Words of Wisdom #62

“<<Let me point out>> said Yuan Xian <<that being devoid of goods means only to be poor. Being miserable means not being able to put into practice your own knowledge. I am poor, but not miserable>>. Zi-gang stepped back blushing. Yuan Xian added while laughing: <<Acting to please the world, being everyone’s friend, studying to become someone, teaching for selfish purposes, doing evil under the cover of goodness and equity, walking in sumptuous crews, these are the things that I will never accept to do>>”.

-Zhuangzi

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Le Besoin d’Impossible

The first book published by Marie Cachet, Le Besoin d’Impossible, is a multiform work in its implications, but despite this it can be defined as a whole as a purely philosophical work. In this article I will not write a typical review, I plan instead to outline and expose the issues that have mostly caught my attention – to put it in the most modest way – during the study of the book (yes, it requires to be studied and not merely read…).

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Let’s start from an assumption that, although treated and deepened by the author in another context, is essential for a thorough understanding of the work that concerns us now: the modern European man – biologically speaking – is a slightly hybridized Neanderthal man (actually, every modern human being is a more or less hybridized creature, but since I am a European I will refer, when necessary, only to the European species). However, what has this to do with questions of philosophical nature? According to Marie Cachet one of the consequences of this hybridization, even after its stabilization, was the birth of a metaphysical vertigo/despair, a disharmony of the mind (here is to be found, perhaps, the cause of the birth of consciousness?) which manifested itself simultaneously with the dramatic shift to a temporal (and thus finite) perception of the Universe. A real “fall” that took us away from the possibility of fathom and living the concepts of eternity (intended as the atemporal point that we call instant) and infinity (intended as spatial infinity).

At that point, however, our ancestors (as well as us today) tried instinctively, unconsciously and obsessively to compensate this metaphysical despair and not get overwhelmed by the “terror of time”: an explosion of human dynamism, individual and collective, led progressively to the birth and development of civilizations, arts, sciences, spirituality, religions and philosophies, all attempts to recreate the lost harmony of the mind and extend one’s personality beyond the boundaries of the biological duration of the existence, in an attempt to forge a sort of simulated eternity (the need for the impossible, as suggested by the title of the book).

Examples of materialization of the collective genetic memory of a people, in an attempt to be remembered in time:
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Examples of materialization of the genetic memory of an individual, the sculptor, in an attempt to be remembered in time:
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Therefore, according to Marie Cachet, every external creation as well as all forms of teaching are the manifestation of a deep necessity of the human beings, namely the selfish need to go beyond the yoke of time, beyond the finitude, so as to preserve themselves in time, through other people, symbolic containers of our self, potential reincarnations of our self. Artistic creations and teachings are therefore a means to conquer eternity and to defeat the illusion of a finite time. We project our self in the future, through a real or imaginary reincarnation (see the prehistoric ritual of reincarnation described in detail by Madame Cachet in another context), which in turn will transmit in the future the essence of our self, in an eventual endless chain.

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An essential distinction that emerges during the reading is that between the individuals conscious of their metaphysical despair (active and subjective individuals) and the vast majority of those who are not aware of it (passive and objective individuals) and unconsciously suffer the consequences of this disharmony. The religions (especially the organized religions) and the spiritualities that give us dogmatic and established metaphysical responses, the daily repetitiveness, the social conventions and all the entertainment we create in our societies are, although we do not realize it, tools that distract us and allow us to flee from the metaphysical anguish inherent in us, from the sacred terror that we experience in front of the mystery of the universe and of life. Only by getting rid of all this – especially of what gives us metaphysical answers – and through boredom, certain men will fall into the metaphysical despair and will find their authentic self (through the manifestation of the memories of our previous lives, engraved and latent in our blood), their true essence, undergoing a sort of “awakening”: achieved this superior spiritual and mental state, a deep impulse will force them to find their subjective responses to the fundamental dilemmas of the world and of life.

What about you? You dare to look face to face the metaphysical abyss?

