Does the tarot have good and bad cards? Does life have good and bad experiences? This is a very tricky subject that often leads to endless debate between opposing points of view. As with all debates, there are always two sides to every coin. So what are the two sides of this debate about the good and bad of... well... anything?
Personally, I try to not use the words good and bad when talking to people about tarot... or anything else. However, there have been times when I have talked to people who tell me it's OK, go ahead, they do it! And, one will notice, that there are places on this site where I indeed do go ahead and use the words good and bad. At the same time though, there are other people who want to convince me that there is no such thing as good and bad, and that I shouldn't use such terms at all. But... while I'm on board with the infinite subjectivity of good and bad, I don't necessarily agree that good and bad don't exist at all... at least, perceptually, within any individual's subjective sense of life and living. Because of that opinion, I see people who want to convince me that there is no such thing as good and bad as somewhat comical in the hypocritical way they portray the imposing of one's subjective sense of good and bad as... a BAD thing to do!
The Utopian Ideal
When it comes to the subject of whether there is any such thing as good and bad, some people will try to convince me that things like good and bad do exist, but see the acknowledgement of them as the source of all suffering and therefore an obstacle to enlightenment. Some preach detachment from all notions of duality as a means of reducing or eliminating the effects of life upon a life. As a remedy to liking or not liking something, and thereby suffering from not getting what we like, or getting what we don't like, they suggest a life lived in unity, where there are no such perceptions or preferences. Is such a life possible, or is this a form of delusional denial? It is true... there would be no good or bad, or right and wrong within the unity of oneness where such oppositions are eliminated from view. Thus, enlightenment, they say, is in the unity of oneness, not the dualities and rivalries of good and bad. To that point, I agree. Such a perspective is at least not hypocritical. There is indeed no good or bad in the unity of things... where we would be considered Divine. But I believe there is good and bad in the diversity of things... where we are Human.
Yes, in the world of unity, there is no rivalry between things because everything is one, so... values are never applied to anything. However, in the world of diversity, there is rivalry between things, because things tend to bump into each other and step on each others toes in life affirming or life detracting ways. So, to sort out one thing from another, values are applied... individually and collectively, thus creating the notions of priority, preference, and ultimately, good vs. bad. Sure, we can choose to view everything that happens to us without value applied and in doing so put no value on life itself. That is in fact the prescription given by many who seek to enlighten the ignorant as to the source of their suffering. But is putting no value on life really the best way - or more importantly - the only way to eliminate suffering? (see the essay Stop Being So Human! elsewhere on this site). If this site were devoted to teaching others how to end suffering, (which it is not) I think I might question a conclusion that asks us to not put any value on life itself.
In trying to convince me there is no such thing as good and bad, others try to convince me that good and bad, and right and wrong only exist where the enlightenment of oneness has been lost, and that if we all were all enlightened, and shared our lives in the unity of oneness, we would never have any need for good and bad, or right and wrong. Again, I agree. This too is not hypocritical. But it is a bit utopian, which, to many, makes it problematic. The dream of utopia is a nice pillow to rest one's head upon, when overwhelmed by the complexities that life has to offer, but the idea of utopia.. amongst manifest entities that cannot help but bump into each other and step on each others toes in life impacting ways, remains elusive. And while I agree that acknowledgement of good and bad leads to suffering, and that connecting to the unity of oneness, is beneficial in many ways to alleviating suffering, I see unity as a state of mind that no manifest being can sustain in perpetuity, thus keeping a manifest utopia perpetually elusive. As manifest things, living within a three dimensional world, we ultimately and eventually need to respond to our biological necessities, and other physical, conscious waking needs, and cannot remain in a state of suspended animation, detached in unity, away from duality, indefinitely, 24/7/356 (see the essay Why Only Nine elsewhere on this site).
In continuing this debate, others might agree to the unsustainable state of oneness and unity by a manifest human or a collective society, but point out that the polarities, dualities and complexities of manifest existence are just a transient illusion of the mind, and that the simplicity and sameness of the unity of oneness is not. Thus, they claim that to be enlightened beings, we should focus our attention on the reality of intranssient nothingness, or, the formless, and not the illusion of transient everythingness, or, forms. Once again, I agree (see The Totality of Reality elsewhere on this site). To become enlightened, oneness and unity can tell us a lot. To become enlightened, simplicity is Divine. So I would agree, and advise anyone and everyone to go ahead and pray, meditate, jog, do whatever it takes, whenever the need is present, in order to center and calm ones heart, soul, spirit and mind in the serenity of oneness and unity. Do it for as long as necessary, or as long as possible. Then... when the physical needs of being a manifest entity in a three dimensional world pull us out of that trance - in order to tend to the transient things that require tending - rejoin the rest of the population in the illusory world of existence with all its polarities, dualities, and sides, like... good and bad, and right and wrong, because these concepts, I believe, are inescapable to any manifest, conscious, awake, living thing - whether they be denied by a delusional mind, accepted with grace by a moderate mind, or dealt with in struggle and suffering by a misguided mind. The binary nature of the universe does not go away. The only thing that changes, the only thing we can change, is how we deal with duality.
I believe the binary nature of existence to be inescapable by any manifest being. I also acknowledge that putting no value on life provides for an easy answer to a lot of perplexing questions that have their roots in duality - like the infinite subjectivity of good and bad. And I believe I am at least as good as any of the people I've ever met at being detached and indifferent about the consequences of our manifest encounters and how they may enhance or detract from the life of each of us. But, unlike many who view life in duality as filth to be washed away or a fall from grace, I do NOT go so far as to view our manifest existence as such a finite prison in which we are trapped, with our only escape - and by extension, our only purpose in life - being liberation into the unsustainable realm of unity. I do agree, that the more and the further we can remove ourselves from the physical world, the less need we will have for polarities and dualities, good and bad, and right and wrong. Likewise, the more we can remove ourselves from society, the less need we will have for polarities, dualities, good and bad, and right and wrong. Likewise, the smaller we can make any given society, the less need we will have for polarities, dualities, good and bad, and right and wrong. In short, the closer we can get our society to embrace the utopian vision of sharing lives in the unity of oneness, the less need we will have for the polarities and dualities or things like good and bad, and right and wrong. But.... the harsh reality is, that such utopia does not exist! It never has, and probably never will, or... would not be sustainable in perpetuity if it ever did come about. The harsh reality is, that most of us live within imperfect societies, with large numbers of people who foolishly put value on life. We always have, and probably always will. Thus, I see concepts like good and bad - not as an evolutionary error of society loosing its way from a former utopian ideal it once had in a more primitive era, or as something evil to be denied - but as necessary realities to be dealt with and discussed, whether as an individual, a partner, or a society... alone, binary or collective.
Denial of Existence
In promoting the utopian ideal, some will suggest that when one lives a life that embraces the unity of oneness, they cannot be harmed by the physical realities of existence. Fire doesn't burn them. Water doesn't drown them. A bed of nails will not hurt them. Again, I agree. A mind certainly can transcend the information given to it about the external world... for a time. And, like an anesthesia, such a mind can avoid all sense of pain inflicted upon it by the physical world where things bump into each other and step on each others toes in life impacting ways. But can such a state be sustained indefinitely, 24/7/365 days a year for an entire lifetime of, say, 100 years or more of living? How many people do you know who spend every night sleeping in comfort upon a bed of nails? Why aren't beds of nails more common throughout the world? Even people who don't have beds of any kind will usually prefer to gather leaves or grass to sleep on rather than sleep directly upon sharp rocks in the ground. For anyone other than those who spend every minute of their untold years sitting in a corner, being stationary in idle meditation, and not interacting with any more of our physical existence than the feeling of their body against the floor beneath them, I think that such immunity to life itself would be rare - something more superhuman than human. For most mortals, given time, transcendence from the pains of existence would wear off, and the sufferings of life would eventually return, or even be seen as the cause of pulling someone back into a conscious mortal state capable of feeling life's pains. In any case, those capable of maintaining such an anesthetized state in perpetuity, even in the face of all physical onslaughts and all biological necessities, would definitely be special cases, and not something seen throughout the entire population of most societies of today.
There are as yet few people on the planet
who can sustain a state of continuous presence,
although some are getting close to it.
Soon, I believe, there will be many more.
-- Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
Perhaps, when the utopian ideal of enlightened beings is achieved, it will be common for us all to be gods and goddesses transcendent from life's pains. That certainly seems to be the goal of many spiritual philosophies who teach techniques of transcending life's emotional pains. In transcending life's emotional pains we are taught, by many, to accept what is... without regard for how it may enhance life or... may indeed end life. By not cherishing life, and not fearing death consequences are made to be meaningless. By ignoring or denying the consequences of consequences, nothing matters. When nothing matters, we don't worry. When we don't worry, we have no emotional pain, and once again find utopia (see the essays Stop Being So Human! and Be Gray Every Day elsewhere on this site). In utopia, we will all be happy in an anesthetized state of unity that transcends all attachment to life or death. That will be great, when it happens, but this utopian state does not appear to be all that common today. Most of us still need to get up and go to work at a job and a life that inflicts various levels of physical and emotional pain upon us through awakened senses that value life and view various collisions of contradictory paths as threats to life, or the status quo of our current acceptance of what is. Thus, we feel "good" when life, or our status quo of acceptance, is preserved, and we feel "bad" when life, or our status quo of acceptance, is threatened. When that happens, we tend to put measured values upon the various levels of pain and pleasure we experience... until such time as we can resume the anesthetized state that shuts down those senses, allowing us to no longer view conflicts as threats to anything.
"Don't Worry, Be Happy" - Bobby McFerrin
"It just doesn't matter!" - Bill Murray in Meatballs
As an individual, within a society, one can live in denial of their existence and learn to suppress the subjective reactions they have to life, and the good and bad valuations that they instinctively put upon the things that assault their physical or emotional senses, and instead convince themselves that they live in serenity, simplicity, and oneness 24/7/365. But, for most, they don't. Especially when we consider how the more involved people get with each other, the more difficult it becomes to suppress all reactions and not view any of the multitude of consequences dealt with each day as life detracting in any way. For most it is a profoundly difficult task to suppress our life-preserving instincts and not put any value upon the consequences of consequences. It is for all these reasons that I tend to acknowledge the concepts of good and bad, and right and wrong as something to be considered, both in life itself, and the design of a tarot deck that is attempting to describe as full and complete a spectrum of existence as possible. There may be techniques that can be taught by enlightened people that can help people minimize their reactions to life's fluctuations, so that they might find fewer moments of physical or emotional pain than if left to worry about every little thing, but... lessening the effects of good and bad is not the same as eliminating good and bad entirely. And as long as there is any possibility of good and bad rearing their ugly head in the mind of even one individual, or society at large, it is a topic worth addressing for what it is to those people. If someone's ONLY interest is in utopia, enlightenment, and escaping pain, there are other essays and ideas presented elsewhere on this site that might be of interest (see the essays Stop Being So Human! and Be Gray Every Day elsewhere on this site). However, for those who are interested in a tarot deck that addresses both enlightenment and the world of good and bad things that assault our physical and emotional form on a daily basis, the rest of this essay will discuss the ways that mere mortals, who value life, deal with good and bad.
Outside the world of utopia, and acts of delusional denial or suppression of instinct, most people admit and submit to the idea that the concepts of Good and Bad are infinitely subjective, infinitely conditional, and beyond any universal agreement. Some people, however, try to overcome this problem by suggesting we adopt a set of laws, which they try to convince us are handed down from God, from which all human experiences can be judged for how they conform, or not, to the Sacred Laws that are written in stone... or golden tablets... or parchment paper, and put in a scared place to be preserved for all time. And while this might seem like a brilliant idea, the idea of getting 100% of a population to agree that such laws are indeed sacred utterances from a supreme being for all to obey 100% of the time has proven to be next to impossible - some simply do not obey, and never will (see Rules are for Suckers elsewhere on this site). In addition, even among those who accept this idea, interpretation of human acts for how well they conform to these laws remains infinitely subjective itself. Some try to solve this problem by putting in place Sacred People whose judgment about compliance to The Laws is never to be questioned [Romans 2:12]. To many, this is a legitimate way of making the infinitely subjective into something entirely objective so that we can all live in peace, following the same laws. And... it works... with limited success. But is it Utopian? Is there really any difference between a prison with bars made of God's Laws and a prison of laws invented by humans? [Galatians 3:10, 3:23].
Utopia, denial, suppression of instinct, sacred laws? There are many ways to deal with the concept of Good and Bad. As we continue, let's examine the nature of common, non-utopian mortals and their perceptions of good and bad or right and wrong, relative to life itself actually being felt... through the senses. There are other essays we can move to later that examine alternative perspectives, but for now, let's examine the ordinary, unenlightened mortal person, rather than someone who is working hard to deny, anesthetize, rise above or eliminate their manifest existence and all the senses given to us for experiencing manifest existence. Because... in many ways, one could argue that such activity is really nothing more than fear-based escapism from the world, disguised by its promoters as a noble, holy quest toward Divinity. Is it really? Or is it just denial? What about those who don't deny their existence and actually feel life in all its pleasures and pains?
Wants and Needs
For those who are NOT living in a utopian ideal of Unity, or with Sacred Laws handed down by God with 100% obedience, or the aforementioned mentality that denies or anesthetizes our very existence... the question of objective good or bad remains a moving target. The reason objective good and bad is a moving target, is because of the myriad of variables involved in any attempt to define good and bad in human terms. When we take away the "obedience to a supreme being" factor, different people's rules compete with other people's rules, making everyone's sense of what is good or bad relative to their own rules (see Rules are for Suckers elsewhere on this site). In this way we are forced into dealing with the idea of relative good and bad... which, becomes another thing entirely. Lots of people, including great philosophers and spiritual masters, have put forth definitions of relative good and bad, using their own sense of right and wrong, or their own sacred laws, or moral/ethical code. Most of these definitions focus on things like happiness or pleasure as indicators of goodness. But... while happiness and pleasure give us feelings that tend to confirm suspicions of goodness, they have a certain extreme quality that, in the opinion of some - especially those who are trying to teach others how to lessen the severity of their reactions to life, could stand to be tempered. Thus, as a compromise between those who believe that we should not react to events in life with any sense of goodness or badness, and those who either have to or want to react with a sense of goodness or badness, perhaps a more moderate, less emotional word could be substituted that would allow for a life-affirming value to be applied to things, but done so in a way that is in keeping with the stoic neutrality of the unemotional. With that in mind, we might try defining goodness as:
Good = Satisfaction/Contentment/Acceptance of what is.
Good = Satisfaction/Contentment/Acceptance of what is,
given the resolution of consequences, regarding wants and needs.
Good = Satisfaction/Contentment/Acceptance of what is,
given the resolution of consequences, regarding wants and needs...
relative to a context or bias of life affirming criteria.
Basically, this states that we are satisfied or content, when things go our way, and not satisfied or content when things don't go our way - whether things going our way actually makes us entirely happy or not. And... relative to a bias that puts value upon the enhancement, protection and perpetuation of life and being human, things that do make us satisfied, content or downright happy in those life affirming ways are also considered to be good. Of course, as mentioned above, there are other philosophies that suggest that putting value upon life is a mistake, and that to remove all value for life would mean the end of all consequences upon which to be satisfied or not. And... that, without consequences, there would be no need to be happy or sad about anything, thus causing "Good" and "Bad" to disappear. As discussed, that is certainly a viable alternative (see the essay Stop Being So Human elsewhere on this site). But within the life biased world in which most people find themselves, "Satisfaction or Contentment or Acceptance of what is,
given the resolution of consequences, regarding wants and needs...
relative to a context or bias of life affirming criteria" is how many people determine "Good" from "Bad" ... even those inventing laws around which they build elaborate mythologies in the hopes of convincing us all to follow the word that they claim to be coming straight from a supreme being and therefore must be obeyed [Romans 3:19, 3:28].
