Baruch de Spinoza
|Baruch de Spinoza
THE ETHICS (1677)
Preface: In 1929, Einstein was asked in a telegram by Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein
whether he believed in God. Einstein responded by telegram "I believe in
Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists,
not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings."
I recall reading that Einstein had a picture of Spinoza displayed in his room.
Apparently, Einstein visited the
Spinoza House in Rijnsburg, Holland
on November 2, 1920. Shortly afterwards, he wrote a poem
"Zu Spinozas Ethik"
which began: "Wie lieb ich diesen edlen Mann, mehr als ich mit Worten sagen kann."
("How much do I love that noble man, more than I could say with words.")|
My experience with Spinoza came at Columbia University (1960) when I read Spinoza's Ethics (1677) as part of the Contemporary Civilization and Humanities curriculum. Spinoza's description of the wise and ignorant man at the end of the book touched me deeply. I felt that this Dutch-Jewish philosopher from the 17th century was calling forth to me to embark on the path of wisdom, to experience blessedness and true peace of mind. When I read those last lines of the book, I was sobbing in tears: "But all things noble are as difficult as they are rare." Being a chemistry student, the words "noble" and "rare" conjured up the noble and rare gas, Argon, whose name resembled the Greek argonauts who accompanied Jason in quest of the Golden Fleece. Since the noble gases have their electronic shells filled, they symbolized a sense of fulfillment and perfection, similar to the wise man who is free from desires and blessed with peace of mind.
While doing my doctorate research at Cornell in biochemistry, I began studying Buddhist philosophy to purify my mind so I could be more focused in my research (1968). I visited Anthony Damiani's bookshop, American Brahman in downtown Ithaca at 118 West State Street, to learn about the perennial philosophy of Plato and the Oriental sages. On one occasion (summer 1968), Anthony wished to read me one of his favorite philosophical passages. I thought it was going to be from the Thomas Taylor translation of Plato, but he turned to the last page of Spinoza's Ethics. Tony had already told me that the path to spiritual enlightenment is the work of a lifetime, not to be accomplished instantly. When he got to the line "what is rarely discovered must be hard", tears were flowing from my eyes again, for deep within I knew that the enlightenment path I've embarked on will require all my energies, all my mind, and all my heart.
Recently, when I saw a poster at Stanford on Rebecca Goldstein's lecture: "Spinoza's Mind: How Spinoza Thought About the Mind and How Spinoza's Mind Thought" at Tresidder Union, Oak West Room on Thursday, October 25, 2007 at 8 pm, all my memories of Spinoza came back. My college copy of Spinoza's Ethics with its yellow paperback cover is in storage boxes, so I rounded up some Spinoza books from the Stanford Bing Wing stacks and have typed Spinoza's concluding words from his Ethics below. The translations are combined from the two books cited. M a y Spinoza's message inspire and enlighten our mind to blessedness.
Proposition 42: Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself.
We do not enjoy blessedness because we keep our lusts in check. On the contrary,
it is because we enjoy blessedness that we are able to keep our lusts in check.
Baruch de Spinoza, The Ethics,
| © Peter Y. Chou, WisdomPortal.com
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