There is no need to continue on with the list. We are depressed enough without groveling in the despair of a lust for violence in our power-saturated political and entertainment worlds. However, it is not this present period in history that has produced the obsession with power as all of us are too mindful, having survived those long history classes in which we had to memorize the dates and basic facts seemingly of every war that has ever been fought since Adam and Eve got into a scrape with a snake, and later with God who threw them out of their paradisal Garden of Eden, followed by Cain's killing Abel in a fit of jealousy and rage. So, yes, we have struggled with our "power complex" for a time longer than the list of dates composed by our history teachers or the Bible's mythological accounts of humanity's beginnings.
However, there is one source that is seldom referenced when power is discussed. This is the Chinese I Ching or Book of Changes. In China for more than three thousand years, this book of wisdom has served China's political leaders, statesmen, teachers, philosophers, sages, holy men/women, and the citizens in general -- offering oracular counsel for dealing with life's conflicts including the use of power.
One of the I Ching's sixty-four hexagrams offers a probing commentary on power, and is given the title of Ta Chuang/The Power of the Great. The witness of the centuries comes to us with evocative commentary about the wedding of two ideas: what it means to be "powerful" and what it means to be "great," employing the archetypal and ancient images of heaven and thunder. Stated in picturesque language, the commentary says:
Thunder in heaven above:
The image of the power of the great.
The commentary elaborates on this image in the following way:
The hexagram points to a time when inner worth mounts
with great force and comes to power. ... hence there is danger
that one may rely entirely on one's own power and forget to
ask what is right. There is danger too that, being intent on
movement, we may not wait for the right time. Therefore ...
perseverance furthers. For that is truly great power which
does not degenerate into mere force but remains inwardly
united with the fundamental principles of right and of justice.
When we understand this point -- namely, that greatness and
justice must be indissolubly united -- we understand the true
meaning of all that happens in heaven and on earth.
To move within this perspective, shaped by its deep valuing of life, unites a "right time" with a "right effort," with a "right intent," and a "right attitude." By the use of "right," I am not referring to that which is legal, but rather to that which is rooted in a consciousness extending beyond one's own self-interests, whim, and profiteering, a consciousness that lifts one up toward the omega point of human existence. The question is not "what's good for business," but what is "business for the good.." In other words, the "power of the great" resides within a concern for the common good.
Does such a concern motivate the leadership in China today, or for that matter even the average person on the street? I have no idea. I do not hear it mentioned in discussions of their political reckonings. It reminds me of the time my wife and I were searching for a teacher of tai chi. Many of the young Chinese we would ask had no idea what we meant, and when we explained, their response would often be something like, "Oh, you mean what some of the old folk do out in the parks! No, I do not know anyone who does that." But the same could be said, in I wonder how many instances, if we asked Westerners to describe the "Golden Rule," and where it arose or how it is practiced today.
But our meditation is not about finding fault or blaming. It is, to come back to our starting point, about our entrapment within the collective obsession of power and how that is played out destructively at this time in the many arenas of our life. And so, lest we despair, I come back to the I Ching and its promise of hope that is possible for us. There is a ray of light in this hexagram which claims "Perseverance brings good fortune." Elaborating further, the commentary goes on:
If a person goes on quietly and perseveringly working at the
removal of resistances, success comes in the end. The
obstructions give way and all occasion for remorse arising
from excessive use of power disappears. Such a person's
power does not show externally, yet it can move heavy loads,
like a big cart whose real strength lies in its axle. The less
that power is applied outwardly, the greater its effect.
In other words, not to push our cart with excessive worry but to rely on its inner resources is the source of great power. Not to confront the outward obstacles with displays of arrogant force but to connect with the axle of our common humanity is the power of the great.