Saturday 29 August 2009

Be not troubled...

From a discourse by the Buddha to his son Rahula, quoted by Amitav Ghosh in The Glass Palace, 2001, 343:
Develop a state of mind like the earth, Rahula, for on the earth all manner of things are thrown, clean and unclean, dung and urine, spittle, pus and blood, and the earth is not troubled or repelled or disgusted...

Develop a state of mind like water, for in the water many things are thrown, clean and unclean, and the water is not troubled or repelled or disgusted. And so too with fire, which burns all things, clean and unclean, and with air, which blows upon them all, and with space, which is nowhere established...
Wonderful. And still so right.

And yet, today the earth and water and even space are troubled and disgusted.
We reap what we sow.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Zeffirino Namuncura, hope of his people

The feast of Zeffirino Namuncura today. Was dipping into his life. What tragedy: the Araucans about to be decimated like hundreds of other tribes, by the Christian whites; the intervention of don Milanesio, Salesian missionary, who engineers a truce between Manuel Namuncura and the Argentinian army; the treaty with grant of a huge fertile piece of property to Namuncura' Araucans; the dishonouring of the treaty, and the shunting of the Araucans to a small, barren piece of land. When Manuel put his son Zeffirino into a boarding school in Buenos Aires, he told him: Study hard. You are the only hope of our people.

Zeffirino could not adjust to the government boarding school, so he landed up with the Salesians, where he fitted in better. But surely it was not easy in those days - nor is it now - for a tribal boy, even the son of a chief, to fit into a boarding school. I have the impression that the other boys more or less avoided him, busy with their own things. But the young lad seems to have entered the spirit of the place with great determination, becoming very devout and very studious. "I am studying because I want to be a missionary to my people." His aim was clear.

But God seems to determine otherwise. Zeffirino became ill. It was decided to take him to Italy. He was taken by Cagliero first to Turin, and then, when Turin became too cold for Zeff, to Villa Sora, Frascati. The same story there: a new language, a new set of white boys, who more or less left him to his own devices, also because he had his illness (it was diagnosed as TB), and he could not join in the games.

I have seen the place where Zeff died, at the Fatebenefratelli Hospital on the Isola Tiberina. There is a plaque marking the place. We had to interrupt a seminar to get to see the plaque. There, quietly, thousands of miles from home, and far from his dreams, Zeff died.

But God has his own plans. He is today truly the hope and the pride of his people. I hear that there is great enthusiasm for him in Argentina, especially on the Pampas, where Indians and whites and people of mixed origin are drawn together in large numbers by the life and heroicity of this young Araucan boy.

Monday 24 August 2009

Control

You don't surrender your dreams.
You surrender the one thing you never have: control. (Peaceful Warrior)

Christ's shroud and India

Wonderful little gem from De Smet:
Perhaps Indian hands were remotely associated with the first act of pity rendered to Him [Christ] after He had died on the cross: indeed, the white shroud in which His friends hastily wrapped His body was a 'sindo', i.e. a long piece of fine cloth known in West Asia as 'made in Sing' or Hind. (Richard De Smet, "The Revelation of God's Love in Christianity," An Apostle of India's Spiritual Culture, ed. N. Ananthanarayan, Shivanandanagar: Divine Life Society Publications, 1976, 195.)
The Shroud is called, in fact, sindone in Italian. Lovely reflection on this feast of St Bartholomew, who, according to some sources, seems to have come to India. He is supposed to have preached in the North of India, and some say also in 'India Felix', which could be interpreted as the present day township of Kalyan. Kalyan is an ancient town, and in times past it used to be a flourishing port town, together with Nala Sopara, which again some say is Opara, or the Ophir of the Bible.

And of course St Bart is venerated on the Isola Tiberina in Rome, where a British monk called Rahere had a vision telling him to build a church and a hospital in Smithfield on the outskirts of London.... The church of St Barts still stands, next to St Barts Hospital, in Smithfield. That was where Phyllis Wallbank started the Gatehouse Learning Centre....

