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Finding unity in Judaism, Sufism, and Transcultural Philosophy: Reflections on Martin Buber’s I-Thou Philosophy


“Race, ethnicity,  and culture are dynamic constructs that are part of an evolving discourse in American society as well as in cultures around the world … the course will investigate what all this means for the individual and our collective work as educators” – from Course Description, “Race and Ethnicity in Education”, Columbia University

“ It appears that you have gone from being immersed in the contradictory, and yes… sometimes oppressive constructs in which we are socialized to a position where you now consider yourself above the fray of ‘illusions’ that you claim govern our existence. How do you expect to have any voice in relieving the oppressive conditions that so concern you if you are off into your own ‘inner –world’ condemning the rest of us for living in our socialized little boxes? While I agree with the need to be governed first internally and to conference the world through spirit… How can we effectively be not of the world yet in it and seek to bring that spirit to the concrete world of human suffering with all the illusions that accompany it! – A Columbia University Instructors’ comments on my insistence that race is merely a construct.

        This essay proposes to illuminate the above quotations to highlight my views on the issue of constructs within the parameters of discussion on race, culture, and ethnicity in education. It is, I believe necessary to be such a length to justifiably explore particularly the second quotation, and to situate my views on the construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of the idea of race, culture, and ethnicity as constructs and to extend them to a paradigm of action.

        I wish to make myself clear on the view that even though I recognize the strength of the arguments for race, cultural, and ethnic consciousness, I believe they can be looked at within a metaphysical framework as well as from one which synthesizes the essentialist, progressive, and postmodernist perspectives within the paradigm exploring the possibility of global and humane world order.

        The most fascinating and highly stimulating class discussions facilitated by an energetic and very knowledgeable instructor, the cutting edge readings on traditional, modern, and postmodern conceptions of race, ethnicity, and culture, the excellent views from the guest speakers, as well as illuminating data gathered from preliminary site visits to the Harlem Congregation for Community Improvement, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Exhibition of Traditional African Sculptures), and The Nuyorican Poets Café – all these have benefited me tremendously in understanding issues which are real to the question of race, culture, and ethnicity.

        Through this important essay, I wish to assert my uncompromising view that I am indeed committed, as an educator for creative and critical consciousness, to looking at “liberation” from the lens I am much socialized in a metaphysical lens which looks at constructs within the matrix of injustices at our global and planetary level.

Martin Buber

        As such it draws upon the rediscovery of essentialist themes in major religious tradition, a modernist critique of the role of excesses in technological domination, and the postmodernist sensibility in the analysis of constructs. I have chosen all these perspectives, synthesize them, and look at how, as an educator, I can believe that it is imperative to look at how the world within us can be perceived and thus, recognizing the “government within” can help me design agendas to liberate human thinking within what I call “cosmotheandric, trialogical, and personacratic view of education” which addresses issues of constructs beyond the boundaries of nation-states.

        I thus draw my arguments and formulations for action based essentially upon Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” philosophy and link it with major metaphysical themes derived from established religions to then look at the universality of ethical ideals concerning education of the self.


        As we come close to the turn of the century, issues brought before the 52nd General Assembly of the United Nations (at the time this essay was written) illustrate a dismal view of how we conduct our affairs on planet Earth. Wars are constantly being fought, militarism continues to be on the rise even amongst the Third World nations whose citizen survive on barely US$1.00 per day, human rights violations continue to be exposed, authoritarian regimes prevail, trade blocks are operating more intensely in the language of the war system, technological progress, controlled by the few in the advanced industrialized countries continue to become potentially dangerous engines of planetary destruction, international distributive justice remains a tedious forum of debates amongst nations and environmental destruction continue to threaten the survival of the world we have inherited for our children. (UN-USA, 1997)

Martin Buber

        The urgent call for the global society to works towards peace can best be illustrated by the opening remarks in the report by the Commission on Global Governance which stated: The collective power of the people to shape the future is greater now than ever before, and the need to exercise it is more compelling.

        Mobilizing that power to make life in the twenty-first century more democratic and more sustainable is the foremost challenge of this generation. The world needs a new vision that can galvanize people in areas of common concern and shared destiny (The Commission on Global Governance, 1997, p.1) Autobiographical reflections and the issues brought before the 52nd UN General Assembly above, points then to the intent of this essay in which, I shall argue that to arrive at a state of being conscious in the sense Jean Paul Sartre talked about as “being and becoming” within the human and social dimension of peace we ought to begin to radically reframe educational issues along the lines of global ethics and planetary consciousness by drawing upon our search for universality in humanistic and philosophical terms with the view of praxis in mind to “achieve higher levels of cooperation in areas of concern and shared destiny” (Commission, 1997,p.1 )

        Whilst highest levels of international decision making will continue to dwell upon the intricacies of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace-building (Boutros-Boutros Ghali, 1992) and whilst sovereign governments will continue to do similar within the confines of their nation-states, education as an enterprise of developing one’s potentials within ought to play its role in conceptualizing what it means to prepare the citizens of the next century to become authentic beings, in the Freirian sense; beings who are conscientized of the needs for a human and world order.

        Thus, in arriving at this reconceptualization, I shall be guided by the concepts of “cosmotheandry”, “trialogue” and “personacracy” in our re-framing of our educational philosophical priorities and our perceptual lens in looking at constructs. In them I shall draw my arguments from Martin Buber’s I-Thou philosophy synthesized with cross-religious mystical concepts and culminate them in the context of what I term as “personacracy” meaning “government of the self, for the self and by the self” as opposed to that of democracy; the latter having been subjected much abuses and adulterations in its interpretations.


