Tag Archives: Erich Fromm

Emptiness: to the end of the night

Night. A clear sky at new moon. Narrator drives the borrowed Skoda Superb [1] Combi from Amsterdam via the Noordoostpolder [2] to the marina at Lauwersoog near the departure of the ferry to Schiermonnikoog. Both headlights shine on the empty highway through the dark void land that over 50 years ago still was bottom of the Zuiderzee (Southernsea). Carla dozes in the back seat. Man sits as a passenger next Narrator; in the dim light of the dashboard they look to the exit at Emmeloord that in the far distance is lit by lantern light.

Skoda Superb Combi[3]

“Within the emptiness the headlights – with the lantern light in the distance – conjure a dark magic landscape wherein everything we now see emerges and immediately disappears like phantoms who are called to live in a flare in order to slip at once into the dark emptiness again.

As boy in South Limburg I have loved the dark nights with the infinite universe wherein I – included – was one with all the stars and galaxies in the firmament. Now I feel myself floating within a faint white glow on an infinite journey through the universe and thereby perfectly at home in this vessel. Tonight – before we were getting ready to depart – I have looked up a definition of Buddhist enlightenment [4] in a book: “Enlightenment is realising the oneness of life”[5].

I looked for this definition yesterday afternoon we have ended our survey of intensities and associations with the question: “One – what is that?”, that had been asked by a Buddhist sage to a wise woman. She was unable to answer this question. I wonder whether the inability – or the emptiness – of the wise woman to answer fits better with the question: “One – what is that?” than this definition of Buddhist enlightenment.

We now begin the survey of emptiness during our quest to “Who are you”. In Sanskrit the word for emptiness in the Heart Sutra is ” śūnyatā”. Do you know the meaning of this word in Sanskrit?”, asks Man.

The car is nearing the exit at Emmeloord. Narrator slows down and takes the exit to Lemmer; hereby Carla has awakened and she asks: “Where are we?”. “Near Emmeloord in the Noordoostpolder, now we are heading to Friesland. I have asked Narrator for the meaning of the word “śūnyatā””, says Man.

“The word ” śūnyatā” is usually translated with “emptiness” or “empty of self” [6], but this translation only reflects the core of the word just like within the core of the tropical cyclone there is usually a clear sky and no wind; the centre of the cyclone is sunny and “free” of wind.

Kern van een cycloon[7]

The word “śūnyatā” consists of the verb cores:
• “śvi” – with the weak form “śū” – meaning “swell”, “grow” and “increase”;
• “ya” meaning “mover” and “incentive”. My father was of the opinion that “ya” is closely related to “yaj” in the sense of “sacrifice”, “offering for a higher – Godlike/heavenly– purpose” (perhaps “God’s gift” in reciprocity”and,
• “tā” meaning “impassableness”, “inaccessibleness”, and also “unviolability” and “sacred” [8].

A contemporary Japanese Zen master in America had written in his explanation of “śūnyatā” that this word is not a negation of the concept of existence, but the word indicates that our entire existence in all its forms is completely dependent on the principle of cause and effect; we have read earlier that even the Gods are bound by the principle of cause and effect [9]. As the factors of cause and effect are changing constantly, there is no static – fixed – existence possible. The word “śūnyatā” categorically denies the possibility of the existence of static – fixed – manifestations. All appearances are relative and interdependent according to this contemporary Japanese Zen master.

In addition, he writes that “śūnyatā” also means “zero”, a concept that became known rather late in Europe, but has been in use for much longer in India. Zero has no numerical value in itself, but it represents the absence of numerical values and thus symbolises at the same time the possibility of all numerical values. Similarly “śūnyatā” – through the concept of “zero” or “no” – represents the possibility of the existence of all manifestations and it is also included in all forms, that themselves only exist in relation to their non-existence and by their interconnectedness [10]”, says Narrator.

vorm en leegte[11]

“The definition of zero is too limited: but I will not go into it now. If I understand it correctly, “śūnyatā” refers to “emptiness from” and “emptiness to” just as – in my opinion – Erich Fromm is referring to “freedom from” and “freedom to” in mutual dependency with the concept of “freedom” [12 ]. Here I am reminded of the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty who has argued that manifestations are caused by a creative process of giving meaning and taking meaning at once[13]. The Zen master adds to this argument the void – or space – for allowing the creation of manifestations”, says Carla.

“Quite interesting that you refer to a creative process for the creation of manifestations. The Japanese Zen master indicates that an intuitive and immediate understanding of ” śūnyatā” is the basis for all understanding. But before he states this, he first mentiones the ” śūnyatā” of the ego and then the “śūnyatā” of dharma [14] – the world order and duty [15] – and of the subjective and the objective. After this he concludes that everything – every manifestation and every being – only exists through the principle of interdependence bound by the law of impermanence. The intuitive and immediate understanding leads to knowledge and understanding of the four great truths to know: impermanence, interconnectedness, manifestations and essence; maybe it’s good to come back on these four values later. The Zen master goes further in his statement on the importance of impermanence – emptiness or vanity – and interconnectedness than Maurice Merleau-Ponty in the arising or creation of all manifestations and of every being

I have this explanation of “śūnyatā” from the introduction by this Zen master in his book on the Buddhistische Heart Sūtra.

This description of the Zen master has stayed with me because it fits so well my perception of the ghosts in the night. As a child soldier in Africa with our militia we had put the forest around a village on fire at the end of the night. We had shot everything and everyone that had come out of the forest and we had been happy [16]. I still carry the ghosts of these villagers with me; their breath – in emptiness and vanity – has become my breath. At night they are as real to me as people I meet during the day; these spirits are connected with me in interdependence within the law of impermanence: during daytime they have disappeared”, says Narrator.

“Are these spirits really present for you here and now in this car?”, asks Man.

“No, driving the car I have my attention on the road, but if I do not focus my attention any longer, the ghost come to life from the emptiness of darkness just as real as a dream during sleep. Or to cite a quote often incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain: “I am an old man and have suffered a great many misfortunes, most of which never happened” [17]”, says Narrator.

“Fortunately, because otherwise I should have asked you to look for a parking place and we might continue our journey tomorrow during daylight. I have several versions of the Heart Sutra to study in my luggage. Would you like to help me with the interpretation of Sanskrit?”, asks Man.

“That is fine. I have a copy with the explanation by the Japanese Zen master with me. Do you have a waterproof compartment for books on your boat?”, asks Narrator.

“Your book easily fits within the waterproof ton. When we will lay dry at low tide, we will have time to read”, says Man.

“The definition of enlightenment that you have just mentioned, gives one aspect of enlightenment – in line with the interconnectedness within the metaphor of Indra’s Net – quite clearly. It is only one side of the coin, the other side is “śūnyatā”. In Buddhism, the term “nirvana” – literally absence of forest (or barriers) or the open plain [18] – is often used for enlightenment. In Hinduism one often addresses enlightenment with “moksha” [19] that comes from the verb core “muc” meaning amongst others “to loosen, or to liberate”. With both interpretations, I am not happy because in my opinion “śūnyatā” together with the metaphor of Indra’s Net gives a better interpretation of the term enlightenment. I think it is a good idea that we do not only survey emptiness in the sense of “empty from” at this part of our quest, but also in relation to the four great truths of Buddhism and in relation to Indra’s Net”, says Narrator.

