Liberty and Spirit
Toward a Society of Love and Reason
by Jeff Knaebel
by Jeff Knaebel
That Our Days May Be Long on the Earth
"Wars, revolutions and riots mark the ravages of a mental plague as effectively controllable as any other epidemic when the cause is known and understood. They are not accidental episodes, brought about by a chance combination of circumstances, but a foreseeable outcome of a prolonged violation of evolutionary laws [of consciousness]."
~ Gopi Krishna (1968)
INTRODUCTION — A RECONNAISSANCE FOR SERENITY
The human mind is becoming ever more brutalized by an escalating cycle of institutionalized structural violence. Extrapolation of present systemic tendencies demonstrates the clear and present danger of destruction of our planetary ecological life support. It becomes important for more and more people to contribute to the pool of quiet in human consciousness.
Natural beauty elevates the mind. The grand and the beautiful motivate simplicity, goodness and truth. Outer stillness and peace support inner calm and equanimity. Simplicity supports inward focus. A place of beauty reminds us to hold Nature as our sacred gift. It is good for people to know that unspoiled places for retreat and meditation yet exist. A place where one can stand at night in silent awe and actually see our celestial canopy of stars.
World peace can arise only from individual peace. It would be good to preserve in human consciousness a remembrance of our blue-green planetary jewel, that we may not mindlessly destroy her. Thus the "Dhamma Himgiri" dream arose in my mind. I would try to help create a place in Grand Himalaya for contemplation and meditation in surroundings of beauty, stillness, peace. It should be a place beyond roads and the unremitting noise of modern life.
I set up a base in Kausani, Uttaranchal from which to make this attempt. I lived in a dirt-floor stone hut of two small rooms with outside latrine. Water was hand carried from a nearby spring. I took two meals per day on hire from my landlord, sharing their daily fare of rice, dal, chapatti and occasional vegetable.
Between explorations into the hills, I attempted to learn Hindi. Trying to follow the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, various one-man proactive service projects were initiated: village school construction, establishment of school libraries across Kumaon District, English tutoring of local schoolteachers, village drinking water project, assist local designer of farm implements, support local Gandhi Ashram, initiation of weekly group meditation.
The "Himgiri" reconnaissance stretched from Chamoli District of eastern Garhwal into the Pithoragarh District of eastern Kumaon. Transport was bus, jeep, horse and on foot. We slept on floors of homes and schoolrooms. We ranged up to three days walk from road-head and crested ridges above 4,000 meters.
Subsistence was frequently cold chapattis with salt. Some of the moves — up to twelve hours continuous walking in steep terrain — taxed my mid-sixties age frame to its limit. Chronic amoebic dysentery and recurring respiratory infections became part of my life routine.
Hearts and hearths were everywhere opened to us. Pure grace was the hospitality, generosity and kindness of our village hosts. They shared all of whatever they had, no matter how little. Nonetheless, barriers of language and culture proved daunting. Accurate information is hard to come by. One learns to deal with continuous ambiguity and uncertainty. Progressively constructive accomplishment is difficult because support arrangements keep on dissolving and corruption is rampant, pervasive, and deeply embedded.
No matter what is said of India, the opposite is also true — a cultural reflection of the duality of consciousness. For the seeker of Truth, the Dharma of India, the Grace of India is manifold.
Her great jewel is acceptance and respect for all serious seekers of ultimate reality. One's outer circumstances support the inner quest to realize by direct insight the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha: the truths of misery, the origin of misery, the eradication of misery, the scientific method of its eradication.
VIGNETTES OF A PILGRIM
"Human love could not exist if the Universe, of which humans are a part, were not capable of love."
~ Paul Fleischman, Cultivating Inner Peace
Our jam-packed bus careens for long hours on twisty mountain roads. People somehow maneuver for those with motion sickness to be at a window. There are no complaints. Everyone is accepting, calmly enduring. Sometimes the women sing.
