Don Quixote (1605) by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)
Cervantes’ goal in writing Don Quixote was not to consciously seek present moment awareness but to attack an aspect of P-B that he found particularly objectionable. The purpose of Don Quixote was to “destroy the authority and acceptance the books of chivalry have had in the world and the fall and destruction of that monstrous heap of ill-contrived romances, which, though abhorred by man, have so strangely infatuated the greater part of mankind.”
Romantic love remains today one of the more destructive illusions driven by the sensation center of the false self. One only has to watch the afternoon “soaps” on TV to appreciate one of the most powerful “escapist” behaviors that keep many people from entering into the empowering Simple Reality of P-A. In the last 400 years since Miguel de Cervantes launched his assault on fear-driven distractions, only the details have changed.
In chapter 6 of his book Cervantes describes an “inquisition” for the books that have caused human “madness.” Reading books or that related endeavor of “knowing” are not so much the cause of human unconscious behavior as an obstacle to awakening. When we identify with the mind or intellect we leave the present moment where we are in contact with wisdom or intuition and attempt to define reality which is beyond the capability of ordinary reasoning. Certainly books of fiction will not lead to enlightenment.
In a hilarious scene in chapter 7 of Don Quixote there is an example of Cervantes’ wonderful sense of humor in attacking the insidious influence of books. “Don Quixote awakens in a raving fit and his friends grab hold and force him back into bed. At this, the simple housekeeper is fully convinced that all books are bedeviled. She collects even those volumes which have been reprieved and burns them all. Meanwhile, the barber and the curate are equally fearful for Don Quixote’s health. They arrange to have the entrance to his study walled up, and instruct the niece and housekeeper to tell the knight that an evil conjurer, mounted on a fiery dragon, has removed not only the books, but the entire library.”
The creation of P-B was dependent upon the senses to define “reality.” Quixote does not trust the senses and rightly so. “He knows that an attitude of ‘seeing is believing’ uncovers, not truths, but lies.” Transcending illusion and grasping the truth is intuitive and requires entering the present moment. Like the content of Simple Reality, Cervantes clearly had the goal of showing that “things are not what they seem.”
Over four hundred years ago Cervantes lamented the state of the theatre in a discussion between Quixote and a curate in chapter 21. Unlike theatre today which strives courageously to awaken its audiences to the unfolding catastrophe of P-B, the theatre in 17th century Spain appealed to the sensation center of the false self. “[The] public is only interested in spectacle and fast action.” What has happened in the interim is that theatre has risen from entertainment to the level of art—not all theatre, of course is of this quality—but it could be said that we are living in a golden age of theatre approaching the power of that of Shakespeare if not the poetry of his language.
What might be needed in the world today are people willing to risk asking unconventional questions and positing unconventional answers. What is perhaps needed are iconoclasts like Don Quixote. In effect, Don Quixote is facing the same formidable opponent that we are all “battling” today and that is the false self. “His real nemesis, however, is the prosaic unimaginable world, and the individuals of the prosaic world work as tirelessly for overthrow as if they were hirelings of his evil enemy.” Unconsciousness itself is the real enemy.
We all remember the image of Don Quixote “tilting at windmills.” His willingness to put himself in danger reminds us of the ability to distinguish between the illusion of P-B and the present moment reality of P-A. “Understanding everything with his imagination, he is capable of overcoming danger because the appearance of the obstacle is inconsequential. Reality, to Don Quixote, is therefore an internal quality, and he renounces this strength of perspective only when at the point of death.” P-A is a “perspective” and from this perspective we can stop identifying with those aspects of P-B which keep us in perpetual resistance. When we realize in the present moment that we are not our mind, body or emotions—when we stop pursuing security, sensation and power—we are free to live our life in a Simple Reality reminiscent of the idealized world of the Man from La Mancha.
“The combat with the windmill is rich in symbolism. It does not matter whether the ponderous machine stands for stultified human institutions that need attacking, or ancient tradition that must be newly questioned, or totalitarian government requiring renewal by revolution, or bureaucracy being attacked by individual demands. What matters is that only a positive act of will is capable of attacking anything, and the success or failure is unimportant.” Of course, acts of will alone will not succeed in P-B no matter how much courage or commitment is brought to bear. The only act required at the Point of Power is to choose response over reaction and we will all be victorious and heroic “knights.”
The common choice when faced with choosing awareness over staying mesmerized in P-B is to choose the familiar over the transcendent. The paradox in Don Quixote is that from the perspective of P-B the two worldviews are reversed. The ideal becomes the mundane and the false self conditioning becomes the transcendent. “His final test is when, with Samson’s lance poised at his throat, he chooses rather to die than to give up the idea of Dulcinea’s perfection.” In truth both choices involve two versions of the same illusion. One is the habituated behavior of seeking security, sensation and power and the other is a non-existent romantic illusion.
What Cervantes realized, probably because of his own adventure-filled life, was that what humanity was seeking in this life was a deeper present moment experience of life rather than an intellectual understanding of the meaning of life. “In essence, Don Quixote shows us that the reality of existence consists in receiving all the impact of experience, which, transformed through the medium of a special awareness, is synthesized as part of the character. All these characters have changed their lives from internalizing essentially external influences.” The next step probably unknown to Cervantes is that once internalized, these experiences must form the basis for living in the Now where the experience of life is perfect no matter what is happening.
Nevertheless, for a Westerner, Cervantes had a profound understanding of the nature of P-B and its toxic dangers. Seventeenth-century Spain was in dire need of an iconoclastic hero and today we must come to understand that each of us is that hero, or in the language of Buddha, a 21st century Boddhisattva. “Quixoticism is the universal quality characteristic of any visionary [P-A] action. Acts of rebellion or reform are always quixotic for the reformer aims at undermining the existing institution in order to change it. Seeking only ‘truth’ or ‘justice,’ the truly quixotic heroes have an internal vision so strong as to see through the illusion of external appearances. Don Quixote, for example, defies ubiquitous institutions so taken for granted that everyone thinks they are harmless windmills, though they may be threatening giants, inexorable machines destructive of the individual.” Cervantes believed that this Quixotic archetype would be “set free in our imaginations.” What in truth must happen is that we must intuitively become the Hero from La Mancha in our hearts, courageously present to a higher reality, simple yet profound.
Miguel de Cervantes was an authentic Spanish hero, author and philosopher and he worked hard to instruct humankind in the importance of discovering the difference between illusion and reality. Since then many catastrophic forces unknown in his time are threatening human survival. Critic Ariel Dorfman adds her warning to that of Cervantes: “Most of the planet’s inhabitants are not in prison, as Cervantes so often was. And yet we live, as if captured, in a time of violence and inequality, greed and stupidity, intolerance and xenophobia, marooned on a planet spinning out of control—like lunatics sleepwalking toward the abyss.” Cervantes, though living a life of extreme suffering, managed to persevere in his quest to shock his fellow Spaniards out of their lethargy and self-delusion. “[Even today] Cervantes is telling us that our besieged, besotted, captive humanity should not lose hope that we can awaken in time.”
“We slowly come to conclude the final organic nature of this elusive book—to educate and mature the reader himself in the same way as Don Quixote and Sancho increase in self-awareness.” And indeed, as a result of their heroic journey, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza have grown in self-awareness. “Setting each character free in his invented world without guiding murmurs of approval or disapproval, Cervantes, the prime-mover novelist, also sets the reader free. This is another unique quality which makes Don Quixote one of the lasting and elusive books in the world, and what makes Cervantes one of the most consummate novelists that western literature has produced.”
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in books by Roy Charles Henry.