        By “cosmotheandry” I mean the vision of reality in which the Human and the Cosmic are integrated into a whole more or less harmonious according to the performance of our human rights” (Pannikar, R.). This is a mystical conception of being and becoming in which the philosophical concepts of religion, which unites rather than divides, are taken and applied to one’s ontological vocation. By “trialogue”, I mean the extension of the often-used term dialogue, in which it does not only mean one taking place between the persons and the transcendent reality but to quote Boehle (1995) one of which the meeting is between “the Ultimate Self and Ultimate Reality.

        I will apply this concept to any definition of trialogue as the interaction between the Self, the Surreal (technology and creativity), and the Spirit. By “personacracy” I mean the juxtaposing of the understanding of the mystical with the transient self and the meeting of both in a rendezvous wherein the mystical guides the transient to gain the full realization of the self in its journey towards enlightenment and self-realization. Personacracy thus requires one to travel the path of self-knowledge and to realize “the power within” which is a reflection of the power bestowed upon at the onset of existence.

        The three mystical concepts above, of which Buber’s I-Thou philosophy points out to is methodological in our re-framing of an educational paradigm of looking at, among others, racial constructs towards the next millennium as we analyze the historical development of materialism and industrialism as an I-it experience upon which human beings must come to terms with. These concepts entail one to search for the Inner Self within which has allowed the domination of the Ego to the effect that through creativity we create representations of ourselves in the form of technologies which, in their most negative and excessive use has threatened the world we live in, towards destruction, anathema to the concept of peace, and in Buberian philosophy failed to realize the meeting of the Thou with the I.

        Whereas these concepts are discussed with Buberian I-Thou as a focal point, the religious-mystical dimension of other religions, the “cosmotheandric” vision in them are brought into play so that the unity and universality of Buber’s Hasidic tradition can meet the vision of Sufism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, as the major beliefs which in reality brings peoples together albeit the divisions they also set when interpreted in the strictest religious and political sense. It is my view that much of the inter-religious and inter-racial conflicts which carry the banner of “organized” rather than “metaphysicalized” religious and racial consciousness stem out of the misinterpretation of the doctrines at one level, and the misguiding of the philosophical understanding of their inherently peaceful and humanistic dimensions at another.

        A cosmotheandric reading and deep understanding of the varieties of religious doctrines concerning the cultivation of a peaceful self must then be the agenda beyond those to be achieved at the institutional and the ecumenical levels. It is when one’s understanding of religion as a comprehensive way of life and adapt this understanding metaphysically at any changing times and cultivate this experience in the most intellectually experiential sense that issues such as dehumanization, war-mongering, environmental destructions, xenophobia, racial intolerance, and bigotry, and all those which constitute pathologies of the transient self can be contemplated and acted consciously upon.

        And when dialog of the Thou and I is extended to include the dialogue of I or the Ultimate Self with its Creative Faculties (which produces technologies,) in the presence of the Thou or the Ultimate Reality, then this trialogue becomes metaphysically and spiritually authentic in that human use of technology and what he/she creates is not devoid of the Inner Conscience which can guide him/her from Ego, self-destruction and the destruction of others (beings and non-beings) who and which together share living and breathing space. And in realizing the meeting between the Ultimate Reality and the Ultimate Self, or in which the Thou meets the I, what must proceed would be the I’s or the Ultimate Self’s understanding of what constitutes his/her essence.

        “Personacracy” then, within the claims of this essay, can be a powerful starting point to prepare oneself to travel the path in meeting the Thou. It is when the path is not taken that the “thyself is not made known”, as Socrates would put it: that the world of the I will only meet It, which constitutes merely the worldly, experiences non-relational to the Thou. This state of being in turn brings forth realities such as Man’s utilitarian conception of one another, nations creating boundaries to alienate each other, and technologies being developed to subjugate the planet one era after the other, and design and perpetuate constructs to gatekeep one another.

On Buber’s “I-Thou” Philosophy

        The scope of this essay would certainly not permit enough discussion to do justice to Martin Buber’s complex philosophical discourse not only in his disposition of the religious outlook of the Self but also how it governs race, ethnic and social relations, morality, nationhood, and international relations. Buber’s profound thinking, which champions the mystical Jewish tradition of Hassidism, can however be largely discerned from his 1923 publication of I and Thou.

        The range of writings essential to the understanding of Buber’s contribution to humanistic philosophy is edited by Herberg (1956) in The Writings of Martin Buber. As it relates to the intent of this essay, I and Thou are concerned with the nature of Man’s relation or non-relation with God. Here Buber talked about the levels of awareness of one’s existence concerning the world he/she occupies and experiences and to the Supreme Creator of whom he/she comes forth from and would thus return to. Buber distinguishes between the primary I in I-It and I in I-Thou in which the former operates at a level wherein we experience things around us as objects, as “It” and the insignificant-ness of this experience minimizes our existence as merely relational as far as how they govern our transient affairs.

        It is when we work towards realizing that the relations are one of I- Thou in which the beings and non-beings are experienced as part of Thou that relations become authentic and that the manner we conduct our affairs will become more authentic and moral, imbued with a deep sense of religiosity which then allows us to frame our thinking that, all that exists is the Thou.

