In this fourth post I will be discussing some more of the fascinating and intriguing features that surround the study of the liberal arts. We will begin by considering two of the vital keys that a person will need in order to be able to successfully unlock the treasures of the liberal arts. The first key I mentioned in my last talk, which is the radiant light of consciousness. I say radiant, for the simple reason that consciousness is very much like the sun. It shines a light upon whatever we turn our attention to and by so doing, enables us to have a direct cognition of the world around us.
This sense of consciousness is truly an amazing power. And when we start to become more aware of it, we soon realise that as human beings, it counts as one of our greatest gifts. Without consciousness, we would be basically insensible to the incredible wonders of the world in which we live. I mean, just look closely at the crystalline form of a snowflake. How incredibly beautiful it is. And then consider the fact that each and every snowflake is not only something of the most incredible beauty, but like each one of us, carries the stamp of its own unique individuality. And it is, of course, the power of consciousness that enables us to be able to have cognition of this.
In view of this, try an exercise. Spend some time writing down the treasures that the power of consciousness gives us access to. Three such obvious examples to start the list off are: first, a cognition of the world around us; second, a sense of ourselves as individuals; and third, the ability to listen to and enjoy music. Then, take a look at your list and imagine life without some of the things that you have noted down. You will then begin to more truly appreciate the incredible power of consciousness.
This, then, brings me on to the second key. This is what I referred to in my last talk as the real world, in contrast to the illusory world which we have all been brought up to believe in. The real world is that vast, scintillating whole of which we are all but miniscule parts. And, this real world is, itself, something that is so incredibly beautiful that it is literally enough to make us gasp.
So, how much better could it actually become? Well, fortunately, this is the position with which we begin our studies of the liberal arts. In this sense, the study of the liberal arts will be unlike anything we have ever come across or encountered. This is because we will be studying the real world, not through this or that manufactured truth, theory or philosophy, but directly through the engagement of the light of our own consciousness.
The reasoning behind this is that the aim of a true liberal arts education is to enlighten the mind of the student. This process of enlightenment, however, does not happen to somebody else. It takes place within ourselves and the chambers of our own mind. For this reason, the light of consciousness just has to be central to the entire process.
It is to facilitate the growth and expansion of our mind towards ever higher levels of knowledge, understanding and wisdom. It is to make direct personal connection with those vital sources of knowledge that have sustained every great school of learning throughout history. And it is, of course, all there waiting for us, a vast treasure trove of all those precious jewels of learning and wisdom that can bring a sense of light and joy back to our lives.
However, as you will often hear me say, do not take my word for any of this. Undertake your own personal search for the learning and wisdom that conforms to this pedigree. When you do, you will soon discover that this learning is actually everywhere. And, if you don’t believe me, just look at a tree – any tree will do. Observe that the roots of the tree extend deep down into the solid earth. Its branches however, reach skywards in order that the leaves can receive the vital light from above.
This represents a perfect metaphor for our study of the liberal arts. The roots of the tree correspond to our earthly experience through media of the five senses. The trunk of the tree represents our efforts to improve ourselves and learn. The branches of the tree represent our aspiration towards those vital sources of learning just mentioned. And finally, the leaves of the tree represent the growth of our mind which, guided by that learning, enable us to draw down the light from above. This light is, of course, the light of the real world.
We will also discover vital traces of this learning throughout the history of human civilization and culture. After all, we are not the first people in the world to seek truth, knowledge and wisdom. These have been sought after since the very beginnings of the arising of human beings upon the planet earth. And, for some people, they were always seen to be the real treasures of this world, far preferable to money, gold and jewels.
As such, these sources are discernible within every single age and culture. In effect, this means they are now accessible to all of us who would take the time and the trouble to avail ourselves of them. Here, we are fortunate for the fact that our ancestors took the time and the trouble to make sure that we, in our time, would indeed have the opportunity to access this knowledge. For this to be possible, however, they first had to learn how to use the arts of the squirrel. In order to sustain itself through the winter months, the squirrel takes care to store up a secret stash of nuts. These, in their turn, then enable the squirrel to gain knowledge of the spring that will follow.
The treasures of great learning are exactly the same. They have been carefully stored up and preserved in a great number of different forms. Endowed with the light of consciousness, it is therefore our pleasure and delight to search, find and then discover what these are. They do, and can, include fairy tales, myths and legends; board games such as snakes and ladders; cryptic diagrams, pictures and illustrations; playing cards or even what seem to be innocent mnemonic devices. These, and more, are the places that the wise of humanity squirreled away their precious stores of wisdom. And it is all there, waiting for us to find and rediscover it. The only keys that we need to use in this respect, are those already mentioned.
