My latest post over at The Electric Agora.
Yoga demands a total dedication of the life to the aspiration for the discovery and embodiment of the Divine Truth and to nothing else whatsoever… You must go inside yourself and enter into a complete dedication to the spiritual life. All clinging to mental preferences must fall away from you, all insistence on vital aims and interests and attachments must be put away, all egoistic clinging to family, friends, country must disappear if you want to succeed in yoga.
– Sri Aurobindo, Internal Yoga
There are great upheavals happening our world – political, social, technological. Watching the news, things seems unpredictable, chaotic, transformative. But for good or for bad? Sides are being chosen. And people call out, “Don’t be silent. Don’t pretend to be neutral. Choose a side now, before it is too late!”
In this situation, Aurobindo’s quote is a great soothing balm.
There are always upheavals happening in the world. Old regimes topple, new regimes arrive promising heaven on Earth. Each side claims only it can lead the way, and claims you have to choose them now, before all is lost.
Currently, the big issue, if you are on the left, is whether Democracy will survive. The issue is raised with a pitch of frenzy and urgency. I can understand where they are coming from. But no – I will not embrace the frenzy and the anxiety.
I am here on Earth mainly to grow spiritually – to be with the Divine. That is my primary task. My primary task isn’t to ensure whether this form of government or that form, this form of economy or that form thrives. Christ was born in a time without democracy. So was the Buddha. It didn’t diminish their lives any less for that. By modern standards, they were “unfree”, subjugated (Buddha after he left his kingdom, anyway!), rendered voiceless. All true in a sense. In an important sense.
And yet! Oh, what a yet!
And yet, they lived a full life, as full a life as imaginable, because they lived primarily for their spiritual calling on Earth. They lived for spiritual awakening, for the Divine, for the Truth of a cosmic awareness.
This is the main task. My main task for myself. What Christ calls me to do – to be with Him!
Like with the left, I understand the concerns of the right. The world seems to be hurtling into a choatic free for all, where traditional ways of life and cultures and modes of interaction are being upended. Or so it seems very much. And I also want to say “Merry Christmas!” and mean it to speak of the Lord who died for my sins, rather than a mundane “Happy Holidays!” which speaks to an economic event.
And yet! Oh, thank god for that yet!
The purpose of my life is to be with Christ. To find that connection within me, every moment, every second. To nurture that relationship at all costs, prior to all needs. It is the most personal and immediate relationship. And no one can get between me and Christ. No one can inhibit my relation to Him. There is no threat to me, as long as I look to Christ and make him the center of my life. In that relation is a deep peace, a deep fulfillment. A deep awareness of the passing ups and downs of cultures, times, empires, traditions.
I was born to be with Christ. To realize that relation to Him. To nurture it, to grow in it, to feel it within me with a bond that cannot be broken. That is the purpose of life. That is the purposes of yoga, of the spiritual calling at the heart of every human being.
Raise to that calling! Embrace it! Live just for the Divine, and not for what the mental attachments of what your mind says, no matter how important or how big, or how much it concerns famous people living in famous buildings doing famous things.
Revolutions are happening out there, yes. True. But the deepest revolution is always happening not out there, but in you. Be revolutionary. Change the world. Embrace the Divine in you, and live as it seems impossible to do.
Likewise, traditions are in danger. Cultures are being lost. Yes. True. But the deepest and oldest and greatest tradition is not other there, but in you. Be a stand for tradition. Uphold the past. Do what the great humans of the past did: live for the Divine in you, without expecting the Divine to live for you in the way you imagine.
The whirlwinds in the world blow always. Sometimes they die down a little, sometimes they rise up into major storms. But either way, your life isn’t decided by the whirlwinds. It is decided by what you were born to do.
Couple of questions raised by newfie931 to the previous post:
As we go through this process, do we forsake the possibility of being in a loving romantic relationship?
Another question is, to what extent is this radical turning inward, this focus on personal transformation, sustainable without ever having to fight others?
These are very important questions, which I struggle with every day.
My response comes down to the concept of spiritual selfishness.
The questions get their grip by a contrast we often draw between spirituality and everyday life. This contrast then gets drawn as spirituality as selflessness and everyday life as selfishness. As if spirituality means giving up our interests, while ordinary life means holding onto our interests. And so it becomes an issue – an often pressing, confusing issue – how spirituality can be compatible with our interests such romantic love or fighting someone who is mugging us.
