Sunday, 30 May 2010

Choices, choices

Today I have finished my introduction to Buddhism with Balbir Jootla. A revealing initial insight into a way of being. It has given me much to think about. About the impermanence of everything. That life, as a result, is suffering; that there is a way out of suffering through living a good life and meditating to develop a a state of mind that brings an inner happiness, unaffected by the clinging and craving of the life we are born to.

There is much here in common with the religions that mankind has developed to find salvation. Most are based on faith in a god(s) through whom salvation can be found in an afterlife. All exhort their followers to live a 'good' life with mildly differing definitions of what that means. Some actively set out to convert, others wait to be found.

For me, I can dismiss those that proselytise. Setting out to convert people to 'the one true god' smacks of an arrogance, a self-belief that is dangerous. Surely it is best for a person to find for himself, when he is ready, an inner life through his own efforts and his own seeking.

So, is the life we know impermanent? Is everything in a state of change? Is anything certain? The more I think about it, the more I begin to realise that everything is continually changing. The natural world and the earth that sustains it is made up of atoms, molecules, in a constant state of change and development. Even a seemingly inanimate object such as a rock is wearing and disintegrating. There is nothing that does not disintegrate, change, have the seed of its own destruction within it. When a child is born, it begins a life of change that will inevitably lead to death. Love between two people, however wonderful does not last, even if it continues until the death of one or both. Tell me something that is totally permanent. Please. Show me I'm wrong. Surely we live an ephemeral life searching for happiness, finding it for a short while until inevitably it turns to sorrow. Is there anything in our material world that can give lifelong happiness? Is there anything that never changes? Please tell me if there is.

If everything about our life is transitory with suffering following happiness, should we seek happiness where suffering does not follow, and if so where? Should we have faith in a belief structure promising eternal life after death or should we do something here and now, take a personal journey, concentrating on training one's mind to find a place of inner peace whilst living in harmony on this amazing planet. Or should we just get on with life, face its continual struggle, do the best we can, face the pain when it comes and then die.

Choices, choices.

Whatever path we choose, it seems to me that respect for this Earth, and the natural world of which humanity is such a tiny part, an understanding that everything is interconnected and that whatever we do is subject to cause and effect, is essential. We have been taught to believe that mankind is superior to every other living species, that every other species is here to serve us in one way or another, as food, for entertainment, to be experimented on for our betterment, for our material and physical well-being. We have lost the connection that our early forebears had with nature, lost the language to communicate with other species, forgotten our respect for and awareness of the incredible abilities of animals and plants to do things that we could not begin to do. The only thing that marks out mankind as superior is our developed brain. It seems like it's gone to our heads. What does our brain really give us that is superior if we only use it to concentrate on ourselves to the detriment of everything else?

Is mankind's arrogance and blind self belief in his superiority the one thing that never changes? Somehow I doubt it. It too has the seeds of its own self-destruction.

Impermanence rules. Ok?


  1. What a beautifully written stream Simon. It sounds as if your introduction to Buddhism has been very stimulating.
    I have another question?
    If there is "anything in our material world that can give lifelong happiness" would we want it, or would we find it lost it's lustre after a while and we wanted something else or something more?
    I wonder; if we werent programmed to be always searching for Nirvana, Heaven, the Holy Grail, happiness, would we simply stop evolving? What then? Would we stagnate? Does stagnation sound like Nirvana? I find it most amusing that we cling to permanence and crave for change both at the same time, two sides of the same coin.

  2. Show you something that's permanent? Er, HUMANITY! Humanity, for humankind, IS permanent.. And it's a bloody marvel too.. The capacity that we have as humans to love, to think, to argue, to reason - those things will never change or cease to exist as long as humankind roams the earth. More to the point, SUFFERING is human (and permanent!)..

    Why try and find inner peace when that's the biggest fantasy of all? Happiness is something different, and is very achievable I think - because you can find it everywhere, in all the little things. But a little bit of suffering along the way is a good thing! (Spot the jew!!).. I mean respect for nature and animals and the earth is imperative, but we have to respect what makes us human too - ie, to feel and to think.. And inner peace is not exactly our strong suit! I bet cows and donkeys and gorillas have better luck than us! I mean, put it this way: how many people do you know who have inner peace AND are happily married? I'd take happily married over solitary oneness any day!

    (Sorry to argue with you, simon - great blog nonetheless!)

  3. "... everything is continually changing... Love between two people, however wonderful does not last"
    I think differently about this; love does last, however often what we think of as love is conditional and does not last as it does not allow for change. Unconditional love however remains, and evolves and itself changes, and accepts.
    My old teacher used to say that "Love is the active participation in the process of life and humility is the passive acceptance in the process of life" I interpret this as the urge to be fully active in life in whatever capacity life asks of us in any moment and the acceptance of not having any control over any outcome. There is peace in letting go of the outcome and yet fully participating all the same, it leads to excitement and increases the love.

  4. "Come you lost Atoms to your Centre draw,
    And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:
    Rays that have wander'd into Darkness wide
    Return and back into your Sun subside "

    Conference of the Birds, Farid ud-Din Attar, 1117

  5. Thank you to everyone who has commented both here and directly by email. Most of you have been very chllenging and that's what I wanted. Thank you!! I will reply as best I can.

  6. dont worry about replying Simon, just keep the thought stream going, it is very stimulating. :)
    @Annamp1, I have been happily married, then less happily married, then unhappily married, then divorced, then happily with someone else, then no longer with that person and now am happily and peacefully solitary. And I would be happily with someone again if the right person came into my life. I am truly amazed how well we are able to adjust to different situations. I value so much living on my own; and though at times I feel a little lonely these occasions are few and far between.

  7. point taken, fiona! my resistance was to a search for so-called 'inner peace' at the expense of 'outer peace' - ie, satisfying relations with other people. i suppose i'm just not very good at solitary pursuits - my own company tends to bore me!! :-)

  8. Anna, I just had the same conversation with Simon on iChat just yesterday, about being bored by my own company, and feeling empty without others and having no interest at all in the sound of my own breath.... we're on the same page. I think I admire the attitude Fiona describes, and Simon was searching for, but without being able to do anything about it for myself. I just don't enjoy being alone, end of. No amount of 'working on myself' makes any difference. Luckily for us, there are billions out there. (some of them are even tolerable). xx