Inspirational and (hopefully) Thought Provoking Quotations
and Short Essays
from Outside the Strictly Buddhist Literature.
"You can try to pull the truth closer to your view
and I can try to pull it closer to mine,
but the truth is stubborn:
it just stays where it is."
From a Rastafarian priest
in an unnamed documentary quoted by Doug Fine in
Too High to Fail
"I am already given to the power that rules my fate.
And I cling to nothing, so I will have nothing to defend.
I have no thoughts, so I will see.
I fear nothing, so I will remember myself.
Detached and at ease, I will dart past the Eagle to be free."
Carlos Castaneda. The Eagle's Gift
This is how this is to be understood:
The Power = Dhamma
The Eagle = Pajapati, Mara, the force of creation and destruction.
"Put not your faith in translations!"
Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, p. 775, n. 24.
One of the original names for the Buddhsits was 'vibanghers', 'hair-splitters'; we need to respect that level of precision in our translations. I include me in this caution. ... Well, ok, 'vibhangers' could mean 'those who share the weed, divide up the hemp.'.
"There are times when the unknown reveals itself in a mysterious way to the spirit of man. A sudden rent in the veil of darkness will make manifest things hitherto unseen, and then close again upon the mysteries within. ... Solitude generates a certain amount of sublime exaltation. It is like the smoke arising from the burning bush. A mysterious lucidity of mind results, which converts the student into a seer ..."
Victor Hugo, The Toilers of the Sea
"But we that have but span-long lives" must ever bear in mind our limited time for acquisition. And remembering how narrowly this time is limited, not only by the shortness of life but also still more by the business of life, we ought to be especially solicitous to employ what time we have to the greatest advantage. Before devoting years to some subject which fancy or fashion suggests, it is surely wise to weigh with great care the worth of the results, as compared with the worth of various alternative results which the same years might bring if otherwise applied.
Herbert Spencer, Education, Thinker's Library, 1929.
[Florinda Donner is speaking with Isidoro Baltazar (one of Carlos Castaneda's pseudonyms):] "Sorcerers," he went on, "make one see that the whole nature of reality is different from what we believe it to be; that is, from what we have been taught it to be. Intellectually, we are willing to tease ourselves with the idea that culture predetermines who we are, how we behave, what we are willing to know, what we are able to feel. But we are not willing to embody this idea, to accept it as a concrete, practical proposition. And the reason for that is that we are not willing to accept that culture also predetermines what we are able to perceive.
"Sorcery makes us aware of different realities, different possibilities, not only about the world but also about ourselves, to the extent that we no longer are able to believe in even the most solid assumptions about ourselves and our surroundings."
I was surprised that I could absorb his words so easily, when I didn't really understand them.
"A sorcerer is not only aware of different realities," he went on, "but he uses that knowledge in practicalities. Sorcerers know not only intellectually but also practically that reality, or the world as we know it, consists only of an agreement extracted out of every one of us. That agreement could be made to collapse, since it's only a social phenomenon. And when it collapses, the whole world collapses with it."
Seeing that I couldn't follow his argument, he tried to present it from another angle. He said that the social world defines perception to us in proportion to its usefulness in guiding us through the complexity of experience in everyday life. The social world sets limits to what we perceive, sets limits to what we are capable of perceiving. "To a sorcerer, perception can go beyond these agreed-upon parameters," he stressed. "These parameters are constructed and buttressed by words, by language, by thoughts. That is, by agreement."
"And sorcerers don't agree?" I asked tentatively, in an effort to understand his premise.
"They do agree," he said, beaming at me, "but their agreement is different. Sorcerers break the normal agreement, not only intellectually but also physically or practically or whatever one wants to call it. Sorcerers collapse the parameters of socially determined perception, and to understand what sorcerers mean by that, one has to become a pracitioner. That is, one has to be committed; one has to lend the mind as well as the body. It has to be a conscious, fearless surrender."
"Sir Joshua Reynolds once asked him [Johnson] by what means he had attained his extraordinary accuacy and flow of language. He told him, that he had early laid it down as a fixed rule to do his best on every occasion, and in evey company: to impart whatever he knew in the most foceible language he could put it in; and that by constant practice, and never suffering any careless expressions to escape him, or attempting to deliver his thoughts without arranging them in the clearest manner, it became habitual to him."
Boswell, The Life of Dr. Johnson, London, 1791.
