The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth
A View by Richard Lang
MY IDENTITY AS HUMANITY
Extending Beyond My Skin
My observer, studying my human life, notices I do not stop at the boundary of my skin. My body is forever growing and shrinking. I extend into the clothes I wear and the cutlery I eat with, the chair I sit on and the house I live in - then detach myself from these things when I no longer need them. Unlike the albatross I can amputate my wings when I land. I develop wheels and then shed them. I grow a hard finger to chisel wood but unlike the woodpecker am not attached to it for the rest of my life. I need all these accessories to be fully human. Without these outer attachable and detachable extensions to my body I would be reduced to a naked primitive, to an animal.
My own view confirms this flexibility. Looking out from my centre I am capacity for my headless body. Picking up a spanner I become capacity for both my hand and the tool it holds, sensitive not only throughout my hand but also throughout the spanner.
The more skilful I am with my tools the more I incorporate them so that my awareness extends into them without my thinking about it -- I am cutting bread, not holding a knife that cuts bread; I am sweeping the floor, not holding a brush that sweeps the floor. It is I who drive, dig, write, paint, surf the net... My sense of self expands into the extended body I take on, and contracts when I no longer need it. Only because I am capacity at centre can I be so flexible. If I were really at centre what I look like at say six feet, I would be stuck with the body I see in the mirror.
My sense of self expands into systems I share with other people. At home with the other members of my household I share a single preliminary stomach (the oven), a single external bowel (the sewage pipe), a single system of extended ears and vocal chords (the telephone), a single container, (the building). Being capacity for my house (including the other people who are also capacity for it), I take it on as my extended body. Viewed from outside, from the neighbours say, I am a household. At work through the eyes of other businesses around me, I may be an office, a mine, a hospital, a world-wide oil company, an army, a government, a shop - depending on what I do. As an individual I operate my work limbs from my unique centre - alongside others operating the same limbs from their centre. I then drop these limbs when I finish work at the end of the day.
The Body Of Humanity
The total human body I extend into includes all humans and the total world-wide web of services and devices that knits them into a whole. It is this world-embracing creature whose body is my extended physique that my observer can see from the air. At several thousand feet I am a fine network or creeper whose threads branch out over much of the planet's land surface.
Though I am most active in the day, I glow brightly at night.
My name is
I recognize myself as human
when I am in the presence of (and am capacity for) other species. Let's say I am working in the garden. A robin is watching me dig the ground. It doesn't know me as Richard, or as a Londoner, or as an Englishman, but as a human being
. Of course it doesn't have these thoughts (it isn't human) but through its eyes I see myself
. If a neighbour dropped by she would, in the mind of the robin, be another human being
appearing - unlike a fox, say, who obviously isn't human. Through the eyes of animals I become self-consciously human.
(Recently as Humanity I have spread widely at the expense of other species. They
have had to adapt to my rapid expansion and to the development of my many
new organs, some of which are loud and travel fast along the ground,
others which fly in the air...)
Body And Mind
My individual body is a limb or organ of my greater body - the many-limbed body of Humanity. When I identify with this Hydra-like animal I become responsible for the actions of all humans everywhere (and at all times), for all humans are limbs of this body of mine. Not only is the whole body
of Humanity mine but the whole mind
too, this mind being the sum total of every view out
- from every person in every time and place. Psychologists confirm this level of my identity when they find below the surface of an individual's mind evidence not only of an individual unconscious but a collective unconscious too. As we can see, this collective level of mind is matched by a corresponding body.
Growing And Shrinking
I am continually expanding from this single human identity of mine, out into my family, my city, my nation and my species, and continually contracting back down from my total human body into my individual one. The particular body I take on depends on the company I keep. In the company of friends I am a person with a name (my identity is reflected back to me by them), whereas in the company of foreignors I am English, and in the company of cats and dogs, say, I am human. It is only when I embrace all my human neighbours that I can claim to be completely human. Leave one person out and I am no longer fully myself.
My individual identity and my identity as all of Humanity are inseparable. They are two sides of one coin. An individual by herself, without the rest of humanity, isn't viable, at least as a human being. In countless ways everything about my individual human identity is linked to and dependent on the rest of humanity. Language, for example, is meaningless without others to communicate with. And anyway there is the basic fact that I find my identity in others, just as they find their identity in me. Without other human beings I am no longer human.
Humanity's Three Stages Of Life
Just as there are potentially three main stages in my development as an individual - baby, adult and seer - so there are potentially three main stages in my development as a species. In my early life as Humanity I did not yet stand outside myself and view myself as a species distinct from other species and the environment. Unconscious of my appearance I identified with my view out - with animals and plants, rocks and rivers, sun and stars. Unselfconscious I did not yet feel separate from the world around me. In the second stage I came to view myself from a distance, now identifying myself as different from other species and distinct from the environment. This self-conscious view gave rise to human
culture. Now I could say: "I am not an animal, I am human." This is generally how Humanity identifies itself today. However, during the last few thousand years a small but growing number of people (the great mystics) have become aware that our human identity is not all that we are. Each person, the mystics have discovered, is in reality not what they look like but is spacious awareness - capacity
for other people, capacity
for other species, capacity
for the whole living universe. And this timeless, boundless capacity
that each person can find within themselves is One - it is the same in all beings everywhere. Here in this indivisible presence (or absence!) I am one with my neighbour, one with the robin, one with the rocks and rivers, the moon and stars. This discovery profoundly changes the way a person relates to 'other' beings, for others are now realised to be oneself. Hopefully the mystics, so rare in the past, were forerunners of an evolutionary development in the whole of Humanity - signs that the species is moving into the third stage where it will be normal to be aware of Who one really is. Our survival as a species may well depend on our awakening to our True Identity, for our delusion that we are simply what we look like, and therefore separate from all other beings and the rest of the cosmos, so productive as it has been in terms of the emergence and development of human culture, is now threatening to kill both ourselves and much of the rest of Life.
The Tathagata [Awakened One] divides his own body into innumerable bodies, and also restores an infinite number of bodies to one body. Now he becomes cities, villages, houses. Now he has a large body, now he has a small body. Mahaparinirvana Sutra
My only claim to this hand is that when it is hurt I am hurt, and what it touches I touch, and all its deeds are mine; and my only claim to Humanity is that I am responsible for my neighbour, wherever he lives and whatever he does. For until I am him I am not myself. To know myself I must study him, and to be at peace with myself I must love him: all my hatred is self-hatred. The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth, Douglas Harding
Go to My Identity As Life
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