Remarks at a rite of passage for my nephew, Liam Golightley, on Liam’s thirteenth birthday.
I congratulate you, Liam, on this rite of passage. And I invite you, Liam, just for a moment–I invite all of us, just for a moment–to think about who it is that’s passing.
We pass into this world at birth, we pass from childhood through school and into adulthood, we marry, we pass further, into old age, and then, as the language has it, we pass on, we pass away.
But who is this “we”? Who is this person? Or, in our present ceremony, who is this Liam?
Some would tell us, Liam, that you are an extraordinarily complex biological machine, formed of intricate networks of cells and tissue, of blood and bones and organs and neurons, a splendid unit of chemicals working in unison, bubbling away–but nothing more.
Oh, you have a mind, too. You have thoughts and desires and feelings. You have consciousness. But they are nothing more than output from the machinery. What you finally come down to, Liam, is not so much a who as an “it.” You are a body with a name on it–“Liam”–today passing from newness to full development on your way to decrepitude and finally to extinction. Congratulations.
But I would like to suggest to you, Liam, that those who think of you in this way have got you wrong, that they are seeing only what’s outside and missing what’s deeper within, that they are awed by the machine but missing the living person within the machine. They are seeing the car but somehow failing to recognize the driver.
I would offer to you that the real Liam is not the machine, not the body, not an agglomeration of matter on a journey from nowhere to nowhere, but the spark of life, the spark of consciousness, within the body.
That spark of life can’t be cut, can’t be dried, can’t be broken or withered or blown away. It can’t be created and can never be destroyed. And it is that eternally existing person–that eternal spirit, that spark of consciousness–that passes from one stage of life to another, from one body to another: from the body of a child, to the body of a youth, to a body of old age, and then onward to another body–or to liberation from this cycle of repeated birth and death–in a continuing spiritual journey.
This is not something, Liam, I would ask you simply to believe because your uncle believes it, or accept because your uncle accepts it, but–as you enter manhood–to think about, to scrutinize, to wonder about, to consider. I invite you to ponder whether there’s a difference between Liam the organism and Liam the person, Liam the body and Liam the soul, Liam the machine and Liam the spirit.
The animals can’t think about these things–they don’t have the brain for it. But a human being can–and this, then, is the real business, the real opportunity, the real purpose, of human life.
And now, as you enter manhood, I encourage you to take that business seriously, take up that purpose, and pass not only from one biological stage to the next, from one social role to another, but–as a verse in Sanskrit has it–from darkness to light, from matter to spirit, from the temporary to the eternal.
I wish you all peace and all spiritual success in your life.