“Good idea. When I had lain awake during my travels under the dark starry sky, I had felt myself fully included in space or in the infinite void. The boundaries between the space and myself had dissolved and I had become one with everything around me. In a book on Zen Buddhism I had read two poems mentioning an empty mirror as metaphor for life; in the second poem also the illusion of the empty mirror was removed just like during this journey by car through the dark polder the sight on the landscape is non-existing. Do you know the text of these poems?”, asks Carla.

“The two poems had been written during the appointment – or better the Dharma transmission – of Huineng [20] as the sixth Zen patriarch. In my own words: the fifth patriarch sensed that the obvious candidate was fit for the position. He asked each monk who would like to be candidate, to write a short poem on the core of Zen and to affix it on the monastery wall. Only obvious candidate anonymously published the following poem:

The body is a Bodhi tree;
The mind like an empty mirror stand.
Time and again brush it clean
And let no dust alight [21]

Bodhi – with a sound (and a meaning via “et incarnatus est” [22]) akin to the English word body – meaning in Sanskrit “a tree of wisdom, or a tree where under a human becomes a Buddha” [23].

The next morning a second poem was affixed alongside the first poem with the following text:

Originally bodhi has no tree;
The empty mirror has no stand.
Originally there is not a thing.
Where can dust alight?

In Sanskrit Bodhi has a second meaning: “perfect enlightenment” [24]. The Fifth Patriarch knew a humble firewood-gatherer – without any formal training as a monk – had written this second poem and he foresaw an uprising of the monastery to the appointment of this uneducated layman as Dharma heir. The following night, the Dharma transmission took place and at dawn the sixth Zen patriarch had to flee from the monastery. The monks have haunted him for a long time. Eventually after a long flight he had been fully accepted is as Dharma heir; every Zen master is in direct line associated with this sixth patriarch. And reciting the poem I also reflect him in the emptiness of this night”, says Man.

“Splendid explanation. Shall we continue tomorrow? I would like to continue dozing”, says Carla.
“Then I will also take a nap. Tomorrow we have to get up early”, says Man.

Narrator drives the car with Carla and Man sleeping via Friesland and Groningen to the parking place at Lauwersoog near the ferry departure to Schiermonnikoog. He parks the car facing east to see the dawn over a few hours. Upon seeing the first twilight he awakes Carla and Man.

“On this bright morning we have to see the sunrise before so we will start rigging the sailboat at the marina”, says Narrator.

“Upon seeing the emergence of the first sunrays trough this windshield, I think of the poem “The Windows” by Guido Gezelle, wherein he as a Catholic priest at the end of the nineteenth century has marginally repeated the iconoclasm:


The windows are full of saints, mitred and staved,
martyrised, virgin crowned, duked and knighted;
that the burning from the oven fire glassed has in the shard,
that, glittering, speaks all the tongues from the heaven bows paints. [25]

Thou scare is again enkindled in the east the violence
Of sun flame, and does she touches the saints, so melted
The mitre from the mantle collar, the gold ware from the crone,
and all, even white now, shines and lightens even clean.

Disappeared art thou, dukes and counts then, so soft;
disappeared, virgins, martyrs and bishops: forever
no palms, staves, stolen anymore, ‘t is all gone, to
one clarity molten, in one sunlight – in God. [26]

– Guido Gezelle [27]

Kerkramen Noordzijde Keulen[28]

In my opinion Guido Gezelle advocates with this poem – despite the beauty of church windows as windows on the world – an empty mirror without stand in God’s face”, says Man.


[1] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%A0koda_Superb
[2] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noordoostpolder
[3] Source image: http://da.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%A0koda_Superb
[4] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhi
[5] Source: Bridges, Jeff & Glassman, Bernie, The Dude and the Zen Master. New York: Plume, 2014, p. 95
[6] Source: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunyata, see also the English Wikipedia-page on this subject
[7] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropische_cycloon
[8] Source: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta.
[9] See: Origo, Jan van, Who are you – a survey into our existence – part 2.1 – Facts and Logic. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2014, p. 85 and 122
[10] Source: Deshimaru, Taisen, Mushotoku Mind – The Heart of the Heart Sutra. Chino Valley: Hohm Press, p. 28, 29
[11] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%9A%C5%ABnyat%C4%81
[12] Source: Origo, Jan van, Who are you – a survey into our existence – part 2.1 – Facts and Logic. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2014, p. 97
[13] See also for the “creative act of giving meaning to and taking meaning from”: Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Phenomenology of Perception 1945
[14] Dharma means literally “placing of the self/Self continuously”.
[15] Source: Badrinath, Chaturvedi, The Mahābhārata – An Inquiry in the human Condition. New Delhi: Orient Longman Private Limited, 2006, p. 68. See also chapter 4 for an introduction on Dharma.
[16] See the last part of book 1 of the Mahābhārata where at the fire in the Khandava forest, Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa shoot arrows with joy to all that leaves the forest. Sources: http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/maha/index.htm boek 1 Section CCXXVII and further; Katz, Ruth Cecily, Arjuna in the Mahābhārata: Where Krishna is, there is victory. Delhi: Molital Banarsidass Publishers, 1990, p. 71 – 84
[17] See: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/10/04/never-happened/
[18] Source: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta.
[19] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moksha
[20] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huineng
[21] Source: The Sixth Patriarch’s Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra. Burlingame: Buddhist text translation society, 2002, p. 67
[22] Literal translation from Latin: he/she/is becomes flesh
[23] Source: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta.
[24] Source: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta.
[25] “mitred and staved”: with signals of authority; “all the tongues from the heaven bows paints”: showing all the paintings on the ceilings of the churches.
[26] Free translation of this poem. Original: http://cf.hum.uva.nl/dsp/ljc/gezelle/rijmsnoer/ramen.htm This poem is date by Guido Gezelle on 14th of April 1895.
[27] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guido_Gezelle
[28] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stained_glass


Freedom and bound: to have or to be

The next morning Carla and Man meet on the Beursplein.

“Last night I was too outspoken about Calvin’s predestination. Maybe I had the excesses in mind – e.g. the slave trade, the precipitation of revolts in the Dutch colonies, and the pursuit of capital – and I had too little attention to its merits, such as keeping livable a large piece of land below sea level and a large tolerance often based on a good business attitude. I am often too outspoken, more mildness would suit me”, says Carla.

“I admire Holland for its pictorial art, its pragmatism, its relatively good housing for everyone. This too is the result of the business attitude and God’s stewardship that has also taken shape in a socialist manner in last century. You have aptly expressed a number of starting points for derailments that were partly caused by Calvin’s doctrine of predestination. Any movement or sect that considers itself superior, has a strong tendency for derailment over time. There is Narrator”, says Man.

