Beyond good and evil: post-identity political and philosophical thoughts inspired by the words of Zen monk Ryōkan

 

Ryokan

Where beauty is, then there is ugliness;
where right is, also there is wrong.
Knowledge and ignorance are interdependent;
delusion and enlightenment condition each other.
Since olden times it has been so.
How could it be otherwise now?
Wanting to get rid of one and grab the other
is merely realising a scene of stupidity.
Even if you speak of the wonder of it all,
how do you deal with each thing changing?
Ryōkan (Zen monk, 1758–1831)

All the politics and analytic philosophy can be, for now it can just be. All the righteous anger and the hatred and division into us and them can be, all the love and peace and tranquility can be in the same space at the same time, no division except in our distorted minds, only if we choose to divide through words and try to define that which struggles to be defined, that maybe cannot be defined (yet still I try), trying to make sense of our trauma, our fearful lies, rising in intensity to the inevitable collision and calamity that awaits us liked a doomed and blighted destiny.

All the fear is in my mind, and my body feels raw sensations which I try and fail to interpret through my conditioning. But I have the fortune to know, however it came to me, that I am not only my body, or what the world conceives my body to be, I am not my mind, or what received wisdom conceives mind to be. The world of form, of judgment, of present day society’s conception of truth, is just a glitch in the fabric of reality.

Through shifting symbols and signs, in ever-greater complexity, competing definitions of good and evil become part of a twisted history. Such illusions cannot be challenged directly, to challenge directly and forcefully is to become enmeshed in the web, so if I leave it be and let it pass around and through me, it will not pull me under unnecessarily.

I cannot struggle to escape quicksand, ever more confused and distressed, sinking deeper and further away from the simplicity of isness, with a mind full of increasingly fraught complexity, foolishly choosing to believe what present day society tells me I am, what impolite society makes of me. I must instead learn to wade through resistance mindfully.

And what is this resistance but the projection of shadows I cast through my own inability to see what is intrinsically a broken part of me? I am not truly fashioned by this ramshackle construct of society unless I choose to be. It’s only a story that keeps on telling me, and as long as I keep telling myself this story it also defines me. Stuck in the middle, willingly, with all sides claiming a piece of me. And I react, offering broken pieces of myself scornfully in return.

Yet it can only be as it has to be. I cannot grasp the truth without grasping what lies close around it, cannot have friend without enemy. I do not need to live with a mind divided unless I choose to. Yet still I get caught intermittently in the rights and wrongs of the form I was given and took to, the race, class, creed, sex and gender identity foisted on me, which I clothe myself with and have pinned on me again and again, sometimes to suit other agendas unbeknownst to me, shifting from moment to moment by my own and others’ estimation of me based on illusory grasping of that which has no intrinsic existence, yet through which a kind of existence abides.

This so-called privilege, named by those who, wittingly or unwittingly, assume their own privilege, a power game played reactively, this attachment to signs and symbols is illusory, it thwarts us all from being the fullest expression of our collective isness, which is all we need to be to escape the delusion of history

Stranded in our unchosen realities, beyond superficial definitions, this privilege we all share, to exist, to know ourselves in this moment, from moment to moment, beyond language, opinion, discrimination and division, this true privilege to live cannot be reduced by pleasure or pain, by domination or submission, it is beyond explanation.

This power of subjective definition exists only in relation to itself, active or passive, it exerts a grip on its own reflection, subjective or objective, it is empty of content, fundamentally it only exists as a creation of the rational mind, which is itself a concept bound by time, a faltering construct of an I which has no intrinsic a priori existence despite Kantian claims to the contrary. And neither does that definition, ironically constructed with words fashioned in part subjectively and rationally and vaguely consciously.

Beyond confusion, I see that I am the nothing that has found itself becoming something, a living being expressing isness, yet yearning to be known and to know in a space beyond words, beyond symbols, beyond signs, a voiceless voice which embraces irony in the space that poetry provides, dancing on the demarcation points of history and the notion of essential identity. And in a moment, words spewing forth and liquid in their levity, I am at peace, embracing inevitable oblivion by being one who cannot properly define, yet who knows there is more to us than our identity and knowing that I must speak words, and make signs and define symbols as I am compelled, so isness can be realised.

On such ironies this essential truth I know resides.

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