Know Thyself.


Or alternately: Original Greek: γνῶθι σεαυτόν. The two word maxim was chiseled into a stone plaque in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Legend tells that the seven sages (all males of the highest order, women were second class citizens in the ‘cradle of democracy) of ancient Greece, philosophers, statesmen and law-givers, who laid the foundation for western culture, gathered in Delphi to inscribe “know thyself” at the entry to its sacred oracle.

Others have noted that the seven sages were familiar with teachings from ancient Egypt, and pre-dated Socrates, including Gurdjieff, according to arkintime.com.

“Gurdjieff outlined different states of consciousness possible to man, stating that, under normal conditions, man was a sleeping machine.  Man’s spiritual evolution progressed in direct proportion to his self-knowledge. Since Gurdjieff claimed that all ancient teachings first and foremost taught man to become real, know thyself had to be their natural foundation.

He’d also written that:

The first reason for man’s inner slavery is his ignorance of himself.

Without self-knowledge, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave. This is why in all ancient teachings the first demand at the beginning of the way to liberation was: ‘Know thyself’.”

On the other hand, the witty Oscar Wilde had offered this epigram:

“Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and do more, and be more.”

‘Know Thyself’ was written over the portal of the antique world. Over the portal of the new world, ‘Be Thyself’ shall be written.

The message of Christ to man was simply “Be Thyself.” That is the secret of Christ.”

In any case, the aphorism became a touchstone for philosophers, authors, playwrights and poets, some even rejecting it, or ‘evolving’ away from the notion in their later writings.  (the Wikipedia entry has loads of examples)

On edit: I’d forgotten to ask if you think that these beliefs are true:
“The essence of knowledge is self-knowledge,” claimed the Greek philosopher Plato. Centuries before him, the Hindu Upanishads confirmed, “Enquiry into the truth of the Self is knowledge.”

The Sufi Poet Rumi:

Who am I in the midst of all this thought traffic?’ ~Rumi

In this mob of I’s inside, which one is me? Hear me out. I know I’m wandering, but don’t start putting a lid on this racket. No telling what I’ll do then. Every moment I’m thrown by your story. One moment it’s happy, and I’m singing. One moment it’s sad, and I’m weeping. It turns bitter, and I pull away. But then you spill a little grace, and just like that, I’m all light. It’s not so bad, this arrangement, actually. ~Rumi

The Bard:

Of all knowledge, the wise and good seek most to know themselves.
Thou sleep’st: awake, and see thyself.
The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

I know myself now, and I feel within me
A peace above all earthly dignities,
A still and quiet conscience.

Peter Ouspensky on Know Thyself

“Ouspensky outlined the path to self-knowledge before his students. Man, in his normal condition, was ignorant of himself – a ‘lying’ machine, according to one of his definitions. Self-knowledge was too high to serve as a beginning step; self-study was where man could begin, in observing himself and compiling a collection of ‘photographs’ that captures his unconscious behaviour in different moments of the day.

To know oneself—this was the first principle and the first demand of old psychological schools. We still remember these words, but have lost their meaning.

We think that to know ourselves, means to know our peculiarities, our desires, our tastes, our capacities and our intentions.

The most fundamental thing is to know oneself, although if certain things do not change you cannot know yourself.

To know oneself is a long process. First we must study.

Very soon after starting to observe himself, a man will begin to distinguish useful features and harmful features in himself, that is, useful or harmful from the point of view of his possible self-knowledge, his possible awakening, his possible development. He will see sides of himself, which can become conscious, and sides which cannot become conscious and must be eliminated.”

His best known works include, The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution, In Search of the Miraculous, The Fourth and A Further Record Way (a Fourth Way video is here; in general I liked it, especially the images of the painful friction tug of war to ‘stir the ocean), but not the dark characterization of ‘the heart’ part of the trinity; that was baffling to me.)

But how hard is to Know Oneself?  Hard, hard, hard.  ‘Hard as steel, hard as diamonds’ one writer noted. Not only is silence required to turn inward, as in meditation, prayer, or dreaming decoded, but also the abysmal truth that most of us are ‘lying machines’, not only acculturated and programmed to find ourselves measuring ourselves by the yardstick of material, not spiritual, success, but coached not to seek out our dark sides.  ‘There be dragons’, of course.  How many folks do you know who even claim not to have inner lives, this can never take any sort of moral inventory?  How many of us can stop our internal dialogue narrating our lives to ourselves, which narratives tend to find us just and blameless in any sort of adversarial situations, including accusations of wrongdoing?

