Tag Archives: ego

“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 10” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

In keeping the spirit and the vital soul together,
Are you able to maintain their perfect harmony?
In gathering your vital energy to attain suppleness,
Have you reached the state of a new-born babe?
In washing and clearing your inner vision,
Have you purified it of all dross?
In loving your people and governing your state,
Are you able to dispense with cleverness?
In the opening and shutting of heaven’s gate,
Are you able to play the feminine part?
Enlightened and seeing far into all directions,
Can you at the same time remain detached and non-active?

Rear your people!
Feed your people!
Rear them without claiming them for your own!
Do your work without setting any store by it!
Be a leader, not a butcher!
This is called hidden Virtue.

In this passage, Lao Tzu provides guidance to leaders on how to best govern. But since this advice is based upon spiritual principles, it applies to all of us in our daily affairs.

Many of us have a tendency to rest upon our laurels. We work hard to reach spiritual harmony, and when we reach it, we run the risk of thinking we are done. We begin to neglect that which we worked to attain, just as the leaders who attain power often begin to neglect their people. When Lau Tzu advises rulers to rear and feed their people, he is also advising the sage to nurture the spiritual enlightenment that the sage has found.

There is something else that I think Lau Tzu was warning against, and that is self-righteousness. Consider the last lines of the first verse:

Enlightened and seeing far into all directions,
Can you at the same time remain detached and non-active?

Throughout my life, I have met many spiritual seekers who, once they reach a spiritual goal, assume a holier-than-thou attitude. They allow the self to revel in the spiritual advances that they made, and as a result, begin to lose what they gained. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and I confess that it happened to me at one point also. The key then is humility, allowing yourself to remain detached enough to remain centered on the path and continue growing spiritually. And stay vigilant, watching for when feelings of superiority or self-importance seep in and become obstacles.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my thoughts. I hope you have a truly blessed day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 7” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Heaven lasts long, and Earth abides.
What is the secret of their durability?
Is it not because they do not live for themselves
That they can live so long?

Therefore, the Sage wants to remain behind,
But finds himself at the head of others;
Reckons himself out,
But finds himself safe and secure.
Is it not because he is selfless
That his Self is realised?

It’s kind of an oxymoron that self-realization only occurs when you shut off your self-importance and self-obsession. You must lose the ego in order to find your true self.

This makes me think of the spiritual principles of charity, compassion, empathy, and service. When you turn away from the cycle of chasing after personal gains and shift your focus to things outside yourself, something happens internally. There is a spiritual kindling and you realize that you are more than just your self; you are part of a larger whole that existed before you were born and will exist after you are gone. And you become aware of a deeper meaning to your existence. I think this is the key to finding meaning and fulfillment in your life.

In our crazy lives, it is increasingly difficult to step outside our small world of the self. But doing so is of utmost importance, especially in these turbulent times.

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 12

CyclopsPolyphemus

This episode corresponds to the section of Homer’s Odyssey where Odysseus and his men are captured by Polyphemus, the Cyclops.

In Homer’s epic, Odysseus lands on the island of the Cyclopes (Sicily) during his journey home from the Trojan War and enters a cave filled with provisions with some of his men. When the giant Polyphemus returns home with his flocks, he blocks the entrance with a great stone and, scoffing at the usual custom of hospitality, eats two of the men. Next morning, the giant kills and eats two more and leaves the cave to graze his sheep.

After the giant returns in the evening and kills two more of the men, Odysseus offers Polyphemus some strong and undiluted wine given to him earlier on his journey. Drunk and unwary, the giant asks Odysseus his name, promising him a guest-gift if he answers. Odysseus tells him “Οὖτις”, which means “no one” and Polyphemus promises to eat this “Nobody” last of all. With that, he falls into a drunken sleep. Odysseus had meanwhile hardened a wooden stake in the fire and now drives it into Polyphemus’ eye. When Polyphemus shouts for help from his fellow giants, saying that “Nobody” has hurt him, they think Polyphemus is being afflicted by divine power and recommend prayer as the answer.

In the morning, the blind Cyclops lets the sheep out to graze, feeling their backs to ensure that the men are not escaping. However, Odysseus and his men have tied themselves to the undersides of the animals and so get away. As he sails off with his men, Odysseus boastfully reveals his real name, an act of hubris that was to cause problems for him later. Polyphemus prays to his father, Poseidon, for revenge and casts huge rocks towards the ship, which barely escapes.

(Source: Wikipedia)

In Joyce’s novel, the Cyclops is represented by an unnamed person who is presented in this section as a first-person narrator. It is therefore from the “I” perspective, a singular and myopic view of the events that unfold. The events take place within a pub, the Dublin equivalent of a cave, dark and enclosed. Throughout the episode, there are lots of puns and wordplay associated with the word “eye.”

