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In response to the last post on mediocrity, style, and exquisiteness, philosopher and Zen Buddhist priest Yasuhiko Genku Kimura shared this passage he wrote on the causes of mediocrity, excerpted from his essay Self-Responsibility, Self-Integrity, and Freedom from the Guru.

He proposes the notion that mediocrity is not about being average, but about conforming to the average, and genius is not about living up to an external comparative standard, but about cultivating self-responsibility and self-integrity. This presents an empowering narrative that geniushood is about bestowment rather than endowment, leaving the matter of embodying it a choice solely ours to make. Reprinted with permission.


What are the reasons for this sorry state of affairs? There are several different ways in which to answer this question. First, we will approach this question from the point of view of the conspiracy for mediocrity, as this sorry state of affairs is an exemplary case of the all-pervasive conspiracy for mediocrity existing in the world.

What is mediocrity? Mediocrity is the state of being in which desires, aspirations, and inner strivings for one’s highest value and meaning in life are suppressed or dormant. Mediocrity is not the average but the conformity to the average in the absence of desires, aspirations, and inner strivings for one’s highest value and meaning in life. Since no human being is born with an intrinsic desire to be mediocre, but, on the contrary, with a desire and aspiration for greatness, a mediocre person has either to justify or to ignore his mediocrity in order to be and live with himself. That is, he has to live a life that is untrue to and out of integrity with his own deepest desire and aspiration. Shakespeare’s famous lines in Hamlet (I.iii.17), “… to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man,” remind us that not being true to one’s own self is also being false with other people. Therefore, a mediocre person is untrue to and out of integrity not only with himself but also with other fellow human beings. Here lies the inextricable link between the culture of mediocrity and the culture of inauthenticity.

What is the cause of mediocrity? Statistically in any field of human endeavor there are more people with an average talent than with a higher to exceptional talent. If we equate genius or greatness with what an aptitude or talent avails us, then most of us are doomed to be average with a slight, insignificant give or take. This is the situation in which the great majority of people find themselves in the course of their lives—that is, so long as they define genius or greatness according to external comparative standards—so long as they fail to realize the incomparable singularities of their being, the singular cosmic destinies that they are. The being of an individual is a whole. It is not a quantity but a quality; not quantitatively measurable but qualitatively knowable. Two individuals are different only qualitatively; quantitative differences between them, such as height or IQ, apply only to certain aspects of their being, abstracted from the wholeness that they are, measured by some external comparative standards set by the society to which they belong. Quality belongs to individuality; quantity belongs to commonality. Therefore, the cause of mediocrity is our mistaken identification of our worth and greatness with an externally measurable and comparable commonality, and our failure to recognize our worth and greatness in the light of the cosmic singularity that is our being as its-own-most-unique-ability-to-be.

When Walter Russell states that genius is self-bestowed, he means by the term ‘genius’ the finest quality of individuality that any human being can attain through his own effort in self-development. At the core of individuality, there lies creativity and a creative vision. Therefore, the finest quality of individuality means the finest quality of individual creativity in action for the fulfillment of a creative vision that summons an individual to the untrodden path of his singular cosmic destiny. The ability to respond to this inner summon is what self-responsibility means. The ability to live one’s life in a manner consistent with one’s creative vision is what self-integrity means. Thus, self-responsibility and self-integrity are the hallmark of authentic geniushood.

When Russell states that mediocrity is self-inflicted, he means that if a person fails to cultivate self-responsibility and self-integrity, and thereby fails to awaken and live from his inner genius, he is likely to succumb to the dictates of the external world and its commonality- standards, and thereby to be afflicted with the pervasive conspiracy for mediocrity, which affliction is tantamount to self-inflicting mediocrity. Thus, the difference between self-bestowing genius and self-inflicting mediocrity is that of looking within or looking without, of having an inner standard or having an outer standard.

People are created free and equal but they are not born free and equal. There are significant differences in conditions and talents in and with which people are born, the reason for which is explainable by the law of reincarnation. As we think so we become. Our present conditions, talents, and other external and internal endowments are the results of our individual thoughts that have been thought throughout many lifetimes. The issue of reincarnation is beyond the scope of this article, but there is an important lesson to be learned from it. That is, your spiritual, mental, and physical endowments are the product of your thought that was thought throughout your past lifetimes, and therefore your thought today will inexorably impact your future spiritual, mental, and physical endowments as well as the external conditions of life into which you will be born and in which you will live. Further, even more importantly, regardless of your past, you have within yourself the power which is your thought that can significantly alter you and your life within this lifetime. Reincarnation misunderstood leads to fatalism; reincarnation understood leads to freedom.

Thus, your geniushood, your greatness, does not depend on your endowment; it is not a matter of endowment but of bestowment. For instance, Antonio Salieri was likely to have been less musically talented than Mozart according to accepted standards, but his individual quality was distinct from and incomparable with that of Mozart. Assuming the movie Amadeus was historically accurate (which is doubtful), had Salieri recognized his own genius in the quality of his individual creativity, the finest attainment of which in its own way would have been as splendid as that of Mozart, he would not have succumbed to jealousy and envy as he did; rather, he would have celebrated the incomparable geniuses of himself and Mozart. By outwardly comparing himself with Mozart, one of the most talented composers/musicians of all time, Salieri fell into the trap of the conspiracy for mediocrity, and ended up self-inflicting mediocrity instead of self- bestowing genius. It is well to remember that you can never be the genius that Leonardo da Vinci was nor can Leonardo da Vinci ever be the genius that you are. You, like da Vinci or Mozart, are a singular cosmic destiny, utterly incomparable, uniquely significant, and sui generis.

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