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The Deeper Quest
By D. Joseph Jacques
O-BOOKSCopyright © 2011 D. Joseph Jacques
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOpening One's Mind
"... it is not permitted that we should trifle with our existence."
So wrote Edmund Burke, the 18th-century, Irish/Anglo father of modern conservatism.
Although he was not referring to the quest as we define it, he amply expresses its serious intent. As living beings, the finite existence that we own should not be trifled with. Like the parable of the talents told by Jesus, in which we are condemned by the careless non-engagement of our lives, we are charged by what can only be described as a sacred mandate not to waste ourselves. What good are we if the miracle of our lives does not contribute to the world's betterment?
Life is existentially relevant for each of us, despite its confounding mixture of sadness, joy, mediocrity, challenge and final limitation. It is vitally important that we take that seriously – all the more because each of us represents a unique perspective. Living correctly is the only proper response for a being who is capable of thought, purposeful deed and moral reflection. Edmund Burke acknowledged this in another warning that we still hear quoted today:
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Around the same time that he wrote that, thousands of miles away, a radical insurgent named Thomas Jefferson spoke his mind as well:
"... I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny of the mind ..."
Where did the severity of this hostile commitment come from? Jefferson tells us elsewhere, giving us a glimpse into what generated the energy of his life's work:
"I sincerely believe in the general existence of a moral instinct."
You might question why I cherry-picked quotes from political icons of opposing ideologies.
I did this to clearly illustrate, up front, the nature of the quest. No one owns truth in its entirety. No one can contain it. Bits and pieces show themselves where they will. It neither submits nor limits itself to the conjecture of anyone. Traditionalists like Burke and radicals like Jefferson, both virtuous men despite their conflict of opinion, demonstrate the eclectic nature of Western thought. Truth resonates piecemeal from many diverse perspectives. When we fail to recognize that, we shut ourselves off from the totality of truth and veer toward error and fanaticism. On the other hand, when we open our minds to diverse opinions, we uncover our greatest strength.
History shows us this as well. From gadfly philosophers like Socrates, to impoverished saints like Francis of Assisi; from church doctors like Thomas Aquinas, to humanists like Albert Einstein; from idealistic giants like Abraham Lincoln, to madmen like Frederick Nietzsche – we find sparks of value in them all. Incorporating truth into our lives wherever we find it is by definition the nature of the quest. That is and always has been the greatest strength of Western culture. Freedom of thought and the discovery it instigates is where authenticity begins.
Despite many claims to the contrary, truth does not come to us in a neatly wrapped package. In order to be real, it must be found fresh and new by each individual. That living relationship is what the quest is all about. It provides us thrilling clues and illuminating fragments that add significantly to our unique journeys, and glimpses of mystery that transcend formalized religion. Science may approach but never encapsulate it. In the political field, to suggest that truth is bi-partisan or non-partisan misses the point entirely. Impartial, objective thought can never be bound by the constrained and circular reasoning of partisanship.
We must never allow the truth we seek, the values we adhere to, and the virtues we extol to be distorted by dogmatic ideologies, distractions of convenience, or two-dimensional ideas of patriotism. Either we approach life directly, with existential awe and spiritual/humanistic reverence, and learn from it, or we get lost in the trappings of illusion.
* * *
One of the important lessons we learn from our journey is that most of the problems we face are of our own making. As individuals and as a society we often ignore that simple fact in order to avoid responsibility. Unfortunately, by not admitting our personal involvement, we sustain and even propagate the problems that we suffer.
There are, of course, problems that are not directly of our making, such as disease or natural disasters. Our philanthropic response to such tragedies is often quite generous, heroic and immediate, rescuing the needy, healing the sick, rebuilding what was lost.
While more people die from car accidents, smoking, and chemical addiction than hurricanes, tornados, floods or even terrorist attacks, we respond more urgently to natural crises or foreign threats than to those that are of our own making.
Collectively, we have the intelligence and capacity to end hunger, prevent many diseases, resolve conflicts before violence occurs, support equality and avoid the insanity of war. The reasons we do not are complicated. The most obvious comes from a lack of vision. In many and subtle ways we set ourselves against one another because of greed, selfishness, the lust for power, and political ideologies that thrive on contention. The problems continue to plague us despite our best intentions. They are too daunting, too prevalent, too complex and tightly embedded. Perhaps we even enjoy conflicts, and work to sustain them.