Wearing good trekking shoes, I struggle for footing on steep rocky trails. Old women tread barefoot, bent under heavy loads of cattle fodder. Their feet are deeply cracked and coated with muck and grime. It is a heart-wrenching scene. Nearly all are smiling, cheerful.
I am reminded of Mohandas Gandhi speaking of the Champaran villagers: "They received me as though we had been age-old friends. It is no exaggeration, but the literal truth, to say that in this meeting with the peasant I was face to face with God, Ahimsa and Truth."
As for me, I cannot but question my former profligate lifestyle. It was as if by acquiring more things and "power" experiences I could fill the empty void of loneliness within. May I learn fewness of wishes and generosity from these mountain villagers. May I learn to nourish the life of our shared Earth.
Our camp in the high alpine meadow is overlooked by Trisul Massif, Mrigthuni, Devistan, Nanda Khat, Nanda Kot and sacred Nanda Devi. Visible far to the southeast, 8100-meter Annapurna and Dhaulgiri rise into the cerulean blue of a Nepal sky.
Three days ago I had crouched shivering under a rock ledge taken as night shelter from wind-driven rain and hail. Today we sit at the threshold of the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods, bathed in sunshine. The moving hand tries to catch the mind …
timeless mountain majesty
in shrouds of cloud
A distant eagle soars
grace rising higher and higher
now on white, now on blue
My eyes track toward heaven
Spontaneously arising compassion
simpatico and peace
radiating to all
that live and breathe
Thou art so great
may all beings
come to know thee
May all find the way
that leads to beyond
Yes, beyond even this pass
of majestic splendour
to that eternal state
of infinite peace
Wasted the life
lived for me alone
a speck in the galaxy
of all that is
A way must be made
to share this peace and beauty
else like love not given away
it shall not exist
May the son of man have a place to dwell
in sacred silence
May beauty and stillness
awaken the highest beatitudes
May remembrance of untrammeled wilderness
with all creatures born free
not vanish from the mind of man
that he may abide in love of life
May beauty and the mystery
raise questions beyond all answers
Who am I? From where have I come?
Where am I going? How may I understand, penetrate
the cause of birth, old age, decay and death?
How shall I live?
Blessed be this awesome grandeur
by its light one sees his sacred duty —
a duty of moral responsibility
universal kindness toward all beings
turn toward the pole star beckoning
of truth and peace
heed not the drums of war
commune with a cow.
Every religion and worthy philosophy teaches that durable happiness requires the moral life, a disciplined mind and mental purity, out of which flows compassion. Simple precepts difficult of practice. They are taught in all great traditions at intellectual level. Yet, these truths do not incline toward actuality until reaching a level of experiential understanding deeper than intellect. Many great teachers knew what had to be done. Few have been able to teach how to do it. Here does the Buddha excel, great super scientist of India.
TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE
Every day that I deny the Powers That Be of the Corporate Warfare State their hold on me — every little self-denial of the comforts and entertainments offered by Power to keep me bemused and unquestioning of their murderous atrocities — brings me one tiny step closer to freedom. It is mind that matters.
"To thine own self be true, and then as surely as night follows day, will you be true to others." This does not apply to political groupthink. It applies only to thinking individuals. And no one can "represent" another in this. Only each one can represent his or her own conscience. Only individuals possess moral agency. Therefore, it is impossible that a "representative" democracy can be moral.
I had looked at the world around me for ways that I might help alleviate suffering. I hoped to contribute to development of a new social paradigm, a re-design of our institutional architecture. I found myself too limited, with few friends, and none "willing" — not many wish to speak truth to power. I thought — how can I contribute to world change if I cannot change even myself? All the players are acting their own parts according to the laws of karma.
At the least, I must not contribute to the violence. And perhaps I might stir the pot with a few ideas written for peace. Ideas of liberty and spirit. Ideas for a community of love and reason.
The Way has been lost. We stand on the brink of a maniacal holocaust. How shall we live?
"The path is made by walking."
