Spirituality Magazine

Courage and the Anxiety of Non-Being

By Hanumandass @HanumanDass

Altered flower

I’ve been reading a bit of Paul Tillich the last few weeks. I had never read anything by him until I began reading The Immanent Divine: God, Creation, and the Human Predicament by John J. Thatamanil. This book is a look into a possible east/west dialog via the thought of Sankara and the Christian theologian Paul Tillich. Since I only just began to read Tillich I can’t say a lot about whether I think he’s truly nondual or not. This probably isn’t the main objective of Thatamanil’s work as he spends more time in my opinion attempting to modify both Sankara and Tillich’s philosophies to answer shortcomings in both perspectives. (I don’t personally see any in Sankara for the record) Either way the bit I seem to grasp about Tillich’s “courage to be” particularly hit home with me.

What I gather is that the courage to be is not normal courage as opposed to fear. Normal courage or fear both have an object which informs them. The courage Tillich speaks of is almost in my opinion a transcendent courage, one without an object. Why is this higher courage needed? Because the human predicament is one of anxiety about being. Not of course that we are afraid of being, in fact no one denies that they are. In contrast we have a deep anxiety about non-being. Sin is that we fear nothingness and as a result never live fully. This non-being is not an object specifically, it’s indeterminate.

When we think in terms of concepts, to posit being is to imply non-being. So as beings fallen in sin we see ourselves as separated from God who is Being in itself. What Tillich calls “God beyond God”. This of course ought to remind you of Eckhart’s Godhead beyond God. Not to stretch what Tillich intends to say let me simply draw a few conclusions of my own based on this idea.

Because we think of ourselves as separate, individual, autonomous entities we must on some level acknowledge the possibility of our negation. Because I am I can only conceive of my beingness in contrast to my nonbeingness. The God beyond God who is nondual is beyond being. Beyond being meaning existence beyond any distinction. According to Sankara we would say Brahman is not-not being but is beyond any distinction or limitation inherent in it. God gives existence its reality, God makes being possible.

So what I take from Tillich is that the courage to be is a courage that stands  in the face of our anxiety about non-being. That sense in us that knows we are must reign supreme over and against our fear of nothingness. On one level this is simply the desire to live in spite of the fact that the body will eventually die. On a greater level it is the absolute courage to take hold of the inherent seed of divinity within and live in It’s light. Our anxiety that we might not exist doesn’t arise in the mind so clearly. Rather it takes the form of fear of death, loneliness, depression, etc. At the deepest level we are unable to cope with the unreality of our separateness.

Inability to cope with nothingness is a fight or flight response by the ego-self. I have often referred to the ego-self as the self-assertion. Our sense of separate selfness is a perpetual assertiveness of our existence. Everything we do from the most inconsequential to the most profound has its roots in our desire to assert that we are. But the mark of sin or ignorance as Sankara would see it is that we see ourselves as other than God. It’s not that our fundamental knowledge of existing is somehow wrong. Rather it’s that we think this beingness is limited, located in time and space, finite, and other. You and I believe ourselves to be beings independent of one another.

We suffer because we spend most of our lives trying to cope with a concept of self that can never be real. It has never had any existence and in our hearts we know this to be true. From this anxiety suffering boils over into our lives masked in a denial of the truth. The courage to be is to transcend separation and rest in our true beingness. We simply and most deeply Are. Whatever we try to say about ourselves is not what we are.

As long as I desire to be a separate self I can’t avoid fear of death for it is “I” that was born and “I” that will die. The courage to be gives up any attachment to a limited self. There is no room for an existence that will one day be a nothingness. This courage reminds me of Sri Nisargadatta’s insistence upon earnestness in inquiring into our beingness. In his earnestness we can’t deny there is an element of courage. To seek who I truly am I must have the courage to transcend what I am not. When we rest long enough in this beingness we come to see that who we thought we were, the limited being “I”, was always a nothingness. But at the beginning of our search we must have the courage to deny ourselves in order to find the source of beingness.

It is in my opinion a lack of this courage that keeps us locked in the suffering of duality. Out of fear grounded in the fundamental anxiety concerning nothingness we fail to truly do inquiry. At times we have great discrimination and even great dispassion but in the long run we fall back into our limited sense of self because of this powerful anxiety. Perhaps I’ve misrepresented Tillich. All I can say is that he pointed out something concerning courage that I’d never noticed, for that I am grateful. But if nothing else sticks consider these questions for inquiry: If nothingness is truly nothing then what are you to be anxious about? If nothingness doesn’t exist how can you die? Can what doesn’t exist die more than figuratively? Does courage play a role as you inquire into the nature of Awareness? If you have failed in inquiry was there a lack of courage to truly Be what you are? Who is anxious? Who has courage? What is prior to both?

Is it not the Absolute that calls you back beckoning to you in the lotus of your heart? Does not the courage to be issue forth from the fountain of Being – Consciousness – Bliss Absolute? You have went out, out, out into nothingness… now reality calls you back to true beingness. Being beyond beingness.

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