In light of all these problems, Chivalry-Now offers a simple, cost-effective, life-enhancing solution that would impact them all – one with which Burke and Jefferson might possibly agree.
Consider what would happen if people made more intelligent and compassionate choices in their lives, and exercised the self-discipline to perform them. Most of our social problems would vanish overnight, at little cost.
Imagine what would be possible if our best minds could then focus on solving the problems that are outside of our direct control, like disease and climate change.
Think how the world would be transformed if each of us exhibited something as simple as genuine courtesy in all our relationships.
Such positive steps transcend liberal and conservative thinking as we know them today. They provide commonalities that unite rather than divide – enjoining the very best of religion and humanism, tradition and science, thought and intuition. They replace the moment's transitory mix of pleasure and misery with a meaningful and positive obligation for the future.
* * *
As a philosophy or social ethic, Chivalry-Now can only exist in the hearts of those who live it. All else is just chatter or speculation. That includes the 12 Trusts and Esoterica (which is the focus of this book). Chivalry-Now is a name for something deeply human that has evolved over millennia. It is a moral yearning that struggles to express itself – an impetus capable of fulfilling who we are, not only as individuals, but as a species as well. It calls for us to forge our own destinies.
The 12 Trusts and Esoterica provide us with the cultural inheritance of a time-tested code built on the common sense wisdom of previous philosophical development. To be effective, however, we must consider them not as rules or commandments, but as catalysts for thought. The final teacher is the quest itself, which is the experience of life and the daily revelations from which we learn.
This book describes the teachings of Esoterica. It presupposes that the reader is familiar with the 12 Trusts as expounded by the introductory volume, Chivalry-Now, the Code of Male Ethics. For those unfamiliar with this work, the 12 Trusts are repeated here:
Upon my honor,
1 I will develop my life for the greater good.
2 I will place character above riches, and concern for others above personal wealth.
3 I will never boast, but cherish humility instead.
4 I will speak the truth at all times, and forever keep my word.
5 I will defend those who cannot defend themselves.
6 I will honor and respect women, and refute sexism in all its guises.
7 I will uphold justice by being fair to all.
8 I will be faithful in love and loyal in friendship.
9 I will abhor scandals and gossip – neither partake nor delight in them.
10 I will be generous to the poor and to those who need help.
11 I will forgive when asked, that my own mistakes will be forgiven.
12 I will live my life with courtesy and honor from this day forward.
By adhering to these 12 Trusts, I swear to partake in the living quest in everything I do.
For many people, this simple code of ethics is what Chivalry-Now is all about. The only ingredient they must add is their own personal resolve. If enough people do this, our culture would heal itself. The meaning of the Grail legends would be fulfilled and Western Civilization would slip back on course as the vanguard of reason and compassion.
It is only natural that some people will want more. The call of chivalry pulses in their veins, a thousand years in the making. They will want to know the deeper aspects of Chivalry-Now. Having glimpsed the heart of their own identity, they long to become knights in the truest sense of the word.
How, then, do we define knighthood in order to make it relevant for today? What would it require? Upon what would it be based?
The child in us might suppose that the title by itself is sufficient, without need to earn it. The accolade confers some kind of magical transformation that the world will automatically recognize and honor.
Like most of the illusions we confront everyday, such fantasy leads only to disappointment. Wishful thinking, even if it involves wearing a suit of armor, does not transform someone into a knight. Nor does a tap on the shoulder by some titled person, genuine or otherwise. In an age that hungers for real meaning, we must not allow today's concept of knighthood to be a thing of whimsy or vanity. It must be real and significant, or why bother?
Chivalry-Now offers this deeper quest to those who seek the validation of knighthood with all their hearts. Here we explore the conceptual roots of this possibility, some dating back to ancient Greece, others from more recent luminaries. If we imagine Chivalry-Now as an intellectual stream passing from antiquity to the present, we find a number of significant tributaries have added to its flow.
Chapter TwoThe Foundation of Chivalry-Now
Although Chivalry-Now returns something that was lost, it is not a treasure lifted intact from an ancient grave, fixed and inviolate. It is, rather, the continuation of a time-honored development of thought, punctuated by historical highlights, that has frequently made Western culture progressively significant to the world. The earliest ideals that it represents, lingering in our collective conscience, comprise our noblest inheritance. It is time that we recognize them for what they are. It is time that we reclaim them, and nurture their blessings for all posterity. Indeed, the times require that we must.
