Matter As Metaphor, Part Two: Taught by Nature, by That Which Is — The Heights of Learning and Transformation Possible in Wide-Angled Contemplation of the World
The physical world is our indirect perception (for direct perception, look within) of spiritual and psychic realities. Hence, the physical world can not help but express the spiritual and psychic. What I am saying is: Look around yourself; the world is rife with messages, both personal and universal, relating to your place in the Universe, the meaning of our existence, the meaning of existence itself, and, most importantly, of guidance for getting us back hOMe. If one is open to this possibility, the messages/truths are everywhere to be found. And the Universe and one’s experience of Reality becomes the grandest, wisest, truest, and most beneficent of teachers.
Hermann Hesse (1951) gives us a charming story of just such teaching by Nature, by That Which Is. In Siddhartha he relates how the main character left the sensory world of business and marriage and became a river ferryman. Siddhartha’s inner voice draws him to such a life and guides him to listen to the river:
In his heart he heard the newly awakened voice speak, and it said to him: “Love this river, stay by it, learn from it.” Yes, he wanted to learn from it, he wanted to listen to it. It seemed to him that whoever understood this river and its secrets, would understand much more, many secrets, all secrets.
But today he only saw one of the river’s secrets, one that gripped his soul. He saw that the water continually flowed and flowed and yet it was always there; it was always the same and yet every moment it was new. Who could understand, conceive this? (p. 104)
Further guidance about the river is provided by Siddhartha’s friend, the elder ferryman, Vasudeva. Concerning his remarkable ability to listen, Vasudeva tells his protégé:
“You will learn it,” said Vasudeva, “but not from me. The river has taught me to listen; you will learn from it, too. The river knows everything; one can learn everything from it. You have already learned from the river that it is good to strive downwards, to sink, to seek the depths. The rich and distinguished Siddhartha will become a rower; Siddhartha the learned Brahmin will become a ferryman. You have also learned this from the river. You will learn the other thing, too. (pp. 107-108)
Later, Siddhartha’s education progresses:
He once asked him, “Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?”
A bright smile spread over Vasudeva’s face.
“Yes, Siddhartha,” he said. “Is this what you mean? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future?”
“That is it,” said Siddhartha, “and when I learned that, I reviewed my life and it was also a river, and Siddhartha the boy, Siddhartha the mature man and Siddhartha the old man, were only separated by shadow, not through reality. Siddhartha’s previous lives were also not in the past, and his death and his return to Brahma are not in the future. Nothing was, nothing will be, everything has reality and presence.” (pp. 109-110)
And further on:
Often they sat together in the evening on the tree trunk by the river. They both listened silently to the water, which to them was not just water, but the voice of life, the voice of Being, of perpetual Becoming. And it sometimes happened that while listening to the river, they both thought the same thoughts, perhaps of a conversation of the previous day, or about one of the travelers whose fate and circumstances occupied their minds, or death, or their childhood; and when the river told them something good at the same moment, they looked at each other, both thinking the same thought, both happy at the same answer to the same question. (p. 111)
Such teaching, in contemplation of the river, continued for a long time. Until one day, Siddhartha was to learn a teaching surpassing all others. Once again, it is his mentor Vasudeva who directs him to look more deeply and listen more intently to the message of the World:
“You have heard it laugh,” he said, “but you have not heard everything. Let us listen; you will hear more.”
They listened. The many-voiced song of the river echoed softly. Siddhartha looked into the river and saw many pictures in the flowing water. He saw his father, lonely, mourning for his son; he saw himself, lonely, also with the bonds of longing for his faraway son; he saw his son, also lonely, the boy eagerly advancing along the burning path of life’s desires, each one concentrating on his goal, each one obsessed by his goal, each one suffering. The river’s voice was sorrowful. It sang with yearning and sadness, flowing towards its goal.
“Do you hear?” asked Vasudeva’s mute glance. Siddhartha nodded.
Siddhartha tried to listen better. The picture of his father, his own picture, and the picture of his son all flowed into each other. Kamala’s picture also appeared and flowed on, and the picture of Govinda and others emerged and passed on. They all became part of the river. It was the goal of all of them, yearning, desiring, suffering; and the river’s voice was full of longing, full of smarting woe, full of insatiable desire. The river flowed on towards its goal. Siddhartha saw the river hasten, made up of himself and his relatives and all the people he has ever seen. All the waves and water hastened, suffering, towards goals, many goals, to the waterfall, to the sea, to the current, to the ocean and all goals were reached and each one was succeeded by another. The water changed to vapor and rose, became rain and came down again, became spring, brook and river, changed anew, flowed anew. But the yearning voice had altered. It still echoed sorrowfully, searchingly, but other voices accompanied it, voices of pleasure and sorrow, good and evil voices, laughing and lamenting voices, hundreds of voices, thousands of voices.
Siddhartha listened. He was now listening intently, completely absorbed, quite empty, taking in everything. He felt that he had now completely learned the art of listening. He had often heard all this before, all these numerous voices in the river, but today they sounded different. He could no longer distinguish the different voices — the merry voice from the weeping voice, the childish voice from the manly voice. They all belonged to each other: the lament of those who yearn, the laughter of the wise, the cry of indignation and groan of the dying. They were all interwoven and interlocked, entwined in a thousand ways. And all the voices, all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil, all of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life. When Siddhartha listened attentively to this river, to this song of a thousand voices; when he did not listen to the sorrow or laughter, when he did not bind his soul to any one particular voice and absorb it in his Self, but heard them all, the whole, the unity; then the great song of a thousand voices consisted of one word: Om — perfection.
“Do you hear?” asked Vasudeva’s glance once again.
Vasudeva’s smile was radiant; it hovered brightly in all the wrinkles of his old face, as the Om hovered over all the voices of the river. His smile was radiant as he looked at his friend, and now the same smile appeared on Siddhartha’s face. His wound was healing, his pain was dispersing; his Self had merged into unity.
From that hour Siddhartha ceased to fight against his destiny. There shone in his face the serenity of knowledge, of one who is no longer confronted with conflict of desires, who has found salvation, who is in harmony with the stream of events, with the stream of life, full of sympathy and compassion, surrendering himself to the stream, belonging to the unity of all things. (pp. 136-139)
This is, of course, an elaborate illustration and expresses the heights of learning and transformation that are possible in such wide-angled contemplation of the World.
Continued with The Rest of the World, Given the Chance, Is Out to Love You: Matter As Metaphor, Part Three — Expect Less … and More … from Your Wasps
Return to Matter As Metaphor, Part Two: Taught by Nature, by That Which Is — The Heights of Learning and Transformation Possible in Wide-Angled Contemplation of the World
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