Jun 14, 2012
The Oestian Way
by Charles Carreon
The purpose of this writing, that was begun, continued and completed at the insistence of my lifelong companion Tara Carreon, is to establish a new religion for a new time and a new place.
The word “religion” comes from the Latin root “ligare,” a verb meaning “to bind.” Usually this is interpreted to mean that religion binds us to “God,” but this new religion will bind its adherents to the planet, all life, and ourselves.
Everything requires a name, and this religion has the name “Oestia,” because it is a religion born in the West, and the “west” is “oeste” in Spanish, the predominant language of the western hemisphere. The religion of Oestia is called The Oestian Way.
In the past, humans have embraced religions based on revelation. Revelations are discovered by, or bestowed upon, one human being by a supernatural power. A revelation is often depicted as a light dawning in the head or heart of the person receiving the revelation. Revelations bring with them the warrant of certainty, a sense of confidence in the revealed truth that is communicated to the minds of the revelators. Revelations are translated into human speech by the revelators. Once recorded, revelations receive the status of holy writ, and thereafter, cannot be questioned. All statements made regarding holy writ are considered a debasement of the original revelation, a diminution of the original illumination – commentaries that are necessary, even desirable, but nevertheless, something less than the original fire of revelation.
Although the revelators never doubt their revelations, those who hear the revelations may have doubts. In order to overcome those doubts, religions have adjured their adherents to adopt a doctrine called “faith.” Faith was aptly described by Paul the Apostle, Aka Saul the Prosecutor, as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
The Oestian Way is not based on revelation. The Oestian Way is based only on a clear statement of things that can be known by everyone in an ordinary state of awareness.
THE PRECIOUSNESS OF HUMAN LIFE
When we begin, we ask of each student whether they can accept certain basic principles, and each student may take the path as far as they wish to go. As to the preciousness of human life, there are three fundamental principles:
1. Life is a self-evident good.
2. Each person wishes to retain his or her own life.
3. Each person is bound to respect the right to life of others.
These principles are discussed briefly below.
FIRST PRINCIPLE: LIFE IS A SELF-EVIDENT GOOD
It is only because you are alive that you are able to cognize this statement, that “life is a self-evident good.” What is meant by this? Let us first consider what we mean by “good.”
Something is good if we are disposed to retain it. Garbage we discard. Food we conserve. We keep our loved ones close. Those we find inimical are gladly removed from our presence.
Among likes and dislikes, nothing is more liked than life itself. No one discards life lightly, even those who end their lives because the pain of living has become too much to bear. Therefore, life is a self-evident good.
SECOND PRINCIPLE: EACH PERSON WISHES TO RETAIN HIS OR HER OWN LIFE
The second principle is an inference from the first. Everyone recognizes that they, personally, do not wish to die or have their life taken from them. Yet it is an everyday circumstance to hear that one person has intentionally killed another. This can only occur because the killer has ignored his victim’s desire to live. The decision to kill another person is routinely redefined as an incident of duty: “I was only following orders.” But in every case, the killer has ignored the victim’s desire to live, a desire that lives within his or her own heart as well, a desire of which they cannot claim actual ignorance.
Acceptance of the Second Principle means that the practitioner of the Oestian Way will always maintain an awareness that all humans love their lives and wish to continue living in precisely the same way. By accepting the Second Principle, we place ourselves on the same level as other humans.
THIRD PRINCIPLE: EACH PERSON IS BOUND TO RESPECT THE LIFE OF OTHERS
We began by noting that the word religion contains the root of the verb “to bind.” The Third Principle does in fact bind us to respect the life of other humans. In the First Principle, we have recognized that our own life is precious to us. In the Second Principle, we recognize that all other people are equally attached to their own continued existence. In the Third Principle, we recognize that we may not take the lives of other humans without negating our own right to life.
THE VOW TO ALWAYS PRESERVE HUMAN LIFE
If you accept the first Three Principles, then you are ready to take the vow to always preserve human life. You may ask why this is not simply a vow to never take human life. The reason is simply that it is not the purpose of the path of Oestia to create a group of believers incapable of defending themselves against aggression. Rather, it is to establish a path that eliminates all grounds for killing other human beings for purposes of personal or political advantage – conduct that cannot be justified on any moral scale. The possibility remains that Oestians may engage in lethal combat to protect themselves or others from aggression. Oestians are not required, on grounds of religion, to surrender their own lives to aggressors who have displayed no regard for the Third Principle. To formalize the vow to always preserve life, it is sufficient for the follower of the Oestian Path to simply affirm, with presence of mind, “I shall always act in a manner that will preserve human life.”
THE COROLLARY OF THE FIRST VOW: TO REFUSE MILITARY SERVICE & CONSCRIPTION
The Tao Teh Ching of Lao Tzu states:
“A brave and passionate person will kill or be killed. A brave and calm person will always preserve life.”
Bravery serves the prime evolutionary imperative to preserve one’s own life, and that of others. Calmness is necessary to bring that imperative into harmony with the life-impulse of all living beings. The calm person realizes, even in the moment when their life is threatened, that the lives of other beings are equal in value to their own. Thus, it is not through cowardice, but through calmness and reverence for life, that the follower of the Oestian Path rejects the path of war.
For countless generations, humanity has engaged in warfare. War kills and injures people, wounds families, tribes, and nations, and destroys our planet, our property, and all of its living residents. Although political leaders decry the purported necessity of war with their talk, they keep on making war. The apologists for our warmaking leaders have gone so far as to award the Nobel “Peace” Prize to a head of state who orders the death of large numbers of innocent people. Scientists claim to be leading us to progress, but thousands of them work in weapons design and manufacturing. Through biowarfare, life itself has been conscripted. It is up to us, individually, to end the cycle of violence.
Examples from all of known history up to the present day simply reiterate the point that since time immemorial old men have armed young men and sent them to fight each other. There are two reasons for war — one true and secret, the other false and widely disseminated. The true reason for war is to spread and put into effect an atavistic philosophy that promulgates murder as the way to resolve human disagreements, and legitimates mass murder as a necessary means to acquire property and territory, and assert power over citizens & foreign peoples. Warmaking serves these purposes so well that today every country, from America to Zaire, is ruled by its conquerors, and the conquered live in hereditary subjugation and second-class citizenship. The false reason for war is self-defense. Hydrogen bombs are said to be defensive weapons, even though they are actually merely devices for planetary suicide, vehicles of the ultimate terrorist threat, not even true armaments at all, since armaments by definition destroy only the enemy.
Of all the issues we face as humans, preserving life and the habitability of the planet are the greatest. These issues transcend our individual fate, and therefore give meaning to it. The threat of universal annihilation invoked by the nuclear terrorists has lead to a nihilistic, depressed mood among humans in developed nations, who are well aware that all life hangs by an electronic spider’s thread, that the winds of chance have repeatedly threatened to sever while men with red phones debated the wisdom of first strikes with their advisors. To decisively reject killing as a self-defeating strategy for individual and group survival is thus fundamental to the Oestian Path.
If killing continues to be accepted as a way to solve human problems, we will very likely end the process of human evolution. If we do that, all philosophical endeavors will be moot. Rejecting killing as a survival strategy is not difficult once we reject the notion that humans can be divided into groups of enemies and allies divided along racial, national or religious lines. Each generation of old, greedy men invokes this lie to motivate young, inexperienced men to engage in mortal combat. The munitions makers and their public relations outfits make killing easier by demonizing the enemy and developing weapons that kill efficiently, remotely, and without messy, hands-on involvement. Drone warfare is the latest innovation in this progressive process of turning men into warbots.
To inoculate oneself and others against this mental virus of dividing people into classes of allies and enemies, the Oestian Path declares first that its followers shall never invoke Oestia as a banner of aggression, and second that its followers shall refuse conscription in national armies.
REAL EXISTENCE OF SELF AND THE WORLD: THE FOURTH AND FIFTH PRINCIPLES
The Fourth and Fifth Principles are:
4. Each person has a genuine identity.
5. The world genuinely exists.
THE FOURTH PRINCIPLE: EACH PERSON HAS A GENUINE IDENTITY
By “genuine identity,” we mean something that is undeniable and yet ultimately indefinable. We know we exist, and when we “look at the looker,” we experience a peculiar sensation of presence without articulation. What is true of ourselves individually must be true of all human beings, for surely our experience of self-existence is not unique. Let that person who denies his or her own existence demonstrate their non-existence by some proof. Little more need be said.
THE FIFTH PRINCIPLE: THE WORLD GENUINELY EXISTS
There may appear to be a vast gulf between our genuine identity and the world around us, but without mind we would know as little about the world as a rock, and be equally unable to formulate ideas about it. Mind reflects the light, sound, and other stimuli arising outside and within our body, and creates an image of the world in our mind that we call the world.
The reflective capacity of the mind is its “tautological nature.” The “tautological nature of the mind” is a term derived from the language of logic, that defines a tautology as a statement that is always true, like “A=A.” Similarly, the mind reflects what is delivered to the senses and recomposes an image of the world inside our awareness. Our senses are portals into this inner theatre, and our experience of the world is a marvelous composition, an intricate reflection, of our surroundings.
Because the mind creates a reflection, and this is our only contact with the world around us, some people question whether the world is not in fact an illusion that arises from the mind itself. Often called “solipsism,” this notion is rejected by the Oestian Path, because it requires belief in something for which there is no evidence – a mind separate from the world itself, in which the “illusion of the world” could appear.
The Oestian Path takes a common-sense approach to the world – we all see it, therefore, it exists. The world is reflected in our mind with variable accuracy, and subject to our experience. Infants, for example, are unaware of the existence of separate objects. When an object is removed from an infant’s field of vision, she does not seek to discover its whereabouts – she accepts its disappearance as a natural process in a world of changing shapes and colors.