The way out of this tension is to see that spirituality is about letting go of our ego interests for the sake of our deepest, most personal interests. The tension only gets going when we identify the ego – understood as the self in competition with other selves – as the deepest source of our interests/needs/desires. On this identification with the ego, I want always get understood as a relational, comparative thing: as in, I want what he has, or I want what I deserve and others are keeping from me, or I want what will make me respectable in others’ eyes.
Call such comparative wanting ego selfishness. In contrast, spiritual selfishness is embracing one’s interests/needs/desires without making it comparative. In ego selfishness, the push for the wanting comes from a sense of where one feels one ought to be in a group hierarchy. In spiritual selfishness, the push for the wanting entirely from within oneself, altogether independent of a sense of where one ought to be in relation to others.
The irony is we normally think that ego selfishness consists of the (a) brute, (b) a-social and (b) deepest selfishness within us. As if the ego selfishness within is like a solitary animal roaming the savana. But all three assumptions are false.
Ego selfishness isn’t a brute part of us at all. It is a highly socially cultivated part of us. For example, I am walking on a spring day, and I see a beautiful girl. Hot, as we say. She looks like she walked out of a billboard. And I am drawn to her, to pay attention to her. How do we characterize this attention? We might say, “It’s the sex impulse. Biological.” But, simple phenomenology, some self-awareness to what I am feeling and thinking in the moment and to my own situation, shows this is incorrect.
If she was my girlfriend or wife, I feel drawn to her in one way. If I am single, I am drawn to her in another way. If I am in an unhappy marriage, I am drawn in another way. If I am in a happy marriage, yet a different way, or even maybe not much at all.
If I am single, and unhappy about it and resent it, I am drawn to her thinking about how she might be someone else’s girlfriend. How that guy gets to kiss her and hold her and talk to her. And why does he get to do that, while I don’t? Life is so unfair! How full his life must be to be with someone like her. And how full her life must be, to be like a model, and she seems rich. She lives in a world I don’t. Damn it all! I want that!
In the “I want that”, what is the that? It is not just sex, and not even mainly sex. The that is a whole social world and sphere, which one feels cut out of. Or not appropriately successful in. The sexual impulse itself becomes a marker for that insecurity, but the desire – the ego desire – is deeply socially mediated. The ego desire is, first and foremost, for recognition of the ego as a thriving self within a set social domain. That is what the ego wants.
Obviously, then, ego selfishness is also not a-social. It is extremely social. It is a mode of being social. A mode of wanting a certain place and recognition and status in society, be it one’s family or community or at work or the world at large. The ego impulse isn’t a bit of brute, individualistic force which comes just from within. It is fundamentally a force to be seen in certain ways in social groups one cares about.
The power of ego selfishness is that it seems like the deepest, personal desire we have. To the single person resentfully, or forlornly, looking at the happy couple, it feels like wanting to be like that – like them – is the deepest desire within him. I know this feeling, as I suspect everyone does in some way or other.
When I was in grad school, at a certain point my girlfriend (later my wife) broke up with me, and my thesis was going nowhere, and I wanted to drop out of grad school. Feeling alone without a relationship and without a career I was happy with, and feeling lost to both India and America, as if I was a nomad without a community, lost in the margins, I sat on a park bench, and watched happy, academic couples walk by, holding hands talking about balancing their work and their relationship, and where they would go to dinner with friends and the bars and concerts and vacations – and sitting on that park bench, I felt my deepest desires were being thwarted. Because it felt like my deepest desire was to be like them, to have what they have. And the pain of not having it – and why not, what was wrong with me, what is so misshapen and broken and ugly about me – made me despair, and I wanted to kill myself. Then I felt my deepest desire was what my ego wanted, and felt it needed. That the starvation of my ego – and my ego was starved, hungry, malnourished by not having what I felt I deserved – was the same as my starvation.
In my experience, this is how people normally walk around. Not as explicitly all the time as I felt on that park bench, but with that despair lurking in the background. As happened with me. Later, I got back together with my girlfriend, finished my thesis, got married, got an academic job. And yet the despair was lurking. Because the marriage and career I had seemed so … much less, so much more broken, so much more mediocre, than what They, the thriving, happy people, had. So much less than what I wanted and needed, and – yes, most of all – deserved. This ego impulse of frustration came through in the fights I would have with my wife and my colleagues, the isolation and depression and self-stigmatizing I was prone to.
And mostly I felt stuck. After all, if the ego desires are the deepest impulses within me, and those desires seem thwarted, then what can one do but despair?
