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Dialectic in the Voice

Nov 11, 1994 07:52 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

I finished rereading the Voice in light of the intuition that the
three fragments present a thesis, antithesis and synthesis.  It
seems to hold up fine, but there certainly remains the question
of whether this is coincidental or whether HPB arranged it this

Fragment 1 is emphatic about the need for detachment and
withdrawal from everything worldly-- the world of people, places
and things-- in order to be united with a reality that transcends
and subsists appearances.

Fragment 2 is even more emphatic in endorsing the Bodhisattva vow
to reject nirvana in order to spend vast eons helping all
sentient beings attain enlightenment.  It is all about engagement
as opposed to withdrawal.  This is a marked shift of emphasis
from world-denial to world-affirmation.  (Substitute "life" for
"world" for a perhaps better rendition of the meaning.)

Fragment 3 really does, it seems to me, reconcile these two
emphases through a third-- the practice of the paramitas.  The
first three paramitas, dana, shila, and kshanti, are collectively
a summation of our responsibilities to others.  To love
unconditionally, to act honorably, to be eternally patient (and
nonjudgmental?).  But the final four paramitas, viraga, virya,
dhyana and prajna, are all individual virtues oriented away from
"life" and towards nirvana.  (Detachment, vigor in truthseeking,
contemplation and wisdom are rough translations for those
unfamiliar with the book.) Rather than being rungs on a ladder
(despite HPB's imagery) I think a cyclical view is more
appropriate, since the essence of prajna-- clearsightedness,
freedom from personal motive, leading to right action without any
"static" from the lower self-- will lead us right back to dana.
That is, s/he who attains the higher paramitas is even more
responsible than the rest of us for manifesting the lower ones as

I wouldn't say HPB provides a neat dialectic here.  There's a lot
of back and forth chicken and egg argument.  Enlightenment is the
child of loving deeds.  No, wait-- you can't do loving deeds
properly without enlightenment.  In a way this back-and-forth
could be seen as crazy-making double-bind messages.  But that is
the essence of paradox as seen in koans.

Hope somebody else can develop this model if its worth any

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