Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Spirituality 7

Paradox and Spirituality

Tyre tracks in the sand on the beach in Squillace, April, 2011
 A paradox is a seemingly true statement that leads to a contradiction or a situation which seems to defy logic or intuition.  The example our erstwhile teacher used to illustrate paradox in literature was the following line from one of Wordsworth's poems which reads "The Child is father of the Man."  It comes from the wonderfully short (nine lines only) lyric called simply "My heart leaps up when I behold," the first line of the poem, written 1802. 

Paradoxes occur in logic, literature, philosophy, morality and ethics.  The WIKI gives the following examples of paradox in literature:

Literary or rhetorical paradoxes abound in the works of Oscar Wilde and G. K. Chesterton; other literature deals with paradox of situation. Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne, and Borges, for instance, are all concerned with episodes and narratives designed around paradoxes. One of literature's arguably most famous paradoxes is the Miltonic narrator's statement in Book One of 'Paradise Lost', that the fires of hell emit 'no light, but darkness visible.' Statements such as Wilde's "I can resist anything except temptation", Chesterton's "Spies do not look like spies"[5] and Polonius' observation in Hamlet that "though this be madness, yet there is method in't" [4] are examples of rhetorical paradox.  (See Paradox )

Spirituality, or rather stories that work to illustrate what spirituality entails, often use paradox.  For example in one of de Mello's stories he has his Master tell an enquirer that "Eternal Life is now."  On the surface or literal level, as a statement of fact, the equating of the nowness of this instant with eternity which we might imagine as something that continues without end, rather like Infinity seems nothing short of an obvious contradiction.  However, on a deeper more metaphorical and spiritual level, we know that the paradox is strangely true.  In the same story the Master accuses the questioner of clinging to the past which he tells him is long dead and must be let go of.  Later in the same book, the Master answers another disciple's question about how we relate to God by saying "Not one. Not two."  On hearing the disciple's call for explanation of this paradox, the Master rejoins:

"The sun and its light, the ocean and the fish, the singer and the song - not one.  Not two."  (One Minute Wisdom, p. 33).

I also rather like the following paradoxical take on being a Guru, a Teacher, a Master or a Spiritual Leader - indeed a leader or teacher of any type.  The story goes as follows:


Self, Lungomare di Caulonia, April, 2011
"May I become your disciple?"

"You are only a disciple because your eyes are closed.  The day you open them you will see that there is nothing you can learn from me or anyone."

"What then is a Master for?"

"To make you see the uselessness of having one!"

Sheer paradox.  At school we had a teacher who used always lament, "There are none so blind as those who fail to see!" (Ibid., p. 45)

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