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Passions in Poetry

Considering The Source

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Bob K
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since 11-03-2007
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50 posted 02-04-2009 02:50 AM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



Dear Stephanos,

          Perhaps you should dilate upon your understanding of "Hamartia."  My understanding was that it was the tragic flaw within the hero that brought about his downfall, and that it came from Aristotle and his poetics.  I have also used in in psychotherapy, when working with Transactional Analysis.  Claude Steiner has made use of it in his Script Work, and you can generally find it in people if you look at the nature of the sort of things that get them into trouble, over an over again.

     In the original concept, "Hamartia" is specific only to the hero, and only to tragedy.  The notion of an hamartic event in a comedy or in a satyr play would be an extra encumbrance, would slow down the action, and would not fit because one cannot truthfully say the characters are heroic.  The characters cannot be said to have a single flaw in an otherwise noble character that brings about their downfall.

     When you say "mistakes or ignorance," being contained in the thought of the Hamartic flaw, I'm not sure I agree with you.  It sounds as though the play you have in mind as an illustration here is Oedipus Rex.  Here it looks as though your assumption is that Oedipus's flaw is ignorance or error; when, from at least a clinical perspective, his flaw is passivity in the face of the feminine.  He's a stranger in town, and the queen takes a fancy to him.  Doesn't he think there's something a little off about that?  She's old enough to be . . . what? . . . that's right, his mother.  And this isn't New York with plastic surgeons and a new age mentality of What's wrong with older Women and Younger Men.  This is ancient Greece, when that sort of age difference was huge, and this sort of power difference was even more enormous.

     Oedipus is utterly naive about this sort of stuff.  It's just good luck.  And that is his fatal flaw, his unquestioning passivity to it all, and his dumb acceptance.  It being ancient Greece, of course, it is also his fate, which is a different thing.  This he cannot escape.  Aristotle, Freud, Hamartic flaw, this is one way to organize your life.

     The Buddhist way is probably simpler.  Life is suffering.  Suffering comes from loss.  Loss comes from attachments. Unhook yourself from your attachments. Learn and practice compassion.  Exactly where that last one fits in, I don't know.  Compassion doesn't mean saccharine.  The sword is one of the Buddhist ways.  It cuts through illusion of all sorts.  It cuts too sharply for me, for example.

     Compassion, however, seems to work well as a way or sorting things out, and following the notion of compassion as it reveals itself to you over years of meditation on illusion and on compassion and the like.
Error also helps to sort things out as well, especially when we can pay attention to the errors we make.  We learn from each other.  You teach me those things I'm able to learn from you, and the reverse as well, I suppose.  We are here to help each other and much of the time we do.

     This is hopefully the way we burn through our illusions.  I see it as a fairly active process.  I like Teilhard de Chardin and his notion of the omega point.

     Sincerely, Bob Kaven

    

Stephanos
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51 posted 02-05-2009 09:04 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Bob, when I spoke of "harmartia" I was including its further development in Christian thought, as "sin".  My observation, however, is much less specific than either the Biblical use of the word, or its use in Greek Tragedy.  Western Civilization has placed moral failure, and ignorance in a related category, in relation to something that can loosely be called "reality".  My issue with Buddhism is less the sword of this world, than with the idea that distinctions and individuality are finally illusory.  And tackling illusion requires distinction.  

I appreciate your interesting references.  For now I still can't see that, pragmatically speaking, either Western or Eastern thought has any more or less of this idea, which to me is universally intractable.  

Still, whatever is helpful, let us use.

As a side note, what do you think about the Buddhist idea that "Life is suffering"?


Stephen      
Bob K
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52 posted 02-06-2009 07:02 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



Dear Stephanos,

          Life presents us with one loss after another.  I agree with the notion that Life is Suffering.

     I suspect the notion is pretty much universal, or religion wouldn't be of much interest to as many people as it is.  The differences I think have to do with the solution.  The problem for many good religious folk is Why is there suffering?  In the more Deistic folk, you might fancy the question up and say, Why does God allow suffering?  But I think the two questions are really one, and the simplest version is probably the most useful way to put it.  It covers all bases philosophically.  The Problem of Suffering.  For Good Atheistic Folk, the problem remains as well.

     So yeah, I believe in that first supposition.

     I also believe that the rest of the four noble truths are true as well, and that it's a workable path of liberation.

     I suspect that you wouldn't have asked without a reason.  What's up, Doc?


