Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rami's Reply to Mike 4/26

I am struck by your insight into agape as a matter of will. As I understand it, agape is to be distinguished from eros, sexual love, and philia, non-sexual affection. Agape is divine in the sense that it is self-sacrificing. And therein lies my problem: how can anything willful be self-sacrificing? The very self that wills is the self that needs sacrificing. Can the self sacrifice itself? I don’t think so. I think, as I have said earlier, that the self, the ego, cannot sacrifice itself and needs to be sacrificed by something greater than itself, call it the soul if you life.

I do agree, however, that feelings cannot be changed directly by the will. What I can change through will is my behavior, and what often happens when my behavior changes is that my feelings follow suit. But if I have to change my feelings before I alter my behavior, I suspect I will never alter my behavior. So this may be why the command to honor our parents is behaviorally defined by the rabbis: do the right thing by your parents and you may discover a deepening of love for them. But even if you don’t you have still honored them through your actions.

What we are talking about is a Zen Buddhist based philosophy called Morita Therapy in Japan and Constructive Living here in the United States. Shoma Morita was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud and chairperson of the Department of Psychiatry at Jikei University School of Medicine. My teacher David Reynolds, the founder of Constructive Living, was instrumental in “translating” Morita’s insights for Americans. The key to Morita’s teaching is the three-fold instruction: Know Your Purpose; Accept Your Feelings; and Do What Must Be Done.

You purpose arises from discovering your rightful place in the universe. In Judeo-Christian terms I would suggest our purpose is to “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly” (Micah 6:8). At any given moment our feelings may or may not jibe with our purpose, but whether or not they align with justice, mercy, and humility, we are obligated to act in a manner that does.

Morita was primarily concerned with a type of anxiety neurosis called shinkeishitsu, which we might translate loosely as “too much self focus.” As you said, the command to honor your parents is humbling, and may well be part of the cure for shinkeishitsu, a problem from which all humans suffer.

We are basically in agreement, and I don’t know if you have anything to add to this, but before we move on to the next commandment, what is your take on the connection between honoring our parents and living well on the land, which is the rationale the Torah itself offers for keeping the Fifth Commandment?

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