An article from the Saros Autumn 1997 Newsletter
I sat on a hill and watched a small rabbit. It lolloped along, grazing, as rabbits do, sniffing and pricking its ears, alert for danger, but not too alert, for it wasn't expecting trouble. It was at one with its world.
Six inches the other side of it was a sheer drop down a golden cliff to where the sea pounded the rocks far below. The rabbit was unconcerned. Its burrow was just over the edge of the cliff, as it happened, and this was its daily feeding-ground. It was unaware of the peril of a hop-too-far, unaware of distance and height, unaware of the nature of the vast shining expanse beyond, unaware of the not infrequent tendency of the crumbling cliffs to sweep grass, burrow and beasts to a tumultuous end.
I, on the other hand, was aware of all these things as I surveyed the rabbit and the rabbit's world. My world, even in the simplicity of these surroundings, was far more complex, had a far greater frame of reference, included past and future, assessed potential danger, knew the relationship of sky, sea and land as part of a greater picture.
Clearly, I was a far superior being. My world-view blew the rabbit's out of the water. To say nothing of the fact that I could read Shakespeare, write essays, use a computer (just), travel across the earth in a plane, and lived in a sophisticated warren of bricks, glass and electrical wiring. As I gloated over my superior status as a being, a seed of doubt entered my mind.
In what way, exactly, was I a superior being? The rabbit's world-view arose from its senses. So did mine, and we shared the same senses. The only difference was the variety and complexity of the externals: what we could see, hear, smell, touch and taste, and what we made of them.
However, I can think, and am motivated by emotions. Does, the rabbit share these? Certainly other animals do. Dogs, for instance, are well able to think things out, and appear to be aware of and share in emotion. So do the higher apes, and they have even demonstrated an ability to use tools. Therefore, they must be able, even rudimentarily, to abstract.
I had reckoned the ability to abstract as the crown of human intellectual achievement; that which marked us out from the rest of the animal kingdom. Our ability to abstract has created writing and literacy, and from it the whole edifice of human civilization. Whereas animals can only, of themselves, live in holes, caves, trees and avail themselves of natural shelters within the environment, we build elaborate structures around ourselves. We use tools and abstract principles of design, and compute materials and forces to suit our requirements on a scale ranging from igloos and grass-huts, to skyscrapers and the Houses of Parliament.
Abstraction may be the crown of intellect, but it struck me that human command of it might be merely a matter of development and scope, rather than a feature of a different order. All living creatures utilize an appropriate degree of intellect, emotion/feelings, and senses. We have developed intellect to a high degree, whereas many animals have developed the senses to a higher degree than have we. But we all share the same basic weaponry.
And although my powers have enabled me to create and inhabit a more complex environment, am I in fact living any differently from the rabbit? As I go about my daily routine in my nice house, with my car, family, job etc., I am identified with my world just as the rabbit is with his. The reality is, everything I do, no matter how sophisticated, is simply rabbit-on-the-cliff. I am no more than a bigger rabbit on a different cliff.
This was depressing. Feeling at one with the rabbit was not as I expected. I searched for a significant difference between us.
Can the rabbit break out of his world? Is he ever likely to look up with a mouthful of grass and gaze out to where a shaft of sunlight lies over the sea, and feel immortal longings stir in his breast? No, he is not; not if he remains rabbit. But I can. I can look up with a mouth full of spaghetti bolognese, see the evening sunlight lying across my lawn, and be transported with intangible longing. However, such transports do little for the digestion, so I proceed to a forkful of salad and walloping the child picking mushrooms from his sauce with his fingers. Effectively, I am equally trapped within my human world: a Big Bunny on a cosy Cliff.
Now, before I had resolved to reach for the rat-poison or jump in the bath with a toaster, let me tell you how my great intellect, forcibly driven by a powerful emotional need, came up with a face-saving possibility.
I decided that the immortal longings felt by me and to which the bunny is, on all the evidence, oblivious, marked a real difference between us, and were pointers to a door. A door of which (let's guess) 80 per cent of the human race are aware, but never seek seriously to find, and perhaps 3 per cent actually go through. I reckoned myself part of the missing 17%: aware of and making efforts, but very much this side of the cosmic door.
I know I'm this side, because I'm still human; still identified with the human world. For the rabbit to escape his world-view, he would have to make an unprecedented leap; a transformation, become Not-Bunny, as we know it. Even the fat, flop-eared version of my close acquaintance, who has traded fields and burrow for a wooden two-roomed house, who drinks from a glass bottle, and eats from a bowl with RABBIT written on it, is simply bunny in borrowed surroundings. I've proved this; he can't read what's on his bowl.
Likewise, for me to fundamentally alter my view of the world would be a leap right off the cliff (or out of the boat.) I can chip away at it, I can keep that bloody door in sight, but so long as I am bound by my senses, emotions and intellect, I am caught within the structure I have inherited, learnt and created. Should I find myself, one blessed day, in the highest of the seven heavens and trailing clouds of glory, it would still be Me, humanly me, in borrowed surroundings. I doubt I could read the writing on the wall. Descent, in such cases, can be precipitous.
