Principle 9 Liberty 4

Principle 9, fourth week
This week’s principle is  #9, The Principle of Liberty” it says: “When You Harm Others You Remain Enchained, But If You Do Not Harm Anyone You May Freely Do Whatever You Want”.

First time here? Then you should know…
Every month we focus one of the 12 Principles of Valid Action. These can be found in Chapter 13 of the book, The Inner Look. Each week we look at a different aspect of that principle. 

We take the time to think and talk about each principle, not just in order to understand it in itself, but also to begin to reflect more rigorously about our behaviour. These principles, or guidelines, or however you think of them, are elements that we can form into a discipline which can be practiced at every moment and in every circumstance. They are a kind of dynamic meditation. With time and application these efforts will give all my activities a particular tone, mood, and mental direction.  Our goal is to weave these general ideas that you can weave together into a coherent style of life.

Coming up:
In previous weeks we have looked at the structure of the principle, and how it was, or could have been applied in the past. Last week we reflected on how we were, or could be applying it in the present, and what the consequences were, or might have been. This week we’ll focus on how we are applying, (or could apply) this principle in the future, especially the immediate future.
The future is this way!

Some Personal Reflections:
Thinking about how I might apply this principle in the future got me thinking about the special importance Silo gives to the future in general. When we look at the ancients, we might use as an example, the bible story of Adam, Eve and the fall from Eden. A story which places paradise in the past and explains all our woes by an action that took place back then. We find the Greeks dividing their “history” into a series of ages. Way, way back in some long, lost, past there was the Golden Age, a time of peace, and prosperity. But of course, humanity began to lose its way and, according to this scheme a fall into a Silver age, then a Bronze, ending in the present Iron age. Or something like that. In Western culture a similar idea is found in both “high” and “low” culture. For example, not only ancient Greeks, but contemporary comic book collectors as well, talk about the Golden (1930s to 1950s) and Silver (mid-50s to 70s) ages of comics. Sci fi aficionados refer to the Golden age of science fiction (late 1930s to mid-40s), etc.

And it doesn’t seem to be just a Western tendency. Hinduism’s famous Kali yuga where we find ourselves is the last of four yugas (ages) and — no surprise here — the worst. Like the Greeks, the Romans, present day pop culture fans, and pretty much everyone else, the past always seems when times were good, and things have just gone down hill from there.

I think one of the funniest examples, has to do with generations and generational conflict (important subjects well worth investigating). It seems that every generation sees the next one as a disaster. While the following quote is often attributed to Socrates, Plato or Aristotle, it was, in fact, written by a classics scholar in 1907. He was writing about how the ancient Greeks looked at young people. He summarized the feelings which he read in their writings this way: “The counts of the indictment are luxury, bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love for chatter in place of exercise. …Children began to be the tyrants, not the slaves, of their households. They no longer rose from their seats when an elder entered the room; they contradicted their parents, chattered before company, gobbled up the dainties at table, and committed various offences against Hellenic tastes, such as crossing their legs. They tyrannised over the paidagogoi and schoolmasters.”

There is a ubiquitous and persuasive assumption, that people, and things, used to be better, or that truth is found in the Golden age of the past. This is not a new thing, or just a Western thing. It seems to be part of our mental form (or deepest mental habits). It is even difficult to conceive of an explanation that does not rely on looking at the past, at antecedent causes, ignorer to understand the present — and for good reason. To turn to examples I’ve used before, think of astronomers explaining the present state of the universe by the big bang. Or, psychotherapists explaining some psychological problem as the result of a childhood trauma. There’s no doubt good reason for those kinds of explanation. But they’re only part of the story. Imagine someone whose life so far has been wonderful, and for whom everything is going-great. They are one of the lucky ones! Contrast them with someone whose life has been one trauma after another, and whom today is ill, in debt, alone, and unemployed.

Now imagine that they both receive some new, or a vision of the future which they cannot doubt. This new information convinces our up-to-now lucky friend that they are about to be diagnosed with a debilitating illness. That they may well lose their job. That their great love and life companion is about to throw them aside. Suddenly, they find everything changing: their mood, their vision of the world, their thinking, their behaviour, all take a new and bleak turn. On the other hand, our less fortunate friend has the opposite experience. Instead of poverty, illness and loneliness they become convinced that good fortune, health and love are all right around the corner. Now for equally imaginary reasons (i.e. not necessarily false, but imaginary in the sense that they are not presently true) their mood, vision of reality, thoughts and actions, are transformed — but in a positive direction.

Silo points out that in psychological matters (at least) the future seems to weigh more than the past. Obviously, in reality there is an interplay of time, where the pathways of experience (aka the pathways of suffering or times of consciousness), i.e. past (memory), present (perception), and future (imagination), interact, interweave and mutually transform each other. Nonetheless, there is a very clear and practical sense in which the future dominates, where hope and an open future override even the horrors that may plague the present and the past.

Here’s another quote from Silo’s writings. I for one, continue to be surprised (and challenged) by what he proposes as the key to opening one’s future. According to his comments Chapter XV of the Internal Landscape: Establishes that the act of giving opens the future, and that all valid actions go in this direction. Receiving, in contrast, is centripetal, and dies in the individual. It is through giving that one can change the direction of a contradictory life.

XV. To Give and To Receive
1. Let us look at the relationship you establish with your external landscape. It may be that you consider all objects, people, values, and affections as things presented for you to choose among and devour according to your own particular appetites. It is likely that this centripetal vision of the world denotes a contraction that reaches from your thoughts to your muscles.
2. If this is the case, it is certain that you will have the highest regard for everything that is related to you—your sufferings as much as your pleasures. It is doubtful that you will even want to surpass your personal problems, because in them you will recognize a tone that is, above all, your own. From your thoughts to your muscles, everything has been taught to contract, not to let go. Hence, even when you act with generosity, calculation motivates your apparent disinterestedness.
3. Everything enters and nothing leaves, and from your thoughts down to your muscles everything becomes intoxicated.
4. And having contaminated all those around you, how can you later reproach them for their “ingratitude” toward you?
5. If we speak of “giving” and “helping,” you think of what others can give you, of how they can help you. But the best help that could be given you would consist of teaching you to let go of your contraction.
6. I tell you that your selfishness is not a sin but rather the fundamental error in your calculation, for you have naively believed that to receive is better than to give.
7. Remember the best moments in your life and you will recognize that they were invariably accompanied by a disinterested giving. Reflecting on this should by itself be enough to change the direction of your existence—but it will not suffice.
8. Let us hope I have been speaking of someone else and not of you, since surely you have understood such sayings as “humanize the earth,” “open the future,” and “overcome suffering in the world around you,” all of which are based on the capacity to give.
9. “To love the reality that you are building” does not mean to place the solution to your own problems as the key to the world.
10. Let me end by saying: If you want to overcome your profound contradiction, you must produce valid actions. If these actions are valid, it is because they help those around you.

I look forward to hearing about your reflections about the Principle of Liberty and, for those of you in Toronto, to seeing you at next Wednesday’s meeting.

And in Conclusion:
These notes have been sent to the email list of The Community of Silo’s Message Toronto Annex, and posted on Facebook, as well as on my blog at

We’d all love to hear your comments, thoughts about, considerations of, or artwork inspired by, any of this.