LEVELS OF EXISTENCE
PRACTICAL PHILOSOPHY BROADENS THE HORIZONS OF LIFE
Just as we can live in a small house or a large house, so we can live in a small world or a large world.
The three courses in the fifth year of Practical Philosophy provide access to this larger world. The first course, The Absolute, explores the level of absolute existence which lies behind relative existence, supporting everything in our mundane world without imposing itself. The second course, Practice, Devotion and Service presents ways of exercising philosophy in such a way that the individual connects freely and easily with the universal, giving his or her life a purpose beyond the mundane.
The final course in this fifth year, The Three Lines of Work, redefines the idea of work by setting out the principles of how to work on one’s self, how to work with and for others and how to work for the work’s sake. All three courses open our view on life and work and not only broaden the field of our vision, but give us the tools for realising a life that is lived for the benefit of all as well as one’s self.
“Philosophy does not consist in teaching an abstract theory – much less in the exegesis of texts – but rather in the art of living. It is a concrete attitude and determinate life‐style, which engages the whole of existence… It raises the individual from the inauthentic condition of life, darkened by unconsciousness and harassed by worry, to an authentic state of life, in which he attains self‐consciousness, an exact vision of the world, inner peace and freedom.
(Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, pp 82‐3)
The word ‘absolute’ is from the Latin word soluere which means ‘to loosen’. It gives us the words ‘absolve’ and ‘absolution’. When things are ‘absolved’ or receive ‘absolution’, they are set free. This is why the word ‘absolute’ has come to mean unlimited, infinite, and complete. Combining these two meanings, the word ‘absolute’ signifies that which is unlimited, infinite and complete and that which brings freedom.
‘Absolute existence’ is that level of existence which makes individual existence possible. Each individual comes into existence for a time and then goes out of existence, just as a flower or anything else comes into existence for a time and then goes out of existence. Everything exists in absolute existence.
PRACTICE, DEVOTION AND SERVICE
In this course, ‘practice’ is taken to mean the persistent effort to establish that state of stable tranquillity which reflects the natural state of your highest self. Such persistence is supported by discipline and knowledge, but mostly by the power of love. We can love all sorts of things, but when love is focussed on the very best of things, it turns into devotion and lends our practice a singular energy for transformation.
Practical philosophy broadens the horizons of life. As those horizons open, we start to live in a much bigger world. We begin to see how we can be of greater use and how to respond to the need in the present moment. Acting to meet the need right now is the very definition of service and is the natural outcome of practice and devotion. We become truly useful people.
The three elements are essential. Without one or more of the elements of knowledge, meditation and practice, what we hear in these groups would remain a completely abstract theoretical matter; nice ideas but of no practical benefit.
THREE LINES OF WORK
Spiritual work begins with work with and on one’s self: discovering who one really is; refining and developing one’s talents; strengthening confidence; releasing enthusiasm; and building courage. This is the first line of work, and this begins with the first touch of practical philosophy.
The second line of work is with and for others. This is a natural outcome of the first line of work. Our natural talents are released for the benefit of the world; we get a glimpse of the whole world as a family, and we start to become the change that we would like to see in the world.
The third line of work is described as work for the work’s sake. It is a natural consequence of the perfection of the second line of work. A person working in this way has a universal outlook. The person sees what the need is and responds to that fully and freely, as much as may be possible.