On the other side of the equation, how many of us with over-active consciences due to parental/grandparental bullying and blaming have been left with the reflexive default positions that we really are guilty of crimes we’ve never committed, or are just part of being human?  Yes, we can seek to make amends where possible, and attempt to dedicate ourselves to being more worthy and conscious humans, but do we forgive ourselves and let go of past deeds?  Yes, I’m trying to learn that part…

So often I’m left wondering that even with the many things I’ve worked through in therapy or making amends, or looking within and acknowledging, how many more are there that are still hidden from myself?  Oh, yes, I can be a tough taskmaster, partially because i) I keep my word, or goddam  say why I was unable to, and ii) I try to be the best goddam friend possible, thus when my expectations of friends are dashed or betrayed, I am often grieved and let’s face it: angry underneath.  iii) I value verisimilitude in my relationships a lot, and most folks are either equivocators or plain old bullshit artists (if not liars), and my BS detector is very strong, and it’s a rare thing for me to bite my tongue and not (ahem) express myself.

An example: a neighbor who pretends to be a modern incarnation of either St. Francis of Assisi or Doctor Doolittle once said: ‘I told John that the deer and I have an agreement that they won’t eat my garden plants’.  How could I not say, ‘Well, the nine-foot fence around your garden doesn’t hurt, does it?’  Or similarly when he honks on about what a glorious for ‘the creatures’ he’s made of his three acres, can I miss saying, ‘Except for that hapless cat that you’d spray-painted!’.  Yeah, that made the fur fly…

But really, the same neighbor’s utterances had been what promted this diary.  It’s a long story of some extra help I’d offered him that might, might, might help to restore some of his post-stroke vision and peripheral vision problems, and as I gave him examples of the acupuncture point tapping, eye movements, vocalizations, etc. on the phone, he claimed not to have any depression about his crap vision, which was mainly what he whinged about when he was here for four long hours for Christmas dinner.  And later he’d told Mr. wd, who’d showed him one thing he taps for now and again: I don’t have any anxieties.  ‘Yeah, why do you sleep with a loaded Sig-Sauer under your pillow and have a large cache of rifles in your basement, then?’, might have popped right out of my grande bouche. But in any event, he turned down the help, admitted that he hadn’t done the earlier ‘very helpful’ Educational Kinesiology (stimulating brain hemispheric cross-communication) for weeks, and he was simply content to adapt to his condition, and Keep Life Simple™.  It reminded me that when his sister was here to care for him, she told me he’d turned down my offer of loaner crutches to use instead of  a walker.  ‘It’s vanity’, she quipped, ‘plus falling down is so much more natural’. (wide grin)

Know Thyself.  Does that include STFU, wd, stifle your inner beyotch, as per the AA maxim not to  work anyone else’s program for them, and thus… must be eliminated?  Yeah, I reckon it just might be so…  Discretion is the better part of valor…or some such homily.

*note: not to mention  online life, where one can re-invent oneself at will…

Thoughts?  Experiences?

34 responses to “Know Thyself.

  1. night, all; i’m srsly done for the night. but: Oprah for President 2020! (or clap.clap.drool CFR georgie-boy clooney, what.ev.er.) ;-)

  2. Well,opening Pandora’s box here for starters, wendye, two aspects of the phrade immediately spring to mind: one is to know oneself as an individual, and the other is to know oneself as a human being.

    I would add that the Delphic oracle itself, or herself, (to give a balancing role for the feminine in Greek consciousness – Athens being named for Athena after all, her temple on its highest promontory) was always a priestess. That female contact with the divine spoke in such obscure messages that the one receiving the message inevitably revealed self knowledge or lack of it in the meaning he or she found therein.

    • i’m not understanding your parsing ‘as an individual’ from ‘a human being’, juliania. you might say more about the difference you see so i can grasp your meaning. i wondered if i’d feel a bit of heat for ‘male sages’ v. reverence of female deities, so…god on you. but i admit to have done some extra homework that buttressed my assertion. ;-) including the various ways a person could rise a bit in athenian society.

      but this is certainly interesting: ‘That female contact with the divine spoke in such obscure messages that the one receiving the message inevitably revealed self knowledge or lack of it in the meaning he or she found therein.’

