Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Let Go, but Keep Going

Yesterday I went to a group meditation event. Toward the end of the event, the facilitator gave a talk on "letting go". The starting point of the talk was the virtue of Nekkhamma (renunciation) in Buddhism.

The speaker softly suggested to the audience to let go of their desires, stresses, identifications, and thereby, their suffering. Though the talk was meant for lay-people who did not have a strong foundation in philosophy or psychology, the speaker did slip in a couple of abstruse concepts: of regarding the body as "not me", of dis-identifying from physical pain, etc.

At the end of the talk, I raised the following question:

"Life in its myriad forms can be considered as directed energy. Lifeless objects do not accumulate and expend energy. They are passive. A definition of life is to be active, to extract something from the environment for one's own benefit. Letting go is essentially relinquishing a personal investment in something. But each directed activity is born of an investment, whether conscious or unconscious. If letting go is taken to its extreme - and there is nothing in Buddhist literature to suggest that one should not - then the end result has to be lifelessness.

If (as the speaker attributed to Ajahn Cha) '... if you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace; if you let go completely you will have complete peace', then that peace is that of lifelessness. Then what directs energy in oneself? Why eat, if one has dis-identified with the pangs of hunger? Why take care of one's ailing child, if one has let go of the desire to see it survive and grow? In the absence of desire and fear, there is an absence of aims to move toward and of situations to move away from.

Buddhists regard life as painful, full of suffering, and their final goal is to escape from what they consider a cycle of birth, aging and death. For them, life, and hence directed energy, is not a state to wish for. If you want to escape this plane of "becoming", they would say: "By all means!""

The speaker responded by saying that one should not worry about what would happen when one would let go completely, but only try to let go of little stresses.

I found her response to be unsatisfactory: "If you are suggesting that wanting is bad, then why only stop at letting go of little wants? Go all the way, be free of all wants. On the other hand, if wanting is not all bad, and if Buddha was fundamentally wrong, then why even let go of little wants? Maybe many of those little wants are normal and healthy."

The speaker also, on a tangent, talked of "one's reputation", and one's attachment to it and that one should let go of that attachment. I did not question her, as it was not after all a philosophical gathering.  It was a group of trusting, impressionable people trying to find some balance in their life.

But, even though it is a well-known cliche in new-age circles, it is extremely bad advice to stop worrying about how one is perceived. The neurosis is when one is overly concerned about one's image. But to develop that discrimination by which one can determine if one's worries, stresses, concerns, attachments are healthy or harmful, within reason or unreasonable, measured or reckless, won't happen in such a meditative group setting.

In such settings, the teaching is: all stresses, all desires, all attachments are to be let go of.

And that absence of discrimination is what makes these gatherings a place for mouthing platitudes, and absolutely useless for a person seeking understanding.

Of course, it might be a tactic. As the joke goes, Johnny applied for the license of a tank so that he might get approved for the license of a handgun. In such settings, nirvana is talked about and monks are held as ideals, so people can at least sleep well at night and not worry about tomorrow's traffic.

I continue to maintain that spirituality is primarily stress-relief. To expect anything more from it is to commit a grave fault of judgment. But like in religion, the power of the message lies in one's trust and surrender to the "sacredness" of the beliefs or ideas.

To tell people to take spiritual teachings with a grain of salt will take away the "power" of the teachings completely.

So what's the lesson from all this? Simply this: leave spiritualists alone, as long as they are using their meditation and prayers as a means to an end. Therefore, it is not only sensible, but the only right approach to pray to God for some material benefit or to ask for his Love, and to meditate in the morning so one can make more money in the stock market with a balanced mind. And if one realizes that a particular path is too stressful, well by all means choose a way of life which is more in tune with one's capacities and values.

But if you see somebody starting to believe in the theology or the spiritual world-view and have only spiritual goals, intervene.

It is a good idea to use the Buddha, but to want to become the Buddha is a really bad idea.

1 comment:

observer said...

Vedanta is perhaps the original source of all eastern philosophy/mysticism.

Vedanta is an alternative worldview/explanation of reality.

In this worldview consciousness is the fundamental property of the universe, (as opposed to space-time in science).

The goal of Vedanta is to make this your living experience and knowledge, as oppose to the natural state in which the body and mind is what you think you are.

The meditation practices such as letting go are not the ultimate goal here, they only quieten the mind so that using it you can know yourself as every present and unchanging consciousness.

Thus if you take this view then these practices will make sense, for e.g. letting go of desires. Which desires? those which agitate the mind.
How about desire for food? If you let go of it will it agitate or quieten the mind? Thus here is your answer.
Now how about desire for tasty food?
You get the idea.