        Authentic meaning in being and becoming in this world can be achieved by one’s setting of the preconditions “to meet the Thou” rather than to “go out and seek the Thou”. The Thou is present in It but is not part of It, as Buber wrote “… the Thou meets me through Grace – it is not found by seeking… the Thou meets me.. but I step into direct relation with him” (p.11) In defining the authenticity of being, Buber wrote of the meaning of the strengthening of one’s personhood to have the Thou meet him:

The stronger the I of the primary word I-Thou is in the twofold I, the more personal is the man… [a]ccording to this saying of I –according to what he means, when he says I-it can be decided where a man belongs and where his way leads. The word I is the true shibboleth of mankind.(p.65)

        It follows then that the weakening of the I in the I-Thou relation subjugates Man to the experiencing of the world and others around him/her as It. It is then logical to assume that the conditions that are herein plaguing Man at the turn of the century — dehumanization, militarism, environmental degradation, identity crisis and fragmentation, and paralyzing and excessive claims to religious and racial identity — are a result of the paralyzing of the I in the I-Thou primary word. The resultant, Ego, in its crudest sense coupled with the utilization of Man’s creative instinct to develop alter-egos of themselves in the form of technologies of mass destruction and environmental subjugation, are those which are characteristic of the Buberian notion of the failure of Thou to meet the I. Buber thus believes that Man must create the meeting place for the Thou to meet the I so that humanity may reach its authenticity. There is no barrier between the primary word I-Thou in that:

The relation to the Thou is DIRECT. No system of ideas, no fore- knowledge and no fancy intervene between I and Thou. The memory itself becomes transformed, as it plunges out of its isolation into the unity of the whole. No aim, no lust, and no anticipation intervene between I and Thou. Desire itself is transformed as it plunges out of its dream into the appearance. Every means is an obstacle. Only when every means has collapsed does the meeting come about. (Buber, 1958, pp.11-12)

        If we understand the underpinnings of Buber’s poetico-religious conception of “desire” as the veil separating the I and Thou, we can attribute this to the idea that Man has reached a stage in civilization that in virtually all levels of human organization that “desire” or Ego has continued to alienate himself/ herself with others. At the personal level, we distinguished ourselves by our oftentimes excessive claims to individuality, at the cultural level by our nationhood, at the societal level by our class and race distinctions and our economic ideologies, at the territorial level by our geographical boundaries and at the regional-political level by the trade, economic, political, and military blocks we create to render each other aliens.

        Communitarianism, in the manner we order our political lives fueled with “Thou-less” political philosophies contributes to our misguided notion of what universal destiny means. And in our relationship with Nature, our I-Thou becomes I-it in the manner we dominate planet Earth to our Ego’s desire. We may have failed to look at the “Thou-ness” in our relationship with our planet. Reflecting upon Buber’s analysis of the I-it condition of the modern Man, we relate to the Freirian concept of Man’s inability to be liberated from the presumed objectivity of his/her nature and to fully understand his ontological vocation and vice versa. (See Friere, 1970)

        We saw this condition of man in Albert Camus’s Sisyphus in which, after being condemned by the Gods, the central character Sisyphus was condemned to eternally rolling the rock and in which Camus asked us to imagine Sisyphus happy. Or in the context of violence and the war system, as analyzed by Reardon (1996) in Sexism and the War System that Man has constantly struggled to deal with the Ego or the “primal wound” wherein his lack of full realization of his androgenic nature has contributed much to the structural violence (slavery and racial discrimination as examples) created since the dawn of history. It is with the “Thou-less” condition of the I that distributive injustices as analyzed by Shue (1980) argued in Basic Rights is rampant as we approach the millennium and that violations of human rights in all sense of the word is ever prevailing, as analyzed by Felice (1996) in Taking Suffering Seriously.

        Human condition is to be reversed if it is to meet the situation of I-Thou and as John Rawles note that we may have to play the game of distributive justice all over again when our veil of ignorance is lifted for us to make choices in our attainment of the true meaning of the word “justice” (Rawls, 1971) in a seminal work The Theory of Justice.

        In Buber’s term, we can only reverse this capricious state of human affairs by bringing the Thou into a relational being-ness and by reaching a level of awareness wherein the Thou responds to the I’s awareness of it. Such a state of being then will transform our relationship with Nature, other human beings, and spiritual beings – all these share the experience of being-ness and becoming-ness in their desire to have the Thou meet them. This is a profound mystical notion of Self-hood which destroys the notion of otherness and instructs the Ego to bow down to the conditions set by the I-Thou relation in its pre-Oceanic stage. It is as if there is a covenant between I and Thou before being born, in the moment of conception wherein the Thou meets the I in the womb called by the Semitic term “Raham”, “Rahim” or Love. Perhaps Man becomes It in I-Thou as he progresses through life because he drank too much from the River of Forgetfulness, to use Socrates’ term in his Doctrine of Reminiscence?

        From the womb then, Man is transgressed into the world of It – of things, events, other persons, etc., — and some remain in the I-It relationship in the worldly experience leaving only a few (such as Buber and other mystics) to work for the setting of the preconditions to have Thou meet them. Buber indeed does not see the evil in I but sees it as one’s denial of the possible meeting with Thou. Buber (1958) wrote:

The primary word I-It is not of evil – as matter is not evil. It is of — evil as matter is, which presumes the have the quality of present being. If a man lets it have mastery, the continually growing world of It over-runs him and rules him of the reality of his own I, till the incubus over him and the ghost within him whisper to one another the confession of their salvation. (p.46)

        Like many a humanistic philosopher would look at it, Buber believes that human nature is neither good nor bad; it is the inability of him/her to master the Ego within and to acknowledge the possible meeting of the Thou that has brought the I-It world into the present-day crises. Buber’s work has a great many similarities with the mystical conception of Self, desire, and I-Thou relation in the major religions of the world: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Islam. It is necessary thus to find common themes in the Hassidic mysticism with that of others. It would then give legitimacy to the following section’s discussion on the cosmotheandric feature of the next millenium’s educational philosophical priorities and how we deconstruct constructs and consequently to relate this notion with “trialogue” as another dimension of being-in-this-world notion; one which is preconceived upon the interplay between the Ultimate Self, the Surreal and the Creative Instinct, and with Ultimate Reality.