~ African proverb
Part of my former livelihood depended upon a modest skill as an aviator. This much I learned: that one will not long survive without a reliable compass and unless he calculates and flies within the envelope of certain essentials: time to destination, fuel quantity, rate of burn, time to point of no return. Presently, as pilots and crew of spaceship earth, we are attempting to navigate based upon charts that have been deliberately falsified (lies of the State).
In addition, the politically motivated fear inculcated by the State is equivalent to having our compass knocked off its gimbals. We also don't know our fuel load or the rate of burn as we destroy the ecological system that supports all life, ours included. In short, we are well and truly lost.
Borrowing from Eckhart Tolle (A New Earth, 2005), one observes that the history of the State since the industrial revolution is a history of madness. If the manifestations of insanity of the Political Establishment were the clinical case history of an individual person, the diagnosis would be chronic paranoid delusions, a pathological propensity to commit murder and acts of extreme violence and cruelty — criminally insane.
The history of Statism — allegedly inspired by the noble ideals promulgated in all manner of international charters — is clear evidence of what happens when a Power Structure attempts to change external reality without a prior change of the inner reality of the power holders. Without changing the state of inner consciousness to free it from ego, there can only be destruction.
The Power to Plunder
When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it."
~ Frédéric Bastiat, The Law
I sit at my keyboard pondering an institutionalized system of structural violence whose "managers" are of, by and for power only — who use the "constituted authority" vested in a fractional reserve-central bank-printed fiat currency regime for their selfish benefit. The main job of policymakers of the Federal Reserve, IMF, World Bank and other Central Banks is never discussed. It is to transfer wealth to the State through currency depreciation.
As of 2006, the US dollar had lost 93% of purchasing power since creation of Federal Reserve in 1913. By this legalized thievery are the people made poor. To this financial power is added the power to tax and to control trade. To ensure ultimate compliance, overwhelming military power is used at will. Thus does power maintain its grip.
I see clearly that in the hands of power we all of us are mere pawns for their self- aggrandizement. All of the civic issues for which we pay taxes — health, education, welfare, security, infrastructure, communications, scientific research, environment — all of these are mere chips to be gamed by power to multiply and increase itself without end.
For power, there is no tomorrow. There are no grandchildren. Even of earth there is none. There is only power.
* * *
Ethics of Respect
"To avoid all evil, to cultivate good and to cleanse one's own mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas."
A few feet to the south of my desk is an open window. Between the outer grille and inner mesh a pair of munias deftly weave their tight round nest of long-bladed grass. They flutter and chirp, oblivious to human madness. They live as nature intended. We live in denial of our cannibalism.
These wild creatures born free — they live and bring into being the next generation, and then die in their natural term. They do not self-destruct by poisoning their own nest. Perhaps we have something to learn from munias. And from wolves, elephants, ants, worms, bumblebees and buffalo and whales. Perhaps we must unlearn everything we have been taught, in order to relearn how to live.
Ecologists Bateson and Whitehead taught that any physical being which by its influence deteriorates its environment, commits suicide. The activity of an organism in any living system must favor both the environment and the organism itself. This is not rocket science. It is simple common sense. Maybe that is the problem: it is too simple for an over developed intellect inclined to abstractions.
The Buddha taught that sila (morality) in respect of non-killing is on three levels:
- Abstain yourself from killing
- Do not support others engaged in killing
- Do not approve of others engaged in killing
It is clear to me that paying taxes to any government on this earth in present times amounts to direct finance of murder. It violates directly and implicitly the Buddha's precepts. Paying taxes makes of one a material accomplice to murder.
How can I escape my derivative responsibility as an accomplice in finance of war when the whole economy is geared to war? Simply to participate voluntarily as an "upwardly mobile" member of a mindlessly destructive culture is, at the least, acquiescence to mass murder.
I live on savings and try to contribute to society as a one-way flow. I am aware of how fortunate I have been to enable this manner of living. I was a moderately successful rat in the race who took his chance to jump off the treadmill. I am not a highly evolved moral being. Along with moderate success has come immense failure, primarily caused by my own flaws of character.