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, The Cambridge Edition Text, as edited by William Aldis Wright
The Dream of a Shadow of Smoke
Man is born in vanity and sin. He comes into the world like morning mushrooms, soon thrusting up their heads into the air, and conversing with their kindred of the same production, and as soon they turn into dust and forgetfulness; some of them without any other interest in the affairs of the world but that they made their parents a little glad, and very sorrowful.
Life is short, death sweeps out one generation to make way for another, and measured by what went before you and what comes after you life is but an eyeblink of time ... Death reigns in all the portions of our time. The autumn with its fruits provides disorders for us, and the winter's cold turns them into sharp diseases, and the spring brings flowers to strew our hearse, and the summer gives green turf and brambles to bind upon our graves. Deliriums and surfeit, cold and ague, are the four quarters of the year, and all ministers to death; you can go no whither but you tread upon a dead man's bones."
- from a sermon by Jeremy Taylor, chaplain to King Charles I of England, 1600-1649, plus or minus as retold by Carl Sandberg, Remembrance Rock.
Fair and softly goes far in a day.
English saying c. 1600 meaning 'pace yourself'.
Not too hard, not too slow, and there will be energy to complete the day.
Where everything is tottering
it is above all necessary that something, no matter what, remain steadfast
so that the lost can find a connection and the strayed a refuge.
Metternich, quoted in Kissinger, World Order.
"If the laugh be turned against yourself, be the first to join, and all will be well."
"May the best day you have ever seen be the worst you will ever see."
On the written word, for the lame memory:
"You will have to help your lame memory with books, and the more you help it with written words the feebler it grows."
sayings of Ogma, the Druid god that invented Ogam
It is almost impossible to imagine the wealth of Wheel-turning Kings and some of the wealthy kings described in the suttas, and even Gotama's description of the luxory of his life before he renounced the world is extreme beyond what we could imagine of the luxory of even a Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Amancio Ortega, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, or Carlos Slim, [as of Wednesday, January 17, 2018 5:32 AM], and Rhys Davids at one point suggests that the descriptions are wild fantasies, but read below a authentic description, (of only one of many similar such of rulers of both East and West) by a contemporary (c.900 AD) of the wealth of a Mohamadan Caliph ... and what he thought of it himself:
"... the Abbassides soon disdained the abstinence and frugality of the first caliphs, and aspired to emulate the magnificence of the Persian kings. After his wars and buildings, Almansor left behind him in gold and silver about thirty millions sterling; and this treasure was exhausted in a few years by the vices or virtues of his children. His son Mahadi, in a single pilgrimage to Mecca, expended six millions of dinars of gold. A pious and charitable motive may sanctify the foundation of cisterns and caravanseras, which he distributed along a measured road of seven hundred miles; but his train of camels, laden with snow, could serve only to astonish the natives of Arabia, and to refresh the fruits and liquors of the royal banquet. The courtiers would surely praise the liberality of his grandson Almamon, who gave away four fifths of the income of a province, a sum of two millions four hundred thousand gold dinars, before he drew his foot from the stirrup. At the nuptials of the same prince, a thousand pearls of the largest size were showered on the head of the bride, and a lottery of lands and houses displayed the capricious bounty of fortune. The glories of the court were brightened rather than impaired in the decline of the empire; and a Greek ambassador might admire or pity the magnificence of the feeble Moctader. "The caliph's whole army," says the historian Abulfeda, "both horse and foot, was under arms, which together made a body of one hundred and sixty thousand men. His state-officers, the favourite slaves, stood near him in splendid apparel, their belts glittering with gold and gems. Near them were seven thousand eunuchs, four thousand of them white, the remainder black. The porters or door-keepers were in number seven hundred. Barges and boats, with the most superb decorations, were seen swimming upon the Tigris. Nor was the palace itself less splendid, in which were hung up thirty-eight thousand pieces of tapestry, twelve thousand five hundred of which were of silk embroidered with gold. The carpets on the floor were twenty-two thousand. An hundred lions were brought out with a keeper to each lion. Among the other spectacles of rare and stupendous luxury, was a tree of gold and silver spreading into eighteen large branches, on which, and on the lesser boughs, sat a variety of birds made of the same precious metals, as well as the leaves of the tree. While the machinery affected spontaneous motions, the several birds warbled their natural harmony. Through this scene of magnificence, the Greek ambassador was led by the visir to the foot of the caliph's throne." In the West, the Ommiades of Spain supported, with equal pomp, the title of commander of the faithful. Three miles from Cordova, in honour of his favourite sultana, the third and greatest of the Abdalrahmans constructed the city, palace, and gardens of Zehra. Twenty-five years, and above three millions sterling, were employed by the founder: his liberal taste invited the artists of Constantinople, the most skilful sculptors and architects of the age; and the buildings were sustained or adorned by twelve hundred columns of Spanish and African, of Greek and Italian marble. The hall of audience was encrusted with gold and pearls, and a great bason in the centre, was surrounded with the curious and cosdy figures of birds and quadrupeds. In a lofty pavilion of the gardens, one of these basons and fountains, so delightful in a sultry climate, was replenished not with water, but with the purest quicksilver. The seraglio of Abdalrahman, his wives, concubines, and black eunuchs, amounted to six thousand three hundred persons; and he was attended to the field by a guard of twelve thousand horse, whose belts and scymetars were studded with gold.