The reality – which only dawned on me slowly, later on – is that the problem with the ego selfishness isn’t the selfishness part, but the ego part. Because by caring so much about how I looked in the world of others, and whether I had what others had or not, and why they got to have a happy academic careers, whereas I was torn between worlds in a way which made me dis-identify with my academic situation – what all that meant was that, really, I wasn’t living my own life.
The problem wasn’t that I was too selfish. It was that I wasn’t selfish enough. And not selfish in the right way. In a way that actually worked for me, and for my deepest needs/desires/goals.
I started to be happier when I realized that being truly, deeply, really happily selfish is a skill. That ego selfishness is actually a lower grade of selfishness. Ego selfishness is selfishness constantly seen through the gaze of the Other – a selfishness which gives all the power away to those who the ego wants to be recognized by, and then fights and screams and vents and complains that others have all the power, and constantly schemes and plans about how to take that power back in fits and starts, here and there, through this argument and that power struggle.
To see ego selfishness as a lower form of selfishness is to awaken to the spirit within oneself. To trust that spirit is to let It – whether in the form of God, or a Buddhist self-awareness – guide your desires/needs/goals. Knowing that being free of the constant comparison with others which is the foundation of ego selfishness, deeper parts of you and what you want and what you were always perhaps afraid to acknowledge and let grow within you can now grow freely and without obstacles.
The deepest desire of the self – the core of selfishness – isn’t for things. Cars. mansions. Nor even for recognition. Fame. prestige. Or even knowledge. Cure for cancer. Solution to the trolley problem in ethics. Or even doing good. Helping the homeless. Being kind to a neighbor.
The deepest desire is, as for any living creature, for growth. And in humans, unlike most other animals, there is growth beyond physical growth. One can be fully physically mature, at 30, and still crave growth. One can even be on a physical decline, at 90, and still crave growth. There is a kind of growth which humans care for, which is for growth without limit. For limitless growth. Or, as we might say, growth into the infinite within us.
This growth is impossible as long as one identifies with the ego, and assumes that selfishness of the ego defines the parameters of growth and desire within oneself. We are meant to grow beyond the ego to fulfill our deepest desires.
Ego selfishness is wanting ice cream for every meal, as the only meal, because it tastes so good and isn’t that what life is all about? Spiritual selfishness is like wanting a nourishing, complete meal so that beyond the immediate satisfaction of taste, there is a deeper satisfaction to the body and soul.
Ego selfishness is listening to teen pop music, and thinking how free and self-realized this sixteen year old is fighting against adults to wear what he wants. Spiritual selfishness is like listening to Beethoven’s 9th, as one appreciates the expansion of the self into the infinite.
Ice cream isn’t bad. Life without it would be duller, especially on hot summer days. And teen pop isn’t bad. It gives hope and joy to millions. But that is not the same as flourishing into the deeper potential within us as humans.
Ego selfishness isn’t all bad. But it is confused, because it is prone to think of itself as the essence of selfishness, and thereby, the essence of life. Move beyond it to embrace spiritual selfishness, and it will incorporate all that is good in ego selfishness and help discard all that is bad and painful.
How this looks can differ from context to context, person to person. Sometimes you might fight the mugger, sometimes you might give him the money peacefully. Sometimes you might fight for romantic love, sometimes you might be ok without it. Spiritual selfishness isn’t about which way things turn out, in this or that instance. It is about how you are. Your being. Your mode of existence. Your growth. It makes the growth into the infinite – rather than the recognition of others – the focal point around which all else turns. That makes all the difference.
Some people once lived in a compound. They were often attacked by invaders who shot arrows of fire into the compound. When the arrows were shot, huge explosions went off in the compound. The people living in the compound were frightened and agitated by the explosions, and would focus all their energy on attacking the invaders and stopping their arrows of fire.
But no matter how much they stopped the invaders, inevitably some arrows would break through and there would be devastating explosions in the compound. In response, most people in the compound spent their time figuring out more and more elaborate attacks on the invaders. Yet each time they felt they would destroy or at least control the invaders, an arrow would pass through and the compound was rocked with explosions yet again.
Finally one person realized that there was dynamite all over the compound. And it was really the dynamite which was causing the huge explosions. He saw that when the arrows of fire fell on empty ground, they were relatively harmless. But when they fell on dynamite, there were huge explosions.
So he removed all the dynamite from the compound. Confident there wouldn’t be anymore explosions, he was unperturbed by the arrows of fire and was able to focus on how best to deal with the invaders.
A wise person is like the person removing the dynamite from his compound.
An unwise person is like the people ignoring the dynamite in their own compound and looking outward for the cause of the explosions.
