RELATIONSHIP AND SOLITUDE – I
The principle that all human beings should be treated as ends in themselves and not as means constitutes the core of Kantian morality. It rests upon an older conception of the world as a coherent structure intelligible to the pure reason of man. This world is a moral order precisely because human beings are an integral part of it. The human mind, by an act of pure, universal, impersonal reason, is able to discern the ethical order within the natural order. Each human being is a self-determining agent within a universe which itself may be seen as a kingdom of ends. Every human being as a responsible agent can become a monarch within his or her own modest kingdom by living in terms of ends that are self-chosen. We rule ourselves by making those ends meaningful in our lives.
For the practical realization of this possibility, we must assume that every human being is inherently capable of acting spontaneously without interfering with other human beings. We know that this noble mode of action is not achieved because reason is clouded by irrational passion. Pure universal affirmation is distorted, dissolved and even destroyed in the midst of the blinding partialities of confused human beings captive to conflicting impulses, aims, motives and desires. Suppose, however, that these self-chosen ends were intrinsically compatible, and that each person, in willing an end, asked the question, “If everyone wills this end, is it compatible for all human beings individually to pursue it without mutual interference?” At one level, a general answer would only yield a formal criterion of action. Is there a practical way, however, in which we could readily recognize in ourselves any fall from the autonomous state of a self-determining, rational being? We must identify any desire to interfere with others as springing from a part of ourselves which cannot be underwritten by the moral order and which the universe cannot protect.
Although theoretical formulations have a certain value; nonetheless, in the familiar but treacherous territory of tortuous rationalization and sinuous self-deception, as well as the psychological pessimism of our time, they only communicate negatively. And yet, while we may not fully know what it means to pursue our own ends without interfering with other individuals, we can surely recognize instances where one human being is crudely using another. We recognize this in its extreme form in politics, but the idea that any government could have total control over the human mind is self-contradictory if human beings are intrinsically self-determining agents. This also applies to any theory of continuous interference through conditioning, any supposedly benevolent, massive manipulation such as “Skinnerism.”
Is there a nobler way by which we can come to understand what it is for two human beings to help each other, to share with each other, and not to use each other? Even though the sacred idea of love is degraded every day, there is no human being who does not understand what love means at some level. The counterfeit of love is false romantic idealization which soon becomes empty and irrelevant. True love involves the many complexities of human beings, the manifest weaknesses and also the hidden poignancy in the archetypal relationships between father and child, husband and wife, teacher and pupil, and between two friends. If two people can sense something beyond themselves, can they also see how the direction of their relationship could be meaningful? Even though in their weakest moments there is a tendency for either to take advantage of the other unconsciously or in the name of the good, is there still a feasible possibility of self-correction? Must relationships tend to become prisons or can they evolve in the direction of liberation? In the everyday contexts of human relationships, the critical question is whether we are becoming more tyrannical in relation to others or are allowing our closest encounters to enhance the joys of individuation.
These fundamental inquiries hurt because any pertinent discovery of the subtle forms by which the tyrannical will masquerades as love destroys our delusive relationships. Mere intellectual awareness does not help, and this is the point we have reached in contemporary culture. People know so much about all abuses of trust that they are terrified of any irrevocable commitment. They are afraid to spend time with their relatives; afraid to assume burdens of responsibility in relation to children; afraid of intimacy with others and most of all afraid of deep introspection and meditative solitude. Relationships have broken down because many have become painfully aware of all the ambiguities, perversions and tyrannical elements in the human psyche. The atmosphere is so polluted that we almost dare not breathe. Therefore, the most simple, natural analogies, let alone idyllic models of archetypal relationships, do not speak to the disillusioned. They need a fundamental solution and not only an acute awareness of human failings. There is no total solution in the empirical realm that is compatible with the sum-total of goodness in the universe, but a fundamental solution can emerge when individuals are willing to rethink their conceptions of themselves.
The therapeutic counsel of the great healers of souls is as relevant now as it was in the days of the Buddha and the Christ. There are those whom the immemorial teaching does not transform, even though they spend a lifetime with it. There are those who are afraid it is going to alter them and therefore never enter the stream. There are those who progressively find it affecting them, and are able by an unspoken trust to use it and be benefitted by it. And then there are those very few who are deeply grateful for the supreme privilege of witnessing the presence of this timeless teaching. They are constantly focussed upon the eternal example nobly re-enacted by Avatars who portray the magnificent capacity to maintain, with beautiful balance and ceaseless rhythm, the awesome heights of cosmic detachment and boundless love. These mighty men of meditation are also illustrious exemplars of the art of living and masterly archers in the arena of action. They cannot be understood in terms of external marks or signs. It is only through their inner light that individuals can come into closer contact with the inner lives of beings so much wiser and nobler than themselves. Those who cherish this truth may find the inner light within their own silent sanctuary through deep meditation, in their incommunicable experience of poignant emotions, in response to soul-stirring music, or in their ethical endeavours through honesty and self-examination.
Hermes, June 1977