CURIOSITY: The desire to enlarge oneself is the desire to embrace
more and more possibilities, to be constantly learning,
to give oneself entirely over to curiosity.



rilke — live the questions

“There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. . . . to keep growing, silently, and earnestly, through your whole development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to questions that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer. . . . I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer. . . . Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which would not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday, far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” — Letters to A Young Poet

marilynne robinson

From the introduction to “The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought.”

“These essays were written for various uses and occasions over a number of years. … They assert, in one way or another, that the prevailing view of things can be assumed to be wrong, and that its opposite, being its image or shadow, can also be assumed to be wrong. They undertake to demonstrate that there are other ways of thinking, for which better arguments can be made.”

“I assumed, and was educated to believe, that I would live my life in a civilization of expanding comprehension. The old lost myth of civilization is that it unfolds, that it opens up the realizations of which it is capable, that it instructs itself.”

“It all comes down to the mystery of the relationship between mind and cosmos. Those who would employ reductive definitions of utility or reality credit their own perceptions of truth with fundamentalist simple-heartedness, brooking no allusion to complexities and ambiguities and countervailing experience.”

“I can only suggest that terror at complexity has driven us back on a very crude monism. We have reached a point where cosmology permits us to say that everything might in fact be made of nothing, so we cling desperately to the idea that something is real and necessary.”

“I want to overhear passionate arguments about what we are and what we are doing and what we ought to do. I want to feel that art is an utterance made in good faith by one human being to another. I want to believe there are geniuses scheming to astonish the rest of us, just for the pleasure of it. I miss civilization, and I want it back.”

“Evidence is always construed, and it is always liable to being misconstrued no matter how much care is exercised in collecting and evaluating it. At best, our understanding of any historical moment is significantly wrong, and this should come as no surprise, since we have little grasp of any present moment. The present is elusive for the same reason as the past. There are no true boundaries around it, no limit to the number of factors at work in it.”

“This is to say that the truth should be adhered to, to the very significant degree that truth can be established.”

“We are always happy to assume objectivity and competence, though each dazzling hypothesis awaits displacement by the next.”

“Meanwhile, many myths abide, so firmly established in the common mind that no one thinks to challenge them.”

“The problem is that there is something about they way we teach and learn that makes it seem naïve to us to talk about these things outside a classroom, and pointless to return to them in the course of actual life.”

“When people still had sensibilities, and encouraged them in one another, they assumed the value and even the utility of many kinds of learning for which now we can find no use whatever. It was not leisure that was the basis of culture, as many have argued, but the profoundly democratic idea that anyone was only incidentally the servant of his or her interests in this world; that, truly and ideally, a biography was the passage of a soul through the vale of its making, or its destruction, and that the business of the world was a parable or a test or temptation or distraction and therefore engrossing, and full of the highest order of meaning, but in itself a fairly negligible thing.”

“Reading, above the level of the simplest information, is an act of great inwardness and subjectivity, and this is why and how it had such a profound meaning while it did — the soul encountered itself in its response to a text, first Genesis or Matthew and then ‘Paradise Lost’ or ‘Leaves of Grass.’”

“It seems a sad failure that we have not done more to make the world intelligible to ourselves, and ourselves to the world.”

richard rorty — literary culture

“The desire to enlarge oneself is the desire to embrace more and more possibilities, to be constantly learning, to give oneself entirely over to curiosity.”

“Kierkegaard rightly said that philosophy began to set up itself as a rival to religion when Socrates suggested that our self-knowledge was a knowledge of God — that we had no need of help from a non-human person because the truth was already within us. But literature began to set up itself as a rival to philosophy when people like Cervantes and Shakespeare began to suspect that human beings were, and ought to be, so diverse that there is no point in pretending that they all carry a single truth deep in their bosoms. ... Initiatives like Cervantes's and Shakespeare's helped create a sort of intellectual — one who does not take the availability of redemptive truth for granted and is not much interested in whether God or Truth exists. ... This change helped create today's high culture, one to which religion and philosophy have become marginal.”

