Friday, January 17, 2014

On Non-Attachment, part 2

Part 1

One of the characteristics of "life" is goal-seeking behavior.  We consider an organism dead if it is non-moving.  Psychological or spiritual death can be similarly defined: the absence of inward activity.  We call a person depressed if he/she has nothing to look forward to.

Life cannot exist without goals.  Those goals may be intrinsic and innate and unconscious, or as is common in human beings, consciously planned and executed.

Life cannot exist without goals.  Can one pursue goals without an emotional investment?  No, how can one?  One is motivated either by pleasure or by fear.  If there is neither, then there is no motivation either.

Those, who think that they are pursuing a goal without attachment and would not be affected by the outcome, consider attachment very narrowly.  Let us examine a chain-gang prisoner who doesn't care whether the road he is building gets built or not.  It is quite understandable.  After all it is not his goal.  He is being forced to work as a punishment.  But his goal throughout his sentence is not whatever he is asked to accomplish, it is to avoid further hurt by the prison-guards.  If he refuses to work, he will be thrashed, or put into solitary confinement, or have his sentence extended, and so on.  He is extremely emotionally invested in not getting punished more than the bare minimum.  The work is his means, the goal is his own protection.

In Part 1, I presented a parable.  It is indeed true that a person without attachments is a saint.  Or in other words, only saints (who subsist on others' charity) can afford to be without visible attachments.  An individual having responsibilities has to be, tautologically, responsible for them.

We call someone a slacker if he has no responsibilities or desires other than his own meager survival.  And we call him a monk if, in addition to that, he professes a holy ambition.

Any responsibility, or any goal, requires effort.  The motivation for that effort is emotional in nature.  To have that emotional motivation chipped will diminish the effort as well.

Admittedly the guard went to the extreme and renounced the desire to even live, but that was to illustrate that the very process of living, thwarting disease and distress, accumulating food and comfort, is a process driven by pleasure and fear.  In other words, survival is driven by attachment.  An alive organism is invested in keeping itself alive.  Without effort, and effort requires motivation, there will be only death.  The degree of comfort and health one desires can obviously differ between individuals, and the degree of motivation and effortfulness can differ as well.

What cannot differ is the desire to stay alive.

The next parable:

The mother was a very religious woman.  She prayed every morning and evening, and went to the temple on every little occasion.

She was a mother.  She had a son who needed care and affection.  She cared for the son dutifully and to the best of her ability.  She kissed the son every day.  Twenty times on the right cheek, twenty times on the left one, and ten times on the forehead.  She had learnt that this amount of affectionate gesturing was what made the son feel comfortable and pacified.

Years passed and the son was now in his teens.  There was a girl at his school who had grown very fond of him.  One day, she gathered some courage, went to him after the school and holding his band, told that she liked him and wanted to be his girlfriend.

The son thought for a minute and asked her: "How many kisses would you need every day to feel loved?"

(to be continued)

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