Of course, faced with such a claim, it is only logical to ask, how can there be wisdom locked up in a children’s game such as snakes and ladders? In answer to this, I would point out that, although seemingly innocuous, the game snakes and ladders embodies within itself a complete moral and ethical cosmology. This is because it offers an allegory of our own personal journey towards enlightenment. For this purpose, the first square is where we begin our journey, the last square our intended destination. As we go on in with this journey, we soon realise at any point along the way, we are always faced with two choices. These are represented symbolically by the snakes and the ladders. Snakes of course, have been used traditionally as symbols of temptation. They symbolise what can cause us to fall. Then there are the ladders, which symbolise an upward progression towards a wiser and more virtuous way of life. So, there you have it, the snakes symbolise our vices or failings, while the ladders symbolise our virtues and successes.
My point in mentioning this game is that a lot of the wisdom we might have been looking for is, and always has been, directly in front of our own noses. It is just that in the main, we have allowed ourselves to fall asleep to the fact. When we do, however, begin to wake up, we then discover that an incredible path of wisdom awaits us, a path about which our ancestors knew a great deal.
We do need to realise, however, that this knowledge carries its own inbuilt protection, which each of us must learn to overcome. This lies in the fact that we will never discover this knowledge for ourselves until we wake up and learn to take an active part in its inquisition. This means taking nothing for granted, being ever alert and actively seeking for the sources of learning that we need. Seek and ye shall find it was once said, knock and the door will be opened unto you.
Towards this end try another exercise. A great deal of this aggregated wisdom has been stored and preserved in various forms. An obvious example of this is the Great Pyramid at Giza whose lessons have been staring us in the face for, literally, thousands of years. Spend some time writing down as many examples of this preserved wisdom that you can think of. Having done so, then begin your own independent investigations into the first of those examples on your list, that arouse your particular interest. What is this wisdom and why was it felt so important to store and preserve it? How can this wisdom help me in my own life?
Having said this, let us now consider the real world some more. A liberal arts student will undertake a keen study of the real world. However, in doing so they will always be confronted with one inescapable fact which is this. Despite how much we think we know, the real world is and always has been an incredible mystery to us. And this is one of the first things we need to lay hold of when studying the liberal arts. We are all faced with what is in effect, an incredible phantasmagoric mystery.
Of course, compared to the people of say, ancient Greece, we do now know a lot more about the real world. We know that the world does not revolve around the sphere of the Earth as was formerly thought. We also know that the dimensions of the real world are infinitely greater than our ancestors could ever have perhaps imagined. However, despite these advances in our knowledge, nobody could seriously assert that the mystery of the world has been solved. All that’s happened is that the mystery has got a lot bigger. And as it has grown bigger, our knowledge of it now seems even smaller.
As such, when assessing the mystery of the real world, there is perhaps only one sure fact that we can rely upon. No matter what race, culture or time a person is born into, each and every one of us is born into a magnificent unfolding mystery. Due to advancements in human technological capability, we now have microscopes that offer a fascinating glimpse into the molecular and even atomic worlds. We also have telescopes that enable us to see into the vast recesses of intergalactic space. These, in turn, speak of a significant increase in the range and depth of human knowledge. In fact, there is now talk of the possibility for a grand theory of everything, a unified vision of the cosmos that promises in potential at least, to tend a final solution to the world mystery. Now, while we all anticipate this promised golden age of knowledge, we should not lose sight of the fact that in the meantime, the mystery abides.
Inevitably, these observations can have a humbling effect upon us. Yet they also reveal a powerful sympathetic bond that still unites us with some of the greatest philosophers of antiquity, such as Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, all of whom recognised that the real world is and probably always will be, a mystery to us.
As such, the fact of the mystery is not something to be ashamed of, in fact it can be very advantageous. For a start, we are provided with a much-needed panacea against all forms of fundamentalism – whether religious, scientific or political. Invariably based upon claims of absolute infallible knowledge, the possibilities for this are of course rampant. We need only look at our human history to see the horrors that have been inflicted upon human beings in the name of such absolutes.
Recognising this mystery also offers a spur towards ever greater knowledge. Realising how little we know, makes us then realise how much there is yet to know. Giving the much-needed room for our mind and consciousness to expand, we then find ourselves awakening to the reality of a completely new world, a world that is forever fresh, vibrant, alive and literally bursting with new possibilities.
This, in turn, gives our mind access to an inexhaustible supply of inspirational creative energy, which it is possible to connect to at any moment. The trees of the forest, the flowers of the field, the stream that runs down the mountains or indeed, the arrival of the sun at the dawn of a new day, are all parts of this great shimmering mystery in which we find ourselves, a mystery which is as old and fresh as time itself.
