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The Buddha - Man or Superman

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by Sangharakshita

... of a single volume, it*s almost like burying four people in one grave. It*s positively indecent. But in a later time, and we*re perhaps still living in this period or perhaps we*re beginning to see it come to an end now, at a later period the hero seems to have disappeared from literature altogether. Nowadays if you pick up a novel or a play you don't expect to find the traditional sort of hero any more, except of course one may say - there are always . exceptions - in the more unsophisticated women's papers. In some quarters, in some literary quarters we may say in fact, the villain or the personage who formally would have been regarded as the villain of the novel or the play has now become the hero. And of course the hero has disappeared from public life. Mr. Gladstone was regarded as a hero, he was worshipped by many people, so was Disraeli. People used to write in asking for just a lock of his hair or something of this sort, to enclose in a golden locket and wear round the neck, but we can't say that or we can't feel that about the politicians of our own day. If we were asked to select from .the ranks of say the Labour Party or the Conservative Party or the Liberal party or even the Communist Party or even no party at all, even from the House of Lords, a really heroic figure, one who could be regarded as a hero, I think we*d be rather at a loss. And whether they were really a hero or not there's no question that not one of them is popularly regarded as a hero by people today in this country in any sense at all.

So if the hero figure does survive at all in our day it*s only in very debased and perverted forms such as that, for instance, of James Bond. And this we may. say is a great pity. It*s a great pity that things have come to this pass, that they*ve reached this extreme. Admittedly the Victorians themselves very often went to extremes in their hero worship[ped], then they adulated, they glorified, they projected, the indulged in exercises in hagiography to a quite in a way unforgivable extent, but we have gone right to the opposite extreme [and] their extreme was at least positive whereas ours, unfortunately, is rather negative. And to us the hero figure, the whole idea of the hero is rather ridiculous, rather absurd. And this is perhaps at least partly because we cannot take seriously as it were someone who is serious about something. If we look at the whole question more in terms of principles we may say that the hero is fundamentally the serious person. the hero is one who cares deeply about something, and who is at the same time a person of exceptional even of extraordinary, ability. So perhaps we may say that it*s time that we got onto the middle path, avoiding these two extremes, the extreme of the Victorians anc the extreme of our own day. It*s time in other words that we revalued, perhaps upvalued, the hero. And in doing this perhaps it would help if we dropped the word hero and used instead the word genius, and regarded the hero as being also the man of genius, especially for the time being at least as the man of literary or artistic or musical genius or any combination of these three.

Now the question which arises at this stage is what is the difference between such a person and an ordinary person? What is the difference between one who is a hero and one who is not a hero? One who is a genius, a man of genius or a woman of genius, and an ordinary person? What*s the difference? Where does the difference lie? And perhaps we can say that the difference between the two, between the man of genius and the ordinary person is not so much one of kind as one of degree. It*s rather as though what was undeveloped or even just a very little developed in us is highly developed, even fully developed in him. Take for instance the question of musical sensibility, appreciation of music, of beautiful meaningful sounds. Well we all have this to some extent. There's hardly anybody who doesn't have some appreciation of music. There are one or two notorious examples in history. There's the example for instance of Dr. Johnson who used to confess, in fact who used to boast almost that he couldn't distinguish the tune of God Save The King - he was as insensitive to music as that. But very very few people indeed are of this kind, practically everybody has got some appreciation of music, even perhaps we can say some very minor undeveloped musical gift. But in the case of say a musician, a great musician like Bach or Mozart, the same faculty, the same faculty of appreciation of music, creation of music, sensitivity to music, which we find in ourselves in just a rudimentary form, an undeveloped form, is developed to a high, even to an extraordinary degree. And it's just the same with regard to literary and artistic sensibility. We all write but we may write just a letter or two occasionally, but it*s the same talent, the same ability, the same capacity for expression in that particular form that is carried to its highest possible pitch of perfection in great poetry and fiction and drama and so on. In the same way we all have a capacity for philosophical reflection - we all reason, we all philosophize. Someone once said it isn't a question of dividing the human race into those who are philosophers and those who are not. Everybody is a philosopher, everybody has a philosophy.

The only difference is that some people are good philosophers and others are bad philosophers.

Some have a good philosophy and others have a bad philosophy, but everybody has a philosophy of some kind developed to some extent. Meaning thereby the as it were conceptualized version of their own total attitude towards life, and sometimes it*s very interesting to meet . people - quite homespun sort of people - who have developed their own philosophy and sometimes this can be quite remarkable Sometimes in the most extraordinary places one finds people who have developed a quite systematic sort of philosophy; they've got a quite well integrated, quite consistent attitude towards life as a whole, existence as a whole, towards being alive as a whole, which is even intellectually articulated, and therefore one does find, as I say, these sort of philosophers, these sort of philosophies, in all sorts of extraordinary places. So it isn't Just the great ones who are philosophers - everybody to some extent is a philosopher, even if it*s only a very embryonic one or even a rudimentary one or a very poor one indeed.

So we may say that the great creators, the great literary geniuses, the great artistic geniuses, musical geniuses, people whose names for instance spring very readily to our lips, like Shakespeare or Michelangelo or Plato, these people are great because in them our ordinary human faculties have been developed to an almost superhuman extent. Some people say, some people like to think that there*s a difference of kind as between the genius and the ordinary person, but this I feel is not so. It*s not a difference of kind between them and us, it*s a difference of degree and this is shown by the fact that we are able to appreciate them. We may not be able to pen a Mozart symphony but when we hear it we can appreciate it. We may not be able to write a Shakespeare tragedy but when we see it played in a theatre we can appreciate it, even fully appreciate it. And we can appreciate the music, we can appreciate the poetry only because there's some music and some poetry already in ourselves. We've an affinity, however undeveloped, for that sort of thing. This is why we find one of the mystics (I think it*s one of the German mystics) singing in one of his songs or poems that the eye could not behold the sun unless the eye had in it something which was sun-like, and he uses this as an analogy and he says that the human soul could not perceive the divinity unless in the human soul there was something of the divine. So we can't appreciate the music of Mozart unless there'something of Mozart in us. We can't appreciate Shakespeare unless there*s something of Shakespeare in us. We can't appreciate the Buddha, although this is going a bit ahead, unless there's something of the Buddha in us as well.

But of course this isn*t very easy, this sort of appreciation. Sometimes we're really sort of stretched to the utmost of our capacity, sometimes it takes centuries for ordinary people to begin to appreciate the creative work of the great creators. It may take even centuries. It may be that only after many hundreds of years ordinary people begin to be able to appreciate what the great musicians and painters and thinkers were really getting at or trying to get at. But eventually it does happen. This is a very sort of common thing in the history of the arts especially. Many great artists or innovators - at first they*re not appreciated - people think that what they're doing is strange or weird or extraordinary. We're told that even in the case of Mozart who isn't regarded as an innovator, some of his later works contained harmonies which some of his friends Just didn't like, and there's one story I believe (I don*t know whether it*s true or whether it*s apocryphal) that when he sent a copy of one of his later works to a friend the friend thought that a mistake had been made in the copying of the work because there were certain what he regarded as disharmonies. But now we know that those disharmonies were only a higher type of harmony.

But we do find this sort of process going on all the time. We find the artistic genius or the musical genius raising the general level of sensibility. At first he*s the only one, he has the creative vision and then after that. a few others begin to appreciate, then more and more people, more and more people. more and more. And in the course of centuries practically everybody begins to appreciate and in this way the whole level of sensibility practically of the human race we may ...

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