      • I simply meant one can seek knowledge of oneself as an individual, or knowledge of oneself as a member of the human race in general.

        The two are different in that personal boundaries are different from the ones that apply to humanity in general, or even living creatures in general. Though we would agree, I think, that harmony dictates a conscious awareness that all things connect and are important.

        Still, as for your neighbor, sometimes that influx is too much for us to bear.

        • yes yes yes! and when i’d recalled uncle albert einstein having said that ‘imagination is more important than knowledge’ (not just self-knowledge), i found a longer version of one of his i keep on a blogging help document. it was, of course, the one about the (wretched) prison of the illusion that we are all separate beings, including all creatures in the universe, etc. gorgeous paintings arrived on the same page, and i sent it and a few other things to myself for a different diary. we are all stardust, as well.

          as for neighbor lazarus, i guess we’ll just have to see what evolves next. i admit i do like this iteration far better than the older one, though. guess that’s why we…invited him to christmas dinner? plus, he hadn’t gotten other offers, oddly. he was tended very faithfully by his friends for so long.

        • And no contest on your observation about social hierarchy, by the way, simply to point out that there are other aspects to the term which did for the Greeks ( much more than for the Romans) have a feminine side.

          • one of the modern working premises i’ve read is that males in ancient cultures feared women for their abilities to create new life. i can get behind that, as well as the purported reasons that the gnostic texts never made it into the bible: god within, god without ,the divine spark of esoteric knowledge, was deemed heretical because: ‘uncontrollable’, perhaps even ‘uppity’. but most of what i learned bout gnosticism was by way of a christian email friend, so that might be altogether wrong. ;-)

            but yes to greeks and a more feminine side, including platonic love, i reckon.

            and i hope you had a good christmas on the 7th. oh, and i finally heard back from THD; he and miz are okay, weathering the cold (7 degrees brrr at night) w/ space heaters, but at least they hadn’t lose electrical power as so many had. like the doofus i am, i forgot to ask in my reply what fuel their heat usually runs on. i will, sheeeesh.

  3. A little Dostoievski, a dash of some Martin Buber, and finally the amazing ” Master and Margarita” all provide the nugget that one doesn’t achieve self knowledge by retiring to a dark room and undertaking mental and physical exertions to achieve a superior state of absolute calm and super self knowledge superior to ‘oi polloi’ in the world at large.

    Just what makes sense to me, but it always has to involve an other, others, or even The Other.: someone, someones, or Something looking back and having a conversation with you.

    That ‘inner beotch’ wendye, is your gadfly. It spurs you on, where others fail to go. Because, I think, your ‘other’ is others.

    And that is a good way to be. Hard on you, but good. Thank you for your blog.

    • i hadn’t taken the various admonitions of quiet and internal silence as a way to knowledge as a permanent state, and as we know from so many authors, sages, poets…some intermingled with people, but later took ‘snapshots’ of their behaviors to contemplate them in order to see what to keep, what to jettison as steps to higher consciousness, as i took it.

      but if i get your drift, you’re indicating that your list of great authors plus ‘i and thou’ martin buber, indicated that only in living life, dialoguing, etc., could a person find self knowledge? and did they separate ‘human’ from ‘personal’ knowledge somehow?

      more please, too, on your comment about the inscrutability of the priestesses’ oracle at delphi messages?

      and for margo schulter if she comes by, she mentioned her studying Gregory of Nyassa in a comment to you on the jason homeless thread. here’s a page i found on his thoughts and writings on ‘know thyself’. good stuff. on edit reading more: looks interesting

      ya made me laugh with my ‘inner beyotch’ as my gadfly, ww. loved it to pieces.

      • Oh yes, Gregory of Nyssa is a favorite of mine simply because of his trearise on Moses and rhe ascent from glory to glory, written in such positive poetic exguberance that you can’t help being carried along with him.

        I wasn’t thinking of Gurdjiev or Ouspensky in my dark room comment as I don’t really know either of them, but rather various religious wriiters who get very caught up in laying out a 12 step program towards enlightenment, which may or may not lead one to self knowledge, or start there in the first place. Fyodor Karamazov, for instance, doesn’t seem to care about self knowledge – he has,a lot of fun at other people’s expense, and the elder observes that he is lying to himself, which your ‘lying machines’ comment reflects.

