Saturday, 16 May 2015
The Divinity of Inconsistency
My interest has been piqued by a subject I discussed recently, that of the flawed genius. The theme can be opened up and extended, with some of its deeper implications hinted at. The notion can be broadened out into that of 'the uneven person; 'the inconsistent person'.
In general, I suspect, we prefer people not to be uneven. We like a certain consistency. It makes folk easier to understand - to categorise, maybe -, to predict. They are safer. There is something to be said in favour of the consistent, even person. They are, in psychological terms, more 'integrated'. The different aspects of their being are connected, speak to one another, forming a single whole.
My mind sometimes returns to a particular period in my life, in an effort to understand it better: the time when I first began to seriously embrace Buddhism. It was the mid 1970s. Why Buddhism? Why Buddha? Putting aside other considerations for the time being, we can see Buddha as personification of consistency, evenness, integration. He was, the story goes, the Perfect Enlightened One. No blemishes there. No momentary blips. No siree. In fact, the spiritual traditions historically associated with the East normally present themselves in this guise: the great Master (it is usually a man), the perfect Teacher, the Awakened Guru. It is the finished product. The more monotheistic religions of Islam and Christianity are similar: Mohammed and Christ. And I wonder about all this.....
The attraction of Buddha as model of pefection to me at the time is easy to see. There I was, in my early/mid twenties, inspired and energised, yet in equal measure troubled and confused, flailing around between nirvana and the muck and mire of samsara. A light, an embodiment of Pure Perfection at the end of the tunnel, pointing a way out, was a compelling seduction. Jesus Christ just didn't cut the mustard - a whole bundle of beliefs that I had no reason to take on board, a close association with hierarchies of power and much of the sickness that I saw all around me. So Buddha, with a more pragmatic and practical 'suck-it-and-see' approach to meditation and everyday behaviour, was a godsend (ha!).
In contrast, western traditions that could inspire - of philosophy, psychology, mysticism, the arts, at least - seemed peopled by figures of inconsistency. Mozart, Shelley, Byron, Michelangelo, Jung, Nietzche, the Great Beast Crowley, Van Gogh, Gauguin, most of the artists of the twentieth century (not that I had much time for them). The list goes on. All seriously uneven; and far more problematic to deal with than the singular, uniform white light issuing from the Great Guru or the Buddha. Follow any of these characters too far, and I was likely to end up even further in the swamp of confusion that is conditioned existence.
I suppose that I am seeing things rather differently nowadays. What use is there for a finished product? I - along with others attempting something of a 'sacred journey' in life - am in the process of becoming. Of taking everything that everyday life can fling at us - the highs, the lows, the exaltation and misery, the beauty and the crap - and working with this, learning from it, moulding and transforming experience. Turning base metal into gold: the inner work. It's no accident, I now feel, that I was born into this often messy and complex world, rather than on some higher plane populated by divine beings or whatever. This is, it would seem, the place appropriate for my being and learning at this stage of my evolution. Realising this a little more deeply has resulted in my being more relaxed on a daily basis, less inclined to judge people so much, always complaining about their shortcomings and idiocies. Measuring them against some far-off ideal. They are still shortcomings and idiocies, but perfectly commensurate with their propagators' own current state of being.
This being so, in a world of becoming and inconsistencies, an examination of the uneven people is perhaps more relevant to my growth than worshipping at the shrine of those supposedly complete and perfected ones. The classroom of learning is under the tutelage of our incomplete and sometimes inconsistent companions.
What would I recommend to a young person in my own position of forty years ago, full of inspiration, idealism, and confusion? I do not know. It might, I suspect, depend on getting to know the person in their uniqueness. There is, I concede, something to be said for a way such as Buddhism, where models of behaviour and practical techniques are mapped out clearly for following. This may remain true for only so long, however. A point arrives when this is no longer adequate or appropriate. We connect with our unique divine path, and wander true to our own calling, our own way into, through, and out of the muck and mire of samsara. We learn to listen to our own inner voice, our daemon, and follow this rather than any other being, supposedly perfect or not. This is the way of liberation.
A Buddhist postscript: I recognise that on occasion I may do the Buddhist traditions something of a disservice: through simplification and over-generalisation in particular. I would in no ways call myself 'Buddhist' these days; yet I have learnt a lot from it, and continue to use many of its perspectives in my everyday life. In reality, 'Buddhism' as such does not exist. It is an umbrella term created to include a plethora of different traditions containing a host of different attitudes and priorities (while adhering to certain root teachings).
When talking of the central importance of the Awakened One, or the Great Guru, it is also important to remember the significance placed by certain Buddhist traditions upon 'Sangha', the community of folk following a Buddhist path; your spiritual buddies who you relate to as other human beings. Yet even this, not always but all too often, takes its place under the all-seeing eye of the great teacher, the guru, or the Perfect One. It is to this person that devotion is primarily due. For most of us, this fails to be most suitable. This is my contention.