We forge the chain and we alone can break it.
First I want to distinguish Self-reliance from self-reliance. The former is reliance on the True self in a context of P-A. It is an acknowledgment of Oneness, the non-dual nature of Simple Reality. There is not a separate “self” in Self-reliance, no ego, no I. Reliance on the Universe (Essence, Implicate Order or True self) is the same as being in the present moment.
In self-reliance the “self” (small ‘s’) in question is the ego, the false self contained in the context of P-B. This self-reliance, of course, is based on illusion. To rely on the self is to experience the unending and certain betrayal by the conditioned mind of the false self.
Nevertheless, even this self-reliance has its relative benefits as we build a healthy ego and the confidence necessary to entertain a paradigm shift. A good analogy relating to the importance of gaining strength through self-reliance is that of the chick emerging from the egg. Any attempt to assist the chick and relieve it of what might seem a Herculean struggle to free itself from its hard-shelled prison would rob it of the very strength that it needs to survive once it emerges into a harsh world. The very process, of struggling to free itself is what develops the bodily strength to survive once it emerges from the egg.
In both the East and West there is a tradition of relying on others to negotiate religious or spiritual processes, whether it be salvation or Self-realization. Reliance on others leaves the spiritual aspirant powerless and even blocks the attainment of the ultimate goal. The minister, priest or guru can be helpful in the early stages of the spiritual path, however, at some point we must negotiate the final leg of the spiritual journey on our own in order to gain the strength necessary to attain the ultimate shift from P-B to P-A, to arrive at Self-realization beyond duality and the illusion of form.
No other person can free a man from his bondage; he must do it himself.”
“You are responsible for your own bondage. You are responsible for making your mind impure, no one else. You are responsible for purifying your mind, for breaking all the bondages. No one else can do that.” The good news about being totally responsible for creating what S. N. Goenka calls “bondages” is that if we created them, then we have the power to stop creating them. If we stop creating the bondages, they fall away and we gradually become free; free from all suffering, free from all cravings and aversions.
Attachment to the world of form and the ego’s need to be continually having, knowing and doing is our “Achilles Heel” so to speak. Rahula Walpola says: “… without devotion, faith or belief, without liking or inclination, without hearsay or tradition, without considering apparent reasons, without delight in the speculations of opinions, I know and see that the cessation of becoming is Nirvana.” As we learn in our initial meditation practice to stop identifying with body, mind and emotions, we gradually understand what is meant by “cessation of becoming.”
The following quote is from Buddha’s Sutta No. 7: “The closest translation of the word philosophy into Sanskrit is darshana, which literally means ‘seeing’ or ‘experience,’ referring to the mystical act of divine perception. Unlike Western philosophy, there is nothing speculative or abstract in Indian thought; it is based wholly upon direct and immediate perception of super-rational truth. Philosophers are, above all, men of God who have discovered the wisdom of the Self through their own interior searchings. This is the true spirit of Indian religion.”
Nirvana; it has to be comprehended by the wise, each for himself.
Hindu mysticism speaks eloquently about Self-realization. “In one word, this ideal is that you are divine. ‘Thou art That.’ This is the essence of Vedanta [Hindu mysticism]. After all its ramifications and intellectual gymnastics, you know the human soul to be pure and omniscient; you see that such superstitions as birth and death are entire nonsense when spoken of in connection with the soul. The soul was never born and will never die, and all these ideas that we are going to die and are afraid to die are mere superstitions. And all such ideas as that we can do this, or cannot do that, are superstitions. We can do everything. Vedanta teaches men to have faith in themselves first. As certain religions of the world say that a man who does not believe in a Personal God outside himself is an atheist, so Vedanta says that a man who does not believe in himself is an atheist. Not believing in the glory of our own soul is what Vedanta calls atheism.”
Self-reliance is akin to skepticism as teachers of Zen realized: “First of all, they trusted doubt and rewarded questions. This is rare in religion and an example of the Zen way of treating what is usually thought of as a problem—in this case, doubt—as a strength … A question is a place of embarkation, and any question was treated as being about enlightenment, whether the student was aware of it or not. There was a trust in whatever forces had brought the student to the point of asking.”
Joseph Campbell synthesized religion and mythology to come up with his discoveries concerning human intuition. Self-reliance “… is based on the realization that Buddha-knowledge is achieved intuitively, by sudden insight … Look within! The secret is within you.”
