Are all men created equal?
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever" John Keats
Keats expressed so much in that line. It is a line that perhaps holds the key to happiness. But who allows its genius to unfold within himself?....
All of us have a dark side. Those who deny it, deny themselves. Those who reckon with it face something profound. Abraham Lincoln once wrote: "It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues." The myth of the perfect man is a dangerous thing. It leads to idolatry and the comparative measure of a mediocre mind.
Only he who can weigh himself, not with the measure of the past, but with the poetry of attention, is worthy of wisdom. A fool is one who pays no attention to his folly. An intelligent man is he who is foolhardy enough to learn the lesson his folly does teach. In the great Vedic tradition of India, the Upanishads expound that it is only by a strictly personal effort that one can reach the truth. This maybe so. Yet we must be careful in our reading of this. It is not advocating educated ignorance, as is the norm today.
Discernment involves undoing our illusions and refining our insights. That is where we must emphasize our efforts. And not in mere book-learning or acquisition of knowledge. Indeed knowledge, and the attachments it fosters, are often the greatest impediments to truth. The wisest person I ever met had two years formal education.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Those lines were written by Jefferson. They were borrrowed, almost word for word from the writings of John Locke, the English philosopher. Locke was born into turbulent times. His father served as a captain of horse in the parliamentary army during the English Civil War. On a number of occasions in his life, he had to move away from dangerous forces that were unhappy with him airing his convictions. He had to assume a false identity to escape suspicion during his time in France and Holland.
Political freedom has always been a relative term. Locke (like Jefferson who drew inspiration from Locke) was one who pioneered expanding its meaning. He was a contemporary of Newton and, like Newton, he was a leading figure in the age of the Enlightenment. In many ways the leading exemplar of the Age of Enlightenment was Voltaire. Voltaire was exiled to England for three years and he studied under Newton and Locke. He also closely observed the English monarchy during that time. The ethos that emerged from Voltaire's meditations was: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" - ie that if people believed in what is unreasonable, they will do what is unreasonable. The shift from a rather chaotic and dark view of nature, to a fundamentally orderly view, is an important aspect of the Enlightenment. Later, the Romantics saw the universe as self-ordering, and that chaos was, in a real sense, the result of an excess of rational imposition on an organic world. With insight, we may borrow from both views as we can recognise that nature is order by definition and at the same time we see the chaos of limiting ourself to reason. We see that there is a mystical aspect to our nature, as well as an intuitive and rational one.
Mr Jiddu Krishnamurti once asked a friend,`Sir, has the brahmin disappeared from India?' His friend replied: `It depends on what you mean by brahmin, Sir. One fourth of the population here think of themselves as brahmins.' Krishnamurti responded, `No, not by birth -- that is so childish. You know what a brahmin is?' His friend said, `What do you mean by a brahmin?' He replied with a story.
When Alexander invaded India and fought with Porus, he won. When he entered the state, he saw excellent administration, the whole of the land was tidy, clean and well maintained, people were living happily. So he asked Porus, Who was responsible for your administration?' Porus replied: `There was a brahmin prime minister, who was responsible for all this administration.' Alexander said, `I would like to talk to him.' Porus answered, `He resigned because we lost the war, and has gone to his village.' Alexander responded, `Call him, nevertheless.' So they sent a messenger who came back the next day with the response, `Tell the king I am no longer in his service. A brahmin does not go to anyone, therefore I am sorry that I cannot come.' As this was narrated, Alexander said, `All right, I will go to his village.'
Alexander was taken to the village, where the brahmin was seated under a tree teaching two children. When Alexander was announced, the man looked up and said, `Is there something I can do for you?' Alexander asked, `Are you the man who was the prime minister?' and the answer came, `Yes'; Alexander then said, `you ran an excellent administration,' and the man responded, `Thank you'. So Alexander asked him `Will you come with me? I will take you to Greece, give you a palace, make you the head of all our armies. Come with me!' the man considered this, looked up at Alexander, and replied, `Sorry, I want teach these children.' Krishnamurti then said, `That's a brahmin -- somebody you can't buy, somebody who doesn't work for a reward. He did what was right for a brahmin to do: he ran as good an administration as he could. When he lost the war he took responsibility for the defeat and resigned, which is the right thing for the brahmins to do. When he was in the village, he did what he wanted to do, not in subservience to the king, or looking for some more rewarding job to do. That is the quality of the brahmin.' After telling this story, Krishnamurti asked, `Now tell me, has the brahmin disappeared from this country?' Well, has the brahmin disappeared from the world?
In recent days, I have come to question the Declaration of Independence's first line. Are all men created equal? The latter part of the line I do not doubt. I do feel however now that not all men are created equal. If we were created equal we would live in wisdom or anarchy or some other state. Whatever the state, it's ubiquity would be the hallmark of the society. As it is we see so many mindstates represented in uneven proportions and without rhyme or reason.
No, some men are born with ears closed, some men are born with ears open. Others are born with an appetite to discover the merits of listening somehow planted in them. But only where the seeds of wisdom find fertile ground in the ears of one who is open to their enduring song can there be the maturing of nobility. Nobility is not an ideal to be measured but a state that may be realised. Honesty is the key to the door that opens to nobility. In this world of tragic ordinariness of conditioned greed and fear (which one sees all along the ranks from the poorest to the President) and academic worries, only the honest man can step out of the imitating ranks of the mediocre masses. The young are daring. Yet it is only an honest man - a man who will not compromise - who is capable of terrorising the tyrant and the king with the courage of his conviction. Such men are rare. There is no life without them. They see (and prove by their presence) that not all men are created equal in the relative sense. However, by their example and by their faith in humanity and life, they point within, to that intelligence which is impersonal. They point to where equality is potent and ever real; to where defenses are redundant.
When we see the vital value of what they are pointing to, life is vast. Such men can never be reduced to a belief system or a job title. Their example is the greatest teaching. And the greatest discovery? To find that very teaching within ourselves.
Without bringing such teachings to application, nature stands expectant and patient before us. Expectant because she knows nothing else is befitting of what we are...and patient, because she also sees, from experience, that nothing else is harder to learn. Ironically, when you really think about it...this is all that can be learned. Learn this lesson and one is a free man. A man in whom the remembrance of things past is destroyed by the light of reality. A man in whom the remembrance of things past is no longer something binding.
Simplicity is the essence of beauty. The simplest thing is, for us, the most challenging, because it demands the sharp innocence of a mind that can be attentive to actuality. It demands a very lively and sensitive mind; a mind that is clear and not blinding that keen intelligence which observes. A mind that can come upon the quiet wisdom of the heart.
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever." When we come upon the beauty of truth there is a revolution. We are not the same being anymore. One might call such a transformation 'seeing the responsibility that our shared humanity implies.' Labelling it is superfluous. Perhaps a person who sees the grown man or the maturing child drop the sweet wrapper in the street and who feels the sordidness of it to his very core - and perhaps if that feeling is totally free of condemnation or judgment and yet at one with the nature of things and abounding with compassion, then maybe he has a taste there and then of what this is all about. Perhaps, when he does that, he touches something we all need to touch moment to moment without end.
"It is natural to believe in great men. Nature seems to exist for the excellent. The world is upheld by the veracity of good men: they make the earth wholesome. They who lived with them found life glad and nutritious. Life is sweet and tolerable only in our belief in such society."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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