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Casting Out Satan
  

How can Satan cast out Satan? (Mark 3:23)

Far from being a selfless pursuit, the quest for enlightenment is the last refuge of the self.  With any luck, you can string out this pursuit for many lifetimes.  According to Hindu belief, it can take thousands of incarnations to iron the kinks out of your karma.  Christians only get one bite at the apple, but Roman Catholics at least have the option of working out their salvation in purgatory if time runs out on them.  Whether you call it enlightenment or salvation, the end result is a self that has been brought to its highest state of perfection, or at least made presentable -- a worthy goal that will keep the self happily occupied for as long as we draw breath, if not beyond. 

In T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, the 12th-century Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, recognizes that he is involved in a struggle of even greater personal consequence than his power struggle with the English monarch, Henry II, over the independence of the church.  Becket realizes that the risk of martyrdom is also a temptation: a selfless act in defense of the church can also be a monstrous act of self-aggrandizement.  As he puts it, "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason." 

In seeking to overcome the self, our first instinct is to marshal the resources of the self.  And when the inherent contradiction of this approach becomes apparent, we are apt to redouble our efforts.  If our aim is to transcend the self, what exactly is the expected outcome?  A more transcendent self?  If, in fact, the self is transcended, who or what remains?  Presumably, no one.  The end of all our striving is to achieve exactly nothing.  So why bother?  Perhaps the lesson in all this is to cease striving.  

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