Whereas Western culture is well known as the birthplace of the scientific method, democracy and capitalism – each of which has profoundly influenced the direction of the modern world – these are just the offspring of something more grand. They reflect the moral vision and generative impulse of the Western mind itself.
These qualities are overlooked as a tree is sometimes forgotten for its fruit. Their relevance and almost universal appeal are often slighted for the short-comings of their applications. Like people everywhere, we often fail to live up to our ideals – sometimes with terrible results. This does not detract from the ideals themselves. It indicates our failure to live up to them.
We are only human. Like all human beings, we experience a tension between our highest moral values and our baser inclinations. Some of us perform better than others. Some fail completely. While this might be seen and even condemned as hypocrisy, it actually portrays the confused, metaphorical battle between good and evil that wages in our souls.
This explains the contradiction in the United States Constitution that espoused freedom and allowed for slavery at the same time. This moral dichotomy reflects the birth-pains of high ideals caught in the process of actualizing themselves. The quest is a journey comprised of many steps, some of them backwards or slipping off the path, yet each of them in some respect vital. The haphazard nature of human progress is such that its gems and genius are always in the making – and marred by fallibility.
The birth pains continue. As history shows, freedom and slavery coexisted until respect for one brought bloody end to the other. Imperialism once flourished among Western nations, despite our respect for national independence, and still defines many of our political and corporate interests today. Closer at hand, we witness daily how love for neighbor is ignored when it competes with the bottom line.
Nevertheless, in the midst of our own shortcomings, we continue to struggle to create something grand. To complete this task, if it ever will be completed, we need to employ the midwife of understanding and new resolve.
Thanks to globalization, our task is no longer the experiment of a regional effort. It involves and affects all humanity. We must be open to the insights and judgments of other peoples as well. The purpose of life is not a competition, as many would have it. It is a quest. Each well-meaning path deserves to be respected and learned from.
We must always take care that our journey is not misdirected by hubris or ethnocentricity. None of us living today did anything to contribute to the Age of Enlightenment that defines so much of who we are. We are its beneficiaries. The achievements of Isaac Newton were his alone – not yours or mine. If culture were such that Newton's genius reflected the worth of us all, solely by accident of birth, then Hitler's depravity would be ours as well.
No. We are each judged by our own beliefs and actions, our contributions or lack thereof. If not, then freedom, which is the core of our Western make-up, is meaningless.
As our quest moves on, it does well to embrace humility as our closest companion. Without humility, our eyes are closed to the lessons before us.
Please remember, Chivalry-Now is a guide but not a vehicle. It can instigate thought, fortify and comfort, but will not do the work for us. Only we can do that. The smallest and greatest among us are charged with that same responsibility. As we embark on our quests we do well to chart the course of our own explorations, and learn from our mistakes as well as our successes. Our tools consist of reason, virtue, and that most demanding proposition of them all – freedom.
* * *
Reason, liberty, knowledge, compassion, a desire for truth, a respect for equality and fair-play, generosity – these virtues comprise the impulse of Western philosophy from earliest times. They persisted and occasionally triumphed over the oppressiveness of ignorance, greed, superstition and bigotry. If not for those occasional regressions, which we contend with still, the West might consider itself exceptional indeed. Unfortunately, under the aegis of freedom no less, today's broken culture provides fertile ground for vice as well as virtue – despite the hope of many and the discipline of the few.
The germ of reason coupled with virtue first expressed itself for posterity in the intellectual soil of ancient Greece. Despite the endemic superstition of neighboring kingdoms, it blossomed with almost miraculous fervor, indelibly embedding itself in the Western psyche. In the short span of two hundred years, the genius of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, along with a wide panoply of innovative thinkers, paved the way for future generations. Thanks to their efforts, the scientific disciplines were established. Artistic expression achieved a realism that glorified and thereby encouraged human ideals. Theater became more than entertainment or the transmitter of rote tradition. It channeled the wisdom, contradictions and sublime qualities of thoughtful souls. The Greek thirst for freedom instituted a longing for democracy that still inspires us, more than two millennia in the future. Other cultures now gravitate toward its benefits.
Excerpted from The Deeper Quest by D. Joseph Jacques Copyright © 2011 by D. Joseph Jacques . Excerpted by permission of O-BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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