Normally I try to not be angry or frustrated or upset when interacting with others. When I am feeling grounded and calm, it feels like I am ready and poised to thwart and not be overcome by any arrows others might shoot towards me.
And yet, no matter how poised and on guard I am, usually at some point, there is an explosion. The hull has been breached. There is an explosion from within. While I am looking out for attacks from outside, fire explodes from within me – destroying my equanimity and filling the air with dark clouds of negative, painful, frustrated emotions.
At that point, panicked for myself and confident that the bomb which exploded in me was thrown from someone on the outside, I focus all my energy in retaliating against that person.
But did the other person throw a bomb or was it the dynamite I carry within me which exploded?
An unwise person gets surprised every time he becomes angry or depressed or frustrated. He asks, “Where is this emotion coming from? Who is triggering it?” And he looks out at the world to find the cause. He keeps looking until he pins the cause on something out there. So he can focus his anger on that and release the anger in that direction.
A wise person is unsurprised every time he becomes angry or depressed or frustrated. He doesn’t ask where the emotion is coming from, or who is triggering it. He knows right away that the emotion is an explosion from within. That it is his dynamite which went off. And that the explosion will cloud his judgement and make him look outwards. But instead of falling for that illusion, he turns away from the outside. He looks towards himself and focuses on removing the dynamite he carries within.
The unwise person looks at the wise person and sees a fool and a coward: “Look how he is not attacking the enemy in righteous fury and is running away, navel gazing at himself! Not to worry: I will find the enemy out there and destroy him!”
The wise person looks at himself and sees a diligent worker. Methodically removing the dynamite from within himself so that he can be free of pain.
Knowledge is complicated. It requires searching the world through the senses and using the mind to think things through. One might find what one is looking for. One might not. Knowledge is unsure, unpredictable, uncontrollable. It is searching for what is outside oneself, or outside one’s immediate consciousness.
Wisdom is simple. It doesn’t require searching. Looking is the wrong mode for wisdom. It is defined by remembering. Seeing what one already knows but is constantly liable to forget. It is what is inherent in every breath, every move, every thought. It requires simply being with it. Not finding it, or discovering it, or spreading it with others, like a treasure found in one place but not in another place.
Knowledge is like treasure. Wisdom is like air.
Wisdom is just one thing: being aware, not forgetting, that the universe is much bigger than me, much bigger than my family and friends and community, much bigger than my opponents, much bigger than humans in general and much bigger than life on earth.
This awareness is in us, made evident by our lack of control in the vastness of the world.
But we forget it, through the grips of desire. When I want something, it looms large in my world, as if me and it are the center of the world. Or when I am angry. Or upset. Or hurt. Or happy. Or excited. Basically, when I am moved in my ego world.
Wisdom is seeing past the ego world, mine and others.
It doesn’t require special insight or knowledge of scriptures or whether god exists, or nature of knowledge, or nature of humans or of science or of the world.
It doesn’t require knowledge.
It requires coming back to the obvious, the smallness of our lives in the vastness of the universe.
The wise person is able to come back to this in each moment, even in the midst of their pain, anger, disappointment or joy. The unwise person is unable to do that, caught in their pain, anger, disappointment or joy.
Wisdom is simple. It is clear, ever present.
But it feels hard and evasive and difficult when wisdom is seen as knowledge. As something to grasp, something new to acquire, somewhere far away from where I already am. This is the root illusion.
Wisdom is simple. It doesn’t require knowledge. It only requires not forgetting the obvious.
Embrace in each moment how vast the universe is in relation to you, and wisdom will be your constant companion.
Pain is discomfort. It can be mild or severe or very severe. No matter it’s degree, it is a condition of the body or the mind. It just is. In it’s nature there is no narrative. No sense that it should or should not exist. It might involve an attempt to reduce or eliminate it, but that is an instinctive response.
Suffering is the mental narrative associated with pain. It can be regarding pain in the past, present or future. It is not the pain itself, but the web of thoughts about actual or potential pain in one’s life and the world. It is the fear of pain.
Dread is anxiety that one’s self is drowing in suffering. It is the feeling that one’s self is being lost and dissolving due to excess of suffering, of more suffering than the self can handle.
Feeling cold in 0 degree weather is pain.
Thinking “if I lose my job, I won’t be able to pay my rent and will be homeless” is suffering.
Feeling “I just lost everything, I have nothing, I am nobody, I am worthless” is dread.