Once a child conceives of the world as a gathering of separate objects, she will identify and give them names. She sees a silvery disk high in the sky and learns it is called the moon. As the years pass, she adds concepts to that name as we learn why it changes from a crescent to a circle and back again, and then we learn about the solar system and so forth and so on, until gradually, a whole system of astronomical concepts comes to envelop us, and we can speak of galaxies, metagalaxies, black holes, and the Big Bang. Our knowledge expands exponentially, and yet it is a type of knowledge of which Chuang Tzu said, “Great knowledge makes all into one. Small knowledge breaks things into parts. When there are parts, they must have names. There are enough names. One must know when to stop.”
It is not difficult to take a rest from the activity of naming, the endless pairing of perceptions with concepts, and the interactions of concepts with each other. There are many practices for loosening the net of conceptual thinking, and a practitioner can find lots of help and advice in developing this ability. What is most helpful, however, is to remember that the pre-verbal, pre-conceptual awareness is present at all times, a few moments of mental activity before the arising of names and notions. By remaining at the level of pre-verbal awareness, and watching as names and notions arise and dissolve, one will lose the sense of separation from genuine identity and taste direct knowledge.
We must, of course, allow ourselves to use names and notions to describe our world to ourselves and each other. A world of speechless beings is not our goal, but the experience of wordless awareness is necessary to self-knowledge and seeing the world and other people in true perspective. With an understanding of the distinction between objects and the names we associate with them, and the distinction between our genuine identity and the self-description we call our self-image, we are prepared to use the tautological nature of the conceptual mind creatively. We can understand that what we call things, and how we describe ourselves and other people determines how we experience life and choose to act. The tautological nature of conceptual mind dictates that things become more like what we think and say they are.
Because things come to resemble what we say they are, we must be attentive to the names we give things, and be certain those names are accurate. We are all prophets of our own destiny in a very substantial degree. Thus, in order to keep a firm ground for wholesome growth under our own feet, we must affirm, first, last and always, that we possess genuine identity. The source of this affirmation is as near as your own existence. No one can deny his or her own existence, and the very expression of the idea, “I do not exist,” negates its truth. If you do not exist, who is making the statement?
The tautological functioning of our minds makes us vulnerable to believing lies, accepting superstitions, and granting superior status to those who wear badges of authority. A considerable volume of speech and imagery is directed at us daily, directed at destroying our belief in our genuine identity. Appeals to nihilistic sentiment abound, in high-flown, scientific, philosophical and artistic forms, and in crude, depressing expressions common in popular culture. Thus, we must actively repel self-denying, nihilistic beliefs, and like removing poison darts that would leak toxins into our bloodstream, discard these bad ideas before they take root tautologically in our own thinking. We should clear the mirror of the mind so it reflects the genuine existence of the world and the genuine identity of our fellow living beings.
THE SIXTH PRINCIPLE: BE YOUR OWN GUIDE
It is a postulate of this Western Path that all practitioners are capable of understanding and developing the path, and that no one is uniquely qualified or divinely appointed for that purpose. These words are not the product of revelation. They have not been passed down from guru to disciple. They are not secrets to be shared only among the few. To paraphrase Descartes, who saw further because he stood on the shoulders of giants, these words have been written thanks to the efforts of generations of thinkers. These words will be best used by being debated, discussed, tested and applied.
If these words do, in fact, add to human understanding, they will become the foundation for further insights, and will be used to develop future structures of understanding. This is the test of genuine thinking — that it leads to new discoveries, which lead to further discoveries. By contrast, mistaken ideas lead to conceptual dead ends that thinkers have to break out of in order to develop a valid world-view. For example, so long as astronomers believed the sun, moon, planets and stars, orbited the earth, their observations and calculations led only to a finely articulated view of a universe that existed only in their minds. Their ability to predict astronomical movements improved, but they entirely misunderstood the relations between and among the sun, the moon, earth, and its sister planets. Once the sun was put in its proper place at the center of our solar system, innumerable other valid scientific discoveries followed, and humanity’s view of its place in the universe was brought into clearer focus. Now that we can glimpse the inconceivably vast expanse of trans-galactic space revealed by the deep-field photographs from the Hubble space telescope, that view is even clearer.
Words are the building-blocks of thought. In order to be sure that we are not building illusory castles, we must examine each word to be sure it corresponds to something real. We often make the mistake of thinking that, simply because a word exists, that the thing it stands for equally exists. Words like God, Satan, Soul, eternity, goodness and evil are instantly confirmed by many people as referring to real things. But when people declare explicitly what these words actually refer to, conflict immediately breaks out, because they have no concrete, publicly-verifiable referent. Polls suggest that many people in the United States believe God to be a white, bearded male, while many Hindus believe quite differently, depicting a diverse variety of gods of both sexes and many colors. Believers in Islam claim God cannot be depicted. And Buddhists, while ostensibly not believing in any God, venerate images of a man made of gold who can do godlike things. All of this is possible because “God” is a word with only an imputed referent. This is a bad use of language. We should not adopt a word first, and then append a meaning to it. We should give names only to things that actually exist, and before we start using a word, we should ask ourselves if we actually know that the thing it represents really exists.