C. G. Jung aids in our transition from East to West and helps to deepen our understanding of Self-reliance: “The Christian West considers man to be wholly dependent upon the grace of God, or at least upon the Church as the exclusive and divinely sanctioned earthly instrument of man’s redemption. The East, however, insists that man is the sole cause of his higher development, for it believes in ‘self-liberation.’ [In the West] Grace comes from elsewhere; at all events from outside. Every other point of view is sheer heresy. Hence it is quite understandable why the human psyche is suffering from undervaluation.”
As Jung continues we see that the eastern worldview is much closer to P-A and the western is more closely identified with a P-B focus on the illusory world of form: “With us, man is incommensurably small and the grace of God is everything; but in the East, man is God and he redeems himself … The East bases itself upon psychic reality, that is, upon the psyche [intuition] as the main and unique condition of existence … It is a typically introverted point of view, contrasted with the equally typical extraverted point of view of the West … Introversion is felt here as something abnormal, morbid, or otherwise objectionable. Freud identifies it with an autoerotic, ‘narcissistic attitude of mind.’ In the East, however, our cherished extraversion is depreciated as illusory desirousness, as existence in the samsara, the very essence of the … chain which culminates in the sum of the world’s sufferings.”
Christianity was a key element in Jung’s worldview and colors all aspects of his understanding of Self-reliance. “Although the Paraclete [Holy Ghost or True self] is of the greatest significance metaphysically, it was, from the point of view of the organization of the Church, most undesirable, because as is authoritatively stated in scripture, the Holy Ghost is not subject to any control. In the interests of continuity and the Church the uniqueness of the incarnation and of Christ’s work of redemption has to be strongly emphasized, and for the same reason the continuing indwelling of the Holy Ghost is discouraged and ignored as much as possible. No further individualistic digressions can be tolerated. Anyone who is inclined by the Holy Ghost towards dissident opinions necessarily becomes a heretic, whose persecution and elimination take a turn very much to Satan’s liking. On the other hand one must realize that if everybody had tried to thrust the intuition of his own private Holy Ghost upon others for the improvement of the universal doctrine, Christianity would rapidly have perished in a Babylonian confusion of tongues—a fate that lay threateningly close for many centuries.” Traditional religion does not find mystics, iconoclasts or Self-reliant people acceptable.
As Rollo May points out: “One is good to the extent that one obeys the dictates of society and church. An uncritical view of the Adam myth, of course, makes a very good rationalization for such tendencies—one can point out that if Adam had not disobeyed, he would never have been forced out of paradise … Thus a premium is implicitly placed on not developing consciousness of one’s self. It is as though the more unquestioning obedience the better, and as though the less personal responsibility the better.”
Nothing has ever been more insufferable for man than freedom!
The Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
“One of the most remarkable pictures of the conflict between ethical sensitivity [P-A] and existing institutions [P-B] and of the anxiety which ethical freedom brings, is in Dostoevsky’s story of the Grand Inquisitor … Christ’s mistake, says the Inquisitor, was that ‘in place of the rigid ancient law,’ he placed on man the burden of having ‘with free heart to decide for himself what is good and what is evil,’ and ‘this fearful burden of free choice’ is too much for man … ‘Didst thou forget that man prefers peace and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil?’” The knowledge of good and evil most profoundly understood is the choice between Simple Reality or life as usual, between P-A or P-B.
Jung was intuitive enough to often transcend the religious aspects of his worldview with brilliant insights into the nature of Simple Reality: “The modern man—or, let us say again, the man of the immediate present—is rarely met with, for he must be conscious to a superlative degree … The man who has attained consciousness of the present is solitary … Every step forward means tearing oneself loose from the maternal womb of unconsciousness [P-B] in which the mass of men dwell … Thus, he has become ‘unhistorical’ in the deepest sense and has estranged himself from the mass of men who live entirely within the bounds of tradition. Indeed, he is completely modern only when he has come to the very edge of the world, leaving behind him all that has been discarded and outgrown, and acknowledging that he stands before the Nothing out of which All may grow.”
Thomas Jefferson exhibited the kind of Self-reliance that we would all do well to emulate. “When Jefferson was in the White House, he put together a Bible for himself by going through the Gospels and cutting out a lot of the miracles and the parts he couldn’t understand. Jefferson put together what he believed were the essential teachings of Jesus … Jefferson called his book The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.”[xv] Like Jefferson, we all have the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were, when we rely on our innate ability to stay in response to our life’s experience.