        On the oracle matter, the great example is the story of Oedipus, whose parents learned that their son would kill his father and marry his mother – to prevent which, in effect, the actions that were taken actually brought it about.

        • Just to add, Sophocles’ play, “Oedipus the king” is perhaps the classic presentation of the pitfalls involved in the search to know oneself. The quest first presents itself to the king as his duty to save the city, but becomes self knowledge as it remorselessly unfolds. And one thing that is rather grand about Oedipus – he seeks the truth, though it is his undoing.

          Stravinsky, in his operatic version, has the chorus, the people of Thebes, sing, “Farewell Oedipus; we loved you.”

          • as far as acting as a cautionary tale for ‘knowing thyself’, i guess i’m not seeing that. as ‘tragic irony’, yes, in that oedipus’s quest didn’t ‘bear out what it had promised incipiently’ (john irving). now i had to go back and read the wiki, having read it last in college, and there may be several different versions, but it seems it was the blind tierasius who’d explained to him that he, oedipus, was the murderer he sought. ‘no! it must have been creon!’ he later did ask for more details about what laius looked like and all, and finally saw the wretched truth of the prophecy.

            plus it gave uncle zigmund a basis to go a bit wild on the theme: early murderous thhoughts of ze father (as competitor?), in love, first sexual desire was for ze mother, etc.

            but all seem agree that it was the pinnacle of the greek tragedy. thanks for causing me to read up a bit on the play, juliania. so many literary folks here!

            on edit: that oedipus used jocastas hair pins to blind himself reflect that he was acknowledging tierasius having called him blind, as well? or is that too obvious to ask?

  4. “know thyself”: know who you are, mortal, before the gods? know, “remember” if you will, what is the significance of the form, the image, of the soul, as in Plato? how can one know one’s self if, as Augustine says in the Confessions, “I know what I am but I know not I may be”. Ophelia says the same thing.

    and while we are on the subject of Hamlet, I offer a statement of Mr. Melancholy as a counterweight to Polonius:
    Give me that man
    That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
    In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,
    As I do thee.

    can Laertes know himself with people like Claudius around? the problem of lying of course is not simply internal to oneself. in a world of liars & spies, Hamlet can figure things out b/c he has a confidant he can trust.

    the problem of madness, and perhaps Polonius’ most profound statement:
    to define true madness,
    What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?

    anyway, there’s too much to go into in the myths about Delphi, but:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Python_(mythology)
    As Ovid tells this story in book 1 of the Met, Apollo kills the chthonic, primordial serpent creature, child of Gaia (and so a gigant, a giant, an earth-born), and the Pythian games & thus all the prestige associated with the oracle at Delphi are established as memorials to the chthonic powers that must be suppressed for the light of civilization & reason, Apollo, to advance.

    But in Ovid’s telling, the story of Python’s death is immediately followed by the story of Daphne & Apollo, in which another primordial power, Cupid/Eros, drives them both nuts.

    still, in the games & in the ritual practices around the oracle itself, the participants & audience would be reminded, even at these high points of Greek culture, that these beliefs & practices rest on a foundation of cultural repression & violence. and the Gaia-born oracular utterances of the ritually narcotized Pythia were, in some sense, filtered thru the priesthood, who reported her words to inquirers. (yes, some people thought the whole thing was a big scam, like Oral Roberts or Obama or something.)

    anyway, the need for silence & retreat, solitude: for many of us, can’t be overstated. “the only use for solitary confinement is as punishment,” Soren K. but being alone can be very hard for people, for many reasons. i’m a big believer that we, esp. people like me who are a bit logo-centric sometimes, need non-verbal, non-linguistic experiences to refocus the inner gaze of our mind (cuz it can be filled with daggers & scorpions & many abysses). and even more esp. of experiences that create within in us a sense of wonder. “Philosophy is born in wonder” to quote Kierkegaard’s fav Aristotle quote. To say, “I understand something, I know something,” is the antithesis of wonder and is a repression of the truth: we don’t know anything as we ought. “small have continual plodders won save base authority from others’ books.” saying “I know something” is usually the mind’s sphincter clamping down hard on something that might be better excreted. (b/c, in truth, I read in a book somewhere what I “know”. not earned thru even a “penny of observation” of the actual, non-library/laboratory, world.)

