Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seeker vs the State

"My girlfriend is a vegetarian, so that pretty much makes me a vegetarian." (Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction)

Relating to a seeker is hard work.

Any relationship has a set of expectations. The very act of relating is a human act, which fulfills certain emotional and social needs.

If the relationship has no emotional expectations (say with a bartender), even then there might be expectations of a certain consistency in behavior, quality and service. Any transaction, even a conversation, is pleasurable only insofar as it assumes certain facts about human nature and about having a common ground of what we value.

A seeker seeks to challenge and to transcend the status quo of existing mores, values, sets of expectations, roles, automatic mental states and behavior patterns.

A significant question is: If everything is to be questioned, then what is to be enjoyed?

Traditional religion seeks to moderate our aggression and to cultivate nurturing and love. A religious person (as opposed to a fanatic) is generally found to be forgiving, kind and a believer in peace and harmony.

On the other hand, liberalism, hard-core spirituality and new age pooh-poohs personal love, the bonds of family, the joys of kinship, the harmony of complementary roles (parent-child, brother-sister, employer-employee, husband-wife) and tries to establish an egalitarian equality between humans (treat your child as a friend, your wife as a friend, your teacher as a friend, your employee as a friend).

This equality may seem like a progressive idea, but it leads to confusion, chaos, constant re-evaluation of any expectation born of roles, and hence stress. The student may gloat over a teacher who never scolds, but imagine how much harder the teacher has to now work, in the absence of authority. The wife (in a patriarchal society) may initially welcome a husband who decries and protests against gender roles and biological differences, but after a while she (as well as the husband) will be thoroughly confused. Any expectation or resentment towards the other will be evaluated and questioned internally rather than it finding resolution via the other. Spontaneity might be left to trite matters, such as having dinner and who showers first. For the deeper emotional needs and growth, egalitarianism might be counter-productive.

A seeker likes to say that he or she does not need anything from the other. Not only is it narcissism in disguise ("you are not important to me"), it is counter to human nature to be in a relationship where there are no needs and expectations. It is no longer a relationship then, even though there may be regard, politeness and care. Fellowship is a poor cousin to love and attachment.

If the other is important, then it means I am not sufficient for my own happiness, and this admission is highly problematic for a seeker.

Of course, personal love (like all matters human) is problematic and rarely a smooth ride. But a seeker's rejection of its undeniable role is even more problematic. The rejection of personal relationships genuinely leaves no space for the other. The other has all the space, limitless in fact, but that is not the same thing as the other having a space in one's heart.

Those relating to and loving a seeker are not primarily looking for compassion, but passion. Not friendship, but belonging. Not detached playfulness, but attached longing. Not forgiveness all the time, but also anger and reactivity. Not just a soul, but also a body and a mind and a heart.

A seeker thinks that by diminishing reactivity and normal human impulses, he/she is making it easy on the other. This is a fallacy which needs to be probed. The impulses and reactions and needs and expectations and suchlike are what a relationship is. In the absence or diminishing of these, the relationship itself is diminished. It may become more peaceful in some sense, but it might be a fundamental mistake to think that peace trumps passion.

In the absence of normal human patterns, the relationship itself, being a human phenomenon, is nullified.

A spiritual seeker's primary, perhaps the only, relationship is with himself/herself. Despite protestations to the contrary, a seeker always puts himself, his values, his Utopian ideals, his seeking, first. Everything else is secondary.

Meerabai is an archaic case in point. Another one is Gandhi. I am not saying that they did not make valuable contributions to humanity or that they should have left their vocation for the sake of their husband or wife, or that they were not evolved or thinking people. I am saying that their personal relationships were failures and this fact needs to be plainly accepted as a consequence of placing more importance on what one believes than what the other person needs. Gandhi, in his (perhaps misguided) battle against his libido, never asked his wife if she was thereby sexually starved.

Is it inevitable that someone who challenges the status quo in one field cannot live a somewhat conformant existence in another? Perhaps not.

It is an error to go too wide in one's seeking. All that one will achieve at the end will be Oneself. It is not such a big prize, come to think of it.

Monkhood is therefore a more rational choice if you want to go all out (not that I recommend it). Then you do not put another through the misery of having his/her expectations thwarted.

