Monday, March 16, 2009

The Hubris of Humankind 13

Section 7: Dying Animals:

Here once again Gray continues with his refrain – we are animals, and let’s get used to the fact.  As animals we are predestined or “hardwired” to die.  It’s all in our genes and there is no escape.  These are my words, but Gray’s sentiments.  One of the great differences between the animals and us humans is the fact that we are burdened by time while they simply are not.  Here is the way Gray puts his argumentation:

The truth is we do not fear the passing of time because we know death.  We fear death because we resist passing time.  If other animals do not fear death as we do, it is not because we know something they do not.  It is because they are not burdened by time.  (Op.cit., 130)

One thing I especially like about Buddhism is that it encourages us to use practices like meditation whereby we can go beyond our base human desires (I say human, not animal) of wanting to cling onto things, indeed to cling onto life itself.  Gray puts it in a nutshell; “Perhaps what distinguishes humans from other animals is that humans have learnt to cling more abjectly to life.”  (Ibid., 131)  It’s time for this present writer of these words to turn again to contemplating and meditating on The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.

Section 8: Krishnamurti’s Burden:

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986) was a well known writer and speaker on philosophical and spiritual subjects. His subject matter included: the purpose of meditation, human relationships, the nature of the mind, and how to enact positive change in global society.  Gray points out that it was the Theosophists (an early New Age-like cult) who deliberately groomed J.K. as a new Messiah like Jesus or the Buddha.  Like them he sought to spurn his basic animal nature.  It is when spiritualists, religionists or scientists or humanists “believe they have left their animal nature behind that humans show the qualities that are theirs alone: obsession, self-deception and perpetual unrest.”  (Ibid., 132)  While Krishnamurti may have spurned human nature, he was not short of human flaws on the sexual front or the ego front for that matter.  In this, Gray argues, he merely became a caricature of humanity.

Section 9: Gurdjieff’s Work and Stanislavski’s Method: 

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866 - 1949), was a Greek-Armenian mystic, a teacher of sacred dances and a spiritual teacher.  At different times in his life he formed and disbanded various schools around the world to utilize his teachings. He claimed that the Eastern teachings he brought to the West from his own experiences and early travels expressed the truth found in ancient religions and wisdom teachings relating to self-awareness in people's daily lives and humanity's place in the universe.  However, he was eclectic and syncretistic and blended all types of ancient beliefs together to form his particular system of belief.  Some people claim him to have been a mystic and a spiritualist of high standing while others look upon him as a charlatanGray sees him as an occultist and a “latter-day shaman.”  With typical dismissal, he discounts some so-called scholars who traced Gurdjieff’s work back to Sufi or Tibetan teachings as deluded.  He most probably was influenced most by Constantin Stanislavski’s Method of teaching dancing. Stanislavki’s outstanding productions included many of the plays of Chekhov, in which he tried to strip away the very language of the play to enter the emotional core and complex psychology of the characters. Stanislavski (1863–1938, Russian theatrical director, teacher, and actor.  His name is also spelt ending with a ‘y’) stressed the importance of the actor's inner identification with the character and the actor's natural use of body and voice. His training for actors, now termed the Stanislavsky method, or “method acting,” had a vast influence on modern schools of acting. In New York City, The Actors Studio adapted many of his ideas to their use. Stanislavsky also achieved renown as a director of opera.

Gray points out the Gurdjieff also used theatre and dance as devices to assist disciples to gain mastery of their bodily movements and hence they might awake from their waking sleep.  However, hard these two so-called scholars would try they could not raise humanity to a level of consciousness that could totally forget our animal nature.

Section 10: The Aerodrome

Here Gray quotes Rex Warner’s wartime novel The Aerodrome.  I have heard neither of the author nor the book.  Gray tells us the book is part tragedy and part farce in which an Air Vice Marshall, inhabiting an aerodrome with his command, seeks to cut off himself and his air corps from outside influence and contagion, and in so doing create a Nietzschean Superman.  This deluded autocratic Air Vice Marshall preaches to his men thus:

Science will show you that in our species the period of physical evolution is over.  There remains the evolution or rather transformation, of consciousness and will, the escape from time, the mastery of the self… (Quoted ibid., 135)

Of course, this is complete delusion.  Who can deny their animal nature in all its baser desires.  Maybe the instincts denied are more important?  In demanding that his airmen cut themselves off from their families and girl friends we find that ironically even he cannot do so – as the very narrator turns out to be his son.  However Gray’s commentary on this novel has a serious intent:

The Air Vice Marshall’s philosophy may be a caricature, but it expresses a powerful trend in modern thought.  From Francis Bacon to Nietzsche, Enlightenment thinkers have lauded will over the purposeless life of common humanity.  Other animals may live without knowing why, but humans can impress purpose on their lives.  They can raise themselves up from the contingent world and rule over it.  (Ibid., 136)

Aren't horses wonderful? With dogs, they are my favourite animals! No animal lover could ever be a misanthrope!!!

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