In a private condition, our desires are perpetually repressed by poverty and subordination; but the lives and labours of millions are devoted to the service of a despotic prince, whose laws are blindly obeyed, and whose wishes are instantly gratified. Our imagination is dazzled by the splendid picture; and whatever may be the cool dictates of reason, there are few among us who would obstinately refuse a trial of the comforts and the cares of royalty. It may therefore be of some use to borrow the experience of the same Abdalrahman, whose magnificence has perhaps excited our admiration and envy, and to transcribe an authentic memorial which was found in the closet of the deceased caliph. "I have now reigned above fifty years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honours, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to FOURTEEN: - 0 man! place not thy confidence in this present world."
Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, pp 345-346.
 That was just the gold and silver. The 'Mad Money'. Doesn't count the property, buildings, slaves or income from 'gifts', tribute, taxes and plunder.
 Refrigerated shipping containers c. 900 AD.
"What we gave, we have;
What we spent, we had;
What we left, we lost."
epitaph of Edward Courtenay
"the blind and the good" Earl of Devon c 1400
quoted from Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, p735
The art of man is able to construct monuments far more permanent than the narrow span of his own existence: yet these monuments, like himself, are perishable and frail; and in the boundless annals of time, his life and his labours must equally be measured as a fleeting moment.
Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, p1065.
"...very, very few people have any idea what they are talking about.
You must always remember that ninety per cent of what you're told is purest bullshit."
John Cleese, So Anyway
In spite of the great truth of that last statement it is certain that this fellow does not know what he is talking about, that is, he has certainly not quantified all of what all of us have been told so as to knowledgeably determine the percentage ... and judging from my personal experience, I am sure the percentage is much higher than 90%.
The 4 Virtues of a Sioux Warrior
"... But often one hears nothing when one listens for the first time to a piece of music that is at all complicated. ... Probably what is wanting, the first time, is not comprehension but memory. For our memory, relatively to the complexity of the impresions which it has to face while we are listening, is infinitesimal, as brief as the memory of a man who in his sleep thinks of a thousand things and at once forgets them, or as that of a man in his second childhood who cannot recall a minute afterwards what one has just said to him. Of these multiple impressions our memory is not capable of furnishing us with an immediate picture. But that picture gradually takes shape in the memory, and, with regard to works we have heard more than once, we are like the schoolboy who has read several times over before going to sleep a lesson which he supposed himself not to know, and finds that he can repeat it by heart next morning. ...
The reason why a work of genius is not easily admired from the first is that the man who has created it is extraordinary, that few other men resemble him. It is his work itself that, by fertilising the rare minds capable of understanding it, will make them increase and multiply.
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 1, Swann's Way, p 570 ff.; The definitive French Pleiade edition translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, Vantage Books, N.Y., 1982
Proust goes on to make the point that it is no use for the genius innovator to hold back on the release of his work in the face of certain popular rejection because it is the work itself that prepares the ground for it's reception. To release it at a later time would only be to release it for rejection at a later time. Like his vivid description of the way the mind works to build up a conscious memory, a new idea in the world must be repeated again and again before it takes root.
