LEVELS OF EXISTENCE
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 USE OF A STILL MIND IS THE CONTEMPLATION OF TRUTH, AS THE USE OF A CLEAR SKY IS TO ADMIT SUNLIGHT.” (Marsilio Ficino)
The fourth year of courses considered the law of three, the five kośa and the laws of harmony. Each of these subjects describes a different aspect of the laws governing the world. A knowledge of these laws allows the possibility to transcend their effects and realise the limitless self, who we really are, not governed by those laws.
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.
In all philosophies, the nature of the absolute is taken as indescribable, but there are ways of approaching it which make it available to individual experience. In order to make it accessible, Advaita philosophy describes it as having the three aspects of truth, consciousness and bliss. This course uses the teachings of Advaita philosophy to explore the nature of the absolute.
PRACTICE KEEPS THE PHILOSOPHER TRUE TO HIS GOAL; DEVOTION MAKES HIM LOVE THE GOOD ABOVE ALL; AND SERVICE HELPS HIM UPLIFT THE WORLD IN WHICH HE LIVES.
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.
“YOU WORK THAT YOU MAY KEEP PACE WITH THE EARTH AND THE SOUL OF THE EARTH. FOR TO BE IDLE IS TO BECOME A STRANGER UNTO THE SEASONS, AND TO STEP OUT OF LIFE’S PROCESSION, THAT MARCHES IN MAJESTY AND PROUD SUBMISSION TOWARDS THE INFINITE.” (Kahil Gibran, The Prophet)
The founder of the School, Leon MacLaren (1910—1994) adopted and developed the idea of what he called the three lines of work to reflect the three aspects of spiritual work. Spiritual work refers to those efforts made by the individual for freedom, liberation and self-realisation. It involves work with and on one’s self, work with and for others without reward, and work for the sake of work alone.
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. The third line of work includes the first and second lines of work.
I began the course without any expectations & the benefits from the discussions and excercises have positively impacted on my daily life and relationships. Personally I have found that I am more mindful in my daily living. I am much calmer and in stressful situations I am not being reactive but am able to stay calm and able to listen and contstructively respond. That is why I have enrolled in 2nd term. I don't want to stop learning & questioning my previous responses to situations. - John