    3 things I do not understand, 4 fill me with wonder:
    the way of an eagle in the sky;
    the way of a snake on a rock;
    the way of a ship on the sea;
    the way of a man with a woman.

    when t.s. eliot says, “the river is a brown god…the river has many voices,” it is an admonition. to be still & observe. be mindful. know what you know and, more importantly, also know what you don’t know ;)

    • whooosh; you’ve said a few mouthfuls here, j in oly! much of it comports w/ many of the quotes above, and i just discovered that your ‘3 things I do not understand, 4 fill me with wonder’…is from proverbs 30:18, and not ts eliot. ;-) reading more, a Q: were men ever ‘adulterous’?

      sorry to not be able to comprehend polonius’s ‘madness’ quote. the wiki on the priestess of the oracle (and later iterations) was overly long, esp. for a busy day, so thanks for the cliffs notes. so pythia was either in ecstasy and gibbering for a variety of supposed reasons (from the rot of the snake, any number of reasons for ecstatic excited utterings, or vapors and gasses from chthoic gaia….) the painting of the sacred sacrificial parade to the oracle: the text didn’t bear out that there were actual sacrifices, though, so…allegorical ones?

      funny that ouspensky’s fourth way (hindu, was it?) also featured a snake w/ a tug-of-war whose friction (discomfort) resulted in ‘stirring the ocean’ (an allegory for knowing thyself step by step…or something). gadzukes, maybe more soon on your ‘need for silence’ paragraph, but i’m trying to put together a big cauldron of creamy potato and veg zooop.

      glad ya could make it, ya literary genius bastid.

    • at least in amerika, it was the ‘well-meaning’ quakers who’d recommended solitary confinement as a way for miscreants to commune with god, or some version of the creator, directly…in silence. the practice was adopted. sit w/ that for a few moments.

      but yes, words can get in the way of introspection, can’t they? after my brain damage, i largely ‘saw’ images, and it took/takes a lot to translate them into words. by now, i fear i’ve over-done the practice, and sometimes even dream of words i’d meant to say, tra la la, eee crikey. but as far as plato’s ‘thought forms’ and the ‘allegory of the caves’ as shadows of the real thing or whatever he’d said, again, uncle albert had once quipped: ‘Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent One.’

      oh, phooey; i am so burned out after a tediously long day, and mine eyes can barely see. i’ll beg off for the night, except to say thanks to all who’ve weighed in w/ so much food for thought. let’s have a lullaby from the magical man from another universe…

    • well, capitalists know nature is not exactly a shopping mall so distracting people’s gaze from the world in general, incl. nature, is part of the agenda. unless it’s for sale on My Little Pony junk, rainbows suck. the enemy, really. think you’ll be able to escape the Golden Arches on a lunar or Martian vacation? think again.

      I personally also fortify myself on life’s journey with really hard core proletarian working songs. “we gotta hold on to what we got…” important to remember. critical, really. the rock to build the house of one’s pinko life upon could not get a surer foundation than Bon Jovi.

      if only someone had put Bon Jovi’s guitars in hock and the waitress girlfriend hadn’t brought home the pay…for love…


      he could have added a line about the awfulness of pop culture as another sign of the times.

      • spoofin’ about the bon jovi, then? at least the lullaby jimi was right on target for this diary, i’d thought. bless him, mr. wd got it.

        but yeah, cohen saw a lot, didn’t he? a dark polemical sage. ‘shining artifacts of the past’. ooof.

        • the melancholy dane, not Hamlet or Bergman, the other one, meant that comment about solitary confinement as a condemnation of modern society & its mass men. i’d heard that about the Quakers…and forgot. the desire to be alone is itself suspicious in our age.

