Text of the Month No 4
By Jos Slabbert
Do you understand?
To step into the realm of the spirit
(The Tao is Tao, 17)
Explanation and comment
It is shocking what the poem says in the first four lines, isn't it? In a world dominated by the intellect, very few dare to think that our intellect is the source of our misery. But it is so true, isn't it? Our thinking tends to separate us from everything else. We are trained in formal education to classify and categorize all things. We first divide them into organic and inorganic categories, then are taught to "identify" and "name" them. Of course this is necessary, and I am not arguing here that children should not learn to see the difference between things. The ability to identify is essential to our survival. It would be irresponsible, though, not to point out a problem that is created on a spiritual level.
The youth are taught to believe that these differences are real and not just their intellectual effort to understand the world. They start believing that the world defined and separated by their intellects is the real world. Many education systems still lag behind the scientific realization that the world is in reality an ecological and organic totality of inseparable parts functioning in an indivisible network. Our division of the world, and our separation from the rest of the world, is in fact an intellectual exercise - it is the product of our thinking. It is not real.
These divisive patterns of thinking on a materialistic level has invaded our spiritual world too. With catastrophic results for our spiritual well-being.
What the poem is saying is that this intellectual division does not satisfy our spirit. It leaves us lonely and isolated. Even though our intellect tends to separate us from the rest, our spirit is desperately searching for peace in unity. Much of our dissatisfaction and unrest in spite of material well-being can be attributed to this. Our spirit is starving in a society satiated with divisive intellectuality and materialism.
One could also describe this process of separation in psychological terms. We are encouraged by our education system to create our own inflated idea of self or "I" in this world. Most people tend to devote their lives to their own invention of a fictional "I", using material means to prove that their illusions are real. They would think, "I am great. I am cleverer than the rest and therefore more successful." They would then spend their lives trying to prove this to themselves and the rest of the world. This "proof" would often take the form of competitiveness and material possession. "Look at me. I have a huge mansion, more beautiful than yours, a bank full of money, and a beautiful wife to match. I am a major shareholder in Exploitation Ltd. Wow! I am superior to you. What I think I am is real. I am the greatest." Do you think people cannot be this naive? You are in for a surprise. They are. Maybe you have also fallen, even if it is to a lesser degree, for this form of "junk thinking".
The sad result of this form of dedication to "I" is that people separate themselves from their fellow beings. Exploitation, often accompanied by destruction and cruelty, become respectable. In spite of their "success", people embracing this life style remain dissatisfied, for they have not really begun to understand that the spirit needs unity, not separation.
"I" is the most divisive and destructive concept ever invented by thinking. The poem clearly points out that peace can only be found after you have accepted that you are empty, that "I" is fiction and only exists in your overheated mind. Getting rid of the ego is essential before you can find the kind of unity that will bring you true peace of mind. In a way, you have to ignore your own analytical forms of thinking before you can come into contact with your true self and establish harmony with others.
The last stanza of the poem comes to a profound conclusion: You must abandon analytical thinking if you want to enter the world of the spirit. To a generation who have been trained into mainly analytical, divisive thought patterns in an education system focusing mainly on materialist gain, taking this "irrational" step would be difficult if not impossible.
It is like stepping over a precipice, not knowing what is below. It is almost like forcing that most revered of all faculties to the modern world, the intellect, to commit suicide. Yet, there is no other way. You need to be courageous, and you need faith. But it is the only way. We have seen what destruction our focus on our intellect, our ego and materialism has brought to the world, and how lonely and desperate the human being has become in the process. The only cure is to abandon thinking and step over the precipice, and to come into contact with your spiritual being, which is an indivisible part of the rest of your being.
As the poem so clearly states: Life, true life - a life of harmony and true spiritual satisfaction - starts this way.