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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
David Christopher Lane
Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical
(New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession
(New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
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of Prince Agib
Why the Famous Arabian Nights Story
Reveals the Secret of Being Human
“The moving finger writes, and having written moves on.
Nor all thy piety nor all thy wit, can cancel half a line of it.”
“My fate cannot be mastered; it can only be collaborated with and thereby, to some extent, directed.
Nor am I the captain of my soul; I am only its noisiest passenger.”
In reading the fantastic tale of Prince Agib's adventures in the justly famous Arabian Nights, I was struck with how deeply insightful it was about the human condition. Although the story is so incredible that even one's imagination is stretched by its incredulity, yet the message it conveys is so universal and so human that one cannot help but be awed by its moral implications. Blaise Pascal brilliantly captures Prince Agib's and our own dilemma when he writes, “All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” We humans are seekers and are never content with our own lot in life and are forever intrigued by that which just lies beyond our reach. This is, of course, natural and part of our evolutionary heritage, since such yearning is precisely why we have survived so well and adapted to unaccustomed landscapes. Yet, our Darwinian advantage is also our curse.
Why? Because we are never at peace with ourselves and with how life's innumerable (and unexpected) trajectories play out over time. The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill, or so our curiosity tells us. Prince Agib, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, was allowed a plethora of earthly delights. In his case, he was given fair warning and an apparently irresistible enticement: “We deliver to you the keys of the palace, which are a hundred in number, belonging to a hundred closets. Open each of these, and amuse thyself, and eat and drink, and refresh thyself, excepting the closet that hath a door of red gold; for if thou open this, the consequence will be a separation between us and thee.” But did Prince Agib limit himself to these wondrous manifold closets, making sure to not enter into the door of red gold?
No. Like Adam and Eve, he succumbed to the temptation of “more” and thus he ended up cursed with one eye and banished from the very palaces where everything was a sensuous delight. What is the lesson being taught here? Two things, in particular, especially as they relate to the teachings of Islam. First, everything that is happening in the cosmos is out of our hands. There is a guiding force (believers will call it Allah or God; skeptics may refer to it as Chance or Nature) to the universe which transcends our understanding since we are limited creatures. Second, the human desire for more knowledge, more experiences, more delights forces us to be caught in an intractable web of “yesterdays” and “tomorrows.” And in so doing, we forget the very thing that is ours: this moment, this day. Our consciousness is a virtual simulator and as such was evolved to provide us with a way to envision all sorts of scenarios that are not currently present.
This benefits us since we can plan for things that other animals (without sophisticated languages) cannot. But it also binds us to all sorts of flights of fancy and nonsense that delude us with their delectable possibilities. This is exactly what happened to Prince Agib. His position in life was great, yet he wanted still more. He was amply warned not to do so many things, but he persisted and in the end it was his ruin. We too are like Prince Agib in our unquenchable lust for that which we do not have.
How can we remedy this existential situation? It is here that Prince Agib provides us with the key. We need to learn to accept to a large measure that there are many events and things in life that are beyond our control. We are, in sum, passengers on a voyage not knowing where we came from and where we are going. As witnesses to such, we can indeed make hue and cry, but what is going to happen will happen regardless.
Yes, we can and should make changes on our journey when warranted, but just as we didn't choose our birth, there are happenings (like the shining lights of the stars above) that are beyond our control and our reach. Prince Agib eventually resigns to his fate, knowing full well that no matter what actions he does, his destiny awaits him despite his protestations. So it is the same with us. We are puny creatures in a cosmos that has already prefigured our pathways.
Full Color Link to the Story of Prince Agib