Principle 2 Action and Reaction

Principle 2, First week
This month we will take as a subject of reflection principle #2 from chapter 13 of the book (The Inner Look). It is also called “The Principle of Action and Reaction” it says: When you force something towards an end you produce the contrary.”
We will spend the next weeks considering, and discussing this principle and its implications, whether it’s useful, and in what ways. We will look at how I applied it or could have applied it in the past, how it might apply in my current situation, how I imagine it might in the future. All of this is not just to understand this principle of valid action more deeply but also to begin to reflect more rigorously about our behaviour. Can I see how the Principles might be woven into a discipline that I can practice at every moment of my life, a kind of dynamic meditation, almost like learning a mental martial art – where the ability to get out of your opponents way (rather than how to punch them in the nose) is highly valued.

More information, stories and thoughts about the principles in general and this principle in particular can be found here.

Personal Reflections

Once again I must begin by recognizing that the principles are not commandments or simple rules. They require thought. But really thinking about them helps develop a new perspective and new behaviours. For example, in this case how do I know when I’m forcing things. If I use a hammer to brush my teeth it’s obviously disproportionate force. But also if I try to use a toothbrush to knock down a brick wall. I’m going to have to find a way of measuring the appropriate degree of force. How will I do that? One way to begin is to consider past errors and successes with judging these kinds of things. For example, situations where I tried way too hard, or not nearly hard enough.
Take a look at the principle and try to remember at least one situation where it was or could have been applicable. How did it change (or would it have changed) things.
The principles are guidelines, the indicator one is looking for is not agreement with some code or set of rules, it is in the register produced in me: does it move me towards greater unity or contradiction? Do I feel more in agreement with myself, or am I more at war with myself.

Below you will find more examples of, and information about, the Principles of Valid Action in general, and this one in particular. I hope you will find these considerations interesting and useful whether you agree with them or not.

The Principle we are currently considering is the second principle from chapter 13 of the book (The Inner Look). It is also called “The Principle of Action and Reaction” it says: When you force something towards an end you produce the contrary.”

Here are some of the considerations about this principle. I’m drawing them largely from conversations with many people. Also from materials we created over the years to illustrate various aspects of the principles. I’m sorry that in most cases I can’t credit specific individuals for their contributions but if I can I will.

It has been said that this Principle explains how the characteristics and behaviour of each thing, system and person, will facilitate or resist our projects – and this response depends, at least in part, on how we act.

When we are upset, unbalanced, or agitated we tend to overreact. In those situations we are moved by irrational impulses and compulsions that can be hard to resist. It’s then that we are most likely to pressure situations or force things against their natural tendencies and behaviours. The result is that while things or situations may yield to our demands at the moment, in the long run they turn back on us and the result can be far from what we originally set out to achieve.

Everyone sets goals, some big and small small. Everyone has plans, or projects – even when they don’t use those terms. We all want certain things and want to avoid others. But the key question here is: how should I approach those goals? How can I best move in the direction that interests me? I want someone to behave in a certain way but how can I get them to agree. By forcing them to comply? By getting them to see the advantages of what I’m proposing. Either way the thing gets done but obviously the long term results – the situations I’ve created – will be very different.

It’s a different perspective than the one that says, “the ends justify the means”. Of course what we mean by “forcing” will vary according to the specific situation. If you have to lift a heavy weigh you’ll need to exert yourself more than you would lifting a feather – what is forcing in one case is just the right effort in another. It takes discernment to apply this or any of the principles in a useful way.

This principle refers to at least to two types of situation. In one the goal is reached but the consequences are not what one had hoped for. In the other the forcing produces a negative “rebound”. To illustrate the first case, here’s an old story of which there are many versions. It is a tale that is deeply embedded in the legends of the western world. A teaching from the East is given to illustrate the situation of “rebound”.

The Legend of Old Silenus.
Silenus was a satyr, half goat and half man. He was the wise counselor of Dionysius, the god of wine. While Silenus spirit was deep and wise many found his physical appearance was grotesque. He was often so drunk that he had to be carried by a donkey or by a group other satyrs. Some say his wisdom was more evident the drunker her was.

One day some peasants came upon him sleeping in the woods. They quickly tied him up and brought them before their king whose name was Midas. Some versions of this story say that Midas had drugged a fountain that Silenus liked to drink from in order to render him unconscious and that it was no accident he was captured. Perhaps that’s true, but we’ll continue with our version…

Midas recognizing who it was that he had in his court had Silenus freed and held a feast in his honour. He begged Silenus to forgive the peasants who had treated him so badly. Wise Silenus not only forgave them but wanted to reward the king for his piety.

Silenus addressed the king saying: “Ask whatever you want and I will grant it to you. But I warn you, it is better for you to be reasonable since my gifts can prove difficult to return.”

Midas responded immediately: “I know what I need. I’ve wanted it all my life. Let everything I touch turn into gold. My kingdom is poor but the people are good. In this way I will be rich and able to solve all their problems. Everyone will benefit from my gift.”

Silenus only smiled his crooked smile and vanished.

Well, I imagine you know what happened next; immediately the king found himself barely able to move since his robes were transformed into solid gold. He got to his feet as best he could and paraded through the town turning his subject’s animals and even their straw into gold. The people were astonished and overwhelmed with gratitude.

