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The experience of physical and psychological suffering - Its cycle and meaning (Part Two) PDF Print E-mail
Life – Consciousness

TombuSequel to Part One
Pain and joy
Within the logic of the measure of the termination of separateness, we can reconstitute celebration, we can seek again the celebratory life, which even the materialist Democritus sought after. We can seek after a more fruitful synthesis of Stoicism, with the joy of life this time, as Seneca attempted to combine it with evolutionary creativity.

We can assimilate these factors even if we are critical, ontologically, of the Epicureans or the Hedonists or other trends, with a measure and with much greater depth. We can seek after work and the joy which liberates in a combination of joy and strength -–concepts which were so greatly distorted as slogans by Nazism, which sought to find, either ironically or psychologically, supports for its atrocities.

In this way, we shall pass from the liberation of labour to the labour which liberates; we shall pass from the liberation of free time to liberation from the society of spectacle, to the spectacle which liberates. Furthermore, the theatre of tragedy and, to a lesser extent, comedy aspired to this liberating catharsis which we encounter in Aristotle's definition. Thus, a sense of humour and of proportion will become more profound and impartial, and life - if we practise solidarity - will take on a less dramatically tragic approach to death, to illness, and to suffering.

A liberating spiritual and natural process of evolution for the planet
It is clear that we must deal with fear in order for our relation with both suffering and death to change. It must become more evolutionary so that we restore more joy, vitality, health, a capacity for solidarity, and spirituality. This is the path to right human relations. It is an experiential and at the same time a systemic path, on which we must go to work on inner and social change - a change which must extend as far as ecological change, to which we must all contribute so that "so that hosts of men and the multitude of riches alike yield to virtue".(1)

We must all contribute to this change which will liberate us and which will be liberating for the whole planetic spiritual and natural process of evolution. The concept of the contribution of all also involves the different areas of life. We can recognise, as Paul Valéry did, the vast contribution of science, which changed the conditions in which the average human being lives life to such a degree that these are much better than those enjoyed by a seventeenth-century ruler.
The issue for us here is that we should not perpetuate greed, luxury, the absurdity of wealth, of inequality, and of the unjust sharing as against other people and against nature. We need the sparingness and the measure of science and technology, and not science and technology for economic wealth, where, by means of this, what is left over from the feast of profiteering and of technological futurism is shared out with man and nature, with society.

What we want is for a different science and technology to be sparing in its aims, to use its methods to be effective, not to be arrogant in its ambitions on account of our vanities. We must not seek by means of science to clone our spiritual death and to idolise our self, or seek to serve our abhorrent lust and depraved arrogance, or to develop a relentless consumerism which is ontologically unsparingly cannibalistic, that is - in the Freudian sense - incestuous cannibalism for the sake of our vain dissipation.

We need a science and technology which will function on the terms and within the framework of our wisdom about life, a society of spectacle and art which will function within the framework of a wisdom about theatre, and a philosophy and religion which will function in the framework of a wisdom about the cosmos. All these things must be served by politics, the economy, and education on a liberating, negotiatory, unifying, and transcendental horizon.

Suffering and experiential ascetic cultures
What was promised by the experiential ascetic cultures of the East and what to an even greater degree is highlighted by the Gospel in the expression "that they may have life and have it more abundantly" is that, through our capability of giving up alienated being, the being of the Fall, of fear, of divisiveness, and of desire, an experiential well-being and abundance are born. What is born, that is to say, is a fuller life, an abundance of life, and this is apparent in the Beatitudes and is also accomplished as blessedness and experiential abundance in the sermon of Prince Siddhartha(2) at Benares on suffering and its cure by the Noble Middle Way, which leads to the conceptually synonymous Nirvana.

It is at this point that the expressions of the spirit - in the East and West - are unified for the transition from tragedy and the dialectic of suffering to redemptive joy and blessedness. Approaches such as those, for example, of the Hesychast 'joyful sorrow' of the monastic and communal life in existential experience and in its redemptive capacity for ecstasy suggest a continuity and a thread of liberating affinity between the great renunciation, the dark night of the soul and the experiential recognition as being of eternal life, as is apparent in the last prayer and supplicatory precept of Christ in the 17th Chapter of John's Gospel.

