A legendary elder of ancient Greece, the man named Diogenes gained renown by walking through the streets of ancient Athens in broad daylight carrying a lighted lamp. When people would ask him why his lamp was lit in the day, he would reply not that he was looking for an honest man, as is so often reported, but rather that he was “looking for a Human Being.”
* * * * * * * *
Diogenes’ quest for Human Beings struck home with me. His search in classical Greece parallels one of the core ethical considerations in classic Native American wisdom ways. For me, someone who has walked hundreds of miles on Native pathways but only a few steps on the marbled hallways of classical Greece, this point of reckoning seems eminently worthy of consideration.
The various cultures that have come to North America over the last 500 years have not yet completed the process of grafting healthfully with the root native culture that has been on the land for many thousands of years. There is a great need for this interweaving to proceed, and here is a foundational point of union.
Understanding of what it means to be a Human Being — in any era of time and any place in the world — is a fundamental wisdom question contemplated in the Americas for millennia.
Native orators have often given eloquent expression to the idea. Among the well- spoken tradition keepers, I include the late Leon Shenandoah (1915– 1996), an elder and a statesman for the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people of The Great Turtle Island (North America).
In the pages of To Become a Human Being, Grandfather Shenandoah says that becoming a Human Being means attaining the highest level in this life, rising above instincts or base emotions to reach a place of equanimity and integrity, recognizing that we are all spiritual beings. A spark of spirit dwells in all life, and a Human Being knows that and acts in the world with that reality held mindfully.
“To become a Human Being is to rise to an expanded level of consciousness by living in physical and spiritual communion with the Earth and the various creatures who share life with us on the land,” Grandfather Shenandoah observed.
Grandfather Shenandoah encouraged everyone to “be the firekeepers that we all are, so that we’re able to instill small fires in each human being and give them hope so that they’ll begin to do good for other human beings.”
My intent as author of the ebook, Classical Considerations, was to strike such sparks by passing on the teachings of some faithful firekeepers, in particular the late Harvard Master and Classicist, John H. Finley, Jr.
“The doctrine of Horatio Alger, of getting ahead in life, continues to be important,” Finley told me during one of our interviews. “Yet the purpose of mind is not chiefly for you to get some place in society. Our gift is mind; we can see things. That’s what it’s all about. It really is.
“In your brief span, to make sense of all the interesting people you’ve known, all the interesting books you’ve read. This panorama…is increasingly your reward in life.
“After all, the self is both the hero and the villain in life. It is the villain insofar as it reduces the great and beautiful world to the idiotic closet of one’s identity. It is the hero insofar as it tries to go to the window, look out, and see how big the world is and how many people there are and how beautiful the sunlight is.
“It seems to me that waking is far more desirable than dreaming.