Conversation in the Plaza

Plaza de Mayo
Plaza de Mayo

Francisco: What's going on, Alberto?

Alberto: What?

Francisco: What the fuck is going on with the world?

Alberto: Oh, yes, I think I may see what you mean.

Francisco: Then tell me.

This conversation begins in a bar in Buenos Aires. Francisco questions Alberto, who seems to be someone with more knowledge about the nature of things than anyone Francisco has ever known.

A: Please give me a little more detail.

F: Just look out the dirty glass window of this crummy bar and see the world we live in. I mean, look Alberto, you're supposed to be some kind of guru, so you should have all the answers, right? So why is the world seen as though looking through a glass darkly?

A: Wrong. No one has all the answers. And I'm not some kind of guru. And let's get out of here. We can stroll and converse peacefully in the Plaza de Mayo, just a few blocks from here.

They leave the bar and walk to the Plaza de Mayo.

F: Okay, sorry. It's just that from our conversations I have the impression that you know a lot. For example, when I told you about my disappointment with the Anthroposophical Society you said that when the founder of a spiritual movement dies, the organization he founded always degenerates. That's true, I think. Just look at all the organized religions, the churches. Then when I asked you how to find God – if he exists – you said one word: purity. When I asked if you meant abstention from sex, or vegetarianism – after all, we met in a vegetarian restaurant – you just laughed and said I should figure it out for myself, what it means to me. I get that, but...

A: But you still need a guru?

F: Touché. Maybe, but instead of consulting Guru Alberto, I'll ask just-plain-Alberto what he thinks about what's going on with the world. Is that okay?

A: Sure.

F: (After a pause) Does God exist?

A: Of course...but not in the form most people think – anthropomorphically.

F: But in the Bible it says that God made man in his own image.

A: That was Jesus, not God.

F: But I thought...

A: Look Francisco, I'm sorry, but it's complicated. In the Gospel of John it says that “In the beginning was the Logos, or Word, and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God...” right?

F: Yeah, I guess, although I never heard the word Logos used in that context. Hey, are you a Christian?

A: It's a truly ridiculous translation. You see, in ancient Greek there are no indefinite articles, so in Greek the article “a” isn't there because it doesn't exist. You must go to the context to find the meaning. The Logos couldn't have been with God and be God at the same time. Therefore, in English in order that the phrase make sense, we must translate “...and the Logos was a god”, meaning a divine being. And yes, I am a Christian, and a Buddhist and a Hindu and a Jew and an Anthroposophist and several other things as well.

F: Muslim?

A: [thinks] That's hard, it seems like going backward in history – although the Sufis have some good stuff.

F: Well anyway, that takes care of Jesus as God.

A: Yes. What else?

F: How about the Bodhisattvas? There's supposed to be at least one alive at all times.

A: Okay, what about them?

F: Is there one alive now – that you know of? And if so, where is he?

A: We're all bodhisattvas – most of us at least.

F: What? Are you serious?

A: Yes. Buddha no longer needed to incarnate, so he didn't. But a bodhisattva, although he or she could remain in Nirvana, decides to return to earth in order to help others.

F: Help them how?

A: Help them to see the meaning of things.

F: Well, that's what I'm asking you about, Alberto: the meaning of things.

A: There are three fundamental positions concerning the meaning of things, Francisco. From a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has no meaning. Humans are the outcome of random evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose. So our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan. Attributing meaning to it is just a delusion. The so-called existential philosophers agree, teaching that we must endure the meaninglessness of life and do the best we can, given such a rotten state of affairs. The Danish philosopher credited with inventing existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard, would be surprised, because his solution was to have faith and see what happens; it worked for him.

F: But that was a long time ago, right?

A: Yes, and science has advanced, if one can call it that, since then, so Soren's solution no longer works for most people.

F: Do they try it?

A: Good point. I doubt it. But there are the Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists, who certainly have faith, a superabundance of faith, which means they do more harm than good. That is the other extreme: religious fanaticism, usually combined with the glorification of a book.

F: And the third position?

A: That life is full of meaning, but we are incapable of grasping it in rational terms or, rather, proving it.

F: What about Rudolf Steiner, who calls his insights spiritual science?

A: That's a special case of someone, a genius of sorts, who claimed to be an initiate who has direct experience of the meaning by means of seeing into, even living in the spiritual world.

F: Yeah, well that sort of proves it … doesn't it?

A: If it works for you, why not? [pause] What's the matter? You don't seem convinced.

F: Well, he doesn't offer any real proof. I mean, some things are convincing, but...

A: But what?

F: There's a lot of suffering in the world, a lot of pain. War, hunger, emaciated or tortured children, rape murder, evil.

A: Yes. Maybe it has meaning, just as non-suffering has, just as joy has.

F: Is that your answer?