Your friend, Bob Kaven
Stephanos
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53 posted 02-07-2009 10:00 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Bob, to say Life is "-----", defines the whole.  Yes, life contains suffering.  Or suffering is a part of the drama of life.  Yet I've never met anyone who truly feels that that is all.  And when they say so they belie their true feelings by protest.  Somehow I think if we were fish, we wouldn't know we were wet, if that makes any sense.


Stephen
Bob K
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54 posted 02-07-2009 11:50 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K


Dear Stephanos,

           You asked me what I thought; I told you what I thought.

     You didn't ask if I thought that every moment was suffering.  My thought about that is that there are moments of great joy and pleasure in life, as well as other feelings.  The Buddhists will tell you this is true as well.
They (and I) will also say that those moments of joy make the suffering in those moments of loss more difficult to bear, because you understand the depth of the loss is all that much greater.  

     My sense is that most religions share this basic point of view, including Christianity.  The differences come in how they suggest a person deal with suffering.  The differences range widely.

     Where did you get the notion that the Buddhists don't or can't make distinctions?  Or the Taoists for that matter?   Puh-leeze!

Sincerely, Bob Kaven

[This message has been edited by Bob K (02-08-2009 12:09 AM).]

Stephanos
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55 posted 02-08-2009 12:12 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

No, I asked (in not so many words) whether suffering is the ruling principle of life according to the Buddhist.  Even the joy you've tipped the hat to in your reply, gets trumped, in that it invariably exacerbates suffering.  While the Christian view acknowledges the profundity of suffering, it doesn't seem to be the reigning principle.  The Cross gives way to Resurrection.  This is simply a difference I see, between these two systems of thought.  One seems, in spite of bright spots, essentially pessimistic.  The other, in spite of drearest valleys, essentially optimistic.


"Life is suffering", sounds like an equation, no matter what accidental cheer the left side of the equation happens to hold.  


And Bob,

I never said Buddhists can't or don't make distinctions in the now.  I said that the very world of individuality and distinction is illusory according to their ultimate view of reality.


Stephen        
Bob K
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56 posted 02-08-2009 07:36 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



Dear Stephanos,

           Ego, yes, that's illusion in Buddhist terms.

     Distinctions, no, though I would have to wonder which distinctions, really, wouldn't you?  Some would probably be spurious, some not.

quote:


Even the joy you've tipped the hat to in your reply, gets trumped, in that it invariably exacerbates suffering.  While the Christian view acknowledges the profundity of suffering, it doesn't seem to be the reigning principle.  The Cross gives way to Resurrection.  This is simply a difference I see, between these two systems of thought.  One seems, in spite of bright spots, essentially pessimistic.  The other, in spite of drearest valleys, essentially optimistic.




     I think  we may be talking past each other here.

     The cross and redemption through Christ's suffering is a solution, as I understand it, to the suffering of the world and of humankind in the state of original sin within the world, isn't that right?  This is the state of the world within the frame work of at least much of Christian theology.  The solution that Christianity offers the relief from the suffering of the fallen state, as it were is salvation and grace through the intervention of a personal savior in the form of Jesus Christ.  If I have the details wrong, please forgive me here; I'm not trying to dispute the theology.  The muslims believe in bodily resurrection and the Jews have at times believed in it as well, though I think the belief is probably not a large part of modern Judaism.  It certainly was in the tenth and twelfth centuries C.E.

     The point is that there is essential agreement about the place of suffering in the world between the Buddhists and the Christians, at least to my mind, about this thing.  Where there is disagreement is about the solution.  In the various Christianities, the notion has generally been that the acceptance of Jesus as one's personal savior and a sincere attempt to bring one's life into line with that commitment is the solution to the suffering in this world
"in the sure and certain hope", etc.  While there has been original sin, a belief in The Christ may save one from the fires of hell, whether experienced in this world or the next; or, as may be most likely, both at least within that framework.

     The Buddhists accept this suffering as the condition of life, and attempt a different solution.  I believe it inferior in no way to the Christian solution.  Both Christianity and Buddhism are pessimistic about the native state of humankind.  The Christians say it is original sin; and any attempt to suggest that original sin is essentially optimistic would run against a considerable amount of Christian theology.  The Buddhists say that Life is Suffering.  You may see these as vastly different statements; I see them as identical.