In continuing along the life biased path that acknowledges consequences... one of the most important parts of the definition of "good" just given is the critical difference between "wants" and "needs." Many people propose definitions of good that focus on happiness, desire and getting what we want. But this short sighted view of getting what we want is what makes most people's ideas about good and bad infinitely subjective. What we want can change on a whim. Focusing on what we want is also what causes most people's perspective about good and bad to become distorted or exaggerated into addictions or phobias, and subsequently in need of temperance - the goal of many spiritual philosophies that - unfortunately - often go overboard in asking us to deny the existence of good and bad entirely, as recommended therapy. But, while denying good and bad entirely might be an excessive reaction to someone else's excessive wanting, denying what we want is often a reasonable request, especially if we are asked instead to focus more on what we need. What we want is usually specific to us, and not even close to being universal. However... what we need is often a bit more basic and stable, and a bit more universal. If we proceed with a life-biased assumption that things that are life affirming are universally good, then our most basic human needs would represent universal objective goods. We may not always want what we need, but when it comes to these basic needs of human dignity, we always need what we need. For example:
Universally, we all need food. We may not want the particular meal that is before us at any given time, and thus we might declare it to be bad, while someone next to us might think it is good. Thus it is, that what we want from food is subjective, while the fact that we need food at all, to stay alive, is universal. We may not all want food at the same times. But we all eventually need food to continue being who we are in this life. It is a universal good... to those who put value on life. Same with water. We all need life affirming, life perpetuating water. We may not like the taste of the water we get, but as long as it is not poisonous or life threatening, it is a universal good. Even The Buddha accepted food... eventually. Indeed, most forms of enlightenment are not followed days later by death from starvation. Most enlightened people continue to eat and satisfy that need. But, to some, that is hypocrisy. In the opinion of some, to eat is to choose life over death... revealing a life-bias and a liking of one thing over another, in a world of life and death duality. To some the taking of food, especially in the case of Buddha, where it was offered from another, reveals the indulgence of a want - a want, or voluntary choice, to eat and live. Buddha went on to seek a middle way. Because... we don't end suffering by ending all wanting or desire, we end suffering through moderation... moderation... in moderation - i.e. a moderate amount of moderation.
This theory fits well with the ideas presented elsewhere on this site about extremes and in betweens, and defining spectrums of possibilities (see A Spectrum of Possibilities elsewhere on this site). With this sense in mind, it becomes obvious that too much of something, whether a want or a need, presents us with more than we need. Too little presents us with not enough of what we need. Thus, as we only need what we need, satisfaction, contentment or acceptance with the correctly proportioned fulfillment of a basic human need becomes a universal good. In this way, we begin to see how it is that - in a world that values life - the problem with defining good and bad rests mostly in our own denial of life perpetuating needs that are universal to the dignity of humankind, vs. our own permissiveness in consistently letting what we want overrule what we need. By giving our hedonistic desires the final word on everything, good and bad remain infinitely subjective. But... by focusing on properly proportioned, universal, life affirming needs of human dignity, good and bad become a LOT less subjective... if not completely objective.
You can't always get what you want,
but sometimes, if you're lucky,
you get what you need.
But... unfortunately, the world does not move forward on these universal goods alone. Thus it is, that our wants come to overrule our needs on a regular basis. And thus it is that relative good is so frequently determined by the invented rules of society concerning the satisfactory resolution of conflicting wants that are, in the minds of many, more important than universal needs. Needs sustain life. While wants and desires, on the other hand, add to, and advance life. This is where the notion of "doing by not doing" comes in. By only doing what is needed, when it is needed, and being free of all wants, we do without doing... or, effortlessly - without overly motivating wants or desires - do what's needed, rather than obsessively striving for more by doing more than what's necessary in order to satisfy a want or desire. But... inasmuch as wants are seen as a force of evolution, some might argue that tending only to needs creates a static and stagnant existence that does not evolve. It is at this point that we are confronted with a binary dilemma, where evolutionary wants, being as they are, associated with active striving, become associated with the masculine or yang aspects of being, while the more passive tending to needs and nothing more becomes associated with the feminine or yin aspects of being. To the disappointment of many, this binary dilemma is all too often resolved by moving to the masculine/yang side by striving for evolutionary wants, rather than simply tending to sustaining needs. That's the way a huge percentage of humanity works. And... by unhealthy exaggeration, this mode of behavior becomes the root of all suffering.
People tend to turn their wants into needs. So... in developing a philosophy of life, we need to ask a critical question about life: is the evolution of our species beyond that of basic human needs intrinsically bad, or, unenlightened... just because it has the potential to create suffering? Or is it acceptable to have evolutionary wants... as long as we keep things under control and don't allow ourselves to be convinced that our wants are in fact needs, or, more important than needs, when they are not? Isn't that the ultimate objective of those who teach us to disavow all notions of good and bad entirely? Aren't they really just asking us to stop turning our wants into needs, and to stop exaggerating every little thing into a life and death duality that leads to the suffering of worry? Don't most of these philosophies, in fact, acknowledge the existence of good and bad at some level, while subsequently preaching emotional detachment from them, as a way of breaking our clinging minds away from the suffering that comes from not getting what we want, or getting something we don't want? In this way, isn't enlightenment simply a form of heightened awareness of the landscape on which we live, and an asking that we choose moderation over excess, or, the passive/feminine minimun of needs over that of the active/masculine striving of evolutionary wants? If one believes it is not possible to avoid the obsessions and addictions that result from indulging our wants and desires, then by all means I would agree to a therapy that suggests that they detach from wants and desires, and tend only to basic life-sustaining needs and nothing more, and be all "good" and all "right" in their static stagnant state. However... for those who choose to deal with the evolutionary forces of wants and desires, the ultimate subjectivity of these good and bad wants, results in a relative "Good" that can't be denied. I believe - as a human - or an ordinary mortal person... it is important to acknowledge and deal with this relative "Good" and its partner, the relative "Bad."
Smile and Frown
Good and bad are infinitely subjective and totally relative. But within a lot of imperfect, unenlightened societies of mortal humans throughout history, there are usually certain things that a huge majority of people agree on as good and bad. As just described, those things usually focus on whether something is life affirming or life perpetuating vs life threatening, or life degrading... relative to our basic human needs. That may be a view that some see as an Earthbound, manifest, unenlightened, mortal perspective... but that is in fact where a huge majority of people are in this world. As much of a mistake or "fall from grace" as different spiritual philosophies might teach this perspective to be, most people do value life, whether relative to needs or wants. Even when acknowledged as part of a cycle of life and death and reincarnation, and being told that to value life is to cling to it like an addiction rather than seeing it as a cycle... most people value life. As ridiculous as that might sound to the enlightened people of the world who think they know what happens to us outside of this Earthly existence (or claim to), these Earthbound people put great value on life (see the essay Stop Being So Human elsewhere on this site). And in the process of imposing their values about life upon life itself, they end up deciding the good and bad of many things by how it affects life in general. They will consistently and persistently ask of all things: does it degrade or affirm? Does it negate or perpetuate? Does it make life easier, or harder? Does it give what is wanted and/or needed, or take away and deny? Does it lighten the mood, or darken the mood? Does it tickle the pleasure nerve, or yank on the pain nerve? Does it lead to a smile or a frown?
If you smile at me
I will understand
'Cause that is something
Everybody everywhere does in the same language
-- Wooden Ships by David Crosby
People smile and frown on their own, independent of any imposed values given to them by a society or spiritual philosophy ... or, a deck of cards! It's an automatic response, born from an innate, inborn understanding of the value of staying alive. A smile is a physical manifestation that indicates... "Satisfaction or Contentment or Acceptance of what is,
given the resolution of consequences, regarding wants and needs...
relative to a context or bias of life affirming criteria." These are mechanisms of survival that appear to have been genetically hardwired into us. Why? To survive. Why? To be here... now. Why? Because that is what being here is all about - being here. We can be here, or not be here. But if we're going to be here, then the hardwired message appears to be that we should actually be here... with every fiber of our being. And... that we should put value on the things of diversity that, by not stepping on our toes or killing us, keep us here, and keep us wanting to be here. Thus, things that are life threatening, life inhibiting or life detracting elicit a frown, and things that are life affirming, life liberating or life enhancing elicit a smile.
A tiny little baby who knows nothing of the world will smile when his diaper is dry and comfortable and cry when it gets soiled and uncomfortable. There is something right about a soft dry diaper. There is something wrong about a squishy, smelly, wet diaper, especially if it involves a rash. How does a baby know that? How does a baby know to be content with a dry diaper, but complain about a messy one? Why doesn't it just accept either one as "the way it is?" A baby will smile when embraced and cry when struck. Why? How does any difference between the two ever occur to them? Is it an automatic reaction with no reasoned response to alter it? Or is it just the adults, with minds that are hung up on differentiating good from bad that see the smiles and frowns of a baby as signals that one thing they have is better than another? Are we saying that in actuality, a baby doesn't really care about the condition of its diaper, or whether it is cuddled or struck? Laughing and crying means nothing? Smile and frown means nothing? I don't think so. Getting what we want and/or need to fulfill the biological imperative of living, is universally good.
