"Look yonder," said my Guide, "in Flatland thou hast lived; of Lineland thou hast received a vision; thou hast soared with me to the heights of Spaceland; now, in order to complete the range of thy experience, I conduct thee downward to the lowest depth of existence, even to the realm of Pointland, the Abyss of No dimensions.
"Behold yon miserable creature. That Point is a Being like ourselves, but confined to the non-dimensional Gulf. He is himself his own World, his own Universe; of an other than himself he can form no conception; he knows not Length, nor Breadth, nor Height, for he has had no experience of them; he has no cognizance even of the number Two; nor has he a thought of Plurality; for he is himself his One and All, being really Nothing. Yet mark his perfect self-contentment, and hence learn this lesson, that to be self-contended is to be vile and ignorant., and that to aspire is better than to be blindly and impotently happy. Now listen."
He ceased; and there arose from the little buzzing creature a tiny, low, monotonous, but distinct tinkling, as from one of your Spaceland phonographs, from which I caught these words, "Infinite beatitude of existence! It is; and there is none else beside It."
"What," said I, "does the puny creature mean by 'it'? "He means himself," said the Sphere: "have you not noticed before now, that babies and babyish people who cannot distinguish themselves from the world, speak of themselves in the Third Person? But hush!'
"It fills all Space," continued the little soliloquizing Creature, "and what It fills, It is. What It thinks, that It utters; and what It utters, that It hears, and It itself is Thinker, Utterer, Hearer, Thought, Word, Audition; it is the One, and yet the All in All. Ah, the happiness, ah, the happiness of Being!"
"Can you not startle the little thing out of its complacency?" said I. "Tell it what it really is, as you told me; reveal to it the narrow limitations of Pointland, and lead it up to something higher." "That is no easy task," said my Master; "try you."
Hereon, raising my voice to the uttermost, I addressed the Point as follows:
"Silence, silence, contemptible Creature. You call yourself the All in All, but you are the Nothing; your so-called Universe is a mere speck in a Line, and a Line is a mere shadow as compared with—" "Hush, hush, you have said enough," interrupted the Sphere, "now listen, and mark the effect of your harangue on the King of Pointland."
The lustre of the Monarch, who beamed more brightly than ever upon hearing my words, shewed clearly that he retained his complacency; and I had hardly ceased when he took up his strain again. "Ah the joy, ah, the joy of Thought! What can It not achieve by thinking! Its own Thought coming to Itself, suggestive of Its disparagement, thereby to enhance Its happiness! Sweet rebellion stirred up to the result in triumph! Ah, the divine creative power of the All in One! Ah, the joy, the joy of Being!
"You see," said my Teacher, "how little your words have done. So far as the Monarch understands them at all, he accepts them as his own—for he cannot conceive of any other except himself—and plumes himself upon the variety of 'Its Thought' as an instance of creative Power. Let us leave this God of Pointland to the ignorant fruition of his omnipresence and omniscience; nothing that you or I do can rescue him from his self-satisfaction."
I think the rest of this article will be me trying not to sound like Michael Scott. I won't lie; I tried my best not to speak unwholesome speech in this post, and while my blunt analysis above comes across as harsh, it is much better than the words that I deleted from my draft. It is time to try to answer the second and more complicated point of this post:
Why and how we can show compassion to our enemy, especially when it is clear the enemy does not deserve our sympathy.
I have thought about this question a lot while thinking about this post in recent weeks. This question started a few weeks ago when I began to deliberately practice loving-kindness meditation developed by Gautama, the Buddha. I mentally check out when people try to sell me spirituality, so I won't bore you with that garbage, but I need to provide a brief explanation of loving-kindness meditation for me to go further. Thankfully, the Buddha was not a god; instead, he was a human being, a logician, and a physician who found the answer to our mental woes using simple internal investigation tools and nothing more.
Loving-kindness (metta) mediation is a practice that involves intentional wishing the following four qualities of being:
(1) May I be happy
(2) May I be safe
(3) May I be healthy
(4) may I be at peace
The context starts at yourself (which is assumed to be the most accessible starting point) and slowly expands to encompass all of humanity (here is a standard order: yourself, family/close friends, strangers, strangers you disagree with, the enemy).The quality of love required by the practice is the love a mom has for her only child.
Preface: This is the second post of a ten part series where I explore the contemplation of death through art, philosophy and spirituality. I am hoping to achieve two things with this work: (1) a better appreciation of life by fully accepting Death-the only certain event in our lives-and (2) to experience the Deathless described by the Buddha.
To call Royce Da 5'9" just a hip-hop artist or rapper is a huge disservice to his work. When I think of Royce I actually think of several labels before rapper: storyteller, wordsmith, philosopher. Royce is a Detroit based rapper who has been producing independent music for 25 years. This post will summarize my review of Royce's 2004 album titled DEATH IS CERTAIN.
Before I go any further I would like to say I had some difficulty in reviewing the album because I am not used to reading imaginative literature. Since I can't say I fully understand the entire album at the point, I am not going to waste time in criticizing it. Instead I will try to summarize the work and explore the themes that resonated with me.
