seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof
is in some principal part within; why may we not say, that all
automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels
as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For what is the heart,
but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints,
but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body, such as
was intended by the Artificer?
If not altogether mechanical, to what degree are we "machine",
and to what degree, "free being"?
the signs of "man as machine" are everywhere. We see
"man as machine" on the individual level in our habits,
our addictions, our oedipal (and other archetypal) patterns; much
of our therapy is devoted to purchasing freedom from such past-regimented
patterns. We see "man as machine" on the global level
in centuries-old conflicts that are endlessly re-ignited by the
automatic reactivity of "an eye for an eye". It would
take a saint to be able to forgive the enemy who has just killed
the impulse to vengeance, for the sake of a greater purpose.
many traditions suggest that —
by saints, sages, and other realizers —
is what moves us along the spectrum from the "machine"
end toward the "free being" end.
But how does one mature spiritually? To what degree can self-improvement
result in spiritual
maturity? Or is applying the metaphor of self-improvement to spiritual
growth like trying to lift oneself up by the bootstraps? Is help
necessary? What kind of help is required? The old maxim, "There
but for the Grace of God go I", provides a clue: perhaps
apart from circumstance, the only difference between myself and
my less fortunate brother who is a murderer is Grace:
help from the Greater Reality.