In a lot of societies, majority rules. So... whatever makes the most people smile is often considered good, and whatever makes the most people frown is considered bad. From there, we give birth to the concepts of right and wrong. And from there, we establish rules and laws that officially declare what the majority believes to be good or bad, so that people know the difference, and can use that information in the development of their own reasoned responses and choices (see Rules are for Suckers elsewhere on this site). Some things, however, sit right on the line between good and bad or right and wrong, and are eternally debated as good or bad. Other things, though, are obviously placed to one side or another. Between societies, things that a majority of people place in the same obvious locations, again and again, without fail, are considered archetypally rooted in a Universal Consciousness. This is in fact one important reason why The Numerical Tarot deck being presented everywhere on this site has such high contrast in its illustrations. A wisdom system that is attempting to embrace as full and complete a spectrum of human experience as possible should find out what those obvious, archetypal things are and feel safe that in illustrating them on cards in a tarot deck, they are presenting a picture of life that a great majority of people will recognize. In other words, a wisdom system that draws equally from both "smile" and "frown" will be illustrating a picture of life that makes sense to the widest possible audience.
A Theory of Relativity
A wisdom system that draws equally from both "smile" and "frown" will be illustrating a picture of life that makes sense to the widest possible audience. Or will it? Indeed, the central question in the debate about good and bad is how something like good and bad can be so plainly obvious to an individual, and at the same time, be so hopelessly indefinable to the rest of the world. Good and bad are obvious to each individual - ask anyone, they will usually tell you, without hesitation, what they think is good or bad about anything (watch them smile or frown as they do). As mentioned above, good and bad can also be established by groups of people through consensus of such opinions. And the subsequent establishment of laws can bring order to a society in need of defining what it thinks is right and wrong about this or that. But the larger a group becomes, the harder it is to achieve the utopian ideal of 100% consensus. Thus, the further from the isolated perspective of an individual we go, the less objective, or more subjective, good and bad become.
With this idea of diminishing returns in mind, we could theorize that good and bad are in fact governed by a pattern similar (or perhaps even identical) to that of Einstein's Theory of Relativity and its equally valid viewpoints, from which meaning can only be derived by the establishment of a reference frame, or context, that is assigned to an observer. Everyone's point of view will be unique, and equally valid. But that does not mean that what is happening is not happening. Just because we can't achieve a utopian consensus of what is good and what is bad, doesn't mean that good and bad don't exist, it just means that they are eternally relative to the context, or reference frame, of an observer... (an observer who is putting value on life).
We can, if we choose, retreat to the comfort of unity where good and bad don't exist, whenever we are overwhelmed by the pains of being a conscious, physical, mortal human, or when we are confused by the relativistic nature of conflicting values. There is indeed no such thing as good and bad when we live like a god or goddess in the utopian bubble of unity, away from duality. But... as mentioned above, for most of us mortal beings, that is an unsustainable state for our physical, conscious-leaning, manifest forms to maintain over a complete lifetime 24/7/365. It can be a valuable and useful form of anesthesia, that can temporarily eliminate all notions of pleasure or pain, but in such a state, are we really being human? When our mind and body exist, in essence, as a lifeless corpse that does not interact in a conscious or physical way with the conscious and physical world around us, are we really being as fully human as we can possibly be? I think not. I think that to be fully human, we would need more balance. Thus it is that I see the needs of our physical, conscious, human nature as something that will always pull us out of any utopian state of emotionally detached anesthesia, and demand that we deal with the consequences our place amid other physical entities, interacting in various life perpetuating and life threatening ways.
When we CARE, good and bad exist.
When we DON'T CARE, good and bad don't exist.
It's all about ever-shifting perceptions.
Can you stop your perceptions from shifting?
Can you NOT CARE about anything... ever,
in order to avoid the trap of thinking about things in terms of good and bad?
The more you care... the more you fret and angonize over consequences. The less you care the more free you are to enjoy life free of all value judgements and fears. The problem comes from how totally hardwired most people are to caring. To not care seems mean and heartless, or even stupid. Who wants to be that way? We have to care. And so we do. And so we suffer. But the problem with not caring is how accepting of death we need to be. Who wants to be that way? Who wants to not care about dying? We value life, so we suffer. Strange.
So... when you care, you suffer, but you might live longer by applying good and bad value judgements to things and thereby avoiding danger. And when you don't care, you are free, but you might die tomorrow by not applying good and bad values to things and thereby walking right into danger! What a choice!
Good luck! :-)
Unfortunately, as soon as we emerge from the anesthetizing utopia of emotionally detached unity... shit happens! In the realm of diversity, someone, somewhere, sometime, is going to step on someone else's toe, and that person who is having his or her toe stepped on is not going to be as emotionally detached or indifferent to it as they would in their anesthetized state - they are going to react... with a value judgment. They will let their body and mind feel the pain, and their consciousness will more than likely interpret that pain as an alert (however slight) against something life threatening or injurious (however slight). That will make having a toe stepped on less than desirable. As soon as that person establishes a value of not liking something, we enter the realm of relative values - i.e. or good and bad. In this way, one could actually argue that the utopian ideal we are told to strive for is itself a "prison" from which the tiniest step off of emotionally detached neutrality leads back to the dreaded notions of life affirmation or detraction. In this way the utopian ideal of unity is like a tiny, tiny island amid an ocean of duality and other binary realities (see the Quintagram Quilt Mandala elsewhere on this site). Thus, in striving for utopia, we find that the grass therein is not necessarily greener.
For those with highly addictive tendencies, who tend to blow things out of proportion and make every little thing a source of worry or dissatisfaction, resulting in a life of perpetual anxiety, paranoia and depression, learning to evade duality and emotionally detach to a state of unity can be beneficial. Toward this end, some of us can meditate our way to such forms of utopia, and relieve all the sufferings of life that assault our physical form and conscious minds. Like an island amid an ocean of life affirming and life detracting dualities, we can detach, separate and anesthetize ourselves from life... and even reality. While detached and anesthetized, we may remain indifferent to the idea of having our toes stepped on. We may even be capable of enduring pains that end our devalued life completely! But again... is that really LIVING!? Is being indifferent to life and death to the point that we lay down and die, rather than show any bias to liking anything - like living - really what living is about? It may be good therapy for breaking the mind of the addictive worrier with chronic depression, but to argue the complete denial of good and bad shuts out a tremendous amount of life and living.
|When we are indifferent toward life
...we are Divine.
When we are biased toward life
...we are Human.
In the realm of the conscious physical human putting value on life, good and bad are inevitable and unavoidable. Conversely, if we allow someone enough time to detach and anesthetize themself by establishing their transcendent connection with unity, where there is no pleasure or pain, where they are essentially a lifeless corps, they might not object at all to any amount of physical pain. In such a state, we could in fact end their life without any complications. In their anesthetized state, such a person would feel no pleasure or pain, they would not value life, and not fear death, they would, essentially, be a corpse that lives as if dead. But... if our assaults upon their physical form were to ever drawn them out of their trance and back into the realm of being a conscious, physical human, where they find themselves objecting to the pain we are inflicting upon them, and the idea of their death... we enter the realm of relative values - or good and bad.
A Course Correction Device
Living as if dead... is this kind of withdrawal and detachment from life really living? It might, temporarily, lead to spiritual connections to the Divine... which is great. But clearly it does so, at some cost to Humanity. What is the point of being here, if we are not really here? To those who live a life of indulgence and excesses, and are completely attached, in addictive, possessive ways, to their values of life, the detachment and stillness of mind and body practiced by those seeking the utopian ideal of unity might serve well as therapy for establishing more balance in a life. But there's a downside. All too often, this striving for detachment becomes a technique that just replaces one obsessive extreme with another. It's what some call clinging to non-clinging. It's considered to be just as unhealthy as clinging to dualities like good and bad. Thus again we inject the concept of balance and moderation... in moderation.
