Helen Keller – The meaning of symbols, words and finding the light of intelligence from within or as Somerset Maugham wrote in The Razor’s Edge, that we are to think out our thoughts to the very end without hindrance, seeing things in a new way and to go there.
Also continuing thoughts of cultivating stillness / The Seeds of Character that lead to Greatness begins with understanding underlying contradictions and the I Ching.
I am reminded of Helen Keller’s breakthrough in communication came with what I have referred to in many entries… both symbols and words. She realized that the motions her teacher was making on the palm if her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the idea of “water”. Keller’s mountaintop experience went no further than the pump in her front yard where she connected what she would later call “the living word that awakened her soul”.
Writing in her autobiography, The Story of My Life, Keller recalled the moment:
“I stood still; my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. The living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, set it free!”
Keller then nearly exhausted Sullivan, demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world.
Greek icon of Second Coming, c. 1700
Her spiritual autobiography, My Religion, was published in 1927 and then in 1994 extensively revised and re-issued under the title Light in My Darkness. It advocates the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Christian theologian and mystic who gave a spiritual interpretation of the teachings of the Bible and who claimed that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ had already taken place.
Helen Keller who was both deaf and blind said – “My darkness had been filled with the light of intelligence, and behold the outer day-lit world was stumbling and groping in social blindness”. Anne Sullivan: “Giving up is my idea of the original sin” (from The Miracle Worker – film about deaf/blind Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan). Annie reads from the Perkins report regarding this blind, deaf, mute woman – ‘Can nothing be done to disinter this human soul? The whole neighborhood would rush to save this woman if she were buried alive by the caving in of a pit, and labor with zeal until she was dug out. Now if there were one who had as much patience as zeal, he might awaken her to a consciousness of her immortal self.’
‘It was in coming from the darkness to the light that she might awaken to a consciousness of her immortal nature. The chance is small indeed; but with a smaller chance they would have dug desperately or her in the pit; and is the life of the soul of less import than that of the body?’ (excerpts from the play “The Miracle Worker” by William Gibson.)
Could there be anything worse the adjusting our sights to the status quo? To live within the confines of how others see the world bent to their own illusions. What every philosopher of every age has told us that we must find and do for ourselves.
Upon experiencing her “ah ha” moment, Helen Keller was able to make the transition from the darkness of being both deaf and blind and was able to make the connection with her immortal self, thereby teaching others that her perceived weaknesses served to accentuate her inner resolve and strengths. Connecting her thoughts with words with the ability to express her own transcendent nature. Afterwards she spent her life conveying that each of us can come out of the darkness we find in the present to overcome what her teacher Anne Sullivan called “Our giving up as the Original Sin”. Once Helen Keller left the sanctuary of the darkness she knew – she was able to illuminate the world teaching and showing us the light we each possess and that we should learn to express for ourselves. That in our own way, we each must become a sage by not giving up. Living a life of virtue that expresses who we are yet to become.
When I think about Helen Keller, and what I should include from my writing that typifies what this means, the below expresses it well as Helen Keller exemplifies the sage. It is from Thoughts on becoming a Sage (my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching) published in China in 2006:
Verse 63 of the Tao Te Ching – Becoming a Sanctuary to all you meet
The sage acknowledges and understands that there is nothing that is not in keeping with the Tao.
The Offering TianHou Palace Temple Qingdao
Especially true is that the Tao resides in each of us. Thus, in showing the way the sage is good at saving and directing those around him, while abandoning no one. Since the sage in essence is simply the embodiment of the Tao, abandoning or leaving behind another person could or would never enter his mind.
The sage’s surroundings are illustrative of how he sees his place in the ten thousand things. As though he is seen creating a sanctuary that reflects his innermost sense of who he is yet to become. Kind and reflective, still yet expansive, he competes with no one and no one competes with him. His strengths and weaknesses have become razor sharp as he uses them to cut through what is perceived to be truth and falsehood. While he remains on the edge pushing others to places, they would not otherwise go, he leaves no foothold for those who would follow except by accepting and following the Tao.