“Have you already been waiting a long time before this cathedral of capitalism? In many early Christian churches no regular church services take place anymore, because the believers have disappeared or have gone elsewhere. This capitalists’ cathedral is no longer in use, the followers of this religion have left for more profitable places like the South Axis in Amsterdam or the stock exchanges in London and New York”, says Narrator.
Berus van Berlage[1]

“That’s right, the capitalists pursuit maximization of profit [2], and hereby they are biting their own tails similar to players of a pyramid scheme. The sources of capital are enormous, but finite: once they will dry up.

Capitalism had already a long history before Calvinism had partially emerged from capitalism and gave further shape to it. Let me first tell you this long history in a nutshell.

Probably the meaning of capitalism is derived from the Roman word “caput” [3], which means head (of a person). This origin underlines the importance of private property within capitalism.
The onset of capitalism has probably been the use of devices by individual people to perform specific activities easier and/or faster. Among the hunter-gatherers such devices were stones to crack nuts, weapons to hunt animals and later devices combined with ingenuity to domesticate animals for food or for help during the hunt. In addition, hunter-gatherers needed a large environment as a means for their existence. When this environment or living conditions – also the possession of women and children – were threatened by other hunter-gatherers or groups of hunter-gatherers, these capital resources had to be defended.

Capitalism got a new dimension in nomadic societies of herdsmen; the capital of these nomadic herdsmen were their flocks and their pastures. The corresponding capital resources – such as animals for transport and for herding cattle – were used for tending and defending the herds of cattle, or men needed these devices – such as women and children – for survival. A religious expression within these societies of herdsmen was the cattle cycle [4]. In the Proto-Indo-European world, women represented the only possession of real value [5]; men needed the possession of livestock as a means of exchange to obtain women. In the Roman Catholic and Lutheran version of the Ten Commandments, we still see a relic hereof in the form of the ninth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet your neighbour’s wife” prior to the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet your neighbour’s house” [6].

Within the agrarian capitalism of arable farming, the disposal – and later the possession of – land and water was necessary capital needed for survival [7]. In the course of time, the agrarian capitalism of arable farming has driven nomadic societies of farmers to the remote areas of Western society by occupying fixed crop lands. The introduction of the three-field system in arable farming during the early Middle Ages – in combination with limited cattle breeding – eventually allowed more people a living on permanent farmland.

Within the societies of herdsmen and farmers, bartering was needed, because people within these societies were not completely independent in their existence and because the need for specialized tools or services increased over time. There was barter needed at local markets or during fairs. The barter proceeded initially in kind; later rare objects – first rare stones or metals, and later coins with an image of a leader as trustworthy “person in the middle” – were used as “objects in the middle”.

During and after the Crusades in Western society in the second half of the Middle Ages, the trade in special items and services took further shape. Hereby, and also by the decay of feudalism arose a new economic organization during the Renaissance in Western Europe, where trade supported by the (city-)state in the form of mercantilism [8] increased further in importance. With mercantilism, the importance of coins as a trustworthy “object in the middle” also increased. Possession of coins became more and more an independent worthwhile life purpose in itself, because with money, all life goals could be obtained even remission of sins for a good afterlife through indulgences [9] within the Catholic Church.

By mercantilism, the attention within the lives of people moved more and more from “to be” to “to have”. In the earlier world of scholasticism, one was a human in a predefined order of life in which one ought to live virtuously. In the new world order, ownership of money became a great good in itself whereby a good place in life and in the hereafter could be obtained; owning and maintaining money rose in esteem, and gaining profits changed in the course of time from despicable act in a praiseworthy activity.

This form of mercantilism boomed in the Dutch Republic enormously, because of the unique position of Holland in a major river delta, because of the lack of arable farming land in Holland whereby cereals must be obtained by trade like the city-state of Athens in the fifth century BC, and because of a unique system of collective management of the polders. Additionally, the merchants and wealthy citizens in Holland – the Nouveau Riche of that time – initiated far-reaching adaptations and innovations of mercantilism.

One of the changes was the replacement of coins as “barter in the middle” by bonds [10]. Without a direct purchaser of the cargo – after examining – a shipload could be exchanged on the Dam in Amsterdam for securities. The traders in Holland did everything to perpetuate confidence in these securities

One important innovation was issuing of shares in corporations of merchants in order to make risky trading on a large scale to distant overseas colonies possible. Herewith the initiative of issuing of shares moved from nobility or (city-)state to initiatives by private individuals.
Waardepapier van de VOC uit 1662[11]

These modifications shifted the importance from coins – minted out of precious metals and imprinted with the image of a confident ruler – to securities issued by merchants and wealthy. This change shifted the economic initiative form the nobility and the (city-)state to merchants and wealthy individuals and corporations thereof.

For the “common people” of farmers, local traders and craftsmen in Holland , this new form of mercantilism meant a landslide; their whole economic existence could completely disappear in a short time by a cause from outside; others – often in modified form – may easily take over their livelihoods. They could not influence this change in any way.

Within this change of the environment of the “common people” – from a world modelled after the medieval scholasticism to a new world of mercantilism – Calvinism arose during the Reformation in relatively prosperous Geneva [12], and it found a fertile ground in the Netherlands of the 17th century AC.

By Calvinism in connection with mercantilism, the main focus of people’s lives changed from “to be” to “to have”. While in Calvinism – with its the doctrine of predestination – “being” in God’s grace was of supreme importance. But on one hand the gratitude and obligation for the elect to be God’s steward and on the other hand the constant desire for success as forecast for the election by God, meant that “to have” in earthly life is of immanent and immeasurable importance for “to be” in this life and especially in the afterlife.
In continuation of his work “Fear of freedom”, Erich Fromm states in his later work “To have or to be” [13]:

“We live in a society that is based on the three pillars of private property, profit and power. Acquiring, possessing and making profit is a sacred and inalienable right – and a duty as God’s steward according to Calvin’s predestination – of an individual human being in the new world order that has emerged from the mercantilism. Thereby it does not matter where the property comes from, nor whether there might be obligations attached to one’s property” [14].

Calvin’s predestination – embedded in mercantilism – considers “having” possessions as a predestination of God, and therefore an immutable right and duty for God’s stewards. Dorothee Sölle states in her work “Mysticism and Resistance – Thou silent screams” that Erich Fromm rightly makes a meaningful distinction between on one hand the functional properties of utensils to be used for our existence and on the other hand property for enhancing the social status of the ego, guaranteeing security in the future or just for the convenience of self-desire. About ownership of the latter kind of property, Dorothee Sölle says – I think rightly –, that it destroys the relationship with the neighbour, with nature and with the I [14]. And she states freely rendered: the forecast of a hereafter in God’s grace through the pursuit of earthly possessions soon degenerates into a prison on earth and a herald of hell. Francis of Assisi had only allowed money on the dunghill. [14]

In our modern times, paper money is exchanged for virtual bits in computer systems that offer – via monitors – access to terrestrial resources. These virtual bits had started an environment of its own, wherein mankind will be more and more a servant – or slave – to the many forms of bitcoins in these computer systems. Having access to this world of bits and monitors overshadows “being” in our daily life. Through a long detour, the emptiness of the virtual bits and monitors have confiscated the richness of our existence. This is in a nutshell my introduction to capitalism”, says Carla.

