Spirituality

1999-09-15

Despite my lack of religion (or belief in gods), I consider myself a fairly spiritual person. I tend to be drawn to the philosophies that have a spiritual element but are this-worldly, like Taoism and Epicureanism. I suppose that's where my early Randianism came from, too -- the same desire for a way to make sense of it all, which I lost when I became a non-believer at age 9, but which Rand's philosophy provided for me at the time. And let me tell you, that Rand meme is strong! I'm still trying to regain my equilibrium after getting so deeply involved in her ideas at such an early age.

I always connect the exploration of spirituality with my idea of writing a book entitled "The Tao of Roark". I suppose it will be something like the Zen of Rand, or my personal attempt to separate the good from the bad in her thought, with a strong spiritual slant.

My thinking that I have something to say on spiritual matters might make it seem that I consider myself to be some sort of guru. Yet I don't know that I'm a model of anything, nor do I claim to be. However, I do strive to be the best person I can be. That kind of ethical or spiritual ambition is the only sort of ambition I find important (other kinds of ambition, such as my desire to write some good poems, flow from that).

Speaking of Zen, one thing I find interesting about Zen is that the American concept of it comes from Japan, which derives from Chinese Ch'an Buddhism, which is a heavily Taoistic version of Buddhism -- not pure Buddhism but a combination of Taoism and Buddhism. It is interesting to me that (at least according to my understanding) Chinese people traditionally have been quite flexible in their philosophy of life, and have taken what is of value from Confucianism and Taoism (and Buddhism through Ch'an). They almost have this dualistic or dialectical approach, wherein they use Confucianism for certain things and Taoism for others -- Confucianism is the philosophy of what can be told, Taoism is the philosophy of the ineffable. Maybe I misunderstand this, but to me it provides something of a model for philosophizing -- that you can have this rational philosophy for dealing with hard-nosed facts about the world (the philosophy of science and economics and such) but combine that with a lighter, more artistic or spiritual philosophy of emotion and the inner life. One of the problems I have with Rand and the whole Aristotelian tradition generally is that it provides the hard philosophy (the yang) but not the soft philosophy (the yin). In my philosophically ambitious moments I think of creating a new philosophy that would be the yin to the Randian/Aristotelian yang. Something like this would address the problem with always wanting sharp edges, black-and-white categories, and such -- if it were done right. These philosophies would complement each other, so that together they would account for most of the meaning in life.

Of course, some people claim that life has no meaning. I read an interview with novelist James P. Hogan a number of years ago and he said something that struck me, which is that nothing we do really matters. Oh, a few people do or create or think things that are of world-historical significance, but very few. Artists and thinkers tend to hope for a kind of immortality through their creations, and some achieve a measure of lasting renown. I'm not arrogant enough to think that the essays and poems and songs I write will outlast me, but I find they help me make sense of things and that's enough for me. Once in a while they seem to strike a chord with people and that's nice, but it's not my main motivation for creating them -- for me it's more a way of understanding life and probably ordering my experience. Maybe it's my substitute for therapy. :-)

To be precise, Hogan said that nothing we do really matters in the long run. Of course it matters now and hereafter if only because the way we live now affects the current world and what comes after us. Being a good person makes the world a better place now and provides an example to those who follow. But in the long run it doesn't matter much what you or I do. Not that the long run matters all that much! Why should I care about the cosmic scale of things? I care about the human scale. Here's a quote from Rand in this vein:

I know not if this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or if it is but a speck of dust lost in eternity. I know not and I care not. For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth. And my happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose. (Anthem, p. 95)

As long as one includes the notion that an integral part of one's own happiness is the happiness of other people you value, I find this a fine poetic statement of humanistic individualism, which I feel is my core philosophy.


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