Lenten Observance: Day 4

“Tao” 7 & 8: “The Tao is infinite, eternal.” As the verse says, it is infinite as it has no boundaries. Boundaries are what separate us from other things. It is the nature of language to make distinctions (“this, but not that”) and so to divide the world up. This is an illusion. If we are all connected, and all one, then our sense of distinction is illusory. I once had a philosophy professor for Indian Philosophy, which I didn’t understand much at the time. I remember little from the class beyond his statements that Indian philosophy was based on the idea that all is one, and that separateness is illusion, and that some of the suffering we feel is due to the sense that we are cut off and not connected. His example was unfortunate. The class was taught in a seminar room in the good old days where faculty and students were allowed to smoke in seminar rooms (there were ashtrays on the table). And leaning over, the professor reached out to the ashtray and said that he and the ashtray were one, and that feeling separate was painful. I thought at the time that ashtrays were nasty (still are) and that I was glad I was separate from all ashtrays.  Still, the idea of separateness does make it easier for people to do as they will with the environment, or against other people, as they are different, and “the other” and so it’s o.k.  Rick Santorum recently suggested that the whole environmental movement is based on an incorrect reading of the Bible, that we are not meant to be the servants of the earth, but rather we are to marshall the earth’s resources for our ends.  Though he was not advocating allowing pollution and other things, this has been a result of such thinking.  And that cavalier treatment of the earth results in our fouling the place we live, of which we are a part.  That sense of connection is the opposite of the spirit that Martin Niemoller recalled in noting that when they came for the Communists, I didn’t protest, because I was not a Communist, and so on down the line, until they came for me and there was no one else.  Even in the Bible, there is that sense when Cain sharply responds to God and says “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Well, he’s trying to hide the fact that he murdered his brother, but the sense that he is not his brother’s keeper and that he has the right to kill his brother in hopes of better treatment from God is what separates him from others.  His own actions have done this.  I know there’s more to the Cain and Abel story than that, but that sentiment of separateness is a part of it.  And the American image is that of rugged individualism, which suggests that we each can make our own way apparently without thought or consideration on how it affects others (let them worry about themselves), despite the fact that most Americans live in an urban setting, and we are much closer to our neighbors, much more visibly connected to one another.

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