The tendency to construct an illusory world is especially strong in what is often called the “metaphysical” realm. Indeed, the very idea of “metaphysics” has enabled charlatans to spin webs of illusion that have ensnared vast numbers of people. In the realm of speculation, something called “belief” substitutes for knowledge, but it would be better to call it imputation, because by saying that one believes in the existence of something, they establish its existence by imputation, and use belief only to hold it in place.
By using the word “imputation,” we remind ourselves that we are the creators of these things we claim to believe in. Then we can ask ourselves why we would do such a thing. And there is no good answer to this question.
Returning to the previous example, we can see that the Church’s opposition to the heliocentric model of the solar system was based on an understandably mistaken notion — that the sun and moon orbited the earth. To the Pope and the Inquisition, it seemed that only a fool would assert that the sun remained still, when it obviously moved across the sky each day. But what made the Church scholars so confident in their mistaken understanding was a theory of the heavens that precisely, and erroneously, described the movements of the heavenly bodies around a static earth. According to this system, planets moved in “epicycles” about the earth, to account for their observed tendency to move across the sky in two different directions. These “epicycles” are nonexistent things, but once given a name and depicted in astronomical charts, they became so convincing that people who denied their existence were put to death.
To be your own guide, you must see clearly, penetratingly, looking through what seems to be true to see what actually exists. Ready-made belief-systems are virtually useless, whether clever and current or freighted with hoary wisdom, unless you have scrutinized them for real substance. Oestia is not a belief system. Oestia asserts only that you can see as well as the next human being, and indeed, only you can see with your eyes, and believing in the visions of others cannot substitute for seeing yourself.
THE SEVENTH PRINCIPLE: SHOW ONE FACE TO ALL THE WORLD
Your face communicates your thoughts, feelings and intentions. The way we’re using it here, you “face” includes your posture and gestures, your words and your tone of voice. It encompasses how you drive, how you act in a grocery line, and how you deal with everyone you meet. To reflect on the range of responses that might show in our face when dealing with others, consider these eight different categories of people: (1) people we like, (2) people we dislike, (3) people with whom we feel safe, (4) people we fear, (5) people to whom we feel superior, (6) people to whom we feel inferior, (7) people over whom we have power, and (8) people who have power over us.
As long as we have such a wide variety of responses to people, it’s very difficult to show them all the same face. So when we say that the Oestian will “show one face to all the world,” it’s clearly going to be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. There are two ways to practice showing one face to all the world – through active imagination and in direct interactions. To practice the first way, imagine people to whom you have different reactions. See them appear before you, and experience the familiar reactions boiling up inside you. As those feelings become clear in your mind, think to yourself: “You and I are equal beings. I respect you and I deserve your respect. I will be honest with you to the fullest extent you will allow.” To practice in direct interactions, you simply eliminate the imaginative activity. When the person appears in front of you, take note of the feelings that arise, and remind yourself, in the same way as you did during your imaginative practice, that you are equal to the person before you, and will be as honest with them as they will allow.
What do we mean by being as honest as the other person will allow? Sometimes people will react with extreme behavior, even violence, if we speak the truth to them. In those cases, we may not be able to voice our thoughts to the fullest extent without risking injury to ourselves or others. Then again, there may be times when we must risk injury to ourselves by speaking the truth, and at times like that, showing one face means taking that risk. Usually, however, showing one face to all the world presents no risk, and assures us of receiving the respect of others.
Showing one face to all the world strengthens our sense of self-worth. If we treat someone who is our superior with fawning obsequiousness, then lord it over another person, it destroys our sense of integrity. It causes psychic fractures that undermine our sense of wholeness, because when we look up to one person and look down on another, our feelings about ourselves go up and down like a teeter-totter. We lose our sense of independent self-worth, and are constantly reduced to seeking approval. When we don’t get it, we get angry, depressed, frustrated, and all for nothing, because the approval of others doesn’t change our own nature. Being dependent on the approval of others is like begging in the street when you have a wallet full of cash.
People often are unable to show one face to all the world because they believe they have to tell someone a lie in order to obtain their cooperation. But inducing cooperation by lying is simply fraud. Cooperation induced by fraud evaporates as soon as the truth is revealed, and is replaced by outrage. Relationships based on lies are therefore inherently unstable, and have to be fortified with additional lies to prevent collapse. Relationships that start with lies often end up as nothing more than that – edifices of deception, like decrepit old buildings propped up by massive buttresses of rotten wood, in need of a cleansing blaze. It is far better not to even start building such pathetic structures.
By showing one face to all the world, we build relationships that are truly voluntary, based on equal knowledge of the truth. Relationships built on equal knowledge of the truth are strong, and worthy of trust. Inwardly, people who show one face to all the world feel open and transparent. They are also brave, and can speak the truth even to people who don’t want to hear it. Such candor repels all types of undesirable companions, attracts those who love truth, and wins the respect of worthy people. Thus, the inward and outward benefits of showing one face to all the world make this practice, that seems so difficult at the outset, extremely pleasant, once mastered.
