Reflections on I and Thou

One of the real pleasures of my life has been reading Martin Buber’s book I and Thou. In an immense economy of words Buber poetically expresses feelings and concepts that are richly deep, that evoke a different dimension of existence each time one reads them. It is a meditative pleasure to read this book. It is a book to be read many times, over the years, to derive different meanings from it.

The main theme that plays through Buber’s book, indeed – plays – like a harmonious piece from Mozart, is that all real living is lived in relation. All real living, says Buber, is meeting. The entities that we meet every day – our parents, our children, our physical pain, our anxiety – these may all be treated either as an It or as a Thou.

When we treat an entity as an It, we respond to it according to our needs and fantasies. The anxiety must go, the children must love us, and so on. When we treat an entity as a Thou, we respond to it from a level that is not based on memory or desire. It is there, and we meet it in the present moment, with the fullness of our being, where we do not limit ourselves to one of our desires, and the Other to one of the objects of our desires.

‘The Thou meets me. But I step into direct relation with it. Hence, the relation means being chosen and choosing, suffering and action in one; just as any action of the whole being, which means the suspension of all partial actions and consequently of all sensations of actions grounded only in their particular limitation, is bound to resemble suffering.

The primary word I-Thou can be spoken only with the whole being. Concentration and fusion into the whole being can never take place through my agency, nor can it ever take place without me. I become through my relation to the Thou; as I become I, I say Thou.

All real living is meeting.’

(Page 17)

Such an entity – to which I can respond with my whole being – is not something I can meet at will. The Thou meets me, I do not meet it. But when the Thou meets me, I step into direct relation with it. A direct relation is one without partial actions.

I am with you not because I want your companionship which will give me relief from my loneliness, but because we are. My needs do not carry out a transaction between us. We transact from our being, not from our doing.

And as I enter into this relation, I become an I. Else, I remain an It – a bundle of needs to be met, anxieties to be quelled, ambitions to be accomplished.

All real living is meeting.

~ by tdcatss on June 23, 2012.

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