When he himself becomes the sanctuary for others to take refuge and follow, finding the comfort only found in the expression of the Tao, he is reminded that he who searches will find it and those who don’t only escape to wait until another day. May/June 2000
The Sanctuary within Oneself TianHou Palace Temple Qingdao
Discovering the mountaintop and the illumination from within.
Just what does the mountaintop experience we all want look like? When we move from the sharp razor to cut through both truth and falsehood, we inevitably come to the razor’s edge to what ultimately defines us and what doesn’t. It is here we go for help in finding the answer. What is it that comes of the ruling passions of our life?
The book entitled The Razor’s Edge, written by W. Somerset Maugham, first published in 1944 and the movie that followed tells the story. Many felt Maugham’s book was a forerunner of the beat generation of the 1960’s. It was said he wrote the whole book (and he agreed) so he could write about a short chapter about Eastern mysticism and the mountaintop experience towards the end.
Maugham visited Sri Ramana Ashram, (an Ashram is considered to be spiritual monastery in India), where he had a direct interaction with Ramana Maharshi in Tamil Nadu, India in 1938.
In the movie The Razor’s Edge, the main character, Larry, is seen as loafing through life. It is that for each of us at first, it’s difficult to say what is our purpose.
It’s as if thinking that if we ever acquire wisdom maybe we’ll know what to do with it as if having an affinity for universal spirit we are yet to appreciate or understand.
His best friend had died in the war for what he saw as no good reason. He has a passion for learning and not simply work, so as to make money as other people do. His friends wanting to follow a normal course and keep things as they are – content to stay within the status quo, first in Chicago and then Paris. While he finds himself wanting to give something that is at first indefinable, ethereal, asking – is the quest for God real? Defined only as universal wisdom others would like to take that he could share. As if having a “sixth sense”… that the satisfactions of the world are both timeless and transitory, and that only the Infinite can give enduring happiness.
Years later, after his visit to India, he was seen as having a very singular detachment, as natural, and with a sincerity that was obvious. Something in him, an awareness, a sensibility, almost a force. But it becomes not simply this wisdom Larry would share, but what comes from your heart expressed as mercy, forgiveness and love. We soon find it is not someone or something else we are running away from – it is from acknowledging our eternal spirit or nature. Our own divinity and transcendence, and God, or the highest power in the universe which is latent as our potential and always present, but as yet unaccounted for, that speaks directly to and through us.
Experiencing our own “ah ha” moment we may have been deaf and blind to – as Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan taught us. The original sin that Larry so keenly understood and searched for and overcame. The mountaintop we are afraid to climb and experience and find for ourselves. It’s like pursuing an ideal that is hidden in the cloud of unknowing – like looking for a star in the sky and not seeing it. But having confidence in the authenticity in the vision of your mind’s eye… and being guided to go there anyway. To be free to live the life of spirit and exhilaration, and in turn illuminating all you see, feel, and touch. While knowing we can only take the world as it comes. It’s like following a dream where many are called but few are chosen.
That we are here to learn about ourselves from within – searching for something difficult to put into words. For this we seek a teacher and guidance. Learning how to express the universal virtue we have always possessed – the eternal spirit, our soul or essence, the Tao, the Buddha, or God from within. Taking the pill of immortality outlined in the last entry here. For myself, to my friends and those who know me I’m always the outlier or an anomaly – happy to remain outside what is expected. For the character in the movie, he felt that to those he cared about, he couldn’t even give an answer. Seen as someone uncomfortable with the status quo, even a loafer afraid of responsibilities.
The book differs from the movie in that the book delves more into Hinduism as he travels to India and begins to learn about Hinduism with ideas of the conception that the universe has no beginning and no end. But passes everlasting from growth to equilibrium, from equilibrium to decline, from decline to dissolution, from dissolution to growth again, and so on to all eternity. To the transmigration of the soul (the passage of a soul into another body), and the idea that without reincarnation life would have no real meaning. To believe this implicitly as though in your blood and bones. That this is an endless re-occurrence and the nature and expression of the Absolute and its perfection. The purpose of creation is to serve as a stage for the punishment or reward of the deeds of the soul’s earlier existence.
