Now as I’ve pointed out before, we haven’t done a very good job of inviting this new level of insight into our lives and our minds. I think it’s important that we do, because if we can come to a new perception of reality then we have a fresh experience of it. We can look into the sky at night and see more than stars blinking in empty space, in a black void. We can sense the life within that void itself — dark matter, gravitons, the warps and woofs of the space-time continuum. That’s the stuff from which we arose, and in which we have our lives here. It is all around us, and it is within.
This is why I prefer to think of the light of inner truth as a glow rather than a glaring of consciousness. The glow is light that merges with, and in a way, makes love with the dark. In the second poem of his Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu describes it thus:
…in the eye of the universe,
The formed and the formless
Create and support each other.
The light and the dark dance and mingle
Like the breath of lovers.
Now this principle, this vision of one’s personal being, applies both macroscopically — to the galactic spread of space “out-there” — and microscopically — to the inner space that defines our relationship with the All. Two of my own teachers wrote a book, in which they identify the source of this relationship:
What the I Ching calls “inner truth” in the hexagram by that name [no. 61], is the complete body of knowledge contained in every body cell that science calls DNA. As science has discovered, our DNA holds the complete history of our development as human beings, and is such that a single cell holds all the information needed to build our entire body. The inner truth stored in our body cells also contains all we need to know about the Cosmos, our connection with it, and its Principle of Harmony. This is to say that each of us possesses an inner measure that enables us to distinguish thoughts and actions that are in harmony with the Cosmos from those that are not.
They go on to point out that DNA is a “perfect Cosmic operating system.” We are barely beginning to understand the remarkable depth and capacity of this operating system: experimentation is ongoing that predicts we will soon be able to store the entire content of human knowledge onto a teaspoon’s worth of DNA — and this information would, stored at subzero temperatures, be accessible and readable for millions of years.
Other projects involving DNA are somewhat dodgier, such as the plan to “de-extinct” species such as the woolly mammoth. One can only hope that cooler and wiser heads prevail on this debate; I encourage you to read this scientist’s weighing of the de-extinction argument. She concludes:
Ultimately, cloning woolly mammoths doesn’t end in the lab. If the goal really is de-extinction and not merely the scientific equivalent of achievement unlocked!, then bringing back the mammoth means sustained effort, intensive management, and a massive commitment of conservation resources. Our track record on this is not reassuring.
In the meantime, the least we can do is be guided by what we do know about woolly mammoths in their ecological context. Before we talk seriously about de-extinction, let’s apply the lessons of the woolly mammoth to help save species in the face of pre-extinction.
Now Dr. Gill may know nothing about the teachings of Alan Watts, yet she is restoring his message (for example, watch this video). Watts wrote and spoke on the matter of our false or warped understanding of ecology — not merely in terms of our relationship with Nature but, going deeper, of the distorted perception we have of ourselves as organisms. To imagine for a moment that we are separated or divorced from our environment is to enter a fundamentally suicidal mindset. Indeed, the project of storing our species’ knowledge and history onto a teaspoon of DNA has become urgent in the context of that suicidal frame of reference, which has brought us climate change and the entire Mind of War: war on the Terrorists, war on Nature, war on poverty, war on drugs, war on cancer, war on death.
But this is the dominant mental set of our time, is it not? We militarize everything. When someone dies, we speak of the end of his “long battle” with cancer or heart disease or what-have-you. We speak of reforming our educational system in Blackhawk-Down terminology (“no child left behind”). Our politicians, activists, doctors, scientists, and business leaders all speak of fighting for or against something or other; there is no end to this “Onward Christian Soldiers” mindset. Everything can be made into a war, including what we observe within Nature.
There is a fundamental confusion at the root of this, one which, if not exposed and expelled from within our individual and social minds, will be certain to eliminate us. This is the conflation of hunting with war. For we think of Nature as a constant stream of battle between predators and prey; between the forces of environment and the organisms within it; and finally between Us, the intelligent strangers to this planet, and It, the stupid, careless, and destructive beings and events of the world-out-there.
Now there are two primary scenes of contest that are commonly observed within Nature: hunting for food, and the contest for a mate. The latter situation is not well understood: in some species, mating happens without the mildest sign of conflict; in others, it occurs variably, often as a function of depleted availability of mates due to the loss of habitat or reduction of population (which of course are frequently caused through our influence). However that may turn out to be, such struggles are rarely fatal and are usually brief. As for hunting, well, that is not battle or war or any such thing. It is simply the search for food.
In short, there is in Nature nothing resembling the group-based, large-scale murder that is the stuff of human war. Now you may ask, so what? Language has nothing to do with all this: if a “war on cancer” leads to a cure, then who cares how we talked about it on the way to that salubrious end? My response is that our language can mean everything in terms of how efficiently we manage our lives, both individually and socially. So I would ask the reader to test this for him or her self: identify a goal, activity, or plan within your own life, right now; one in which you find yourself talking or thinking with this military-mind. It might be an illness you have, a habit you’d like to get rid of, a professional or financial goal you’d like to achieve: work with the language of your search, your desire, and put it in terms of the hunt rather than the battle. Then see if you fare or feel any differently.
