Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

My Photo
Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Secrets and the Greater Good.

Secrets and the Greater Good.

As early humans increased in number, they diverged into various tribes, and developed colorful, distinctive characteristics: in language, games, clothing, food and religion. Many could be chiefs, and more could think, and explore for themselves, this way. People also feuded and fought, and limited themselves. Only a few could attain personal independence, with social knowledge and also ability to find food and adequately fend for themselves. Around some of these grew cults, and misunderstandings.
What is it that sets people apart? Why must we have feelings of envy, jealousy, resentment, and even avarice? Why is it hard to achieve the dignity to which we are taught to aspire? Is there a general basis for respect? What is Good? To fly, to dive and underwater witness spectacular beauty, to excel and inspire others, to come in out of the rain and help others do so as well, to fully satisfy appetite and exchange smiles… to gain, to share, to profit from interaction, is good. But, one comes to wonder, do secret understandings the world’s top people have access to, contribute to, or detract from, the dignity they hope to be seen having, and might well wish more fully to possess?
As alchemic herbalists’ knowledge advanced, it grew more esoteric. Much as many “Taoists” misunderstood the message and sought grandeur (immortality), some who actually learned longevity techniques sought other kinds of grandeur. By living long enough, and seeing things at least partly in the genuine Taoist way, recurrences, cycles and repeat patterns in human events started to became somewhat comprehensible, accessible, usable, and even manipulable. But, as ever, after pride came fall.
The Assassins of the Old Man in the Mountain, the Knights Templar, Rosicrucians, etc. are certainly no longer with us, except in name. New cliques of powerful conspirators with various capacities incomprehensible to the multitudes (through access to wide and specific information, training in mass-manipulation, the power of massive money and great connections – we need not stoop to belief in shape-shifting extraterrestrial magic a la extreme conspiracy theorists such as David Icke!) now wield their Pride; soon they too will fall. Did any of these really have life-enhancing knowledge? Have happy Hunza people ever really had “the longest lifespan in the world” (20-140 years, with virtually no cancer, degenerative disease, dental caries or bone decay)? Did cardiologists Dr. Paul D. White and Dr. Edward G. Toomey really claim, in the American Heart Journal for December, 1964, that 25 Hunza men, “on fairly good evidence, between 90 and 110 years old,’” had not a single sign of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol? Apparently so, although others cite a life expectancy of 53 years for men and 52 for women.
The Tao te Jing is hardly a book of aphorisms of anti-aging advice. It’s about wisdom, and how it operates. “The Sage” does this, “the sage” does that. The sage, who has become separated from what others cling to, is going to be a certain way, and that isn’t about preference. It’s about how things work. “To be full, become empty” isn’t advice, a recommendation, a sign-post an author wants all to follow… it’s a statement, a warning, or perhaps a kind of notice or disclaimer. It says, to gain wisdom you must give up much. More than most should do. The Sage does not advise all to become sages. “Recognize good and evil is born.” The Sage does his work, but sets no store by it.
The course of human events, even in historical times, has always had more to do with habit and misapprehension than with decisions (plans, strategies, loyalties, trading patterns etc). Much results from the irrational: fear, greed, hate, wanderlust and bragging. Little more has resulted from fine, pretty, evocative words than dreaming and temporary mayhem. And especially, heirs to great money have done the course of human history little benefit. It’s not been individual personality that has mattered, but mass delusion, and emotional tide.
The Tao to Jing is for a privileged few, with talk of immortality a motivating carrot to lead on the mule (the greater populace). Alchemy never came anywhere close to matching the little power science has had, but fabulous tales have always garnered attention (and often helped in the maturation process, too).
250 years and more ago, during historical times (the era of which we have records with individual names and associated dates and places), families with control of armies owned most of what could be owned. They exerted great influence over much else, and still do. What they didn’t have authority over, they once considered too wild to be bothered with, but now have started to perceive need of. Such families certainly understood the world and its workings differently than others, and had knowledge unavailable to those they considered their lessers. As early trade developed, more going longer distance, new forms of authority, knowledge and control developed. Merchant clans became wealthy, but seldom got control of armies. To protect their position, they developed hoards of secrets.
With information available, it’s possible to accept that there really have been cults, or other groupings, which enabled some privileged people, even long ago, to achieve life-spans much, much longer than average, just as it’s possible to believe in the wisdom of the tiny minority leading humanity to total destruction. People able to take good advantage of beneficial herbs and exercises, and a healthy diversity of food-types, could easily have achieved life-spans well over twice as long, on average, as those of people amongst whom they traded. Such longer-lived people might have accumulated, and transmitted within their group, valuable knowledge. Or perhaps they only pretended to.
The purported assassins of the Old Man in the Mountain (Hasan-I Sabbah of Alamut, Southern Persia), 750 to 1000 years ago, were given lengthy training, then expected to travel to, and remain productively in, their place of advantage, a long time. Some are claimed to have abided unobtrusively over 20 years before carrying out orders to assassinate the individual to whom they cultivated proximity, though at that time people in their forties were considered old. The Old Man in the Mountain somehow expected his assassins to remain strong enough to accomplish their tasks, even after much time and trouble. Many believed him to have transmitted to them understandings to which most others have not had access. Did Knights Templar gain longer than average life-spans? Given their success over 175 years, it’s easy enough to believe that ones who didn’t die violently did… As have many nobles, in many places and times.
