Sunday, August 24, 2008

Readings: The World Is Too Much With Us

Compare the wisdom of Don Quixote below to the excerpt from Plato's Timaeus that follows it:

Cervantes:

In response to hearing the confession of a character driven into a life of banditry “by a lust for vengeance,” Don Quixote says, “once a man recognizes his infirmity and consents to take the medicines prescribed by his physician, he has taken the first great step toward health. You are sick; you know your infirmity, and God, your physician, will apply medicines that, provided you give them time, will certainly heal you. For sinners who are men of understanding more easily mend their ways than fools, and as your superior sense is manifest, be of good heart and trust in your recovery.

Now, Plato:

When a man is always occupied with the cravings of desire and ambition, and is eagerly striving to satisfy them, all his thoughts must be mortal, and, as far as it is possible altogether to become such, he must be mortal every whit, because he has cherished his mortal part. But he who has been earnest in the love of knowledge and of true wisdom, and has exercised his intellect more than any other part of him, must have thoughts immortal and divine, if he attain truth, and in so far as human nature is capable of sharing in immortality, he must altogether be immortal; and since he is ever cherishing the divine power, and has the divinity within him in perfect order, he will be perfectly happy. Now there is only one way of taking care of things, and this is to give to each the food and motion which are natural to it. And the motions which are naturally akin to the divine principle within us are the thoughts and revolutions of the universe. These each man should follow, and correct the courses of the head which were corrupted at our birth, and by learning the harmonies and revolutions of the universe, should assimilate the thinking being to the thought, renewing his original nature, and having assimilated them should attain to that perfect life which the gods have set before mankind, both for the present and the future.

Plato speaks of "the revolutions of the universe" as being the motion "akin to the divine principle within us." Circular motion, rather than linear, is the motion that moves us towards peace of mind and salvation. One who is "driven into a life of banditry by a lust for vengeance" is one who has lost control, who is moving forward, not through exercise of his own will, but "driven" like a farm animal.

It is our appetites, whether for vengeance, fame, wealth, power, food, copulation, entertainment, or even spiritual greatness, that prod and lure us ever further away from "the divinity within" us. This divinity is our sun, around which we must orbit, and the pure light energy of which is our proper and perfect food.

I have been reading Don Quixote, the Timaeus, and Jack Kerouac's Buddhist notebooks, Some of the Dharma, simultaneously. As Kerouac studied the Buddhist scriptures with a patently desperate yearning toward enlightenment, he was struggling against--and repeatedly defeated by--his appetites for fame, success, booze, sex. A subsequent post will excerpt and reflect the pain inflicted by Kerouac's inner contradictions. It is relevant, for the sources of his pain are the sources of ours.

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