God's thirst

In 1975 during a talk at the satsang in the Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, apropos of he absolutely gratuitous character of creation which seems to have baffled all philosophers, Hindu and Christian alike, I said that it seemed that in some mysterious way we had to conclude that in the last resort it was not we who thirsted for the Source, but the Source which thirsted to be thirsted for, adapting a sentence of Gregory of Nyssa. I added that this idea was there in both Hindu and Christian scriptures and quoted the Gita, ch. 18:64-65 and St John, "God loved us first". This made a great impact, and later in Allahabad, when I repeated the same thing to a young Sanskrit scholar, she said to me with shining eyes: "This is a new interpretation we are discovering!" I was especially happy with that "we". (Sara Grant, Towards an Alternative Theology: Confessions of a Non-Dualist Christian, Bangalore: ATC, 1991, 90-91, n 12.)
Pope Benedict has been speaking again and again about God's weakness in front of human freedom, and about how God thirsts for us on the cross, even begging for our love...

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Self-pity

The Master was unsparing of those
who wallowed in self-pity or
resentment.

"To be wronged," he said, "is
nothing unless you insist on
remembering it."
Tony De Mello, One Minute Nonsense (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1992) 13.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Life and death

What are clouds
But an excuse for the sky?
What is life
But an escape from death?
Death poem, Yabu, in James Clavell, Shogun (Dell, 1980) 1188.

Very reminiscent of Heidegger's reflections on art. It is the shape of the temple that makes the sky appear, and the marble that makes the light of the sun and the moon glow.

Don Bosco's Abrahamic moment

The gospels of yesterday and today focus on poverty, on Jesus' invitation to us to sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow him.

Even though we might belong to a group that has already 'given up everything' in order to follow Jesus, new and strange attachments develop, both as persons and as communities and institutions and organizations.

The great temptation is to let the institution or organization stand in the way of the mission. The readiness to sacrifice institutions in favour of the mission is also something that might be demanded of God of us at some point.

I am thinking of Abraham's readiness to sacrifice Isaac, the son of the promise. He truly trusted and obeyed.

I am thinking also of Don Bosco's own Abrahamic moment, which was the cholera epidemic: he risked his whole new congregation, and his whole work, by choosing to send his boys to take care of cholera patients. I was moved when I read this reflection in Don Chavez' letter on the 150th anniversary of the foundation of our congregation.

He is in charge, not we. To resist the temptation to be little gods. To stop worshipping at the altar of excellence for its own sake. "The best for the least" was what Chavez said. Not the best for the sake of itself. "Don Bosco is excellence" I have heard it said; "so there is no place for you, ayah's son, in our school." What an infinite tragedy.

Friday 14 August 2009

Life, death, flu, and such things

More and more people are going around with masks, or at least with kerchiefs round their noses.

Our Muslim cook, who we call Bhabi, was quite matter of fact. Ham darte nahin, she said. Jo honewala hai, so hone de. Mera Allah hai.

I told her: Aap hijab roz pehente hain, to darne ki zazoorat kahan?

Sr Sylvia died yesterday, after a long battle with cancer. Those who knew her personally will surely feel the loss. But, from a distance, I think there is the deeper truth that, ultimately, length of life does not matter. Better 40 full and happy years than 80 years making oneself and others miserable. And, for those who believe: life is changed, not ended. And for us religious: we base our lives, we wager our lives, on the fact that God is enough to fill the human heart. So life, death, what does it matter - provided only that God fills my heart, and that I am totally surrendered to his will.

So that really is the challenge: to allow God to fill my heart. To allow him first place in my heart. To live totally surrendered to his will.

And so there is a profound affinity between the samurai disregard for life and death, and the Christian who truly lives surrendered. For life and death do not ultimately matter, but the quality of life.

And the ability to live life fully. Today, now: this sunshine, this green grass, this fresh air.

Let tomorrow take care of itself.