     Both points of view offer solutions, good solutions though not identical.  The Christian solution is more dependent on faith.  The Buddhist solution depends on actual practice to produce personal change; to some extent it can be measured scientifically in the physiology of long term Buddhist meditators.  The readings are distinct from long term yogic meditators, by the way, but are still measurable.  This doesn't mean better, but it does mean something is happening that fits the description of what the Buddhists say is supposed to happen.

     I know long term believing Christians who seem to have gone through similar transformations, by the way, though I wouldn't know how to measure them.  I would suspect that you know them too.

     I would suggest that you may be hasty in suggesting pessimistic and optimistic designations to the suppositions of the two world outlooks.  If religion in general didn't solve some sort of problem for people in general, I would assert that it would not have so many staunch adherents willing to fight over fine points either to prove themselves right or to prove somebody else wrong.  Or both.

Sincerely, Bob Kaven
Stephanos
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since 07-31-2000
Posts 3496
Statesboro, GA, USA


57 posted 02-09-2009 09:36 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Bob:
quote:
Both Christianity and Buddhism are pessimistic about the native state of humankind.  The Christians say it is original sin; and any attempt to suggest that original sin is essentially optimistic would run against a considerable amount of Christian theology.  The Buddhists say that Life is Suffering.  You may see these as vastly different statements ...


You may think I'm quibbling, but the doctrine of original sin, is also held alongside the doctrine of a good Creation, and humans being made in the image of God.  As bad as "the fall" is, the overarching principle is still God's will in creation.  Even redemption is referred to in the New Testament as a "New Creation".  Christianity says "Life is fallen, but life is good".  But when one says "life is suffering", where is the modifier?  I have had a hard time seeing nonentity, dissolution of all desire, or the ultimate elimination of self holding the same admittance of optimism.  

Of course, I am not denying similarities between these respective views either.  


quote:
I know long term believing Christians who seem to have gone through similar transformations, by the way, though I wouldn't know how to measure them.  I would suspect that you know them too.


I deny the means of showing personal change is any different between the two. Personal change is always just as intangible (in a strict scientific sense) and tangible (in a practically observable sense).  When someone turns from a selfish life to God, there is not instantaneous perfection, but there is a notable difference.  

But again, I get the feeling that the "physiological" change you are talking about would be worlds apart from what a Christian would describe as 'regeneration' or a 'new birth'.  

quote:
If religion in general didn't solve some sort of problem for people in general, I would assert that it would not have so many staunch adherents willing to fight over fine points either to prove themselves right or to prove somebody else wrong.  Or both.

You should only imagine that I mean that Buddhism can never help anyone, if I believe it is altogether wrong.  But I don't.  Pessimism itself is not completely wrong either... in fact its altogether right as far as it goes.  I just listened to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of The Moon" the other day.  And I know why it struck a chord with so many people.  So honest.  So beautifully melancholy (if that may be said).  But the ending spoken phrase "There's no dark side of the moon really ... as a matter of fact its all dark", is no satisfying answer.    


Stephen

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (02-09-2009 10:33 PM).]

Bob K
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58 posted 02-10-2009 04:22 AM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K

Dear Stephanos,

          Thanks for the very interesting post above. I find it thoughtful and heartfelt, as I do so many of your postings.

     I think though that you persist in seeing Buddhism as a pessimistic approach to life, and I'd suggest to you that this is not so.  Buddhism is about liberation from pain and suffering and about a pragmatic way of achieving this liberation.  Acknowledgement of the pain of life is one of the things that motivate people to want their lives to change.

     I have known very few happy people who want things to be different for themselves.  The need to change comes from confrontation with some of these primal feelings of unhappiness.  If Buddhism is about any single thing, it's probably about joyfulness, and being able to choose it on pretty much a moment to moment basis.  As the zen monk said to the hot dog vender "I'll take One with Everything."

     Should you wish to find out a little about the nuts and bolts of the matter, I'd suggest the Library and a book called The Miracle of Mindfulness, very short, by a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize in 1967 by Martin Luther King.  Right Mindfulness is one of the pillars of the eightfold path, but like all the pillars should not be the exclusive property of Buddhists.  The book will, I think, be useful in your practice as a Christian, though the basics are at least 2500 years old.

     Anyway, if you have the energy and time, have a look; I understand that this is unlikely, though, since you are a working dad.  You may find the process actually gives you more time in the long run; and better time, at that.

Sincerely yours, Bob Kaven
 
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