“Night after night, along the procession of years, it had hovered here above the valley, darting down to become a bat, a leopard, a moth for a few minutes or hours, returning to rest immobile in the center of the space enclosed by the cliffs. When the monastery had been built, it had taken to frquenting the rooms, where it had observed for the first time the meaningless gestures of human life.”
–The Circular Valley, Paul Bowles
“Peasant accusing a landlord at a people’s court during the land reforms” -Marc Riboud
“Estimates suggest that 1 million or more landlords may have been killed during this phase of the revolution.”
This morning as I sat, the night’s work done, I wondered what perception would mean beyond this human form. Beyond the senses I have, the body I inhabit. What true disembodiment would approach, and where it would take me. The quote, from a favorite short story of mine about such a spirit, I always found especially compelling because it was only complex, baffling and often contradictory humanity which struck the spirit as meaningless.
I taste a sense of this meaninglessness when I think of competition, and all that it entails; comparisions, rivalry, class struggle, interpersonal conflict based on assumptions of superiority or undue power. Although I have heard many arguments about how competition brings out the best in us, it seems from my perspective that many employ its devices to the extreme. And this is very sad. The mass murder of the elite after the Chinese Revolution serves as a sober reminder of this tendency to enforce one’s will over another; to attempt a parody of karma, fueled by a sense of competition turned on its head- the supposed winners of the contest of materialism forcibily brought down by its former, supposedly lower support. Yet I see in the extended finger of the peasant not a new statement of equanimity but a very very old statement of competition. I would even venture to say that competition is the most pervasive, yet most meaningless of human endeavor. For in the end although the old landlords were smashed, Red Cadres soon moved in to take their places. The revolution was not free from the plagues of egotistic rivalry, merely the contruction of new labels, new hierarchies.
Sometimes, staring into the early morning darkness, I wonder if the senses themselves lead us to conflict with others, or if it is something deeper. But something, if I practice care, that may not be uprooted by a mere clash of pride or identity.
Once more I find myself wanting to be free from this very identity, free as Bowles’ ghostly protagonist, able to see experience from all sides. but I know of a way already to do this, without becoming a spirit without a home. Funny as it sounds, a sense of duty itself frees me from my material identity. A sense of what ought to be done. But only when I actualize this sense without realizing its presence. Light years beyond mere competiton and grasping, I hope to remain in tune with this special way to get past my own status- to blur the crosshairs of my own targets. What is left can only be known when the initial conditions are forced to heed simple duty, and to shed these old armors of competition and self-importance. As long as I feel pitted against a certain person, or class, there will be no way to get past myself; which, from what I understand, is the only way out of labyrinthine competition, and the division between me and others that no spirit could understand.