On “Cosmotheandry”

        If the power of Buber’s philosophy is in its mysticism brought down to the level of praxical philosophy coupled with his view that the world is to be made conducive for the Thou to meet the I, this notion must be extended in a cross-religious mystical context. The philosophical dimension of religion, as I’ve argued in the previous section, can be more powerful than its institutional and ritual dimensions. It should be through the philosophy of religion, albeit seemingly contradictory to the mind of the orthodox and fanatic, that one can explore the essence of the dialogue between the Thou and the I, the Ultimate Self and the Ultimate Reality, between Man and Creator.

        Also, and pertinent to the intent of this section, if Buber’s philosophy or in his words, “his pointing out to Reality”, can be taken to be universal and contains the realism of the Ultimate Reality, then it must be conceived to be compatible with the dimensions of other religious mysticism. This is what is meant by the cosmotheandric nature of mystical discourse. In addition too, given the fact that Buber’s philosophy may be taken to be, by (again) the orthodox and fanatic, to be exclusively Jewish, whereas in I-Thou contains a profound statement of Man’s ontological vocation, a cosmotheandric view can best be an avenue which can appeal to educational philosophers intending to explore universality in mystical thoughts. I now illustrate some of the salient mystical ideas in consort with Buber’s relational philosophy; namely those from the Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, and Islamic traditions.

        The cosmotheandric dimension of I-Thou relation in the variety of religious experience points out to the ultimate Reality and the illumination to self of which when this stage of enlightenment is achieved the “goodness” in Man is brought out, Humanity reaches its moral epitome and the I-it world is imbued with the presence and vision of Thou-ness. In Christianity, it is the Jesus of Love and the love of Jesus, which runs through the idea of the setting of the precondition of the I’s rendezvous with Thou. Illustrations of the yearning for self-illumination and the inner beauty of self-government is St. Francis Assisi’s parable of the seeker of God and poor man of a church, the Master of his own kingdom:

The Master asked… : Whence are you come?’ “From God” Where did you find God?’ When I forsook all creatures’ When have you left God?’ In pure hearts and in sea of good will.’ The Master asked: What sort of man are you?’ I am a king.’ Where is your kingdom? ‘My soul is my kingdom, so I can so rule my . senses inwards and outward, that all the desires and powers of my soul are in subjection, and this kingdom is greater than a kingdom on earth: ‘What has brought you to this perfection? My silence, my high thoughts, and my union with God. For I could rest in anything less than God. Now I have found and in God have eternal rest and peace. ( Underhill, pp. 209-210)

        In Buddhism, the self acknowledges the Thou-ness of his/her existence through meditation and the following of the noble path to for Nibbana to be attained. The I-it world can only reach salvation and prepare the meeting of the Thou through the Noble Eight-fold Path that leads to the cessation of suffering (Radhakrishnan & Moore, 1967) which among them call upon Man to:

know suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path that leads to the cessation of suffering; … to renounce the world and to do no hurt or harm; … to abstain from lies and slander, from reviling , and from tattle; … to abstain from taking life, from stealing, and from lechery; … (p.277)

        It is when these are taken to be a part of one’s program of self-purification that the I-it world may be raised to a higher level of consciousness. In the Hindu tradition, the I-Thou meeting can be preconditioned by Man’s adherence to the Law of Manu, a code of conduct written as metrical sutras of which deals with the religious, legal, customary, and political aspects of the Hindu philosophy. The aim of life as conceived by the Hindus is to obtain the fullest realization of his/her existence through dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth), kama (enjoyment), and moksha (spiritual freedom) (Radhakrishnan & Moore, p.172) Man is to live anthromophically with Nature in a world wherein beings and non-beings have their significance in the cosmic and metaphysical order of creation.

        It is when the world is looked upon as an “It” — to be dominated and peoples to be utilized that this order is violated and Mother Earth is raped and the cycle of destruction begins. In the Taoist tradition, the character of Lao Tze, controversial to many a Confucianist of his philosophy of Nature, is an epitome of the “Thou-ness” in thought. In Lao Tze, Nature is not to be tampered with at all, illustrative in his symbolic metaphor of the uncarved stone of which creativity of Man would carve into representations. If there should be a great grandfather of ecophilosophy, Lao Tze would be one. In one of the most powerful dialogues in the Taoist philosophical thoughts, in which Kung Fu Tze (Confucius ) is said to visit Lao Tze to consult him in matters of propriety:

Lao Tzu said: “Those of whom you talked about are dead and their bones are decayed. Only their words have remained. When the time is proper, the superior man rides in a carriage, but when it is not, he covers himself up and staggers away. I have heard that a good merchant stores away his treasures as if his store were empty and that a superior man with eminent virtues appear as if he were stupid. Get rid of your air of pride and many desires, your insinuating manners and lustful wishes. None of these is good for you. That is all I have to tell you. (trans., Chan, 196, p.36)

        The essence of the passage and Taoist philosophy is to live a life of humility through the subjugation of the Ego. It is this essence of naturalism in philosophical thought which has brought Lao Tze’s mysticism comparable to Buber’s “Thou-ness” in which nature is seen as one amongst the many beings in the world of the Thou. The Tao The Ching (The Way) is to be followed for Thou to meet the I in the Taoist tradition.

        The Islamic conception of mysticism must begin with the mentioning of the Prophet Muhammad as one of the world’s greatest mystics whose entire life was spent preaching the Thou-ness of living. Allah (God) is to be made present in the heart, mind, and soul of the believers so that the I-it world may become one in submission to the will of the Supreme Being. Peace for, oneself, for society, nations, and the world order can be attained by adhering to the true spirit and meaning of the Quran.