As is implied in the phrase ‘the devil made me do it’ many of us resist taking responsibility for our own behavior. Bible scholar Uta Ranke-Heinemann quoting Bishop Graber says: “If the Evil one does not exist then man alone is responsible.” Heinemann concludes that “Humans don’t want to bear the sole responsibility; they’d prefer to bear none at all.” All too often religion would like to keep the congregation in the ego-state of a child with the promise of salvation; control and manipulation are easier. Those that are Self-reliant provide their own salvation.
You shall serve your Creator as if there were only one man in the world, only you yourself.
Psychology supports our ability to be more Self-reliant. The editors of Great Books of the Western World saw fit to emphasize that we have the power for Self-transformation: “Even though human emotions may have instinctive origins and be innately determined, man’s emotional responses seem to be subject to voluntary control, so that men are able to form or change their emotional habits.” They are referring to our ability to distinguish between reaction and response and to choose response.
Eric Fromm brings to mind the relationship among Self-reliance, a profound worldview, and the resulting identity: “… if a person has not succeeded in integrating his energies in the direction of his higher self, he canalizes them in the direction of lower goals; if he has no picture of the world and his position in it which approximates the truth [P-A] he will create a picture which is illusory [P-B] and cling to it ….” Without the guidance inherent in the narrative of Simple Reality, humanity is stuck in the false-self survival strategy unable to avail itself of its own inner wisdom, its own capacity for Self-reliance.
Seth, however, reminds us of the limitations of the conventional treatment modalities of psychology and does not seem to think that conventional therapy is useful in the process of Self-reliance: “… psychoanalysis is simply a game of hide-and-seek, in which you continue to relinquish responsibility for your actions and reality and assign the basic cause to some area of the psyche, hidden in a dark forest of the past. Then you give yourself the task of finding this secret. In so doing you never think of looking for it in the conscious mind, since you are convinced that all deep answers lie far beneath—and, moreover, that your consciousness is not only unable to help you but will often send up camouflages instead. So you play that game … you are not fully conscious unless you are aware of the contents of your conscious mind. I am also emphasizing the fact that the conscious mind is equipped to receive information from the inner self as well as the exterior universe.”
America’s preeminent philosopher Emerson, in his essay entitled “Self-reliance” appreciated inner wisdom: “A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages.” In the distinctions involved regarding “related pairs” Emerson comes down on the side of intuition over intellect. (See Appendix B)
Even “conventional” philosopher (that is to say, he was not a mystic) John Locke warned how identifying with mind, body and emotions was an obstacle to Self-reliance: “Locke’s philosophy hinged upon arguing for the ability of the individual to detach from the world, and from himself, and observe each objectively.” Again, the world of form revealed by the senses, having no substantial reality, is not where we expect to find Simple Reality.
To choose to remain in P-B and to refrain from relying on oneself for Self-transformation is to fall short of the full experience of life. According to Rollo May: “This is what Nietzsche meant by the ‘will to live’—not simply the instinct for self preservation, but the will to accept the fact that one is one’s self, and to accept responsibility fulfilling one’s own destiny, which in turn implies accepting the fact that one must make his basic choices himself.”
We close this essay on Self-reliance with western mystics beginning with Judge Thomas Troward: “… but the final discovery cannot be made for you, you must each make it for yourself, therefore, ‘he that hath ears to hear let him hear.’” For example in the parable of the Prodigal Son, “… the younger brother is the man, who, not realizing his own spiritual nature, lives on the resources of the lower personality, till their failure to meet his needs drives him to look for something which cannot thus be exhausted, and eventually he finds it in the recognition of his own spiritual being as his inalienable birthright, because he was made in the image and likeness of God [in other words perfect], and could not by any possibility have been created otherwise. ‘Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is [not will be] thine ….’”
The importance of Self-reliance and acknowledging our own inner wisdom is affirmed by many sources including Edgar Cayce. In Reading 276-2 he says to train the child “to depend upon the divine that lies within.”
In 1893, three years after the “official” closing of the American frontier, historian Frederick Jackson Turner wrote his famous “Frontier Thesis.” He contended that the frontier experience beginning during colonial times and extending to the 1890 closing of the geographical frontier fostered a unique American character including independence and self-reliance. Today, our “frontier” experience is translation, transformation and transcendence, which also create and require Self-reliance for those who keep moving along the edge of that ever-unfolding ineffable experience.
References available for this article in Trilogy 1 – Where Am I?