By not clinging to either extreme, we can see how our subjective, moment-to-moment, personally relative sense of good and bad is in fact utilized every second of every day as a course correction device. Every moment is both good and bad. And our human minds (those with a bias toward preserving life) use that knowledge every second to resolve an infinite and endless stream of binary decisions about how the flow of Cosmic Flux passes through us in either life enhancing or life detracting ways. It's one of many ways in which we balance our energy lifeforce, or Qi. It is also a very important mechanism for following our bliss (as Joseph Campbell so famously put it). Without such "course correction" instincts and intuitions about the good and bad of any moment of living, we could not follow anything, including our bliss. Without a course correction device, we would stagnate in the Utopia of Unity. Indeed, Duality is at the core of this course correction mechanism of life and living. So... even if a person who is being assaulted by life, living and humanity only frowns for a split second... (while attempting not to) that split second is enough. That split second of frowning is what "bad" is all about - acknowledgement that something is wrong or less than satisfactory, relative to life affirming criteria (see definition above). Thus, anyone who ever bothers to put anything right, by way of seeking a smile, bliss, or anything else, is also acknowledging the ever present nature of good and bad to that of every single moment of life.
Duality is at the core of this course correction device. Wants and desires are active participants in driving us forward out of utopian stagnation and into worldly evolution, just as sure as partaking of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil moved us out of The Garden of Eden. Some advise the having of a dream as a means of giving life meaning and purpose. Others, as just mentioned, advise that we follow our bliss. Are these things inherently evil? Should our only purpose be to climb back into the womb of Eden, and never come out? I don't think so. Adam and Eve are portrayed as making a mistake, but one could also view it as an evolutionary move away from the simple, toward the complex... away from stagnation, toward the diversity of LIFE! They are portrayed as being kicked out, but ought to be portrayed as courageous souls daring to suffer the smiles and frowns of life, in order to follow their bliss and pursue a dream, using the course correction device given to them by Duality, and the perpetual fluctuations of relative Good and Bad.
So, given this relativistic nature of good and bad, how do we determine what is good and what is bad?
You can't, for everyone
You can, for anyone.
You can't, for everything
You can, for anything.
You can't, for every moment
You can, for any moment.
Just because we can't define what good and bad is for everyone and everything in every moment, doesn't mean that we shouldn't define what good and bad is for anyone, or anything in any moment. We simply need to acknowledge the context of things like who, what, where, why, when... and how. Life in duality is an endless stream of binary decisions being processed by our course correction instincts and intuitions. The Numerical Tarot is an attempt to give tangible form to this mental process. By organizing a deck of images according to how they might portray the mental process of sorting through binary influences, we have a tool to use in becoming more adept at knowing our own mind (see The Binary Influence Calculator elsewhere on this site for a device helpful to the task of sorting out binary influences).
The Grand Scheme of Things
In contemplating the idea of things being good or bad, people who are attempting to break a mind away from an addictive attachment to good and bad will often talk about how something doesn't matter... in the grand scheme of things. This is often a very effective technique for convincing others to not think about things in terms of good or bad. And it works. But why? The reason this technique works is because... in contemplating the meaning of something within the grand scheme of things, we are effectively expanding the context of a situation to an nth degree. Conversely, by contemplating the meaning of something within a much smaller context, we are effectively focusing the context to an nth degree. Thus, the larger the context, the less meaning we give to the consequences. While the smaller the context, the more meaning we give to the consequences. By expanding context infinitely, we could arrange it so that nothing ever matters. Likewise, by expanding context only as far as our knowledge of Self, we will declare that only things that happen to the Self matter. In this way we can see how problems between differing views of what is good or bad don't just come from separate forms of context, but are also caused by differences in the relative expanse of one's context. In other words, the grander the scheme of things, the harder it is to zero in on any goodness or badness.
Content + Context = Meaning
For example: Take any situation, and expand the scope of the context, and see if all the additional content that accompanies that context changes the good and bad of the situation. Chances are, it will. Expand it again, and the good and bad of it all might change again. Expand it again, and it might change again. This is what people are doing when they try to convince someone that something that seems bad today might not be considered so bad in the future, or might not be considered so bad now, compared to the past, where something might have been worse. When they do this, they are essentially expanding the scope of the context, to change the eventual significance, by including an infinite number of cause and effect links. Another popular example of this technique is the story of a farmer who looses his horse. What bad luck, all the people of his village said. Maybe, said the farmer. Until his horse returns with another horse. What great luck, all the people said. Maybe, said the farmer. Until his son falls off that horse and breaks his leg. What bad luck, all the people said. Maybe, said the farmer. Until the people of his village went to war and lost a lot of people, except the broken legged son who was left behind and lived to a ripe old age. This technique... taken far enough... like to the point of Absentia... will eventually cause nothing to ever matter. Given this notion, the real question that needs to be asked regarding the idea of good and bad is:
Should we ALWAYS consider EVERYTHING... in the grandest scheme of things... so that nothing ever matters? Or is it preferable to focus on the smallest scheme of things - i.e. the here and now of each moment?
What is the point of doing a tarot reading, if nothing matters?
In a world where every moment is just another link in a never ending chain of causes and effects, there are never any ultimate consequences for us to consider. Without any ultimate consequences, we can't formulate any amount of satisfaction. Without "Satisfaction or Contentment or Acceptance of what is,
given the resolution of consequences, regarding wants and needs...
relative to a context or bias of life affirming criteria" there is no such thing as good or bad. Thus it is only when we STOP our minds from expanding the chain of never ending causes and effects, and focus on the small scheme of things regarding one particular moment, that the concepts of good and bad re-appear. In the grand scheme of things, the past doesn't matter, it's gone. The future doesn't matter either, it's not here yet. The only thing that matters is now. Thus, one might think that we should only judge good and bad by the moment we are in NOW - and not by how far we can extend that context to include as many possible contributors to "now" as we can. Inclusion of an extensively vast context of causes and effects shows how no moment can be defined... in the grand scheme of things. But, in the small scheme of things, each moment carries untold importance to each individual experiencing that moment. Thus the small scheme of things is where "shit" actually "happens." In the small scheme of things... things matter.
The Grand Scheme of Things Mandala
Below is a mandala we can use to meditate on this idea of defining good and bad for anyone, or anything or any moment. The black outer ring is infinite black space. The wavy lines inside the black ring are the sea of possibilities converging upon a moment in spacetime. The triangles are arrows of time... showing how an infinite possibility of futures and an infinite possibility of pasts are in essence the same thing, resulting in the theory wherein spacetime, like cosmic energy, is not wasted but only caused to change form as it passes through the "event" being experienced by an individual - symbolized here by the planetary model that this study uses to visualize the theoretical model of existence being defined everywhere on this site.
The Vesica Piscis symbolizes a fish swimming through the ocean of possibilities, passing water through its gills the way time and cosmic energy passes through us. Like a fish in the ocean, the sea of possibilities enter and exit our sphere of influence, symbolized by the planet at the center. The overlapping rings in the border symbolize successive events in time removed from this one, where something good might later be seen as bad, and something bad might later be seen as good.
Some spiritual philosophies propose that living in the moment is all we should ever do. Some might argue that it is all we can do. So what is that moment? What is the character of that moment, relative to the life that is experiencing that moment? As the infinite vibrations, alternations and undulations of cosmic flux flow through that moment, the moment is ever changing... from what to what? Relative to what... Life? Does life matter? Do the changes in cosmic flux mean anything... in any scheme of things? The study of consciousness being presented on this site agrees with the idea of living in the moment and how it matters to life. Expanding someone's context might stop the tears that result from focusing too much upon a smaller context. But sometimes those tears, and the frowns and smiles of living in the moment, can be utilized as a course correction device that can lead us down paths meant to be - if there is such a thing. Sometimes we do a disservice to people by expanding the context of a moment to make their sorrow meaningless in a grand scheme.
The fact of the matter is, that our perceptions of grand and small schemes, as well as our perceptions of IS vs. NOW, will change back and forth as effortlessly and unknowingly as the dilating of our pupils to changes in light and dark. Like the back and forth dilating of our pupils, our consciousness will consider things in a large or small context or an IS vs. NOW context... and then back again... seeing things as good or bad... or, neither... and back again... endlessly and infinitely... leaving each individual to wallow in the confusion of trying to determine which form of consciousness contains the ultimate truth of a matter. For those pursuing that truth, is it preferable to fix oneself to only one state of consciousness? Or would that be like an eye doctor dilating our pupils, and then going out into a bright sunny day without those flimsy sunglasses to protect us? Would that blind us to the truth?
|Should we ALWAYS consider the past and future - the Grand Scheme of things
... and make good and bad meaningless?
Should we ONLY consider the here and now - the Small Scheme of things
... and make good and bad relevant?
Should we consider none of the above - shutting out life to be Divine
... and make good and bad indifferent?
Should we consider all of the above - including life and being Human
... and make good and bad relative?
