In today’s society, there is a great interest in subjects such as personal development, self-improvement, self-actualisation, self-realisation, self-cultivation and many other similar sounding subjects, whose main focus is the exploration of the extraordinarily rich field of human potential. If you, yourself, have any interest in these subjects, please read on because the liberal arts that I introduced in my first talk, were just such a system of self-realisation. Therefore, their main concern was, and still is, the fulfillment of the remarkable potential that we all have, to become wiser and more enlightened beings.
One of the great features of these arts is that being truly liberal, there is no sense of conformity required when studying them. As such, feel free to disagree with everything I might ever say about them. This is because they are, essentially, the arts of the free person. This means that when you study the liberal arts, there are no dogmatic principles that you must adhere to.
Let me say, though, that unless you grasp one of the first principles of the liberal arts, they will probably never really make much sense to you. Although we touched upon this principle in our introductory talk, it now needs to be discussed in some more detail. When we study the liberal arts, we do so as the central point and purpose of them all. Towards this end, imagine a circle at the centre of which is a tiny point.
Think of that tiny point as being you, the self – nestled safely within your own circle of mind and intelligence. Now, the general aim of the liberal arts is to inspire, inform and illumine that self such that it can then grow and expand. This, in itself, means something very special. By grow and expand, I mean transcend all perceived limits, embrace all possibilities and in the end, come to a profound realisation of the infinite capacity of the self.
However, the understanding of this can be difficult at first. This is because we have become so habituated to the idea that to find fulfilment as human beings, we need to become something other than what we are. And, in the process, go on to purchase a great number of expensive products that we think might help us to do that.
A brilliant example of this is the transhumanism movement, whose vision of the future involves the merging of ourselves with machines.
The intended purpose of this is to somehow ‘improve’ upon us all. Therefore, as one of the main pioneers of transhumanism, Ray Kurzweil, has claimed, through this merger:
“We’re going to get more neocortex, we’re going to be funnier, we’re going to be better at music. We’re going to be sexier. We’re really going to exemplify all the things that we value in humans to a greater degree.”
These arguments all hinge upon the premise that as human beings we are somehow incomplete without the aid of something from outside of us. However, when we study the liberal arts we then discover the complete opposite to be the case. We discover that the universe has already endowed us with everything that we need to be able to fulfill our own deepest potential. In particular, we discover that we have been endowed with what is perhaps the greatest treasure that we can ever have. This treasure is the light of self. As such, rather than hide, obscure or dim that light, the whole point of studying the liberal arts is to cause this light to shine out to the benefit of both ourselves and the whole world.
I say benefit for a very good reason. If for example, you find yourself alone in the darkness, you do not waste your energy flailing your arms around trying to fight off that darkness. You simply turn on a light and the darkness is then dispelled. It is that simple. Similarly, the world in which we live can seem to be a very dark place – metaphorically speaking. However, the liberal arts show us that there is no point trying to fight that darkness. This is because we have all been endowed with a most powerful protection against it. This protection is the light of self, which, when developed and cultivated, can shine like a beacon and illuminate everything that it turns its attention to. And in doing so, it then becomes capable of warding off the darkness.
Endowed with this light of self, we then have the perfect key with which to unlock the liberal arts. This is because they are the arts of the self, developed over the ages by those who, in their own time, perfected themselves to the point where their light shone out across the whole world. With this in view, let us now consider these arts further.
Traditionally, there were seven such arts, which were divided into two tiers, called the trivium and the quadrivium, both tiers of which were vitally important. The trivium embraced the three interwoven arts of grammar, rhetoric and dialectic.
Grammar concerns the study of the various signs, symbols and terms that are used for the expression of human thought.
Dialectic concerns the ability to think and reason for ourselves, using the tools provided for by the study of grammar.
Rhetoric concerns the accurate, eloquent and lucid expression of our thoughts through speech, writing and other such suitable media.
The great strength of these arts is that they recognise that whoever you are, your mind counts as a vessel through which all of the great knowledge, understanding and wisdom of the world may flow. Thus, being connected to, and informed by, this enlightening stream of knowledge, your mind can then grow, expand and the light of your consciousness can grow ever brighter.
As a vessel through which this stream may pass, your mind consists of three parts.
First there is input into the mind, which in the trivium is signified and represented by the subject of grammar. A perfect illustration of this is reading a book.
Second, there is output, which in the trivium is signified by the subject of rhetoric. Writing and speaking are, of course, two perfect examples of this.
The third part of the triangle is the way in which we process those inputs and subsequently convert them into outputs. In the trivium this is signified by the subject of dialectic, also sometimes referred to as logic. Thinking a thought is a perfect example of this mental processing.
As such, the trivium represents a complete triangular system, specifically developed for the purposes of perfecting the workings of your own mind. This is why the trivium does have three parts – because our mind works after the fashion of a triangle of three parts: input, processing and output. Hence, the word trivium, which is Latin for three roads. They are the three roads to the perfection of the human mind.
This, then, brings us on to the second tier, which is called the quadrivium. This consists of the four interwoven arts of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. These, basically, provide us with a series of windows into the study of the real world of which we are all a part. Now, while we all have some knowledge of these fascinating subjects, there are levels and depths to these that we have very little knowledge of today. This is because a lot of this knowledge has since passed into obscurity.
