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Win/lose kama-manas

Jul 06, 1995 02:35 PM
by K. Paul Johnson

One helpful and instructive aspect of receiving plenty of
criticism is learning to recognize something of how people's
judgments are formulated.  A couple of Theosophists have recently
pointed out to me that it is crucial to understand how kama-manas
operates.  Reflecting on this has indeed been helpful, but I'd
like to know what others of y'all think about it.

Basically, the Theosophical teachings postulate that the mental
faculties (manas) can be in service to either the spiritual
intuition (buddhi) or the personal desire nature (kama).  Or,
more realistically, both, in different ways at different times.
Manas by itself is a morally neutral calculator/ word processor
that takes on the color of the principle "above" or "below"
depending on circumstances.

What differences would there be, then, between criticism of a
book that comes from buddhi-manas, and criticism that comes from
kama-manas? They might take the same objective facts, have no
disagreements on those facts, and yet come out with drastically
different evaluations.  Buddhi-manasic criticism would start with
a basic fraternal respect for the work and its author.  Buddhi
recognizes the fundamental oneness of all life, and thus does not
approach situations from a win/lose perspective, but rather from
a win/win outlook.  So a buddhi- manasic criticism would start
from the point of view that the book in question represents an
effort by a well-meaning and fallible author to do his/her best
at representing the truth of the topic under discussion.  It
would ask first, "what of value is there in this work?" Second,
"what would improve it?" The kind of criticism that authors ADORE
is precisely what one would associate with buddhi-manas.  Things
like "I see a pattern here that you have missed" or "there are
depths of motivation in this character that should have been
considered more thoroughly" or "the way you express this conveys
an impression that I don't think is really what you mean." Of
course a critic is obliged to see flaws and point them out, but
from a buddhi-manasic point of view this can be done with respect
for all beings and a wish to maximize the enlightenment potential
of the discussion.  This sort of approach is pretty rare in
print; I must say however that Joy Mills exemplified it to my
astonished appreciation in her review of TMR in the Quest.  So
understanding of what I was trying to accomplish; so gentle in
pointing out the shortcomings; may all struggling authors find at
least one reviewer like her!

Kama-manas, on the other hand, is the mental apparatus in service
to personal emotions, desires, needs.  It asks first, "how does
this affect my interests?" If the answer is negative, the book is
then dealt with as a threat requiring a fight-or-flight response.
(If the answer is positive, we have a "good review" that doesn't
sincerely evaluate the work on its own terms, but only in terms
of the interests of the reviewer.) There is a win/lose assumption
underlying kama-manasic criticism.  If the book is perceived as
threatening to make the reader "lose" something (security in
one's beliefs, for example) the reaction is to make the author
"lose" instead.  Thus, an effort to punish and humiliate, rather
than to enlighten, with the goal of making the critic "win" and
the author "lose." You can read this stuff any day; it's

The paradox faced by the subject of such criticism is that to buy
into the win/lose paradigm is in itself to lose in a spiritual
sense.  You cannot play that game without being sucked down into
your own kama-manas, and yet refusing to play is also defined as
"losing" by your opponent.  Perhaps the better part of wisdom is
to conclude that you simply can't win in a struggle between two
kama-manases; everyone loses.

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