“So much in so few words in front of this cathedral of capitalism. Near this building and during your introduction, I am reminded of the haiku by Rӯokan after thieves had taken everything out from his hut:

From my little hut
Thieves took everything
The moon stayed behind [15]

The moon stands for the unshakable believe of Rӯokan”, says Narrator.

“To have or to be. After this truly somber picture of human existence. I would like to show you a different kind of emptiness: the emptiness of the Waddenzee. The next few days the weather will be good. May I invite you for the last sailing trip with my small sailboat; soon I will give the boat to a good friend who is much younger. On the sailboat we may prepare “emptiness” – the next part of our quest”, says Man.

“Shall we this afternoon look into what we still have to investigate on this part of our quest?”, asks Carla.
[1] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beurs_van_Berlage
[2] Another explanation about Capitalism is given at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism
[3] Source: Ayto, John, Word Origins – The hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z. London: A & C Black Publishers, 2008
[4] See also: Origo, Jan van, Wie ben jij – een verkenning van ons bestaan – deel 1. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Uitgeverij, 2012 p. 33
[5] See: McGrath, Kevin, STRῙ Women in Epic Mahābhārata. Cambridge: Ilex Foundation, 2009, p. 9 – 15
[6] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments
[7] See also: Beyens, Louis, De Graangodin – Het ontstaan van de landbouwcultuur. Amsterdam: Atlas, 2004
[8] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercantilism and http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geschiedenis_van_Europa
[9] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indulgence
[10] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercantilism
[11] A bond of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie from 1622 AC. Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waardepapier
[12] See also: Fromm, Erich, De angst voor vrijheid – de vlucht in autoritarisme, destructivisme, conformisme. Utrecht: Bijleveld, 1973 p. 67 (Fromm, Erich, Fear for Freedom. New York: Rinehart & Co, 1941)
[13] Free rendering of paragraph from: Fromm, Erich, Haben oder Sein. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2011, p. 89 (Fromm, Erich, To have or to be?. New York: Harper and Row, 1976)
[14] Sölle, Dorothee, Mystiek en verzet – Gij stil geschreeuw. Baarn: Ten Have, 1998, p. 327 – 328
[15] Source: Stevens, John, Three Zen Masters, Ikkyū, Hakuin, Rӯokan. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993, p. 131.

Freedom and bound: fear for freedom

At the beginning of the evening Carla, Man en Narrator meet each other in the Vijzelstraat with a view on the Gouden Bocht [1] at the Herengracht.
Gouden Bocht Herengracht[2]
“This is a beautiful place to continue our quest for “a personal relationship with God”. At this place in Amsterdam the merchants and wealthy had placed in stone the legitimacy and grace of their personal relationship with God in the 16th and 17th century.
Gouden Bocht Herengracht 2[2]
During the Dutch Reformation, Calvinism – with the doctrine of the predestination of God’s grace – has radically changed the worldview of merchants and wealthy in the Amsterdam.
Within the Scholastic worldview before the Dutch Reformation, God’s grace was determined in the course of a lifetime in synergism [3] between God and human actions. Through good deeds, humans could obtain God’s grace, and by sin and mortal sin, humans lost God’s grace partially or even completely. When a large number of sins were committed during life, humans had to spend a certain time in purgatory after their death for purification before they can be adopted again in God’s grace.
During the Reformation, Luther has stated his doctrine of God’s monergisme [4]: only God determines the justification of het His grace for individuals in His infinite omnipotence. According to Luther, a man can only lose the grace of God by losing faith in God; man has a free will to preserve faith in God.
Within God’s monergisme of Calvin, the grace of God is solely determined by God. Man has no free will to obtain the legitimacy and the grace of God; man obtains and retains this grace solely through the election of God. By predestination God preserved his grace only to His elect.

Genade Gods[5]
The merchants and wealthy in Amsterdam regarded themselves as the elect of God by their Reformed faith based on Calvin. As a result, they must – as stewards of God – realise God’s work on earth during their earthly lifetime constantly. These canal houses are the fruits in stone of their stewardship of God”, says Narrator.

“On the one hand, the merchants and wealthy had received their puissant wealth naturally by the wind in the sails of their merchant ships. On the other hand, they had worked constantly so hard with the devil on their heels to fulfill this earthly stewardship of God in order to decrease the uncertainty about the destiny of God’s grace; one was never sure of this grace, and a prospect thereof in the here and now was more than welcome. In addition, the merchants and wealthy were of the opinion that by God’s providence and by their wealth they were entitled to the stewardship of God. This stewardship gave them the right to usurp their rightful share of earthly possession and to manage it in the name of God”, says Man.

“Erich Fromm [6] had examined and described in his book “Fear of freedom – the flight into authoritarianism, destructiveness, conformism” [7] the impact and consequences of Calvin’s predestination on humans during the Reformation and on humanity in the 20th century. According to Calvin, the complete omnipotence of God includes the complete impotence of man. Human faith is rooted in human powerlessness. Only on the basis of this powerlessness we can trust in God’s omnipotence, that – if it pleases Him – will lead us to the arrival of a new, better world. According to Calvin, man is not in any way a master of himself; the pursuit of virtue as a goal in itself is for Calvin unacceptable and would only lead to vanity. The salvation of man from this earthly life through God’s grace or eternal damnation is already fully determined by God before a human life begins; no good or bad deeds can change this. Only God in its absolute omnipotence determines the election of a man wherein man cannot and should not penetrate. Although Calvin projects all justice, charity and love in God, according to Erich Fromm the God of Calvin possesses the characteristics of an absolute tyrant with no compassion; the God of Calvin is not in harmony with the Christian God of the New Testament according to Erich Fromm.
The doctrine of predestination has two psychological faces according to Erich Fromm. Man is deprived of every freedom to change her/his life here and hereafter by own actions: man is only a powerless instrument in God’s hands. At the same time man is deprived of every doubt to be in God’s omnipotence constantly.
The God of Calvin has emerged from the Reformation that had brought massive social upheaval in Holland, Germany and England. In Luther’s Germany this social upheaval caused a general unrest; especially the middle class, but also the peasants and the urban proletariat felt their existence threatened by the disappearance of the old certainties and long standing interrelationships of a society founded on religious scholasticism, the rapid dissemination and direct accessibility of this change, the increase in knowledge by the printing press, and the rise of capitalism. By the Reformation and the increasing individualization, the “common people” in Holland, England and France felt themselves null and void, alone, frightened and powerless within a life wherein every human endeavor seemed pointless. Calvin’s predestination gave the “common people” words to these feelings of powerlessness and it gave purpose and meaning to this powerlessness.