Well in fact Gotama's work was recognized almost immediately and by a wide swath of the population of the country. But in this special case, that fact itself was part of the genius of his work. Shortly after Gotama's death the usual suspects came in and virtually completely eradicated what he had done. It survived, as much as it has survived, in the memorized and then written works and has been incubating for 2500 years among the more cultured of humanity. Some of it's wisdom has seeped into the body of knowledge of the rest of the world. There is so much more. I have hope for greater acceptance by the present generation. It is an old story with mankind that in his youth man pursues ideals, in mid-life he turns to the acquisition of money and power and in his old age some return to the quest for knowledge of their youth. The so-called baby boom generation is just reaching retirement age. Life expectancy for a person retiring who has no obsession to keep his mind alive, is about three years. (He cleans up the garage, does a little gardening, reads a book, takes a cruse, spends a week formulating an exercise plan and dies.) Those with an abiding interest survive longer. Those whose youthful obsession was to become a man of knowledge may return to their youthful ambition and with wiser eyes and lucky contact discover Gotama's system. In the 60s the youth of the day were mislead by opportunistic gurus, in their better sense they abandoned their quest for realistic goals, today they have perspective sufficient to distinguish what is well said from what is said to pull the wool over their eyes.
As for the mechanism for developing the memory: The task for the ordinary person who wishes to remember or memorize something is to repeat it and make connections, for the student of the Aristocrats who wishes to see things as they are the task is to develop such speed and unobscured attention to the perception of phenomena that they become fully conscious as they form. There is, in the formation of a perception sufficient repetition and association to establish memory without personally initiated repetition or artificially invented associations.
It is the propitious miracle of self-esteem that, since few of us can have brilliant connections or profound attainments, those to whom they are denied still believe themselves to be the best endowed of men, because the optics of our social perspective make every grade of society seem the best to him who occupies it and who regards as less favoured then himself, ill-endowed, to be pitied, the greater men whom he names and calumniates without knowing them, judges and despises without understanding them.
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Volume I: Within a Budding Grove, p.826, The definitive French Pleiade edition translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, Vantage Books, N.Y.
"... a renunciation is not always total from the start, when we decide upon it in our original frame of mind and before it has reacted upon us, whether it be the renunciation of an invalid, a monk, an artist or a hero. But if he had wished to produce with certain people in his mind, in producing he had lived for himself, remote from society, to which he had become indifferent; the practice of solitude had given him a love for it, as happens with every big thing which we have begun by fearing, because we know it to be incompatible with smaller things which we prize and which it does not so much deprive us of as detach us from. Before we experience it, our whole preoccupation is to know to what extent we can reconcile it with certain pleasures which cease to be pleasures as soon as we have experienced it."
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Volume I, Within a Budding Grove, pg. 886. The definitive French Pleiade edition translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, Vantage Books, N.Y. 1982.
On the Intent Associated with Virtuous Behavior
"The fable of Ixion, who, embracing a cloud instead of Juno, begot the Centaurs, has been ingeniously enough supposed to have been invented to represent to us ambitious men, whose minds, doting on glory, which is a mere image of virtue, produce nothing that is genuine or uniform, but only, as might be expected of such a conjunction, misshapen and unnatural actions. Running after their emulations and passions, and carried away by the impulses of the moment, they may say with the herdsmen in the tragedy of Sophocles,
We follow these, though born their rightful lords,
And they command us, though they speak no words.
For this is indeed the true condition of men in public life, who, to gain the vain title of being the people's leaders and governors, are content to make themselves the slaves and followers of all the people's humors and caprices. For as the lookout men at the ship's prow, though they see what is ahead before the men at the helm, yet constantly look back to the pilots there, and obey the orders they give; so these men, steered, as I may say, by popular applause, though they bear the name of governors, are in reality the mere underlings of the multitude. The man who is completely wise and virtuous, has no need at all of glory, except so far as it disposes and eases his way to action by the greater trust that it procures him. A young man, I grant, may be permitted, while yet eager for distinction, to pride himself a little in his good deeds; for (as Theophrastus says) his virtues, which are yet tender and, as it were in the blade, cherished and supported by praises, grow stronger, and take the deeper root. But when this passion is exuberant, it is dangerous in all men, and in those who govern a commonweakh, utterly destructive. For in the possession of large power and authority, it transports men to a degree of madness; so that now they no more think what is good, glorious, but will have those actions only esteemed good that are glorious. As Phocion, therefore, answered king Antipater, who sought his approbation of some unworthy action, "I cannot be your flatterer, and your friend," so these men should answer the people, "I cannot govern and obey you." For it may happen to the commonwealth, as to the serpent in the fable, whose tail, rising in rebellion against the head, complained, as of a great grievance, that it was always forced to follow, and required that it should be permitted by turns to lead the way. And taking the command accordingly, it soon inflicted, by its senseless courses, mischiefs in abundance upon itself, while the head was torn and lacerated with following, contrary to nature, a guide that was deaf and blind. And such we see to have been the lot of many, who, submitting to be guided by the inclinations of an uninformed and unreasoning multitude, could neither stop, nor recover themselves out of the confusion."
