Sunday, July 23, 2017

Dreaming of Nirvana

Progressives in the west are so drawn to Indian philosophy. In gardens from Berkeley to Madison, small Buddha totems smile motionless next to gopher holes. If not in their gardens, tiny silent Buddha is placed on their stand-up desk. If not on their desks, a nice picture of a waterfall stamped with curly text ending with "-Buddha" is set as their desktop background. Zen is an office buzzword.

There are various reasons people put Buddhas on their desk. For some, it's an outstretched hand to exotic foreign culture, an offering to the Gods of Globalization. For others it's a shred of hope in a dark world of suffering, a Jesus of their own making. It could even be a way to manipulate your boss.

American desk Buddha is not a sign of spiritual awakening in the Siddhartha sense of the the word. Spiritual awakening is a nasty process. One that involves pain and discomfort. All in the pursuit of moksha (Hindu), also called Nirvana. We all have a mental image of a person who has reached earthly Nirvana and it closely mirrors the mental image of someone who has taken LSD. Both involve a separation of mind and physical body, of consciousness and common sense.

And it involves vulnerability.

Vulnerability is an opening for suffering to cleanse the soul. It lets the darkness in. It's the avenue for great truths of human nature to make themselves apparent. It's necessary to move forward toward awakening. This is the vulnerability of the mind.

Once this level of higher consciousness is reached, our deep in meditation, cross-legged earthly body becomes vulnerable. We become unmoored from our surroundings and the daily concerns of the petty bourgeois. It's the opposite of tactical awareness. This is so seductive. A place where being a space cadet is no party foul.

However in the midst of that personal bliss, any spouse, child, or pet gerbil that relies on us becomes vulnerable as well. Jesus never married or had children (that we know of), and I wonder if this is why. To have responsibility for others grounds us. To leave the earth for a higher realm leaves behind broken promises.

Indian philosophy entices the west because it appears different than the same old thing. But all philosophy shares the thread of seeking eternal truths. In the seeking, we set aside tactical virtues, hoping for ageless ones. At it's best, Philosophy helps us rise out of our nature like a scissor lift for our souls. At it's worst, it makes us hate our fellow man. Can a dedicated philosopher also be diligent father? Can a Shaman be a surgeon? If you ever find me lying on a park bench with a Cheeto-smeared face claiming to have reached Nirvana, please ask me where my family is.

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