Seek and question, but also accept. Do not blindly question everything. Accept what brings you joy, and what brings the other joy. Accept the transience of joy. Accept that joy may leave sorrow in its wake. Accept that joy outweighing sorrow is a life well-lived. Accept that needs are not fictions. Accept your own humanity, and that of the other.

To subject another to total rationality is to be insufferable.

To look too closely at everything is also a defect of vision.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Aphorisms on Suffering, part 2

Part I here.

The unconscious mind is not fully ours; it is part animal, part heritage.

The conscious mind is not fully ours as well; it is part society, part reasoning.

As Freud pointed out a century ago, civilization is a yoke on our instincts. That is what makes us human.

Similarly, reasoning (which is individual) is in constant friction with conditioning (which acts at the level of the collective).

"Will" is something marvelously human. It is to act under the guidance of the neo-cortex, with the drive (say, lust, or to seek approval) very likely being beneath the surface.

Suffering is the inability of our drives to find fulfillment and flourishing, either due to internal conflicts, or because of opposition from outside. An example of the former is lust versus shyness. An example of the latter is the desire for financial security versus currency inflation.

The conscious brain's primary purpose is to mediate between the various conflicting inner drives ("have better self-esteem"), and to seek a workaround/path through outer obstacles ("try to have a nest-egg in the bank").

Suffering has grades, obviously. Something might just lightly impinge on our moral senses (a news item about corruption in a far-off country), or something might lead of a paroxysm of pain (the death of one's child).

As long as one wants a certain state of affairs, the distancing from that state of affairs is tautologically painful.

Ved Vyas (in Bhagwad Gita) was naive is exhorting people to pursue a goal without desire. Why will they pursue at all? Why will someone go through intense pain and obstacles if there is no desire for the result? The most probable reason for this kind of exhortation is to have people follow the desires of others (kings and brahmins), which is an interesting kind of peaceful co-existence.

One's dharma is, in quite a few cases, others' desires.

Desire follows from attachment to certain states and values. If you say you do not desire anything, but still engage in willful acts, then you don't know yourself, yet. (it is at least highly probable that you are attached to a certain philosophy of seeming detachment, with spiritual undertones)

What is perhaps more useful is to say: Don't be needlessly attached. (someone criticizes Bon Jovi, and a fan commits suicide)

As long as there are inner drives, it is inevitable that they will conflict with each other at times. Inevitably, they will require prioritization and lead to suffering (the lower priority drive will feel thwarted). "What do you want more?" is an interesting question of the psyche, and one which has not received the kind of attention in spiritual literature that it deserves.

Similarly, as long as we exist in a physical world with limited resources and competition, it is inevitable that our desires for objects will meet with resistance.

To live is to live with this complexity.

The more developed someone's neo-cortex is, the more is the possibility of his conflict with his inner drives and with the external world. In that sense, though an infant cries, it is more in bliss than an adult who cries (because an infant's conscious brain does not intrude and say: do not cry).

Perhaps "ignorance is bliss" is better phrased as: "unconsciousness is bliss".

As an adult gains in consciousness, he gains also the consciousness of the various conflicts inside and outside. A child is blissfully aware that the world is an arena of conflict. An adult has to live with this knowledge. An adult wishes for infancy at times, but forgets that as an infant he was taken care of by other adults who had to live with what he wants to avoid.

If the inner conflicts are unbearable, psychological intervention is required. Similarly, if the outer conflicts turn violent (say, a war-torn zone), UN is supposed to step in.

On the other hand, there is a normal level of conflict (inner and outer), and hence of suffering, that is considered acceptable. A horny but shy adolescent is a normal human being. A poor man wanting a better life is considered to have normal desires.

Unfortunately, a high degree of suffering (due to circumstances, or due to sensitivity) can make one give up on life as it is, as being too stressful and not worth it. Depression, introversion, renunciation while in youth, celibacy, suicide, (unless whimsical) are results of severe maladjustment.

To know that suffering is inevitable, but to want to study it deeply and act so that its needless instances can be ameliorated (e.g. in cases where it is not a zero-sum situation), both for oneself and for others, is the hallmark of adulthood.

Seekers are infantile in their self-superiority.