Synode Dordrecht[8]
By Calvin’s predestination, the realization of complete inferiority is moreover sublimated into an absolute superiority of God’s elect; they are from the beginning of time to eternity in the grace of God’s omnipotence, nothing and no one can ever alter that election. As we have discussed before, the adherence to the right faith in a personal relationship with God and acquiring success is a sign of this election. Every hour of her/his existence a God-fearing human will establish His works in the sweat of her/his brow according to His predestination – out of conviction, of duty and of coercion –, because Calvin and his followers had the absolute conviction to be among His elect. By this direct relationship with God as His chosen, the Calvinists considered themselves as utterly superior to the dissenters and hereby they were destined to act as a steward of God in His world order.
Calvin’s predestination offers the traders and wealthy in Holland – the Nouveau Riche of the 16th and 17th centuries who have emerged from the “common people” – a justification for the sometimes questionable acquisition of their capital: by His election, the Calvinistic merchants and wealthy merchants regard themselves as absolute Stewards of God.
Calvin’s predestination offers a Calvinist captain of a Dutch trading ship in that time the justification to be Skipper besides God. By God’s election, the captain was absolute ruler of the boat, its crew and cargo; a rebellion against him was a revolt against the absolute power of God. This doctrine of predestination also offered justification for the Dutch to rule over its colonies and – more than one century later – to trade slaves as God’s steward over the non-elect inferior beings.
Rembrandt van Rijn, twee moren[9]
Calvin’s predestination produced according to Erich Fromm a flight from freedom in the following ways:
• docility to the Calvinist doctrines and the worldly authority on earth that was established by God,
• destructiveness of other dissenters and other cultures that do not accept God’s order
• conformity to the Reformed (Calvinist) Church.
Calvin’s predestination has sublimated fear, uncertainty, futility and helplessness to absolute superiority of the elect. This causes that it is extremely important for Calvinists – as elect – to have a direct relation with God whereby it helps to follow the pure beleive and to belong to the only true church; this motive for the absolute pure belief within the only right church has caused many divisions in families and in the Reformed churches in the course of time. [7]
Shall I continue tomorrow with the rise of capitalism during the Reformation where the doctrine of Calvin partly originated from and where Calvinism has given shape to a some extent?”, says Carla.

“Catholicism – that I met in my youth in South Limburg – has many shortcomings and the doctrine of the chosen people of the Jewish religion has caused much suffering and sometimes made hardship bearable. Because of these shortcomings, I never felt myself completely at home in both religions.
I finished Grammar school at a Christian Reformed school. In the beginning after my youth in South Limburg I regarded humility, purity of the letter and overzealousness in this belief rather strange; after some time I got used to it. But I retained difficulty with the steepness, the smugness and superiority of the front benches in the Reformed Church as I always kept struggling with the condescension of the notables in the Catholic church.
I had read Fear of freedom by Erich Fromm at the beginning of the 70s just like you. With your explanation of sublimation of powerlessness to superiority of the elect, you give an interesting addition to this book. The same sublimation of nothingness and helplessness to absolute superiority took place in the 30s in Germany with as consequences authoritarianism, destructiveness and conformism [10] by the other regime in Germany until the end of World War II”, says Man.

“The sad consequences of this sublimation can be read in the history books and some of us still feel the impact of these horrors on a daily basis.
Will Indra’s Net – wherein each and every glass pearl forms and simultaneously reflect the entire network – also show the insignificance and powerlessness within each pearl, wherefrom to acquire a real or perceived inner superiority by sublimation?”, asks Narrator.
“Interesting question. I think that the origin of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, and this branch of Zen Buddhism have also emerged from deep feelings of nothingness, futility and helplessness in human life and within society. Herewith these Oriental religions are connected with the origin and cause of Calvin’s doctrine. But I’m sure that on one hand Indra’s net may easily comprise and reflect Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, but probably by many other lights Indra’s will not radically and definitely move to the ultimate consequences of Calvin’s predestination”, says Man.

“I am not so sure. I think that Indra’s net can indeed produce an extreme belief as the Nazi regime in Germany; as we saw earlier: Indra’s net can also be ill. But I doubt if every pearl will spontaneously decide to sublimate its insignificance and powerlessness into superiority; there is too much counterweight within Indra’s net just like there was also a counterbalance present in Germany during the Nazi regime; unfortunately in Germany this counterbalance was completely overshadowed by the mainstream of conformity to the authority of the leader and destructiveness of dissenters. The three streams of authoritarianism, destructiveness and conformism are timeless, like the ongoing cycle of honor/power – pride – wrath – revenge for warriors in antiquity. Unfortunately at this point I am realistic pessimistic”, says Carla.

“I agree with you on this realistic pessimism and I would like to add the Bodhisattva ideal with its limitless compassion whereby compassion also includes the acceptance of points of view where I totally disagree with”, says Man.

“A beautiful ideal that gives hope”, says Narrator.

“Without hope for a better future, it is difficult to live for many people”, says Carla.

“I think noting is excluded within the metaphor of Indra’s net”, says Narrator.

“Shall we continue tomorrow? Let’s now enjoy this beautiful evening”, says Carla.

“That is good”, says Narrator.

“Let’s have a drink, what do you want?”, says Man.

“For me some soda”, says Carla.

“For me a beer: that is needed after our overview of Calvin’s predestination”, says Narrator.

[1] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gouden_Bocht
[2] Source images: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gouden_Bocht
[3] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synergism_%28theology%29
[4] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monergism
[5] Source overview and see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justification_(theology)
[6] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Fromm
[7] This argument by Carla Drift is a free rendering – with several additions – of the pages on this subject in: Fromm, Erich, De angst voor vrijheid – de vlucht in autoritarisme, destructivisme, conformisme. Utrecht: Bijleveld, 1973 p. 67 – 138 (Fromm, Erich, Fear for Freedom. New York: Rinehart & Co, 1941)
[8] The-Synod-of-Dort-in-a-seventeenth-century-Dutch-engraving. Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Calvijn
[9] Painting “Two moors” by Rembrandt van Rijn. Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rembrandt_van_Rijn
[10] See also: Fromm, Erich, De angst voor vrijheid – de vlucht in autoritarisme, destructivisme, conformisme. Utrecht: Bijleveld, 1973 p. 104 – 138 (Fromm, Erich, Fear for Freedom. New York: Rinehart & Co, 1941)

Five common realities – facts en logic 10

Carla, Man and Narrator are walking towards their guest house after their visit to the Basilica di Santa Croce.

“I will come back to the words of Baäl Shem used as guidance in your introduction to “God in search of Man“. I have mixed thoughts on evil that we implicitly carry with us in interconnectedness. In my professional life I had investigated the causes, the facts and logic of evil in warfare. I also wear evil – like all people – in many forms with me; I will come back to this later. I wonder whether in a similar manner all human beings carry a godlike manifestation with them”, asks Carla to Man.

“Your question is a transition to God in the shape of a human being. The Jewish and Christian monotheistic God has created man in his own image [1]. In the Old Testament for Christians and the Tanakh for the Jews, God is described as almighty, invisible and in the core unmentionable. However, God shows many human characteristics: God is attached to loyalty and to a covenant [2], God is angry and jealous at times. The Christian God sends his son in a human form to the earth according to the New Testament. Should we fall back on religion in this description? Is God in human form physically possible? Or should we regard it as wisdom in the form of science together with religion according to Martin Buber?”, says Man.

