Nature as a School of Distance,

mere Facts without Meaning, Finality, or Intention

(from "Ride the Tiger")




[...] Also for us, it is a matter of a human type whom nature no longer interests by offering him what is "artistic," rare, characteristic; he who no longer seeks in nature the "beauty" that merely feeds confused nostalgias and speaks to fantasy. For this human type, there can be no landscape more beautiful than another, but some landscapes can be more distant, boundless, calm, cool, harsh, and primordial than others. He hears the language of things of the world not among trees, brooks, beautiful gardens, before oleographic sunsets and romantic moonlight, but rather in deserts, rocks, steppes, glaciers, murky Nordic fjords, the implacable, tropical sun, great ocean currents - in fact, in everything primordial and inaccessible. It naturally follows that the man with this sentiment of nature relates to it more actively - almost by absorbing its own pure, perceived force - than in a vague, lax, and rambling contemplation.

If for the bourgeois generation nature was a kind of idyllic Sunday interlude of small-town life, and if for the latest generation it is the stage for acting out its vacuous, invasive, and contaminating vulgarity, it is for our differentiated man a school of objectivity and distance; it is something fundamental in his sense of existence, exhibiting an absolute character. At this point one can clearly speak of a nature that in its elementarity is the great world where the stone and steel panoramas of the metropolis, the endless avenues, the functional complexes of industrial areas are on the same level, for example, as great, solitary forests as symbols of a fundamental austerity, objectivity, and impersonality.

With regard to the problems of inner orientation in our epoch, I have always valued ideas present in traditional esoteric doctrines. This also applies to what I have just said. The liberation of nature from the human, the access to it through the language of silence and the inanimate seems congenial to one who would turn the objective, destructive processes of the modern world to his own advantage. But the direction is no different from that which schools of traditional wisdom, like Zen, knew through a real cleansing and transparency of the glance or an opening of the eye, an enlightening revelation of the consciousness that has overcome the fetters of the physical I, of the person, and his values.

The result here is an experience that already belongs to a different level from that of ordinary consciousness. It does not exactly concern the matter of this book, but it is still interesting to point out its relationship with the vision of the world centered on free immanence, which was mentioned in an earlier chapter (in which a fleeting allusion to Zen itself was made) and which I now reconsider as the limit of a new realism. Ancient tradition has a saying: "The infinitely distant is the return." Among the maxims of Zen that point in the same direction is the statement that the "great revelation," acquired through a series of mental and spiritual crises, consists in the recognition that "no one and nothing 'extraordinary' exists in the beyond"; only the real exists. Reality is, however, lived in a state in which "there is no subject of the experience nor any object that is experienced," and under the sign of a type of absolute presence, "the immanent making itself transcendent and the transcendent immanent." The teaching is that at the point at which one seeks the Way, one finds oneself further from it, the same being valid for the perfection and "realization" of the self. The cedar in the courtyard, a cloud casting its shadow on the hills, falling rain, a flower in bloom, the monotonous sound of waves: all these "natural" and banal facts can suggest absolute illumination, the satori. As mere facts they are without meaning, finality, or intention, but as such they have an absolute meaning. Reality appears this way, in the pure state of "things being as they are." The moral counterpart is indicated in sayings such as: "The pure and immaculate ascetic does not enter nirvana, and the monk who breaks the rules does not go to hell," or: "You have no liberation to seek from bonds, because you have never been bound." [...]




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