Plutarch, Lives of Illustrious Men, translated from the Greek by John Dryden and others in 3 volumes. Volume III, pg 61-62, David McKay, no copyright or publication date.
"Then goodbye to you, Aubrey,' said the Admiral, holding out his hand. Yet it was not a human farewell: it was rather a gesture of civility to a being of another kind, very samll and far away, at the wrong end of a telescope as it were, a being of no importance, in circumstances of no great importance, that nevertheless had to be dealt with correctly.
Patrick O'Brian, The Ionian Mission, pg. 258, W.W. Norton & Co., 1981.
A beautifully rendered passage in which I see not the dying Admiral and Captain Aubrey, but Gotama and the world from which he was departing forever.
Not a series I can recommend (although as recreational reading it is superb) as it is essentially irrelevant to the purpose of attaining awakening, but those who are able to read from the perspective of the Buddhist ethical position will find in it an excellent, though unintentional, view, clearer than will be found in the most scholarly of academic histories, of the way flawed British values lead to the incredible arrogance, the misguided thinking, and corruption that brought about the fall of that great empire. Also found in this series are descriptions of everyday life which although two thousand years later and in a different country with different values, paints a picture of life that is much closer to that which existed in Gotama's time and place than does any conception one might form extrapolating from our own time and place [Friday, October 09, 2015 8:38 AM, U.S.A.] for instance the excessively brutal forms of punishment and their wide application (death for the theft of a loaf of bread by a child!) and the corresponding exceedingly polite and delicate forms of speech and behavior of even the most common of persons ... especially between classes.
"Times have changed from the times they used to be"
"Truly, now," said Michael Mail, clearing the corner of his throat in the manner of a man who meant to be convincing; "there's a friendly tie of some sort between music and eating." He lifted the cup to his mouth, and drank himself gradually backwards from a perpendicular position to a slanting one, during which time his looks performed a circuit from the wall opposite him to the ceiling overhead. Then clearing the other corner of his throat: "Once I was sitting in the little kitchen of the Three Choughs at Casterbridge, having a bit of dinner, and a brass band struck up in the street. Sich a beautiful band as that were! I was sitting eating fried liver and lights, I well can mind - ah, I was I and to save my life, I couldn't help chawing to the tune. Band played six-eight time; six-eight chaws I, willy-nilly. Band plays common; common time went my teeth among the fried liver and lights as true as a hair. Beautiful 'twere! Ah, I shall never forget that there band!"
Old Michael Mail, in Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy, 1872
pgs 33 & 70, Collins' Illustrated Pocket Classics,
London and Glasgow: Collins' Clear-Type Press,
Leather Gilt top. No date of publication.
To give an example of the use of 'mind' as 'remember'. So we justify using 'mind' as the translation throughout for 'sati', whether the intent is to be saying: 'the mind', 'remember', 'pay attention', or 'look after.' It makes no never-mind that this usage has fallen out of the common memory. We can recollect it. - 'lights' = lung - O.E.D.
"People never cease to change place in relation to ourselves. In the imperceptible but eternal march of the world, we regard them as motionless, in a moment of vision too brief for us to perceive the motion that is sweeping them on. But we have only to select in our memory two pictures taken of them at different moments, close enough together however for them not to have altered in themselves - perceptibly, that is to say - and the difference between the two pictures is a measure of the displacement that they have undergone in relation to us."
- Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Volume II: Cities of the Plain, pg 1054. The definitive French Pleiade edition translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin.
C. Wright Mills, writing about modern conditioning of mass opinion by the media, but applicable to all the forms of conditioning beings are subjected to from birth:
"Very little of what we think we know of the social realities of the world have we found out first-hand. Most of 'the pictures in our heads' we have gained from these media even to the point where we often do not really believe what we see before us until we read about it in the paper or hear about it on the radio. The media not only give us information; they guide our very experiences. Our standards of credulity, our standards of reality, tend to be set by these media rather than by our own fragmentary experience.