Facing loneliness

In order to grow strong you must first sink your roots deep into nothingness and learn to face your loneliest loneliness.
- Nietzsche to Dr Breuer, in When Nietzsche Wept, 269.

There is something here.

I am thinking of Jesus. The gospel of John reads:
Jesus knew all people and did not trust himself to them; he never needed evidence about anyone; he could tell what someone had within. (Jn 2, 24-25, The New Jerusalem Bible)
I cannot depend on people. Life has gone on, and will go on, with or without me.

But I am called to love people.

Love and dependence are two quite different things.

The possibility of love arises when dependence ceases.

Or perhaps everything is as mixed up, as muddled as ever, as in all of life. Love, and dependence, and a moving perhaps towards one side or the other.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Shogun

I am reading James Clavell's Shogun a second time. It is an extremely gripping novel, also because it feeds the desire for the exotic - and Japan is truly exotic, as even Heidegger said.

Shogun is a strange novel. It begins with the English pilot Blackthorne, who seems the intended hero of the novel, being English and White and so on. My impression, however, is that the real centre of gravity is Toranaga, and Toranaga makes his appearance rather late in the book. But once he makes his appearance, he dominates. There is no doubt about that. Perhaps Clavell got pulled into his own story. It happens. A story unfolds as one writes, and takes on a life of its own.

The reason why I am reading Shogun a second time is that Toranaga's tactics intrigue me. Here was a man against whom all the odds were stacked, but he manages to wriggle out of them and goes on to become the de facto head of Japan, Shogun. And his chief tactic is to do nothing. Delay. Buy time. Because, when all the odds are stacked against you, every day brings in new possibilities. And Toranaga often buys time by doing the entirely unexpected. When his half-brother Zataki is sent by the new Council of Regents to ask Toranaga to surrender, after adequate delays Toranaga agrees, to the astonishment of all, including his own men, to surrender. Then he puts on a huge act of the despondent daimyo who has lost all hope. And all the time he is scheming, 'playing the grand puppeteer', as one of his aides says.

But the not acting is the interesting thing. And it does require guts. And a very cool head. I like the way he is able - and this is perhaps very Japanese - to put his worries into a compartment, and just relax. So in the midst of the most atrocious situations, he will simply put his mat on the ground and lie down, taking time to empty his mind, or to think. Or he will go falcon hunting. Enviable ability. Maintaining wa, harmony, by making compartments in one's head. The Japanese way of surviving.

Shogun is a novel with a core of historical truth. When I first read it some years ago, I looked up the net for Japanese history. I learnt, to my astonishment, the extent to which Christianity had made inroads into Japan, so much so that historians talk of the Christian Century. The Taiko and Toranaga are largely based on real historical figures, as is also Mariko. Toranaga historically became Shogun and went on to seal Japan against almost all foreigners, certainly against missionaries, and was also responsible for unleashing one of the most cruel persecutions in history. Mariko is loosely based on a historical figure of a high-ranking Japanese noble woman who converted to Catholicism, and is, in fact, considered a saint, though there remains the question of whether or not she committed seppuku (ritual suicide). But of course Clavell takes liberties with this figure, and makes her the paramour of the English captain.

Then of course Clavell's anti-Catholicism is very strong. Surely the Catholics and the Jesuits were not saints. Surely the Jesuit link between trade and missionary work needs to be examined. But Clavell does goof up in his depiction of Catholics, as for example, when he assumes that Jesuit novices who are not priests can hear confessions. And somehow Blackthorne does not come through as a likeable figure. As I said, it is Toranaga who really dominates.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Drought

The drought situation made the headlines and was the principal news on TV yesterday. The newsreader said that this was far more worrying that the cases of swine flu deaths - already 5 in Pune, and 3 elsewhere.

In the meantime, the trouble in Vasai-Virar was not much highlighted, except, I am told, in Sahayadri News (Marathi) and in the Marathi newspapers. A Catholic person was alleged to have manhandled the local MP and MLA, and in retaliation, many shops and institutions belonging to Catholics have been damaged or burnt. Our Virar East community was advised by the police to shift elsewhere for the time being. We are still watching the situation. Curfew has been imposed. This is the first time that Catholics have been targetted in Vasai-Virar. The larger context is that people are unhappy about the new Vasai-Virar Municipality that was declared on 3 July.