A: Yes, essentially faith.

F: Faith in what?

A: In meaning. Once you have faith that life has meaning you have taken the first baby-step to knowledge. It's not hard to have faith in meaning.

F: I saw a TV show recently where a comedian makes fun of faith and religion. Actually, he's pretty funny. He had a famous astrophysicist on as a guest, who explained some stuff about the cosmos. The comedian said: “And it's random”? The scientist replied with all the authority of his profession: “Yes, it's random.” The audience applauded. Now, if there's meaning, it can't be random.

A: Of course not. But there's no reason for you to have faith in that astrophysicist's opinion, no more than you must have faith in Rudolf Steiner's teachings, although they seem more amenable to you.

F: But if I reject both of them, where am I? Worse than when I started.

A: I think the secret is to have an open mind. You can accept Steiner as speaking the truth until you can verify his statements yourself, or just consider them to be possibly true – except when something isn't.

F: And the astrophysicist?

A: [laughs] Random thoughts in a random universe. Look, Francisco, it's getting late and I have a bus to catch.

F: Where are you going?

A: To San Luis, some people are waiting for me there.

F: Will you be back soon?

A: I don't know. If so, we'll meet again in the restaurant. If not, in a future life at the latest.

Francisco never saw him again. He was hoping to be able to ask him about Hope and Love to go with Faith.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three abide: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

(Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:4-13)

Alberto would probably have told Francisco to figure it out for himself.

If he did indeed try, Francisco might have found the following:

Take two glasses—in one is water, in the other is none. The glass with water should be only half-full. Suppose you observe these two glasses in the external world. If you now pour some of the water from the half-filled into the empty glass, the latter will be partly filled while the other has less water in it. If you again pour water from the glass which was half-filled into the glass which was at first empty, the first glass will have still less water in it; in short, through the pouring-out there is always less and less water in the glass which at first was half-full of water. This is a true representation of what happens in the external, physical, sensory world.

Now let us form a different representation. By way of experiment let us form the contrary idea. Imagine yourself again pouring water from the half-filled glass into the empty one. But you must imagine that in the half-filled glass, by means of this pouring-out of water, there is more instead of less, and if you poured from it a second time, so that again something passed over into the previously empty glass, there would again be more and not less water in the glass that was at first half-filled. As a result of the out-pouring, more and more water would be in the first glass. Imagine yourself picturing this idea. Of course everyone who considers themselves to be among the most intelligent would say: “Why, you are picturing an absolute delusion! You imagine that you are pouring out water, and that by doing so more water comes into the glass from which you are pouring!” Certainly if one applies this idea to the physical world, then it is naturally an absurd idea. But, marvelous to relate, it can be applied to the spiritual world in a singular manner. Suppose someone has a loving heart, and out of this loving heart he or she performs a loving action for another who needs love. One person gives something to another person, but the giving one does not thereby become emptier when performing loving actions for another. One receives more, becomes fuller, and still has more, and if that person performs the loving action a second time he or she will again receive more. One does not become poor, nor empty, by giving love or doing loving actions; on the contrary, one becomes richer, one becomes fuller. One pours forth something into the other person, something which makes one fuller oneself. Now, if we apply our picture (which is impossible, absurd, for the ordinary physical world), if we apply our picture of the two glasses to the outpouring of love, it becomes applicable; we can then grasp it as an image, as a symbol of spiritual facts. Love is so complex a thing that no man should have the arrogance to attempt to define it, to fathom the nature of love. Love is complex; we perceive it, but no definition can express it. But a symbol, a simple symbol — a glass of water which, when it is poured out becomes ever fuller — gives us one quality of the workings of love.

(Rudolf Steiner, Lecture in Helsinki, April 3, 1912)

Now we let us attend to what Love says about Hope and Faith:

Love's Lament

My sister Faith was first to go,
Her blood was staunched and ceased to flow.
Never was she the worldly type,
And won't return till time is ripe.

My other sister's name is Hope;
Never was she one to mope.
Her eyes, once fawn's, now sadly droop,
She walks with an ancient's wary stoop.

Hard it'll be to linger on
When blissful sister Hope is gone.
Retreat I'll then, I'll take cover,
With my ever constant lover.

A generation will rise and when
My sisters will be born again,
They'll care too much not to persist,
Hope's trembling lips insist.

We three will roam the world's wide web
Repeating what the Savior said,
We'll cast away our mourning clothes,
Leave them where the wild rose grows:

Being heard above the din,
Calling out and drawing in,
Welcoming the circling dove,
Honoring the name of Love.

The Evil One will be here too,
Our waking giving him the cue
His wicked efforts to redouble.
The world will groan: toil and trouble!

Perhaps too few will we three be.
Faith, Hope and Love agree
Our strength alone is soon exceeded
And human help is sorely needed.

(Frank Thomas Smith –