I am a learner. I take solace in the perception that all of life is an experiment, and that there can be no failed experiment — only collection of more data.
It is not necessary to be a student of the Buddha — or of any religion, or of any tradition — to understand these things. It is self-evident to anyone who loves life.
The human mind is diseased, as if by a metastasizing cancer poisoning every fiber of the social fabric, as if by an epidemic sweeping through city and village. And the relation of the Corporate Warfare State to this epidemic is the relation of mosquito to malaria.
This warfare state demands of me "show your papers." As if it is my owner and I am its property. It feels like I am one of a herd of sheep being pressed and hemmed from all sides into a cave which will then be sealed and smoked until we are all dead, to be eaten by corporate cannibals — the last remaining fodder after all else has been laid waste. Enough of this.
We Must Look at this Horror and Yet Still Love
"Corporations have neither bodies to be punished, nor souls to be concerned. They therefore do as they like."
~ Edward Thurlow, Lord Chancellor, (1731—1806)
We have lost control of our lives to a force we cannot see, cannot reckon with and have no influence over. It is far away while simultaneously all-pervasive. We must take back control of our lives. To do this we must take back personal responsibility for our human duties to family and community. We must not abrogate our responsibilities to faceless unaccountable institutions.
The creative spirit of the human being cannot operate from the imprisonment of a bureaucratic box. No being who dwells within a physical body can survive without attentiveness to self-interest. If it is to be, it is up to me. Only individuals can be moral agents.
Groups and incorporated organizations cannot be moral agents. These entities are abstractions which cannot feel pain and cannot love. They are not alive in facing the consequences. Therefore, they make decisions and undertake actions which an individual living being would not do. An individual who must carry the full burden of personal liability behaves differently than an organization or group in which liability is abstract and impersonal.
When we address these issues only at intellectual level, we miss a subtle and paramount characteristic of our interconnection with the living system of which we are an integral biological part.
We must educate our own children, personally care for our own health, and establish our own local markets. We must withdraw from the system-structure-machine in order to regain dignity, self-respect, independence and self-sufficiency. When we offload our responsibilities we also waive our rights and become dependent upon outside forces.
The Present Civilization Is Chronic War
"What kind of victory is it when someone is left defeated? What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy? What is a war criminal? Was not war itself a crime against God and humanity, and therefore, were not all those who sanctioned, engineered and conducted wars, war criminals? The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong. Non-cooperation with evil is a sacred duty."
~ Mohandas Gandhi
The following excerpt of a recent email received from John Zerzan (author of Running on Emptiness) provides an overview of our situation.
Not only is our Mother Earth very gravely imperiled,but social existence and our very souls are as well. We have progressively lost wholeness, community, direct experience, healthiness, and a sense of meaning or purpose in our lives. The most industrialized, high-tech cultures are beset by ever more pathological phenomena, such as outbreaks of mass homicides, parents killing their children, and epidemic drug use.
We see what complex society brings, we see that civilization is chronic war, that mass society is desolate, cynical, anxious, depressed.
None of this is inevitable, much less natural. We must struggle for simplicity, for a face-to-face world, a non-standardized, non-globalized world.
Symbolic culture itself is proving empty, a voyage away from a sensual connection to the earth, away from real spirituality.
We need to begin to move away from the death march of modernity, to combat it with actual alternatives, and by changing the discourse in society in a fundamental way. It is time to think and act in the profoundly different ways that reality is strongly prompting. This includes, for example, taking Gandhi and indigenous wisdom seriously, not merely as objects of non-practical veneration.
Some Roots of the Problem
"We live in a deranged age, more deranged than usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing."
~ Walker Percy, circa 1961
Gopi Krishna (1968) says that the reason for the current confusion about the real nature of consciousness is the overemphasis of scientists on purely physical phenomena, and the skeptical attitude of many gifted individuals in this fertile field. Mind and consciousness has been relegated to the background.
The secrets of the brain and the nature of consciousness are unsolved riddles, yet the so-called rationalist and positivist idealogues generate mental chaos about the real nature of spiritual experience. For the materialist, mind is no more than a product of biochemical activity of the brain.
Our brinkmanship on the edge of oblivion can in part be attributed to the failure of humanity's most gifted minds to assess which of the two constituents of the human personality merited the greater attention. The one is matter, which caters to the needs of our perishable flesh. The other is mind, the source of our being, the magical vibrations of an intelligence through which alone we know ourselves and the universe within which we have taken our being.
It is a tragic paradox. Our leading minds, giants of intellect on the one side, behave like children on the other, attaching greater value to emoluments of power, wealth, office, and public praise than to the principles of truth, justice and harmony.
A Comanche Elder named Edgar Monathatchee once told me that the longest journey for the white man is from here — pointing to his forehead — to here — pointing to his heart.
Mankind is on the verge of disaster because the minds at the top lack the spiritual insight to make right use of their intellect. The answer to the problem of our survival is beyond the present capacity of science, or technology, or politics. It requires a moral awakening.
Teetering Toward Oblivion
Our aim has been to surround mankind with every comfort, every facility, and every luxury, leaving the souls out of count. The plan of nature, on the contrary, is to evolve the brain in order to embellish the mind, and to confer a supersensory channel of perception on the race. Since the two aims collide, disaster threatens.
~ Gopi Krishna
The most powerful nations of earth, possessed of staggering technological prowess, malevolently prowl the ring of an arena of planetary incineration, courting Total War because the spiritual capacity of the top minds is obscured by an intellect disconnected from the heart. And these top minds control the levers of an institutional power structure which has grown into a colossus beyond the scale of human comprehension. No one can know where we are. We are lost.
Gopi Krishna writes that man is not born to exhaust his intellectual and material resources on devising ever more powerful weapons of mass destruction, or exploring outer space while millions die of malnutrition, or turning the good green earth into a refuse heap of plastic and toxic waste. Man is born to find a solution to the problem of his own existence.
As Kurt Vonnegut says in Man Without a Country, "We are here to help each other through this thing, whatever it is."
If We Would Save Ourselves
You see things with your own eyes. You hear things with your own ears. Therefore, you should use your own mind to tell yourself what you are seeing or hearing. If others interpret things for you, they will be doing it for their own benefit and not yours. The humanity in all of us knows who we are, and who gave us the Earth to give us life.
~ Lincoln Tritt, Gwich'in Elder, personal communication September 2008
Although knowing full well that I am among the lost, there is a feeling of confidence behind this guarantee: Nice Government Men are not morally fit for the task we face. They are but servants of the philosophy that is killing us. Leave them.
What does a physically fit and rational man do when faced with a malevolent, voracious, man-eating monster that is poised to pounce at any moment? He removes himself from harm's way.
Get out from the State. Find your tribe. Get on the land. Form a small community of the ethically like-minded and become self-sufficient. Learn how to live long and live free.
Eckhart Tolle writes that the first recognition of beauty was one of the most significant events in the evolution of human consciousness. Seeing beauty in a flower could awaken humans to the beauty that is an essential part of their own true innermost being. In more ways than one, the recommended way to save ourselves is to grow a garden. And don't open any mail that comes from the government.
The meek are the egoless. They are evolving toward an awakening consciousness (see Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken) that is changing all aspects of life on our earth, including nature, because life on earth is inseparable from the human consciousness with which it interacts. This is the sense in which the meek will inherit the earth.
And these meek avoid power, going instead by the code of live and let live. If we are to survive as a species, it will be because sufficient numbers of us have abandoned the State and left it to collapse of its own internal rot.
These ideas are further discussed in my book, Experiments in Moral Sovereignty, but for superior workmanship and guidance, read Wendell Berry, starting with The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. Practice resurrection.
May you walk in beauty.
September 16, 2008
Jeff Knaebel [send him mail] is an expatriate American domiciled in India since 1995. He formerly practiced as a registered professional engineer, having been trained at Cornell Univ. and the Colorado School of Mines. Visit his website.
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