Monday 10 August 2009

Drought looming

We have not had a single good downpour as yet in Nashik this year. It drizzles, it is cloudy, but no rain.

Igatpuri is not much better off. There was some rain, rice was transplanted, but we saw fields standing without water last week when we went there for a picnic. And not a drop of water in the waterfalls.

No rain in Goa either. The transplanted rice has died.

The Prime Minister has admitted already that the kharif crop has failed. We hope for a good rabi crop at least, he said.

Some hope for history


The other I spotted an editorial in one of the newspapers, to the effect that the Indian government was at last going to do something about the thousands of historical monuments that dot our countrysides. I believe the first step is to catalogue them. Eventually, and hopefully, other steps will follow, such as conservation and other regulations.

This is something long overdue. I remember the beautiful dressed black stone temples / masjids that dot the Nagar countryside, often neglected, falling to pieces, or else painted over, often in garish colours, in a show of unbridled philistinism; or perhaps it is just 'the life of the people' that goes on its slow march through history, a people that is quite unaware of history and so on.

Here in Nashik, I remember the lovely little temples surrounding the Godavari at Gangapur village.

On the ghats down from Igatpuri, there is the queer but perfect dome shaped affair, which is probably a covered well or something. Each dressed stone painted over, by some caring hand, so that it now looks like Joseph's multicoloured dreamcoat.

And then there are people who should know better: the beautiful neo-Gothic or Indo-Saracenic or whatever buildings in Mumbai, such as the Police Commissioner's Office at CST, stone buildings painted over or whitewashed in parts...

(The photo above is the so-called Chand Bibi mahal which dominates the landscape when you take the road out of Bhingar towards Kaudgaon... Extraordinary piece of Muslim architecture, and utterly beautiful setting.)

Saturday 8 August 2009

Pearl of great price

Fr Nelson Carvalho shared some beautiful incidents in his homily during our retreat. He spoke of a 22 year old girl in his parish, engineer, who got her first job as Supervisor in a company, with a salary of Rs 20,000. She soon realized that the ordinary workers, who did most of the actual work, were being paid only Rs 2,500 to 3,000, while she was receiving a fat salary "for doing nothing", as she put it. She felt she could not stay on in such circumstances and left the job. Her colleagues tried to persuade her to stay, telling her she was mad. But she left the job.

Fr Nelson also spoke of a Syrian Orthodox girl in love with a Punjabi Hindu boy. The young couple had trouble and opposition both from their families and from the Church. They came to see Fr Nelson. At a certain point the girl said to the boy: "I love you very much, but I want to tell you this: I will never leave Jesus. He is the first in my life."

Then there was Albert Schweitzer who was a man of many parts, very accomplished, great musician, scholar, and so on. Schweitzer went to Africa and was moved by the plight of the people there, suffering from sleeping sickness, yellow fever, and without doctors and medical assistance. He made a decision, at his late age, to become a medical doctor. He went back to Europe, became a doctor, and returned to Africa to spend the rest of his life there. A little boy in Germany heard of Schweitzer's story. He decided to contribute his mite. He began collecting his pocket money, and when he had enough, he went to the druggist and bought a first aid kit. He took it home, wrapped it carefully, and then went to the air base near his house. He met the guard at the entrance, gave him the parcel, with a letter to his officer: When you fly over Dr Schweitzer's hospital, just drop this parcel over it. When the officer read the note, he smiled. He showed it to others at the base, who also smiled, but were touched. Soon 3 tons of medicine were collected. They took the little boy along with them to Africa to deliver the load to Dr Schweitzer.

All these people had found the pearl of great price.

They had been touched by love, and had learnt to love the Lord with all their heart, and soul, and strength.

