Saturday, November 22, 2008

There Is No Spoon

In the sci-fi classic The Matrix, the post-modern Messiah figure Neo pays a visit to an Oracle. The waiting room if you will is filled wish a variety of interesting characters including a little boy with a bald head who starts talking about trying to bend a spoon with his thoughts. The boy explains that trying to bend a spoon with his thoughts would be impossible until he recognizes the truth that "there is no spoon". This phrase then becomes a kind of symbol for freeing one's mind from preconceived notions about reality that limit our imagination of what is possible and therefore our actions. One of the things that I've become increasingly aware as a doctoral student is how many fundamental assumptions about reality, even in an intellectual environment go completely unexamined and unchallenged. They sit like the proverbial elephant in the middle of the discourse yet remain invisible. One example of this is the discourse surrounding the various pretexts for which human beings mistreat each other (the "identities" I've mentioned previously). A dimension of this discourse is the "other" that is being oppressed in this way or that. While some recognize that the way we perceive the "other" is socially constructed what is not recognized is the possibility that there is no "other" in the first place. "Cleanse ye your eyes, so that ye behold no man as different from yourselves. See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness. "(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 24)

Two selections from Baha'i scripture come to mind as I ponder this question. One involves the human body as a metaphor for "organic unity" or the oneness of humankind:

"This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man's sovereign soul, and the soul's power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for co-ordination." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 291)

Does the ear see the toe as "other"? Does the toe see the nose as "other"?

Another selection is a somewhat obscure but I think very powerful statement made by Baha'u'llah in the Kitab-i-Ahd (The Book of the Covenant), "A mighty force, a consummate power lieth concealed in the world of being. Fix your gaze upon it and upon its unifying influence, and not upon the differences which appear from it." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 220)

I think that among other things, Baha'u'llah is telling us that we can and should "fix our gaze" upon the "unifying influence" and "not upon the differences". "Otherness", to use 'Abdu'l-Baha's phrase is a way of seeing, a habit of the mind and like any habit, it can be broken. Breaking this habit may be critical for, like bending a spoon with your mind, uniting the human race may appear impossible unless we reconsider who we really are. We are one. Once we fully grasp this and begin to act accordingly, unity will not only be possible but inevitable.

There is no spoon.