EIGHTH PRINCIPLE: BE NEITHER A BEGGAR NOR A TYRANT
Each person is born with their own will, which quickly becomes the target of other wills. Parents, siblings, playmates, and an endless parade of people soon appear to confront the will of the developing child with challenges, demands, directives, and most unfortunately, threats. Will, which by nature is straightforward, soon becomes bent, twisted, and convoluted as it attempts to cope with all of this counter-pressure. Some develop habits of servility, and others adopt bullying tactics. Most of us adopt a mix of the two strategies, exerting our authority whenever we can, and knuckling under whenever we must. The net result is we actually have no spine whatsoever, and are potentially petty dictators and bootlickers, depending which way the winds of fortune blow.
As it happens, circumstances in a single life will vary greatly, such that a man who eats crow from a nasty boss comes home and browbeats his wife and children. A cop whose father treated him cruelly abuses citizens he encounters on the job. Thus, if you meet a person whose manner is extremely subservient in one situation, it should not surprise you to see that, when the tables are turned and they get the opportunity to lord it over others, they take full advantage. Thus, cravenness and cruelty often coincide in one character.
You can cure the defects of both arrogance and slavishness by cultivating genuine self-respect and moral uprightness. Give more weight to how you feel about yourself than to how others view you. Abandon equally the habits of making demands and of begging for favors. Ask yourself, before you seek to enlist others to do your will, whether you can do it yourself. If your purposes require the aid of others, assume that they have their own uses for their time and energy, and plan on requesting their assistance in exchange for your own. Avoid threatening harsh consequences, and never make a threat you lack the means or will to accomplish. Refrain from forcing others into submission, because the victory will be temporary and the resentment long-lasting. When an issue must be decided by force, and you prevail, always accept your adversary’s surrender graciously, never humiliate the defeated, and return relations to normalcy as quickly as possible. Do not relish the status of a dominator, for it is the most precarious of all. Do not adopt a posture of submission, for that will undermine your integrity.
NINTH PRINCIPLE: ACT WITH CLEAR INTENT AND AWARENESS OF CONSEQUENCE
We act with our bodies and words in a world of form, peopled with persons like ourselves. What is done cannot be undone, and although errors can be corrected, it is usually best to accomplish one’s goal the first time we make the attempt. Words, once spoken, are impossible to retract, and while an apology may be accepted, more than once an unwise expression or foolish remark has led to the loss of fortune, life, and honor.
We are blessed with minds that allow us to reflect upon what we intend, and to consider the likely consequences of our acts before we do them. Impulses arise without warning, and often our bodies are propelled into action without even the opportunity to exercise this power of reflection. Thus, to act with clear intent and awareness of consequence, we must observe our mind and consider how our actions will bear fruit, before taking action. By reflecting in this way, we learn to draw a distinction between ourselves and our notions, impulses, fancies and predilections. Even when we are under great time pressure, a deliberate approach is necessary to make the best use of the small time available for action. Often, when in danger, doing nothing is the best of all possible choices, but it requires great clarity to see this option.
When considering an appropriate course of action, consider as many of the factors as are applicable — the place, the time, the people and other living beings, the intended effects, and the incidental effects. The place refers to the physical setting, which may be vast, like the entire planet, a country, or a city, or a smaller place, like a home, school, or office. The time includes the time during which you will be able to take action, the time in which others will respond, and the time over which the consequences will be felt. The people and other living beings includes all of those acting and affected by the actions you intend to take. The intended effects are the purposes you wish to accomplish, like building a house in the woods, the incidental effects of which would be cutting down trees, building a road, driving to town to buy supplies, and seeing fewer people on a daily basis.
By taking the time to consider all of these factors, you will be able to make decisions about who to involve in your project, how to take their interests into account, how to avoid harm to people and living creatures, how to elicit cooperation of others, and many other factors essential to achieving your goals. You can make your actions more efficient and productive by thinking about the order in which things should be done, which acts must precede which others, which actions are appropriate for which season, etc.
Because we live in a world of finite resources, and because our own lifetime is relatively short, using our time on earth to accomplish beneficial actions should be one of our main concerns. Satisfaction in life is born of meaningful action, and we will best achieve our goals if we act with clear intent and awareness of consequence.
TENTH PRINCIPLE: IMPROVE OUR WORLD
Each of us enters this world in a helpless condition, and during infancy and childhood we fare only as well as our environment permits. During old age and sickness we are similarly compelled to seek the aid of others. Disabled people require assistance every day of their life. And even in our strongest years, we depend on other people to provide virtually every one of life’s necessaries — food, water, shelter, clothing, and so forth. All of these necessaries are generated solely from the productive capacity of the earth, the sun, the wind and rain, in a phrase — from the planetary environment.
