Dharmageddon

tenor

There’s the Huns at the gate.  They don’t look like they’re messing.  Why don’t you turn your face to the wall if you find it distressing?  You can shiver in fear, feel the heat of the moment, then go ratchet it up in the sun as a kind of atonement…it’s a classic mistake, bringing water to Venice: out on the Lido, down on the lake there’s an aura of menace.  Secret words of the world are ‘engulf’ and ‘devour’.  Why is all this tyrannical shit in the soul of a flower? – Shriekback 

It’s been a little while since I gave myself a public reminder that I’m not who I think I am.  That I am not a solid, definable entity but a fluid process; and even that process is a mere phantasm of Mind.  As usual when I forget myself in this way, I’ve been mistaking Lila’s infinite and dramatic film reel for an actual series of upsetting events any one of which carries a lethal potentiality.  Regardless, it IS still reality, albeit of the relative variety as opposed to the Ultimate.  The nature of relative reality is that its appearance is relative to the observer; things apprehended through the senses are rapidly filtered through one’s memories, neuroses, beliefs and biases yielding very different results for multiple people who may be observing the same “thing”.  That said, just to get this out of the way, here is how this particular fragment of Consciousness interprets recent current events:

The buffoonish behavior of the Baby Monster currently squatting in the spot usually reserved for the arrogantly dubbed “Leader of the Free World” is providing a convenient smoke screen for lower profile but incalculably craftier and more influential puppet masters to consolidate the world stage into a battleground between seeming ideological opposites of the citizenry.  The people thus distracted and divided, these shadowy individuals hoard even more wealth and resources away from an already famished populace that never seems to notice any of it through the haze of manufactured hatred clouding their eyes.  We are perpetually on the brink of war, both at home and abroad.  Our hatred grows in direct proportion to the growth of our ignorance.  All of this has been existent in various embryonic stages for longer than I’ve been alive, but it has finally reached the inevitable point of critical mass.  Yet the greatest dramas with the most potentially dire consequences still play out right in our own living rooms with a little help from our myopic and self-grasping egos.

Did I sum that up nicely?  I sure hope so because I’m not going to say anything more about it for the simple reason that there was never anything to say about it in the first place.  We – the temporary fragments of splintered Mind – created this mess so the last thing any of us needs is an extended highlights reel.  You may protest that philosophy and metaphysics cannot change the very real dangers bearing down upon us as we continue to toxify our own habitat and imperil our increasingly tenuous coexistence and you would be right.  But I would counter that idealism is impotent.  As far as real “solutions” are concerned, the situation is quite hopeless.  And it is hopeless precisely because our minds are splintered and no one viewpoint is any more valid than the next.  I, too, am very guilty of expressing the subjective in objective terms.  Let’s start with the most common example of this confusion: as soon as I decide that some belief systems, words and behaviors are good while others are bad, I have abandoned the realm of objectivity or, if you prefer, the realm of unvarnished reality.  Whenever I use a collective pronoun like “we” to take ownership of what are actually personal viewpoints and morals, I willfully confuse the map with the territory and encourage seemingly kindred spirits to do the same.  The territory does not possess characteristics that are open to debate: it is what it is.  So while I would love to believe that at the heart of all sentient beings lies a core of wisdom and compassion, I’m afraid this has the characteristics of a pipe dream.  Buddha Nature might just be the snake oil of the East.  When I take a humanitarian position with an authoritative air, I am basically implying that love, compassion, empathy, charity, cooperation, kindness and spirituality are intrinsically good while selfishness, greed, hatred, cruelty and hedonism are intrinsically bad.   But since only fragments of fractured Mind can make such value judgments, there can never be anything like a consensus.  I feel the way I do as a result of countless influences: family, friends, culture, religion, philosophy, science, ad infinitum.  If I want to bolster a particular point, I will frequently quote others more illustrious than I in order to seemingly validate my position.  If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you’ve already seen me co-opt the words of Alan Watts, Chogyam Trungpa, the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, among others.  All of these individuals espouse a worldview that has wisdom and compassion at its core.  And they are all far more adept than I at making these subjective viewpoints seem as though they were unquestionable and objectively factual.  But alas…

Imagine you find yourself engaged in a heated debate with someone whose worldview is the diametric opposite of compassionate wisdom.  You explain to them that what they espouse and how they live is of no help to anyone else and might actually engender suffering in those whose only crime is trying to live their lives in peace.  This individual might very well (and justifiably) react by shrugging his shoulders and saying, “So what?”  He will see your St. Francis and raise you an Ayn Rand.  You see, there are just as many anti-social scholars and literary masters working in the service of egotism as there are those who dedicate their words to the promotion of love and empathy and peace.  Who is right?  Who is wrong?  Such questions can only be answered subjectively; objectively, there is no right and wrong.  If, for instance, a person feels compelled to advance the cause of “white supremacy” because this notion seems to be given airtight validity by some of Nietzsche’s dissertations, how can I objectively counter this position by citing the works of opposite-minded thinkers whose views are just as subjective?  I know, I know: by imagining Rand and Nietzsche* as the philosophical muses of the survival-of-the-fittest set, I am giving most of them FAR too much intellectual credit.  Sean Hannity serves the same purpose for those who bristle at big words.  But no matter where they find their inspiration, they would probably view my position that compassion and empathy are essential virtues to be foolish.  Naïve.  Self-defeating.  Are they wrong?  Not necessarily; but then, neither am I.

