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Are We Machines?



 

Avatar Adi Da SamrajFor 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?

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

 


Are we machines?Are we machines? If not altogether mechanical, to what degree are we "machine", and to what degree, "free being"?

Certainly 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 his family foregoing the impulse to vengeance, for the sake of a greater purpose.

Indeed, many traditions suggest that as reflected by saints, sages, and other realizers increasing spiritual maturity 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.

 

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