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.