Sunday, October 20, 2013

prescription and description

As annoying and horrifying as it may be, still I think it's worth considering: To the extent that anyone might hope that spiritual endeavors actually had some usefulness, to that extent precisely spiritual life would need to be considered as descriptive rather than prescriptive.

This proposition itself may easily be taken as prescriptive and hence lose its usefulness. Oh well ....

Since no one ever signed on to a spiritual persuasion because they were so damned happy, it is completely understandable that finding a prescription for sorrow or uncertainty should beckon and seem to suggest a safe -- or at any rate safer -- haven. A super-duper ethical framework makes some sense: Habits need to be changed or revised or reseen, so when the prescription is offered -- with heaven, enlightenment, compassion, true understanding or whatever beckoning from some distant horizon -- who wouldn't take the opportunity? The prescription shapes the effort.

And there's plenty of effort to be made, assuming anyone takes their spiritual adventure seriously. Follow the prescription-brick road.

The fly in the ointment crops up when the prescription takes on a life of its own -- when the assertion gains traction: "Without following x, y or z prescription, the opportunity to outflank sorrow or uncertainty or fear is lost." And it is here that prescription takes up residence where the search for a little peace once held sway. It looks good, prescriptions flowing like water off a mountain, people applauding like World Series fans, but the historical record is replete with sometimes benevolent and sometimes bloody results. Prescription has its role, but as an outcome it proves itself unworthy.

"Love thy neighbor as thyself" ... how lovely and how true and how much blood has soaked the sands in the wake of that prescription?

I guess I got to thinking about all this after Zen Buddhism's "four propositions" sailed through my mind last night. The four propositions are:
It exists.
It does not exist.
It both exists and does not exist.
It neither exists nor does not exist.
OK, we're into airy-fairy territory here, but I don't really think the point of entry would be much different when considering other spiritual nudges.

The question that crossed my mind was this: Did the pharmacists of the old days concoct the four propositions as a prescription without which the patient would continue to be sorrowful and uncertain (continue to be sick)? Was this a yardstick and testing ground? -- If you don't understand this, you're screwed? If you don't chew and digest and sweat and weep ... well, hell, you might as well hang up your spurs? Were these propositions a means of attaining some super-altruistic Boy Scout badge?

Maybe it's more accessible to refer back to "love thy neighbor as thyself." No matter ... either way ... is there force and usefulness found in the prescription and its restful confines or is there something that is far more useful awaiting attention?

To rest, to relax, to find relief and to proclaim a peace therefrom -- how many prescriptions offer such confused and hellish results?

But suppose for a moment that such expressions as the four propositions or "love thy neighbor" were simply descriptives -- not The Descriptive, just A Descriptive. Instead of being an imaginative safe haven or shield against the howling winds, suppose these were just passing descriptions that had no especial gotta-do-it imperative, no especial threat or promise, no medals or ribbons or profound at-last resting place. They might be nice and they might be useful in their time, but suppose they were just passing possibilities, suggested by others who might be right and might be wrong ... but, hell, it was just their way of expressing what had passed their way. No need for bloodshed or hosannahs or wailing crucifixions ... the sky is blue and chocolate is delicious.

I guess it's all pretty dicey, but it strikes me that descriptions make more sense than the prescriptions that are sometimes associated with them. The object of spiritual life is not to be safe. The object of spiritual life is to be free and at peace.

Or anyway that's one way of describing it, I imagine.

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