As to the reasons for this, these are anybody’s guess. Perhaps it is because it is not commercial knowledge and is therefore seen to have no real value. Whatever the reasons a deep study of these subjects can lead us from knowledge, to understanding, to wisdom and then finally, to enlightenment. That, in our present society at least, the possibility for enlightenment is not even recognised, let alone encouraged, might also help to explain why this knowledge is not commonly available.
Because of the tremendous effect that this knowledge can have upon us, very careful preparation is needed when studying the quadrivium. This preparation is made through our initial studies of the trivium. This will not only teach us how to think and reason for ourselves as free and independent human beings, but will also prepare our mind for the receipt of that great knowledge that the quadrivium can offer us.
The study of the quadrivium, however, does carry with it a certain proviso. It is only concerned with the workings of the real world. As such, one of the first objectives of the study of the quadrivium is to dispel our worldly illusions. These arise simply because, due to the influence of our formal education, upbringing and largely unnatural way of life, we have, slowly but surely, lost sight of the nature of the real world of which we are a part. And, in its place, we have developed a largely illusory view of the world which is distinctly at odds with the reality.
This, however, is not just a modern phenomenon. Just read Plato’s, Allegory of the Cave, to confirm this. There, he describes our situation exactly. We are as people chained up in a cave, perceiving the shadows of ourselves flickering upon the cave wall to be the reality. These shadows, however, only serve to blind us to the true reality.
A modern version of the very same allegory is found in the film, The Matrix. The central character of the film, Neo, is unaware of the fact that the world he had been living in was only ever an illusion. However, upon taking the red pill his eyes are opened and he begins to see the real world again.
Our situation as human beings is just like this except for one crucial difference. The reality that was revealed to be underlying the matrix was exceedingly dour, such that few people would actually want to wake up to find themselves a part of it. However, the reality to which we have become blinded is so utterly beautiful that if we knew of it, we would literally jump for joy and consider ourselves to be the most fortunate beings ever.
However, we have to be very careful when opening our eyes to this marvellous reality. This is because if our eyes were opened too quickly we would then become blinded as a result of exposure to too great a light. For this reason, when studying the liberal arts, it is advisable to expose our worldly illusions gently and gradually, beginning first of all with some of our simple conceptual illusions. Bearing this in mind, let us begin this right now. Let us begin to unpeel some of the layers of illusion that have so far prevented us from seeing reality. And, as we do so, let us now free ourselves of them.
THE REAL WORLD
One such conceptual illusion is the way in which we all tend to see the world. We no longer see the world for what it really is. This is because, due to our upbringing, education and societal conditioning we have become gradually blinded to it. So, with this in view, let us now begin to take off the blinkers, open our eyes and begin to see the world for what it really is.
Now, if you were to ask most people what the world is, they will probably tell you that it is the planet Earth and everything that lives thereupon. On the surface, this seems to be a very reasonable assertion. It is after all, what we have all been brought up to believe since childhood. It is also an assertion that is confirmed in any number of different ways.
Therefore, if I do a Google image search of the term ‘world’, I will get back thousands of pictures of the globe of the earth, all of which will confirm without any shadow of a doubt that planet Earth is indeed the world. However, none of these pictures are serving to convey an accurate impression of the world. In fact, they are conveying an extremely limiting and thoroughly distorted view of the world. This is because, surprising as it may seem, planet Earth is not the world, never has been and never will be. Planet Earth is simply our platform to the world. The real world however, is something that is very different to the planet Earth.
We can prove this through the application of simple logic. As individuals, each one of us stands at the very centre of our own circle of mind and intelligence. However, this circle does not end with us and our own little worlds. It is embraced by the circles of other worlds which do and can have a profound influence upon us.
However, please bear in mind that I am not using the word circle literally. I am using it as a frame of reference for a self-contained domain.
Ordinarily, of course, this is where we would stop – with planet Earth as the world. However, the world does not arbitrarily stop with planet Earth. The proof of this is that in the morning, when we get up, we may see the sun rising over the hill. This orb of the sun is also a part of the world in which we live, in this case the greater world of the solar system. Now, in the evening, on a clear night, I can look up and see the stars and the pale light of the milky way. This is because light from the stars has traversed its way through space and is now striking the planet Earth. This phenomenon too, is all a part of the world in which we live, which in this case is the known galaxy.
However, the world does not even stop there. This is because it is possible to continue in this vein, expanding the circle of our consideration to embrace ever larger and larger worlds. Eventually, however, we will arrive at a point where it is either impossible or just pointless to go any further. This point is when we arrive at the circle of the all, the totality, the entirety of the universe of which I, you and everything else are but a part.
This is the real world of which we are all a part, a world that is so vast and beautiful that it is enough to make the mind boggle. And this is the real world with which the study of the liberal arts is concerned. However, do not take my word for any of this. Check it out. Look up the word world in the dictionary. If the dictionary is an accurate one, it will explain that our current understanding of the word is in reference to the planet Earth and all that lives upon it. However, it will also point out that in the past, the whole cosmos was considered to be the world.
To get the best out of the study of the liberal arts, therefore, start to think about the world, not just in limited terrestrial terms, but in terms of that vast incredible whole of which we all a part. As soon as you begin do this, you will then find that your mind will begin to expand and the horizons of your consciousness will then begin to open up. This is because your mind will then begin receiving the tremendous light of the real world. A light of which I will have more to say in the next article.
Download this beautifully illustrated article in pdf format, to read at your leisure.