“For members of the literary culture, redemption is to be achieved by getting in touch with the present limits of human imagination ... a 'literary intellectual' thinks that a life that is not lived close to the present limits of the human imagination is not worth living.”

Some people see human beings as machines constructed by God or Evolution to, among other things, know the truth and get things right. Pragmatists want our culture to get rid of that self-image and replace it with a picture of machines that continually adjust to each other's behavior and to their environment by developing novel kinds of behavior. These machines have no fixed program or function; they continually reprogram themselves so as to serve hitherto undreamed of functions.
Rise of the Literary Culture> Redemption from Egotism> Rorty and Adams>

ross and hills the sickness

“Thinking that we know, when we actually do not, is a special sickness to which all people are prone. Only when we become sick of such conceit and fraud can we cure ourselves of the sickness.”

rumi — human being

Christian or Jew or
Muslim. Not Hindu,
Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen.

Not any religion
Or cultural system. I am
not from the East
or the West, not
out of the ocean or up
From the ground, not
natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all.

I do not exist,
Am not an entity in this
world or the next,
did not descend from
Adam and Eve or any
Origin story. My place is
the placeless, a trace
of the traceless.

Neither body or soul,
I belong to the beloved,
have seen the two
worlds as one and
that one
call to and know.

First, last, outer, inner,
only that breath breathing


salman rushdie — the power of story

“The row over ‘The Satanic Verses’ was at bottom an argument over who should have control over the grand narrative, the Story of Islam, and that the power must belong equally to everyone. That even if my novel were incompetent, its attempt to retell the story would still be important. That if I’ve failed, others must succeed, because those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.”

bertrand russell — uncertainty

“The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the cooperation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find … that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom.”

jane smiley — “a thousand acres”

“It was nearly forty miles from our place to Mason City. We drove it in a kind of wholesome silence, carrying our whole long marriage, all the hope and kindness that it represented, with us. What it felt like was sitting in Sunday school singing, ‘Jesus Loves Me,’ sitting in little chairs, surrounded by sunlight and drawings, and having those first inklings of doubt, except that doubt presents itself simply as added knowledge, something new, for the moment, to set beside what is already known. As if nothing were contradictory and all things could be believed simultaneously. My love for Ty, which I had never questioned, felt simple like that, like belief. But I believed I was going to sleep with Jess Clark with as full a certainty.”

“The families who lived here had only the most tenuous links to one another. Each lived a distinct style, to divergent ends. That was what was to be envied, not, as I had thought as a child, the closeness or the sociability, but the uniqueness of each family's fate, each family's, each couple's, freedom to make or find something apart from the others.”

huston smith — why religion matters

"I am angry at us — modern Westerners who, forsaking clear thinking, have allowed ourselves to become so obsessed with life’s material underpinnings that we have written science a blank check. This is the cause of our spiritual crisis." A Book Review>

d.t. suzuki — zen: rumors of nothing

Zen has nothing to teach us in the way of intellectual analysis; nor has it any set doctrines which are imposed upon its followers. Zen has no God to worship and no ceremonial rites to observe. Zen has no sacred books or dogmatic tenets.

If I am asked what Zen teaches I would answer, "Zen teaches nothing." Whatever teachings come out of Zen come out of one’s own mind. As far as content goes, there is none in Zen that can be described or presented or demonstrated for your intellectual appreciation.

Zen is not a philosophy; Zen is not a religion. Zen is not meditation, for meditation is something artificiality put on; it does not belong to the native activity of the mind.

All the causes, all the conditions for enlightenment are in the mind; they are merely waiting for maturity.

Absolute faith is placed in human inner being, for whatever authority is in Zen all comes from within the individual; getting into the real nature of one’s own mind or soul is the real object of Zen Buddhism.

If there is anything Zen strongly emphasizes it is the attainment of freedom; that is, freedom from all unnatural encumbrances.

Zen wants to have one’s mind free and unobstructed; even the reasoning faculty is not to be considered final or absolute; even the idea of oneness or allness is a stumbling-block and a strangling snare which threatens the original freedom of spirit.

