Thursday, April 6, 2017
DON'T MIND ME
No one peers deeper into the human heart than the Russian novelists of the 19th century. I just finished reading Goncharov's The Precipice (1869). It's a lovely rustic novel that features intrigues, professions of love, aspiring artists, incriminating secrets, and much laughter at the simple ways of characters who though separated from me by more than a century and a continent felt as familiar as family. The book is also free on Kindle.
Speaking of Russian novelists, next on my list is a collection of short works by Gogol, who is regarded as the father of Russian prose and the counterpart to the poet Pushkin. Gogol is another writer that plumbs the depths, and what penetrating insight! About the hero of The Odyssey (Odysseus), Gogol writes: "In every hard and oppressive moment (he) turned to his own heart, unaware that with this inner scrutiny of himself he had already said that hidden prayer uttered in a moment of distress by every man having no understanding whatever of God."
Translation: God is within. You don't need to worship a particular deity, or attend a service, or give alms. All you need to do is listen to your inner voice, which always speaks the truth, in no uncertain terms. When I was a young boy, my parents used to take me to see a Hindu holy man, who was regarded by his numerous followers as a divine incarnation. An avatar. A God-man.
Watching Sai Baba make his rounds, lay hands on the sick, counsel the down-trodden, and perform miracles (which I witnessed first-hand), I used to wonder inwardly as he answered the prayers and ministered to the needs of so many devotees: "Who is it that Sai Baba prays to? Who comes to his aid when he is in need?"
The answer, of course, is that Sai Baba listened to his inner voice, always and without fail. It is the same with all the great masters, Christ and Buddha and Krishna and the like. The inner voice is the same in every heart, it unites us all. It is the voice of God. Reason, intuition, common sense, the higher self, conscience. The voice goes by many names, but its essence is ever the same: supreme power and perfect truth. God isn't somewhere out there to be worshiped, prayed to, feared and/or adored. If God is everywhere then God also dwells within you. It's time you listen.
This idea is not new. The Greeks publicized it 2500 years ago. Plato called it anamnesis. Anamnesis is the idea that humans possess knowledge from past incarnations and that learning consists of rediscovering that knowledge within us. In his dialogue Meno, Plato has the philosopher Socrates show anamnesis at work. Socrates picks a random individual, who happens to be one of Meno's slaves. This slave is uneducated and has no knowledge of geometry. By asking the slave a few questions, Socrates is able to demonstrate that the boy does in fact know the answer to a complicated geometry problem (how to find twice the area of a square). The great philosopher is thereby convinced that the budding Euclid has "spontaneously recovered" information from a past life, or from a great well of all knowledge (cosmic consciousness), without being taught. All Socrates has to do is ask a few questions. This breed of questioning is called the Socratic method. It's used in law schools, to train the brains of lawyers-to-be. But long before there were attorneys, it was a part of the daily life of every citizen, at least in the Athens square. You may think by his questioning that Socrates was "leading the witness." Maybe he would confess to being "guilty as charged." Nevertheless, the boy got the answer right the first time.
Each of us carries within the totality of all that is. All knowledge and abilities. All we have to do is call it up. And to do this, start by sitting still, quieting the mind, and tuning in. In the place of no mind, free of desire, in a spirit of openness and detachment, the truth will finally shine through.
Sure, there are books like the I Ching. You can ask that millennia-old "book of changes" a question, then flip a coin and turn to the appropriate page to find your answer. But you already possess all the information of the I Ching waiting to be explored, so why not save the trees? Until the book becomes part of the public domain, at least.
What did my voice tell me? For starters, that I've saved so much money on free reads that I should treat myself to a box of cigars. At around 4 dollars per stogie online the Partagas I purchased are practically a steal. Good luck finding them at a smoke shop or even a liquor store for under twice that price. It recalls my early days of cigar smoking, back when I worked at Arnold Schwarzenegger's now-shuttered Schatzi on Main. I was just out of college. And Arnold, still a huge action star, had yet to be governor. Now he's washed up and I'm practically the age he was back when! But I guess I'm sentimental. And a good cigar helps me think. I quietly remind myself that tobacco is a drug and cigars are carcinogenic. But the voice pronounces that moral integrity should be judged not by what goes in your mouth, but by what comes out. And cigars have never made me vomit. Besides, if I was really worried about cancer, I'd at least wear sunscreen.
Of course, when you have lots of voices ringing in your head, and each answers to "me," determining who's really talking can be confusing. But I don't mind. Which I suppose is the point.