Last time: The Weight of the Future
This time: Two Tales
Principle 2. The Principle of Action and Reaction. First Week.
When you force something towards an end you produce the contrary.
We start this month’s series of meditations by focusing on the general structure and implications of the principle. To that end we’ll suggest a story or two and maybe even a joke that hopefully will help to illuminate some aspect of this principle of valid action. We also continue with the exercise of trying to rename and rephrase the principle
I tend to think of the first week’s meditation as a time to consider the general contours of this principle and its possible applications. I find it helpful to start by asking myself whether at first glance the principle seems useful and in what ways.
Like with all these reflections the goal is not just to deepen our understanding this particular principle, but also to begin to reflect more deeply about our daily behaviour and how it moves us toward greater unity or greater contradiction. I don’t think this is a minor point.
My first attempt at restating Principle 2.
Let me call it: the Principle of Ripening.
A poet explained it this way:
A green Jackfruit
Can be softened by
But not made sweet…
From Bhattacharya’s Songs of the Bards of Bengal
Of course, that only captures part of the story but I find it a useful reminder.
Here’s some raw material that I hope you will find useful in your own reflections.
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 depends, not only on the events but 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. At first the things, or situations may yield to our demands, but in the long run they turn back on us. The results can be very far from what we originally set out to achieve.
Everyone sets goals, some big and some 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 see things the same way I do. What do I do? Should I try to force them to comply, try “nudge” them or manipulate them? Or perhaps through direct communication try to get them to see the advantages of what I’m proposing. Whatever way I choose I can try to get my way, but obviously the long term results – the situations I’ve created – may be very far from what I set out to produce. It’s a very 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 lifting a heavy weight 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.
Two Stories to illustrate Two Related but Different 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. To illustrate the second, the situation of “rebound” a teaching with an Eastern flavour is given.
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 he become.
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 nonetheless 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 to the offender 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.”
Next week we’ll continue with our exploration of this Principle of Action and Reaction. We’ll focus on how applying this principle in my past did, or could have, change the outcomes of events.
The Principles are not meant as isolated bits of wisdom, any more than they’re meant to form a conventional moral code. They are the framework for a dynamic meditation, and the rudiments of a discipline that you can practice in every moment of your life.
26. You may agree with me or not, but in any case I will affirm that this is the only way forward: If you want to grow, you will help those around you to grow.
Internal Landscape Chapter IX, Contradiction and Unity
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These notes have been posted on Facebook (Community of Silo’s Message Toronto Annex) and sent to our email list. You will also find them along with other comments, and reflections on my website: dzuckerbrot.com