Monday, October 11, 2010

The Misdirected Focus on the Inner

The fundamental mistake that a seeker makes is to seek an inner state of experiencing goodness, felicity or perfection that is unrelated to the outer.

When asked to describe yourself, describe what you do, not what you are, or how you feel.

Yes, intentions matter. But actions matter more. Great intentions are puny when compared to moderately helpful acts.

An act connects your mind to the outside world; intentions, goodness, perfection are solipsistic states. Talk is cheap.

When it is stated that altruism is as good/bad as selfishness because it leads to some form of pleasure for the agent, the mistake is so primal and paradigmatic that it may escape many: The state of the agent is only part of the picture. What is the state of the other? What has happened in the world other than the pleasant feeling in the agent's mind?

It's the primary focus on the inner (and remember, "inner" is ME) that is the hidden narcissism in hard-core spirituality and related disciplines.

When the focus of a self has turned primarily to the quality of inner experiencing without any relation to objective reality, as advised by sages of all ages, then the delusion starts.

This NY Times article is interesting:
Here’s one provocative consequence of this perspective on happiness. If happiness is not a state of mind, if happiness is a kind of tango between your feelings on one hand and events and things in the world around you on the other, then there’s the possibility of error about whether you’re happy. If you believe you’re experiencing pleasure or, perhaps especially, pain, then, presumably, you are. But the view of happiness here allows that “you may think you’re happy, but you’re not.”

One especially apt way of thinking about happiness — a way that’s found already in the thought of Aristotle — is in terms of “flourishing.” Take someone really flourishing in their new career, or really flourishing now that they’re off in college. The sense of the expression is not just that they feel good, but that they’re, for example, accomplishing some things and taking appropriate pleasure in those accomplishments. If they were simply sitting at home playing video games all day, even if this seemed to give them a great deal of pleasure, and even if they were not frustrated, we wouldn’t say they were flourishing. Such a life could not in the long term constitute a happy life. To live a happy life is to flourish.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

thought-word-action is the complete object. Now by saying action is bigger than the word and word is bigger than the thought, this is where your fallacy lies.

Think about this carefully, You will understand the object in its completeness.

True altruism is when one understands what it means to rise above the duality of the "You" and the "I". This is the path of the Spiritualist.
Even if one learns to balance the "You" and the "I" that is sufficient to live in the world and move forward(flourish). Some may swim or some may row a boat.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous: let me ponder over your cryptic comments.

Anonymous said...

If you still did not understand your fallacy, here is an example:
Tree is a complete object made up of roots(underground), branches, foliage(both over ground). Would it be right to say the foliage are more important than the branches and the branches more than the roots because the roots are underground and it is the leaves that make the food to sustain the plant and the flowers help in reproduction so that continuity of species is assured?
You would have to understand the root-branches-foliage to understand the tree. After that you would understand how that tree relates to other objects around it like birds, humans etc. But then do not forget - before the root, there is the seed which gives rise to it. Now Spirituality looks at the seed too to understand the object - tree.
The "I" thought is like the root of a tree. But where or how does this thought originate? Understanding that is called - Spirituality. It goes beyond words, beyond psychology, or the mind.
I do not know what your experience with spirituality has been that you write about it with such disdain. Spiritual living(not necessarily monastic) is the exact opposite of narcissistic living. Just because there are some half baked Gurus of today parading around with their opulent lifestyles, duping people it does not mean one should lose faith in Spirituality. Indeed it is what sustains the Universe.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous:

The "I" thought is like the root of a tree. But where or how does this thought originate? Understanding that is called - Spirituality. It goes beyond words, beyond psychology, or the mind.

Okay, how do you understand something that is beyond the mind, since understanding is a faculty of the mind?

Anonymous said...

Understanding is not limited to thoughts and words (this is what one calls the mind). There is such a thing as experiencing without thoughts and words.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous:

There is such a thing as experiencing without thoughts and words.

Yes, like an infant or an animal.

But even that experiencing is in the mind. Mind is not just words and thoughts but feelings, moods, sensations and sentiments, etc.

An infant or animal does not understand many things, least of all theology, because it does not have a developed brain.

The mind and its development is necessary and essential to understanding, whether it be religious or otherwise.

"Understanding" is a mental phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

If you look at what we are debating about here in words, it boils down to a difference in the way we define "mind". In my definition mind was thought-word commonly called "conscious mind". In yours you went on to add sentiments,feelings,moods, sensations (a lot of these can be just reduced to thought-words too). Now there is such a thing as understanding or experiencing with the so called "Super consciousness" or "divine consciousness". These may not be debated with words so it would be futile to engage in a debate about it.

tazmic said...

"It's the primary focus on the inner (and remember, "inner" is ME) that is the hidden narcissism in hard-core spirituality and related disciplines."

I would call that selfish, or self absorbed at least. The belief that there is an 'inner' that is fundamentally different from the 'outer', in experience, supports this self absorption. But it's a false distinction. All your experience, call it inner or outer, is... your experience; made of the same stuff, working the same way.

But the enlightened will say they 'see themselves in everything' (not surprising really*), rather than 'I cannot look without prejudice'. Why?

And they will penetrate the three characteristics of experience: impermanence, suffering and no self, but still from a (narcissistic?) standpoint that forgets the actual nature of experience as a relational expression; where you, meet the world.

* they are looking at their own experience after all, and yet, observing that every sense is a sense of touch, wouldn't there be a better, more appropriate and functionally useful way of talking about this?

Good to see you posting Harman.

whoami said...

I came across the word 'dereflection' from Frankl who has similar ideas as yours:
http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/frankl.html