Friday 7 August 2009

How to handle children's lies

The fantasy stories of children are never lies in the true (moral) sense. Children cannot really distinguish between real and unreal, right and wrong, true and false. Their wish-fulfilment drive is often so strong that the boundaries between reality and fantasy are blurred. Therefore there should be no punishment for their 'lies,' but rather a calm clarification - "perhaps you made a mistake".

What about lying continuing beyond the seventh year? Here we must seek the reasons.
(1) Kids lie because of fear. "Der Drohblick des Erziehers treibt das Kind in das Garn der Luege," said the famous educationist Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi ("The threatening look of the Educator drives the child into the lying trap.") Constant lying out of fear is a sure sign of an Education that is too strict and dictatorial. When everything is forbidden, what else is left to children but to lie?
(2) Out of caution, because they don't know how the parents will react.
(3) Bragging, to show off before peers.
(4) Out of habit, becasue they have found an easy way out of most difficulties.

So: parents whose children have a habit of lying, ought to ask themselves whether the fault does not lie with them.

Parents themselves must be an example to the children in this regard. Mere words won't do. Even the 'white lies' ("Go and tell them that Mummy is not at home") affect children. Even the lies motivated by pedagogical motives ("There is no more chocolate").

This includes also the parents' ability to keep their word and their promises, whether of rewards or of punishments. E.g. the father who never keeps his promises, or the mother who always threatens to punish and never really does so, put into quesion their credibility in other areas too.

(Dr Reinhard Abeln, in Neue Bildpost, 11 March 1990, p. 4)

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Youth

Man lacht so lange ueber die Vaeter, bis man selber einer ist. (Jean-Paul Vialy)

One laughs at fathers, till one becomes a father himself.

Career guidance

Und was willst du spaeter einmal werden, Wolfgang?
Ein Soldat...
Ein Soldat? Das ist schlecht. Wenn du ein Soldat bist, kommt der Feind und schiesst dich tot.
(Pause)
Dann werd ich ein Feind.
Roughly:
And what do you want to be, Wolfgang?
A soldier...
A solder? That's not good. If you are a soldier, the enemy will come and shoot you.
(Silence)
In that case I want to become an enemy.

The child is the father of the man

This is good:
Kinder, die man nicht liebt, werden Erwachsene, die nicht lieben. (Pearl S. Buck)
Roughly:
Children who are not loved become adults who do not love.
Also: If I am not able to love, it is because I have not been loved.
If I am not able to love enough, it is because I have not been loved enough.

So: is that an excuse?

Or, if you are a father or a mother, an occasion to find love, accept love, and learn to love?

Table manners

Yet another lovely story from Sprachkurs Deutsch:
Aber Florian, mein Sohn, wie isst du denn? Lauter Flecken machst du! Du bist wirklich ein Ferkel.
Ja mei - ich - ich...
Weisst du denn ueberhaupt was ein Ferkel ist?
Ja, Pappi, das Kind vom grossen Schwein.
Translated roughly:
But Florian, my son, how are you eating? So many stains! You are really a little pig.
Yes, but, but...
Do you know what's a pigling?
Yes, Daddy, a big pig's son.
Moral of the story: Fathers should not call their sons names.

The familiar

Another story from Sprachkurs Deutsch 185:
Some fisherwomen were on their way back home from market, when they were caught in a sudden thunderstorm. They found a flower shop in which they took shelter. they decided to spend the night there - but could not sleep. The scent of flowers was too strange for them. Then one of them had an idea: she poured a few tins of fish water from her basket on the flowers. Soon they were fast asleep.

When the florist came, he could not recognize where he was, for the smell of fish.