Ordinary ego consciousness is defined by suffering – either suffering or keeping suffering at bay. Suffering is called unhappiness. Keeping suffering at bay is called happiness.
Happiness is not a state intrinsically defined. It is defined as the absence of suffering. It is gotten through watching tv, drinking, sex, vacations, addictive eating, having all the good things in life – things that usually feel good because they turn down the mind and so dial down suffering. When the mind is unable to be turned off, suffering rises to the surface and presents itself as the ever present, natural state.
A life of happiness is a life keeping suffering at bay.
Since happiness is not the default state, one can lose it at any moment if there is bad luck. There could be an accident. An illness. Death of a family member. Bankruptcy. Spouse has an affair.
Ego consciousness is like swimming in a lake filled with crocodiles. Happiness is not having any crocodile in one’s immediate vicinity. Suffering is remembering that the lake is filled with crocodiles.
Dread is the realization that at some point a crocodile will get you. You only get so many moments when they are not in your vicinity. And when they are around you, you can only avoid them or out swim them for so long. Eventually you will be caught. Some crocodile will have you for dinner.
Happiness is contented forgetting of reality. Suffering is worry that happiness will not last; that one won’t be able to ignore reality all the time.
Dread is awareness of reality. But it is awareness tinged with denial. It is awareness of reality merged with thinking of oneself as outside that reality. That one is getting pulled into, drowing in, unable to avoid reality.
Bliss is awareness of reality without denial. It is awareness of reality merged with thinking of oneself as fully a part of that reality.
The most surface bubble of consciousness consists of happiness and pain. Underlying it is the realm of suffering. Below that is dread. Further below that is bliss: awareness of reality without denial.
In happiness, I am safe from the crocodiles. In suffering, I anticipate the crocodiles gathering around me. In dread, I feel like a speck and the crocodiles are everywhere, about to engulf me. In bliss, I am a speck and the crocodiles are specks and the lake itself is a speck in the broader reality.
I am the formless, the eternal, the never ending, the one without a second.
I manifest in this form and that form, as this person and that person, as this object and that object. The forms clash and fight at times, move in harmony and peace at other times, moving this way and that. But I am untouched by the fighting and the peace, as the ocean is untouched by the waves crashing into each other or the waves gently rolling together.
I am the unmanifest, beyond form. Emotions, thoughts, joys and pains bind only to forms, but they do not bind to me. I am not bound by the forms, nor bound to them. I am the ground of the forms – of persons, bodies, minds, things, shapes, colors. I am perfect stillness, the silence in the vastness of space, the infinite ungraspable by thought.
I am without becoming and without fading. I am ever present, an infinite ocean of infinite waves, the one behind the plurality.
Most animals have only biological needs. Eat, sex, fight for food and territory and so on. When these are met, the animal is satisfied.
Humans have, beyond biological needs, social needs. The needs of social identity.
Social identity – being self consciously part of a group, connected to previous and future generations – was the great transformation which propelled humans beyond other animals.
It also created a task for humans: to deal with the pangs and pains of social identities. Especially the essentially insatiable and intrinsically combative nature of social identity.
Hunger can be fulfilled. Need for acceptance cannot. You eat when you are hungry, and hunger subsides till later. You act so as to be accepted and fulfill a social identity, the need for that acceptance grows and becomes stronger. Fulfilling hunger makes food unnecessary for a while. Fulfilling need for acceptance makes acceptance necessary from then on. Hunger in itself is not addictive. Social anxiety turns hunger into an addiction, a tool not for the health of the body, but for the cravings of the social identities.
The ego is the social self, acting on the cravings of the social identities.
The curtailing of the ego is a necessity for human beings – a way to harness the benefits of having social identities without getting lost in the manic, infinite appetite of those social identities.
The curtailing of the ego is wisdom.
Simple way to live a joyous, meaningful life: don’t forget that I am a speck in the universe.
Keep it always in mind. When I forget it, bring it back to my awareness. As I develop this practice – cultivate and nurture it – a lightness infuses my being. A radiance and letting go of my fears feels second nature, and nothing feels unnatural or unfair.
Three main ways I am prone to forget the truism of my insignificance:
– when I have bodily needs,
– when I intract with others and am in the web of emotions;
– when I am enthralled intellectually and am trying to figure something out.
At any moment in life, one or more of these applies to me. I am hungry, horny, have a headache. I am proud, jealous, nervous, happy. I am figuring out what to do for the weekend, reading a book, solving a puzzle, working to bring about social change.
