Monday, September 07, 2009

Why live in this world?

A few years back I watched a typically brilliant HBO documentary about heroin users. One addict was interviewed who said that she intended to kick the habit someday, and really thought she was capable of doing so. She had one great worry and fear, though, and expressed it something like this: "If I didn't have to go out and find my fix... what would I do every day?"

Zen Master Seung Sahn would always ask, "Why do you eat every day?" The underlying meaning is, "Why do you live in this world?" Bringing up the question is a way to clarify life-direction. The Zen Master would say that a clear direction is one that's not just "for me."

Traditionally, Buddhism was practiced by monks. They separated themselves from society, and practiced non-attachment to I/my/me-thinking. When there isn't clinging to "I," then life is moment-to-moment; whatever you're doing, just do it.

For lay Buddhists in the modern age, the teaching adds more emphasis on compassion. We don't separate from society; we're constantly dealing with one relationship or another. A not-only-for-myself direction arises from wondering how to help others, whatever beings I'm connected to, whoever appears in front of me just now.

One virtue of the Buddhist goal of "saving all beings from suffering"... is that it takes infinite time to achieve. We thus won't have to deal with the horrifying possibility of actually getting what we want most. The following video clip brings up this issue in all its profundity:

video

12 comments:

Barry said...

Fine post. Awesome video!

Former Berkeley Girl said...

Hah! I enjoyed the video very much. Very funny. When I decided that I should stop drinking, I never wondered what I would do instead. But when I did work through my steps, and got to the part when I was to prepare to give up all of my "character defects," I did wonder if I would vanish into thin air. What else is there? is what I asked my sponsor? It was a time when I wondered why I should live in this world... good post.

Alice said...

That's an interesting thought. What do drug addicts (or any other addict, for that matter) do with all of that spare time? Must get a little boring.
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Former Berkeley Girl said...

Well, actually, being left with that question, "Why live in this world," turns our to not be boring at all. That is precisely when things got interesting, maybe because the answer has something to do with authenticity in general, and some form of service or genuine usefulness to other human beings.

Martin Gifford said...

This isn't a boring universe!

What's boring is our mentalised version of this universe.

Freeing ourselves from our mentalised version of this universe, leaves us experiencing endless awe and wonder.

Stuart said...

Before thinking, there are no words or ideas. So originally, the universe isn't boring, isn't wonderful, isn't awesome. It's not even a universe!

Thinking (holding ideas) makes the universe. Thinking can make that universe boring, or wonderful, or anything else.

The question always remains: why do that?

Leon Basin said...

Beautiful blog and a great post!

Former Berkeley Girl said...

Why? You do make reference to what might be considered "instincts" like eating and breathing. If not instincts, then perhaps physical needs. (Interestingly enough, any sort of addiction feels like the deepest sort of mental and physical need.) Once you have satisfied your basic needs for a while (lived long enough) it does seem like most of us are on some sort of "automatic pilot" and ask why or maybe "what more purpose is there." For me, recovery has had a lot to do with finding a sense of that in compassion, connection and even service to other human beings. Maybe it is similar to the lay buddhist sensibility you mention. In the program, many people say "Do the next right thing" or "Do what is in front of you."

Stuart said...

Maybe it is similar to the lay buddhist sensibility you mention.

Sure. Doing what's right in front of you, trying to help other beings... doesn't necessarily require words or ideas about "Buddhism."

Martin Gifford said...

Stuart said: "Before thinking, there are no words or ideas. So originally, the universe isn't boring, isn't wonderful, isn't awesome. It's not even a universe!"

Right. But if you had to find words for the perceptions of what we call giraffes, Angelina Jolie, and sunsets, something like "wonderful" would be likely. Something like "boring" would be unlikely.

Stuart: "Thinking (holding ideas) makes the universe. Thinking can make that universe boring, or wonderful, or anything else. The question always remains: why do that?"

Because they are potentials, and some potentials must unfold.

Stuart said...

Martin Gifford said...
> But if you had to find words for
> the perceptions of what we call
> giraffes, Angelina Jolie, and
> sunsets, something like
> "wonderful" would be likely.

If, for example, you perceive a giraffe and think it's wonderful... that's an expression of your opinion.

Your own thinking attaches the idea "wonderful" to a giraffe, to Angelina Jolie, or to whatever. If you're attentive, you see how your own thinking makes "wonderful." If not, you think it comes from outside.

If you surround yourself with like-thinking people (e.g., if you live in an ashram dedicated to the belief that giraffes and Angelina Jolie are wonderful)... then it becomes easy to fall into delusion. But even if a billion people share the same opinion, it's still an opinion.

Martin Gifford said...

Stuart wrote:

"If, for example, you perceive a giraffe and think it's wonderful... that's an expression of your opinion."

Yes, it is my opinion. But I think it's more than that. My perceptions, labels, etc. must be much more limited than the objects to which they refer.

Giraffes, Angelina Jolie, galaxies, etc. must be much greater than my labels. And perceiving them and interacting with them is totally worth "living in this world."