At this point, our analysis might see less than satisfactory... because it does not answer in any definitive way, the question of ultimate good and bad... it leaves things open for each individual to decide. Should we ALWAYS consider the past and future - the Grand Scheme of things
... and make good and bad meaningless?
Should we ONLY consider the here and now - the Small Scheme of things
... and make good and bad relevant?
Should we consider none of the above - shutting out life to be Divine
... and make good and bad indifferent?
Should we consider all of the above - including life and being Human... and make good and bad relative? All choices are acceptable, as long as people understand what it is they are doing then they make their choice. Enlightenment is not a matter of figuring out which point of view is the one true and correct point of view, enlightenment (or as this study of consciousness calls it: engrayment, the balanced perspective) is about awareness and knowing the lay of the land in its entirety and utilizing whatever perspective is fitting for any particular situation, while at the same time never loosing sight of how far from a complementary perspective, with a different point of view, we wander.
This improved state of awareness, whether called enlightenment or anything else, is NOT about discovering that a currently held perspective is all wrong or a maliciously deceptive illusion, and that a previously unknown perspective is correct or more real. It's not about abandoning one realm in order to escape to another realm where the grass is supposedly greener. It's about awareness of both perspectives and how they can be used together to perceive and understand exactly what is what.
In a world where everything is just another link in a never ending chain of causes and effects... the past doesn't matter, it's gone. The future doesn't matter either, it's not here yet. The only thing that matters is now. We should only judge good and bad by the moment - not by how far we can extent that context to include as many possible contributors to "now" as we can. Inclusion of an extensive context of causes and effects shows how no moment can be defined... in the grand scheme of things. But in the small scheme of things, each moment carries untold importance to each individual experiencing that moment. In the small scheme of things... things matter.
In this mandala, we don't move through life, life moves through us... like wet clothes through an antique ringer. Or... if turned 90 degrees, like an endless supply of sand through an hourglass. Or... like water being endlessly recirculated through a fountain.
The past and the future are in essence the same - cosmic flux waiting to be consumed by a cosmic engine that is seen by humans as a manifest entity like a human body - i.e. life happening. Past doesn't matter, future doesn't matter. But, at the same time, without a past and a future, there is no "now" to be found between... just as there is no gray without light and dark.
NOTE: For more on this idea context, and a tool that could be utilized to assist in determining context, try reading the essay Numbers in Space or playing the game Shake the Trees! or using the Dream Analysis Calculator!
Being IS NOW
Some might object to the theory just put forth, sighting that any connection to time itself is misguided or unenlightened, preferring instead to advocate the adoption of a timeless state of existence as yet another means of eliminating all notions of good and bad, and thereby entering the coveted state of utopian unity. This reiterates the binary dilemma mentioned earlier. In the passive/feminine state, there is no time, only wholistic unity. This utopian state is then advertised as "a good without opposite" that fully embraces the NOW. But... to others, this seems hypocritical, as the word "NOW" carries with it an implication of time. Plus... by leaving behind an unenlightened state to enter an enlightened state, wouldn't the unenlightened state be the logical opposite to the enlightened state, thus giving the "good" of the enlightened state an opposite - i.e. the "bad" of being unenlightened? Bringing up the idea of good to define a state where there isn't supposed to be any good seems misguided. Referring to a timeless state as NOW, also seems misguided.
In The Numerical Tarot this binary dilemma is elegantly resolved. In The Numerical Tarot BOTH states of perception are represented. In The Numerical Tarot, the suits of Addition, Diamond, Coin and Subtraction, Club, Stave represent a state of perception that is governed by time, while the suits of Multiplication, Heart, Cup and Division, Spade, Sword represent a state of perception that is timeless. In the book All Things are Numbers these two number lines are compared to a train on a track, where one train is segmented into increments of time by having the doors between each car closed, while the other train represents a connection to the unity of all by having all its doors opened, thus allowing the entire numberline to be one united presence of being (see The Number Line elsewhere on this site). Of course, both number lines are segmented when viewed as individual cards in a tarot deck, but the theory behind the deck is that one line represents the time governed concept of NOW while the other represent the timeless concept IS-NESS or SUCH-NESS or what just IS, in a life attempting to perceive life. And... unlike many books on spirituality, this study of tarot and consciousness does not advocate one form of perception to be superior to another, but as always, advocates a marriage of the two as a means of accurate perception of life. Thus... if a time governed perspective is causing anxiety over regrettable pasts and anticipated futures or a meaningless NOW, then indeed a timeless perspective should be pursued as a means of achieving balance. Likewise, if a timeless state is leading to stagnation, boredom and an inability to pursue the bliss of a dream through the vicissitudes of time, perhaps one should leave that Garden of Eden and deal with the concepts of time and duality, as a means of achieving balance. Likewise, if meaning to life is not wanted, then by all means expand the context of the time governed perspective of NOW, or enter the timeless perspective of what IS. If meaning to life is wanted, narrow the context of the time governed perspective of NOW, or leave the timeless perspective of what IS.
Life out of Eden, in the world of time and duality is not easy. Life detached from all that - back in the womb of Eden - is much easier - just as play is easier than work and being idle is easier than striving. People who take the easy way often laugh at or pity those who seem to choose complexity over simplicity, and go through life not knowing how such choices become the root of all suffering (see The Pentacle Person elsewhere on this site). People who lock out the passive/feminine IS side of life to the greatest degree, seem to suffer more. But those who don't utilize the NOW side of life never evolve... they just ARE. So the question is: are we here just to exist, or to do something? Is everything we do meaningless... i.e. vanity and chasing after wind? Is just existing, like flowers in a field, and nothing more, a waste of our uniquely manifest form? We tend to think that when we are dead we no longer exist, but maybe when we are dead we just ARE... as a wholistic, continuous unity of ultimate being, and when we are alive we should be doing something with our uniquely manifest form and time. If this means suffering, either greatly or minimally, we should accept that as part of life and not try to eliminate it by crawling back into the womb of life that gave us birth. We should be courageous and leave that garden, and seek our fortune in the world of duality and diversity.
Again... the binary dilemma, mentioned earlier, demands a choice. Because a huge majority of people choose to actually DO something with their life, they end up choosing (however consciously or unconsciously) the active/masculine time-governed path of NOW. As a result, they are forced to deal with duality and all the potential suffering that goes with not getting what we want, or getting what we don't want. When the passive/feminine timeless path of what IS, and doing nothing beyond survival needs, is suggested, people become bored and impatient, with a feeling of wasting time or life. While those who have purged themselves of the burden of suffering and time by just accepting what IS, advertise a better life. Is it really better? One force says: be a busy bee and strive. The other says: be a stationary flower sit idle. Obviously, we need both, and to advertise one as better is misguided. But, at the same time, we can observe how manifestation itself, being something rather than nothing, is intrinsically more masculine than feminine. So however misguided some might try and convince us we are by choosing to DO something with our intrinsically masculine state of existing, the tendency that both sexes have toward that masculine choice is certainly understandable. Also... given how much striving is needed just to tend to basic survivalistic needs, carrying that onward into evolutionary wants is certainly understandable as well.
This binary condition of being an idle flower or a busy bee is also what explains how it is that good and bad can be so obvious to each individual, while remaining completely meaningless to the rest of humanity. By acknowledging a binary design to nature, we can observe how our minds are indeed equipped to acknowledge both passive and active modes of perception, and will indeed fluctuate between them with effortless ease that inhibits awareness of the binary nature of perception among most of us. Thus, when a mind shifts toward the active, it is also shifting toward the "ME" aspect of consciousness, where we are individual, thereby focusing the meaning of what is pursued, while a mind that is shifting toward the passive is also shifting toward the "WE" aspect of consciousness, where we are connected, thereby diluting the focus of meaning (see the Died on His Side and Grand Cosmic Eye mandalas elsewhere on this site). With this design in mind, the idea presented in The Numerical Tarot is to superimpose both modes over each other as one. Be a stationary flower and avoid suffering by not acting. Or... be a busy bee and act upon time-governed wants and needs with an awareness of potential suffering. The key word being AWARENESS. With awareness, and moderation, either path can be trod without suffering. It is only those who lack awareness of the dynamics and lack moderation in their actions who get stuck here or there and suffer for it (see Stuck in the Mudaphor elsewhere on this site)
The Power of Hypocrisy
Below is a chart that sums up the binary dilemma we are talking about here. As mentioned in the essay Consider the Source, a great abundance of people live exclusively within a Conscious, Left-Brained, Patriarchal, 4/6 state of perception. Indeed, as many books on spiritual philosophy point out, quite a few people could be considered STUCK in that mode of thinking, with little to no awareness of its complementary opposite. Some manage to break free of the clutches of materialistic thinking and find that other side (see The Binary Buddy elsewhere on this site). Unfortunately (in the opinion of this study of consciousness) when they do, many of them proceed to get just as STUCK in the ethereal world of the formless as they were in the material world of the formed (see the essay Stuck in the Mudaphor elsewhere on this site). When this happens among those with an evangelistic bent, they all too often portray the material side of life as an evil force that locks people into a painful world of suffering, due to its association with duality and the concepts of good vs. bad. Is the material side of consciousness really an evil force to be abandoned and reviled? I think not. To this study of consciousness, each side of this material/ethereal equation has a purpose and place that is to be respected at all times. When encountering someone who appears stuck to one side or another, the goal should not be to vilify their current state and sell them on an alternative that asks them to forsake all allegiance to one half of their perceptive capabilities. The goal should always be to elevate their awareness of both sides of this equation, so that they can see how utilizing both forms of perception together, we accomplish the most in life.
