Myriad Creatures

It can happen that one, like the "foot (for instance)" in one of Epictetus' Discourses becomes dirty through circumstance and association, for, to view a man as a part of the whole, he will "be at one time sick; at another take a voyage, and be exposed to danger..." Yet Epictetus rescues us from the micro myriad by urging us to seek principles, not the itemisation of life, "For even in weights and measures we are not satisfied with the bare appearance, but for everything we must find some rule." This rule may assist with inevitable disagreement among men, until they have learned to cultivate "a distrust of what merely seems". One wonders if this is also, in part, emotional detachment. One remembers the unnecessary storms when one submitted to those waves. One heeds Epictetus' caveat that even after weathering the choppiness, some will come to us, saying: "I pronounce that you have acted unjustly." (cited: 2.11 and 2.5)
I remember that when I hadn't invested such high stakes in fighting after principle, when I still had things left like the emplotment of a privileged childhood before the tale turned to dust, I was rather more fickle than I am now, quicker to find fault in others' direct treatment of me, without filtering it as soon as possible (note, not always immediately, note, the attempt) through the question of principle - and the question of what may be left out of the picture that I might not be seeing. I did once say something akin to, "I pronounce that you have acted unjustly."
The model one aspires towards to free one from such hypocrisy is the Delphic Charioteer, which we may associate with the passage in the Phaedrus where the good horse (καλός καὶ ἀγαθὸς) leads alongside its opposite, χαλεπὴ δὴ καὶ δύσκολος ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἡ περὶ ἡμᾶς ἡνιόχησις, which means for the charioteer that it is hard to deal with and moreover a harassment (i.e., 'discontented' and 'difficult to please'; 'hard to satisfy with food') to constrain (a word that also suggests the force of compulsion). In recent weeks, I found that the Katha Upanishad contains a similar parable of the chariot, wherein the five senses are the horses and the mind; the reigns, driven by consciousness. The successful traveller learns to reign themselves in - which I understand more as an orienting metaphor than a permanent reality.
Maybe sometimes we restrain our joy over our victory like the Charioteer, but there might be times when we are not so successful and may in the moment reveal our less noble selves (speaking of καλός). To be too insistent on this metaphor, one is likely to, in exaggeration of the wish to be the successful charioteer, ignore one's failures. One might let loose (not long) their shortcomings towards the other with the phrase, "you have acted unjustly".




But what if that person were standing for a principle? I mean by that how sometimes to be the friend of someone, self, students, children, whomever, it is not always the good or right thing to do to canter past a mistake. In one of Epictetus' Discourses, he lectures his provoker, yet ends with the reprimand, "When you would hear a philosopher ... show yourself fit and worthy to hear; and you will find how you will move him to speak." In this case, the interlocutor gets the lesson without, one imagines, having shown himself fit. I usually go by the rule in Confucius (公冶長 10) that the student who allows no carving through the reciprocal flow of words is to be left alone. Except sometimes that may be the easy way out and not the right thing to do.
So there are times one might try to stand for a principle (however shockingly, given that one knows one is far from mastering that and all principles) in the hope of helping someone in that difficult way that has become rather unpopular in this age.
As there are some cultures that consider that principle may be cast out in the name of friendship and favour (as a rule! so this one rule trumps all others, including principle and edification), it may be prudent to excuse someone from the lesson while teaching the lesson - of learning to consider the orienting polarities of good and bad; the problems of equity (interestingly part of Medieval schooling, where the final lessons in the progymnasmata addressed the issues of justice - who, then, is in the dark ages); of looking past appearances. This a civic duty, related to tolerance.
Who does not benefit from these reminders? I have read Epictetus, for example, many times but each time I return to his works, I find more ideas that I have yet to put into practice. Let's be realistic here. Sometimes we are attacked unjustly. What would one do if one had no principles according to which to understand such onslaught?
One wishes for oneself and for others gentle reminders of caution both towards others and towards one's self - as demonstrated in those ignoble horses described above as δύσκολος - generally, unpleasant; hard to satisfy with food; fretful; peevish. Cleanliness of "the foot (for instance)" might begin with simplifying what it takes to make one happy. One may have ikebaned yet still get carried away with Seemingly Big Ideas that really are of no use. For balance to be restored, one looks to the skies with the evening display of hundreds of birds calling out as they are lifted by the wind. To be lifted by the waves, not fighting against them. I do my utmost to attain emptiness; I hold firmly to stillness. The myriad creatures all rise together And I watch their return. The teaming creatures All return to their separate roots. Returning to one's roots is known as stillness. (Tao Te Ching, XVI, Trans. D. C. Lau.)



Brush. P.S. There is a pseudo chariot in this photo, to the left.

2 comments:

  1. I happened to have this link already copied to save when I noticed your evening sky:

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2014/jan/21/starling-mumuration-season-in-pictures

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    Replies
    1. It was interesting to note the calendar months of scenic flight: as soon as it gets cold, the dance in the air reminds us of the renewing, refreshing forms of spring to come. Thank you for the link, the pictures on which brought such encouraging thought!

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