Animal learning and human learning

A lovely story I found in one of my notebooks, which seems to be relevant not only in child education, but equally also in adult formation - especially if we keep in mind the second pillar of Don Bosco's system, which is Reason or reasonableness:
A little girl with her mother on a street. The child sees a shop window across the street with lovely dolls. Without looking right or left, she is about to make a dash across the street. What does the mother do? She slaps the child. What has the child learnt? That when mother is there, I should not run across the street! She has not learnt: I must look left and right before crossing the street. Here lies the difference between animal and human learning. Human beings can learn intelligently. The other possibility would have been: the mother holds fast to the kid by the hand and explains: you should cross the street only after looking left and right. The kid will probably be more careful the next time. (Horst Speichert, "Eine Umwelt zum Lernen," Auszug aus: Initiativ-gruppe Solingen, rororo-Sachbuch 6724, Rohwohlt Taschenbuch Verlag GmBH, Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1972, 45. Sprachkurs Deusch 115.)

The gift of a free morning

I have a morning free. Today is Raksha Bandhan, so the school is closed. There is less noise, less traffic. A lazy feeling, that of a fine mild summer day. And it is summer; there is no sign of the monsoon, apart from the occasional cloudy sky.

I am trying to review the latest of the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan to appear: Shorter Papers, CWL 20. They are papers I have read before, but it is wonderful to read some of them again. New things strike, emerge from the page, with a clarity and a relevance they did not have before. Naturally, the 'subject' has changed, moved on, hopefully the horizons have broadened and expanded.

But I was writing about the luxury of having a morning 'free.' The luxury to read, calmly, be inspired and provoked to thought.... It is a gift, and it calls for quiet thankfulness.

And this afternoon a picnic. Sui generis, proper to DB Nashik, I think... Necessary; but lazing around and pottering around would be even better, ....

Is this twittering? But then that was a long tweet.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

St Jean-Paul Sartre?

This morning we participated in the 'Day of Prayer for Priests' organized by Archbishop Felix Machado at Bishop's House, Nashik Road. The Archbishop himself gave the input, and he began, intriguingly, by quoting from Camus' The Plague, where an atheist patient asks the atheist doctor: How can I become a saint? The doctor replies, predictably: But you are an atheist! Why do you ask how to be a saint? Precisely, says the patient: I want to know how an atheist might become a saint.

I recalled Sartre's sharp observation that atheists are the real heroes: believers do good with the hope of an eternal reward; atheists do good simply because they want to do good, they have no such hope of an eternal reward. And that is true goodness: to do good simply because it is good to do good.

Of course since Vatican II we are all able to answer glibly: of course atheists can be saints! You don't have to believe in God to be good. And of course there are firm believers in God who are horrible people.

But I have the feeling that Benedict XVI has begun questioning this by now received wisdom, this 'taken for granted truth.' And perhaps he is hinting at the possible hubris that is involved in the rejection of God, in the refusal to bow. I remember Doran mentioning Jung's recurring dream, when he was asked to bow before God, and he refused.

But there is no one answer to all this in the concrete. In the concrete, each believer has to ask himself or herself: Why do I believe in God? What is it that makes me believe in God? What do I gain from it?

And perhaps we have to learn to shout with the young Jew in the burning ghetto of Warsaw: "O God, my God, even if you do not love us, I want to shout out: I will love you with all my heart, all my mind, all my strength."

Or with the young Francis of Sales who got out of his manic fear of being eternally damned by making a complete surrender to God: even if you have decided to condemn me eternally, I will love you and live by you...

Meaning, not causes and origins

It is not enough to treat symptoms by discovering causes or origins. Nietzsche suggests to Dr Breuer that he seek the meaning of his obsession.
The symptom is but a messenger carrying the news that Angst is erupting from the inmost realm! Deep concerns about finitude, the death of God, isolation, purpose, freedom - deep concerns locked away for a lifetime - now break their bonds and bang at the doors and windows of the mind. They demand to be heard. And not only heard, but lived! (When Nietzsche Wept, 232)
So: look not for causes and origins, but for meaning. All modern psychotherapy is based on this insight which, according to Yalom, it was Nietzsche who first suggested to Breuer who, with Freud, is one of the founding fathers of psychotherapy.

Interestingly, in a parallel way, contemporary philosophy has also moved from the search for causes to the examination of meaning...

Healing distance...

