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Five Paths

New Page - 30 July 2003

In the midst of all the journeys thus far (also known as treks, quests, sojourns, odysseys, junkets, and serious stumblings about), it might be relevant to consolidate some of these diverse voyages into categories.  The justification for this limiting device is that it is still wise to keep in mind that not everyone is on your journey, cares about where you're going, or is even tolerant that you're running amuck in what they consider to be their private estates.

"Two paths diverged in the woods, and I took the one less traveled on."  Robert Frost

This famous line contains within it a profound realization of what it means to diverge from the norm and leave the comforts of external validation far behind.  It is the path less traveled upon that often constitutes a conscious realization of The Fool's Journey (or it's approximation in The Hero's Journey or just taking a Bozo-Sattva vow).  However, there may in fact be five paths -- and, of course, an infinity of possibilities in any of those five arenas.  Consider, for example...

One path being the disciplined dependent -- someone who does not question authority, and quite the contrary, adheres to the rules and the letter of the law with a fanatical faith in their validity.  This does not preclude complaints and gripes on their part, but it does not result in outright rebellion either.

Members of the Armed Services are quite often the penultimate example of this species -- the process of their recruitment and induction being based on breaking down any and all resistance on their part to individualized or rational think, and supplanting it with an unquestioning discipline and eager willingness to instantaneously obey any and all orders from higher authority.

Those on this path might not object to being called disciplined.  For discipline is often considered a good thing.  Self-discipline is indeed of enormous benefit to anyone claiming to be a "grown up".  But as Kurt Vonnegut has noted -- in quoting "the late great German novelist Heinrich Boll" -- the basic flaw in the German character (the kind of thing that led to Nazi Germany) was "Obedience." [1]

Such discipline is the often unwarranted assumption that those in authority have in mind the best interests of those under their authority in any and all of their decisions.  In effect, such people are dependent upon the authorities for their marching orders -- and how to think and act in a host of different situations.  These are the "law and order" folk who relish having a law or rule for every conceivable situation (an important aspect of some religions).  They depend on others to ensure that order is maintained, and allow such order to be imposed upon themselves as a means to an end.  In many respects, this view is perfectly acceptable.  If nothing else, the disciplined dependent saves enormous amounts of energy by not questioning reality, by not having to make decisions on the basis of such questioning, and/or by not feeling the need to do their homework before making a decision.  They have faith in the system, and that overrides most everything else. 

A second path is that of the activist -- those people exemplified by environmentalists and demonstrators of all manner of anti... whatever.  These are the individuals who question authority, and often stick "Question Authority" bumper stickers on their cars.  In the process of such questioning, it become abundantly clear to these followers of the second path that authorities are inevitably not acting in their follower's best interests, and in fact are demonstrating extreme examples of greed and arrogance.  The activists have figured out the rule of "follow the money" when questioning decisions from on high.

Activists have further realized that in order to accomplish their alternative (and more laudable goals) they must stretch the limits of the system and attempt to manipulate the same system so as to achieve -- from their point of view -- more positive results.  They are the rebels who instinctively know that to rebel too aggressively can lead to greater problems, rather than solutions.

The third path is populated by those who have given up on changes within the system -- these are the disenchanted, the conspiracy theorists.  Their fundamental assumption is that the system is a facade, and that it's "the man behind the curtain" that deserves their attention.  These dropouts from society assume they cannot know the full extent of what is really happening, and thus they are helpless to affect change.  Even when some aspect of the "conspiracy" comes to light, there is the assumption that there is a deeper, darker secret, and that any revelation is simply intended to deceive and hide the more esoteric secret.  It's a "Catch-22", no-win situation.

The fourth path is the metaphysician who falls back upon the crutch that everything is perfect and that furthermore anyone doing everything they can to change the situation is also perfect.  It's the broad assumption that duality (good and evil) [2] exist only in the minds of those encrusted with the Illusions that reality is real.  Instead of becoming upset or concerned over the decline of morals or the initiation of a war of conquest, these visionaries think in terms of everyone making their own choices, and that the young soldiers dying in foreign fields are simply following their own dharma, essentially their choices prior to their current incarnation.  There is a hint of predestination in their vision, with free will being limited essentially to how one reacts to whatever experiences they encounter.  It's similar to going to a movie and choosing whether or not to become emotionally involved in the plot.

The third and fourth paths have a similarity in that both have stepped back from the activist stance of the second path, and assumed a laissez-faire attitude of "what will be will be" -- Que sera sera.  The difficulty in such a position is exemplified by the famous quote from the times of Nazi Germany, to wit: the idea that one remains quiet and serene and refrains from objecting when the out-of-control authorities come for one group after another, until, of course, when they come for you and there is no one left to object.  But notwithstanding this latter point, there is a fatalistic aspect to both paths that everything is proceeding according to (divine?) plan and that nothing can (or need) be changed.

There is, however, a fifth path.  Call it the wise hero.  If the first four paths are in effect four stages of growth: child (disciplined dependent), rebellious teenager (activist), disillusioned youngster (conspiracy theorist), and alleged adult (metaphysician) -- then there may be a fifth path whereby Wisdom enters the picture, accompanied by a courage and will to affect omni-beneficial change.  Such a position goes beyond acceptance of dharma or predestination, and instead embraces life as a means of growth without limits!

Such a path is a well considered, intensely felt choosing whereby one not only no longer supports the system (by going along with evil) [3], but one carefully selects one's battles and rushes in where fools might hesitate.  It is the wise and knowing practitioners of Anarchy who place their faith "not in love, but in life itself as a tireless power which is continually driving onward and upward." [4]  As George Bernard Shaw phrased it [4]:

Life is "growing from within, by its own inexplicable energy, into ever higher and higher forms of organization, the strengths and the needs of which are continually superseding the institutions which were made to fit our former requirements.  When your Bakoonins call out for the demolition of all these venerable institutions, there is no need to fly into a panic and lock them up in prison, whilst your parliament is bit by bit doing exactly what they advised you to do."  "If the energy of life is still carrying human nature to higher and higher levels, then the more young people shock their elders and discard their pet institutions, the better for the hopes of the world, since the apparent growth of Anarchy is only the measure of the rate of improvement."  "No doubt it is natural for a snail to think that any evolution which threatens to do away with shells will result in general death from exposure.  Nevertheless, the most elaborately housed beings today are born not only without houses on their backs, but even without fur or feathers to clothe them."

The key, of course, is finding the wisdom to act: Wisdom first, actions to follow.  The first is often predicated upon consciously participating in The Fool's Journey (and its variations on a theme), and the following actions flavored with compassion, empathy, and due respect to the Free Will of all of the other cast members.

A related link which might shed some light on all of this is Night Falls on the Gods -- an examination of the potential underlying and/or allegorical meaning of Richard Wagner's monumental composition, The Ring of the Nibelung.



[1] Kurt Vonnegut, TimeQuake, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1997.

[2] "I form the light and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.  Isaiah 45:7 (King James' Version)

[3] "Evil flourishes when good (wo)men do nothing."

[4] George Bernard Shaw, The Perfect Wagnerite; A Commentary on the Niblung's Ring, Dover Publications, New York, 1967 (based on a 4th edition published in 1923).


Bozo-Sattva         The Hero's Journey         The Fool's Journey

Gnostics         Curiosity         Abraham         Wisdom          Synthesis

The Pursuit of Happiness    

Or forward to:

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy        Douglas Adams         Desiderata

Babylon 5

Love N' Death         They Went Thataway


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