Feiten en logica 10a[3]

“Interesting question. In nature lower organisms can direct the behaviour and even take over the consciousness of higher organisms for short or long duration. A well-known example is coughing during colds; this coughing is mainly focused on spreading the virus. Less well known examples are: certain fungi take over the behaviour of insects completely to optimize their own chances of reproduction. Ants – infected with fungus spores from the Cordyceps-stem – go to a favourable place located at a high leaf or branch where they bite and die; from the dead ants the fungus grows in this ideal place to spread its spores [4].

Feiten en logica 10b[5]

Another example is the infectious disease rabies that in its furious variant takes over and directs the behaviour of dogs and humans in an optimal way for its own propagation [6]. Conversely, also complex organism can customize the behaviour of simple organisms, such as humans by crop breeding to provide better crop yield in agriculture and varietal selection to achieve bigger and stronger livestock. Let us assume that God is a higher and more complex creature than humans; may God manifest itself in human form? If so, how? If not, why not?”, says Carla.

“During the rise of Christianity there had been a strong ideological struggle [7] over the position of Christ. Finally, this ideological struggle within the Catholic Church has resulted in the doctrine of the Trinity with a father God who had sent his Son to earth for the salvation of humanity and the Holy Spirit. Of this Trinity, the Son of God died on earth just like every human; also the Messiah in the form of son of God is at this point tied to the law of cause and effect. According to Christian doctrine, the Son has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven after 40 days on earth [8].

Feiten en logica 10c[9]

A different approach which I have mentioned before, is that humanity is created in the image of God. Erich Fromm [10] states, on the basis of analysis of the Tanakh [11] and the Talmud that:

“Man can be like God, but man cannot be God” [12].

He mentions that some Rabbinic statements imply that the difference between God and man can disappear, e.g.:

Raba said: If the righteous wanted, they would be creators, for it is written: ‘But your iniquities (unrighteousness) have separated – or forms the difference – between you and your God’ (Isaiah 59:2). Without unrighteousness the human power might match God’s almightiness and mankind would be able to create a world” [13] .

According to Erich Fromm the essence of humans is that mankind transcends its earthly bonds of blood and soil in order to achieve independency and freedom [14]. I think that Erich Fromm – next to “freedom from” – especially refers to “freedom to”. In my opinion, the most surprising fact in this analysis of Erich Fromm is, that – within the metaphor of Indra’s Net – mankind already has the independency and the freedom to the creation of a world within the earthly bonds of blood and soil. In Indra’s Net each glass bead creates the net, and in each glass bead the entire net is reflected without unrighteousness”, says Man.

“Because I was not free of unrighteousness, I have chosen to leave behind the callsign Kṛṣṇa that I had received from my parents in Kenia; at my departure from Amsterdam I had discarded my mask of an Idol due to the unrighteousness of beauty; and by innumerable unrighteousness in the mirror palace inhabited by secret services, my existence laid in smithereens [15]. The seeds of unrighteousness had affected my past incarnations to the marrow: at those moments my life needed another manifestation”, says Narrator.

Feiten en logica 10d[16]

“In my opinion incarnations and manifestations are not God in the shape of a human being. They may be a human being as God according to Erich Fromm”, says Carla.

“It may be different in the case of Kṛṣṇa. Let us discuss this further tonight”, says Man.

Carla, Man and the Narrator arrive at their guest house. Carla will take her afternoon rest and Man and the Narrator will make an afternoon walk.

[1] See from the Old Testament the book Genesis 1:27.

[2] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ark_of_the_Covenant and Origo, Jan van, Who are you – a survey into our existence – part 1. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2012, p. 104 – 106

[3] Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt (1659). Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenant_theology

[4] See also: http://vorige.nrc.nl/wetenschap/article2327717.ece

[5] Source image and see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordyceps

[6] See also: Quammen, David, Spillover – Animal infections and the next human pandemic. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012, p. 296 – 297. See also: http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/rabies.html

[7] See also: MacCulloch, Diarmond, Christianity – The first three thousand Years. New York: Viking, 2010, Part II “One Church, One Faith, One Lord?”

[8] See also: Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51 and Acts of the Apostels 1:1-12 in the New Testament.

[9] Ascencion of Christ by Garofalo, 1520. Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of_the_Ascension

[10] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Fromm

[11] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanakh

[12] Bron: Fromm, Erich, Gij zult zijn als Goden (You Shall Be as Gods: a radical interpretation of the Old Testament and its tradition (1966)). Utrecht: Erven J. Bijleveld, 2010 p. 62

[13] Bron: Fromm, Erich, Gij zult zijn als Goden (You Shall Be as Gods: a radical interpretation of the Old Testament and its tradition (1966)). Utrecht: Erven J. Bijleveld, 2010 p. 62

[14] Bron: Fromm, Erich, Gij zult zijn als Goden (You Shall Be as Gods: a radical interpretation of the Old Testament and its tradition (1966)). Utrecht: Erven J. Bijleveld, 2010 p. 64

[15] See also: Leben, Man, Narrator – One Way. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2013

[16] Krishna Mediating between the Pandavas and Kauravas. Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krishna

Carla Drift – Study Humanities 2

In line with psychology and history, I studied the history of legislation and the limited role of language in the field of emotions, culture and character.

I studied the history of Law to receive a better understanding in the organisation of the society and the relations between individuals themselves. Long ago, everything was private and group law. In birds, the occupant of a territory has just a little better chance than an intruder – usually the intruder disappears unless the occupant is careless or is unable to defend his territory. The occupier needs the  territory to have sufficient food for the young birds.

A similar mechanism plays a role when people assert right on an area. In addition, people have developed customary law and hospitality for visitors. This hospitality is sometimes confined in guest law [2] – often exchanges of gifts as “objects in the middle” take place to achieve and consolidate confidence between inhabitants and visitors.

A long time ago, rulers already used law to show who had the say – was the boss [4] – in a given area. One of the oldest laws is the codex of Hamurabi [5]. With the dissemination of this Codex in cuneiform on pillars within his empire, Hamurabi showed who had control over the habits and the order within his reign. This codex of Hamurabi was a long list of penalties for infringements – most sentences had characteristics of “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Almost all penalties could be bought off with an “object in the middle” to restore confidence – the penalty on accidentally wounding the neighbour at work could be bought off with transfer of cattle to restore mutual confidence.


In addition to the right between people, there was also law that was aimed at the general interest. A part of this public law was included in treaties between kings and rulers themselves. The difference between these kings and rulers and the contemporary warlords is in many cases only gradual. The difference shows in the degree of cruelty and tyranny; occasionally the rulers and kings are wise and moderate. These treaties usually start with a recital that included the order and the habits already established between the parents or ancestors of the rulers; after the recital followed the agreements built on the former order and finally the provisions for non-compliance were mentioned in the Treaty. These sentences ranged from war statements to full eradication of family and populations.

