“I am a citizen of the planet.
My president is Kwan Yin.”
– Alanis Morrisette
(Kwan Yin is a goddess of compassion.)
Some of the things that I’ve learned from this project are about the art of writing. One of those discoveries is about trusting that, even when I don’t know what to write about today – what my theme is – even so, there will be a way. I’ve learned to sit down and just start. I recall who I’m writing for, and I just say something from my bodily presence, and – guided by that initial felt sense – I see where the exploring and communicating goes. It might take a few paragraphs before the theme begins to peek out.
Sometimes you have to go back at the end and rewrite the first paragraphs, because what ‘comes’ may not turn up until after a few paragraphs, or even half a page. Yesterday’s post is such. When I looked at it this morning, the first two paragraphs didn’t make sense even to me, so I’m giving them a rethink, now. I trust them, though. Yesterday, they carried me forward into something deeper. Today’s worked this way, too.
Yesterday I wrote: “So, what have I learned, from this exploration? I wanted to approach the concept of death in a way that transcended ‘now’ and ‘later.’ We say, “Now I’m alive.” We say, “Later, I’ll be dead.”
I meant that we usually think about death with the unconscious support of a ‘three times’ model of life process. That is: in time past, I was born; in time present, I am alive; and, in time future, I will die. We begin to adopt this thinking in childhood, and I am learning to think without this model of time. Is there another way to investigate experience? That was my first fresh feeling, as I began writing, yesterday – that I might not have to ‘think death’ under the constraints of that model.
(Even to say, ‘think death’ is to step out of the usual space-time way of thinking, do you see? Try it out, in your own body. Is there a difference in bodily feel, between “I am thinking death,” and “I am thinking about death”? Sure is in my experience.)
Honouring ordinary time for a moment, I next wrote: “I wanted to experience as much about death and deathlessness as one can, while optimally strong and clear, before the dissolution of the body.”
This signals that death is going to be in the present-as-experienced (Existenz), and not in terms of the model of the three times (existence). Now, what came to mind, as I was writing, was a conversation I had with my father, twenty-six years ago. He was contemptuous of my suggestion that one can meet death while living. So, yesterday I wrote: Some say, ‘How can you experience death, while you’re living? That’s ridiculous.”
As a student of life, I have been committed to keeping spiritual enquiry fresh. It was something I learned from Krishnamurti – to stay open to knowledge as lived, not the dead knowledge of mere belief. So, in stating my father’s view, I was thinking how an open mind encounters “is” and “is not”, in the world around it. To depict this, I presented the opposite of my father’s view, such as we find in the Nikāyas: “Some say, ‘Go into it deeply, now, while you have the capacity. Realise the deathless.'”
So, this is a choice that all lovers of truth encounter – the call of the heart, or the call of the conventional world. When the love of truth comes, we have to ask the hard questions. Some say live this way, some say live that. How do you decide? There is, of course, the bodily feel of the situation. When I was young, unfortunately, I didn’t have so much of that wisdom. So, I said, instead:
“I notice that the people who take the ‘realise the deathless’ approach are (generally speaking) more positive, more vibrant, and less selfish, than those who say there is no deathless.”
Mind you, that doesn’t prove the truth of what the wise say. The fact that research shows that Christians heal quicker and have less post-operative problems than non-believers doesn’t prove the power of God. It might well prove the power of belief, or of subtle energy. However, seeing that non-violence really did exist among the ‘wise’ gave me some encouragement, when I began this journey, as a young man.
Next, yesterday, about the wise, I wrote: “They are not flag-wearers; they’re more likely to be ‘citizens of the planet.'” Here, the time of year was entering my writing. It was Australia Day this week – that time when ordinary people are encouraged by commercial interests and governments, and their own conceit, to indulge in nationalism. It horrifies me, and always has; because I see this ‘I love my country’ mentality as an important factor in sending our young to be killed in international wars.
It is, to me, an inhuman thing to be in love with an idea. And that is what ‘Australia’ is – it’s just an idea; a conceit. It has no abiding value. Consider this: this particular idea was born in the late eighteenth century, and from 1901 it has served a ‘granfalloon.’ A’ granfalloon,’ some of you will know, is defined as is a group of people who affect a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless. (Thank you, Kurt Vonnegut in his 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle.)
That includes the British, the French, the misnamed ‘Americans’ – and, of course, the Australians. That is, while they believe that ‘Australia’ has some real existence, they are a granfalloon. If they were to associate on a different basis – such as together acknowledging that ‘Australia’ is a mere concept used for convenience of human association – then they would no longer be a granfalloon. ‘Australia Day,’ the numerous ‘Independence Days,’ ‘Bastille Day, they are all – as they are presently used, at least – concepts for granfalloons.
It’s clear to me that those who practice the way of the deathless don’t encourage this kind of mentality. They cultivate world-centric consciousness. (I’m generalising, of course). When I was a young man and the Vietnam War was raging, when I was looking around for a way to live a sane life in an insane world, the way I reasoned was: So, the way the wise live – watering the seeds of compassion, peace, and all positive qualities – shows that they must have something on their side, even if they are the minority in the world. So, maybe this ‘deathless’ is worth enquiring into. (Of course, something deeper – to know myself – was calling me, as well):
Consider just a few of the wars we humans have created with our self-lies since World War I: World War II, the Korean War (which hasn’t ended, yet), the Vietnam War, the Falklands War, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And now, Syria. And, World War I was the ‘war to end wars.’
Ah, young Willie McBride, I can’t help wonder why,
Did those who lie here know why they did die?
And, did they believe when they answered the call,
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain,
The killing and dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it’s all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.
– Eric Bogle, from No Man’s Land (1963)
And, each time, the armies fly their flags, and the wives and children go down to the docks and their wave flags, while their men leave again, having been told that they have ‘god on their side.’ So, I’m saying, if you love truth, you put enquiry before love of country, and even before your family. As did Socrates, Siddhartha Gotama, and Jesus. What did Jesus say, in Luke? “I have come not to unite, but to separate – father from son, mother from daughter.”
Now, you get a little bit, then, of my process when I began yesterday’s post. That’s two paragraphs. And, there you go… today’s theme is anti-war – or, more precisely, anti-nationalism – and I didn’t know, that it was coming so explicitly. I think the disgusting attacks on Matt Chun, of Bermagui, brought it into existence. “For,” as poet William Stafford said, “it is important that awake people to be awake.”