|Awareness is Qi ! It's about Engrayment!! We should not abandon one form of perception for another. Neither one shows us the complete picture. Balance should be our bias! We have the ability to perceive in both ways, we should be utilizing both ways, as appropriate, for what each one can show, and for how each one can temper the other's obsessive tendencies, not for how one can exclude the other as superior. We are all one, yes... but we are not ONLY that. People trying to wean someone off of their dependency for the physical, material side of things will use the word "illusion" because of how effective it is at implying a malicious deception that ought to be abandoned for something more real. But the truth is, we ought to not abandon either path entirely - illusion or not. That "illusion" has a purpose... a purpose that is NOT any LESS important than the so-called "reality" that so many advertise to be superior.
As mentioned above, it is understandable to see people gravitating toward the material side of perception, because of something this study of consciousness calls The Life-Bias. Because we are talking about fellow humans, walking around on planet Earth, we are necessarily faced with a logical bias toward the material. While the perceptive capabilities of our physical brains may be both material and ethereal, our material bodies have a natural affinity for utilizing the information carried by our material perceptions, because of how they help the physical body navigate and survive in a material world of forms that have the potential to bump into each other in life-preserving or life-ending ways. Unfortunately (in the opinion of many spiritual philosophers) this bias toward the material concerns of formed entities seeking identity within a superficial reality, leads to suffering. To many, suffering is seen as a bad thing, to be avoided or eliminated. So... as a remedy to suffering, many spiritual philosophers suggest abandoning the characteristics of being a material form seeking identity within a superficial reality, and promote, with vigor, the characteristics of that life's opposite.
Promoting the characteristics of an immaterial formless essence with no identity within a supernatural reality is helpful... for those who might be stuck in the material world. Unfortunately (in the opinion of this study of consciousness) too many people promote this alternative in ways that demand exclusive acceptance of one form of perception and complete denial of the other. When this happens, a rich field of hypocrisy immediately springs up, as our physical forms find it impossible to accept every premise given to us... while remaining alive. The Life-Bias is strong. Some would even suggest that it is hardwired into us to survive as material forms seeking identity, and to suggest that we suppress that hardwired perception is not really what our creator intended. As a result, many hypocritical compromises are made in the philosophy of the immaterial to accommodate the sensibilities of the material forms who are not able to completely let go of their life bias tendencies. For example: People are told to not view things as good or bad and just BE. But... if they find themselves in a life threatening situation it's often declared to be okay to see that as "bad," and DO something about it in order to preserve their material existence and ultimately their manifest identity separate from the whole of unity. In other words, if a speeding bus threatens life, it's okay to decide that's "bad," and step out of the way. On the other hand, some hard-core followers of the immaterial path of unity with the whole will disagree and not allow such transgressions, preferring to die than DO something to preserve life as a material entity with an identity. Still, many will allow this hypocrisy to go by.
Always a Choice
by Guy Palm
To be or not to be, in duality or unity.
That is the question.
Suffer with choice, and have a voice?
Or instead do naught, without a thought?
In addition to suppressing life, many are told to abandon all notions of ME as egotistical expressions of the material, and instead adopt the concept of WE for how it show us to be all one life force, connected as a single being without our own thoughts, feelings, emotions, persona or identity. But... usually, the purpose of pointing out our connectedness is to promote a sense of emotional compassion or sympathetic feelings between us as individuals with feelings and emotions! Suggestions are also made about life after death, and how that single entity that WE all are, never dies. But... all too often, those notions of immortality are expressed to individuals as ideas about what happens to THEM when THEY die. But if the death of ME means a return to WE, there is no immortality for ME, only WE. The reality of this condition is often presented ambiguously and equivocally, so as to not cause alarm among those who still put value on life and the survival of their material form or identity.
As mentioned above, when we live in the immaterial world of formless unity there are no sides, and hence no good or bad dualities. And while this is great for ending all suffering, it also means we have no choice. As a manifest, material entity navigating through a jungle of other manifest material entities, many people find it difficult to abandon all notions of choice. But... if we are choosing to not walk into traffic, or to not do our meditation in the middle of a busy highway, we are comparing options that come from the world of duality, deciding which is good or bad, and potentially suffering for the consequences. As suggested above, those who accept the material world would most likely accept the idea of using duality and good vs. bad as a course correction device, and thereby allow duality to suggest that we don't walk into traffic or do our meditation in the middle of a busy highway. But those who mean to vilify all comparing, choosing, duality, good, bad and course correction, this behavior is misguided and unenlightened. It would be hypocrisy to allow it, but many can't avoid it.
Perhaps by now we can see how notions of hypocrisy could be avoided if the philosophy we put forth would simply allow both modes of perception being described throughout this essay to have equal say in how we conduct our lives. If we didn't view suffering as something to be eliminated, but as a natural, and unavoidable byproduct of being a material entity, then, instead of trying to avoid or deny it by crawling back into a womb of unity and never coming out, we could face it and deal with it constructively (see Verse 82 elsewhere on this site). If we could acknowledge that we are BOTH material entities with individual identities AND all also connected as one being, we wouldn't have to feel ashamed about the identities we unavoidably build up around us as a means of expressing our uniqueness of form. We could celebrate our uniqueness of form instead! If we are allowed to DO things within the material world of time-governed moments, we could evolve. Evolution is not always easy. When we apply theories of natural selection and survival of the fittest, whether to the life of a physical entity or a mental construct, we expose ourselves to potential suffering. But... no pain, no gain.
People do get stuck on the material side. People do confuse wants with needs. People do exaggerate the significance of life situations. People do lament the past and fret about he future instead of enjoying what is happening NOW in time, or just accepting what timelessly IS. People do build up material identities about them that become egotistical expressions of the Self that focus excessively on their individuality to the point of isolation from the unity of WE. And yes, it is very very hard for most people to let go of such manifestations of body and consciousness. We, as manifest entities, have a natural born tendency to cling (see Consider the Source elsewhere on this site). We cling to life. We cling to things. We cling to ideas. But the answer to life's problems is not to let go of EVERYTHING we cling to. The answer to life's problems is to BE AWARE... that's all... aware of what we are doing, and not doing, regarding the dynamics of BOTH modes of perception shown in the diagram above. Awareness of how much we cling, and whether it is so much that it is not allowing the other side a voice - whichever side that might be. For many it will be the side of unity that lacks a voice. For some it will be their denial of duality that shuts out a critical voice. Either way awareness, accompanied by moderation... in moderation, is what (in the opinion of this study of consciousness) all books of help SHOULD prescribe. If the purpose of this study of consciousness was to help people with the psychotherapy necessary to break these kinds of blockages we could go on and on about how to do that. But this study is not about that. The purpose of this study of consciousness is to present the dynamics of a universal blueprint, without bias as to which of its components is better for anyone to follow than another, but only for how they can be seen and used in the design of a tarot deck. The psychotherapy of determining what is best for any individual is being left up to each individual... that is... if being an individual is allowed!