Accordingly, even if the individual has direct, personal experience of events, it is not really direct and primary: it is organized in stereotypes. It takes long and skillful training to so uproot such stereotypes that an individual sees things freshly, in an unstereotyped manner. One might suppose, for example, that if all the people went through a depression they would all 'experience it,' and in terms of this experience, that they would all debunk or reject or at least refract what the media say about it. But experience of such a structural shift has to be organized and interpreted if it is to count in the making of opinion.
The kind of experience, in short, that might serve as a basis for resistance to mass media is not an experience of raw events, but the experience of meanings. The fleck of interpretation must be there in the experience if we are to use the word experience seriously. And the capacity for such experience is socially implanted. The individual does not trust his own experience, as I have said, until it is confirmed by others or by the media. Usually such direct exposure is not accepted if it disturbs loyalties and beliefs that the individual already holds. To be accepted, it must relieve or justify the feelings that often lie in the back of his mind as key features of his ideological loyalties.
Stereotypes of loyalty underlie beliefs and feelings about given symbols and emblems; they are the very ways in which men see the social world and in terms of which men make up their specific opinions and views of events. They are the results of previous experience, which affect present and future experience. It goes without saying that men are often unaware of these loyalties, that often they could not formulate them explicitly. Yet such general stereotypes make for the acceptance or the rejection of specific opinions not so much by the force of logical consistency as by their emotional affinity and by the way in which they relieve anxieties. To accept opinions in their terms is to gain the good solid feeling of being correct without having to think. When ideological stereotypes and specific opinions are linked in this way, there is a lowering of the kind of anxiety which arises when loyalty and belief are not in accord. Such ideologies lead to a willingness to accept a given line of belief; then there is no need, emotionally or rationally, to overcome resistance to given items in that line; cumulative selections of specific opinions and feelings become the pre-organized attitudes and emotions that shape the opinion-life of the person.
These deeper beliefs and feelings are a sort of lens through which men experience their worlds, they strongly condition acceptance or rejection of specific opinions, and they set men's orientation towards prevailing authorities."
C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, Oxford University Press, 1956, p311 f.
"He did sometimes think he had been ill-used by fortune, so far as to say that to be born is a palpable dilemma, and that instead of men aiming to advance in life with glory they should calculate how to retreat out of it without shame.
Clym contemplating the horrorshow of the events of his life in T. Hardy, The Return of the Native, The Easton Press, Norwalk, 1978, p 389. Originally published 1878.
"... it is a curious fact, that the more ignorant and degraded men are, the more contemptuously they look upon those whom they deem their inferiors."
"In the days of Paganism, it [the regal office in Tahiti] was supported by all the power of a numerous priesthood, and was solemnly connected with the entire superstitious idolatry of the land. The monarch claimed to be a sort of bye-blow of Tararroa, the Saturn of the Polynesian mythology, and cousin-german to inferior deities. His person was thrice holy; if he entered an ordinary dwelling, never mind for how short a time, it was demolished when he left; no common mortal being thought worthy to inhabit it afterward.
'I'm a greater man than King George,' said the incorrigible young Otoo to the first missionaries; 'he rides on a horse, and I on a man.' Such was the case. He travelled post through his dominions on the shoulders of his subjects; and relays of mortal beings were provided in all the valleys.
But alas! how times have changed; how transient human greatness. Some years since, Pomaree Vahinee I, the granddaughter of the proud Otoo, went into the laundry business; publicly soliciting, by her agents, the washing of the linen belonging to the officers of ships touching in her harbours."
- Herman Melville, Omoo, 1847
"There is something extraordinary that you might care to notice when you are in VR, though nothing compels you to: you are no longer aware of your physical body. Your brain has accepted the avatar as your body. The only difference between your body and the rest of the reality you are experiencing is that you already know how to control your body, so it happens automatically and subconsciously.
But actually, because of homuncular flexibility, any part of reality might just as well be a part of your body if you happen to hook up the software elements so that your brain can control it easily. Maybe if you wiggle your toes, the clouds in the sky will wiggle too. Then the clouds would start to feel like part of your body. All the items of experience become more fungible than in the physical world. And this leads to the revelatory experience.
