Hierarchy v. Status

 

The ego’s version of hierarchy is status or rank.  It is constantly reassessing itself on a scale of “better than/worse than.”  This manifests in obvious measures such as money, power, looks, fame, etc., culminating in the attitude “Do you know who I am?” There are any number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways we use to draw attention to ourselves; even among “spiritual” people there are little emblems of rank that assert their superior holiness.  We are all at times like the Pharisee*, thankful that we are not like these others.  But if we beat our breasts like the tax collector, we are still judging ourselves on a scale.  I can still want you to notice how humble I am.

This judging also works in more subtle and insidious ways; the inner sense of superiority or inferiority that we all carry, and that operates the little voice of criticism in our heads.  Someone cuts in front us while driving and we feel compelled to comment on their lack of driving skill.  We notice a very attractive person and our voice says we could never get to know them.  These things seem trivial, but they define the borders of our world: better/worse, I am still other and alienated from you.  I do not know myself, and you, as the One.

*The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector  (Luke 18: 9-14)

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

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The Ideal of Winter

 

In order to help us understand what he calls the Ideal or the Good, Plato uses several different analogies in his book The Republic. The one I’d like to discuss here has come to be known as “The Divided Line,” and I’ll have to ask you to bear with me if it takes a while to get to the point. Plato describes a four-part hierarchy of Reality, if you will, with things that are transitory and illusory at one end, and that which is permanent and true at the other. For example, reflections and shadows are illusory in the sense that they are dependent on a physical object to exist. We can see the sun reflected on the ocean, but if it goes behind a cloud the reflection goes also.  Read more…

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The Ideal of Introspection

The Ideal of Introspection

Death said: ‘The Self-existent pierced the openings (of the senses) so that they turn forward: therefore man looks forward, not backward into himself. Some wise man, however, with his eyes closed and wishing for immortality, saw the Self behind.’  Katha Upanishad (II:1,1) , trans. Müller

Let man, then, learn the revelation of all nature and all thought to his heart; this, namely; that the Highest dwells with him; that the sources of nature are in his own mind, if the sentiment of duty is there. But if he would know what the great God speaketh, he must `go into his closet and shut the door,’ as Jesus said. God will not make himself manifest to cowards. He must greatly listen to himself, withdrawing himself from all the accents of other men’s devotion.  The Over-Soul, Ralph Waldo Emerson

One theme that is common to all works in the spiritual tradition is the need for introspection.  But “looking within” raises some immediate questions:  Who is doing the looking?  What is it looking for, or at?  If looking for something, how will it know it when it sees it?  These are some of the questions I hope to consider in this essay.

Link to the essay.

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The Ideal of Hierarchy

The Ideal of Hierarchy

I will grant this is rather a clunky title, but it comes closer than the alternatives– scale, continuum, ascent, ladder, gradation–to describing what I wish to talk about.  As an organizing system for human interactions, the hierarchy is ubiquitous throughout history, in governments, the military, businesses, institutions of most every kind. As a structure to carry out a particular mission, its success is evident–there are those who have the power and give the orders, and those who have less (or none) and carry them out.  Over time, though, they tend to collapse under their own weight.  This structure also exists in philosophical schools as well as in our own belief systems, and this is what I would like to concentrate on.

Link to the essay.

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The Ideal of The Odyssey

   The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer con­tinue to be touch­stones of the West­ern canon, with new trans­la­tions appear­ing it seems every few years, and an ongo­ing cot­tage indus­try of crit­i­cism and inter­pre­ta­tions, to which of course this essay belongs.  That this is true should not be a sur­prise, given the remark­able nature of these works, which pro­vide the same kind of jolt as find­ing an M16 in a dig at Troy.  I don’t claim the qual­i­fi­ca­tions to step into this stream of aca­d­e­mic crit­i­cism, but I do humbly offer an inter­pre­ta­tion of sev­eral themes in the Odyssey seen through the over­all theme of self-remembering that has been used in other essays in this series.  I don’t claim that this was in fact Homer’s intent in “writ­ing” it, but there are I think too many con­gruities for it to be an accident.

Link to the essay.

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What you are….

 
You are the lamb and you are the shepherd
You are the great and you are the small
You are the sought and you are the seeker
You are the One and you are the All.
 
You are the bridge and you are the river
You are the mother, you are the son
You are the raindrop, you are the ocean
You are the All and you are the One.
 
dab 2002
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The Ideal of the Quest

 The Ideal of the Quest

The use of storytelling, particularly that of the quest myth, is one of the fundamental human approaches to expressing the inexpressible. I’ve addressed this previously on my blog, exploring the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, and the allegory of the Cave in Plato’s Republic, but I wanted to take this opportunity to examine it in more detail, and also bring it out of the realm of the heroic to something that can be applied to our everyday lives.

Link to the essay.

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The Ideal of Justice

The Ideal of Justice

The prominence of the subject of justice in the Ideal tradition, or at least up through Plato, is one that I think frankly baffles most people in modern democracies.  Well, of course, justice is important, and we have a system for that.  When someone is wronged or harmed, things need to be set right.  We even acknowledge our debt to the ancient Athenians: equal justice before the law, trial by jury, preponderance of evidence, presumption of innocence.  And perhaps just because the Athenians were so passionate about implementing justice, and really so successful at it (with the glaring exception of Socrates), it can be hard for us to understand why it still played such a big part in their thinking and writing.  It is, after all, the nominal subject of Plato’s Republic, which goes on about for 10 books.