          I don’t know if words get in the way. we get fixated on a set of words as a heuristic device, a prism, thru which to see & experience the world. is it the words themselves or our attachments & fixations?

          perhaps the question becomes not how to rebut & refute people’s ideas but how to shake loose people’s obsessions & fixations. an example: it’s not difficult to refute some fairly standard prejudices, misinformation, about homeless people in the US, by, e.g., pointing out the number of homeless with full time jobs. or the number of children, elderly, etc. even if some concessions are made to some kind of welfare state for some people, the underlying belief that there are the “worthy” poor & the “undeserving” poor is almost impossible to shake.

          and this belief, this completely baseless yet rock-solid conviction most people have about the unworthy needy, is bound up with all sorts of other beliefs & prejudices, about work, identity, gender, the value of money, the value of one’s time. even these beliefs usually rest on one foundation: it is b/c of my own virtue (hard work above all) that I am not: homeless, sick, a refugee, blown up by a drone, rotting away in prison on fake charges, etc.

          dislodging that certainty people have about their own virtue is impossible. even getting a person to recognize that they were lucky, a total luck of the draw, their parents had money to pay for college (assuming college is a good thing) is harder than getting Tamerlane to calm down.

          anyway, as a ‘spiritual’ practice, pretty much anything would be good for USaians. turn off the tv. by all means meditate on your navel. b/c of the advent of mass media, starting with the radio, our relationship to music-making and appreication has changed in ways we cannot fully imagine. various traditions over long history have some kind of positive words to say about singing & chanting. in that vein, or so I like to think, I’ve taken to humming along with pieces of music, abstract music, non-verbal music, esp. something like this:

          after 5 or 15 mins of that…well, i’m not promising enlightenment. but you never know.

          • ta for the chopin. humming, listening…does tend to shut off one’s internal dialogue, in any event. music that makes one imagine soaring to the heavens, even better, isn’t it?

            “Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”
            ~plato

            thank you, j.

      • this is also OT for this thread, but although i can’t find updates from the local olympia press this a.m.: ‘Indigenous women occupy Washington state capitol lawn’, al jazeera, jan. 9

        “Eva, along with others from the indigenous community and their supporters, “occupied” the front lawn of the state capital in the city of Olympia on Monday, the first day of a new 60-day legislative session.

        “While they’re inside doing their talks for the next 60 days, [we hope] they come to understand that the native nations people are watching them,” Eva said. “We are outside and we are not leaving until you guys [politicians] understand that we don’t want fracked gas factories … [or] coal mining. We want them out.”

        The group is demanding that Washington Governor Jay Inslee take a stronger stance against the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries oil from the Alberta tar sands to terminals and refineries in British Columbia, on Canada’s west coast, and the northern part of Washington state.” and so on. you oughtta be able to see their ‘tarpees ?’ from your camp, yes?

        wd’s light bulb slowly lights: i’ll bet you’d meant to put the above on the ‘homeless in olympia’ thread.

        ahhhh, tarpees. designed for standing rock, made of poly tarps, 2x4s for poles.

        and juliania, if you’re still reading: what’s are ‘christian apologists’? i came upon the term yesterday, as well.

        • Not in the common understanding of ‘apology’, wendye, but simply what one would today call ‘theologians.’

          • thank you, and yes, as in apologia, ‘speak to defend oneself, one’s beliefs, as in presenting evidence or ‘the wonders of this miraculous universe shows that it was designed by god’ or close? in what sense had you used it, do you remember? was it in regard to buddhists being more concerned w/ all life, not just humanity? so hard to go upthread to hunt, and i really hadtried, but my eyes went bonkers.

            on edit: those claiming that the discovery of the shroud of turnin was real, dunno where the ark found on some high mountaintop went in the end.

        • I seem unable to nest comments on my phone, at least as far as I see after posting, so hope this will end up where it should.

          On ” apologist” it simply means what today we might call “theologian”, and on the button wirh that first Merton quote, very good!

          I was indeed limiting myself in comparing Christian and Buddhist practice, sorry, as those are the two Buber takes as opposites. (I actually had a trio in mind, wanting to fit Plato in as well, or at least Sophocles.)

          I like very much your segue to Merton, and would add that absence of God solitude isn’t entirely un-Christian, though unsought, as in the Biblical text from the crucifixion: “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In which context we also find forgiveness of others, “for they know not what they do.”

          And indeed, I can’t really penetrate Buddhism since I always am approaching it from the outside.

          That was supposed to go down at the end of everything, sorry!