—Ay, says I. A bit off the top. An old plumber named Geraghty. I’m hanging on to his taw now for the past fortnight and I can’t get a penny out of him.

(p. 292)

The narrator is not a pleasant person. He seems to have an issue with everyone. He is totally self-centered (focused on his I) and, in my humble opinion, kind of a jerk. But then again, we all have our own egos inside and often think things about others which we keep to ourselves.

Since Odysseus blinded Polyphemus, the metaphor of blindness appears throughout the chapter.

—Some people, says Bloom, can see the mote in others’ eyes but they can’t see the beam in their own.

Raimeis, says the citizen. There’s no-one as blind as the fellow that won’t see, if you know what that means.

(p. 326)

There is a lot of symbolism tied in to this short quote. On one hand, the narrator is blind to the opinions of others. He is solely concerned with his own opinions. Bloom is blind to the hostile anti-Semitic feelings that the people around him are feeling towards him. The people of Ireland, represented by the citizen, are blinded by their intense desire to establish a national identity. Finally, the mention by the citizen of “no-one” is an allusion to the name that Odysseus used when he fooled the Cyclops.

As the episode continues, the environment becomes more and more hostile towards Bloom. This is especially evident through the citizen, who gets so worked up he starts verbally attacking Bloom as he makes his exit from the pub with Martin Cunningham. The citizen follows him out to the street, hurling anti-Semitic insults at Bloom, who responds by naming famous Jews from history, including Jesus, which enrages the citizen even more.

—Mendelssohn was a jew and Karl Marx and Mercadante and Spinoza. And the Saviour was a jew and his father was a jew. Your God.

—He had no father, says Martin. That’ll do now. Drive ahead.

—Whose God? says the citizen.

—Well, his uncle was a jew, says he. Your God was a jew. Christ was a jew like me.

Gob, the citizen made a plunge back into the shop.

—By Jesus, says he, I’ll brain the bloody jewman for using the holy name. By Jesus, I’ll crucify him so I will. Give us the biscuitbox here.

(p. 342)

The episode concludes in a similar manner to the corresponding section in the Odyssey. As Bloom is escaping in the carriage (symbolic of Odysseus’ ship), the citizen, who is blinded by rage, throws the biscuit tin (symbolic of the boulder) at Bloom, but misses his mark.

Begob he drew his hand and made a swipe and let fly. Mercy of God the sun was in his eyes or he’d have left him for dead. Gob, he near sent it into county Longford. The bloody nag took fright and the old mongrel after the car like bloody hell and all the populace shouting and laughing and the old tinbox clattering along the street.

(pp. 343 – 344)

We are nearing the halfway mark in the novel. My next post will cover Episode 13 which in my book ends on page 382 with the word “Cuckoo.”


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11


 

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyphemus

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section12.rhtml

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“The Clod and the Pebble” by William Blake

ClodAndPebble

Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hells despair.

So sung a little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattle’s feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:

Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heavens despite.

I found this poem to be pretty dark and depressing. For a short poem, there is a lot packed in here and it does not paint a nice picture of human nature and society.

The poem is broken into three stanzas. The first stanza expresses the views of the clod and the third the views of the pebble. The second is an outside observation tying the two together. I will go into more detail on each of these perspectives and the associated symbolism.

The first thing to consider is what the clod and the pebble represent. I see several interpretations for these metaphors. On a basic level, the clod is a poor, underprivileged person, one of the masses, and conversely, the pebble is a ruler or someone of the upper class. The poor person is trodden down by the masses of society while the rich person remains firmly planted as life swirls about.

The clod and the pebble also represent basic personality traits, the optimist and the pessimist, respectively. The clod has a positive outlook, is guided by unconditional love, and seeks to make the world a better place by easing the hell associated with human suffering. The pebble has a negative view of love and humanity. The pessimistic outlook casts a shroud of negativity over everything it comes in contact with. Despite being in a heavenly state, the pessimist always sees the negative and by expressing that negativity, “builds a Hell in Heaven.”

Finally, I see a psychological interpretation here that is worth exploring. I could not help seeing the clod as the compassionate aspect of our psyche, while the pebble is like the ego. The clod, like the passionate nature of our mind, is pliant and can be molded by our experiences. That is not the case with the ego-pebble. The pebble is hard and self-contained. The stream of consciousness swirls about the pebble, but the pebble is unmoved and basically oblivious to anything outside itself.

I know that some of my interpretation stems from ideas that came after Blake wrote this, but I like to think that Blake was someone who was able to tap into something greater than himself and to draw inspiration from a divine source. He was clearly centuries ahead of his time.

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“On Anothers Sorrow” by William Blake

OnAnothersSorrow

This is the last poem in the Songs of Innocence. It is fairly long, so rather than include the text within the post, I’ll just provide a link to the online version for those who need.