The basic idea of Zen is to come in touch with the inner workings of our being, and to do this in the most direct way possible, without resorting to anything external or superadded.

seng ts'an — the sickness

If you want to get the plain truth,
Be not concerned with right and wrong.
The conflict between right and wrong
is the sickness of the mind.

paul tillich — you are accepted

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we are estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage.

Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying, “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.”

In that moment . . . reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.

MMMtillich — excerpts

Symbols point beyond themselves to something else.

Symbols open up a level of reality that is otherwise closed to us. All arts create symbols for a level of reality that cannot be reached in any other way.

There are within us dimensions of which we cannot become aware except through symbols.

Like living beings, symbols grow and die.

Everything that is of ultimate concern is made into a god. Whatever we say about that which concerns us ultimately, whether or not we call it God, has a symbolic meaning.

Faith, as understood as the state of being ultimately concerned, has no language other than symbols.

Ultimate concern cannot deny its own character as ultimate. Atheism, consequently, can only mean the attempt to remove any ultimate concern, to remain unconcerned about the meaning of one's existence. Indifference toward ultimate questions can be the only form of atheism.

If existence refers to something that can be found within the whole of reality, no divine being exists.

Discussions about the existence or nonexistence of God are meaningless. "The existence of God" is simply an impossible combination of words.

Myth, literally "stories of the gods," take material from our ordinary experience, putting them into the framework of time and space, although it belongs to the nature of the ultimate to be beyond time and space.

All stories of divine-human interaction are considered mythological in character and subject to demytholization.

Christianity speaks the mythological language like every other religion.

The primitive mythological consciousness resists the attempt to interpret the myth of the myth. It is afraid of every act of demytholization. It believes that the broken myth is deprived of its truth and of its convincing power. Those who live in an unbroken mythological world feel safe and certain. They resist, often fanatically, any attempt to introduce an element of uncertainty by "breaking the myth," namely, by making conscious it symbolic character.

Such resistance is supported by authoritarian systems, religious or political, in order to give security to the people under their control and unchallenged power to those who exercise the control.

The resistance against demytholization expresses itself in literalism, in which the symbols and myths are understood in their immediate meaning. Creation is taken as a magic act which happened once upon a time. The fall of Adam is localized to a special geographical and attributed to a human individual. The virgin birth of the Messiah is understood in biological terms, resurrection and ascension as physical events ...

The presumption of such literalism is that God is a being acting in time and space. Literalism deprives God of his ultimacy, and religiously speaking, his majesty. It draws him down to the level of that which is not ultimate, the finite and conditional. Faith, if it takes its symbols literally, becomes idolatrous. It calls something ultimate with is less than ultimate.

There are two stages of literalism.

1. The natural stage of literalism is that in which the mythical and the literal are indistinguishable. This stage has a full right of its own and should not be disturbed up to the moment when man's questioning mind breaks the natural acceptance of the mythological visions as literal.

2. The conscious stage of literalism is aware of the questions but represses them, half consciously, half unconsciously. The tool of repression is the acknowledged authority to which one gives unconditional surrender.

The enemy of critical theology is not natural literalism but conscious literalism with repression of and aggression toward autonomous thought.

leo tolstoy — freethinkers

“I divide men into two lots. They are freethinkers, or they are not freethinkers. Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking; where it is absent, discussion is apt to become worse than useless. A man may be a Catholic, a Frenchman, or a capitalist, and yet be a freethinker; but if he puts his Catholicism, his patriotism, or his interest above his reason, and will not give the latter free play where those subjects are touched, he is not a freethinker. His mind is in bondage.”

mmma new beginning

The purpose of a human life is to bring the irrational beginning of our life to a rational beginning. In order to succeed in this, two things are important: (1) to see all the irrational, unwise things in life and direct your attention to them and study them; (2) to understand the possibility of a rational, wise life.

The major purpose of all teachers of mankind was the understanding of the irrational and rational beginnings of our life.



UNCERTAINTY: Living with no supernatural justifications,
no complete explanations, no promise of permanent
stability, with guides of merely probable validity.