          • and i’d meant to add an aldous huxley quote to my sorta supposition above:

            “Compared with that of Taoists and Far Eastern Buddhists, the Christian attitude toward Nature has been curiously insensitive and often downright domineering and violent. Taking their cue from an unfortunate remark in Genesis, Catholic moralists have regarded animals as mere things which men do right to regard for their own ends. . . .”

            ah, way down yonder were the comments i was trying to remember. ‘O memory; why hast thou forsaken me?’ ;-)

  5. Could jest be onanism.

  6. Bruce’s comment and wendye’s response caused me to look again at the “I and Thou” dismissal of the meditative option. It was fairly surprising to me that Buber has a strong condemnation of this, since even Christian apologists have taken this approach, and certainly Christ’s example of withdrawing into the hills to be alone at times would lead one to think it a vital aspect of Christianity.

    But such meditation as imitates him can only be done in the presence of the other that is God, since Christians believe he is everywhere present, and that is very different from consciously emptying the mind and actually thereby gaining complete control over bodily functions, even those that are automatic, which is what the experienced buddhist practitioners can do.

    I submit that if one is not prepared to accept that one is not ever truly alone, the only way to achieve self knowledge would be in relation to other persons or things, not through contemplation of the empty void. It’s interesting, going back to Oedipus, that he himself must consult everyone who has known the facts of his life in order to reach his own self knowledge. That’s a pretty tall order for anyone, but it makes for a mighty interesting play – and the comedic antithesis is “It’s a Wonderful Life”, isn’t it?

    • A conclusion I draw from the above is that this rather explains to me why buddhists in particular are so compassionate towards others and every living thing, which is a great lesson to us all. And Christians may find themselves by contrast exemplifying the opposite condition, that of a concentration on self perfectability with only a dim recognition of the importance of others and the earth which sustains us.

    • thomas merton seems to agree, although i discovered a few seemingly contradictory quotes ascribed to him:

      ‘I must above all things avoid playing the “know myself” game, because if I do it will surely mean losing what little I can find of a path to God.’
      ~Thomas Merton, from ‘Run to the Mountain’

      ‘“It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them. Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.”

      but surely you realize that many philosophers, visionaries, mystics, weren’t theists, yes? thus, “if one is not prepared to accept that one is not ever truly alone, the only way to achieve self knowledge would be in relation to other persons or things, not through contemplation of the empty void” would be an inoperative construct for many, wouldn’t it?

      but ‘the empty void’ seems to ignore one’s only inner self and life, which is part of the difficulty. which wit had said that ‘there is no more dangerous/frightening road i can follow but the one that leads straight back to me’? (or close) now i have no deep knowledge of what ‘buddhist practitioners do’, but there are so many different sects of buddhism, but many do feature exercises, breathing techniques, and sometimes silent single words, sometimes vocalized utterances or chants.
      (‘Aaaaahhhhhoooom’ being the best known.) and wasn’t that thought to be a vocalization of the universe to set ourselves with in harmony? nam-myoho-harenge-kyo was in a complicated way (i was a nichiren shoshu buddhist for several years long ago) and of course, sufis meditate, meet god…thru whirling dancing. an astounding practice if you’ve ever witnessed it. so centered are they that they can whirl in one direction for 20 minutes, stop…and whirl in the other direction. talk about ‘whoooosh!’

      but in the end, there are so many paths to our personal ‘ways to be spiritually fulfilled’, different forms of enlightenment, consciousness…you’ve found yours, i have yet to find mine. but ‘loving others’ is at the core…the most important, as so many sages have told us. and how hard that is. merton said that we should not hate the masters of war, but pray for them…or close.

      but thanks for pushing the envelope, ww. it’s wonderful.

  7. Sorry to have fouled the nest here on the ‘apologist’ question. Hopefully this will obediently take its place at the end of the line. I meant, as you picked up on, wendye, that folk like Merton were appreciative of the meditative principles they learned from studying oriental religions. And it’s my feeling also that eastern christianity has much more a meditative alignment than has happened in the west.

    I dont know about the oriental practise, but the most helpful statement of self-examination I know from Orthodoxy is ‘prayer is standing with the mind in the heart before God’. It is that ‘with the mind – in the heart’ that gives balance to the approach, while a respected outside entity (for Plato it’s the Good) keeps the self honest, and that’s the hardest part. It’s humbling, but you do feel better for it.

