“Which commandment is the first of all?” –Mark 12:28
Dear members and friends of the Swedenborgian Church,
Defining the original nature of humanity is a very challenging task. Arguably, the debate might have begun ever since the very first self-conscious humans created the first human community. Yet, the focus of the debate is rather simple: are we originally selfish or compassionate? Throughout history, many philosophers argued either that humans are originally selfish, cruel and evil, or that humans are originally compassionate, reasonable and good. The core of the problem in this seemingly infinite debate can be that the experiential nature of humanity has never been either fully selfish or entirely compassionate. The truth is that we seem to possess both selfishness and compassion within us, and a certain part becomes stronger only when we choose to act accordingly. But we never seems to arrive at the state of being where we are at 100 percent one part while zero percent the other.
If you like, take a moment to do a deep self-reflection on the matter: am I more selfish or more compassionate? What do you find? I bet you found yourself a good mixture of both: selfish and compassionate. Spiritually, the original nature of a human is potentially good, but practically chaotic. What that means is that humans are formed as vessels to receive what is of the divine, thus the human-as-vessel’s created purpose is to be good. Yet, receiving what is of the divine can only be done voluntarily, which is only possible in a state of absolute spiritual freedom. Swedenborg calls this state an equilibrium in which the influences of heaven and the influences of hell are exactly the same. In other words, when our minds are in a state of equilibrium, we are in an undefined state and undecided between what is heavenly and what is hellish. This condition could be defined as chaotic state because both good and evil are present and equally attractive to us, and nothing is defined or decided yet.
According to the English dictionary, chaos is defined as “complete disorder and confusion.” Though this may sound pretty negative, ancient Daoism explains chaos as the original state of all beings before humans brought destructive artificiality in the name of order. The reason why chaos is incomprehensible to human minds according to Daoism is because chaos is the original and natural state of being whereas human minds are fully aligned with artificiality, which broke the primordial harmony (chaos). If I may combine this Daoistic understanding of chaos and the original nature of humanity as chaotic, what we conclude is that the original nature of humanity is undefined and undecided for a good reason. The defining of one’s nature must be achieved by each individual based on what each individual acknowledges to be good and worthwhile. However, the advice of all saints and wise men is to be very, very careful when defining what is good and what is worthwhile because we have a great tendency to use selfish or self-centered judgment in doing so.
The importance of freeing ourselves from being in captivity of selfishness and self-centeredness is emphasized by Jesus in Mark. Jesus answers to the scribe who asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?,” “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” Acknowledging the Lord or God or Creator as supreme being or the power is neither superstitious nor an unreasonable act, but is a conscious and intelligent choice. Only when we acknowledge the power that is bigger than us might we have a chance to free ourselves from being captives of selfishness and self-centeredness. Unless we acknowledge and accept the truth that “life is not about me,” all our judgements might be aligned with a selfish statement, “whatever it is, if it makes me feel good, it should be good.” One way to understand what it means “to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength” is that we must be fully and always conscious and aware of both the power and consequences of our thoughts, words and actions. Thus, we do our best to think, talk and act with compassion and empathy. Why? Because as vessels that receive and contain the divine, our thoughts, words and actions are instrumental in bringing the power of the divine into the created world.
Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee