The Place of No Pity

Erich Kahler’s book, The Tower and the Abyss: An Inquiry into the Transformation of Man, may be one of the most important books I’ve come across in my time. I imagine I could dedicate a whole new blogging site just to discussing it and why I think it is such an important book, particularly for dedicated students of the work of Jean Gebser.

Another passage from Kahler that I’ld like to share, which may resonate with those who appreciate the writings of Carlos Castaneda, concerns Kahler’s interpretation of the thoughts of Ernst Jünger, an ambiguous, complex and controversial personality who fought on the German side (also the French side!) through two world wars and lived to the over-ripe age of 102 years (1895 – 1998).

Jünger made his reputation from a book titled, in English, Storm of Steel, which chronicled his experiences as a soldier and officer on the front during World War I and in which he mused philosophically about the meaning of the war, in which he saw an emerging convergence of technics and ethics in the form of “total war” and modern society as being in a new state of “total mobilisation.”  He has been accused of glorifying war, but it is probably more the case that he believed, like Nietzsche, in the value of “living dangerously.”

It was during the war that Jünger attained to what he called a “second and coldest consciousness” that was, apparently, to remain a permanent attitude afterwards. It is a kind of second consciousness that was often arrived at, too, by inmates the the concentration camps, as described by Kahler, which he equates to what Albert Camus (1913 – 1960), in The Myth of Sisyphus, described as “lucid indifference”,

“For absurd man it no longer matters to explain and to resolve, but to experience and to describe. Everything starts with lucid indifference.”

This “second and coldest consciousness” (Jünger) or state of “lucid indifference” (Camus) has a corresponding term in Castaneda’s experience with his teacher don Juan, where the state is described as “the place of no pity”. This is the real connection I wanted to draw out here. But it is also important to note that this state of “lucid indifference” or “second and coldest consciousness” was the psychic condition that allowed Jünger to survive the experience of modern mechanised war, and the concentration camp inmates to often survive their internment. Buddhists would describe this condition as “detachment”.

The essay that Jünger penned that elaborated on this “second and coldest consciousness” is called On Pain, (Über den Schmerz). Of this essay, Erich Kahler notes,

“In his essay On Pain Jünger attempts to demonstrate that in the great and cruel process of transformation which man is undergoing in our age the touchstone is pain and not value, pain which completely disregards our values. ‘There is nothing,’ he says, ‘for which we are destined with greater certainty than pain’ – the inevitable lot of every human being, most particularly in this vicious world in which we live today. Therefore a person can only maintain himself and prove himself worthy if he does not try to evade or push away pain but sustains it, faces it, and establishes distance from it; if he is able to place himself beyond the zone of pain, even of sensation, if he is able to treat that region of the self where he participates in pain, that is, the body, as an object.” (p. 89)

Now, this is not only very Nietzschean, it is also very Buddhist. Pain, in Buddhism, is dukkha, often translated as “suffering”, and the reality of pain is the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. The second Noble Truth is the recognition that dukkha, which is pain or suffering, arises from attachment or identification, and so the remaining Noble Truths highlight the way to attain the condition of detachment and so, the cessation of the condition dukkha through dis-identification with dukkha or pain. This state of detachment is, equally, what is called “the place of no pity” in Castaneda’s writing, and appears in Nietzsche’s philosophy as his “become hard” and his repudiation of the value of pity for the sake of preservation and self-maintenance.

Why? The answer is already present, somewhat, in Kahler’s statement above — that we live in a vicious age, but which is also an age of transformation or mutation that entails the loss of the human form or structure as Kahler, Gebser, and Nietzsche all see it. In fact, Kahler does quote Nietzsche in the context of his discussion of Jünger: “Where are the barbarians of the twentieth century? They will be those capable of the greatest harshness against themselves, those who can guarantee the greatest duration of will power.”

This has all the flavour, though, of that “self-mortification” practiced by Christian, Muslim and Buddhist ascetics.

