Saturday, September 25, 2004

The Declaration of Independence, Reaffirmed

We live amidst the dominant political paradigm of a two party system: every November, no matter who happens to be running for what--dogcatcher or world leader--we must go to the polls and choose between a Democrat and a Republican. In our recent history, a few notable figures--John Anderson, Ross Perot, and now Ralph Nader--have attempted to restore the Independent party in the esteem of the American public. Yet they have failed, even where (in Perot's case) there was an abundance of financial wealth supporting them and their message. Why?

Perhaps the reason is that independence is not, and cannot be, a party. It is a state of being that is aligned to no group, no particular agenda, no fixed ideology, no concretized, immovable position. Independence is an innately personal and fluid attitude--you might say a quantum mode of being human. It is unceasing motion with no defined position; yet it possesses a pervading stability of orientation. Independence is not, of course, a complete absence of dependence, but only of group-defined, societal dependence. Independence is self-dependence, the awareness of one's unique individuality and its connection to an encompassing, formative, and nurturing Universal--to Nature. Nature has rhythms and harmonic patterns of theme-and-variation, but it has no rigid Laws except for those that are projected onto it by human consciousness. How can we apply this understanding to our own lives, and particularly (at this moment in history) to the decisions which we are called to make about our leadership?

As we approach the moment in which we will have to cast a vote to help determine how we will be governed over the next four years, it is perhaps time to ask ourselves the most fundamental questions--questions that seem to have nothing at all to do with politics, with the economy or the international situation. Try this one, and see where it leads you: over the coming days, ask yourself, "What am I living for?" Then review the possibilities and the alternatives.

Am I living to survive, to keep my house, my job, my standard of living, intact? Am I living toward a hoped-for point of "retirement" when I will be able to finish out my life in peace, contentment, and material abundance? Am I living solely for my children--that they may grow into the same or greater wealth or possessions than I have been able to accumulate? Am I living so that they will come of age in a safer, more prosperous world than I knew? Am I living for some combination of these goals (including many that will only occur to you)--or for something even more than any of these, something that embraces them all?

Let each answer that arises prompt you to a new question (this is always a sign that you're making progress with such an exercise, when questions lead not to definitive answers but to more clearly stated, pointed questions). The first thing you'll probably discover is that your needs are not confined to one area or another of life or the future, but that they encompass an ever-broadening range of possibility and aspiration. As more questions arise, as they become more focused in their direction and wider in perspective, answers may form and coalesce--fluidly, lightly, like wind or light on the surface of a lake. The perspective you thus achieve is what you must bring to the next set of questions--those that you ask of the people who would serve your interests in government.

We have a candidate who assures us that, if re-elected, he will make us safe. Look beneath the appearance of this claim and ask more questions of it: does "being made safe" mean having one's son or daughter drafted into a military and sent to suffer and die in a foreign desert? Does it mean accepting economic hardship and unemployment on behalf of a greater good that only a man in Washington with a golden telephone connected to the office of an external God can determine for us? Does it mean giving up your Social Security earnings to corporate interests, so that the stock market will be robust while millions of people wallow in the "retirement" known as poverty? If this is your idea of independence, then you are doubtlessly already free of such concerns--you are in that exclusive domain of the top 1 per cent of wage-earners that President Clinton talked about in his speech at the DNC. But be careful: you can buy your place in the collective, you can purchase a false sense of security and position, and you can insure your belongings and your life. But you cannot insure your soul.

But if this does not answer your questions, if it does not accord with your burgeoning, personal vision of independence, then continue asking questions. And if you feel the slightest twinge of guilt or remorse at asking such questions, remind yourself that you are fulfilling the mission expressed by the founders of this nation, with every question that you ask. The people who wrote the document upon which our nation was formed did not call it the "Declaration of the Republic" or the "Declaration of the Democratic". They called it what they did because they understood that "we the people" is comprised and energized by the "I the person": it is the individuality of each human being in the community, the nation, the world, that together and synergistically creates the whole, the Union. So, do not be afraid of listening to and following your deep, individual voice in discovering the truth that harmonizes with your being and your moment: this is what our founding fathers wished for us.

Indeed, it is the message that every independent teacher of personal wisdom and social progress has expressed. When the Buddha lay on his deathbed and was asked urgently by his students for a final, summary teaching that they could take forward, he said to them, "You are the Light itself. Rely on yourself. Do not rely on others." He had achieved the same understanding that the authors of the Declaration of Independence later discovered: that when we rely on our own light, as individuals, we are spontaneously affirming and completing "a more perfect Union". Another teacher, from about the same time as the Buddha lived, also arrived at this perspective. His name was Lao Tzu, and he lived an entire professional career as a government official. Upon his retirement (or perhaps exile), he wrote a document that stands as one of the treasures of both personal and political philosophy, to this very day. In Chapter 54 of this document, called the Tao Te Ching, he condenses the message of the Buddha, of Jefferson and Washington, and of every other teacher who deeply perceived the inherent harmony of humankind and Nature, of work and home, of individual truth and social organization. It is a message that each of us can learn from, both autonomously and universally, as we open the curtain and face the names before us in the voting booth this November:

With a firm inner foundation,
You cannot be toppled.
An embrace is all the grasp you need
To be safe within.

An offering of simple honor,
From the children of the past
To the children of the present
Supports the children of the future.

Why do you cultivate your image
When your natural being is already full?
Why aggrandize your family pride
When the perfection of family is complete?
Why meddle with your community
When its natural form is imperishable?
Why do you fight to enrich your nation
When its simple order is abundance?
Why divide and oppose earth and heaven
When the purity of their union is unalterable?

Therefore, examine yourself
To become your Self.
Examine your home
To become a family.
Examine your village
To become a community.
Examine the state
To become a nation.
Examine the world
To become one with Being.

How do I know
That this is the way of Nature?
Because I asked It,
From within my deepest self.

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