Also testimony to this is the life of individuals such as Kazantzakis, who was able at one and the same time to portray the folklore element of a Mediterranean vitality in his Zorba, and, as well as a Poverello of God in Francis of Assisi. Francis of Assisi spoke to us of holy and liberating poverty, of Sister Poverty, of Brother Death, and no one can detect any element of a lack of well-being in the end, in spite of the fact that Francis was severely tried physically and by illness.
We also encounter something similar in another life like this - that of Ramakrishna, who became so attractive in the West not only because of the preaching of Vivekananda, but because of his biographer, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Romain Rolland.(3) This great figure of the twentieth century drew attention to a bipolarity in world-theory, on the one hand with the life of Vivekananda and of Ramakrishna, and on the other with the life and work of Beethoven.

Achieving a synthesis of East and West
The need for action to combine cultures and methods have semantically been of crucial significance for major figures in East and West, known to us and unknown. For example, there was thinking on the superiority of the East or of the West in the case of the Indian teacher of Yogananda Sri Yukteswar,(4) and in that of Vivekananda,(5) who went through various vicissitudes. He acknowledged on the one hand the importance of technological civilisation and the progress of the West, together with its social institutions, and, on the other, the hypocrisy and self-deception which has existed within this edifice, while at the same time being conscious of the cultural and historical decline of his great homeland of India.

There have, of course, been the same lines of thought in the West as regards the greatness of Christianity and its decline, the glory at the birth of scientific, technological, and economic civilisation, and the painfulness of the Great Transformation - as analysed by Karl Polanyi(6) - and, later, the barbarity of modernism and the inter-War period.
This problématique anxiously attempts to form a synthesis of inner contradictions both in the West and East and between East and West. It is a venture of the human spirit in the face of itself and of the world - and not only of the human spirit.

These experiential problems which take on their cultural and systemic status of world-theory are plain to see in a William Blake or in Walt Whitman's attempt to function by means of synthesis, and in the case of Robert Browning, in a transcendental and allegorical way. The reflections of Edward Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau show a similar attitude on the part of the West towards the East.

The time has come for all these things now to become a mass culture and not to be matters for major figures; for them to work in our collective spirit and in our everyday life and not to be only thinking at the top. They must be incorporated into our training, our education, and serve as joints in world synthesis. The anthropological failures which have occurred on the path towards ridding us of the painfulness of life - on the part of socialism and of liberalism - should provide lessons for both these currents. A solitary trend which makes its appearance in a geographical constituent of civilisation or in a single personality cannot untie the Gordian Knot of our self and of civilisation.

The great rethinking
The re-establishment, the re-historicisation of our own evolutionary process - the 'great rethinking' as Ervin László would call it - is a central but also a diffused issue. It is the basic structure of diffusion which must function as a fractal in the theory of Prigozhin or as a hegemonic 'meme' - psychologically, experientially, collectively, systemically, and culturally.
Also bound up with the handling of suffering is the political declaration(7) which took the form of the Four Freedoms, as proclaimed by Franklin Roosevelt in the spirit of solidarity and comradeship, and transcendence, which is a commonplace of the great thinkers, their historic vision.(8)
This means truly open societies, truly open social fields, such as the economy. This means the truly receptive man (open to universality), in order for him to reduce the mental pain of alienation and to be able to generate and express joy in creative fulfilment and evolution.

The issues of suffering, of death, of fear, of separateness, and of desire remain central to this process. Fear, suffering, and death have a creative and dialectic naturalness, as does destruction, more generally, as an evolutionary and liberating process of synthesis. Fear, separateness, and desire must be treated as superstructure or foundation or a secondary sphere to which man has been contributory, has unleashed and expressed a fundamental evil as he has cancelled out his spiritual and material potentialities.

For the time being, release from illness, suffering, and death is a chimaera. This does not mean that we should not work towards allaying them and not bringing about these phenomena. But our main concern is that we should change our attitude towards these basic troubles of being, so as to unblock more well-being, vitality, freedom, harmlessness, and solidarity.
We shall discover again, at a more advanced level, the forms of no-harm, the ancient cultures, and the spirit of the myths of certain Bushmen, Indians, and other tribes. This will be for us a new psychological pact of thought and experience which will remediate the terms and the dynamic of the social contract, which will develop into a spiritual and ecological contract.