In these contexts, in different ways, the truism of my cosmic insignificance recedes from my view. I seem essential to the world. What I do, or what happens to me or mine, seems crucial. The world can be this way or that way, good or bad, fair or unfair, and my fate seems to hang in the balance. Each moment feels like a lottery I am trying to survive and win.
How is it that in these contexts I so easily forget the cosmic truism? Why in these contexts do I seem so central to the world?
Because in these contexts the world as I experience it is my world, situated around my needs (physical, emotional and intellectual). The baby experiences the world as providing milk or not, and the baby’s hunger is the center of that world. Likewise, when I am angry, I experience the world (things outside of me) as appeasing me or not, and the issue of my appeasement is the center of that world.
This ego centric awareness of the world is true even in intellectual activity. When I am trying to creation political change, even with the motivation to help others, I experience the world as thwarting or aiding my aim. While the ego-centricness is explicit in physical needs, it is implicit in intellectual needs – but present all the same.
This is the basic illusion embedded in experience: the experience is of the world, which creates the sense of objectivity, but it is for the sake of the experiencer, which is the subjective reality.
The cosmic truism is a reminder that this double play is intrinsic to all experience. That the appearance of objectivity in the experience covers over its subjective structure. Remembering this is the only way to come closer to a more truly objective awareness of the world.
That border where the subjective, being aware of its essential subjectivity, seems to merge selflessly with the objective – that is the frontier of human awareness. It is the space of tranquility and being with the simple isness of life.
Normally my thoughts keep churning: “Why did they do that? What should I do? I am right, they are wrong. I am wrong, they are right. Life is hard. Boring. Hopeless. Wonderful. Unfair…”
As this happens, the world feels big, much bigger than me. Populated in the first instance by the hundreds of people I interact with, or feel directly impact my life: family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, atheletes, politicans, celebrities, scientists, artists, philosophers, etc. It is my village, filled with the dozens who live in that village with me, and bigger-than-my-village beings – the famous people – who live in the castle on the distant hill controlling what happens in my and other villages.
Sometimes I realize this is not the truth. It is my perception only, created by my limited awareness. The way parents seem larger than life to a child.
And then I see my struggles in my village are not the ultimate reality either. Beyond the distant mountain where the rich, famous, powerful people live, there is a vast world. In which what happens in my house and in my village, and even in the famous people’s houses, is but a passing occurrence, a drop in a much bigger ocean.
I have an admin job and live my middle, lower- middle class life. What I do affects a dozen close family and friends at most. If I don’t show up at work, I will be replaced in a week. The city, state, country, politics, entertainment, industries, science and arts move on unaware of, and irrespective of, me.
Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, Bill Gates, Brad Pitt, Einstein, Picasso – they are in the pantheon of culture, seemingly controlling things I only see from a distance. My doctor makes 5 or 10 times what I make, and Brad Pitt makes 10 or 100 times what my doctor makes. And Bill Gates makes 100 times what Brad Pitt makes. This is the hierarchy of human life.
But beyond Earth, beyond human life, me and Brad Pitt and Bill Gates and Donald Trump are not that different. We are all specks. What difference there is between me and Bill Gates is infinitesimally small – to the point of no difference – from the perspective of space.
This is a truth. At root, I am a speck in the universe. So are my family and neighbors. So are the most rich or most intelligent or most powerful people on Earth. This truth is the great equalizer.
We all know this truth. It is not a surpise to anyone. Yet: we live as if it wasn’t the case, as if the hierarchies in human life, the relative advantages and disadvantages between humans, are the reality of life.
Wisdom is to live in continual awareness of this simple truth. To not be caught in the as if reality of social hierarchies intrinsic to the human perspective.
Hence a farmer in a village can be as wise as, or wiser than, a philosophy professor in a big city. Wisdom is not a matter of knowledge that some can acquire and some don’t. It is not itself another hierarchy in human life. It is instead to see the minuteness of human life and to live with that awareness constantly.
The wise person doesn’t acquire the God’s eye perspective. Nor does he stay mired within the ordinary human perspective. He hovers in between, continually aware of the vast gulf between the human and the God’s eye perspective.
Freed thus from the grip of human hierarchies, he acts without being caught in the mental cacophony of blame, doubt, guilt, possessiveness. He acts more in light of the deeper reality, without the as if fantasy. Like an adult in a land of children.
To an infant, the mother is the center of the world. To a child, his home is the center. To a teenager, his budding social circle beyond the home is the center. To an adult, human life is the center, which defines his role and aim in life. To the wise person, the universe is the center, with an awareness of one’s own, and humanity’s, cosmic insignificance.