Once we come to accept that the real world is a mystery, life actually becomes much easier. We can stop pretending to ourselves that really we do know. This, in turn, enables us to do away with what is probably one of the most destructive myths that has ever been created. This is the myth of control. According to this myth, we are meant to be the masters, rulers and conqueror of the world, for which Mother Nature is nothing but the drum upon which we hammer out the rhythm of our conquest. And, as the people of society, we are all supposed to march in perfect lockstep to its insane rhythm.
However, when faced with the reality of the world mystery, the myth of control then collapses. How can we exert control upon a world that in all likelihood is infinite and eternal? How can we be conquerors of a world which we know virtually nothing about it? Clearly, it is time to give up on this illusion of control. And, as we do so, return to that inquisitive state that many of us enjoyed as children. Back then we all lived in and as a part of the real world. As such, our world was not only full of mystery, it was also very strange. Think back to the strangeness of learning about the humps on a camel, or the elephant with that long trunk for a nose. Or how about the strangeness of eating, stuffing things into a hole in our face? We could not have invented any of this even if we tried.
The real world is strange, but it is within this strangeness that a lot of its charm lies. Consequently, to reduce the world and everything in it to a known quantity, just to be able to control it, accomplishes only one thing. It kills off the mystery of the world. And as this mystery extends to probably 99% of it, this, then, leads to a catastrophic loss of all sense of reality. Accompanied by the closing off and dulling of our mind and senses, the mystery then becomes forgotten and as a consequence, the world loses its sparkle, colour and magic.
The fact is that the real world is not going anywhere. It has always been there and always will be. Knowing this, we then become free to begin participating in the world mystery again, like eager, inquisitive children. And rather than trying to control the world, instead we can learn to become one with it and by doing so, re-find ourselves as a part of the great harmony of the infinite and eternal whole.
When facing up to the mystery of the real world, however, we do need to take some care. We cannot just rush into it. This is because most of us have been brought up in almost complete obliviousness to the real world. And, in its place, we have all been spoon-fed the illusion of certainties. Consequently, when we allow our mind to expand beyond the limits of the illusory world that had formerly held our mind captive, it can be rather unnerving. For we are then confronted with the mystery of the all, the absolute, that vast whole which embraces everything of which we are a part.
Although unnerving, there is encouragement to be gained from the fact that the human body already works as a part of the real world, as do its various systems. Any problems we have relating to the real world, therefore, lie not with our body, but with the distorted screens of perception of a mind that is no longer in proper alignment with the real world. An important part of this is the Cartesian split. Based on Descartes’ famous axiom, I think and therefore I am, this presumes an automatic state of separation between ourselves as observer and the world as the observed.
The result is a mind state, today considered to be the norm, which amounts to nothing but a state of total alienation from the real world. This state of alienation in its turn, then leads to the slow agonising death of the human spirit that we see all around us today. In truth, there is no split or division between ourselves and the real world. The real world is one and we ourselves, are one with the real world. In this sense, we are all rather like waves of the ocean. Although we see ourselves to be separate, ultimately we are all a part of the ocean itself.
What this means, is that when we go to bed at night and dream, because we are used to seeing ourselves as being somehow separate from the real world, we think of ourselves as ‘dreaming’. However, when we dream we are simply entering the dreaming whereby the presence of the real world then makes itself known to us. Informing us of what we might need to do to realign ourselves with the real world, the dreaming is consequently just as much a part of the real world, as are the trees, the mountains and the moon that shines over the lake.
Now physically, we cannot just separate ourselves from the real world. This is very fortunate, because it means that whatever happens, we can always use our body to help bring us back into contact with the real world. We can eat and enjoy a meal. We can breathe deep of that fresh, mountain air. We can drink cool water from the spring. Or we can just sit there, enjoying that feeling of belonging that we get when sitting on the mountain side. All of these are real and all of these are vital parts of the real world.
However, if our thoughts, perceptions and feelings are not in alignment with the real world, we will then sense an unfortunate state of disharmony within us. In such a state, we will then find ourselves to be strangers, not only to the real world, but even to ourselves. This is because, seeing ourselves to be separate from the real world, we mentally isolate ourselves from it. From that isolated position, the real world can then appear to us as being rather empty, cold and hostile. However, have you ever thought that it is not the real world that is hostile to us? It is more that, thinking of ourselves as being isolated from the real world, we then become like a bubble of air in water, confined and isolated by the rejecting presence.
This, I suppose, is a kind of hell. It is to live in a state of exile from the tremendous majesty, wonder and inspiration of the real world. Yet, this state of isolation is not actually necessary. We can realign ourselves mentally with the real world right now. Towards this end, imagine waking up in the morning to find yourself part of something that was so vast and incredible that your mind could not even contain the wonder and beauty of it all. And then ponder the fact that this is not a hypothetical possibility. It is simply the reality of the real world of which we are a part. Who could not be inspired and uplifted by this? And, who would not want to become an enlightened citizen of that world?