I decided that the key which opens the door, is human sacrifice. It's a three-fold sacrifice: of sense, emotion and intellect. These three keep my world, and in due proportion the rabbit's world, in place. But if they go, I would no longer be human, as I know it.
This startling result of my processes of deep thought, both alarmed and excited me. Surely not.
Surely, I argued to the butterflies flitting among the grass, it is better to assume that any greater world or range of possibilities is part of the human sphere, rather than something else, something, perish the thought, alien? Do I want to be an alien, a concept with which I associate the tentacular, amorphous, fly-faced, trumpet-nosed or triumphantly psychotic?
Unless, however, to be non-human is not the same as inhuman. Unless it is an honour and an achievement to out-reach a merely human outlook, and become a citizen of a greater world. For logically, if I define those glimpsed possibilities, and the testimony of those few down the ages who have made a great leap as achieving 'full' human potential, I am forced to classify the 97 per cent of the rest of us as somehow "failed" humans, and those who deny any higher possibilities, as sub-human! Better it would seem, to award most of mankind the dignity of being truly human, and acknowledge that some few reach beyond into a sphere not conditioned only by our triple apparatus.
I wondered what means I would use to convince myself voluntarily to jump off the cliff. If immortal longings are pointers to a door, a sort of cliff-door, I had already been beating on that door with my intellect, emotions and senses for twenty years, and it had not opened. This, of course, is less surprising if the key actually lies in sacrificing them.
The idea goes against the grain, since human nature, like all nature, is geared to preserving itself and protecting its familiar identity. It is far more attractive to believe that our overall goal is to develop and extend intellect, emotions and senses, not to relinquish their hegemony. But if I were thinking along the right track, developing them was exactly the means to anchor us immovably in the human world.
Developing the intellect, increasing emotion, extending the senses: all by-words of Self-Development. Interestingly, self-development could mean exactly what it says, with the upshot being a bigger and better human self. It might even lead to a bloated human self, which is unfortunate in view of the words of a good authority: "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to eternal life". The 'dimensionally-challenged' individual self would be doomed at the door, doomed to a human death.
In search of the key, I examined my behaviour for the last 20 years and concluded that I had engaged in a fair bit of self-development, but I had also done something else. I had regularly and systematically closed down my senses, ignored my emotion, and reined in my intellect. I had done this for concentrated periods once or twice a day for years and years, and practised detaching from the self-enhancing products of sensory, emotional and intellectual activities in my daily actions.
As I contemplated the implications of this unhuman behaviour, a sense of awe arose. I must have been set up. I would never have conceived, let alone carried out, such a peculiar programme by myself. How could I? My intellect would have protested, my emotions abhorred it, and my senses gone ape.
With mounting apprehension, I sized myself up against the glimmering Door. Was I thin enough yet? I felt skeletal, but the grinning jaw on a human skeleton is extremely large. I could not envisage even a human skeleton slipping past the door-keeper of another world.
By this time, I have to say, I had a numb bum. The rabbit had gone. I hastened to summarize my findings to myself before the charm departed and the grinders ceased.
It boiled down to a perception that, although both of us are identified with our surroundings and inseparable from our worlds, the one thing which distinguishes my capabilities from Rabbit et al., is the ability to set something apart from the surroundings. When I acknowledge that there is somewhat beyond, I am detaching, stepping back from identification, and moreover, I can create an actual space in my world to do this in.
A temple is space enclosed. Humans make them; rabbits don't, and nor do any of the higher mammals, (of their own volition. I suspect elephants have lent a trunk in many an Indian temple). An enclosed space need not be evident or on a macro-scale. When my senses, emotions and intellect stand back, there is space in my psyche. A great deal of space, for normally they totally occupy it. If I can hold that space in being, and dwell within it, I put aside my humanity, but I am. I do not think my furry friend could ever do likewise. The earth is his world, but a sacred space is a very conscious creation, set apart from any world a being naturally inhabits. To this truth, every stirring, every intimation of immortality awakened by the beauty of light and shadow is like a sentinel sounding the alert: wake up, sleepy one; there's a world beyond the frame.
I know this, but why, I wondered, am I often so reluctant to enter the most real temple of all, the one to which I have access? Is it because my mind reasons, cogently, that if beautiful surroundings can awaken a sense of the sacred, I should love these beauties more, not less. I should not turn my back; not turn away. I should attempt to embrace, to merge,...... like the rabbit.
I had come full circle. I admitted defeat, and acknowledged the lie of my conditioned humanity. Emerson said: "the primary wisdom is Intuition; all later teachings are tuitions". I have been heavily, and very successfully, tutored into human being.
The sentinel stirred with the sea-wind and the shimmering path over the sea, reminding, always reminding but never revealing. The dark, silent space of the temple beckons, and in that space all aliens foregather, together and alone. A gap in the fabric of the human world, a doorway, a cliff, who knows?
The rabbit doesn't, and neither do I in my rabbit-mode, rubbing my bum and hurrying back to base. Run, Rabbit, run, rabbit run, run, run..........
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