Have you ever thought about the monk that set himself on fire in protest of the Vietnam war? I mean, really thought about it? I've been stuck 1000 miles from nowhere for the past 10 or 12 days. Weather is not cooperating. This is why thinking about time is pointless, at least while sitting on a boat drifting aimlessly. But I'm holding ground fairly well, so it should be a seamless course reversal in a few days. Thanks @WRI for the updates! So in an effort to not think about time, progress, or aimless drifting, I've been thinking about that memorable monk.
I think we've forgotten the importance of vows, or any declaration of intentional adherence to a higher standard. They are everywhere, these declarations. To join public office you swear an oath, you vow in marriage, you form resolutions for the new year. And to what are you striving? It's some ideal or standard outside the whims of selfish desire, it's above yourself, but a common and beneficial behavior for your community, and hence yourself. People say things like "I solemnly swear," there is ritual - family, friends, and peers travel great distances to witness your solemn declarations. It's hugely important, but largely falling off by way of the English Monarchy - it's just for show. How do I know? I've never once heard someone say towards a politician, "You made an oath to serve the people above yourself, why did you violate your oath?" No, we just accept that politicians are corrupted liars. That feels dangerous.
Thus it must mean that we are slowly forgetting the value, meaning, and importance of vows. They are almost worthless at this point. Just marriage alone is insane - somewhere near half the people that join in this particular union clearly don't value or understand the meaning of vows. And that's a fairly common union. The meaning of these declarations slowly drained from loose foundations, right along side the value of a person's word. We live in a world where I can't trust the words coming out of your mouth even for routine daily activities. Instead I have contracts, legal documents, email chain evidence, invoices, statements of work, receipts - that has all slowly replaced the value of your word. Apparently it's easier to build cages and chains than to heal the lost value of our collective word.
So what is it? Why can't I count on you to do anything? Why can't I count on myself to do anything? It's alarming, really - of all the New Years resolutions declared each year, what percentage becomes a permanent, integrated, part of our lives? I'm guessing - less than 10%? So that means I can count on the general population to do what's right (as declared by themselves) maybe 10% of the time. That sounds dismal at best, and probably optimistic. Maybe it's because we forgot the purpose of sacrifice. It's a hugely important human discovery, one that propelled us forward by an order of magnitude that's difficult to comprehend, and its incredibly simple - give up some now, for more later. Maybe not that simple, but close.
So what will it take? What will force you to realize the importance of taking your vows seriously? What will force you to internalize why you made a vow in the first place? How drastic does it have to be? In this light, I'm not 100% sure all the historical "barbaric" descriptions of sacrifice are really all that barbaric. Or perhaps, if things get sufficiently bad, only barbaric practices are sufficiently traumatic to make real change. You want to lose 20 pounds by summer? First of all, why? Let's say it's a worthy aim; what will literally remind you of the importance of keeping that sugary snack out of your mouth? Not once, but all day, every day, until the desire is no longer a part of you?
Is it a passive declaration on the 31st of December? Obviously not. Is it depriving yourself of Game of Thrones if you falter? Maybe. But what if it's a global crisis developing in the form of increasingly polarized and increasingly fundamentalist forms of politics? What vow would we need to seriously address that problem? To actually make planned, agreed upon, and forthright efforts to clean up politics, what sacrifice would it take? Sacrifice an animal? Sacrifice a human? We know it's important, we know life would be better for everyone if we made the effort, but we don't.
Human sacrifice sounds insane, but think about it briefly, if you will. We can get to a point that action is so dire, and authentic vows are so desperately needed, that nothing gets our attention but sacrificing a virgin on the rim of a smoking volcano. The sacrifice is so great, even the mere thought of violating a vow immediately fills you with shame. Then, finally - will you remember? Will it take a violation equivalent to spitting on life itself? Then will you stop smoking cigarettes? Then will you be honest with your spouse? Then will you listen with empathy?
That's what our calmly burning monk realized. He took it upon himself to become the virgin on the edge of a volcano. He realized too many people were asleep. He realized the rare 10% that knew true sacrifice wasn't enough. He saw a trajectory that needed dire attention. Not for his benefit, but for the benefit of all people, he chose to become a human sacrifice, warning us to the dangers of willful blindness and deceit. Have you ever believed in something that much? To set yourself on fire? I don't think you can. You have to know it. He knew we stopped paying attention and speaking the truth. He knew the true meaning of sacrifice.
I also cant help but notice the power of his human sacrifice. It happened over 50 years ago. You are reading about it via an email or the internet - which wasn't a thing, via wireless communications that weren't invented, over satellites that weren't in orbit, and all written by a person that wasn't born yet, on an unthinkable, ridiculous vessel, 1000 miles from the nearest blade of grass. And that is awesome. It's awesome because his fiery death was not in vain; we're still here to internalize his message: mean what you say, and say what you mean - the truth shall set you free.