Nietzsche to Dr Breuer who is struggling with an obsession with a female patient:
Look at yourself from a great distance. A cosmic perspective always attenuates tragedy. If we climb high enough, we will reach a height from which tragedy ceases to look tragic. (When Nietzsche Wept, 209)

Choosing

Interesting insight from Nietzsche via Irvin Yalom. Yalom puts this line into Nietzsche's mouth: "Once a wise Jewish teacher advised his followers to break with their mother and father and to seek perfection." (When Nietzsche Wept, 188) The wise Jewish teacher, I realized with a start, is Jesus. And the gloss is that 'breaking with father and mother' means breaking with the goals, ideals, thoughts imposed by one's culture, society, time, family.... I had never thought of it quite that way.

This is Nietzsche of course advising that we ought to get rid of the 'bad faith' that consists in blaming family, society, culture, time for the way one's life has gone, the goals one has chosen, and so on. His point is that one has chosen, that one has always chosen.

So even the drifter has chosen. He has chosen not to choose, not to question, not to appropriate. And that is bad faith, lack of authenticity.

This is quite common wisdom now, more than a century after Nietzsche. One always chooses. As Sartre says, even when I go to a counsellor or spiritual director, I am choosing what I want to hear by my choice of director....

So: have I chosen, or do I blame father and mother, culture and society for what 'I find myself to be'?

The retreat

I went most reluctantly for the retreat, but I must say it was a good experience. I don't think I've changed much at all; most of what came up in prayer was rather painful; and yet the wonderful thing was that I did not experience the usual resistance, the usual desire to get up and go away and busy myself in doing this and that... A grace to be quietly thankful for, despite lack of any obvious change.

But the insights were there. Painful, but there. And every now and then, the realization: let be. That is how it is. Accept.

Cyril De Souza spoke largely on the themes of GC26. I found his talks solid, clear, enlightening and useful. In his talk on the Salesian Brother - he devoted a whole talk to the SB - he brought up the point which I had heard expressed here and there: that the real crisis is not that of the identity of the SB, but of the SP - the Salesian Priest who has invaded everywhere, who perhaps does not know what to make of his 'specifically priestly ministry'. But then I also heard Cyril quoting the Rector Major to the effect that the crisis lay in the fact that the SP was clear about his priesthood but not about his consecration. I have to think more about that.

Monday 3 August 2009

Being and Nothingness, creativity and chaos

I've been thinking of Sartre's famous pour-soi and en-soi: the en-soi is being that is solid, opaque, dense. It suffers no pangs of consciousness. It is simply supremely itself. It is all non-conscious - or perhaps we must say, non-rationally conscious - being. The pour-soi instead is being that is conscious. To be conscious, according to Sartre, is to admit a hole into being. It is to admit nothingness into being. It is the admittance of nothingness that gives rise to consciousness - and with consciousness comes pain.

Now this notion of consciousness is probably radically wrong. It is the exaltation of the famous split between subject and object. Consciousness is probably first and foremost identity, as our father Aristotle said already so many centuries ago. The distinction comes later, it is a second moment. So the split is not primordial.

And still, there is something in what Sartre is saying - if not on the ontological, constitutive level, at least on the 'psychological' level. Like a chap who is too happy is not like to create. Like there seems to be some connection between creativity and chaos. Nietzsche it was who said that all creativity comes from chaos, and that it is chaos that gives birth to a dancing star. And Lonergan talks about evolution coming to dead ends in those branches that become too perfect, as for example the bees and the ants, who have been doing the same thing perfectly for several million years now; it is the right combination of instability between the underlying manifold and the supervening solution that gives rise to newer and newer forms of life.

My point is that creativity seems to require that chaos, that tension, that nothingness in being that Sartre hints at. Too much happiness - whether real or manufactured (by food, drink, sex, whatever...) - is just not conducive to creativity. Too much happiness amounts to the en-soi, the in-itself that is simply stable, dense, opaque, just content to be.

