“Live in the moment” and “seize the day” are popular sayings that can easily be equated with hedonism and the left-hand tantric doctrines of India and Tibet. These sayings can create minds that do not live in but rather depend on the moment. Past and future are purposely folded into a planned, contrived “present” that obliterates consciousness for sensation, a kind of cheap mysticism of what exists in the material and is ephemeral. Being human, there will always be the temptation of delight, the burning of the candle at both ends, to quote the famous poem (Edna St. Vincent Millay). But the simplicity universal to all sages provides what is not contrived but is nevertheless real and cumulative. This suggests an attentiveness rooted in the real but not in the senses only. Perhaps the point is not to seek exuberance or ecstasy at all, so that living in the moment really is achievable in every moment not from any effort on our part but from letting everything else — everything contrived — go.
In a poem by the Chinese mountain hermit Ch’ing-hung, he recalls the day a gibbon came and took pears from his tree. The passage reminds translator Bill Porter of the story of the Taoist who took the magic peaches of immortality while visiting the Queen Mother of the West. In western lore, we may recall the golden apples of the Hesperides and, of course, the fruit of the Garden of Eden and St. Augustine’s purloined pears of youth. In the west a monster jealously guards the fruit; there is a message of despair, ignorance, and loss. Perhaps we are, with Ch’ing-hung, better to identify with the “no-mind” gibbon. I think of the “no-mind” bears, birds, and raccoons that “steal” the “fruit” — sunflower seeds — from my proffered garden and wonder at this magic.
I don’t know why they have not left but two cardinals remain, usually in the myrtle tree or bamboo, at dusk. I had removed the feeders under the roof eaves, in part because clever raccoons were climbing to the roof via a lean-to and either pulling the feeders up or knocking them to the ground. Then one day at dusk I heard birds fluttering in the myrtle and remembered the feeders. I retrieved and replenished one, hung it up, and moved away about five meters. One of the cardinals immediately flew straight for the feeder. Since then at dusk I notice the cardinal’s characteristic chirps; at dawn, too, it chirps, and I go out and hang up the feeder like a morning lantern. And though the feeder is hidden as soon as darkness falls, raccoons wax proud at having undone clipped hooks intended to foil them. Between birds and raccoons, no shortage of intelligence.
And bears. The mother and three cubs have reappeared several times lately. The cubs are tripled in size, leaving their mother looking positively scrawny. Still they travel together as a family.
Aristotle’s famous statement, “Man is a social animal,” has become emblematic of the notion of the necessity of social existence and the supremacy of politics and institutions over individuals. But what the statement itself and its proponents fail to realize is that the “social” is greater than human contrivances. Humans are part of the physical environment around them, part of the earth and seas, wind and rain, of the stars and galaxies. These, too, constitute the “social” context in which humans lead their lives. The other “social” part neglected by the proponents is the “social” relationship we have within our selves. Not so much that we are thinking beings, as Pascal said, but that we are sentient beings, and, moreover, conscious beings. From the consciousness within our minds to the farthest reaches of the universe, these are the “social” contexts in which we exist, not merely the circumscribed world of busy culture and the society in which we happen to be born, live, and die. If we are social animals, then our “society” is much greater than anything Aristotle or his followers ever imagined. The corollary, of course, is that our solitude cannot be viewed as the opposite of being social. It is social in this grand context.
What is the source of justice, or of any virtue? Is it the state, as Plato thought in his utopian period, or is it the rational faculty of human beings, as Socrates said? Is it collective historical experience that evolves a mindset of progress, or is it God conferring a divine right to whomever embraces a justifying interpretation of power? From collective experience came constitutions and declarations. From divine right and the “will of the people” come kings, potentates, and dictators. But in the end, all unnatural and contrived expressions, whether of power, divine inspiration, or seizing of opportune historical moments, are destined to pass. Humanity fails to embrace justice because it fails to comprehend that these aforementioned are not its source. Justice comes not from anything humans create. Justice comes from the universe and from nature. Justice constitutes the Way in myriad subtle expressions of nature. Evoking the empathy of human beings, justice becomes the harmony that the Way extends to existence. Society fails to perceive that “letting go” — not contriving — reveals justice. For individuals, solitude is the “letting go” of what is contrived to follow nature’s harmony, and to practice that justice that is already built into existence.