“Being” is a very strange word. I suppose it would be called “an abstract processual noun”. English speakers, in any event, tend to treat “being” as a determinate form or species — something definite and fixed, as having boundaries, and consider “being” even the antithesis of “becoming”. We speak, perhaps, of the many “beings” or even the Supreme Being.
“Being”, used in that sense of “thingness”, as it were, is a hypostatization, or the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness”, or a reification in the negative sense. It is not a thing, but a dynamic, a process in much the same sense as playing, sleeping, driving, eating and so on. And in that sense “being” and “impermanence” are practically synonymous terms. But we have abstracted “being” from its meaning as identical with a mode of existence to something that “has” a mode of existence. But that isn’t what the word means.
Animism, vitalism, spiritualism, and mentalism (or psychism) — let’s continue with this theme and pattern as being “four ages” and as being the migrations of “the soul” through the fourfold human form.
And in no way should these be thought of as “progressions”, but more as “articulations”. While it is indeed “evolutionary”, it’s a mistake to think of that evolution as a progression following a linear trajectory and timeline. Evolution here means simply an “unfolding”.
What we call “soul” has a very interesting history. I don’t know if anyone has written a history of the soul as it has been represented in human history, apart from Jean Gebser in some respects, but it would make for some very interesting reading. Bruno Snell took a crack at it in his excellent book The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought (which is available online), but Snell was more interested in the evolution (ie, “unfolding”) of “mind” (or mental-rational consciousness structure) moreso than the soul. The “discovery of the mind”, or the mental-rational, is only part of the history of the migrations of the “soul” through the human form.
What I mean by “soul” we may take to mean “the life essence”, or the energetic principle, or “the creative force” as expressed in and through the human form that has become self-aware to a certain degree, and imperfectly so as the case may be, and which imperfection is the cause of human restlessness and sense of lack. Or, as William Blake put it, “More! More! is the cry of the mistaken soul; less than All cannot satisfy Man.”
“No pain. No gain.” This is an entrenched belief amongst human beings the world over. It is a very deeply held belief that any gain in human functioning or freedom must come at a very great price and at a high cost in terms of pain and suffering, or even violence and bloodshed. We’ve even enshrined it in our economic system — to gain something you must part with something, called “trade-off” or “sacrifice”. Or reward and punishment. Other cultures also have their cult of pain, suffering, and sacrifice — circumcision or tooth-filing, for example. Pain is held to be a necessary concomitant to a gain.
None of that, though, is at all necessary, fundamentally. It is a “truth” only because we have made it so. Our very belief that pain is necessary to learning and change sets up the terms of our individual and collective existence in that way — the way of pain.
I have an old photograph of myself from 1984. I’m sitting at a kitchen table. In the background, pasted to a cupboard door, is a full page clipout from the local newspaper. It’s a picture of “The Eye” — the all-seeing eye of Big Brother (or of Sauron for that matter). With all the naivete and myopia of the contemporary mindset, the picture and the accompanying article is a celebration of “the fact” that 1984 had arrived with no sign of George Orwell’s Big Brother.
Phew! What a relief! We could all relax our vigilance now. The thing of Orwell’s dread and horror, the dystopian future of his novel 1984, could safely be said to have passed us by, and 1984 could now be consigned to the dustbin of history. The “end of the world” had come and gone without any sign of Big Brother.
That naivete, myopia, and mere superstition about the date, 1984, goes a long way in describing what came next — Fukuyama’s triumphalist declaration of “the end of history”. One delusion fed into another.
Towards the end of his productive life, Nietzsche suggested that in future, Europe (the West generally) would have to engage with Islam in a kind of dialectic simply in order to become clear about its own values. I’m not sure that Nietzsche anticipated that this dialectic would take the form of war and terrorism, but that seems to be the form this dialectic has now taken. No doubt the soul-searching is reciprocal, with the need altogether to question value-systems that seem to have gone awry. But given that Nietzsche also anticipated “two centuries of nihilism” it would seem logical that Nietzsche believed that the form of the “engagement” would be very turbulent and violent.
A century later, in 1995, Benjamin Barber made a name for himself when he published Jihad vs McWorld: Terrorism’s Challenge to Democracy. It was really an attempt at such values clarification that Nietzsche anticipated would simply be forced upon everyone. I finished reading the book in August, 2001 — just a month before 9/11. Barber’s book immediately became a bestseller after 9/11, of course. You could say it was prescient. Or you could say, rather, that it was simply the logical step in Nietzsche’s prophetic anticipation of his “two centuries of nihilism”. Now all are drawn into the current of the demonic.
I left off the last post with a few brief comments about the karmic law, and how the law is working itself out today in contemporary events. I also mentioned that insight into, and knowledge of, the karmic law of action and reaction (which knowledge is called “dharma“) was the essential task for human beings, if not the very meaning of “existence” itself. In fact, it is the very meaning of “the spiritual life”, if we want to put it that way.
Here, I want to expand on that further — that the very purpose of your life and your task, individually and collectively, is to gain such insight, knowledge, and ultimately mastery of the law, and this is what is properly called “transcendence” and also therewith, “freedom”.