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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Rizal 111 - I Am Tao

By Edwin D. Bael

2008, because of the number 8, is said to be a year of new beginnings and resurrections; it is also the 'Year of Grace' for Catholics. But by the way things are in our country, we seem to face another year of the same: for most of us - crisis, corruption and poverty with entertainment from politico-military theatrics; for the very few - the good life. The whys and wherefores of this national situation rattle our consciousness as we try, once more, to recall and make sense of the martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal 111 years ago.

Was his death at the hands of a Filipino firing squad who themselves were at the mercy of a Spanish firing squad behind them, worth all his hope: Yo muero cuando veo que el cielo se colora y al fin anuncia el dia tras lobrego capuz (I am to die when I see the heavens go vivid, announcing the day at last behind the dead night) that he could one day behold his beloved joya del Mar de Oriente secos los negros ojos, alta la tersa frente, sin ceno, sin arrugas, sin manchas de rubor (Jewel of eastern waters: griefless the dusky eyes: lifted the upright brow: unclouded, unfurrowed, unblemished and unashamed!)?

One hundred and eleven years have passed and still Inang Bayan's dusky eyes are full of grief, her brows are still neither lifted nor upright - still clouded, still furrowed, still blemished, still ashamed! Paradoxically, the problems are different yet the same: nor more foreign colonizers, only the Filipino elite; no more struggle for independence, just the daily struggle for freedom from want and freedom from fear.

As generation Y would ask: what's up with that?

Could we perhaps be approaching our national problems with the same mind sets that created the problems in the first place?

If we are, could we be bound to go round and round till we die of exhaustion, like the caterpillar that follows its own tail? Albert Einstein is known to have observed: "No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it".

Gawad Kalinga stalwart Tony Meloto, in his 'Spirituality in Nation Building' speech, said: "My choices define who I am, influence those around me and affect the state of my country and my world." No one can disagree with such a statement. But one could add: My choices are marked and circumscribed by my own definitions, perceptions, beliefs and understandings of myself, my family my nation. In other words, my own definitions (beliefs) delimit my choices.

Examples of the distortive effects of such beliefs and internal definitions are provided by the classic stories of humans raised by wolves/gorrillas, or those of swans raised by ducks, or of eagles raised by chicken, or pigs raised by dogs, dogs raised by cats or lions raised by sheep. For humans exploited by other humans and made to believe their supposed inferior nature, there is no end to possible citations on the abominations of slavery and of the oppressive conditions starkly expressed in Edwin Markham's poem "The Man With the Hoe", which we can very well relate to our own "Men, Women and Children with Scavenger Hooks" in Tondo and other garbage dumps.

Is it possible we truly are of a higher, nobler nature yet have come [or made by others - more appropriately, allowed others to pressure us] to believe we are only good for a little corner of this downtrodden world (as in the song: DITO BA [sa sulok na ito])?

For we could ask, like Rizal in 'Cervantes in Argamasilla de Alba': "Miguel,Miguel [Filipino, Filipino], why does your courage surrender to the blows of fate? If the cedar of Lebanon [molave of the Philippines] defies the horrid roaring of the hurricane; if the hard rock, when the violent sea rages against it to the clamor of wrathful tritons, can stand firm: why do you, invincible genius, despair?" (emphasis provided).

In the same poem, Dr. Rizal prefigured the difficulties we now face: "I heard your groans against strict destiny; and I opened the awe-inspiring book where your tremendous fate, inscribed in ominous colors, can be seen. Thorns shall you find along the way, sown there for you by fraud and falsehood; and you shall grapple with your dark fate as the maimed gladiator grapples with death." (emphasis provided).

And then counsels a way out: "So go, Miguel, [Filipino] let your clear mind , focus of light, shine on your land to redeem a demented multitude by tearing down the dark, dark veil. And like fraught cloud, hurl expertly in your lofty flight a sizzle of lightning to tumble down the god of madness and to bring forth celestial good." (emphasis provided).

What is this "dark, dark veil" we must tear down? And whence do we get this "sizzle of lightning"?

Is the veil perhaps related to our conception of our own "pagka-tao"? Our being human?

