Principle 2 Action & Reaction 1

Principle 2, First week
   This month we will take as a subject of meditation #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.”

Illustration by Rafael Edwards

This Week
We’ll start by focusing on the general structure and implications of the principle. This week’s meeting will give us an opportunity to discuss our thoughts, doubts, questions, and insights about this principle. As always we should remember the Principles are not meant as isolated bits of wisdom, any more than they’re meant to form a conventional moral code. Rather, they are part of a dynamic meditation, the rudiments of a discipline that you can practice in every moment of your life. They are principles, general ideas that you can weave together into a coherent style of life, aimed in a particular direction.

Here are some general considerations about this principle
For the most part the following examples have been collected from conversations with a wide range of people, over a number of year. I’ve also drawn on materials we collectively 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 where I can I will.

It has been said that this Principle explains how the characteristics and behaviour of each thing, system and person, facilitate or resist our projects – and this response depends, at least in part, on what we do. 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 at first things or situations may yield to our demands, 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 perhaps they don’t agree. What do I do? Should I try to force them to comply? Or perhaps by persuasion, 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.

Examples of two related situations
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”

An example related to the idea of unhappy consequences
The Legend of Old Silenus
Silenus was a satyr, half goat and half man. He was the wise counsellor of Dionysius, the god of wine. While Silenus spirit was deep and wise many found his physical appearance grotesque. He was often so drunk that he couldn’t walk and had to be carried on the back of his 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 let’s 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 accidentally overlooked had nothing to eat, since the straw was 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.

An example 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 up and spits at the sky. 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.”

Coming up:
This week we’ll consider the general contours of this principle and its possible applications. We’ll ask ourselves whether it’s useful and in what ways. All of this is not just in order to deepen our understanding this particular principle, but also to begin to reflect more rigorously about our daily behaviour. Over the next weeks we’ll 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. 

These notes have been sent to the email list and Facebook page of The Community of Silo’s Message Toronto Annex, as well as here.

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

PS. Since they made these notes twice as long and always contained the same information I’m no longer including the general information about, the principles, materials, parks, etc that were included each week. You can find more info at the Silo Net website and here at The Silo’s Message website.