Now I am not a hunter and know nothing of that culture among humans. I was raised in a family where guns were — perhaps under the influence of that confusion I mentioned above — forbidden. My father had been a soldier of some distinction: the 101st Airborne during WWII. He was among those who were trapped at Bastogne amid the “Battle of the Bulge.” He had multiple wounds and once mentioned to me that he’d been involved in hand-to-hand combat there. He “won” a purple heart medal and some kind of metal star, bronze or silver, I forget which (my sister still keeps these objects). He rigorously denied us, his children, even a BB gun; the woods were off limits to us during the deer hunting season. Whenever we brought up the subject, the answer was the same, delivered in the same stern, inflexible monotone: “I know what guns do and children should have nothing to do with any kind of gun.” Now he wasn’t maniacal about this, mind you: we were allowed toy guns and GI Joe’s and such things; and war movies were allowed on the TV. Some of my funnier memories of the old man are from such moments: I was watching some John Wayne WWII film on a Sunday afternoon one day, and my father was snoozing in his usual chair nearby. There came a scene where a solider put a hand grenade to this mouth and pulled the ring off it before throwing it at the enemy. Suddenly the old man’s voice muttered from his chair: “if you did that with a real grenade, your teeth would come out before that ring did…” I was getting some good mileage out of that remark for weeks after at school.
So my knowledge of hunting is at a more metaphorical level. The I Ching is a bronze-age document that was produced by a hunter/gatherer culture. It contains frequent references to hunting, yet only one to war — the 7th Hexagram is commonly translated “The Army.” And even here, there is more warning than fighting; this attitude towards war is summarized in Richard Wilhelm’s commentary: “But war is always a dangerous thing and brings with it destruction and devastation. Therefore it should not be resorted to rashly but, like a poisonous drug, should be used as a last recourse.” This is a hallmark of Taoist thought, which is reflected in Lao Tzu’s 31st poem, one of the great anti-war statements in human literature:
Of all the instruments of human ego,
Weapons of war are the most horrible.
The teaching Heart of the Cosmos
Turns away in revulsion from these,
And from those that use them.
The student of the Sage
Embraces the supple form of truth.
The student of war
Hides beneath the stiff shield of delusion.
The former walks in blessing,
The latter strides toward Fate.
When the infantile lord descends
To playing with his toys of war,
He must be resolutely answered
With a calm and firm rejection.
And should he kill and conquer,
Let him not revel in his hideous slaughter;
Let him not exult in extermination.
For he who delights in destruction
Shall never live in the Way of Nature.
Celebrate the living body of truth,
Mourn the madness that is power:
The latter is the seat of appearances,
Where the dead figurehead resides.
Let a dirge of sorrow be sung
For the victorious commander-in-chief.
Lament as well the grievous slaughter he has wrought.
Though we may weep for all his seeming victims,
It is the patriot — that power-drunk demon —
For whom the funeral rites must be observed.
Lao Tzu makes it clear: to be lost in the military mind is to be among the walking dead. We have seen what the “war on drugs” has done to our society: it has filled the prisons and the mental institutions while the real criminals — the Wall St. banks and the crime syndicates that they finance — prosper. The war on poverty has been an utter failure and has been essentially abandoned in favor of a war on the poor themselves. Similarly, the war on terrorism has enriched what Eisenhower famously warned us about: the Military Industrial Complex, the corporations that profit hugely from war. In all other respects, it too has been a failure; though regrettably it is no closer to being abandoned than when it began over a decade ago. Even the war on cancer has been an indifferent success to this point: the treatments thus devised are largely as destructive as the disease itself. I have family members who died as much (and more miserably) from radiation and chemo as they did from cancer; perhaps there are similar experiences in your life as well.
I am not saying that all such efforts in all such wars are useless or destructive; I am pointing out that the frame of mind from which they are developed is warped, distorted, misdirected, and broken. My proposed alternative is a simple matter of perspective, not of effort: let us think in terms of the hunt rather than the battle. The best hunters seem to know that prey is most efficiently discovered rather than pursued; and creatures such as the flytrap and the spider tend to attract their prey instead of chasing it.
In no fewer than eight of its hexagrams (including “The Army”), the I Ching speaks of the benefit of the hunting mindset. Metaphorically, the killing that is done amid the hunt is of false beliefs, fears, guilt, self-blame, and other thoughts and emotions of derived darkness. This kind of hunt provides nourishment through the death and transfiguration of such darkness — not, however, into light, but towards revealing a genuine dark principle — the same kind of dark that I referred to above, which scientists are discovering in outer space. This is the same kind of dark principle that exists within us, in our DNA.
The understanding that we can bring into our minds and our lives from this science is the simple realization that the dark and the light are not opposed, not enemies, not warring armies or nations. They are complementary aspects of a greater unity. As Alan Watts used to say, the trough of a wave is as essential to the whole wave as is the crest. The dark of the night sky is as much (and physically, in fact, more) of outer space as are the stars, planets, and nebulae. And that space between one life and the continuance of life — the interval we call death — is as much a part of who you are as a cosmic traveler as is your present body, identity, and life, which you imagine is all you’ll ever have.
This again is why I like to envision inner truth as a glow rather than a shine or a glare of light. We are, no matter how much we may adore and long for the light, not all that. But our dark nature is, by design (again, recall the “cosmic operating system” of DNA) not evil, combative, warring, deceitful, or empty — no more than space itself is void of either substance or being. To become merely aware of this on an intellectual plane is a beginning; and therefore I will be the last man to condemn or decry the value of our gift of Reason. But thought is just that, the beginning of understanding, of realization, of (if you will) enlightenment. For in every enlightenment there is also “endarkenment.” So our work in meditation and in the entire process of personal self-discovery must invite and involve the heart.
A number of years ago, when I lived in New York City, the transit authority there had an excellent project in which poetry was written onto advertising placards that were placed onto subway cars throughout the system. One day on my way to work, I saw this Langston Hughes poem on my train; I was so moved by it that I scribbled it onto my notebook, where I found it recently. I think it summarizes what I have been trying to tell you in this essay, and so I finish with it now:
Sometimes a crumb falls
From the tables of joy;
Sometimes a bone is flung.
To some people,
Love is given,
— Langston Hughes