professional units, economic units—so there's plenty of scope for small-scale initiative and democratic leaders, but no place for any kind of dictator at the head of a centralized government. Another point: we have no established church, and our religion stresses immediate experience and deplores belief in unverifiable dogmas and the emotions which that belief inspires. So we're preserved from the plagues of popery, on the one hand, and fundamentalist revivalism, on the other. And along with transcendental experience we systematically cultivate skepticism. Discouraging children from taking words too seriously, teaching them to analyse whatever they hear or read—this is an integral part of the school curriculum. Result: the eloquent rabble-rouser, like Hitler or our neighbour across the Strait, Colonel Dipa, just doesn't have a chance here in Pala.

The key to achieving this hegemony of power lies in the control of mass media. When a centralized power structure controls mass media, it controls public opinion, and has complete autonomy over that society's decision-making process in the guise of a functioning democracy. Through television, radio, newspaper, etc., the populace is gradually conditioned to take on the views inculcated by these centralized power structures. Noam Chomsky's paraphrased remark is quite apropos, that violence is to dictatorship what propaganda is to democracy. When Will Farnaby discovers that their is only one newspaper in Pala, he enquires on who enjoys the monopoly:

"Nobody enjoys a monopoly," Dr. Robert assured him. "There's a panel of editors representing half a dozen different parties and interests. Each of them gets his allotted space for comment and criticism. The reader's in a position to compare their arguments and make up his own mind. I remember how shocked I was the first time I read one of your big-circulation newspapers. The bias of the headlines, the systematic one-sidedness of the reporting and the commentaries, the catchwords and slogans instead of argument. No serious appeal to reason. Instead, a systematic effort to install conditioned reflexes in the minds of the voters—and, for the rest, crime, divorce, anecdotes, twaddle, anything to keep them distracted, anything to prevent them from thinking."

Turning our attention towards less secular matters, perhaps most controversial is the approach towards spirituality and the religious impulse in Palanese society. Here, society consists of an admixture of religious philosophies, and adherents can best be described as "Buddhist Shivaites and Tantrik agnostics with Mahayana trimmings." However, deeply connected with the more theoretical aspects of religious philosophy, is an intensely practical, experiential aspect that is strongly emphasized. Virtually all Palanese participate in a deeply transformative initiation ceremony when they enter adulthood. It involves ingesting what is called the moksha-medicine in a very special context. This so-called "medicine" is a mescaline-like substance in the form of a mushroom, which plunges one into an altered state. However, this isn't just a wild ride down hallucination lane. Quite contrary, a great deal of attention is given to mind-set and environmental setting, and the entire process is ritualized so that the experience revolves around a spiritual core, where participants are encouraged to point their heightened and altered perceptions back onto themselves developing a realization of who and what they really are. The word moksha is borrowed from the Sanskrit and can be translated as "liberation." And this is precisely what the medicine is intended to convey: a brief taste of the experience of liberation or enlightenment, and also what's possible in terms of other modes of human consciousness. Once the experience is complete, the idea is then to continue the spiritual, psychological, emotional, and mental work necessary that prepares the ground for arriving at this heightened state in a completely natural way. The moksha-medicine is subsequently used only as a periodic aid, perhaps once or twice a year, to provide deeper insight in the course of one's personal development.

     "Another thing we're just beginning to understand," said Vijaya, "is the neurological correlate of these experiences. What's happening in the brain when you're having a vision? And what's happening when you pass from a premystical to a genuinely mystical state of mind?"
     "Do you know?" Will asked.
     "'Know' is a big word. Let's say we're in a position to make some plausible guesses. Angels and New Jerusalems and Madonnas and Future Buddhas—they're all related to some kind of unusual stimulation of the brain areas of primary projection—the visual cortex, for example. Just how the moksha-medicine produces those unusual stimuli we haven't yet found out. The important fact is that, somehow or other, it does produce them. And somehow or other, it also does something unusual to the silent areas of the brain, the areas not specifically concerned with perceiving, or moving, or feeling."
     "And how do the silent areas respond?" Will enquired.
     "Let's start with what they don't respond with. They don't respond with visions or auditions, they don't respond with telepathy or clairvoyance or any other kind of parapsychological performance. None of that amusing premystical stuff. Their response is the full-blown mystical experience. You know—One in all and All in one. The basic experience with its corollaries—boundless compassion, fathomless mystery and meaning."
     "Not to mention joy," said Dr. Robert, "inexpressible joy."
     "And the whole caboodle is inside your skull," said Will. "Strictly private. No reference to any external fact except a toadstool."