    • please don’t apologize on the nestings, juliania. i frequently fail to ‘follow the little white lines’ to see who is answering whose comments.

      yes, thank you for the ‘mind in the heart before god with the good in mind’ imagery. being an apatheist, i tend to try to pray as though there might be a creator or a force that might receive my thanks (often hard) before sleep, if not ‘one god’ per se, but even the noosphere, collective consciousness…to hear it. and that ramble reminds me a bit of ‘i know i might not always please you, lord…but i suspect the fact that i try so hard to…pleases you. was that thomas merton as well?

      but yes, ‘the good’ is the hardest, isn’t it? and that may be the key that the ‘know thyself’ dictate is about in the end: which dark parts of ourselves to try to banish when we find them. but ha; last night i’d thought of baba ram das whose edict was ‘be here now’. eeeegads, and how hard it that? but in some ways, come to think of it, wasn’t that essentially what don juan mateus had recommended? and ‘always be aware that death lives over your left shoulder just out of sight? and ask…is this who i would want to be if death were to come for me right now?

      ah, it’s a puzzle, but at least knowing that we’re trying is a blessing in itself, isn’t it? and i hope you got a bit of the beautiful beautiful snow we got yesterday. all four inches have melted already, but were so welcome given how dry it’s become. mr. wd said that the official drought map now contains a new level: ‘extreme drought’, or was it a notch even higher than that? i’ve forgotten already. forgive typos, my eyes are a bit on the blink again and full of distracting prisms in C shapes.

      think we’ll hear from cynical seeker soon that he’s all trussed up and ready to go? hope so. ;-)

  8. OT: Arizona is the first legislature in the nation to approach mandating capitalism like a state pet economic system mechanism. What is amazing about the legislative language is how absolutely petrified the legislative author is that the kids ain’t larnin’ thur cap’talism. Here. In Arizona. Next they will be sellling pet economic system stamps like duck stamps to keep our capitalist system going.

    Apparently they can’t get capitalists to should that systemic responsibility.

    • lol, that’s great, thd. AZ is one of the most anglo-centric nationalistic states in the US of A, isnt it? where even teaching brown history has been declared treasonous, book-burning abounds. gotta love it!

      nice to see you, but oy, i’d thought you might have wanted to weigh in on this diary. but your OT comment might be more than fitting for the diary a put up a few hours ago.

  9. I did start to weigh in. Where it went was into a bunch of recent “nonfiction trade” books (i.e. lay audience stuff) by theoretical physicists and the mathemeticians that love them. They all see obligated at some point to start with Mlietian pre-Socratics, go through Plato and Aristotle and a few other Socratics, hit the Alexandrians and late medieval natural philosopers and off to modern natural history and natural science — off through relativity and quantum theory and the century since, which comes back around into this topic are when looking at the physical sciences underlying biology and neuroscience. Some do come back to examine what would contemporary edgy physical theory argue about what “know thyself” means as compared to what, for example, the Greeks meant. Max Tegmark’s The Mathematical Universe is a well-constructed read that is still a little hard slogging. (Having patience that eventually some of it will start to make sense and open a doorway; the difficulty is not Tegmark but the reality that the experimental results are finding and the stubborn fact that assuming that the universe is mathematical keeps making more stuff make sense at the same time as unsettling long-standing truths.

    There is another train of thought, called transpodane Christianity that broadly has some interesting questions. “Transpodane” is from “across-the-Po” and refers to the kind of Christianity the Roman Empire had to construct to incorporate so many pagan tribes. We get all the liturgical fol-de-rol of celebrations and holidays with the appropriation of Easter and whatever was appropriated as the Christ Mass and so on, This was before the East-West Schism, there are many elements in orthodoxy that are transpodane (mixtures of Aramaic Christianity, Roman Constantinian relgious institutions, Hellenic and Late Roman syncretic religious thought. The point for this post is what exactly do the practices around knowing oneself mean in sense that is understandable mutually understandable to all of the world’s religious traditions. This comes up against having to deal with the issue of the “many worlds” view of world religion that emphasis incompatible claims of religions. My own sense (or is it a commitment) is that the universe is constructed by whichever deities to not involve a many worlds obstacle and that insisting on one is a major disservice that likely denies on knowing oneself. Broadscale religious ecumenism without religious bigotry is an endeavor of discovery.

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