We have placed emphasis on the fact that we cannot and must not see these matters exclusively from an individual viewpoint. We must see them with our collectivism, within the framework, also, of a wider world. Otherwise, whether we are talking in terms of Western philosophy, with the game theory of the world, or talking in terms of Hinduism, the 'Lila of the Divine' will inhabit in regions of barbarism. We are seeking a more profound evolutionary humanisation of all these issues, a new civilising which will serve as a basis for the re-historicisation of mankind, on a planetic level, and as a basis, also, for the redefinition of our identity and everyday life within the framework of correct human relations.

Undertakings such as the psychosynthesis of Assagioli,(9) or of the broader culture of synthesis and relation between the different fields of Oliver Reiser,(10) a man who had a special understanding of the differences, and their fruitfulness, as well as of their subtle historical balance, between East and West, are particularly useful and timely for us. We must reinforce these undertakings along the line of good will, on a personal and an international level. We have to give our best self to stopping the descent into the barbarism and injustice caused by the wealthy leisure class of leaders - as a crisis of envy - in fundamentalist communities or shanty towns which are marginalised but at the same time structured within the context of a corruption of their own.

This world-wide division is symbolised even through architecture by the skyscrapers with their dazzling plate glass, and the shanty towns, or the wretchedness in the interior of the First and Old World. The gap must be bridged by means of a much greater spiritual undertaking, to which we must all contribute. Otherwise, suffering, as a factor of blind reaction within us, will create more envy, contention, and barbarism and a new vicious circle of violence and suffering.
Thus we shall be plunged back into enjoying pain - each from differing angles - with each of us supplying it to the other. The feast of civilisation will become pain, and tragedy will be a meal of Tantalus in which, sooner or later, all of us will be victims, among them the ' white collars' of Wright Mills, the neat suits, the well-dressed bodies of the media, of the 'Leisure Class', of the 'society of spectacle'. These will lay claim to their own vengeful publicity - as do the agents of anonymous violence, which also acquires its fame in its own time (Warhol), in the globalised system of idols to which we have ceded our place to the resident ghost of our alienation. It is these, then, who divert us from the rational facing, from the pure Logos of facing suffering.

In order not to lose the measure, we shall arrive in the end at a measure of synthesis. We have two basic poles in our problem:
(a) the pole which is suffering and our individual discipleship in this in a way which is not individualistic, separate, and selfish;
(b) the pole which is humanisation and humanitarian and ecological transformation, first of all, of the economy and of international relations.

Because it is there where power becomes a factor of suffering, and pain breeds hate in a vicious circle.
Without this therapeutic approach to the question of suffering, modern man, his civilisation, and the whole system will work like a bottomless jar.            


(1) Plato, Menexenus, scribd.com...ΜΕΝΕΞΕΝΟΣ
(2) The name 'Prince Siddhartha' was used in literature in the work of the same title by Herman Hesse, thus making the one very widely referred to as Gautama Buddha known by that name in the West.
(3) Rolland, Romain, Ramakrishna and Vivekananda [Greek edition], Divris publications, 1978.
(4) Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi [Greek edition], Kaktos publications, 1991, p. 457:
"I wonder if Western scientists, patiently enlarging the realms of knowledge for the practical good of mankind, are not more pleasing to God than these idlers who profess religion but concentrate on alms. [...] But, although high in intellectual attainments, many Westerners are wedded to rank materialism. Others, famous in science and philosophy, do not recognize the essential unity in religion.
serve as insurmountable barriers that threaten to separate them from us forever."
(5) Rolland, Romain, The Life of Vivikenanda and the Universal Gospel [Greek edition], Nea Epochi publications, 1967.
(6) Polanyi, Karl, The Great Rethinking [Greek edition], Nisides, 2001.
(7) Antoniou, Yannis, The Psychology of Innovation [in Greek], 2010, solon.org.gr
(8) Roosevelt, Franklin, The 'Four Freedoms' of Franklin Roosevelt [in Greek], 2010, solon.org.gr
(9) Assagioli, Roberto, Psychosynthesis: Individual and Social [in Greek], 2009, solon.org.gr
(10) Reiser, Oliver, The Ancient East and the Modern West [in Greek], 2009, solon.org.gr

Ioannis Zisis, writer

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