Jünger’s “second and coldest consciousness,” which he claimed as a permanent attainment from his experience of the war, is probably also that which is called, in Castaneda, “the second attention” as well as “the place of no pity”.

And it is these overlooked interweavings and connections that are so interesting.




16 responses to “The Place of No Pity”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    These insights from the work of Castaneda, Junger, and Kahler support, I think, that “the place of no pity” is one necessary condition for what Seth Called “an open-ended consciousness”.

    “An open-ended consciousness will feel its connections with all other living beings” (From page 171 of my PDF file of Seth Speaks which I downloaded from the internet some years back).

    I think ‘pity’ depends so much on ego and point-of-view-and-line-of-thought (PAVLOT). A person who is better off might pity those who are suffering in ways the well-off individual is not. Or, one might pity himself/herself because one compares himself/herself with others in various respects of vertue or possessions. It seems to me “the place of no pity” basically means a state of mind or awareness where one is no longer judgmental toward himself/herself or others.

    By the way, I found this PDF copy of Seth Speaks on the internet. I would imaging it may not be the full book since the page count goes up to 208 pages:

    • LittleBigMan says :

      Yep..just noticed that the PDF copy above does say that it is an “extract” of the full book.

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    A barrage of questions just occurred to me this morning as I am preparing to have some breakfast. Questions like where would all the collectives and institutions we have created throughout our human history fit within the grand scheme of this place of no pity? Or is the place of no pity only considered a desired virtue of the consciousness of individuals? And will there be any collectives in a world (Framework 2?) where every soul has been able to acquire this quality or place of no pity? How would ‘language’ or our way of communicating change when more individuals have been able to acquire this standing of no pity within their consciousness? How would this affect our spousal and parental relations? Is a member of the Taliban who has not known anything but danger since his birth any closer to this place of no pity? Or has living in danger been wasted on him since he, perhaps, lacks other virtues? Should the value of the place of no pity be measured within a context of creative energy rather than destructive energy? I think this is how Seth defined “pleasure”…the pleasure to be creative. Just sharing some thoughts that are invading my mind this morning.

    • srosesmith says :

      This is definitely a place for careful consciousness of Scott’s often-quoted “Only a hair separates the true from the false.” Buddhist (and other) “detachment” is sometimes the near-enemy of indifference that is not lucid but is willfully blind. I can’t place any value higher than Wisdom-Compassion — which must always be remembered in any truth-seeking.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        “Wisdom-Compassion” pretty much captures the best qualities of the mind and the heart; the only sense making tools we have to discern truth by in this physical reality. I often remind myself of don Juan Matus’ gesture to Castaneda as he put his hand on Castaneda’s chest saying “This is where all real battles are fought”.

        • Scott Preston says :

          “This is where all real battles are fought”, as he placed his hand on Castaneda’s chest is the true meaning of “jihad”, really. It is Nietzsche’s “in times of peace a warrior goes to war against himself”.

          But, in broader terms, it also needs to be recalled that don Juan believed that man’s true struggle was with infinity, and not with his fellow man. That is also a concept of true “jihad”. And what was don Juan saying, therefore, when he placed his hand on Castaneda’s chest in that way? That infinity is within you, not outside you, and the struggle was with that infinity which you are already which, as don Juan pointed out, was not so much a resistance as a surrender. The real struggle was the surrender to that infinity.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Yes, Sharon. That comes pretty close to the paradox of “the place of no pity”. The problem is to experience full empathy with the world’s pain (dukkha) without drowning in it and succumbing to it oneself, and being destroyed by it. In certain passages of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, this is even considered one of the marks of the uebermensch.

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    My take on Nietzsche’s value of “living dangerously”…….

    This is very important. I’m finding making a comment on the matter a little tricky, though, I will try.

    The key to attaining the value of living dangerously is –not to seek danger — but to react in dangerous situations with utmost conscientiousness, despite the fear.

