zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Infinite in faculty, quintessence of dust

Infinite in faculty, quintessence of dust

[ by Charles Cameron — on the cutting off of hands, the eternal life of martyrs, and the vast and petty nature of we poor amazing humans ]

As you know, I love apposite juxtapositions between religious texts – if you’re into cognition, it’s called pattern recognition, in Jung or Plato it would be familiarizing oneself with the archetypes, and in terms of creativity it’s “one swell foop” of analysis and synthesis, an oak in an acorn, insight in a nutshell.

At times, as here, the comparison presents a significant similarity that “sees things” from a very different vantage point from our everyday selves – a refreshing and salutary reminder, perhaps, from high altitude, even if it’s not the street-level view we require to navigate life’s many smaller obstacles and minor goals.


Here are two such comparisons that have served a somewhat different purpose for me –- showing me that aspects of another religion’s practice that I find shocking have echoes in my own tradition. I do not claim these correspondences to be exact — but if we allow them to be, I believe we may find them illuminating:


My hope is that such examples can help us to approach the “other” with greater respect and understanding — where we agree, and even where we strongly disagree.

In the way of peace. For it is written in the Injil, in the Gospel (Matthew 5:9):

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.


But to return us to the high altitude view from which we began, I’ll give Shakespeare the final word:

   HAMLET: I have of late–but
wherefore I know not–lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust?

Comments are closed.

Switch to our mobile site