Suffering exists (get over it).
Having only just now arrived on the other side of the states (re: new semester/ second year at Fuller), I want to let you know that I have thought a considerable amount on my last post and was perhaps more melancholy or flippant than I intended concerning the Four Noble Truths. At times (who knows why I do this?) I feel compelled to share my feelings. Bad habit, that.
As an ex-girlfriend once said, “You’re more of a girl than I am.”
(note, of course, the ex part of that sentence)
You will, of course, excuse me for continuing in that vein? Discussing the world around me and its inhabitants as if they are real people – yes, even myself. This is an unforgivable offense to some, treating humanity as if it were fragile and something to be treated tenderly.
There is suffering all around; it exists, sometimes in ancient ways that predate civilization as we know it and the ways in which we can conceive. I have always appreciated this about the Buddha – he knows his stuff and deals with reality. Whatever one may think of the new age revival of Buddhism (ex: self-fulfillment to the exclusion of others; a detached relativity where one “believes” only by ceasing to believe anything; embodied in the untethered mean-spiritedness of Steve Jobs & Co. where “simplicity” is sexy), the Buddha had many aphorisms which have withstood the test of time and are shared by other faiths – including Christianity.
The Fourth Truth, that one can overcome the darkness in the world by discipline is, of course, shared by my own faith after a sense. The Torah seeks right behavior through discipline, which Paul and other Christians (see Hebrews 12:11) will capitalize on. The ethics constructed by the Early Christian Church are testament enough, but what of the modern expressions within Evangelicalism?
ex: Joshua Harris’ model of kissing dating goodbye and saying hello – from a safe, socially appropriate distance – to courtship, or Joel Osteen’s perpetual prodding towards “positive thinking” as the key to success in business and spiritual expression.
Even neux-Televangelists Drs. Drew, Oz, and “Phil” promote discipline as the key to entitlement. Ah, yes, entitlement. But I get ahead of myself.
Lest we get lost in the moving ahead, or our basket stuck in the plethoratic reeds of modern example, let’s rewind and look to other continents. Most Asian religions, including Shintoism, Jainism, Islam, Hinduism and Hare Krishna, put forward a discipline or disciplines as the way to keep life together. Control of the chaos, as it were. Expressions like “it’ll all work out” or “just let go and let God” would be absolutely foreign to them for each sees their deity as a deity of order. In fact, what are the myths of the Greco-Roman world if not the attempt of gods-of-chaos being suppressed by gods-of-order? The “larger” gods and goddesses like Zeus, Hera, Athena, Poseidon each seek to (re)build order above and below, to make the world into their image. Though the lesser gods, and even to some extent the “major” gods, are subject to flights of whim and capriciousness, the metanarrative is one of order, structure and commands/dictates to their followers seeking to promote their own ideal of the message. The Babylonian creation narrative, Enuma Elish, tells a tale of Tiamat put down by Marduk, who divides the body of Tiamat after his victory over her to hinder the possibility of things reverting back to chaos under his regime. In short, discipline is not a “Christian” idea. If anything, it has adopted an emphasis on discipline from other faiths.
All of this spiritual construction by the different faiths has been an effort to avoid suffering, or more accurately the consequence of chaos. In Star Wars:Episode I, Yoda tells one of his pupils, “You must deal with your anger. Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger; Anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.” Or put another way, suffering exists – but it is not as though it exists outside the parameters of consequence. Suffering is not the first cause. On this, Buddhism is unique.
Where most other religions begin “the world as we know it” from some other point origin than suffering (ex: the spoken word of G-d, the pre-existence of Xenu, etc), Buddhism proposes that suffering is an eternal state. We have always suffered and we always will. The only way to overcome this is to deny it through the disciplines of labor, ethical behavior, and denial. In this sense, even as a neuveux Evangelical (or post-Evangelical, wherever my practice and faith may be explained and boxed for the simplicity of reducible definability), I cannot disagree with Buddhism and indeed am tempted to succumb to the realization that perhaps suffering is the beginning and end of all things.
And that is my dilemma. Mine. My own. Each of us have our unique challenges, those particular plaques we endure which mark the landscape of our existential terrain.
I trust that you see I am bouncing between the First and Fourth Noble Truths? One following the other somehow. Suffering exists, but to what extent I am unsure (or unwilling) to acknowledge. As long as I volley between these points “acceptance” and “denial” I can remain inculpable of action by way of discipline. In short, I do not want to accept discipline nor do I want to practice it. Like most other Americans, I find a degree of comfort in blatant rebellion and the offensive “fuck all” attitude of privilege and anger that so mark my generation. How did this attitude come to prevalence? I would propose that, if anything, the reason lies somewhere with the influx and influence of New Age/ cultish movements of the century and a half. Do not misunderstand, I am not yet within rock-throwing distance. I simply want to acknowledge the indebtedness of Western culture to the local producer of home-spun, self-authenticated religion. It is these types of “religions” that promote the absence of discipline for the self, the belief in the inherent goodness and “purpose” of all things self-contained, and the rejection of evil anywhere – especially within oneself.
Buddhism and those faiths that place a priority on discipline, by contrast, offer the promise of something eternal. The New Age/cultish offers the promise of individuality. A custom-tailored faith for all-purposes. If I win the lottery, it is because of my god. If I buy a lottery ticket by do not win, oh well. I will try again tomorrow. The Great Light shines on me and only me. The Great Light and I are best friends. And at least I am not like that prig over there.
If anything, it seems that the new age/ cultish movements are the ones that promote the absence of discipline, the belief in the inherent goodness and “purpose” of all things, and the rejection of evil anywhere but especially within oneself. And, it seems, this lack of accountability has found fertile minds within other faiths.