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As I have previously explained, these are just some of the issues discussed in this book (a unique work of its kind), the ones that most involved me: ultimately, I urge you to read it and give shape to your personal opinion.

The Universe in Flames

Giordano Bruno was an Italian philosopher, burned at the stake in 1600 after being declared guilty of heresy by the Roman Inquisition, in consequence of his criticism of Christianity and the cosmological conclusions he had reached in his search for truth through philosophy. Bruno considered Christianity as a degenerative process that reached its climax during the Counter-Reformation, however what actually interests me is to expose briefly his cosmology, because it makes sense and is very similar to the vision of the cosmos that the Europeans had during Prehistory and Classical Antiquity.

According to Bruno the Universe is eternal (indeed for something to begin there must already be a space in which such a beginning can manifest itself) and infinitely extended (if it was spatially finite, in what would be contained? Remember that all that is spatially finite is inevitably contained in a larger space), whereby motionless and without a center. It is a unitary and vast living organism, animated and endowed with intellect, a homogeneous and indivisible whole governed by the interdependence of all its parts, which are in relation to the organism in its unity (i.e. an organism made up of organisms), unity that coincides with the concept of divinity: consequently the divine resides in the multiplicity that exists in the Universe, throughout Nature and, therefore, also in ourselves. For Bruno everything is matter, that is life, and the Universe consists in infinite matter that changes perennially, able to transform itself continuously in an incessant becoming, passing from one extreme to the other, from an opposite to the other. The universal matter is infinite energy provided with intellect, unity in which lies a multiplicity, multiplicity in which lies a unity!

“Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it”.

-Giordano Bruno

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Related posts: Words of Wisdom #51Eternal Regret (Part 1 of 2)Eternal Regret (Part 2 of 2)The Harmony of Opposites

Seneca: about Life, Destiny, Adversity, Willpower and Virtue.

“Gold is tried by fire, brave men by adversity”.

“Has relevance not what you have to endure, but how you are able to endure it”.

“To know yourself is necessary to prove yourself; only in this way a man can know what is his worth”.

“The safe road is followed by the weak and the cowards; the virtue seeks high and steep trails”.

“Is it any wonder that do not reach the summit those who have faced an arduous climb? If you are a man, however, admire the one who attempts great feats, even if you see him falling”.

“Wellness can happen even to the common and modest people; dominate the adversities and the misfortunes is precisely of the great men. Always be happy and go through life without the bite of pain means to ignore half of life”.

“Therefore we accept with serenity all that for law of the universe we have to bear. We are committed to this, to tolerate our mortal condition and not be disturbed in relation to what is not in our power to avoid”.

“The right man differs from the divinity only for his mortal condition”.

-Seneca

The best men are tested by destiny and consequently their existence is studded by adversities, so that they can manifest their virtues before the eyes of ordinary people, so that they can become role models. They are born to serve as examples, to become archetypes and teach to endure and overcome the difficulties of life. From the best we demand more, and destiny acts in the same way!

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Words of Wisdom #54, #55 & #56

“This man was convinced to know while he did not knew, and instead I, as I did not know, so neither I thought I knew. Anyway, I seemed to be wiser than this man, at least in this little thing, namely for the fact that I do not think that I know what I do not know”.

-Socrates

“The knowledge of not knowing is the supreme knowledge.
Not to know believing to know is the disease”.

-Tao Te Ching

“But man is still too much mortal to conquer the knowledge of the immortal things”.

-Seneca

We don’t really know the mystery of life, the mystery of death, the mystery of the universe, the mystery of eternity and the mystery of time. We can only aspire to get closer to the truth, and at best we will be able to discern something that is merely similar to it. Ultimately, we’ll have to accept of not knowing, and give up the presumption of owning a metaphysical knowledge that might give definitive answers to the fundamental questions. This awareness is the fundamental reason that will push us to seek our personal answers to these dilemmas. We are surrounded by a mass of conceited ignorants, sure to know the truth and to have the answers to every question. Ignorants unaware of being such. Beware of these individuals! The best among us are those who know that they don’t really know!

