Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed. But what can attribution achieve in this instance? The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism. The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice. When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic. Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: theirvision.
It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard. But what do we find now that the curtain has…
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Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed. But what can attribution achieve in this instance? The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism. The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice. When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic. Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: their vision.
It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard. But what do we find now that the curtain has not just been pulled back, but entirely torn from the frame? A cacophony of bewilderment and confusion. Given the ability to connect, we find the opposite: rival factions forming even within so-called liberal and humanitarian endeavours. True, beneath the media hype circus and informing every echo-chamber is a series of seemingly incomprehensible yet profound events. To make sense of these events we cling to the narrative structures that reinforce our own belief systems (even those who claim to be free of them entirely). But what we see is that these narratives, constructed in a context of individualism, serve to divide us further.
As well as the political and global turmoil, twenty-sixteen has, for various reasons, been a trying year for me personally and those around me with whom I am lucky enough to share a more intimate relationship. It is not my intention to emphasise either a positive or negative interpretation of trying. About midway through the year I discovered the writings of Charles Eisenstein whose philosophy has subsequently resonated with me profoundly: pulling together various paths of thought that I had been unable to do so alone. All ideology is narrative. Humanity has been driven by a story of separation, the self as a discrete entity. Science, politics, art, education, religion, economics &c. are all ideologies constructed to make sense of the world. All of these ideologies have failed because they are predicated on a falsehood (the story of separation).
What follows is my review of the past twelve months. It is necessarily my own perspective. A chronologically driven (linear and cyclical) second-person narrative, this story is one-part diary (personal and political), one-part consumption (books and music) and one-part philosophical exegesis (bildungsroman). Depending on your proximity: in jokes, pop-philosophy, bad puns, scholarly intent, juvenilia, paradox, pretension and/or pith. Anything underlined is hyperlinked to the source of the reference (music, words, obituaries &c.). Direct quotes are underlined and the reference is hyperlinked from the (Author, Date) notation to where the quote exists in its full context elsewhere on my blog. Before writing I set myself the following rules: Each entry must a) refer to the events of that month, both internal and external b) include a quote from every book I read that month that can be as seamlessly as possible woven into the overarching narrative c) contain a reference to some music I had on repeat that month, and d) reflect the nature and personal development of my philosophical enquiry. There follows a full bibliography and an appendix. Ma gavte la nata.
Adam John Miller
20th December, 2016
One, two, three, four … the clock in the kitchen struck twelve. How irrelevantly, seeing that time had ceased to exist! The absurd, importunate bell had sounded at the heart of a timelessly present Event, of a Now that changed incessantly in a dimension, not of seconds and minutes, but of beauty, of significance, of intensity, of deepening mystery. “Luminous bliss.” From the shallows of his mind the words rose like bubbles, came to the surface, and vanished into the infinite spaces of living light that now pulsed and breathed behind his closed eyelids. “Luminous bliss.” That was as near as one could come to it. But it—this timeless and yet ever-changing Event—was something that words could only caricature and diminish, never convey. It was not only bliss, it was also understanding. Understanding of everything, but without knowledge of anything. Knowledge involved a knower and all the infinite diversity of known and knowable things. But here, behind his closed lids, there was neither spectacle nor spectator. There was only this experienced fact of being blissfully one with Oneness… Speaking was difficult. Not because there was any physical impediment. It was just that speech seemed so fatuous, so totally pointless. “Light,” he whispered at last.
“And you’re there, looking at the light?”
“Not looking at it,” he answered, after a long reflective pause. “Being it. Being it,” he repeated emphatically.
Its presence was his absence. William Asquith Farnaby—ultimately and essentially there was no such person. Ultimately and essentially there was only a luminous bliss, only a knowledgeless understanding, only union with unity in a limitless, undifferentiated awareness. This, self-evidently, was the mind’s natural state…
Light here, light now. And because it was infinitely here and timelessly now, there was nobody outside the light to look at the light. The fact was the awareness, the awareness the fact. From that other world, somewhere out there to the right, came the sound once more of Susila’s voice. “Are you feeling happy?” she asked. A surge of brighter radiance swept away all those flickering thoughts and memories. There was nothing now except a crystalline transparency of bliss. Without speaking, without opening his eyes, he smiled and nodded.