For us it means transcending permanence and change. Unrelated to time, it is truth and freedom. Beyond thoughts of religion or philosophy for comfort and encouragement in our own soul. Worship only serving as the remembrance of who we have always been and will always be.
Rumi says, “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean.”
For myself, it is perhaps that we are as a drop of water in the ocean. We then are drawn up into and embark in a cloud buffeted by the wind as a raindrop from Heaven to an as yet unknown destination to where we are needed most. Perhaps here onto the mountains of the high Himalayas depending on how far or high we have traveled. Then falling as rain from Heaven giving life as we travel down pathways, rivers, and streams back to what was our source, the ocean from where we came. As if we are both absolute and infinite with no identity separate from the universe and other droplets we are forever attached or connected to. Its not enough to return to your source, once you do so you become the source again, again, and again.
Perhaps as we learn in Buddhism, Mañjuśrī, who is depicted as a male bodhisattva wielding a flaming sword in his right hand, representing the realization of transcendent wisdom which cuts down ignorance and duality. The scripture supported by the padma (lotus) held in his left hand is a Prajñāpāramitā sūtra, representing his attainment of ultimate realization from the blossoming of wisdom and that we are each here to do so for ourselves.
You are reminded that you are here not by chance, but by choice. That “liberation from birth” ascribed as the ultimate goal of enlightenment you’ve already attained. There is no reason not to be content in your own contentment and finding inner peace and comfort. There’s no place to go because you’ve already been there unless it’s to see what has changed since your last visit as if you have transcended impermanence. That our passion should be to know the reality that lies within ourselves. If God resides within us, who better to worship than ourselves.
Our character in The Razor’s Edge finds a holy man, or Yogi named Shri Ganesha (he used Ramana Maharshi as the model for the holy man), who he finds sitting in meditation as if aspiring only to serenity that seems to irradiate and illuminate both intellectually and spiritually goodness, peace, and selflessness.
What he taught was very simple. The holy man tells him “that you have come this far through you travels proves you’re courageous, not afraid of responsibilities. It’s how to express this and share with others that is the answer. Not in the terms of what the world calls success as long as man sets his ideals on the wrong object instead of learning that a wise man lives from within and through himself. Through his own heart and the ways of calmness, compassion, forbearance and everlasting peace. With a steadfastness of mind and quest for freedom. That ultimately it is not our fear of death, but a fear of life we face and that work done with no selfish interest purifies the mind. To achieve illumination, or at least break free of ignorance and know with certainty that you and the Absolute, God, the Tao, are one.”
The holy man continues:
The path to salvation, commonly known as letting go through faith, is as difficult to travel or pass through, as the sharp edge of a razor (hence the razor’s edge). It’s blazing a trail through the unknown. Identifying and becoming that spark that resides within each of us of infinite goodness much larger than ourselves that we ultimately re-unite with as if we are simply a raindrop falling from heaven. For some it is believed that there are three roads to transcendence and to God. The first is the path of faith and worship, second the works we perform, and third that we can attain reality by increasing our knowledge that gives us the ability to reason. In the end you learn that they are but one path and that wisdom is the means to freedom.
Continuing from The Razor’s Edge – It is from the mountaintop when you must remove yourself from everything including the inclination to stay. Nothing above you but the sky and God. What’s really there depends on you. Your teacher tells you that you were right, something strange happens. It was just at that moment when night ends and day begins. When the whole world seems to tremble in the balance. Gradually the light begins to flicker through the darkness.
Mysterious figures appeared through the trees… then the first rays sun came up. The mist is caught in the tree tops. As if you have never experienced anything before like it. Having a feeling of exaltation and such a transcendent joy. That no words could explain the ecstasy of bliss of the illumination you had been seeking. The innate knowing of acknowledging that you have arrived at your destination. Now so enlightened and free of what held you back you can return and through your actions, bring such wisdom to the world.
