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“All the world’s a stage,

and all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances,

and one man in his time plays many parts...”

- William Shakespeare

 

Breaking Character

Rev. Darren M. Baldwin

 

I’m a relatively inexperienced member of our community, and one of the youngest of the “long-term” members of the Temple. I’m in my first year of university, and at the time of writing I am but eighteen years old; however, I have still lived a good bit of life, having gone places and done things that a great majority of people my age (and indeed, older) have not had the chance nor privilege to do. Some may see this as a good thing, while others may think of me as a spoiled brat. Either way, for a great length of time I was convinced that these experiences (along with likings and preferences) made me who I am, and I wasn’t all wrong. In one way of looking at myself, this was true. These things have meaning and we learn from them, but as anyone who’s gotten the chance to learn from Alan Watts will understand, this isn’t the Self.

Watts studied Hinduism, particularly Upanishadic Hinduism, quite a lot, and even referenced the Upanishads quite a few times in The Book (if you don’t know what this is, then I highly recommend the Initiate’s Programme!). In The Book we are told that the truth is that our existence is simply the universe “peopling,” or taking the forms of people and all other things, simply because this is what it does. In this way, we are all part of a collective whole that exists with no true separation between anyone, or anything. This idea of us all truly being expressions of a universal truth was originally a Hindu idea, with Brahman being the ineffable Whole of existence (what Watts calls “It”), atman being the expression for “true-self,” and jiva being the expression of “false-self.”

These are ideas that I find to be eerily echoed in the Bard’s quote at the beginning of this sermon. It is as if, in our lives, we go on living while wearing (and sometimes changing) masks, always adding to them and adapting to situations and trying to be a person. We play many parts, but it can sometimes be difficult to see that what we’re being, our personality, is not really us. It is a mask that we use to hide from ourselves; for the fun of it really. It is the ultimate goal in Upanishadic Hinduism to reduce the jiva, and realize that atman and Brahman are one in the same. In our studies at the Temple, I think we come to realize that we have similar goals, and it may be beneficial if we step back from ourselves to gain insight about our lives from time to time; break character, if you will.