        The mystical aspect of Islam nonetheless involves one to take the path to self-purification best illustrated by those “seeking God” through, among those, Sufism. The writings of poet mystics such as Qadir Jailani, Fariduddin Attar, Jalaluddin Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Al Ghazali, and of one widely recognized in the west, Idries Shah, illustrate the Thou-ness of the tradition. The popular profound sayings of the Islamic mystics “know thyself and you will know God”, and “God is closer to you than your jugular vein” has remarkable similarity with the Hassidic belief of the closeness of God to those who seek to meet Him through his Grace.

        It is to be noted that Moses and Jesus are revered to be two of the major prophets of Islam and the monotheism in these two are but a continuation of the God’s message brought also by Muhammad as the last prophet in the lineage of those beginning with Adam.

        Thus, the mysticism inherent in the religions I have scantily mentioned points out the cosmotheandric paradigm inalienable to Buber’s idea of I and Thou. It is my view thus that the inherent philosophical aspects of those religious traditions point out the need for their believers to work towards peace from within the self so that this boundary can then be extended to others, to beings and non-beings, and ultimately to the planet and cosmos in which then, we will realize that all there is the Thou of whom which we are to provide rendezvous. It is when the self is “lost” in the finiteness of the Thou that humanity can take its true character and that the ego is subjugated from its need to manifest all forms of behavior and acts anathema to the Thou-ness of the I.

        Perhaps one may conjecture that politics being the art and science of constitutionalizing and unconstitutionalizing of power relations has been a predominant influence of the ego that Man has been veiled by the notion of the apolitical and beauty of the Inner self, that Man has created psychological, cultural, social, economic, political and global structures which mirror the triumphs of the ego over the primordially pure self. This may perhaps explain manifestations of mania that have historically color our activities as human beings: The two World Wars, slavery, the holocaust, Nuclear Arms Race, Environmental Degradations, and a range of other madness in our civilizations.

        The “I” seeks power, seizes it, and uses it to shackle the I-it primary word so that an I-Thou relation is no longer possible. The power sought is then used to subjugate others and to threaten Nature. We then become shackled by constructs. It is not the intent to do a dissertation on the meaning of power in the realpolitik-al sense as opposed to the mystical but a pertinent question which correlates with the Buberian and cosmotheandric view of power is that how can the self be made to realize its power within and what does it mean to be powerless yet powerful compatible with Buber’s Thou-ness of the self? I will turn to my notion of the powerful self and personacracy; “the government of the self, by the self, and for the self.” after relating trialogue with Buberian philosophy and cosmotheandry.

On “Trialogue”

        As we have seen in the previous section, at the core of the cosmotheandric view if we also juxtapose its notion with Buber’s I-it predicament in Man, is the Thou-nesses of humanity, which must be re-framed. Taking Lao Tze’s metaphor of the uncarved stone as the symbol of radical naturalism upon which Man must live by, we find a common strand in this integrative theme: it is that Man’s technological progress has reached such an advanced stage that we can create the most sophisticated machines which have not only to make our lives easier but also, in the case of the aerospace industry, have stretched our imagination to probe the meaning of Creation.

        The dark side of the Lao Tze-ian or Taoist “carved stone” metaphor however has illustrated the fact that, coupled with the Thou-lesness of our I-thou primary, the technology we fashioned has also contributed to environmental destruction, colonization and imperialism, militarism, and transfer of national currencies (to render nations bankrupt thus affecting the lives of millions upon millions of people who do not own such sophistication in economic warfare). Those are illustrations upon which Buber may term as the I-it of or relation of virtually all levels.

        Whilst Buber talked about dialogue in his pointing out to reality, we may extend this notion to a trialogue in the sense that the dialogue should involve the I’s or the Ultimate Self’s constant dialogue with what it creates (technology) in the presence of the Thou or the Ultimate Reality. We could also sum up this tripartite in this trialogue with the idea of Self-Surreal-Supreme Being. The supra-real energies we manifest, in the form of “the stone we carved” (if we must insist on its “inevitable progress” in celebration of human creativity), must then be an act of creativity in the moral domain. We may then find countless illustrations of how technology is used to promote peace in all the domains known to Man. It could be as though Man has brought along the carved stone in his meeting with the Thou or even more imperative would be, in Man’s urge to constantly carve the stone he/she may do it in the presence of the Thou.

        This is the essence of my conception of the Self-Surreal-Supreme Being or the Thou-ness of man’s acts of creation. Technological progress, which has been heralded from one epoch to another; particularly in modern history from the Industrial Revolution to this Age of Higher Species Cloning has often been assumed that it has life on its own. This presumed neutrality of technology, as illustrated for example in the “inevitable march of computers” as a triumphing engine of progress, has often masked the real actors behind the push for such progress: the multinational corporations situated predominantly in Silicon Valley. (if we analyze the United States as a source of such progress).

        The inherently profit-motive industry which perhaps produces the personal computers as spin-offs of supercomputers employed for the manning of missiles in Desert Storm or maneuvering the Space Shields in Reagan’s “Star Wars” program some time ago; these two illustrations are, in Buberian philosophy a clear example of the Thou-lesness of the human condition. The historian David Nobel in his classic 1977 work on the progress of technology in America, documented in America by Design, for example, provided the historical materialistic paradigm of looking at how the owners of the means of technological production, i.e. the most powerful transnational corporations, have dictated the terms of socio-economic and educational changes not only in the United States but also extending imperialistically to the Third Worlds nations so that the entire world becomes a huge production line based upon the excessive drive for profits. (See Nobel, 1977)

        Taking the development of military technology as a case in point to illustrate the It-ness of our thinking, the post-Cold War era, (albeit has lessened the threat of the world being blown away ten times over), has continued to portray progress in the development of more sophisticated conventional, chemical and biological weapons. And as stated in the lamentations at the of the beginning of this essay, one must imagine how much sophistication would be involved if the producers of the weapons of the three European countries combined their technological intelligence to produce arms more powerful and plenty in anticipation of the strength of those produced by the United States.