Larry, the character in the movie continues – I felt I had been released from my body and suspended in midair. So, light of heart that it seemed to me that I hardly touched the ground. All those things that had perplexed and confused me before – suddenly became clear to me. I had a sense of knowledge more than human. I felt that I was free and if it lasted more than another minute I would die. And yet I was willing to die if I could just hold onto it.
For that one moment I had the feeling of the Infinite. No words could explain the ecstasy of my bliss. I’m sure I could stay here forever (on the Mountain) and never tire… An understanding, an overwhelming sense of reality that you have experienced something only done by mystics and the shaman over the centuries. As if, perhaps only for a moment, becoming one with the Absolute.
The holy man told him no, you must go back. You are now ready to go back. It’s not necessary to leave where you were found. Your role is not to leave the world – but to live in the world and to love the objects of the world and to live with your own people. Not for themselves alone, but for the Infinite, what’s in them and the love they are yet to know and become. The vision within you makes you one of the fortunate ones while renouncing what is viewed as the separate self and becoming by example one with the universe. You have been given the infinite beauty of the world… the true meaning of transcendence that is meant to pass along.
As if the character in the story having been to the mountaintop and returning with an innate knowing to show the way for others. Once seen, that vision that nothing could touch him remaining with him forever as a compass guiding his way. Of course, he could stay on the mountaintop concerned only with his own enlightenment, or return to help others in finding their own path as well. For myself, it is as the storyteller as you learn to be always present and content, with an even calmness – seemingly aloof envisioning having been to the mountaintop and deciding to return.
What is it about the Himalayas of India, Bhutan, Nepal, Mount Everest, Tibet and Lhasa that becomes so appealing? Perhaps it’s to find comfort in the unknown and wanting to go there. You can’t get much closer to God and an idea of universal presence and still be here… and go there. For those attempting to climb, it becomes the ultimate test of exhilaration, faith and endurance. Once going there, you sense an awareness that was absent in your thinking, or mindset.
I am reminded of the phrase I love so much in a book entitled “The Way of the White Clouds”, by Lama Anagarika Govinda that stresses the unity of man and nature and just letting consciousness rest in itself integrated into its own awareness. Not holding on to anything or concentrating on anything, the mind is completely free from object awareness, or from the interference of will-power and intellectual activity. But rather to be mentally and spiritually unified. How is it that we are to live except with calmness, forbearance, compassion, selflessness, and continence? That in the end, it is the self-perfection as described by Chuang Tzu earlier that lies the answer.
Here in the Dazhuan, in the 5th and 6th Wings, it is assumed that they are not written in a vacuum and the earlier Wings especially The Commentary of the Decision, Wings 1 and 2, are already known and understood, and as with the remaining Wings (3 through 12), the materials from which the hexagrams have been constructed are explained. Throughout, it seems we are trying to find the middle between the claims of the body and the claims of the spirit.
Continuing the story is the 7th Wing, Numbers 8 through 12 that will follow with later entries describe in greater detail the central meaning of the I Ching in keeping with cultivating stillness, our chi, feng shui, and much more.
The Dazhuan 6th Wing Part II Number 7
The Seeds of Character that lead to Greatness begins with understanding underlying contradictions and the I Ching
The origins of the I Ching can be found in antiquity. From Fuxi onward the shaman furthered the eternal connection between man, heaven, and earth with the aim of finding and fulfilling man’s character and virtue for the benefit of those present. It was the imprisonment of King Wen and the outrageousness of the Shang that proved to be the final straw. The seeds of the proper way to treat others were first written on oracle bones by the shaman during the Shang dynasty.
This became “An annotated version of the Book of Rites”, dated before 907 BC, first written by Ji Dan, the Duke of Zhou, then codified by Confucius another five hundred years later to become a permanent fixture in Chinese culture. The two traits that best defined this effort were virtue and character with change as both our weakness and our strength. It seems we go down a lot of blind alleys without experienced teachers if we have no one to lead us. However, what may appear at first to be a blind alley is where our purpose lies.