     "You're assuming," said Dr. Robert, "That the brain produces consciousness. I'm assuming that it transmits consciousness. And my explanation is no more farfetched than yours. How on earth can a set of events belonging to one order be experienced as a set of events belonging to an entirely different and incommensurable order? Nobody has the faintest idea. All one can do is to accept the facts and concoct hypotheses. And one hypothesis is just about as good, philosophically speaking, as another. You say that the moksha-medicine does something to the silent areas of the brain which cause them to produce a set of subjective events to which people have given the name 'mystical experience.' I say that the moksha-medicine does something to the silent areas of the brain which opens some kind of neurological sluice and so allows a larger volume of Mind with a large 'M' to flow into your mind with a small 'm.' You can't demonstrate the truth of your hypothesis, and I can't demonstrate the truth of mine. And even if you could prove that I'm wrong, would it make any practical difference?"
     "I'd have thought it would make all the difference," said Will.
     "Do you like music?" Dr. Robert asked.
     "More than most things."
     "And what, may I ask, does Mozart's G-Minor Quintet refer to? Does it refer to Allah? Or Tao? Or the second person of the Trinity? Or the Atman-Brahman?"
     Will laughed. "Let's hope not."
     "But that doesn't make the experience of the G-Minor Quintet any less rewarding. Well, it's the same with the kind of experience that you get with the moksha-medicine, or through prayer and fasting and spiritual exercises. Even if it doesn't refer to anything outside itself, it's still the most important thing that ever happened to you. Like music, only incomparably more so. And if you give the experience a chance, if you're prepared to go along with it, the results are incomparably more therapeutic and transforming. So maybe the whole thing does happen inside one's skull. Maybe it is private and there's no unitive knowledge of anything but one's own physiology. Who cares? The fact remains that the experience can open one's eyes and make one blessed and transform one's whole life."

Another important aspect of Palanese spirituality involves the use of tantrik mysticism through the practice of maithuna, or the yoga of love. Although the view is expressed, that most tantra is silliness and superstition, there is a hard core of sense. The technique employs the use of male sexual restraint. The practice revolves around bringing great attention to the act of sexual union, in all its many details, its sights, sounds, smells, tactile sensations, etc., and to delay the male orgasm indefinitely. The essence of maithuna is movement from the purely physical, to all at once the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms. The simple act of exercising male restraint, coupled to a particular kind of intention and focus, is enough to bring both partners to an heightened state of awareness due to the deep attention given to intensely pleasurable sensations over an extended period of time.

In short, the essence of Palanese society revolves around a single text that was written by its greatest king the Old Raja, some 150 years ago. Pursuant to this text, the king had hundreds of mynah birds trained to regularly call out "attention" and "karuna" in an effort to remind Palanese citizens to bring their awareness to the two most important qualities of being present, and exercising compassion. The text is entitled, Notes on What's What. The content of the text is mainly concerned with what we really are on the level that's beyond individuality. It contains the essence of what Aldous Huxley wished to communicate in Island. And so we conclude with this extended quote, taken from the mouth of the great visionary himself:

     Nobody needs to go anywhere else. We are all, if we only knew it, already there.
     If I only knew who in fact I am, I should cease to behave as what I think I am; and if I stopped behaving as what I think I am, I should know who I am.
     What in fact I am, if only the Manichee I think I am would allow me to know it, is the reconciliation of yes and no lived out in total acceptance and the blessed experience of Not-Two.
     In religion all words are dirty words. Anybody who gets eloquent about Buddha, or God, or Christ, ought to have his mouth washed out with carbolic soap.
     Because his aspiration to perpetuate only the "yes" in every pair of opposites can never, in the nature of things, be realized, the insulated Manichee I think I am condemns himself to endlessly repeated frustration, endlessly repeated conflicts with other aspiring and frustrated Manichees.
     Conflicts and frustrations—the theme of all history and almost all biography. "I show you sorrow," said the Buddha realistically. But he also showed the ending of sorrow—self-knowledge, total acceptance, the blessed experience of Not-Two.


     Knowing who in fact we are results in Good Being, and Good Being results in the most appropriate kind of good doing. But good doing does not of itself result in Good Being. We can be virtuous without knowing who in fact we are. The beings who are merely good are not Good Beings; they are just pillars of society.
     Most pillars are their own Samsons. They hold up, but sooner or later they pull down. There has never been a society in which most good doing was the product of Good Being and therefore constantly appropriate. This does not mean that there will never be such a society or that we in Pala are fools for trying to call it into existence.