Another form of public law was the law of war in which the habits for war and sieges were determined. A few examples. A city may usually prevent siege and looting by handing over a ransom until the time came when the city was completely surrounded; then only a complete surrender was acceptable. The looting of the city after the surrender or sacking took a set time of usually a few days. After that time the booty was distributed among the conquerors; after the conquest the inhabitants of the city were usually without rights for a certain time – sometimes they fell into slavery.

In addition to these forms of public law, there was also Community law – for example the use of common pasturage. By the end of my studies I read a study about old Irish law [7]; It is surprising how common this legal form – with many forms of mutual duties of care – still is. Much attention was given to preserving the general interest. Recently in our world, the Community law also includes the right of education, development and deployment for betterment of society. In the interest of the community, punishments such as “eye for an eye” are often changed in, inter alia, education and social reintegration.

In the field of language I studied how language reflected the relationship between people and how the world view is reflected in language. Later on our Odyssey we will encounter many examples.

Erich Fromm [8] has stated in one of his studies that we have lost the language for intensity and association. During my studies I noticed that our language is also very limited for expressing emotions, culture and character. In our contemporary society we cannot express ourselves adequately on emotions, love and culture. We do not discus much about these topics – language was not an adequate means for communication about deeper emotions between my great love and I. We always could communicate our emotions much better by using behaviour, movements and body language. The important decisions between my great love and I were always made intuitively – our underbelly was far more important than our thoughts and words. I once read that when French ask “Comment ça va?”, this “ça” relates to the lower abdomen – a beautiful thought. Probably we communicate in the field of emotions, culture and character more by behaviour such as body language and hospitality, openness and acceptance on the one hand, and ignoring, excluding and aggression on the other hand. In Holland until about 30 years through the pillarisation, the inhabitants were absolute masters in living next to each other with complete different religions. Nowadays ignoring between children is seen as a form of bullying – maybe this modus vivendi in Holland prevented far worse actions.

In my job I kept myself busy with statistics and correlations between results of investigations; staff and students in the Humanities could use some help in this area. As a limited intellectual challenge, I followed the developments of population mathematics; later I used this knowledge in different studies about crimes against humanity. This intellectual challenge I kept for myself – it seemed to me a good idea to play hide and seek at this point, because this form of mathematics was not included in the curriculum for humanities.

The next post is more about my daily life in Amsterdam – also a kind of hide-and-seek.
[1] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vogels
[2] See also: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gastrecht
[3] Source image: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gastfreundschaft
[4] Man Leben would have remarked that “bhâsh” has the meaning “to speak, to name” in Sanskrit.
[5] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Hammurabi
[6] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi
[7] See also: Kelly, Fergus, A Guide to Early Irish Law. Dublin: Duldalgan Press, 2005 (first edition in 1988)

Carla Drift – Years of Dawn 2

My first day at the gymnasium began with approximately 10 kilometres cycling on a hilly road. The school was much larger than our village school. New classmates and many new teachers. Learning remained easy and I made sure not to show it. I remained an outsider as a student from a distant small village with another dialect who cycled alone every day 20 kilometres on my bike.

After some time I was included in a group of girlfriends and I was more at home at school. The lessons were boring and homework was not needed: it had to remain a little exciting. In our village I played music in the harmony; I also had several  girlfriends from the primary school. With a primary school boyfriend I explored the forests and experienced all sorts of adventures. By cycling every day I had an excellent condition – many boys could not follow me until halfway high school they had received sufficient male hormones to exceed me with body strength.

As the oldest of the three sisters I had an advantage: I had control over everything that happened between us. I mothered them; this caused sometimes conflicts with my sisters and my mother. Being the oldest also had a downside: I thought I might control everything that happened between us [1]. I noticed in the third or fourth class that I was the only special daughter. My sisters were ordinary normal pupils; my tutoring for their high school lessons had not much extra result. I was and remained the only outsider in our home.

My second sister was once asked in her class at school how many books were read every year at home. Most families read about 10 books. One classmate mentioned 50 books. My sister said that we read about 500 books. That was fully right: I read about 300 books – also easy books, my father 100 books and my sisters around 50.

In the second half of the gymnasium we had to read books for our final exam. For English I had chosen Ulysses by James Joyce. I had to amend that choice, because our English teacher found this book too complicated [2]. As alternative I chose “Lord of the flies” by William Golding – a novel about the derailment of a group of boys on an island. Of course I also read Ulysses from cover to cover – later when I was older, I understood this book better after a second reading. At a very abstract level the book Ulysses has been model for the structure of our Odyssey to “Who are you”. Yes, from the monologue by Molly Bloom I have learnt a lot about the earthly views of women on men: certainly yes. Again I played hide and seek – now with my feelings of love, until I met my great love a few years later in Delft.


For Dutch I read among other books the entire oeuvre of Hugo Raes and Jef Geeraerts. By these authors I became sensitive for institutionalised crimes against humanity.

The French existentialists and phenomenologist – Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus – I also read. Simone de Beauvoir was at that time for me a model of a self-conscious intelligent woman – she wrote wonderful books such as “Tous les Hommes sont Mortels” and “Les Belles Images”. Albert Camus with “Le Mythe de Sisyphe” and “L’Homme révolté” showed me far-reaching choices by humans – we will encounter these books later on our Odyssey.

In an overview of world philosophy I read a reference to the Tao Te King by Lao Tse. This book fascinated me because I could not give this book a clear place in my mind set at that time. We will encounter this book in chapter 7 on our Odyssey.

Women’s emancipation and pop music had a limited place in my life at that time. My loves were untouchable and vague; the boys in my area were naive or stupid – except my primary school boyfriend. We made all sorts of wanderings – at the end of the high school we also made distant wanderings of many day. My mother was opposed; my father agreed and began a conversation about the contraceptive pill – this was not the case. We went hiking in Belgium, a few days hitch-hiking to Paris and also to Taizé for the sense of communion – not for the religion. The last summer holiday at high school we travelled through Europe by train for one month. I am still in touch with my primary school boyfriend.


I learned science – mathematics and physics – without any effort all; I receive a nice outcome at a Mathematics Olympiad. I read the Scientific American in the school library – it was fun to solve the puzzles by Martin Gardner [5].

In the summer holiday after my final exam I read almost all the books of Erich Fromm. His humanism against the current, I found worrying [6] and encouraging. Later, we will encounter his books on our Odyssey.

In my last year of the gymnasium, I decided to continue my life with a technical study at the Delft University of Technology. My father was very proud of me. Together, we quickly found a room in Delft. A new era in another culture dawned.


[1] See also: Brown, Eleanor, The weird Sisters. HarperCollins p. 121

[2] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_(novel)

[3] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_(novel)

[4] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestand:Paris_Night.jpg

[5] See also: Gardner, Martin, The colossal Book of Mathematics. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001  

[6] See also: Fromm, Erich, Escape from Freedom. New York: Rinehart & Co, 1941

[7] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestand:Delft_stadhuis.jpg

Man Leben – Oriental wisdom 2

Alles gelebt was man leben kann?

Lived everything what you can live?

