Look at any three dots that are not in line:
What do you see?
You see a triangle, right? But there is no triangle! The lines with which your mind connects these four dots into a pattern of a triangle do not exist. Yet - somehow - your mind organizes these three data-points of reality into a pattern of a triangle...
Mind, according to Edward De Bono, is "a cliché making and cliché using system." We experience Reality as a series of such clichés - with the perceived world around us unfolding everyday like a 16 hour long stereotype...
Our whole life is like this - spent dreaming tucked in underneath an idiosyncratic patchwork comforter of illusions...
Thank God for jerks, eccentrics and fanatics - to these "rascal sages" who periodically wake us up!
These pattern-interrupters come in all sorts of patterns themselves: gurus and therapists, fakirs and martyrs, philosophers and writers, rebels and saints...
The shocking alarm-clocks they use to awaken us from our conceptual slumber vary in sophistication and efficacy: from keisaku, a wooden "encouragement" stick with which Zen masters hit drowsy monks during zazen, to impenetrable Buddhist koans and Daoist dialectics, to Socratic discourses and Nietzschean aphorisms, to the Theater of the Absurd!
Here's a brief tribute to six of these "rascal sages" that are my personal favorites that you might not be particularly familiar with...
In no particular historical order.
In no particular order of significance.
But beginning with a particularly "salacious" case of public disorder.
Diogenes the Cynic of Sinope (412-323 BC) - the original "dog" (the word "cynic" derives from Greek "kynikos" and "kyon" for dog, thus the "canine"). This original Cynic was no man's best friend! A nomadic beggar-philosopher who extolled the virtue of poverty and denounced societal definitions of wealth, Diogenes is said to have shocked Athenians by masturbating in the public market square; he is said to have urinated on Plato's home carpet, and have flipped the bird to none other than Alexander the Great for standing in Diogenes' sunlight while he was tanning.
In his defiance of the norms of behavior, Diogenes was trying to devalue the "coinage" of modern-day custom. In barking on the tree of society (and raising his leg too!) he ended up being sold into slavery. While being auctioned off, he announced that his "trade" was "being a master," and was purchased to govern rather serve - as if there is a difference!
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866-1949) - one of the original brokers of the East to the West, an Armenian mystic, a teacher of pattern-interruption dances and of the Fourth Way, speculated to have been a Tsarist spy before the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Gurdjieff wrote: "Man lives his life in sleep and in sleep he dies." In trying to wake up the consciousness of his students and in trying to facilitate their "harmonious development," he would, for example, employ the services of an unsophisticated Russian peasant whose un-enlightened wordlview would jar the minds of his enlightenment-bound students awake from their reverie of already being on the Way. What a jerk, you might say! Or you might say: what a sage!
Milton Hyland Erickson , M.D. (1901-1980) - an American psychiatrist, a genius hypnotherapist. While hypnosis, borrowing its name from sleep-like trance, has been generally administered through a directive "lullaby"-like induction procedure, Erickson broke the mold and made use of the naturally occurring trances through a combination of indirect inductions, confusional techniques and pattern interruptions. Like sages before him, he appeared to understand that a confused mind is free from clichés, patterns and stereotypes - and as such, it is open to change. "Artfully vague" Erickson saw confusion as a path to clarity.
Edward De Bono (1933) - a British physician, inventor, consultant. And most importantly, the mind behind the mind-retraining literature on "Lateral Thinking." De Bono - in my opinion - despite his prolific writing, is an under-recognized contemporary force. His 1990 book, "I Am Right, You Are Wrong: From This to the New Renaissance: From Rock Logic to Water Logic," is a brilliant and mildly obnoxious manifesto of New-Think of thinking out of the box.
Daniil Kharms (1905-1942) - a Soviet "surrealist" author of the Absurd, who, having been thrice arrested by the Stalinist government for his avant-garde writings, eventually died of starvation in Leningrad jail hospital. Never published in his own life-time, with the exception of his children's stories, Kharms challenged his one-day readers with non-linear absurdities - with each short-story operating as a kind of koan. His vignettes which he called "sluchaii" (Russian for "case" which is incidentally also the meaning behind the Chinese "koan") - in my opinion - were glimpses of enlightenment not insanity (as they might seem at a glance).
Here's one of my favorites of Kharms' vignettes, the "Encounter," from beginning to end:
"On one occasion a man went off to work and on the way he met another man who, having bought a loaf of Polish bread, was on his way home. And that's just about all there is to it."
Now: on one level - this is infantile trash. Just a dot on a blank piece of paper. But linked to Kharms' other vignettes, this "Encounter" is part of an overall stylistic pattern - or to be exact, part of the pattern interruption. This story is an example of non-interpretive narrative. Kharms presents facts of this "encounter" without offering any interpretation. As such, this story is a pseudo-story - an encounter with non-discursive mind. A literary precedent of non-elaboration...
Having read it you might feel short-changed... or - to a degree - enlightened!
Kharms leaks out his methodology in another vignette entitled "Four Illustrations of How a New Idea Disconcerts an Unprepared Man." In that "story," Kharms offers four exchanges of the following type:
Artist: "I am an artist"
Worker: "No, you are shit."
(artist faints and dies)
Now, what kind of story is that, you might exclaim? You are right, it's not really a story. It's a teaching on how a "new idea" can "kill." One way to look at this is from the stand-point of Buddhist psychology. Clinging to an impermanent Identity is existential suicide. Defining yourself by what you do is like standing on the precipice of a cliff in the dead of winter - risking to be swayed by the gusty winds of circumstance.
So, on some level Kharms reads like the prankish graffiti on the wall of a toilet stall - on the other hand, his poingant, pattern-interrupting brevity is akin to pith instructions of Zen.
Thich Quang Duc (1897-1963) - a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who performed an act of self-immolation. Political causes aside, the fact that he was able to sit still while on fire - without as much as twitching - breaks the pattern of our expectations: there can be pain without suffering!
In sitting still while his skin scorched, this burning monk - wholesale! - invalidated our thin-skinned suffering and validated the power of consiousness!
So, here we are...
Back to our patterns, connecting the dots...
As you go on with your life, perhaps, you can re-connect the dots and see a different pattern when you encounter these saintly jerks, eccentrics, fanatics and out-of-the-box thinkers that inconvenience the comfort of our status-quo patterns. Embrace the pattern-interruption curve-balls that these smart-aleck "rascal sages" throw our way. They are our teachers! When they confuse the hell out of your mind and flip you a bird, say: thank you for waking me up!
Pavel Somov, Ph.D.