Western culture is founded upon a principle of separation. In order for me to understand the nature of reality, I must separate myself from it and become its observer, leaving behind any personal baggage that might cloud the view. What is the world made of? asked Thales. Clearly the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures can be traced to four different sources rules out any divine inspiration, wrote the Biblical scholars whose scientific criticism of sacred text provoked an embarrassing backlash of fundamentalism. Objective. Only the world of appearances can be trusted. If it doesn’t appear right before my objective eyes, it cannot be real. I suspect that whatever clarity this has given me about the outer world has been more than offset by the terrible loneliness that results when I get disconnected. Stuff. Only the material world is strictly real, hence the obsession with wealth, but if my own experience is in any way informative, to live in a gated community is also to live gated from God who appears so vibrantly in others.
The philosopher Kant so separated subject and object that it became impossible to know anything in and of itself. This is, of course, a foundational teaching in Buddhism. Because all things are created of relationship – the bread I eat was once a seed, was once wheat, was made by many hands and delivered to me by even more processes and cannot even exist without all these different forms – nothing can have existence from its own side. All reality is a constantly shifting interconnection teaches the Buddha. When the West made its leap into separation, it could not trust the interconnection. When the philosophers named this separation of subject and object, cause and effect, they revealed not only knowledge, but a terrible and fatal alienation. Where do you feel lonely?
O come, O come, Emmanuel.
O God, you are my God,
I seek you, my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
—Psalm 63:1 (from explorefaith.org Advent Calendar)