It’s sensible to accept that early trading societies and esoteric cults intentionally influenced human societies towards increased tribalism, provincialism and even mutual antipathy. This viewpoint, well developed, might help explain much about mysteries of money, religion, migrations and fears of conspiracy.
Or not, as whatever of such secrets as were, have been kept much better than most secrets are reputed to be! Still, if ancient gold of the Israelites were to be analyzed to pinpoint place of origin, it shouldn’t be surprising to find much came from Mexico. Traces of cocaine and tobacco have reportedly been found in the noses of Egyptian mummies. Basques from the upper Iberian Peninsula were fishing off the coast of Nova Scotia long before Columbus; and doing well by it. Phoenicians and Armenians engaged in extensive sea trade well before the voyages European histories make so much of. Armenians with boats carrying as many people as in a large town of their time and place sometimes came home to a country completely separated, removed from its location when they left. Yet they successfully carried on! Long ago Chinese, Malays and Pacific Islanders traveled intercontinental distances, surely with knowledge of winds, currents and tides which they went to great lengths to keep private. People engaged in trade have need of secrets. They do not try to teach any general public to do as they do.
Language barriers, separating different cultures traders go between, help maintain the traders’ lucrative position. Members of restricted clans, cults, and secret societies feel assured of privilege and plenty by filling perceived or real needs. This was easiest when they could appear to offer luxury without presenting any threat. At the time markers became necessary – cowry shells, cocoa beans or large rocks like millstones – there was already a prevalence of deception in the conduct of those who introduced such markers. Before this business started, mankind may not have been so clannish, or divisive, much as the tale of the Tower of Babel suggests.
Through such understanding of history, limited though it is, we can better understand our general failure to truly share. The good of society in general, and especially the ‘need’ of its lowlier members to understand, has seldom seemed, to its most successful and informed members, to be to their own greatest good. Most importantly, to a greater extent than they have been about selfishness, secrets kept have been about survival. Without proper acculturation, socialization and experience, common, “expendable” folk would find no meaning in them, nor even understanding enough to pass such secrets on. And certainly there isn’t room for too many decision-makers.
But hasn’t selfishly unshared success become rather worse than being a big fish in a small pond, or king of a rubbish heap? Depends on what one thinks of one’s limits, and one’s exclusive group, it must be supposed. Such restriction hardly seems what an attuned mind would aspire to. Confidence does not hoard, nor deceive. Are we here to replicate, originate, tend a garden or simply seek gratification? Is intelligence part of life’s striving to respect itself? Might not success at bettering ourselves bring even better things, still unimagined? Clearly, humanity can do more than it has done. To do so would involve co-operation, even general sharing. It may not be foolish to quite actively heed warnings of looming disaster of so many kinds, and to look wherever possible for new ideas, guidance, leadership and chance for working together to save the belief that there will be a future worth living.
Dignity, as a concept, must involve co-operation. Classy titles, wardrobes and secrets have sufficed long enough. Our world might expand, if our concepts really do. Considering the variety of problems incumbent to inter-generational transfer of almost anything (much is lost in translation, as it were), every bit as much important information may have been inadvertently lost as has been lost through the burning of libraries. Dynasties have disappeared, guilds too; even religions. The secrets of animal breeders, chefs, perfumers and fund-raisers are small compared to those of actors, directors, publishers, and doctors; and nothing compared to those of politicians and their “national security” state secrets. Certainly these secrets could add to our general understandings, but clearly, these understandings will remain, for now, limited.
Lost knowledge and understanding should hardly be irretrievable, although that some might be, is conceivable. But once hope for the future is lost, all is gone, quite irretrievably. And, I submit, without this Earth to live on, not even religion offers hope.
No need now for intellectual “property,” or for fame and fortune, nor even for power. With everything disintegrating beneath us, what value do they have? We need now only wisdom, insight, and willingness to do what we can to clean up the mess we’ve made. It might help to remember the words of Karl Mannheim in Ideology and Utopia (1936), “Strictly speaking it is incorrect to say that the single individual thinks. Rather it is more correct to insist that he participates in thinking further what other men have thought before him.”
Confusion about Khazars and Prester John, about Aryans, Tatars and tartars and Dervishes, results from these secrets kept for the preservation of power. This syndrome continues to obstruct the effectiveness of education, and thus social stability, harmony and justice. But gaining insight into Tao can help ameliorate this! J.K. Rowlings says in a Harry Potter book, “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” Of course, some of us don’t have inferiors…
Immortality, like all else (perhaps even the mess we’ve made, but it hardly seems wise to count on that one), is illusion. There is only today, the work before you now, the love you share, and bits and pieces of memory. We are blessed with little more, but it is no matter. A full life can indeed be full!


Post a Comment

<< Home