        In a world wherein the boundary between the threat to the liberal democracies par excellence, the Soviet Union as once-powerful arms-producing Communist state is eliminated, in what countries would the market demand for such weapons be created? The self who is in dialogue with the Surreal in the case of the contemporary escalation of arms race is in Buberian and cosmotheandric terms Thou-less.

        Man’s creativity has lost its moral basis although the cognitive faculties may have advanced beyond the thermonuclear age. In a brilliant analysis of the inconceivable blend between the I-it-ness and I-Thouness of this creative development as it relates to technological progress, an eminent professor of creativity asked this question:

What is the essence of this pathology? Its essence is the failure of civilized man to evolve appropriate new social institutions to manage a powerful new technology. Society changes fairly slowly. Technology changes rapidly… This unbalanced growth is especially true today when vast sums are spent on research to find new ways of changing technology but those in charge of spending these funds, the political leaders of each country, have no desire to provoke important changes in the societies they enjoy governing. (Gruber, 1997)

        As long as the world is looked upon as an “it” in Buberian philosophical terms, we will then expect such imbalances in the cognitive-emotional development of Man as it relates to the development of weaponry. The technology we develop is deployed to make each other the “enemy” within the paradigm of love-hate with the planet. The absence of the Thou in the Surreal will remain a major obstacle in our dialogue with Ultimate Reality. Gruber (1997) who studied the paradox of this love-hate relationship with the world we have in is illustrated the case of the eminent scientists who played important roles in the development of the atomic bomb:

The vacillations of the physicists who created nuclear weapons make a well-known story: Szilard, the prophetic physicists who first tried to mobilize physicists against contributing towards nuclear weaponry, and who then took the lead – when a Nazi victory seemed possible – in calling for making such weapons; Einstein, lifelong pacifist, who followed Szilard’s lead in helping to persuade Roosevelt to initiate the Manhattan project; Oppenheimer, who directed that Project and then, when he saw the first mushroom cloud at Los Alamos said, ‘we have known sin.” (p.127)

        If science, as the soul of Man’s Surrealistic representation of himself/herself via technological progress, produces men of eminence who harness their brilliance in the interest of social and political institutions governed by leaders trapped in the I-it frame of existence, how then can ultimate use of science for peaceful purposes be attained? It is prophetic if we return to Lao Tze’s metaphor of the uncarved stone as a powerful vision, which contained the relational element of the I-thou and I-it. Lao Tze would predict that should Man not tamper with Nature and to not create, we would not have Man’s technology destroying the Earth and each other.

        Should Man tamper with the Earth and create, he would not be able to control what is created. If we analyze the state of technological progress at its most excessive stage, we will conclude that it is because the dialogue between Man and his Creativity is stripped off of the presence of the Supreme Being that Creativity and Technological Progress has fallen into the immoral domain. This is the main idea of this section on trialogue as a concept, which can be a guide to thinking about the educational framework for peace as we race towards a century, which may perhaps be filled with more anxieties and perplexities.

        Too radical it may perhaps be for us to accept the Taoist conception of creativity – to not create at all –, as it would mean living the life of a Thoreau, a Longfellow, or a Robinson Crusoe. The “Ego” or Desire in its most positive aspect could mean the creative instinct in us bestowed upon by the Supreme Being, the Supreme Creative Mind so that we may meet them in Grace after undergoing through the trials and tribulations in life by using our creativity and problem-solving skills.

        Perhaps the scenario of peoples of this Earth living in lives of isolation in a Taoist imaginary world may also produce technologies of a different breed; one of metaphysical powers perhaps as claimed that many among of religious mystics possess. Certainly, this is not a forum for discussion for we may also find that in such an imaginary world with metaphysical, magical, or mystical technologies there would be no guarantee that different forms of domination and destruction may also be cultivated by the Ego.

        The trialogical perspective in our discussion entails the discussion of what can constitute the transformation of the Surreal into the sacred in which the Ultimate Self’s development of Creativity and the deployment of his technology will always be in dialogue in the presence of the ultimate Reality or the Supreme Being. What kind of Self do we develop then, should we wish to see technology developed in the I-Thou paradigm? How do we understand the Franciscan idea alluded to in the previous section which illustrated a man who called himself a king without a kingdom yet governs a world within, larger than the world outside?

        This is certainly a mystical concept, which goes beyond the idea of modern-day democracy in the individual. Can there be a more logical, systematic, and in-depth analysis of the I, beyond the I and selfhood described by Buber? Can we conceive and make intelligible for the modern man a condition wherein the self is larger than the world outside and at the same time offer explanations compatible with the notion of individual liberty so ingrained in the modern-day democratic tradition? What should be a philosophy much deeper than the combination of demos and kratos? I now turn my notion of personacracy in the following section; one which attempts to frame selfhood within the I-Thou and, cosmotheandric and trialogical concepts.

On “Personacracy”

        If Buber’s philosophy is to be brought further down the level of analytical philosophy if the cosmotheandric view from the varieties of religious discourse is to be made understood beyond their mystical garb, if the I which governs the Surreal is to be recognized as the I of Thou, and if democracy is to be practiced at the most meaningful and personalized level, and if the human and social dimension of peace is to be grown as a perspective, we may have to define what “government of the self, of the self and by the self” means. We now look at the concept of “personacracy” as a synthesis of the perspectives thus far presented.

