The Knowledge of Good and Evil
Do you enjoy a challenge? One kind of challenge is when an armed sentry hears your footsteps approaching his gate in the dark and calls out, "Halt! Who goes there?" Your answer can make all the difference.
A good way to face any challenge might be to begin by answering that question for yourself, "Who goes here?" It would not be a bad habit to ask that question whenever life's circumstances might say, "Halt!"
"Who am I?" What or who is the "I" that I am calling me? What do I want it to be? What is its quality and scope? What is its relation to my world?
If my answer is not good enough for the sentry, he will not let me pass. Other gates perhaps, but not his. Just between us, I am often at a loss for the right answer when I get to a new gate. Sometimes I thrash around for a while, trying different answers. Finally, when I get it, the sentry tries me until he knows I mean it. Only then will the gate clang open and let me pass. More often than not, I spend the night outside the gate even after I've found the right answer. But we do not need to find the right answers until we have been pressed by the right questions.
What is the feeling of accomplishment in having ascended to the summit of a great mountain? Each single footstep might have been unexceptional. The mountaintop is a single goal, but we do not attain it in a single footstep. Maybe it isn't obtainable in a mere ten thousand footsteps. Taken individually, the footsteps required to reach the mountain peak might be smaller strides than the ones I just used to get to the refrigerator and back. But all the small, summit bound footsteps have something special in common. They are all taken with the peak in mind. And so, over time, they add up, sometimes through freezing wind and snow, until their magnitude and direction are equal to the mountaintop. Perhaps the greatest thrill is in seeing them all add up to one glorious whole. Without a peak in mind, the same number of footsteps could be in a circle or in countless trips to the kitchen. Without a peak in mind, they could be well-meaning, determined little vectors adding up to little or nothing.
Taking footsteps toward something of value brings challenges. The keeper of the treasures does not surrender them lightly. Perhaps they are kept safe for us until we show we care for them as they deserve. So where are we going here? What is our goal? Quite simply, our goal is to have the thrill of seeing it all add up to one glorious whole. The startling part is what is meant here by it all. It is meant quite literally. And when we learn to do it right, it should keep adding up forever.
To accomplish our consummation, once at the level of infinity, we will need to have brought two things with us: a conception of infinite goodness and an appreciation of infinite evil for the special case where evil is good's absence, pure nothingness. Then we will see how they fit together.
We will start with pure words, that we will hope to turn into ideas. This book will provide some of the necessary words and thoughts and thought pictures. Each of us can then bring to the reading a thoughtful environment in which the words we ponder can dawn as ideas. Spiritual ideas cannot be provided in books, but our affectionate attention to spiritual words can lift and align our thoughts so spiritual ideas will appear to us from within. This dawning process is often sublime and can leave us with a fresh sense of spiritual light. For this reason, what we may already know about this subject may not be nearly as important as our next discovery.
If we are looking for a dawn, do we need to begin with some darkness? We might be insensible to a dawn occurring at noonday unless, of course, the light were quite bright. Viewing a heavenly dawn can be a subtle yet exquisite experiencing of contrasts; while on earth we see the appearance, resolution, and disappearance of shadows as the light progressively appears.
Do we need a mind without form and void in which to let there be light? There is at least some precedent for this. But such a mind as this is hard to come by. Before encountering the void, let us first make sure we have a good handle on the light. Let us approach goodness as our only idea, suspending whatever disbelief we must and considering evil not even to exist. Having thus cleared our mental realm of opposition, we will be ready to send out words of good unopposed. Fancying ourselves at the beginning of creation, our light will be to say, let there be good.
But what is this about beginning? As a practical matter, it might seem that we are too late. The world is here, light and darkness, good and evil, all the rest. We have, at this point, neither a perfect void nor perhaps the confidence to light it. The darkness we see is much smaller than infinite. Up to this point, our demand for light may have been equally modest. As if with little footsteps leading to the rarefied summit, we will attempt to light many little lights and to have many little dawns. The plan is to have them add up, maybe even multiply.
In this world, light comes most often in one of two ways: either it dawns or we turn it on. This is true of ideas too. The dawn does not come through the increased volition of the sunlight, but by the changing relation of our world to it. Changing midnight into high noon may simply require that our world be turned upside down.
Sometimes the light we seek is of a different sort. We could wait interminably for its dawn. When we know how to turn on the light we seek, we may have to do it ourselves.
* * *
In some sense, the infinite cannot be approached in increments. To think of it rightly, it must be our starting point. It is problematic to take normal human thinking and gradually expand it to reflect the infinite. We almost have to move from the human dimension to the infinite in a single hop. The best way to get a clean start is to start over. You could imagine yourself going back before human conception, before the big bang, back before time. To get an idea of the infinite, you could go back before the beginning. You could go back in your mind, as if before the dimensions of space and time, back before the void. How do you get there? It is simple. You start there. You define an "I" that is where you want to be, and you let it be yours. It is one infinite I. There, you have started fresh. In the midst of nothing, I. That is a beginning. Please listen with me to infinity as it says, "I."
The important thing is to know the nature of this infinite I. What are its attributes and prerogatives? Before we associate with this I, we should find out what it might mean to do this. Is this going to be good for us, or will it lead us into difficulties? What if it does both? As a general safety precaution, we will not want to take a mental position whose outcome we do not already understand to be good. Most of this book is dedicated to encouraging our understanding of the nature of this infinite I. Our interest is in understanding the word I as a noun before we use it as a pronoun.
It is interesting to consider the difference between our idea of God and the idea of infinity or of infinite spiritual goodness. Our conception of God sometimes falls short of infinity. A big part of what we are talking about here may simply be a way to better understand and unlimit our idea of God.
Even though we may be aware of the need to deal with an opposite of goodness, it is most effective to begin by seeking only the light. It is only from the perspective of the supremacy of spiritual goodness that we can properly begin to assess any nature of evil. Since we are trying to comprehend the idea of infinite goodness, let us approach goodness single-mindedly. Let us begin to address issues of creativity in a spiritual realm that we will define to be entirely good.
Copyright 1994, Jim Chapman
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