Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More Self

Scott Bradley

Kierkegaard, in the opening paragraph of his The Sickness unto Death, tells us that "the more consciousness of self, the more self." For him, more self is a positive value. Since self-consciousness might be described as the most defining attribute of the human experience, one would think that this affirmation of self would be near universally affirmed, yet within the various religious traditions this is frequently not the case. Instead, we are told that self is somehow evil or at least an impediment to spiritual realization.

Kierkegaard's project was essentially a religious one; he sought rest in God. He understood the fullest self-relationship (for self is a relationship) as a necessary requirement to union with God, not as an impediment. Yet the two-ness of self, like a two-legged stool, if left to stand alone, can only fall into one of various forms of despair. (Despair is the sickness unto death.) What is required is that this self-relationship be united with "the power that constituted it"; it is then that that most sturdy of structures, the three-legged stool that cannot wobble, is established.

It seems self-evident that if the human experience is essentially relational, then the fullest realization of that experience would likewise be relational. But a relationship requires a minimum of two, and two is thought to be the enemy of one. Yet where the One is expressed in and as the Many, not-One is also One.

There are traditions which advocate self-realization as the realization of self as Self. This self that I am is the Self that is All. There are traditions which advocate the loss of self, a no-self that realizes All. In the end, is there really any difference between them? When Zhuangzi says, "Heaven and earth emerge together with me, and I and the ten thousand things are one", he affirms both the One and the Many. I am all things; all things are me. All things are subsumed in me; I am subsumed in all things. We become nothing or we become everything, but the end is the same.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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