On Anothers Sorrow: www.bartleby.com

I can sum this poem up with one word: empathy. And I think that it is important to note that this is a transitional poem, marking the shift from innocence to experience. For most people, that shift occurs when we become aware of the suffering of others and feel empathy for the first time. As innocent children, we are the center of our own universes. It is difficult, if not impossible, to free ourselves from our self-encapsulated egos and consider the inner turmoil of others. Once we do, we experience spiritual growth. It is an important moment in a person’s spiritual and psychological development and marks the transition into the world of adulthood.

At the end of the poem, Blake establishes a correlation between human empathy and divine empathy. If we as humans can share the suffering of others and support them in their times of anguish, then it stands to reason that God will be there for us in our times of need.

Think not, thou canst sigh a sigh,
And they maker is not by.
Think not, thou canst weep a tear,
And they maker is not near.

O! he gives to us his joy,
That our grief he may destroy
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

I would like to take this idea a little bit further. Personally, I feel that the ability to connect with another person, to share a person’s suffering, to feel empathy and compassion, and to unconditionally help that person is the most divine act that we as human beings are capable of. All the great spiritual teachers emphasize compassion and unconditional love as the key to spiritual growth. I feel that Blake is reinforcing that idea with this poem by stressing the importance of empathy for another person’s sorrow and by relating that feeling of empathy to God.

I confess, even though I had read these poems before, some numerous times, reading them again slowly and contemplating each one has given me a deeper insight into myself. I look forward to exploring the Songs of Experience now, as I am sure they will force me to take an even deeper look into myself and the world around me.

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“Star Trek: The Ashes of Eden” by William Shatner

StarTrekAshesOfEden

Several months ago, I stopped at a yard sale to look for books and records. Among the various items I discovered a couple of Star Trek novels, one of which was written by William Shanter. A Star Trek novel written by Kirk himself? In hardcover? For one dollar? I couldn’t pass it up. Well, I finally got around to reading it and it was everything I expected: sci-fi adventure, some philosophical ideas to mull over, enough cheesiness to make it endearing, and a healthy portion of Shatner’s ego. In fact, there were several places where other characters wondered what Kirk would do in the situation, which made me chuckle and think “WWKD.” Anyway, combined together, all these things made for a fun, entertaining read, which was what I was in the mood for.

The general theme of this book is how we as humans deal with getting old and our quest for youth. It’s a universal concept, that we seek immortality through fame and that we try to keep ourselves feeling young; but there is always a cost. Early in the book, Kirk reflects on his fame and the issues associated with it.

But then his recognition had moved beyond the Fleet. Civilians began approaching him, asking the same questions, seeking more details. Always details. After the incident with V’Ger, the floodgates had opened. All Earth claimed to know him. Most of the other worlds too.

Now Kirk couldn’t go anywhere without detecting the unsettling flash of recognition in strangers’ eyes. All the more intense because, unlike the sudden recognition awarded a new sports star or politician, people had come to recognize him over decades of his career.

(p. 39)

I see this as very autobiographical. Shatner certainly gained fame as Kirk, but he had plenty of other roles which added to his fame and recognition, such as T. J Hooker and his role as Denny Crane in Boston Legal.

As Kirk struggles to find his place in life as a person who is no longer young, he turns to his memories. There is a great passage about how memories mark your journey through life. By following the path of your memories, you begin to see patterns which enable you to make a reasonable guess at where the path is leading you.

Memories were the markers of the journey through life. It was necessary to know where you had come from. Only then could you know where you were going.

(p. 72)

At one point in the book, Kirk considers a question that resonated with me: “When was it ever right to give up doing what you lived to do?” (p. 126) I have asked myself this question many times throughout my life, particularly in regard to playing music and writing. These are things I love. They are a part of who I am. Would I be more successful if I gave them up and focused all my energy on the pursuit of material gain? Yes, but at what cost? I would be sacrificing a part of who I am. I could never do that and continue living a happy life.

One of my favorite quotes from this book appears in the later part.

… we’re not responsible for the world we’re born into. Only for the world we leave when we die. So we have to accept what’s gone before us in the past, and work to change the only thing we can—the future.

(p. 268)

This is so very true. I make a conscious effort to think about the future whenever I am acting or making a decision. Everything I do, every choice I make, directly affects the future in ways that I may never know. My actions may not have a recognizable impact on the world today, but I know that what I do now will impact the world that my children’s children will inherit.

So I want to close this post with one last quote that ties in with a little nerdy Star Trek trivia.

Then Kirk gave an order he had never given before.
“Beam me up, Scotty.”

(p. 282)

If you’re a Trekkie, you know that Kirk never actually said “Beam me up, Scotty” in any of the Star Trek episodes. I found it funny that Shatner pointed that out in the book.

So, this is not great literature, but it is a fun and easy read, and if you are a Star Trek fan, you’ll definitely get a kick out of it.

Live long and prosper.

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