Contrary to what you usually read here, I spend a lot of time shouting into my own echo chamber about matters of politics and sociology.  It’s cathartic until it becomes its own solidified ego game, as it invariably does.  Yesterday, the actor Bryan Cranston – for whom I have great admiration – made the following statement: “Donald Trump…is not the person who I wanted in the White House.  That being said, he is the president.  If he fails, the country is in jeopardy.  It would be egotistical for anyone to say, ‘I hope he fails’.  To that person, I would say ‘fuck you’.  Why would you want that?  So you can be right?”  Admittedly, I experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance when I read those words coming from someone I respect.  But what was incorrect about what he said?  How many of us can humbly and courageously internalize this point that seems to run so counter to our new hobby of protesting across stubbornly delineated battle lines?  We so easily forget that we are ostensibly striving to decrease suffering; we are NOT striving to vanquish enemies or toss sharper barbs at those with whom we disagree.  Right?

The only thing to do is to root out any and all noises in our brains that did not originate from within and then work with what’s left.  So many of our cherished opinions, values, fears, tastes and proclivities have come to us from the outside: from our parents, our friends, society, religion and culture.  The Western mind is uniquely geared towards self-gratification due to the out-sized influence of the Judeo-Christian ethos that tells us we are all unique individuals made in God’s image and possessing an eternal soul or, in Buddhist parlance, an “inherently existing self”.  Therefore, even those of us who care about the plight of those less fortunate than us do so because it is essential to our chosen image (or “eternal salvation”).  In other words, we think of ourselves while we act on behalf of others.  The Eastern mind is better attuned to a more holistic view of the phenomenal world.  We help others to help ourselves to help others, and the demarcation between self and other isn’t nearly so apparent as what we’re used to.  On the face of it, this almost seems to imply an objective superiority, but that’s only because I am the one writing these words and I happen to have adopted a second-hand pseudo-Eastern mindset that informs these online diatribes.  Neither mindset is intrinsically right or wrong.  The only thing that we can do “wrong” is act in the service of ideas that aren’t our own.  Discerning which is which, of course, is easier said than done.  How many of us know our own minds, the only things that we actually can know if we truly made the effort?  Would you be able to differentiate between an opinion that germinated from within and one that was implanted from the outside during your formative years?  For those who wish to take on the daunting task of sorting through your own bullshit to unearth what’s genuine, meditation is really the only method I know of by which this can be done.

But if meditation is not a part of your truth, you’d be foolish to pursue it.  The word Dharma does not necessarily indicate the body of wisdom contained in either the Buddhist or Hindu canons.  Taken on its own, it simply means “truth”.  Buddhadharma would be the form of the word specific to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama.  But Dharma – Truth – can be defined in as many ways as there are human beings (and possibly animals).  In order to get at your personal Dharma, you must do what I prescribed in the previous paragraph and separate the wheat from the chaff until you are left with your own pure, personal truth, whatever that may be.  Once you have accomplished that, you will no longer be capable of acting against your own interests.  Unfortunately, you may still be capable of intentionally causing suffering to others, but I do believe that more of us are at least moderately empathetic compared to those who are incapable of basic compassion.  Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant: you can only be genuine if you follow your truth, no matter what I or anyone else may think about it.

Let’s reclaim our genuine Truths so that we can go forward with confidence.  Stop second-guessing your own intuition.  Dance with the phenomenal world for as long as you are able.  This is not the path of least resistance, it is the path of No Resistance.  Float with the stream of the Tao and observe everything with interest – but don’t take any of it seriously.  Delusion imbues illusion with false veracity while clarity dispenses of such labels altogether.

There is truly nothing to fear other than our own self-made insecurities.  The outer battle may just end in total destruction.  So be it.  But the battle within is fought with gentleness and sacred silence and thus it is noble and worthwhile.  Real freedom arrives at the very moment you let yourself go.  Whoever you are, may you be happy and free from suffering and the causes of suffering.  Remember: Karma is extinguished along with illusion.

* To be clear, there is much of worth to be found in the works of Nietzsche for those who can interpret them correctly.  Ayn Rand was just an asshole.