“Eckhart called it God,” she went on. ” ‘Felicity so ravishing, so inconceivably intense that no one can describe it. And in the midst of it God glows and flames without ceasing.’ “
Aldous Huxley, Island.
“My God!” he said. “I hadn’t noticed. How unobservant can one be?”
“Is this the first time you’ve seen the Buddha in this context?”
“The first time. Is there some legend?”
She nodded. “One of my favorites. You know about the Bodhi Tree, of course?”
“Yes, I know about the Bodhi Tree.”
“Well, that wasn’t the only tree that Gautama sat under at the time of his Enlightenment. After the Bodhi Tree, he sat for seven days under a banyan, called the Tree of the Goatherd. And after that he moved on to the Tree of Muchalinda.”
“Who was Muchalinda?”
“Muchalinda was the King of the Snakes and, being a god, he knew what was happening. So when the Buddha sat down under his tree, the Snake King crawled out of his hole, yards and yards of him, to pay Nature’s homage to Wisdom. Then a great storm blew up from the west. The divine cobra wrapped its coils round the more than divine man’s body, spread its hood over his head
and, for the seven days his contemplation lasted, sheltered the Tathagata from the wind and rain. So there he sits to this day, with cobra beneath him, cobra above him, conscious simultaneously of cobra and the Clear Light and their ultimate identity.”
“How very different,” said Will, “from our view of snakes!”
“And your view of snakes is supposed to be God’s view— remember Genesis.”
” ‘I will put enmity between thee and the woman,’ ” he quoted, ” ‘and between her seed and thy seed.’ “
“But Wisdom never puts enmity anywhere. All those senseless pointless cockfights between Man and Nature, between Nature and God, between the Flesh and the Spirit! Wisdom doesn’t make those insane separations.”
“Nor does Science.”
“Wisdom takes Science in its stride and goes a stage further.”
“And what about totemism?” Will went on. “What about the fertility cults? They didn’t make any separations. Were they Wisdom?”
“Of course they were—primitive Wisdom, Wisdom on the neolithic level. But after a time people begin to get self-conscious and the old Dark Gods come to seem disreputable. So the scene changes. Enter the Gods of Light, enter the Prophets, enter Pythagoras and Zoroaster, enter the Jains and the early Buddhists. Between them they usher in the Age of the Cosmic Cockfight—Ormuzd versus Ahriman, Jehovah versus Satan and the Baalim, Nirvana as opposed to Samsara, appearance over against Plato’s Ideal Reality. And except in the minds of a few Tankriks and Mahayanists and Taoists and heretical Christians, the cockfight went on for the best part of two thousand years.”
“After which?” he questioned.
“After which you get the beginnings of modern biology.”
Will laughed. ” ‘God said, Let Darwin be,’ and there was Nietzsche, Imperialism and Adolf Hitler.”
“All that,” she agreed. “But also the possibility of a new kind of Wisdom for everybody. Darwin took the old totemism and raised it to the level of biology. The fertility cults reappeared as genetics and Havelock Ellis. And now it’s up to us to take another half turn up the spiral. Darwinism was the old neolithic Wisdom turned into scientific concepts. The new conscious Wisdom—the kind of Wisdom that was prophetically glimpsed in Zen and Taoism and Tantra—is biological theory realized in living practice, is Darwinism raised to the level of compassion and spiritual insight. So you see,” she concluded, “there isn’t any earthly reason—much less any heavenly reason—why the Buddha, or anyone else for that matter, shouldn’t contemplate the Clear Light as manifested in a snake.”
“Even though the snake might kill him?” “Even though it might kill him.”
“And even though it’s the oldest and most universal of phallic symbols?”
Shanta laughed. ” ‘Meditate under the Tree of Muchalinda’— that’s the advice we give to every pair of lovers. And in the intervals between those loving meditations remember what you were taught as children; snakes are your brothers; snakes have a right to your compassion and your respect; snakes, in a word, are good, good, good.”
“Snakes are also poisonous, poisonous, poisonous.”
“But if you remember that they’re just as good as they’re poisonous, and act accordingly, they won’t use their poison.”
“Who says so?”
“It’s an observable fact. People who aren’t frightened of snakes, people who don’t approach them with the fixed belief that the only good snake is a dead snake, hardly ever get bitten. Next week I’m borrowing our neighbor’s pet python. For a few days I’ll be giving Rama his lunch and dinner in the coils of the Old Serpent.”
Aldous Huxley, Island.
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. Anyone 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.