Perhaps there's something wrong there - I know you will be asking about God, and God's happiness, and God's creativity. I need to think that through. Any help is welcome!

A piece of tail

Savio celebrated his birthday during the retreat, and during his homily he told us the same story he had narrated last year on his birthday, so I am absolutely tempted to reproduce it here, with full acknowledgement of copyright.

It seems there was this squirrel who had a lovely bushy tail as all squirrels have, and was inordinately proud of it. Well, one day this squirrel was playing about on the railway tracks, when along came a train and cut off his tail. The squirrel was disconsolate, and everybody started calling him kati sheput. That made him angrier still, and he decided to take badla on the train. So he stood on the track and waited for the train to come, wanting to bite off its head.

That was the last that was heard of him.

The moral of the story: Don't lose your head over a piece of tail.

The cat

I meowed a cat in the Sarvodaya garden the other day, during our retreat.

Very interesting experience. The cat stopped dead in its tracks, and began to stare in my direction. I returned the stare and stood stock still. The cat returned the compliment. I won in the end. I suppose when the cat processed the data, and found no danger, it decided to go about its own business.

I recalled Insight on the cat and animal knowing, and the difference between animal and human knowing. I found myself wondering what was going on 'in the mind of the cat' while it was staring at me. I remembered Wittgenstein who reminded us that there is no need to wonder what was going on 'in the mind of the cat,' simply because we have learnt to apply all our words for knowing in the public realm....

Lonergan, of course, will suggest that cats and other animals do identify unities and wholes such as other cats, and dogs, and their masters, and so on. But the criterion of reality for a cat is quite different from the criterion of reality for a human being. Because real and unreal for a cat is what meets or fails to meet its biological needs. But reality for a human being involves questioning, and is far larger than merely what meets biological needs.

But my real lesson from meowing the cat was quite different. I think it is important to learn to look at people's faces and hold that look - or sometimes the stare. The look is something fascinating. So much passes between two persons by way of the look - or the way they fail to look at each other, or fail to hold the look. And I found it extremely interesting to deliberately hold a look, especially when the spontaneous tendency is to turn away, dodge, shift....

All I had to do was to remind myself of the cat.

Wonderful retreat.

Good companions

I had good company in the Jan Shatabdi on the way up to Nashik - the Archbishop Bishop of Nashik, and a good book.

The Archbishop was seated a row ahead, and was busy reading and correcting proofs, and now and then catching up on sleep. As for me, I usually also do my catching up on journeys, but really, I have slept enough for two whole months during this retreat (not during the talks and the prayer, though - ). And the book was good. I have been reading it for a while now - Irvin Yalom's And Nietzsche Wept. But this time it really caught me. There is something in Nietzsche that gives one pause, makes one think, demands thinking. And I am glad for that. More of this in Philosophical Musings, though. And it may be worth getting out the man himself from the shelves and allowing him to provoke.

And there is a wonderful bus connection for the Jan Shatabdi: a bus right up to Mahatma Nagar. For Rs 10, a comfortable ride up to our doorstep. And the little pleasures of finding your train seating companion getting off at the same stop. (This time it was an elderly Maharashtrian lady...)

The Glass Palace

Picked up The Glass Palace (Amitav Ghosh, I had not remembered that) this morning at the delightful roadside secondhand booksellers that have thankfully not yet been vacated from King Circle. Looking forward to reading it. Had a look at the first page, and I am already captured. Some novels have that capacity, to grab a reader and to draw him into its world... And then, of course, Burma, and Mandalay, and the Glass Palace, which is really a wood palace (of Burma teak, I suppose!), with one of the mahals studded with glass mirrors, somewhat like the blouses and ghagras of our lambadi women... But this book has been waiting long to be read. Strange that our last Emperor was exiled in Burma and died there, while Burma's last king was exiled in India, and died there. I believe some of his descendants are still to be found in Ratnagiri - dirt poor, if I remember the newspaper reports of a while ago; a female descendant has married a rickshaw-wallah or something of the sort. British justice and all that.

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