coromandal


bring me back to earth
September 13, 2011, 4:19 pm
Filed under: the sweet life, unseen world | Tags: , , , ,

 

We could do worse than to emulate the ambitions of a man who concentrated his life’s goal on three passions: love, knowledge and pity for suffering.  It’s interesting how pity grounds love and knowledge, which otherwise would soar up into abstraction and self regard.  In fact, by his definition, forms of religion and science which exist for their own sake and gratification, can become quite cruel in their unwillingness to look at and react to the broken world they have been established to serve.

The prologue to Russell’s autobiography, in full:

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness–that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what–at last–I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

What I Have Lived For, The Prologue to Bertrand Russell’s Autobiography

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2 Comments so far
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I studied Bertrand Russell in first year philosophy at Western and was moved by the power of his words then. These are such poetic and potent expressions of his life, and an invitation to live fully with the tension of ecstasy and agony. Thanks for posting this Peter, and sharing your reflections.

Comment by bob paterson-watt

My pleasure. Thanks for reading and your comments.

Comment by Peter Rudd




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