Once we have recognised the real world for what it is, we then arrive at a very fortunate position. We may put ourselves forward as students of the real world. And this is what it means to be a student of the liberal arts. They are liberal because the study of them will free our minds to the point where we can then re-establish a powerful heartfelt connection with the real world. Through that connection, we may then learn for ourselves all of the incredible lessons that the real world has to teach us. And, what better teacher could we ask for than the universe itself?
An important part of this learning process is the acquisition of discernment, whereby we become able to distinguish truth from falsehood. From this sense of discernment, then comes knowledge and from this knowledge, then comes illumination. However, strange as it may seem, a great deal of this knowledge cannot be taught to us. This is because we already have it. What we have forgotten is how to access it.
How could we possibly lack knowledge when we ourselves are a part of the real world? As metaphorical ‘waves of the ocean’, each one of us contains within ourselves a complete knowledge of the ocean that bears us. This is because we are the real world and each one of us is a window through which the real world shines. Therefore, our very lives stand upon a tremendous platform of knowledge that we, ourselves, can then learn to access.
Of course, it is with this latter that the problem lies. How can we access the tremendous wealth of knowledge that is freely available to us? The secret here is not chasing after this knowledge, but simply watching, listening and contemplating the real world with a clear, still and open mind. If we can learn to do this, we will then begin re-establishing our mental connection with the real world again. And in ways which at first might seem inexplicable, the real world will then begin to guide, teach and help us. As a result we will then find ourselves beginning to awaken to the tremendous wealth of knowledge that is already within us.
For this purpose we need absolutely nothing except for our own natural faculties, which are of course our mind, feelings and senses. Coupled with the innate powers of our own human consciousness, these are the greatest treasures that we possess and they are also the tools that we can use to regain a knowledge of the real world.
Because we already have this knowledge, we cannot rely or depend upon anybody else in our search for it. We must find our own path to it. If not, we will then find ourselves running down this path and running down that path but without actually making any clear progress. This is because we are no longer pursuing our own path, but instead trying to walk the path of another. Being alone in this search, however, is not a weakness, but a strength. By accepting the responsibility for it, we will then acquire the necessary resolve and determination to unlock the knowledge that we need. This, in turn, will then help us to come into full occupation of our own true power as individuals.
Bear in mind that, so far as the illusory world is concerned, we are no more than a name, a number, a resource, an employee, or a source of labour. So far as the real world is concerned however, each one of us is an absolutely unique individual that has never passed this way before and never will again. As such, one of the greatest treasures that we can ever have is that unique individuality. It is the true stamp of our greatness as human beings and as such, should be a source of pride to all of us. However, we do need to be prepared to accept the gift of that individuality and, rather than trying to hide or mask it in order to blend in as a part of the crowd, instead learn to stand up for and promote it.
So, for the moment at least, let’s forget what our peers are saying, forget what the newspapers are saying, forget the messages that television tries to put across. Instead, let us recognise the unique gift of our individuality and in doing so, begin to discern for ourselves that one reality that has been ever-present throughout the ages. A reality that never changes, never fluctuates and never dims. Ever-present, eternal, everywhere. What more could we ask for? What else could our mind need? A world of infinite and eternal beauty, awaiting only our recognition of it.
By doing so, it will soon become apparent that we are the rightful heirs to the most tremendous natural heritage. And again, strange as it may seem, this heritage occurs in three main parts. The first and most magnificent part is our universal heritage. Born forth upon the tides and currents of universal life, the whole world moves and shines through us. Coming from and being a part of the real world, we are, thus, its true inheritors.
As such, through the simple fact of our birth, each one of us inherits the whole world, should we choose to take up that inheritance. Naturally, this inheritance is not to be dismissed lightly. After all, what is the real world of which we are a part? It is the veritable source of everything, everywhere, including ourselves. It is also our future, for the simple reason that the real world is all that was, is now and always will be.
The second part of our heritage is planetary. We are an evolving branch of the tree of life that includes everything that lives upon the planet Earth. Have you ever thought about how much knowledge this position endows with? We each contain within ourselves the aggregated wisdom of the whole tree, of which our species is the sum. This wisdom we call instinct. It is the primal inborn knowledge that betrays our organic origins as a part of the tree of life.
Moreover, due to our unique situation as an advanced organic species, we are the natural stewards of the garden in which this tree of life grows. This garden is the Great Mother Earth and we are its inheritors. What, therefore, shall we do with this most tremendous part of our heritage?
The third part of our heritage is human and takes the form of that tremendous body of wisdom that has been bequeathed to us by our ancestors. Locked up and stored in all of the great works of art and literature that have been built up over the ages, this is the heritage which can make us all as wise as our ancestors were.
A heritage in three parts, within which sits the wisdom of the whole world. Who can complain?
Download this beautifully illustrated article in pdf format, to read at your leisure.