Link to the essay.

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Hell and Heaven

 

Hell is all desire with no possibility of fulfillment; heaven is all fulfillment with no possibility of desire.

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The Ideal of Immortality

In an update of an article from The Onion, we can report that the world death rate is still holding steady at 100%.  So you might want to read the following…..

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

From Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,      William Wordsworth

    That we as human beings are immortal souls is axiomatic to the philosophy of the Ideal.  The Ideal is “infinite in all directions,” including time, so immortality is a given.  However, we’ll take a look at a number of the different expressions given to this principle by some of our favorite Idealists through the ages.  (I’ve treated the subject before in both the book and also my blog,  but I hope to expand on it here.)  As I expressed in the book, I believe this to be one of the most pressing issues facing us today, when medicine can keep a heartbeat going almost indefinitely, and it is not uncommon for hundreds of thousands of dollars to be spent prolonging life of the body for just a few days or weeks.  Not to mention the whole sad phenomenon of cryogenics and other supposed ways to achieve immortality for the body.  We need to come to terms with the fact that bodies are temporary, and look at what happens when they stop.

Link to the essay.

 

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The Ideal of School

Socrates:I suspect, as indeed you seem to think yourself, that you are in labor–great with some conception.  Come then to me, who am a midwife’s son and myself a midwife, and do your best to answer the questions which I will ask you.  Plato, Theatetus

In this episode, we’ll take a look at some of the philosophical movements that have bloomed over the centuries in the Western tradition, as well as some of the practices they developed to help students internalize their teachings.  A point I’d like to make early and often is that the way philosophy is studied today is very different from the way it was studied in antiquity when many of these schools were founded.  They were not so much “schools of thought” as “schools of being,” where like-minded people would come together to share good company and partake in a largely oral tradition.

Link to the essay.

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The Ideal of Love

 
 
That Love is all there is,
Is all we know of Love;
It is enough, the freight should be
Proportioned to the groove.
–Emily Dickinson

The Ideal of Love is very closely tied to the Ideal of Beauty, as I explored in my book of the same name, and the quote from John Vyvyan in his Shakespeare and Platonic Beauty with which I opened that book bears repeating: Considered philosophically, love and beauty were invented by Plato.

Link to full essay.

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The Ideal of Beauty

Among philosophical or spiritual masters, Plato is unique in making Beauty an inherent quality of his Supreme Being, the Ideal. Indeed, he uses the terms almost interchangeably. Given the grim origins of most systems–born from sorrow, suffering and sin–it is not difficult to see the enduring appeal of his teaching, especially in other ages which were more predisposed than ours to the love of beauty.

Go to complete essay.

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Episode 39: The Ideal before Socrates, Part II

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Episode 38: The Ideal before Socrates, Part I

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Episode 37: The Ideal and the Establishment

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Episode 36: The Ideal and Religion

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Real Nature

Our real nature–the Ideal–is Truth, Consciousness and Bliss.  But we settle for facts, thinking and pleasure.

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Another Plotinus Fan

I received a nice email from Joshua Sellers, who is also a fan of Plotinus and others in the Ideal tradition.  He wrote a fine poem inspired Plotinus’ last words that I think captures his spirit well.  Read the poem here, and listen to a reading here.

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Forgiveness

Our first day in Heaven will be an orgy of forgiveness.  That day can be this day.

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Love

We are all in Love in the same way that we are all in air.  Don’t forget to breathe.

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More Shakespeare

I mentioned John Vyvyan’s Shakespeare and Platonic Beauty in the last post, and am happy to announce that while it is not in paper print, it can be downloaded from the Internet Archive at http://www.archive.org/details/shakespeareandpl001510mbp

It has its fair share of Optical Character Recognition glitches, but at least it is available.  Vyvan discusses the contribution of Marsilio Ficino in depth, and reminds us that the main reason certain artists and thinkers endure is that they are spiritual teachers first.  An example: Considered philosophically, love and beauty were invented by Plato.  And whenever the European mind has theorized about them since–until the Freudians
set a cat among the pigeons–some echo of the Symposium or the Phaedrus is nearly always to be caught.  Even during the centuries when these dialogues were lost, their influence was felt through intermediaries; and when the Platonic revival came in the Renaissance, they pervaded the thinking of the age.

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A Recommendation


The Shakespearean Ethic by John Vyvyan has just been reissued by Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers in the UK, and I highly recommend it.  First published in 1959, it is an analysis of a number of the plays, particularly the tragedies, from the viewpoint of rise or fall of the soul in relation to its “true self,” the “thou” of the sonnets.  It has the kind of insight that can come I think, only from someone outside the academy, and it will send me back to the plays with fresh eyes.  Two more of Vyvyan’s books, Shakespeare and Platonic Beauty  and Shakespeare and the Rose of Love, will also be reissued if this one is successful.

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Episode 35: The Myth of Er

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Episode 34: The Cave and the Hero’s Quest

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