You continue with the story of your life:

“In the previous post I told how I explored Oriental wisdom. I have mentioned my preference for mavericks. The meaning of the mavericks “ya, ra, la, va and ha” in the Devanāgarī alphabet express my experiences at that stage of my life. In examining the meaning of “la” – meaning in Sanskrit “of Indra”– and consulting several sources, I encountered the meanings of Indra. Indra means “God of heaven” or “Svargaloka” [1]. Indra is often depicted seating on a multi-headed elephant.


Now I explain the underlying meanings of svargaloka, because this gives light on the developments in my life around the death of my aunt and my godmother.

Svargaloka is composed of the words “svarga” meaning in Sanskit amongst others: heaven, the residence of light and of the gods, heavenly bliss, Indra’s heaven (where the souls of virtuous mortals go before they return in earthly bodies) and “loka” which means: free or open space, the universe, of number 7 – which we encounter later on our Odyssey. The world has three loka’s: the sky/heaven, the earth and the underworld.

Svarga is composed of the parts:

  • Sva: meaning “own, one’s self/Self, the human soul”.
  • Ra: meaning “give, love, desire, motion, brightness, splendour”,
  • Ga: meaning “abiding in, staying” [16]

On the basis of these parts, “svarga” is the residence of our/your own being in all its splendour. The svargaloka is heaven, earth and underworld – all, everywhere and one – in all its manifestations. Here and now, it shows its splendor.

Around 1993, I studied Jalâl al-Din who is better known as Rumi. He has been given the name Rumi in the Arab world, because he lived in Konia, south of Ankara in Turkey while writing his great works. This part of the Arab world was identified with Rome from the Roman Empire. That is the reason why Jalâl al-Din is better known after the name under which his whereabouts is named in the Arab/Persian world [3]. In Chapter 7 we meet Rumi on our Odyssey.


In a book about the life of Rumi I read: “Love for the dead is not lasting. Keep your love (fixed) on the Living One who increases spiritual life [5] . At that time this way of seeing was for me one half of the mirror. I lived completely in our/Your own being in all its splendour. I was in the svarga one with the wind, the light, my parents and foreparents; the entire universe was omnipresent.

The other half of the mirror was formed by a passage from the Diamond Sutra: “The past is ungraspable, the present is ungraspable and the future is ungraspable [6]“. The past is fixed in solidified glass; of course, our view on the past changes continuously, but a carefree life in Amsterdam with my father and mother as a five year old boy is no longer possible. Occasionally in dreams or with a particular taste – think of the madeleine biscuits in À la recherche du temp perdue of Marcel Proust – or with a particular smell, as a miracle the images and experiences of that lost world emerge in me. “Only in the present I can live, nowhere else I found shelter” [7]; sailing on the wind over the waves we experience the present: try to grab the “here and now” and it is gone. The future is ungraspable as the flower in the bud: the flower manifests itself in all its glory once and for all when circumstances permit – not earlier and not later. The flower arises from the void, flourishes in the void and passes away into the void. This elusiveness reminds me of the text that we encountered earlier in our Odyssey [8]: “Mysterium est magnum, quod nos procul dubio transcendit” [9]  or in English: “The mystery is great, without doubt it transcends us.”

In that time I experienced life fully, overwhelming and transparent. Or shown by a metaphor, both these images in the mirrors – which were placed at a 90-degree angle – were a reflection of my experiences. The mirrors were empty [10].

In the past I thought that if people or things had a name, they also got a place or a destination. On our Odyssey we will encounter this way of seeing a number of times.

In that time I also studied the Hua-yan school of Buddhism [11] and read texts about Indra’s net [12], that is a metaphor for the emptiness of all things and living beings. This void has two sides: it is “emptiness from” and “emptiness to” [13]. Both these sides are similar to “freedom from” and “freedom to” as explained “ Escape from Freedom [14]” from Erich Fromm.


By these insights I was freed from the latent feelings of guilt about my existence, mainly because my immediate family – with the exception of my aunt – had not survived the other government in Germany. Until then, there was always the question: “How did I deserve to be still alive”. At the same time, I evaded the question for the meaning and reason of this dark, dark, dark history. The religion of my parents offered me no interpretation: I could not say with conviction the verses of Kaddish including “Thou art the glory” and “The world is created according to His will”. For saying these texts I had to identify “You/His” with  “the wind” and “the water”.

This insight helped me organizing my aunt’s funeral. Her funeral was attended by many old acquaintances – as far as still alive. Also some distant relatives were present. I was the only immediate family. For her I have said a whole year with conviction the daily prayers according to the Jewish remembrance of the dead. May her memory be a blessing for here and for there.

I also attended the funeral and mourning services for my godmother. May her memory be a blessing for here and for there. It was a beautiful Catholic funeral in the tradition of South Limburg.

After these funerals I went to Auschwitz”, you say.

“I can follow your view of Oriental wisdom, but for the time I let my mind in the middle if I can agree with this view”, I say.

“Buddhism is the Middle Way; consent with my view of Oriental wisdom is not asked for. I look forward to what the continuation of our Odyssey will bring. It will be a homecoming for me”, you say.

The next post is about your visit to Auschwitz.

[1] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indra

[2] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indra

[3] Source: Lewis, Franklin D., Rumi, Past and Present, East and West. Oxford: Oneworld, 2003 p. 9

[4] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumi

[5] Free rendering from: Iqbal, Afzal, The Life and Works of Jalaluddin – Rumi. London: The Octagon Press, 1983 p. 239.

[6] Free rendering from: Red Pine (Bill Porter), The Diamond Sutra. New York: Counterpoint, 2001 pag.308

[7] Free rendering from the first two lines from the poem “Woninglooze – Homeless” from Jan Jacob Slauerhoff. See for the text of the poem: http://4umi.com/slauerhoff/woninglooze

[8] See the posts: “Three – Object in the middle – The Word” from 11 Juni 2011; and “A day without yesterday –a day without tomorrow?” from 3 Juli 2011.

[9] Source: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/special_features/ encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_20030417_ecclesia_ eucharistia_lt .html:  Ionnis Pauli PP. II Summi Pontificis, Litterae Encyclicae Ecclesia de  Eucharistia, Rome, 2003

[10] See: Wetering, Janwillem van de, De Lege Spiegel. Amsterdam: De Driehoek p. 118 – 120

[11] Sources: Cleary, Thomas, The Flower Ornament Scripture, a Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Boston: Shambhala, 1993; Cleary, Thomas, Entry Into the Inconceivable: An Introduction to Hua-yen Buddhism. Boston:  Shambhala, 2002 and : Cook, Francis, Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977

[12] See also the posts “One – Pantheism – Indra’s net” from 8 April 2011 and “One – “Powers of Ten”” from 10 April 2011

[13] See for “empty to”: Thich Nhat Hahn, The Heart of Understanding. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1988 p. 8, 9

[14] See page 91 in the Dutch version of “Fromm, Erich, Escape from Freedom. New York: Rinehart & Co, 1941” published by Bijleveld in Utrecht, 1973.

[15] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indra’s_net

[16] Source: elektronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta.

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