A simple way to understand what’s happening … and what to do

We are living in transformative times. The title of this blog post is the title of an essay by Richard Heinberg which is exactly what the title says. I can’t think of anything else i’ve read that says so much that is so important right now in so few words. This is truly essential reading.

Inkling of the day, and Richard Heinberg’s

final point: life is about more than survival.

The fundamental point

Now, if a bird or a fish tries to reach the end of its element before moving in it, this bird or this fish will not find its way or its place. When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point; for the place, the way, is neither large nor small, neither yours nor others’. The place, the way, has not carried over from the past, and it is not merely arising now. Accordingly, in the practice-enlightenment of the buddha way, to attain one thing is to penetrate one thing; to meet one practice is to sustain one practice.

— Dogen, Genjokoan (Tanahashi 2010, 32)

The present encounter will change your mind now or never. Noticing that is has changed would be another change.

What are you supposed to do?

Cut off learning and there will be nothing more to worry about.

Dao De Jing 20 (Ames)

Suppose you have no mission to accomplish,
no reason for being here,
nothing to learn from it all.
What difference would it make?

You still have things to do, places to go,
obsessions to absorb your energy,
just nothing to be proud or guilty of.

You play your part unwritten,
unlearn your lines,
dissolve your problems.

Suppose this is it.
Can you stop supposing?

The primal point

Arthur Green points out that in Kabbalah, wisdom (Hokhmah) is also primordial teaching (like Buddhist dharma) which is a ‘twin process’ with God’s creation of the world.

As the primal point of existence, Hokhmah is symbolized by the yod, the smallest of the letters, the first point from which all the other letters will be written. Here all of Torah, the text and the commentary added to it in every generation—indeed all of human wisdom—is contained within a single yod.

— Green (2004, 40)

Knowledge is a single point, but the ignorant have multiplied it.

— Islamic hadith (“tradition”) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad or the Imám Alí

‘The ignorant’ here includes you and me and all sentient beings subject to explicit knowledge, whose complexity conceals the implicit knowledge by representing it as multiplex. As Voltaire is said to have remarked in a different context, ‘the multitude of books is making us ignorant.’

Another hadith quotes the Imám Alí as saying that

All that is in the world is in the Qur’an, and all that is in the Qur’an is condensed in the first chapter of the Book, and all that is in the first chapter is in the basmala [first verse], and all that is in the basmala is in the bā’ [first letter, ب], and I am the point under the bā’.

(Lawson 2012, 102)

We might read this as a reference to the extreme compression of meaning found in turning signs. They seem to have a magical quality of turning meaning inside out, as it were, so that a single verse says it all: rather than serving as one of many particles in a vast System, it seems to be the point around which the System revolves – the I of the cyclone, in which Author and Reader are one with Scripture. As Northrop Frye puts it (1982, 208-9), ‘Ideally, every sentence is the key to the whole Bible … every sentence is a kind of linguistic monad.’

The Zohar (1:21a) speaks of ‘primordial light prevailing on the first day’; in the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi El’azar said that ‘With the light created by the blessed holy one on the first day, one could gaze from one end of the universe to the other’ (ZP I.159).

The whole Truth

In his 1818 preface to Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Arthur Schopenhauer told readers that his whole book was really ‘a single thought,’ which he could find no shorter way of imparting. Despite the linear order imposed by the book format, the real order connecting the parts was ‘organic’:

every part supports the whole just as much as it is supported by the whole; a connexion in which no part is first and no part last, in which the whole gains in clearness from every part, and even the smallest part cannot be fully understood until the whole has been first understood.’

— Schopenhauer (1859, xii)

His advice to the reader, therefore, was to read the book twice. My advice to the Ideal Reader of Turning Signs is to take the whole thought of the Obverse as context for every point to be presented on the Reverse (and here in the Universe).

Here we have another turn of the hermeneutic circle. But if the ‘single thought’ of the book cannot be expressed in a single sentence, or indeed in any shorter form than the book itself, how can any actual reader see it as a single thought? Can you really see it all at once? This question applies to the meaning cycle in all its guises, because it arises from the very nature of signs, which according to Peirce are of virtually unlimited size and complexity.

Giving to the word sign the full scope that reasonably belongs to it for logical purposes, a whole book is a sign; and a translation of it is a replica of the same sign. A whole literature is a sign.

— Peirce, EP2:303

Nor is the question limited in scope to books, or even to language in all its forms. Every sign is ‘connected with the “Truth,” i.e. the entire Universe of being’ (Peirce, EP2:303). A complete and explicit model of the connections would take up no less meaning space than that Universe itself, ‘perfused with signs.’ But a model working implicitly can be represented by the smallest possible sign, which will then show simply the wholeness of the “Truth.”