The Harmony of Opposites in Taoism

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophical/religious tradition, whose doctrinal foundations can be found in three texts: the Tao Te Ching, the Zhuangzi and the Liezi. I will quote some verses, taken from these works, that expose a doctrine of opposites comparable to that of Heraclitus, also in relation to the concept of “panta rei” (“everything flows”):

“When in the world everyone acknowledges beauty as such,
that’s when uglyness is already present.
When everyone acknowledges goodness as such,
that’s when badness is already present.

Therefore being and non-being are generated at each other,
difficult and easy complement each other,
long and short define each other,
tall and low hang down one towards the other,
before and after follow each other.”

-Tao Te Ching

“What you want to contract you must first expand,
what you want to weaken you must first strenghten,
what you want to refuse you must first exalt,
what you want to take you must first give.”

-Tao Te Ching

“The growing and the decreasing, the full and the empty, when one comes to an end the other has its beginning”.

-Zhuangzi

“Increase and decrease, become full and become empty, finish and start again, here is the cycle of the world. So must be understood the grat task that looms to each one, the universal order presiding over all the beings”.

-Zhuangzi

“Between night and day there is no separation and I don’t know at what moment they end”

-Zhuangzi

“Under the sky everything sinks and resurfaces without ever perish”.

-Zhuangzi

“For those who know the heavenly joy life is a motion according to nature, death a change of form”.

-Zhuangzi

“This unity, dividing itself, forms the beings, and, forming the beings, it destroys itself. So every being has no completion nor destruction, because is reabsorbed in the original unity”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand creatures (a peculiar taoist expression that refers to the infinite multiplicity of forms that exists in the universe) are a single thing, but what they find beautiful is the vitality and the individuality, what they find ugly is the stench and the putrefaction. But the stench and the putrefaction turn into vitality and individuality, the vitality and the individuality turn into stench and putrefaction”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand creatures and I are one”.

-Zhuangzi

“The great wisdom embraces everything, the little wisdom distinguishes”.

-Zhuangzi

“The beginning is the end of something, the end is the beginning of something else”.

-Liezi

“You have fun because things are never the same, without knowing that we also are never the same”.

-Liezi

“What lives can’t not live, what is transformed can’t not be transformed. Eternal life and eternal transformation means to always live and always be transformed, like the yin and the yang, like the four seasons”.

-Liezi

Finally, I would like to talk a bit about the Taijitu, a well known Taoist symbol.

The Taijitu:
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In this symbol, Yin and Yang (the origin of this symbolic dualism [whose primal manifestation is identifiable in the “first couple” formed by Earth and Sky] is ascribed to the observation of the dark side and the sunny side of a mountain) are two necessary and complementary ways of being of the same reality (and in their maximum metaphysical dimension they represent the philosophical concepts of Being and Becoming, that, as a result of the coincidentia oppositorum [“coincidence of opposites”], appear as two ways of being of a single principle, two different manifestations of a same and single reality, the Tao [the word Tao is represented by an ideographic character that unites the signs of the head and of the foots, i.e. unites the complementary opposites in an undifferentiated totality] the Universal Totality, the definitive metaphysical reality where the opposites coincide), their intrinsic interrelation is shown by the fact that at the culmination of each of the two there is a seed of the other. Light and darkness are two subsequent aspects of a unique reality, their apparent distinction and opposition supports the harmony of a cyclical process. When the light energy (Yang) reaches its culmination, then begins to grow the dark energy (Yin), and vice versa, they are transformed constantly one into the other. The opposites are generated reciprocally and each is the other’s shadow!

Words of Wisdom #51

“Remember that you are an actor playing a part in a drama that is how the playwright wants it to be. A short part, if he wants it to be short, long if he wants it to be long. If he wants you to play the part of a beggar, perform this role with skill: or that of a lame, or of a magistrate, or of a private citizen. In fact this is your task: to perform well the role that has been assigned to you. The choice of this role, however, is up to someone else”.

