Out of a living silence

A contemplative shares thoughts that emerge in moments of quiet reflection

Archive for February 18th, 2009

In harmony with its own nature

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The life that is happy is in harmony with its own nature. This can only come about when the mind is in a healthy state and in permanent possession of its own sanity, robust and vigorous…ready to make use of the gifts of fortune without being enslaved to them

The highest good is an indomitable forces of mind that, strengthened by experience, shows itself in action as calm, profoundly generous and concerned for the welfare of others.

I quoted these words from Seneca’s essay “On the Happy Life” in a philosophy class today. No sooner had they left my lips than a student had her hand in the air. She said “Seneca can’t be right. Science has proven that all of life is selfish.” I suggested that it is unlikely that science has proven any such thing, although it is possible that some individual scientists have interpreted some of their observations as meaning that life is at some level a selfish enterprise. The student frowned and said she had heard in a science class that science has proved that nature is essentially selfish and that caring for the welfare of others is unnatural. It is not a bad idea, I said, to question authority figures, even science professors—I had to add, of course, that she should not just take my word for it that questioning authority figures is not a bad idea.

Seneca was a Stoic. Part of his conviction is that human beings are part of the world of nature and that nature is orderly. That which makes all of nature orderly is part of everything that is within nature, including human beings. What makes human beings orderly is reason. What makes nature orderly Seneca called the divine. When human beings use their reason, he said, they are using that part of themselves that is divine. Divinity is not something to be admired from afar and worshiped and admired. It is something to be, something to enact.

George Fox, founder of the Quakers, spoke often of what he called “that of God in everyone.” Some Buddhists held the conviction that each of us has as our essential nature a tranquil and compassionate mentality, just like that of the Buddha. What George Fox called that of God in everyone these Buddhists called Buddha-nature. Seneca was not alone in his convictions.

Whatever it may be called by various traditions, there is a peaceful state that most of us can reach by being still and turning off the chattering narrative that provides a running commentary to most of our experiences. One can learn to find that peaceful state. Since finding that state is the deepest happiness one can attain, and since one can learn to find it, it follows that happiness is a skill that, like any other skill, can be acquired. Perhaps it can be taught. Perhaps not. When words come out of that peaceful state they may encourage others to find that same state within themselves. When that takes place, then one is answering to that of God in another.

Let the silence resume.

Written by Richard P. Hayes (Dayāmati Dharmacārin)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 16:15