A little later the result seemed quite different. By evening the good citizens were crowding into the palace moaning and complaining. They could not milk statues of cows, and golden chickens didn’t lay eggs. Meanwhile, the few animals that Midas had accidently overlooked had nothing to eat since the straw was also now an inedible metal. There was nothing to drink since even the water in the reservoir had been turned to gold, as had every bottle of wine.

Seeing the mounting confusion all around his wife hurried to comfort him and in a moment was herself a cold, but golden, statue. Encumbered by his heavy robes Midas managed to fall to his knees and beseeched the great god Dionysus to have mercy and remove Silenus’ curse that he had hoped would be a blessing. And so it was. The kindly god returned everything to as it had been.

The gold faded, the animals returned to life, the reservoir was filled with fresh clear water. Finally even the queen returned from her golden sleep. Then Midas and all the people gave thanks to the great god for restoring their poverty.

Now for the teaching related to the idea of the “rebound of the action”.

The Buddha’s Gift
I have heard that one day, while explaining his teaching in Deer Park the Buddha said, “If a man wrongs me, I shall repay him with my affection. The worse he behaves the more I will respond with goodness. In this way the perfume of goodness will always surround me and the sad air of evil will remain with him.”

It is said that not long after a brutish man was seen insulting the Buddha, who then asked him: “If a man rejects a gift to whom shall it belong?” The other replied, “obviously, it belongs to the one who offered it.” “Excellent,” replied the enlightened one: “You have mocked me but I refuse the gift and I pray you to keep these words for yourself.” The insolent one did not reply and the Buddha continued: “An angry man who insults a virtuous one is like one who looks at the sky and spits at it. The spit does not make the sky dirty. It merely returns and stains his own person. The slanderer is like one who throws dirt at another when the wind is against him. The dirt returns to the one who threw it. The one who wishes to achieve something which is not meant from instead obtains that which is rightly his.”

Illustration by Rafael Edwards

General Considerations about the Principles
At next week’s meeting we can compare and discuss our experiences of, and considerations about, this Principle and it’s applications. Perhaps that will lead to an interchange of points of view, or an enriching of our own perspectives. Either way, remember, the Principles are not “morals” or “laws”. They are not meant as external guidelines but as aids to configuring a way of approaching life based on registers of unity (agreement with myself) and contradiction. Internal unity is registered when my thinking, feeling and actions go in the same direction and aren’t warring with each other. That’s why the Principles are sometimes called Principles of Valid Action. A valid action, is unitive, ends in others, and is something we want to repeat.

In his commentaries on his Message Silo had this to say about The Principles:
Chapter XIII sets forth the “Principles of Valid Action.” It deals with the formulation of a behavior in life that is presented for those who wish to develop a coherent life built on two basic internal registers: that of unity and that of contradiction. In this way, the justification for this “morality” is found in the registers that it produces, and not in particular ideas or beliefs tied to one place, time, or cultural model. The register of internal unity that is being sought is accompanied by certain indicators that should be taken into consideration. These are: 1.The sensation of internal growth; 2. Continuity in time; and 3. Affirming that one would want to repeat it in the future. The sensation of internal growth appears as a true and positive indicator that always accompanies the experience of personal improvement. Regarding continuity in time, it means that through comparison with later, or imagined, or remembered situations, one is able to confirm that the validity of the experience does not change, even with changing circumstances. Lastly, if after the act one wishes to repeat it, we can say that the sensation of internal unity affirms the validity of this action. On the contrary, contradictory actions might have some of the characteristics of unitive actions, or none of them, but they never have all three.

There exists, nevertheless, another kind of action that we cannot strictly call “valid,” but neither can we call them “contradictory.” While such an action does not prevent our development, it does not produce great improvement either. These actions can be more or less disagreeable or more or less pleasurable, but from the point of view of validity they do not add anything or take anything away. These types of actions are the everyday actions, the mechanically habitual actions. They are perhaps necessary for our subsistence and coexistence. But according to the model of unitive and contradictory actions that we have been examining, such an action does not in itself constitute a moral act. The Principles, referred to as “Principles of Valid Action,” are classified as: 1. The Principle of Adaptation; 2. The Principle of Action and Reaction; 3. The Principle of Opportune Action; 4. The Principle of Proportion; 5. The Principle of Acceptance; 6. The Principle of Pleasure; 7. The Principle of Immediate Action; 8. The Principle of Comprehended Action; 9. The Principle of Liberty; 10. The Principle of Solidarity; 11. The Principle of Negation of Opposites, and 12. The Principle of Accumulating Actions.

For more information
Remember you can find The Inner Look and Silo’s Commentaries on the Message, along with the rest of Silo’s writings (in many languages) on www.silo.net
And along with other activities, materials etc of Silo’s Message at http://silosmessage.net/index.asp?LANG=EN
Some of the English version of his works have been published and hard copies are available. See for example: www.latitudepress.com

There are (so far) 2 Parks of Study and Reflection in North America. These are Red Bluff (www.redbluffpark.org) in California and Hudson Valley (www.hudsonvalleypark.org) in New York. The Parks of Study and Reflection are projects built and paid for by individuals inspired by Silo’s teachings. More information is available on their websites.