 

16 thoughts on “Dharmageddon

  1. Insightful and thought provoking as always. Good to see you returning to the form and voice that is your natural. The beauty of what you wrote is in the way you open yourself up to disagreement which is the core of what I perceived to be the purpose of this piece. I recall having a debate in college with a science major friend of this liberal arts major. I posited the question of whether there was absolute truth in science. He started mention certain laws. I stopped and asked him how many of those laws disproved a prior “law”. Needless to say, that evoked the moment of silence I was looking for. I now asked him to give me one philosophical truth that was proved wrong by another philosophical truth that was presented at a later time. Again, the silence was what I was going for at that moment.

    You see, I DO believe there are fundamental truths that exist regardless of whether someone believes them. And that, in and of itself, speaks volumes about what you were talking about.

    Truth: Ayn Rand WAS an asshole. But we wouldn’t have had 2112 had it not been for her

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’ve amused myself posing similar questions to people whose initial reaction would be that moment of silence you so perfectly described (similar to my moments of “cognitive disconnect” that I experienced when the sitcoms I tuned into weren’t what I expected). Really, the deceptively simple question “what is truth” is the only question to ponder, regardless of its lack of a solid answer. I’ve always appreciated how Peart found inspiration for his lyrics from Ayn Rand (let’s not forget “Anthem”, too) — especially since I discern a much more genuine humanity in him than her actual works seem to imply.

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      1. Agreed. The “What is truth?” question reminds of one of my favorite Douglas Adams moment from The Hitchhiker’s Guide:
        The Book: The Babel fish is small, yellow, leechlike, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centers of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.
        Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the NON-existence of God.
        The argument goes like this:
        `I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, `for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’
        `But,’ says Man, `The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’
        `Oh dear,’ says God, `I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.

        Now as for Neil on Raynd, this is pasted from https://www.theadvocates.org/libertarianism-101/libertarian-celebrities/neil-peart/ :
        In more recent years, Peart has distanced himself somewhat from Rand and her Objectivist philosophy. In an online chat on http://www.2112.net (November 4, 1993), Peart downplayed Rand’s impact on him. “For a start, the extent of my influence by the writings of Ayn Rand should not be overestimated — I am no one’s disciple,” he said. “Yes, I believe the individual is paramount in matters of justice and liberty, but in philosophy, as Aristotle said long ago, the paramount good is happiness.”

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  2. “…the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

    There is so much “here” here that I could tackle this paragraph by paragraph with items of truth that both concur and contradict your thoughts profoundly. 🙂

    First of all, YES! The underlying theme, your overall premise — your thesis — is that, objectively, there is no right or wrong. No us and them. Even if there are universal truths, which there most certainly are, we probably don’t know them and they are far bigger and more universal than even our collective humanity. We are nothing, and our petty political struggles amount to beans compared to the movement of the tectonic plates, the spinning of the mighty globe, the architecture of the galaxy, the ever-expanding cosmos. We have little option beyond your other underlying, and masterfully expounded, point: to your own damn selves be true.

    To reach beyond that little bit of a thing we can control, our own selves, is to invite suffering. To court misery.

    Yes.

    It is as simple and eternally complicated as that. I love it. Well said.

    That being said, my own self will defy the convention that idealism is impotent, even if I find it to be a profound truth. Whether borrowed from my family (pessimists all), friends (a mixed bag), culture (“Murica!”), religion (that atheist sanguinity), philosophy, science (etc etc etc), or it came from some inner quest and evolution, I am an optimist. I believe we can have a better world, better society, better humanity. Now, do I believe we will? No, but I believe we CAN. My idealism is profoundly conflicted. But intact.

    Finally, otherwise you’ll have an 8-minute counter-reading, I must challenge Bryan Cranston.

    I hope he fails. Yes, he is the president. But he is a president with an agenda counter to the success of my idealism. He is the harbinger of a shattered world. A broken society. A lesser humanity. I never hope that the ideals of America — liberty, justice, and equality — fail, but I do hope that any leader for America who is counter to those ideals fails, and fails miserably. And quickly. The sooner Donald Trump fails, the sooner we can return to talking about what is best for everyone, not just the few. What is best for the world, not just America. What is best objectively, not just for Donald Trump.

    So, although I understand the statement — I’ve heard it from the pivotal election point — I challenge it with my own profound truth. This president epitomizes the failure of our ideal selves, so I hope he fails at the agenda of his presidency.

