Buber’s I & Thou and inquiry

Buber’s main proposition is that we may address existence in two ways:

  1. The attitude of the “I” towards an “It”, towards an object that is separate in itself, which we either use or experience.
  2. The attitude of the “I” towards “Thou”, in a relationship in which the other is not separated by discrete bounds.

One of the major themes of the book is that human life finds its meaningfulness in relationships. In Buber’s view, all of our relationships bring us ultimately into relationship with God, who is the Eternal Thou.

Wikipedia

I haven’t made many connections between traditional philosophy and inquiry here, but I thought I would mention a few (pretty obvious) things. For instance, Martin Buber’s I and Thou and how it relates to inquiry.

As I mentioned in the post about the client and her dog, inquiry can soften any sense of boundaries which in turn opens for a natural sense of intimacy. This intimacy can be with ourselves, our immediate experience, others, the wider world, life in general, and presence (aka God, Spirit).

As we explore how our mind creates its experience of objects, beings, separation, boundaries, and any fears or compulsions created from this sense of separation and boundaries, our experience of these changes. It becomes much lighter, less invested with emotional energy. And that opens for a sense of intimacy.

Martin Buber: Instead for the moment, you should become an atheist, imagine that there is no God who can help

There is a famous story told in Chassidic literature that addresses this very question. The Master teaches the student that God created everything in the world to be appreciated, since everything is here to teach us a lesson.

One clever student asks “What lesson can we learn from atheists? Why did God create them?”

The Master responds “God created atheists to teach us the most important lesson of them all – the lesson of true compassion. You see, when an atheist performs and act of charity, visits someone who is sick, helps someone in need, and cares for the world, he is not doing so because of some religious teaching. He does not believe that god commanded him to perform this act. In fact, he does not believe in God at all, so his acts are based on an inner sense of morality. And look at the kindness he can bestow upon others simply because he feels it to be right.”

“This means,” the Master continued “that when someone reaches out to you for help, you should never say ‘I pray that God will help you.’ Instead for the moment, you should become an atheist, imagine that there is no God who can help, and say ‘I will help you.’”

– Tales of Hasidim Vol. 2 by Martin Buber