    A good example of this happened many years ago when the cruiseliner Oceanos with over 200 passengers on board (a lot of them seniors) began to take water and sink. You may remember having heard about this on the news. The situation was so bad that the first to bail out in the incident were the Captain of the vessel and most of his crew. Basically, the passengers on the ship were left to die. The only ones who knew the ship well enough to stay behind and help to save lives were the ship’s official entertainers led by the music band’s guitarist. This next clip, 4 out of 6, pretty much captures a brief account of the incident.

    Of course, the guitarist was lucky enough to survive the ordeal.

    • Scott Preston says :

      “Living dangerously” is a bit of a paradox as a maxim for the conduct of life, because life is living dangerously to begin with. Death, as don Juan puts it, is our constant companion, waiting to tap us on the shoulder at any moment. So the problem is not to put ourselves in dangerous situations (because we are already there) but to become conscious of the fact that we already live dangerously, and that death can tap us at any moment. In this sense, it the avoidance of this recognition has much the same meaning as Becker’s Denial of Death. In some sense, there is a connection between the terms “experiment” and “experience”. They both have the meaning “from peril” — knowledge or consciousness comes from peril. This is expressed in German as “Vom Tode und nur vom Tode faengt alles Erkenntnis an” — hard to translate, but has the meaning “death is the beginning of all knowledge” or consciousness.

  4. tony says :

    Living dangerously is the need to seek change rather than sliding into lethargy and apathy until change invariably forces itself on us. Change is inevitable, since it is necessary to transform ourselves, and far better to be prepared and willing to confront change in order to eventually overcome it, than be taken by surprise and risk being overwhelmed and defeated. Detachment, I think, then becomes a natural consequence of the constant struggle. It’s a by-product of the discovery of our creativity and the ability to coincide our will with our destiny. I don’t think detachment, which is the defeat of fear, can be confused with indifference.
    I hope i’m making sense here 🙂
    I’ll just add that anyone who seeks to overcome change through war is an idiot, To seek change to attain detachment must be constructive and not destructive.

    • LittleBigMan says :

      “anyone who seeks to overcome change through war is an idiot”

      In this day and age, I agree with that statement — most of the times — but then there are occasions…..:)

      If I remember don Juan correctly, his statement to Castaneda was that in this and other worlds he had visited, there are four measures with which one can make gains toward an objective: 1) force, 2) sweetness, 3) cunning, and 4) patience.

    • LittleBigMan says :

      “Living dangerously is the need to seek change rather than sliding into lethargy and apathy until change invariably forces itself on us.”

      A good insight to keep in mind. This comment should’ve been part of the one right below, but I forgot 🙂

    • Scott Preston says :

      I’ll just add that anyone who seeks to overcome change through war is an idiot,

      Which is, I think, the idiocy of our contemporary crop of reactionary conservatives, who are all so anxious to preserve the horizons of the familiar world, but think they can do so by war and the free market, neither of which are the least bit conducive to preserving the horizons of the familiar world at all. But I take consolation in the fact that this idiocy is ultimately self-destructive — a bundle of self-contradictory dogmas.

      I was thinking this morning, on my daily commute into the city, on just this thing. I recalled don Juan’s objection to Castaneda’s conduct in which he rebuked him with “you rush when you should wait, and you wait when you should rush”, and a warrior does not act in such a way. This is the issue of timing and timeliness, and in our own society it takes the form of the inertia of the reactionary and the impulsiveness of the revolutionary. The reactionary waits when he should rush, and the revolutionary rushes when he should wait.

      My own feeling is that the reactionary, today, has far too much sway and influence.

      • tony says :

        ” the revolutionary rushes when he should wait. ”

        True, and sets off the pendulum pointlessly swinging in the other direction, and history again repeats itself.

        The place of no pity and lucid indifference reminds me of the samurai warriors who integrated zen into the “art” of war – killing without regret and dying without fear. Buddhist killers, quite a bizarre notion

  5. LittleBigMan says :

    “The real struggle was the surrender to that infinity”

    There’s so much truth to this as I look back to some recurring patterns of challenges in my own life.

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