    Great, great piece of work, Paul. Welcome back! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tom! You needn’t ever apologize for the length of your comments because they are so worthwhile and serve as great addenda to the original post. Incidentally, the entire paragraph about meeting a stalemate when debating the merits of compassion with someone who has none was essentially written by you. That was the earlier discussion I told you last week I’d be incorporating into a post. Your personal truths, as stated, are almost identical to my own and therefore, they aren’t things that I can just abandon because I was able to philosophically negate their worth with a lot of double-speak in an attempt to view things from a neutral place. But let’s face it, I don’t abide in that neutral place and therefore, I was thrilled to read your very logical difference of opinion regarding Cranston’s statement. You are correct: he and his head-scratching agenda should not be supported and wishing for him to fail can be tantamount to wishing your fellow citizens well. From the Buddhist angle (and this is one reason it’s considered so radical in the West), the Baby Monster should not only be viewed with compassion for his suffering, but he should be viewed as a friend due to his tests on our patience and the opportunity that gives us to master forbearance. I, too, consider this pretty radical, because I don’t feel that way at all. I seethe with hatred whenever his bloated face appears on my screen, but that’s on me. “Seething with hatred” isn’t helpful and I know that. So I guess we who do not live in a state of perpetual hatred need to actually come up with an approach to this mess that truly is radical.

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      1. Glad I could be of service to you, my friend! I do remember that conversation and my awakening to the core of the disagreement between the discompassionate and I. It really was an awakening. I thought for sure, beneath the surface, most would want what is best for all. They do not. I forgot the teachings of Ayn Rand for a bit, and was starkly reminded of that opposing worldview.

        As for a new approach to this mess … gosh. We have to be the ones to call bullshit, don’t we? The ones who call out the radical left AND the radical right when they run afoul. The sane ones. If the discompassionate are as right, in their views, as the compassionate, then only the center will hold.

        But will it? If the center-left moves center and the center-right moves right, we lose humanity and compassion altogether. I ask you, honestly:

        Are we forced to radical measures to ensure the opposition … or, a better word, the profoundly alternative … do not gain the whole rope? Must it ever be a tug-of-war?

        I’m going to think about that while I walk the goldens. I’m going to think about that all day …

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A great post, Paul, and a welcome reminder for me right now. It is a constant battle to be aware of our own (see what I did there? I mean, of course, my own) precious illusions and filters. But while it is a battle I will continue to fight, I must also refuse to take it seriously or I have already lost.

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  4. If you believe in non-duality then ultimately there can be no right or wrong. This is a little dangerous though if not understood correctly. I think our western minds are guilty of trying to impose our paradigms on eastern thought. I don’t believe that what we think is morality in Buddhism really is meant to be moral (according to our view point). Morality is action based on the idea of right or wrong. You cannot do this because it is wrong, you should do that because it is right. The problem with this way of thinking is that first of all it is duality which the Buddha taught was incorrect. Also in order for something to be deemed right or wrong you would have to have judge (god) to decide which one it is, which the Buddha also taught was incorrect. I think that the precepts, which is what most people think of in terms of Buddhist morality, really were not for that purpose at all. If you take each one not killing, not stealing, not lying, no sexual misconduct, and not becoming intoxicated they all have something in common. The thing that unites the five is the core reason that anyone does any of them. You do these things to either protect, satisfy, or enrich the “self”. I personally believe that the precepts are not morality (in the western sense) at all, they are a lesson or teaching in Anatta (not-self).

    The Buddha taught that what action was right, was action that did not cause harm to other beings, if it did cause harm it was wrong action. This is very different than right or wrong in a Christian sense for example. This is where the compassion and empathy comes in. If you realize the truth of Anatta then you understand that there is no “self” or “other”. It is easy to empathize because if you harm “other” you are actually harming your “Self”. Once there is a true realization of not-self the poisons of Greed, Anger, and Hatred all disappear. At that point there is no need to deem anything right or wrong because by their very nature “selfless” acts will be “right”.

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    1. Well said. A book I just read detailing a conference between the Dalai Lama and Western scientists and psychologists made the distinction between Buddhist practice and psychotherapy as one of degree of aspiration. Psychiatry is concerned with lessening destructive emotions to achieve a happier o less discontent “self”. Whereas the goal of Buddhism is enlightenment so those mental factors that strengthen the sense of self are all seen as negative even though some are considered positive in psychotherapy.

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      1. I think this really comes up with the western notion that all Buddhist are vegetarian because of the precept against killing any living thing. Westerners extrapolate this to say that if you cannot kill anything then therefore you can not eat meat. They think this way because if you are eating meat it is a given that killing has to take place. But what they are missing and cannot understand is that in Buddhism it matters who did the killing. The reason is again that if you did not do the killing yourself, the killing wasn’t motivated by your ego trying to satisfy or enrich the “self”. The only actions you can control and therefore are responsible for are “your” own.

        The Buddha died from food poisoning from eating a dish called “pork delight”. Many western Buddhist have tried to claim that this really wasn’t pork that it was some kind of mushroom. This is because they cannot reconcile in their mind a Buddha who would eat meat. This is them again trying to impose their “morality”, based on their own misunderstanding, on Buddhist thought.

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