We can, if we choose, do nothing but take from this planetary environment. The rewards from this approach are dubious. While one individual can amass impressive wealth, he or she can only wear a few clothes, a few jewels, and can only occupy one house, airplane or automobile at a time. They can hear only one symphony or opera at a time. They can eat only one mouthful of food at a time, and howsoever many drugs they take, they have only one brain to drench in intoxicants. And as they intensify their efforts to encompass more pleasures, the frustration builds, because the power of desire far exceeds our capacity for fulfillment, and focusing on the single sensory network contained within one human body actually narrows and reduces the scope of perception and experience.
The avenue of fulfillment goes in the other direction — outward, along the vector of expanding benefit. A creative person is like a tree, that grows larger and larger, sheltering ever more creatures in its branches, casting shade and preserving water in the earth, purifying the air, and dropping fruit that is eaten by creatures that transport the seeds far and wide, growing more trees in other places.
We may wonder what such generosity will bring us in return, on a personal level. No one can answer that with predictive precision, but when good deeds are done, someone benefits, and when bad deeds are done, someone suffers. Nor can we predict who that someone will be. People build fire stations so their houses will be safe, and hospitals so they can have medical care. We share a common fate and labor in common to improve it. Not one of us can say why or how they came to be born of their parents, in their homeland, in the year and season when it all came to pass. And since none of us can say that their awareness, having once emerged in this world, might not emerge again, somewhere else, then even ordinary self-regard suggests that we should strive to improve this world during our present stay upon the planet.
True generosity is environmental, and a generous actor does not really care whether the benefit comes back to them or not. They are focused on making a better situation for whoever happens along. When we help sick people to recover from a contagious disease, we reduce the likelihood that we will get sick. When we educate a child, we increase the likelihood that some good ideas will be developed that will make life better for everyone. And in the meantime, we are surrounded by positive developments, people doing better, the planet getting cleaner, the future getting brighter. And if, as it happens, we turn up to inhabit that future, we will benefit very directly from our own past actions.
ELEVENTH PRINCIPLE: FEEL SAFE
The eleventh principle is to feel safe. You may ask how we can feel safe in a world full of dangers to our person and loved ones. Feeling safe might seem to depend on faith in some mystical explanation of our existence, because it flies in the face of many bodily instincts, and is challenged by our fear of death. Accordingly, most religions urge us to affirm faith in our eternal, indestructible nature. However, except for the rare person who experiences a subjective perception of their own deathless nature, the belief in one’s eternal, indestructible nature remains a mere conceptual notion that we dogmatically resolve to affirm. Experience shows that affirming the eternity or indestructibility of the soul alternates with doubt, and leaves our ultimate position uncertain. The sense of safety thus eludes the dogmatic believer.
By contrast, the eleventh principle invokes the feeling of confidence that allows us to walk across an abyss without fear, on a well-constructed bridge. We are simply urged to feel safe, to allow ourselves to rest. Feelings are distinct from ideas, and can be invoked even in the absence of justifying notions.
Some physiological knowledge may help us here. The feeling of safety actually has a physical root in our sense of balance, movement, stillness, and postural self-awareness. We have two subtle sensing organs in our inner ear, located behind the heavy mastoid bones you can feel aft of your ears on either side of your skull. These fluid-filled chambers are lined with touch-sensitive neurons that feel the position of the fluid inside the chamber and also perceive the settling activity of tiny crystals suspended in the slightly viscous fluid. As these crystals settle on the floor of these chambers, the neurons receive the message of stillness. Scientific research shows that this feeling of stillness, mediated through what is called the vestibular system, is essential to our sense of security. Those tiny, falling crystals make us feel safe. Stillness stimulates the feeling of security.
Thanks to our vestibular system, which has a unique characteristic among the neural receptors of the brain – it does not stop transmitting a signal when stimulation ceases, but rather transmits an “at rest” signal after all stimulative motion has ceased – we can feel safe. By actively embracing our capacity to feel safe, something that might be called a psycho-physical gift of nature, we can draw strength from our inner resources to pursue the peaceful western path. Feeling safe obliterates a thousand false fears and trivial anxieties in the first instance, and helps us relate creatively with justified fears.
Being still leads to feeling safe, calm and clear. Still water reflects like a mirror, and in the calm mind the tautological functioning of awareness is restored to its original purity. The mind, capable of endless movement, fluid and reflective, reveals its clarity and mirrorlike qualities to us when we allow stillness to suffuse our body and mind. In this clarity, understanding arises naturally, and all of the articulated principles are known intuitively, directly.
OESTIA: PRINCIPLES & PRACTICE OF THE WESTERN PATH
Oestia – the name derives from the word “oeste,” meaning “the west” in Spanish, the language most spoken by people of the Western hemisphere. The world’s best-known religions have their roots in the east, and are thus basically imports that came with the colonists from Europe, and were imposed at least initially, by fire and the sword. But the most unique characteristic of Oestia is its rejection of revelation as the source of knowledge.
The essential Oestian Principle is that each person sees only by virtue of their power of understanding. All education depends on engaging this power, and all learning can go no farther than the aptitude of the pupil will permit.