        My reflection over the years on the meaning (or the loss of meaning) of democracy as the idea of government by the people (demos & kratos) and my disillusionment of its development of one which is for the privileged few, coupled with my belief that the government which governs the least governs the best, and my question of “who should rule, why should we be ruled, and a range of other reflections — all these have awakened the fundamental urge to search for the meaning of “governance”. Besides, my quest for the meaning of existence through an intense reading of Sufism and the universality in the spiritual quest in all religions have contributed to this conception of what personacracy means.

        And it is within this personalistic experience that I too look at race, ethnicity, and culture as constructs we can move beyond from. If the “I” in Buber’s philosophy is to prepare itself for the meeting with Thou, how would the nature of preparation be? If we entrust a human being to rule others, how would we wish the nature of governance be? If democracy is to be the one best political ideology thus far conceived, how would its interpretation be if we are to live in a system based on this idea and yet wish to see militarism, oppression, environmental degradation, racial discrimination, and all other forms of pathologies which may develop, be absent in such a system?

        In short, would the form of government be based upon the rule of the I-Thou person or one of I-it? The common theme, which runs through this essay, is the concern that the I-it world is a reality and the I-Thou is a hope. The I-it person who governs, or enjoy governing others manifest his/her I-it-ness, the I-it technology created or is used by its owner, manifest itself in its destructive and misanthropic forms, and the I-it system of government being created, destroyed or sustained projects the excesses of power as manifested in authoritarianism, corruption, illusions of grandeur, misguided priorities, and control of the state apparatus for distributive injustice intents.

        History has shown us examples of I-it governments, kingdoms, civilizations, and the like, which have undergone their rise and falls. The Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar, the Egypt of Ramses, the Rome of Pontius Pilate, the Germany of Hitler, and the Soviet Union of Stalin are among the major few which illustrate the governments of the Thou-less it. My conception of government is that it must begin with the self, the development of personhood, liberated of the I-it ness of its existence, and evolve via dialectical dialogical means adhering closely to the Socratic tradition so that when the self has at its disposal any technology it embodies and employs, it will be used for peaceful purposes and so that the Thou-ness is present in the Surrealistic dimension.

        The personacratic I if he/she may be asked to govern others will govern them with the Thou-ness of governance of which the society which will emerge and the organic-ness of the culture will be Thou-ful in its civility. The personacratic I will be one with Nature for in Nature, like in I contains the Thou. Thus the ontology of the personacratic I is one of constant trialogue of the Ultimate Self and the Surreal with the Supreme Being constantly present in its Absolutism. What forms of civility will then personacracy contain?

        If personacracy is “a government of the self, by the self and for the self” it must contain the attributes of the Thou if it must meet the Grace of Thou in its existence. Being and becoming, as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus have championed, becomes an essential pedagogy determining our understanding of the beauty of personacracy as self-government contained in them are the questions: What is it to be a human person? What is it like to explore the gifts of the intellect? of understanding liberation? of the free world? of having died before Death comes? of being embodied by the Human spirit? of having power over Ego? and of coming to understand our personhood as an image of God?

        Personacracy is an existential metaphysical notion that may allow one to understand the image of God within and to understand that forces outside (which are representations of the inside) oppressive and anathema to human liberation can never subjugate the free self. Personacracy rests on the maxim that “the government of the self governs the very best.” It entails one’s understanding and living with the cosmic dimension of the self; a dimension which is in essence the Beauty and the Bounty of the Thou.

        If Man is said to have been created in the image of God, how is this image hence manifested? It is when Man is aware of the elements and forces within that the meeting with Thou can be authentically Graceful. Herein lies the branches of the government of the self; one’s understanding that his selfhood is one of existence, balance, persistence, eternity, harmony, uniqueness, power within, decisiveness, knowledge, living, ability to hear, see, speak, and the ability to understand with reverie and profundity who sees what is seen, who speaks what is spoken, who hears what is heard, who knows what is known, who decides what is decided, and who powers what is powered.

        If the Thou may meet the I,  it must be through this common ground of the common language spoken, of the unity within and without. If Man is to be Creative, then the Created is that of the Supreme Creator, and if Technology is to be deployed the Technicity is that of the Supreme Technician. “The “I” proposes, the Thou then disposes.” What the I touches becomes those touched by the Thou. The veil of ignorance is lifted and the mundane becomes the sacred and profound. It becomes the Thou and the essence of humanity becomes illuminated. The Ego is then but a slave to the I in the I-Thou. If the elements outside – earth, wind, fire, and water are to constitute the physical world then they must be compatible with Man’s being-ness as a Creation.

        In the cosmopolitan tradition then the four element-constituted self thus is merely differentiated by the skin color bestowed upon by the Ultimate Reality so that they may perhaps learn to go beyond their communitarianism in their attempt to cultivate, at least in their one lifetime, a suitable place for the Thou to meet. And it may be through self-purification and managing of the Ego that the veils of ignorance can gradually be lifted so that the self may not be shadows mistaken as real by those in chains, projected onto the walls of the cave in an allegory conjured by perhaps a personacrat called Socrates.

        Democracy in a society of personacratic I’s then may not be necessary of its existence in that one would in such a society need food, shelter, and clothing and be in constant business of preparing for the meeting with Thou. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, much popularly employed by the I-it world of mass advertising, may be reduced to two levels; one of meeting the basic needs and at the next and final level, of meeting the Thou. The Internet as an extension and Surrealistic notion of Man’s telepathic power may not be needed to be developed as the purity of thoughts of the citizens in a personacratic state is powerful enough to destroy any physical boundaries of communication. Communication, defined as the equal exchange of social messages, can take its true definition as the personacratic “I” communicates in the presence of Thou.