A Valuation Equation
Given the above mentioned theory of relativity, we can see how determining cases of relative good and bad is truly a matter of context, relative to someone's values, or lack of values, concerning life. As stated in the essay Content + Context = Meaning, we can't say much about anything without knowing the context at hand. Indeed, all is relative. In fact, as we have just mentioned, altering the relative perception of a moment is how some people convince other people that there is no such thing as good or bad. But, by defining the moment-to-moment content and context of a "here" and "now" situation, it is theorized that good and bad can be made relevant to any moment, and thereby used as a course correction device in navigating through life... in cases where preserving life is considered important. In the essay The Reasoned Response a thought chart is used to describe a theorized equation for determining the good and bad of any... one... thing... or moment.
We can't say anything about anything without knowing context. Likewise... without context, we can say anything about anything.
The good and bad of anything can't be known without knowing (or at least speculating about) the intent of the cause. Likewise, the good and bad of anything can't be known without knowing the result of the effect. Together, these two become the "Content" part of the Content + Context = Meaning equation. But, beyond the mere acknowledgment of a specific context or reference frame, determining the good and bad of things is also a matter of defining the thresholds of extremes within that reference frame, as it pertains to the tolerance level of each physical, conscious entity experiencing a moment. From that we learn two important things: 1) To value life... but not to the point where we begin to fear death. And 2) To not swing the pendulum to the other extreme, and devalue life to the point where we do nothing to defend and preserve it. Some are so invested in life that the death of others devastates them to unhealthy degrees, and when their time comes, they go kicking and screaming. Some are so accepting of death that they become fatalistic, suicidal or murderous. The trick is to strike a mean between the extremes. Fight the good fight and hang on for life. Go gracefully, when it's our time.
(My Intent + Your Perception... a.k.a. Content) + Context = Moral Valuation
The problem is, that everyone doesn't have the same levels of tolerance, when it comes to defining what is extreme in the swinging of a pendulum. Additionally, there may also be times when being extreme is necessary or even desirable. That is why, the underlying structure of The Numerical Tarot comes equipped with a design conducive to sorting out the subjectivity of any person's relative levels of tolerance for any given moment in time. This design involves a spectrum of possibilities that run from one extreme to another and everything in between, across the cards of the deck (see the essay A Spectrum of Possibilities elsewhere on this site). Everyone has a different threshold, beyond which an extreme becomes undesirable. But the underlying structure of the Numerical Tarot system is not there to tell anyone what or where their threshold is, or what and where the threshold of any given society of people might be... it is there for the purpose of asking you to tell me where your threshold is by asking you to place the words you use in conversation along this numerologically divided, spectrum-based structure, so that we can better understand each other (see The Dream Analysis Calculator elsewhere on this site). In putting our words out there, some may take up permanent residence to one part of a spectrum or another, others might change with each experience or small schemed moment in spacetime, or with the 20/20 hindsight that we are given beyond each moment in time. The point is to speak in comparative terms, that make it clear to the other person exactly when we are being extreme or when we are being something in between, and when we intend to express something as good or bad.
Each moment in time is infinitely indefinable as anything other than an infinitely indefinable moment in time. If good and bad are no more definable than that, they are still as worthy of consideration with regards to the life-affirming vs. life-threatening potential of any given moment in time. In that sense, they exist. My system asks us to live in that moment and tell each other about it in conscious, human terms of life-perpetuating or life-threatening experience
Criteria for Good
This issue of how people determine good from bad is big. Lots of people spend their entire life studying these questions. I don't intend to spend my whole life trying to figure out the nature of good and bad. This one essay should suffice in offering some personal reasons for viewing the cards of a tarot deck, and the things of life in general, as good and bad... with a spectrum of variation between. The Valuation Equation just given might help in making determinations of good and bad known between people. While another method that I've come across, invented by Jonathan Heidt, might also help in establishing criteria for judging things good or bad. It is called The Moral Foundations Theory. It looks across cultures to determine universally applied criteria for determining morality within a society. Unfortunately, I have not studied this approach in detail, but only heard it mentioned in other readings. But after hearing a brief description of this proposed criteria, I could not help but notice the similarity of its organization to the organization of the theoretical model of existence being presented everywhere on this site.
The Moral Foundations Theory proposes five crucial values that are supposedly common among diverse cultures determining the moral value of life experiences. These five categories looked at how much we care for others, how fair we think things are, how loyal we are to a group, how much respect we have for authority, and the purity of things under consideration. And while the sequence of this list would vary depending on the priorities of different people, I could not help but notice a correlation between these ideas and the five stages of the theoretical model of existence being presented everywhere on this site. For example: The idea of respect and authority fits nicely with the number 5. Think about a traditional Hierophant or Pope card (a 5 in most decks) or the Alchemistic Wizard of The Numerical Tarot deck and his book of laws. The idea of being loyal to a group fits well with the numbers 4 and 6. Think about the loyalty between The Lovers (a 6) and the idea of The Emperor (a 4) being the leader of a group. Same with the Numerical Tarot's Hero and Angel. The idea of caring for others fits nicely with the numbers 3 and 7. Think about the kindness and gentleness of The Empress (a 3) or The Beauty in The Numerical Tarot. The idea of fairness fits perfectly with a 2 or 8. Think about the card of Justice in a traditional deck (usually either an 8 or 11 = 1+1 = 2). And the idea of purity fits well with a 1 or 9. Think about the pure thoughts of heightened awareness found in the mind of The Magician and the isolated virginity of The Hermit.
These categories are indeed universal. But instead of spending years studying a multitude of cultures to determine them, use of our theoretical model of existence allows us to surmise such criteria as important, without ever leaving home!
|Without going out of our door, we can know the whole world
Without looking out of our window, we can know the ways of heaven
The farther we travel, the less we really know
Thus the sage knows without traveling
He sees all without looking
He does all without doing
-- Verse 47 of Tao Te Ching
As a result... we could very well predict a list of criteria very similar to the one compiled above: 1/9 Ask - Is it Pure, 2/8 Ask - Is it Fair, 3/7 Ask - Do I Care, 4/6 Ask - Can we Share, and 5 Ask - Who is the Authority. Purity and the higher moral ground of an enlightened Hermit or Sage (1/9), Fairness and the equality of Justice (2/8), Caring and the sympathy or empathy of the Empress (3/7), Sharing and the loyalty to a group like family or tribe or Lovers (4/6), and... Authority and the respect given to those, like a Pope, Hierophant or Alchemistic Wizard, who uphold our laws... all of these could be added, vertically, to The Valuation Equation at the "Moral Presentation" and Moral Perception" stages, to expand and elaborate this mechanism of determining good and bad, or moral values of a society. These, plus the examination or at least acknowledgement of context, will equal a calculated moral valuation for any life experience or 10,000 things.
Lots of people will attempt to convince others that there is no such thing as good and bad in tarot or anywhere. When they do this, don't look them in the eye... look them in the mouth! See if they smile or frown when attempting to persuade. I know I smile... and frown. All the people I know smile and frown. All the illustrations, paintings, and photographs I see of people from societies gone by have smiles and frowns. Some people fly to the sun (extreme smile) and crash back to Earth (extreme frown). Some just smile and frown. Some, while meditating their way to the transcendent utopian unity of oneness neither smile nor frown. Let's talk about the whole dynamic, the full spectrum of human experience.
That's where (one of) my interests lies; in exploring the capabilities and limitations of any wisdom system (like the Rider/Waite/Smith tarot deck for example), and asking: is it a pure and unadulterated portrayal of naturally born, and archetypally based smiles and frowns? Or does it portray a reasoned response to life, developed over time, to express a lopsided perspective with a personal bias? Does it give equal representation to both smile and frown and everything in between? Or is it a one sided representation of smiles? If I should happen to choose frowns, will I find as many of them as I find of smiles? Or will I encounter a bias? For whatever concept I choose, be it smile or frown, will I find something to balance it? Or will I find a deficit? (see the essay Balance or Bias elsewhere on this site).
In most tarot decks, I see a bias. In the way most people use tarot, I see a bias. By putting a positive spin on every bad thing, they think they are being neutral, when in fact they are presenting an all-good bias. By only presenting ONE point of view, they think they are presenting a NEUTRAL point of view. Is this what tarot was meant to be? Or can it be something else? The All Things Are Numbers approach is an alternative, for those who appreciate balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency...
For more on how a deck might portray an equal proportion of smiles and frowns with balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency, read the essay A Few Minor Changes and Back to Basics elsewhere on this site.
For more about "Good " vs. "Bad" and "Smile" vs. "Frown" continue on to the essay "Stop Being So Human!"
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