If we try to reach back into the dawn of time, we cannot be sure, but can only grasp some straws of data: like forbears travelling across land bridges from mainland Asia, the archipelago getting settled at least 50,000 years ago [Tabon cave man was carbon-dated at 22,000 years], peoples coming in as seafarers, living as separate tribes, spawning at least 171 native languages-not dialects, practicing animism, getting influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism (Shri Vijaya,7th Century and Majapahit,13th Century), Islam (14th Century), Catholicism (16th Century), Protestantism (19th Century) and the rest of global influences up to the present---all piling on top of another, for the Filipino survives by adapting...

Yet almost all our languages refer to our being human beings or persons as "tao" or "tawo" or some phonetic variation thereof. These are the languages referred to, in the felicitous words of Dr. Rizal in "Sa Aking Mga Kabata": Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa kanyang salita mahigit sa hayop at malansang isda (Who does not love his own tongue is far worse than a brute or stinking fish). There are reportedly 13 native Philippine languages with at least one million native speakers; one or more of these languages is spoken natively by more than 90% of Filipinos and we call humans/persons/ man-woman as "tao" or similar sound: Albay-Bikol: tawo; Bikol: tawo; Cebuano: tawo; Hiligaynon: tawo; Ilokano: tao; Ilonggo: tawo; Kapampangan: tau; Kinaray-a: taho; Maguindanao: tawo; Maranao: taw; Pangasinan: too; Tagalog: tao; Tausug: tau. When we say "tao" we mean some human, one with higher consciousness or noble nature. Thus we say, "magpakatao ka!" Be free, aware and responsible! When we knock on a door and say "Tao, Po!" (definitely not the equivalent of 'any body home?'), we are declaring a human being is here, not an animal or the wind! Nothing inanimate!

Did our various ethno-linguistic groups get influenced by the Chinese tradition of "tao" from their philosophical heritage of taoism? May be. But if there was that close an influence, why not use the Chinese term for persons, as in shen or gui? "Tao" in Chinese conception "can be roughly stated to be the flow of the universe, or the force behind the natural order. Tao is believed to be the influence that keeps the universe balanced and ordered. Tao is associated with nature, due to a belief that nature demonstrates the Tao. The flow of qi as the essential energy of action and existence, is compared to the universal order of Tao. Tao is compared to what it is not, like the negative theology of Western scholars. It is often considered to be the source of both existence and non-existence". That concept seems to be too big and grandiose compared to our daily usage of 'tao'.

Might not this lower level conception of "tao" be a part of the dark veil?

In Mark 12:28-31, when Jesus was asked by a Scribe as to which of the commandments is first and most important of all [in its nature]?, the Lord replied: " The first and principal one of all commands is: Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord; And you shall love the Lord your God out of and with your whole heart and out of and with all your soul (your life) and out of and with all your mind (with your faculty of thought and your moral understanding) and out of and with all your strength. This is the first and principal commandment. The second is like it and is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. (Amplified Bible)

The logic of our mind would ask: Where is the instruction to love 'yourself'? Why did Christ immediately go from loving God with all-our-all and then to loving our neighbor as we love ourselves? Shouldn't there have been the progression of loving God, loving yourself and then loving your neighbor as yourself? Shouldn't the directions of love have been up, in, then out? Why is there no distinction between the 'up' and the 'in'? And why is the second like the first?

Did the Lord, Jesus Christ, mean there really is no distinction between "the Lord your God" and "yourself" because God is within each of us? And therefore when you love God, you actually love yourself (no 'up' but simply 'in')? Thus, there can only be two commands--which are like each other--because when you love your neighbor, you also love God?

If that be so, can I dare say: I AM GOD? AND SO ARE YOU? Can each of us say, like Christ: "I and the Father are one"?

Can we conclude then that the dark veil is the wrong belief that each of us is separate and distinct from God? And that all the evil in the world are but the consequences of our ignorance of "God within" and of our insistence that God is simply out there from Whom we can ask any thing, Whom we can treat as an ATM, and Whom we can blame for every thing?

This is worth considering. After all, "all descriptions of reality are temporary hypotheses" [Buddha]. In Peter Russell's "A Scientist's Oddyssey", he found that "when mystics say 'I am God', or words to that effect, they are not talking of an individual person; their inner explorations revealed the true nature of the self, and it is this that they identify with God; they are claiming that the essence of self, the sense of 'I Am' without any personal attributes, is God".