There are many obstacles to engaging the power of understanding, and the first of these is a lack of faith. We speak not of a lack of faith in anything other than ourselves. She who turns away from learning, calling herself ignorant, or he who turns aside from reflection, saying such tasks are for persons of greater wit, may as well blindfold their own eyes and stuff wax in their ears, for they will gain the same result. Their knowledge of life will be limited to what others tell them, and if they find themselves guided to destruction, they may blame their errant guides, but the fault is truly their own.
In Oestia, you will find no revelation but the revelation that your mind is the source of the light by which you steer your way through the abysses and precipices of your daily existence. It is not the purpose of Oestia to spread a doctrine or inculcate beliefs, but rather to empower each one who hears to have faith in him or herself, and to put their understanding into action.
A thousand church fathers would tear such a statement out of their holy works, if indeed it had ever been found therein, or would so coat it with slavish notions that its meaning would disappear. Therefore, be ever alert for compromise notions that turn warnings like these into dead formulas, and enjoin listeners to belief. For belief is not a virtue in this path, and faith in the formulations of others is a denial of faith in oneself.
All of these warnings against faith in others, however, will not make this Oestian path a perch for libertines, solipsists, nihilists, and other self-idolizing fools who believe that whatever notion suffuses their brain-tissue is the light of self-understanding. “Do what thou wilt” shall not be the whole of the law, or the smallest fragment of it. If there is a symbol for “Beware, Begone, and Do Not Dare,” it is directed toward those who would make Oestia a banner under which to proclaim a license to act without consequence. Let them cleanse their intentions, and come again with a pure heart.
If this Western Path does not arise from revelation or from unfettered subjectivism, whence does it arise? From common sense. By common sense is not meant the judgment of the herd, that mooing that we hear arising from the masses as they are moved from the feed-pen to the abattoir, but rather what Thomas Paine meant by common sense – the application of reason to the questions of existence without resort to revelations, nostrums, or willful ignorance.
Wherefore, then, is it “common” sense? It is “common” because we test our individual knowledge and discoveries in the crucible of public conversation, because we confine our discussion to subjects that can be comprehended by people of ordinary wit, and because we admit as evidence that testimony that can be confirmed by others, without resort to belief, dogma, revelation, or supernatural aid.
The objection is heard, however, that while such methods of inquiry may be suitable to discover the genetic composition of humanity, the structure of the atom, the orbital characteristics of the planets, and the distance from here to the farthest galaxies, they are not sufficient to answer questions regarding the nature of the soul, its disposition after death, and how justice is accorded among those of disparate virtue. It is high time this notion was put to rest, which lives on only because it has not been put to an honest test, and is ever being coddled like the only child of a noble family, who while afflicted with ill-health, is yet the only hope for the continuation of the line.
The simple test is this – if you would not rely upon an authority for the preservation of your body, do not rely upon it for the preservation of your soul. If you do not make haste to the temple door when the body of your newborn infant is assailed by a fever that is visibly consuming her life as the seconds pass, but instead race to the hospital, then why would you do so when the health of your spirit is at issue? For while the hospitals often return the sick to health, what temple displays in its pews all those of the faithful who have turned death aside with a prayer? The best that can be said is that some of the believers assert that they comport themselves somewhat more decently than would be the case if they abandoned their beliefs. At recovery meetings they declare themselves helpless, fall down begging for aid from a Higher Power, then strut with pride at being the servants of a Living God. They may as well have twirled themselves about twice and claim to no longer be themselves, for the truth is, having conceived themselves to be trapped in a hole, they have imagined a rope to climb out with, and with great satisfaction declare that the problem has been solved – at least so long as they do not question the cause of their recovery, and ceaselessly declaim, “not by my power, but thine, O Lord.”
Consider how little basis the average believer has for his choice of a religious faith. Billions default to the beliefs of their parents, who surely knew no better than they whether Allah, Buddha, Christ or Krishna was most worthy to be deified. This is but inherited ignorance, masquerading as wisdom. But then consider the case of the person who studies religions like a shopper, tasting this one and that one, until at last she settles upon her choice, casts aside doubt, and resolves to believe. If there was reason to the choosing process, why must reason be abandoned once the choice is made? One might as well stake one’s worldly future in a casino on the roll of a single die or the placement of a single chip on an expanse marked with odd and even numbers. Surely this is no way to dispose of your most precious possession, your own identity. Since it is, after all, your own identity, should you not keep hold of it, take responsibility for its destiny, and do all you can to understand how that destiny can be shaped for the best?
Do you tremble at the thought of being your own refuge? Does loneliness assail? Does darkness threaten? Perhaps it does, and if so that is evidence that whatever comfort you have obtained from doctrines and beliefs, you are still a shivering child, naked in the world but for borrowed notions.
