Saturday, April 15, 2006

Self and Other Networks


"Phantom illusions, empty flowers-
why trouble yourself trying to grasp them?
Gain, loss, right, wrong-
throw them away at once!"
-Third Patriarch Seng-ts'an from Hsin-Hsin ming

I was never any good at remembering the name of a road, for no one could convince me that the road held any such qualities worth remembering in the form of a name. Here it is. Yes, assigning names to things, giving names to concepts, makes conversation easier. In fact, naming symbols is language. We speak of something, but do not bring it about. We do not invoke the actual presence of the Genghis Khan when we use his name, which is only a reference, a marker to an event in history, the life a person. A name is nothing.
These names are all the more confusing when they interplay with the Self/Other mechanism in our mind. At birth, we begin to reach out our tiny little hands to touch things. If what we touch we also feel at the other end, then we know this to be 'self.' If we can pick it up we put it in our mouth. If it is our toe, we will also feel it, not only directly with the mouth, but indirectly with the toe. This is also 'self.' Then we pick up a block or some other toy left for us and we put this in our mouth. This has a feeling in our mouth directly, but we do not feel within it. This we come to know as 'other.'
'Other' gradually becomes the most complex relationship of our life. Within our primitive mammalian brain is a mechanism of protection of anything too foreign, too 'other'. Baby chics raised with the shadow of the same species of birth mother overhead with come to fear their natural predator and feel comfortable around their own species. Baby chics raised with a shadow of their natural predator will fear the shadow of their own mother.
As we age, our 'Other' network expands. It starts with life. This is 'Other' that lives and this is 'Other' that is just a toy. Then there is the immediate family: mother, father, and siblings. This 'other' network has a defined relationship to 'self', as defined by society. Society expects 'self' to forgive the family 'other' more than those outside of this network. The bonds are to be much stronger in this network.
Before too long, we are in the cosmic soup of words and concepts. We live in a world of 'self' and 'other' and 'other' has gone mad. Outside of the usual Mothers and Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, there are Aunts and Uncles, Cousins, Grandparents, friends, coworkers, neighbors, teammates, and on and on. Just think about a birthday. The 'self' must calculate the relative importance to 'self' each birthday would hold for each birthday down that long list in the 'other' network. 'Self' might be very happy for Mother on her birthday and buy her an expensive present, but on 'coworker' birthday, have no true interest, and only invest $1 on a cake. We negotiate our lives within this self/other realm, creating the karmic consciousness, stirring the cosmic soup, forming the letters of the meaningless alphabet, as we sketch out our misreality, investing in unhappiness, forecasting sorrow, and walking the boundaries of our karmic existence.

"Fellow believers, don't get so taken up with the robe! The robe can't move of itself- the person is the one who can put on the robe. There is a clean pure robe, there is a no-birth robe, a bodhi robe, a patriarch robe, a Buddha robe. Fellow believers, these sounds, names, words, phrases are all nothing but changes of robe. The sea of breath in the region below the navel stirs itself into motion, the teeth batter and mold it, and it comes out as a statement of an idea. So we know for certain that these are mere phantoms."
Linji
from the Linji Lu
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quotes from:
Watson, Burton Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi New York: Columbia University Press 1993


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