-Epictetus

Maybe it will be useful to remember that the “playwright” referenced by Epictetus is nothing else than the Logos, the Universal Law, the divine essence that flows through all matter in the Universe, the reason, order, logic, necessity and harmony that govern the Cosmos (from Greek “kósmos”, “order”, in reference to an orderly and harmonic system). There is no randomness, everything is in its right place, as in heaven so on earth, as in the macrocosm so in the microcosm, though apparently it may seem the opposite is true. It is not the first time that I propose such a vision of destiny, according to which literally everything that happens during our individual lives was predisposed and “sewn” for us, without there being any real free will and any real possibility of forging our own destiny in the meaning that we usually give to this potentiality. However, even if we assume that this is the truth, i.e. predestination, we can not but acknowledge that we live inside a sort of illusion, of such a power that we can’t live even a day without acting and thinking as if we were the real masters of our destiny. In this perspective the best thing to do would be to see our very being (our external appearance and the way in which we tend to think and act) as the result of our previous lives, of our conduct in a previous existence. So we start with a base, a form that comes from the past but we can choose in which way we should live our lives and act accordingly, affecting in this way – for the better or for the worst – what will be our future existence.

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Other posts about Epictetus: About Stoicism, Words of Wisdom #32

Marcus Aurelius: about Destiny, Time and the Cyclicality and Metamorphosis of the Universal Nature

“Love only what happens to you and that is woven in the great plot of life: there is nothing that fits you best”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“Whatever happens to you was predisposed for you since the time of times, and a dense intertwinement of causes, starting from then, has bound your life to that particular event”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“Don’t live as if you had still thousands of years ahead of you: it chases you, fast, destiny. As long as you live, as long as you can, become virtuous”.

-Marcus Aurelius

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“Many are the superfluous and annoying things that you can eliminate, because they exist only in the opinion that you create about them: so that you can give a wider space to your mind, embrace in thought the entire universe, reflect on the infinite and eternity, note how is rapid the transformation of every single thing, how is short the time that flows from birth to death and which infinite abyss is the one that precedes birth and the one that follows death”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“All the things you see will soon be transformed by the universal nature, that from their substance will give birth to others, which in turn will be transformed into still others and so on, so as to enable the universe to remain forever young”.

-Marcus Aurelius

Observe the course of the stars and participate in their movement, then think intensely about the continuous and mutual change of the elements: you will feel purified of the filth of earthly life”.

-Marcus Aurelius

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About Destiny: Words of Wisdom #12
About Time: Eternal Regret (Part 1 of 2), Eternal Regret (Part 2 of 2)
Quotes by Marcus Aurelius (and Epictetus) about Stoicism: About Stoicism

Words of Wisdom #42 & #43

“The being is, and can’t not be…the non-being is not, and can’t be”.

-Parmenides

“Nothing can be born from nothing nor end in nothing. The universal substance therefore has always existed and is imperishable”.

-Zeno

With this sentences Parmenides and Zeno affirmed that nothing is created from nothing and nothing can be destroyed into nothing. Everything in the Universe is eternal, has always been (how it could not have, if nothingness doesn’t exist?), will never cease to be (how could it, if nothingness doesn’t exist?) and has never come into being (how could have it, if nothingness doesn’t exist?).

Try to tell this to the religious fanatics of Creationism and of the Big-Bang…

Related post: Eternal Regret (Part 1 of 2)Eternal Regret (Part 2 of 2)

Words of Wisdom #32

“These arguments are not conclusive: <<I am richer than you, so I am better than you>>, <<I am more eloquent than you, so I am better than you>>. These are more conclusive: <<I am richer than you, so my possessions are greater than your>>, <<I am more eloquent than you, so my speech is better than your>>. But you are neither a possession, nor a speech”.

-Epictetus

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Related post: About Stoicism