To those who remain bereft despite the spiritual assurances disseminated by believers of various faiths, the Western Path offers the following assurance. There is knowledge that is objectively verifiable, subject to questioning and discussion, available for our consideration, acceptance, or rejection. There is a path that you can follow that is neither your own, lonely trail through the wilderness, nor the broad, domesticated highway paved with conventional notions. It is a path where you will be presented with postulates, principles, and practices for your consideration, examination, and adoption, according to your own decision. If you find, as many honest people have, that you are capable of standing on your own, you may well regard the doctrines of established religions as a pile of crutches, canes, and prosthetic limbs for which you have no need.
What then is the purpose of calling this path the Western Path? What is the need of this finger pointing at the moon when the moon is there for all to see? Why set up Oestia in the marketplace of faiths to compete with other religions like Coke, Dr. Pepper and Pepsi? Because you have the right. Because no one has done it. Because, if it has been done, it has been covered over again, and requires a renewed declaration. Because, if you are asked, “Have you a religious belief?” You can say, knowing exactly what you mean, “Yes, I am a follower of the Western Path.”
THE SENSE OF KNOWING & THE INADEQUACY OF REVELATION TO SATISFY IT
We are knowers by nature. There are many types of knowledge. A person can be wrong about something, or right, or in a state of ignorance, and that is just the beginning. For example, I may think there is water in a jar, because I just filled it up. That knowledge is probably correct, but maybe someone just emptied the jar, or it had a crack in the bottom, and the water all ran out. So there we have the potential to be right, to be wrong, and to be wrong while reasonably thinking we’re right. What’s the same in all cases is that we think we are right. That’s what I call “the sense of knowing.”
There are lots of things to think about this sense of knowing. For example, we may look at the interpersonal aspect of the sense of knowing. One person on a jury may sense that they know a defendant is innocent of a crime. Another may sense the defendant to be guilty of the same crime. As the trial progresses, and they hear more evidence, or attend to the judge’s legal instructions, they may change their views. This is because when dealing with complex questions, the sense of knowledge is a rough sense that gradually becomes refined. The jurors become focussed on what it actually means to be guilty or innocent. If the trial has been successful, their sense of what they need to know becomes more focussed and accurate. The smarter, less biased, more attentive jurors will educate those who are less intelligent, more impulsive, less attentive. And these qualities vary among individuals. The intelligent may be impulsive, and those less agile intellectually may be more attentive than clever people. So a group decision-making process like a jury, usually directed by three actors — two lawyers and a judge — can often produce surprisingly unanimous agreements among people initially disposed to think very differently about things. Through a process of communication, they all come to an agreement about what they need to know to answer the question: “Is the defendant guilty or innocent?”
If we think about this process of reaching a satisfactory sense of knowing, first, we find we need to know the question, and second, how to answer it. A person who is aware of this process will value the sense of knowing. They will not rush to conclude that they are correct, or that another is wrong. They will feel comfortable, when the question is not yet defined, or the facts to answer it are unknown, in saying “I do not know.” They will confess easily a lack of knowledge. They will have a sense of not knowing.
Taking the first issue — how to know the question we seek to answer — we see it opens the door to yet another question — how do we define the question? What is it we want to know? The answer is different depending on your goals. An emergency physician may care to know that an accident victim is drunk, but for completely different reasons than a police officer, whose reasons would be different from those of a news reporter, etc.
Which brings us full circle to the initial topic of our concern. We are talking religion here. We aren’t trying to cure, or convict, or make a news item out of someone. Indeed, if we are drunk, we might want to know, most fundamentally, why we have gotten ourselves into that condition. That is often a question that moves people to think religiously.
So now I will venture to promulgate a religious tenet for your consideration — that our primary religious goal is to develop an intimate acquaintance with the fundamental factulty of knowing. And we are not going to develop that intimate acquaintance by taking someone else’s word for what it means to be a knower, or what questions we should ask, or what information we need to answer those questions. We will develop that intimate acquaintance asking ourselves questions like, “What is bothering me?” “What do I really want?” “Why am I lonely?” And of course, “What is it that I really want to know?”
If you accept this religious tenet as accurate, I will consider my conclusion proven — that no revelation — defined as a revelation from someone else to you — will ever satisfy a refined, well-developed desire to satisfy your sense of knowledge. You may, indeed you must, share questions, views, opinions, and gather evidence, and you must pursue your own inquiry.
So now, to conclude this discussion with more than a mere refutation of the adequacy of revelation, I will return to my prior observation — that someone who wants to attain a satisfactory sense of knowledge must be comfortable admitting that they do not know. They may not even know the question, or questions, they want to ask themselves. They may not know what facts to gather to answer them. And in this condition they must seek to become comfortable.
THE FIVE-BILLION YEAR PLAN
In five-billion years, the astronomers say, the sun will go through a two-billion year red giant phase. Living on Earth will get tough. The consequences of the red giant transformation will be deadly for humanity, if we are caught flat-footed. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific website says:
As Oestians, we are pledged to continue the existence of humanity. We need to develop a plan to deal with this threat. By assuming responsibility for the world we pass to future generations of humanity, we start taking ourselves seriously as a species.