Tiger, Tiger burning bright, William Blake’s poem, focuses my attention this morning as I connected the dots between the Tiger leaping out of the jungle in Apocalypse Now and out of my office window as the morning sun hit my stained glass tiger. And the end of the movie when Co. Kurtz (played by Brando) says you can kill me but don’t judge me. And earlier he said that it is “judgment that defeats us.” He described this Snap realization as a “diamond bullet” between the eyes.
Why does judgment defeat us? Judgment divides reality into the good and the bad, into the I and the IT. We went to Vietnam to judge the people as gooks and kill them, as all ITs look the same. Taking my lead from the Tiger I post his poem.
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Let the video journal of Captain. Willard speak for us.
I am going crazy I Saigon. I need a mission. When I am home I wish I was here; when I am here I wish I was home. I am wounded. I need a mission. Everything is upside down.
I am given a mission. Kill a man who thinks he is god. Our little boat heads upstream through Dante’s Inferno of one mad scene after another. One of crew is killed by an primitive spear. In the primeval forest we meet the Tiger. We are getting closer. He was real close. I want to confront him.
As I go keeping into the jungle, the forests of the night, approaching the headwaters of my own being, is that a Buddha ahead? What is my mission? If I see the Buddha, do I kill him? Going up river no one is in charge any more. I must confront “him.”
We pass through some boats full of people who look like zombies, all white in death ash, they part and let us through. I pass a sign: MOTTO APOCALYPSE NOW.
I enter his cave. I meet him shaded in shadow like a god, his hands in a helmet of water like a baptismal, and his head a white skull. Have I met Death itself, the God of Death? There are no methods here at all. He looks at me and says “I’m just an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill.” He is in a place far from civilization and the known world.
He knew more about me than I did. Then he said to make friends with horror, with Death. He talked about the. Stench of Lies. He put me in a bamboo cages and then appeared in the night, large and painted, and threw the head one of my crew in my lap. I lost it! I met the horror!
Then he let me out and some women fed me and gave me drink. I knew I could complete my mission now and kill this god. Out of the river I came, born again like a Baptist, single minded. I was where I belonged. As I killed him the tribal people were sacrificing a bull, and the colonel and the bull died together…whispering the Horror…the horror.
I emerged from his cave, Buddha faces rising in my mind, and his people dropped their weapons when I dropped my knife. They would have bowed and worshiped me, but I walked through them and went back down the river from whence I came.
I leave this story for you. Do not judge.
Continuing my journey upstream of culture and Ego (they dance together), I explore Apocalypse Now. What did Col Kurtz discover, what horror did he discover? This is the question that pulled Willard upstream on this single minded mission. The cannot help but see this forgotten Buddhist temple in Cambodia with his gigantic Buddha faces intermingled in the scenes as a clue to the spiritual journey that goes upstream to the headwaters of our own culture/ego insulated egg, a bubble through which we interact with the world, an I safely inside with the IT outside. And judgment is our shell.
Kurtz wants men who are moral but who kill without flinching, like a tiger. The great impersonal face of the Buddha looks down. Were the American there moral? They certainly killed without flinching. But were they moral? What does moral mean here? Is the Tiger moral? Does moral means being an integral part of the whole, both the part and the whole as the Good. Judgment divides the whole into separate parts that are good and bad. Judgment and morality then are not compatible, if morality is the integration of all parts with the whole, if morality does not divide. A moral act then transcends the relative morality created by judgment.
What the Americans are doing from their moral viewpoint is Good. What their enemy does is bad. But from the viewpoint of the movie this morality is in question. Vietnam in our history was when we began to question the morality of America and its government.
But everything can and must be reduced to my everyday mind. Even here there is the heart of darkness that divides what I do from what I think, and I think I’m doing good, but from a wider view, I’m doing bad. There is always a SNAP! when these two divergent views comes together into one Gestalt. We always avoid this SNAP, this Satori when we see the polarity Zen Koan all at once. Polarity ends with a SNAP!, not gradually, but with a body shacking SNAP…a waking up that is sudden, an expected, yet strangely suspected, surprise.
Only the wide angle lens can question the morality of the narrow focused lens. Apocalypse Now questions not only the morality of the Vietnam War, and not only war itself, but civilization, our civilization. What is morality but the search for the ultimate Good, the headwaters of consciousness itself. If our Source is Good, the we must go upstream to our source to find our true nature. If you Source is not the Good, then don’t bother. If our Source is not Good, then suicide is the only logical answer. Better the earth be rid of us. But…wait…is not my source the same source as the earth? if the earth is Good, then so am I.
But since we are killing the earth, maybe we don’t believe our Source the earth is good, and so we don’t see the good in each of us. What is this misperception…but our civilization, our Culture of division and self loathing. Each of us then must set out on our spiritual quest into the Heart of Darkness to find through that darkness the Source of our Goodness or Light.
I must read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness now (I may have read it years ago but there are dots to be connected). This journey into the Heart of Africa goes back to my boyhood when I was fascinated with the unknown and unexplored center of Africa that was a blank space on the National Geographic maps I had on my wall. I wanted to explore that heart.