Individual Radical Evolution
This week’s Bleach episode, 308, is working out a solution to the confrontation between two models of individual radical evolution, Ichigo and Aizen. I shall focus here on what they have in common. The process of individual radical evolution can be seen through the lenses of the Pauline interpretation of the salvation process, the transgression (radical evolution) from ‘old man’ to ‘new man’. Episode 308 is a Messianic episode.
For my understanding of St. Paul’s legacy I am drawing from Chapters 18 and 19 from Orlando Patterson 1991. Freedom. Freedom in the making of Western culture. Basic Books.
In Paul, evil or suffering is a personal problem more than a metaphysical problem. Salvation from it is not a problem of our relationship with God, but a problem of the relationship one has with one’s own past and future.
“Each man should carry his own load (Gal. 6:5).” It is not easy: “Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).” This process must take place constantly. “The inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).
Analogously, Aizen says to Ichimaru Gin: “Fear is necessary for evolution. The fear that one could be annihilated at any moment. Thank you, Gin. Thanks to your efforts, I have finally risen to an existence that surpasses both Shinigami and Hollow.”
Patterson distinguishes four pairs of categories expressing one and the same transgressive (radically evolutive) process.
I. The first pair of categories is slavery – freedom. The transgression takes place from the enslaving force of our psychic constitution into freedom from it.
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty where with Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage (Gal. 5:1).”
The active process that leads from one state to another is ‘emancipation’.
II. A second aspect of the process is described by the pair law – grace. One saves oneself from law (also the law of our psychic constitution) to a state of grace, that state of “purity of heart where the individual instinctively knows the good and can only choose what is good, so there is no need for law” (Patterson 1991, 329).
Paul says that in Christ, or in salvation, “there is neither Jew, nor Greek… there is neither male nor female.” (Gal. 3:28.)
Analogously, am I a Hollow? Am I an Arrancar? Are you a Shinigami? Are you a Visored or a Demi-hollow? Just how important is this? Ichigo and Aizen show that all psychic forms can be surpassed. If one is defined by some sets of psychic determinations, then one’s life is a closed project, an unwrapping into one of the naturally allowed ways. Individual radical evolution is the transgression of his/her definite mode of being.
The active principle leading from law to grace is ‘faith’.
Faith as I see it is the personal power to discard the past (the past of sin, where sin is the constitutive deplorable condition), the power to believe that one is saved, and the power to thereby act into one’s salvation.
The battle between Ichigo and Aizen is also a battle of faith. Aizen is not completely driven by faith. He is still in the passive mode of being of “let’s see what the Hogyoku is further doing to me”, “let’s see to what extent the Hogyoku is saving me”. Aizen wants to fight to see what he can do: “Thank you Ichigo for giving me the opportunity to see the extent of my power”. This mode of being is what I have previously called “life as fact”. Ichigo by contrast is in a faith-driven active mode of being: first believes and ‘thereby’ manifests his power. This mode of being is what I call “life as act”.
III. A third characterization of the process is the transgression from death to life.
We need to distinguish between two types of spiritual death.
One death is the determination of psychic law. “In Adam all die (1 Cor. 15:22).”
Another death is death in Christ, death-with-the-Savior. It has to be a sort of ‘death’ too, because the old nature can only be surpassed if it is fulfilled. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin (Rom 6:6-7).”
Death as a first step in salvation is our recognition of our own limitation, plus the refusal to live within the confines of the law. Death as a first step in salvation is the first step to redemption from the curse of the law (Patterson 1991, 336). One must also ‘die to the old law’.
Death, one way or another, cannot be avoided. Shortly put the key of the salvific process is to die in the second sense without dying in the first sense.
Both Ichigo and Aizen lived through their own deaths, in the second sense. Ichigo underwent hollowfication (replacement of the heart with a black hole and a mask) and Aizen possibly replaced or fused his heart with the Hogyoku.
IV. The forth pair is sin – reconciliation. Here too, sin is not the weakness or some contingent moral failure, but sin as enslaving background condition. The end-state of reconciliation is one’s coming back ‘home’ from alienating places. In this state one gets reconciled with one’s own ‘true form’. Arriving at or achieving the ‘true form’ of our Zanpakuto (of our hearts, of our souls, or of ourselves) is a recurrent theme in Bleach.
The active principle raising us from sin to reconciliation is ‘disalienation’.
Aizen is not yet fully reconciled, not completely disalienated; while he is still waiting to see how the Hogyoku is transforming him, Ichigo is already integrated. He is ‘one with his Zanpakuto’ (the chain of Zangetsu-in-sword-form is wrapped around the arm) and he is ‘one with his hollow’. (Tensa Zangetsu says about himself and Hollow-Ichigo: “We were always one”.) Ichigo‘s bare feet also symbolize that Hollow-Ichigo – his root of despair – is ‘kept to the ground’, dominated. But of course, the key to integration and radical evolution is not merely to dominate the inner hollow, it is to use it, and that requires its fulfillment. Ichigo is moving with the help of his inner hollow (represented by the bare feet), to which he has now given a definite role.