Yet even to think of it, has been fraught with danger. Tenth century Islamic mystic al-Hallaj was crucified for using language claiming identity with God. Fourteenth century Christian priest and mystic Meister Eckhart was summoned before Pope John XXII and forced to "recant everything he had falsely taught", when he preached that "God and I are one".

Thomas Merton, a contemporary scholar and mystic, wrote: "If I penetrate to the depths of my own existence and my own present reality, the indefinable am that is myself in its deepest roots, then through this deep center, I pass into the infinite I am which is the very Name of the Almighty." St. John of the Cross, acclaims: "The soul is in itself a most lovely and perfect image of God".

A teaching from 'The Impersonal Life', Anon, states: "I AM you, that part of you who is and knows... that part of you who says I AM and is I AM... I AM the innermost part of you that sits within, and calmly waits and watches, knowing neither time nor space... It was I Who directed all your ways, Who inspired all your thoughts and acts ... I have been within always, deep within your heart."

So, can we say that when we declare: I AM TAO, we really mean I AM GOD in principle: co-creator of all that happens to me, my nation, my world?

Can we then cite our constitution that "Sovereignty resides in the people, and all government authority emanates from them" and mean it from the divine perspective of sovereignty? Therefore, can we then take any person or group of persons, natural or juridical, who seeks to undermine, defeat, modify or in any other way prevent or make difficult the full and free expression of the people's will (as in election fraud) to be perpetrators of treason or the substance thereof, because these are acts of treachery against the sovereign and designed to injure the integrity of the sovereign?

Can we then call upon the Armed Forces of the Philippines to judiciously exercise its role of being "the protector of the people and the State" ... "to secure the sovereignty of the State" against any and all who would prevent or otherwise disturb the full and free exercise of such sovereignty by the people?

Given the lifting of this veil of separateness and being at-one-ment with the Lord, can we now make sense of Dr. Rizal's exhortation of the Philippine youth?: "Look up with tranquil face, Philippine youth, on this day and shine, manifesting the grace and gallantry of your line, fair hope of this land of mine! xxxx Bearing the good light of art and science, to the battleground descend, O youth, and smite: loosen the heavy pound of chains that keeps poetic [and national] genius bound".

In the same vein, can we now appreciate Dr. Rizal's optimism about the capabilities of the Filipino in his 'Hymn to Talisay'?: "We are children that nothing frightens, not the waves, nor the storm, nor the thunder; the arm ready, the young face tranquil, in a fix we shall know how to fight. We ransack the sand in our frolic; through the caves and the thickets we ramble; our houses are built upon rocks; our arms reach far and wide. No darkness, and no dark night, that we fear, no savage tempest; if the devil himself comes forward, we shall catch him, dead or alive."

What did Dr. Rizal expect of us, who now remind ourselves of his ultimate sacrifice?

In "Hymn to Labor" he has 'The Boys' end the play with the following stanza: "... And the ancients will say when they see us: 'These are worthy, behold, of their breed!' Not by incense are the dead more honored as by sons who are glorious indeed. For his country at war, for his country at peace, the Filipino will stand guard, will love and will die!" (emphasis provided).

There is then the matter of honoring him (and other heroes passed into the great beyond) by being 'glorious indeed'.

Could we honor him with right words and right actions?

After all: "You shall also decide and decree a thing, and it shall be established for you: and the light [of God's favor] shall shine upon your ways." (Job 22:28, Amplified Bible). Moreover, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they who indulge in it shall eat the fruit of it [for death or life] (Proverbs 18:21)

By the power of our tongues, let us 'hurl a sizzle of lightning' by decreeing, in full realization at the moment of utterance, the significance of our unity with the Lord God Almighty, coupled with the complete intention [you could say: New Year's resolution] of acting as such:

I AM TAO! Uncommon. Sovereign.


Out of Time's abyss and Eternity's vast cavern I rise:

I am the New Year. Now I have come to govern".*

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About the author: Edwin D. Bael is Knight Commander of the Knights of Rizal. He was Consul General of the Philippines in Los Angeles 2000-2002. He now resides and works in San Diego, California.

Note: The English translations of Rizal's works in Spanish are quoted from "The Complete Poems and Plays of Jose Rizal Translated by Nick Joaquin".

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