There has always been suffering and sorrow and the need to make the right decisions that would benefit everyone and for man to see beyond his own personal benefit, a constant struggle that continues even today. A struggle that always comes that can be defined as character. Something the shaman always stressed to leaders who saw in themselves the way forward. It would be King Wen, the person who added the lines to the I Ching, giving the hexagrams real meaning and Ji Dan who showed through exemplary personal character the way to proceed. He saw the value of what would later be referred to as the Book of Changes and the statements that showed the way. He knew the value of the hexagrams as a way of bringing forward a commonality among all people.
It was the structure of the hexagrams focusing on development of character later emphasized in the Dazhuan and elaborated on below that would show the way.
From the sixty-four hexagrams, eight best defines this as follows:
- Hexagram 10 TREADING Lu shows the basis of character and powers. Lu is the basis of powers. It is harmonious and effective and harmonizes conduct to outward behavior.
- Hexagram 15 MODESTY Ch’ien is the handling of powers, to be seen as honorable and renowned and to regulate manners. To know modesty honors others and thereby obtains honors for oneself. To show the attitude that is necessary before character formation and to have the attitude of mind.
- Hexagram 24 RETURN Fu is the root of powers. To start small with distinguishing subtleties. To know yourself and be able to prevail in its own unique character against any temptations of your surroundings. To have the self-examination and self-knowledge to institute lasting reforms after acknowledging your errors along the way.
- Hexagon 32 DURATION Heng represents the cohesion of powers. To be varied and not worrisome. To have firmness of character in the correct frame of time. To observe numerous movements and experiences from which fixed rules are derived so that a unified character result.
- Hexagon 41 DECREASE Sun. The cultivation of powers is at first difficult but later easy and fend off harm. To depend less on lower faculties and untamed instincts, in favor of the higher life of the mind. When the instincts are tamed the essence of character training can begin and harm can be kept at a distance.
- Hexagrams 42 INCREASE I or Yi. This represents the maturity of powers, a maturity without artifice or expediency that furthers one’s advantage representing needed fullness to character, mere asceticism (a person who can attain a high spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial, abstinence or austerity) is not enough to make good character – greatness is also needed. To show an on-going growth of personality that is not artificial and focuses on things that are useful to others, i.e., refining one’s virtue.
- Hexagram 47 OPPRESSION Kun. To appreciate and understand the discernment of one’s powers, sometimes perplexing yet penetrating while lessening resentment of others. To be able to develop the character needed to prove himself in the field where one must prove oneself. Obstacles arrive that must be overcome. He is confronted with boundaries that cannot be overcome except by recognizing them for what they are. In recognized the fate of things you cease to have adversity. By not fighting fate, resentment fades and character is purified allowing one to advance in the inner workings of the Tao.
- Hexagram 48 THE WELL Jing or Ching. The field of powers is simply defining where you are, it is stationary yet moving upward and discerns righteousness. With this you have become the wellspring, though fixed to one spot dispensing blessing far and wide with far reaching influence. It is here where one’s character takes effect. Others can now perceive the profound influence emanating from such a personality. While the person keeps or stays in the background. Through showing what is right, the sage makes it possible for the right to take effect.
- Hexagram 57 THE GENTLE, THE PENETRATING Xun or Sun. This represents the control of powers, premeditated yet hidden but always acting appropriately. To remain flexible in character, not rigid that holds fast to established principles that is in reality pedantry, slavish attention to the rules, but instead mobility. Thereby one weighs things and penetrates to the needs of the times without exposing oneself to attack, learning instead to take circumstances into account preserving a strong unity of character with intelligent versatility.
This is the seventh entry (for a total of twelve) of the Sixth Wing of the Dazhuan. The story continues as our journey in cultivating stillness. Knowing and using this induces a spiritual transformation. The lines of the I Ching, the Book of Changes becomes shorthand for transforming change that attracts the lights and energy of Heaven thereby creating a chance, an unspoken trust, to build on who we are meant to become.