To summarize my understanding of the album up in one sentence: It is a contemplative self-reflection by Royce based on his experiences growing up in Detroit pursuing an independent hip-hop artist profession.
[Pre-Hook: Ingrid Smalls]
If I was to die today
Would you pick me up because I'm down and out?
Na, na, na
[Hook: Royce ]
"T" represents the time when my hope fades
"O" is just a sign on my mind on my broke days
"D" is for the dangerous way that the flow stray
"A" represents the answer to the question I'm askin'
"Y" is it today I should (die)
- Royce Da 5'9", "T.O.D.A.Y."
Thankfully, Royce rises above the impending death of his music career by de-coupling his motivation for the art from the validation and accolades he receives for his work.
"I do this music for me, I take time and put pride in it
This music is me, it's no ruining' me
I'm the truest MC, as hot as you need me to be, as cool as can be
If you was true as me, then this for you, but I do it for I
I do this music for me, I take time and put pride in it
This music is me, it's no ruining me
I'm the truest MC, as hot as you need me to be, as cool as can be
If you was true as me, then this for you, but I do it for me"
- Royce Da 5'9", “I & Me”
As we reach the end of the album, Royce’s contemplation of Death fittingly focuses more on his own personal morality.
Why all you front? The big picture stays the same
You can change the frame all you want
You can pretend all you wanna pretend
It's all gon' violently come to an end
Die soldiers, try to live for the moment
We all borrow tomorrow, this is what God hones us
The biggest Indian giver, he gon' take it back
Erase you, I'm statin' facts to everybody"
- Royce Da 5'9", Everybody goes
"Death is certainly gon' catch you
Whoever special to you will be left hurt
This is the cold, harshness of life
Just when it unfolds, you lucky to grow old, life"
- Royce Da 5'9", Death is Certain Pt. 2 (It Hurts)
My takeaways: I really enjoyed the album and appreciate Royce for discussing an unpopular topic in a mainstream media.
Reviewing his album has helped set a good foundation for me to take this topic even further. In future posts I want to explore how contemplating on the inevitability of death can create the motivation to search for the miraculous: a meaningful life.
Please check of the album on any of the streaming platforms!
Royce Da 5'9" - Death is Certain
I have been contemplating death a lot lately. I can’t tell if this is the worst time to make this post or the best time given our current pandemic. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a loved one due to a virus that could have been curtailed through better actions by the people in power but I also know it is necessary for me to understand what will become of me in just a few more years….
Osho and Buddha really inspired this post so I need to give their flowers before going any further.
Stranger: What in life is worth thinking about most?
OSHO: There is only one thing which is worth thinking about and that is death.
- From the Independent Mind by OSHO
"Like massive boulders,
mountains pressing against the sky,
moving in from all sides,
crushing the four directions,
so aging and death
come rolling over living beings:
noble warriors, priests, merchants,
workers, outcastes, and scavengers.
They spare nothing.
They trample everything.
Here elephant troops can hold no ground,
nor can chariots or infantry,
nor can a battle of wits
or wealth win out.
So a wise person,
seeing his own good,
steadfast, secures confidence
in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.
One who practices the Dhamma
in thought, word, and deed,
receives praise here on earth
and after death rejoices in heaven.
- The simile of the mountain, Pabbatopama Sutta by Gautama Buddha
This topic is not easy to digest for humanity and Ernest Becker beautifully described all of the way our species has tried to cope with the fact that death is certain in his classic book, “The Denial of Death”.
To make it slightly more palatable I want to bring up a thoughtful move called “The Seventh Seal” that I watched last night. The movie describes a knight who is returning home from the Crusades while trying to avoid the plague that is quickly surrounding all of Europe. After waking up from a nap on the beach he sees Death standing a few feet away from him. When he asks why Death is there, Death responds it is your time to leave. In an effort to save his own life from Death the Knight proposes a chess game for his life. Death, a true contemplative accepts the offer and the chess game unravels over the course of the movie while the audience is peppered with the various existential thoughts related to life and death.
Some of my favorite lines from the movie are below:
“Your life, o fool hangs by a thread. Your time is short.”
“In our fear (of death) we make an idol and call it God.”
“My whole life has been nothing but futile wandering and a great deal of words without meaning.”
Actor: (climbs up a tree in a forest to sleep until the morning)
Death: (death comes by his tree and starts sawing the tree down)
Actor: (Actor notices and starts yelling at Death and asks him what he is doing)
Death: I am cutting down your tree. You time is up.
Actor: You can’t! I don’t have time.
Death: Don’t have time? (laughs)
Actor: No, I have my performance.
Death: Cancelled on account of death.
Actor: what about my contract?
Death: (checkmates the Knight in their chess game)
Death: When we next meet, the hour will strike for you…
Knight: And you will reveal your secrets?
Death: I have no secrets.
Knight: So you know nothing?!
Death: I have nothing to tell.
For those reason I can respect Death and I will keep him in my mind on a daily basis. While I am not interested in convincing you to love Death I hope this post will help you reflect more on this topic.