     The Yogin and the Stoic—two righteous egos who achieve their very considerable results by pretending, systematically, to be somebody else. But it is not by pretending to be somebody else, even somebody supremely good and wise, that we can pass from insulated Manichee-hood to Good Being.
     Good Being is knowing who in fact we are; and in order to know who in fact we are, we must first know, moment by moment, who we think we are and what this bad habit of thought compels us to feel and do. A moment of clear and complete knowledge of what we think we are, but in fact are not, puts a stop, for the moment, to the Manichean charade. If we renew, until they become a continuity, these moments of the knowledge of what we are not, we may find ourselves, all of a sudden, knowing who in fact we are.
     Concentration, abstract thinking, spiritual exercises—systematic exclusions in the realm of thought. Asceticism and hedonism—systematic exclusions in the realms of sensation, feeling and action. But Good Being is in the knowledge of who in fact one is in relation to all experiences. So be aware—aware in every context, at all times and whatever, creditable or discreditable, pleasant or unpleasant, you may be doing or suffering. This is the only genuine yoga, the only spiritual exercise worth practicing.
     The more a man knows about individual objects, the more he knows about God. Translating Spinoza's language into ours, we can say: The more a man knows about himself in relation to every kind of experience, the greater his chance of suddenly, one fine morning, realizing who in fact he is—or rather Who (capital W) in Fact (capital F) "he" (between quotation marks) Is (capital I).
     St. John was right. In a blessedly speechless universe, the Word was not only with God; it was God. As a something to be believed in. God is a projected symbol, a reified name. God = "God."
     Faith is something very different from belief. Belief is the systematic taking of unanalyzed words much too seriously. Paul's words, Mohammed's words, Marx's words, Hitler's words—people take them too seriously, and what happens? What happens is the senseless ambivalence of history—sadism versus duty, or (incomparably worse) sadism as duty; devotion counterbalanced by organized paranoia; sisters of charity selflessly tending the victims of their own church's inquisitors and crusaders. Faith, on the contrary, can never be taken too seriously. For Faith is the empirically justified confidence in our capacity to know who in fact we are, to forget the belief-intoxicated Manichee in Good Being. Give us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief.


     Me as I think I am and me as I am in fact—sorrow, in other words, and the ending of sorrow. One third, more or less, of all the sorrow that the person I think I am must endure is unavoidable. It is the sorrow inherent in the human condition, the price we must pay for being sentient and self-conscious organisms, aspirants to liberation, but subject to the laws of nature and under orders to keep on marching, through irreversible time, through a world wholly indifferent to our well-being, toward decrepitude and the certainty of death. The remaining two thirds of all sorrow is homemade and, so far as the universe is concerned, unnecessary.


     'Patriotism is not enough.' But neither is anything else. Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics are not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do.


     We cannot reason ourselves out of our basic irrationality. All we can do is to learn the art of being irrational in a reasonable way.
     In Pala, after three generations of Reform, there are no sheeplike flocks and no ecclesiastical Good Shepherds to shear and castrate; there are no bovine or swinish herds and no licensed drovers, royal or military, capitalistic or revolutionary, to brand, confine and butcher. There are only voluntary associations of men and women on the road to full humanity.
     Tunes or pebbles, processes or substantial things? "Tunes," answer Buddhism and modern science. "Pebbles," say the classical philosophers of the West. Buddhism and modern science think of the world in terms of music. The image that comes to mind when one reads the philosophers of the West is a figure in a Byzantine mosaic, rigid, symmetrical, made up of millions of little squares of some stony material and firmly cemented to the walls of a windowless basilica.
     The dancer's grace and, forty years on, her arthritis—both are functions of the skeleton. It is thanks to an inflexible framework of bones that the girl is able to do her pirouettes, thanks to the same bones, grown a little rusty, that the grandmother is condemned to a wheelchair. Analogously, the firm support of a culture is the prime-condition of all individual originality and creativeness; it is also their principal enemy. The thing in whose absence we cannot possibly grow into a complete human being is, all too often, the thing that prevents us from growing.
     A century of research on the moksha-medicine has clearly shown that quite ordinary people are perfectly capable of having visionary or even fully liberating experiences. In this respect the men and women who make and enjoy high culture are no better off than the lowbrows. High experience is perfectly compatible with low symbolic expression.
     The expressive symbols created by Palanese artists are no better than the expressive symbols created by artists elsewhere. Being the products of happiness and a sense of fulfillment, they are probably less moving, perhaps less satisfying aesthetically, than the tragic or compensatory symbols created by victims of frustration and ignorance, of tyranny, war and guilt-fostering, crime-inciting superstitions. Palanese superiority does not lie in symbolic expression but in an art which, though higher and far more valuable than all the rest, can yet be practised by everyone—the art of adequately experiencing, the art of becoming more intimately acquainted with all the worlds that, as human beings, we find ourselves inhabiting. Palanese culture is not to be judged as (for lack of any better criterion) we judge other cultures. It is not to be judged by the accomplishments of a few gifted manipulators of artistic or philosophical symbols. No, it is to be judged by what all the members of the community, the ordinary as well as the extraordinary, can and do experience in every contingency and at each successive intersection of time and eternity.

No comments: