Finding Nemo

Monday, April 25, 2011

Philosophy Part VIII: The Supreme Ultimate

"Luke, use the Tai Chi.... er, I mean, Force!"
Philosophy tackles all the Big Questions, like "Where did we come from?" and "Why are we here?", but I think the only one of these that can be satisfactorily answered is this: "What is the right way to live?"  This is not just ethics, like Aristotle pursued.  Ethics are only interactions with other people.  A good philosophy should also cover one's relationship with the rest of the world.  It is for those reasons that I like Tai ChiChu Hsi kept the idea of the Tao alive and expanded it.  Li is the "nature" of each thing, the category it belongs to and what gives something its common characteristics.  Ch'i is each things vital, physical aspect.  Ch'i is the internal energy of a thing, not quite a "soul" but it does impart uniqueness.

The Supreme Ultimate, or T'ai Chi "is the basis upon which all things are related; ultimately all things share in the same principle."  This reminds me again of Buddhism and Brahman.  The "divine spark" that gives something its drive, its life force, its essence.

The T'ai Chi is also the basis upon which human beings can obtain enlightenment.  Our physical natures obscure the t'ai chi within us; but the goal of enlightenment is insight into the t'ai chi.  Evil comes about when one is motivated by selfish desire, but insight into the t'ai chi overcomes such selfishness.  One becomes more compassionate, and thus more ethical, because one grasps one's unity with all other beings and things.

His Holiness, looking trim and happy
When I read this passage, it struck me how similar these ideas are to the words of the living Dalai Lama.  A common message he stresses is that in order to be happy, one must first cultivate understanding (which he calls empathy) of what motivates people.  As I've stated before, its the common desire of all humans to reach happiness.  "Happiness" here is not temporary pleasure, instead the Dalai Lama is referring to that deep feeling of profound contentment and satisfaction that only comes from achieving your goals and living the right way.

When one views others from this perspective, one doesn't categorize a stranger by their country, culture, or religion.  Instead one views the person as a human being, just like yourself.  Someone who wants the basic things in life, perhaps a spouse and children and a place to call home.  In other words, just like you, they want happiness.  Based on this perspective, stereotypes and divisions fall away and a deep connection can be made with any new person that comes across your path.  Thus, one can live life bonding with everyone they meet, even if only for a brief moment.  Even enemies can be viewed as beneficial, as they are an opportunity to cultivate empathy and understanding under the most difficult conditions.

I often consider this when I think of the thieves who robbed me in Costa Rica and left me stranded for days in a place I had come to hate, without any money.  At the time I wanted them dead.  I was incredibly angry and violated; I wanted revenge.  But, as time passed, I realized that those thieves were living a poor life.  How could one really be happy living as a parasite on others?  To have to resort to stealing to survive means that they couldn't find a way to live with honest work.  They would never have the profound contentment that is the true goal of life.  So today I only feel compassion for them, my enemies.

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