        Weapons of mass destruction will be inconceivable as their development would violate the most fundamental doctrine of personacracy, i.e. to be at Peace with oneself so that the Absolute Peace – the Thou – will only come to meet the I in such a condition. Slavery and other forms of dehumanization on others may also be inconceivable or all personacratic I’s will be judged the worth of their existence in the amount of Thou-ness in them. We may continue to envision a scenario of a global and planetary community of personacratic I’s in their Thou-ness of their existence, in all spheres of human activities but the essence of their section points to the notion that it must begin with one’s recognition of the I as a government in itself; a kingdom wherein the I is a king. Perhaps only when there are more personacratic Is are created, the form of governments other than the ones I-it in nature prevalent and contagious of their presence will be gradually eliminated.

        We do not then wait for the Messiah, for Jesus’ Second Coming, or for alMahdis to establish a kingdom of God but create personacratic I’s who would be sparsely distributed on the face of this earth to pose non-violent threats to the existing “I-it ‘forms of government. The ultimate aim would then be for the global society to see a thesis-antithesis-synthesis and praxis of the movement of the personacratic I’s so that in the end all that will exist will be a grand meeting place of the Thou and the I. Such is a conjecture. If the world may not see such a scenario, it may perhaps be blown up ten times over as a culmination of the march of progress of the Thou-less I. What then can be a middle path?

On Peace as Process

        Instead of a conclusion, I am offering the following closing passages of hope and activism in our view that that peace must be conceived and constituted as a process and an evolving system with the personacratic “I”s playing their role as makers of history and guardians of humanistic futurism. Before we reach the final exit of this essay which calls upon one to realize “self-government which governs the very best” and one which can most meaningfully define the human and social dimension of peace, we look at the aims of an educational framework which is based upon the themes we have discussed thus far in the previous section.

        I have argued for the value of Buber’s Thou-ness in being and becoming, align this concept with mystical dimensions of a variety of major religious thought, offer arguments for the need for technology and creativity to be developed in the presence of the Ultimate Reality, and lastly to offer an introduction to the concept of the kingdom of the self. These arguments represent and yield premises to our reconstructing of an educational framework and the deconstructing of communitarianism in the way we perceive race relations as we come to the close of this century, and step with anxiety into what could be a more turbulent century.

        From the formulations of premises and the conceptualization of an alternative definition of government above, the aim of education for deconstruction becomes more increasingly of process. It becomes one whose aim is to realize being, living, and becoming as a creative and moral act based upon the principles of liberation rather than development, transformation rather than mutation, trialogue rather than monologue or dialogue, cosmopolitanism rather than communitarianism, eco-philosophical rather than ecodominations, and cosmic rather than close–centric.

        These aims are to provide a “benchmarking” out of the constructs we have created out of the I’it –ness of our existence; constructs such as oppression, control and subjugation, monological and dialogical limiting tendencies in communication, communitarianism, eco-political anti-philosophical contentions, and atomistic and mechanistic reductionism in ideological formulations. If education aims to counter the excesses as such constructs supra, what would be the process to be followed for one to attain peace as the ultimate “state of being-ness and becoming-ness” of living?

I offer the following strands of activism if we are to travel in the humanistic futuristic path:

i. that we transform power relations which are anathema to the principles of Thou-ful living for, such a transformation can help us address more profoundly the issue of distributive injustices which has plagued us since the dawn of history.,

ii. that we transform the concept of creativity which leans towards certain destructive tendencies for, synthesis of major metaphysical strands in religious traditions can give us a futuristic outlook to living as beings on “Spaceship Earth”.,

iii. that we transform the will to use technology for destructive ends for, the peaceful use of this Surrealistic manifestation can render technology as an ethical and powerful tool for socialization.,

iv. that we transform knowledge structure and control which is characterized by its inherent I-it-ness for, such a transformation can make us better understand and act upon orthodoxies in our conception of race, ethnicity, and culture.,

v. that we transform environmental policies which failed to drastically halt ecological degradation for such transformation and the concern for the common destiny of human beings can help our children inherit a better future from us.,

vi. that we transform our consciousness from one of merely being in this world to being in this world with the Thou being in it for the spirituality within the paradigm of cosmopolitanism can strengthen our unity and dignity as a human race.

        The activisms I profess out of the six strands are but a synthesis of much of the cutting edge thoughts on the precondition of a globally humane and peaceful world order beyond the issues of race, culture, ethnicity, culture, and nationalism. They perhaps can force us to think at the supranational level within the metaphysical plane.

        Through the vehicle of education for critical, creative, spiritual, and futuristic consciousness, we can perhaps carry out this process of trialogue by first reordering ourselves along the line of realizing ourselves as kings ruling our kingdoms and queens ruling our own queendoms, in the presence of Thou. It must begin with a systematic study of our Self drawn from religious and philosophical tradition most dear and familiar to our hearts.

        If we must envision a future, it must be one of which wisdom rules and peace reigns. We are to be reminded, in this process, by metaphysical axioms such as “know thyself”, “God is closer to you than your jugular vein”, “ know thyself know thy powers within, one hundred trials and tribulations, one hundred victories.” And in conceptualizing and envisioning the shape of education to come, I end this analytical-praxical essay with the condition of the meeting of the I and the Thou uttered by the great Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi:

No lover ever seeks union with his beloved But this beloved is also seeking union with him But the lover’s love makes his body lean While the beloved’s love makes her fair and lusty When in this heart the lightning spark of love arises, Be sure this love is reciprocated in that heart When the love of God arises in thy heart Without doubt God also feels love for thee. (quoted in Underhill, p. 134)



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DR AZLY RAHMAN grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in six fields of study: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies, Communication, Creative Non-Fiction, and Fiction Writing. He has written more than 350 analyses/essays on Malaysia. His 30 years of teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He is a frequent contributor to scholarly online forums in Malaysia, the USA, Greece, and Montenegro.

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