October 14, 2016
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
“So come out of your cave walking on your hands/ And see the world hanging upside down/ You can understand dependence when you know the maker’s land” – Mumford and Sons, “The Cave”
“Without pride or delusion,/ the fault of attachment overcome,/ intent on the self within,/ their desires extinguished,/ freed from dualities,/ from joy and suffering,/ undeluded men/ reach that realm beyond change.” (The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna’s Fifteenth Teaching: “The True Spirit of Man”)
The Bhagavad Gita is written as a dialogue between the great warrior, Arjuna, and his spiritual leader, Krishna. Yet, the Fifteenth Teaching: “The True Spirit of Man”, involves no true dialogue. Instead, Krishna explains man’s spirit to Arjuna. Krishna begins the chapter with:
“Roots in the air, branches below,/ the tree of life is unchanging,/ they say, its leaves are hymns,/ and he who knows it knows sacred lore.
“Its branches/ stretch below and above,/ nourished by nature’s qualities,/ budding with sense objects;/ aerial roots/ tangled in actions/ reach downward/ into the world of men.
“Its form is unknown here in the world/ unknown are its end,/ its beginning, its extent;/ cut down this tree/ that has such deep roots/ with the sharp ax/ of detachment.”
This idea of branches above and below, as if nurturing two different aspects of the world, is vital to this view of detachment. I am drawn to images that reflect this inner/outer phenomenon and the relevance of detaching. There is a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End in which Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) realizes the literal difference between sunset and sundown. Once he realizes that sundown is a direction, then he gets the crew to flip the ship. The next image is a switch of ocean and sky. This creates a new world, or at least, a new perspective on the world. It also mimics the idea presented in Plato’s “Allegory of a Cave”. The Allegory is one of the most widely read and discussed pieces of philosophy. It has numerous elements of interest, but for today’s purpose, I wonder about the idea of human nature as set in his initial premise. Is it possible for the chained being to realize that there is more than what he can physically see and/or experience? Could the chained man realize a simpler answer without the physical removal of the cave? Could he instead, rise out of himself without ever having left the cave? Plato notes that these men in the cave would see shadows only and not reality. He writes, “[W]ould they not suppose they were naming what was actually before them?” While it is certainly true that we only know of a thing by its dimensions and sensory details, or by our experience of them, it is also true that the importance of names is important to the self. Therefore, the self is intrinsically involved in the naming of a thing. In other words, would the man in the cave be able to find that inner self which enables him to create names?
Action is vital in The Bhagavad Gita, perhaps because it is written to a warrior who is saddened by the current battle. Action, however, does not reflect the self so much as Krishna himself who physically leads the body towards a true destiny. In the Thirteenth Teaching of The Bhagavad Gita: “Knowing the Field”, Krishna states, “He who really sees/ that all actions are performed/ by nature alone and that the self/ is not an actor./ When he perceives the unity/ existing in separate creatures/ and how they expand from unity,/ he attains the infinite spirit.” The field is our current circumstance, or current existence and environment, whatever that may be. Action may not necessarily be physical, but in thinking, we also prepare.
The image of an upside-down world is all about changing perspective. About looking into a new place for answers, in some cases, perhaps the simplest of places. I suggest the interior self as the simplest, but also, ironically, the most complex, place to reach. In the introductory quote (“You can understand dependence when you know the maker’s land”), then, the “maker’s land” is understood to be the self, not the landscape. In this sense, the landscape merely offers a reflection of ourselves. And it claims that we gain an understanding of dependence, which I assume means on our need to continually find and understand our interior being. What we become dependent upon might depend upon the person. In The Bhagavad Gita, one becomes dependent upon seeking Krishna, who also represents things like knowledge, spirit, self and unity.
Perhaps another way of looking at this is through the idea of a vessel. Plato writes, “And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels”. These vessels are only visual objects for the chained men. However, if they have noticed the jars at all, then they have a reason for identifying it as separate from other things. Either the vessel contains intrinsic meaning or the chained men have located a meaning within themselves. We perceive, separate, and seek to know our world as best we can. Plato’s allegory is only one attempt at perception. Knowing that there are many others, I end with this quote from “The Anecdote of the Jar” by Wallace Stevens:
“The wilderness rose up to it,/ And sprawled around, no longer wild./ The jar was round upon the ground/ And tall and of a port in air.”
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