The body and the rest of reality no longer have a prescribed boundary. So what are you at this point? You're floating in there, as a center of experience. You notice you exist, because what else could be going on? I think of VR as a consciousness-noticing machine."
- You Are Not A Gadget, Jaron Lanier, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2010. I requested permission to use this quote, but have received no response. I am therefore using it under the heading of 'fair use.' If Jaron or his representatives object, this article will be revised to eliminate the quote.
Now put this together with Don Juan's 'Dream Body', and Gotama's 'Mind-made Body'. Both of these are brought into existence by work of imagination rather than creations of software-created hardware ... or one might characterize the efforts of the software and hardware VR engineers as being crude efforts at creation of an imaginary alternative bodily experience which could be much more swiftly and skillfully accomplished by trusting the mind.
Lanier then goes on to speculate on the nature of identified with consciousness as the experience of existence. For the Buddhist this is not the issue. For us it is a given that the individual, in his blindness, creates identified-with conscious existence through his actions of mind, speech and body. Where the Buddhist can profit from Lanier's observation is in the acceptance of the notion that experience of self is not tied irredeemably to this or any body.
The Buddhist can also answer Lanier's question: "You notice you exist, what else could be going on?" by suggesting that there is no need for this conclusion. It is a struggle to force the idea of personal existence on something that can be shown to be out of control of the individual. Or you could say that the individual is intruding himself into a reality unnecessarily. Unnecessary for the rest of the phenomenological world to be occurring. A currently subjectively-identified-with existence (the so-called 'real' body) is creating subjective identified-with consciousness of existence through acts of mind, speech and body. At such a time as that consciousness strips off the blindness at the root of this creative effort and sees that the product is always going to be flawed and end badly, all that is needed to avoid that unpleasantness is to avoid that creating.
In the Virtual Reality world, without creating what they are calling an avatar (a representation of the self) the experience would still involve consciousness of things and others in that Virtual Reality world.
It would have helped if this book had had a Glossary.
homuncular flexibility: the ability of humans to identify with forms other than 'their' human bodies. 'Fungibility' is a term generally used in finance to describe a similar phenomena. Oil and gold are 'fungable': they can be used in trade without reference to a national currency.
You don't need to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
Don't even listen, simply wait.
Don't even wait.
Be quiet and still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you.
To be unmasked. It has no choice.
It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
Franz Kafka, quoted by Tom Robbins in Still Life with Woodpecker
Kafka clearly reached the point where he was able to see from the point of view of Pajapati, but at least in so far as his published work is concerned, he did not see the solution to Pajapati's problem.
"We received no food. We lived on snow; it took the place of bread. The days resembled the nights, and the nights left in our souls the dregs of their darkness. The train rolled slowly, often halted for a few hours, and continued. ... There followed days and nights of traveling. ... One day when we had come to a stop, a worker took a piece of bread out of his bag and threw it into a wagon. There was a stampede. Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs. ... A crowd of workmen and curious passersby had formed all along the train. They had undoubtedly never seen a train with this kind of cargo. Soon, pieces of bread were falling into the wagons from all sides. And the spectators observed these emaciated creatures ready to kill for a crust of bread.
A piece fell into our wagon. ... I saw, not far from me, an old man dragging himself on all fours. He had just detached himself from the struggling mob. He was holding one hand to his heart. At first I thought he had received a blow to his chest. Then I understood: he was hiding a piece of bread under his shirt. With lightning speed he pulled it out and put it to his mouth. His eyes lit up, a smile, like a grimace, illuminated his ashen face. And was immediately extinguished. A shadow had lain down beside him. And this shadow threw itself over him. Stunned by the blows, the old man was crying: "Meir, my little Meir! Don't you recognize me ... You're killing your father ... I have bread ... for you too ... for you too ..." He collapsed. But his fist was still clutching a small crust. He wanted to raise it to his mouth. But the other threw himself on him. The old man mumbled something, groaned, and died. Nobody cared. His son searched him, took the crust of bread, and began to devour it. He didn't get far. Two men had been watching him. They jumped him. Others joined in. When they withdrew there were two dead bodies next to me, the father and the son.
Elie Wiesel, Night, pg 100 ff., translated by Marion Wiesel, Hill and Wang, New York 2006. First published in French 1958 by Les Éditions de Minuit, France, as La Nuit.