Thursday, March 19, 2009

Zen attitude

Buddhist apathy does not consist in a desire unsatisfied, or a want, but well and truly in the absence of desire, which stifles the want, thus suffering or pain, at the root, as one no longer desires. One must desire to suffer, one must be in want of a good, even on the physical level, for bodily pain is the absence of health, thus a physical want which, if not satisfied, produces suffering.

The same holds affectively, and if for example I grieve over the death of my friend, it is obvious that if I manage to forget him, I will not suffer! For that matter this is why sleep, ultimately, be it physical or mental, enables not to suffer, since our desire and suffering are also put to sleep. Doctors today know how to relieve 95% of physical sufferings; for the remaining 5%, they put the patient to sleep, at which time any signs of suffering on the patients face vanishes. Thus suffering implies conscience, and more particularly the conscience of the unsatisfied desire and of the want. Behind this unsatisfied desire is hope, or despair if we persuade ourselves that the good we hope for is not attainable. This is what despair is: the certainty that a good has utterly escaped us.

Buddha was a prince, rich, capable of having more or less anything he wanted, women, horses, music etc., and he realized that he always desired something more, indefinitely, that he was never satisfied, never in rest, never serene, he saw that his soul was always in a state of agitation, thus in a state of suffering. He thus set off to meditate in the mountain to understand and experiment how not to suffer, and one of the things he understood is that suffering proceeds from desire, and therefore if one no longer desires one no longer suffers. Buddha was quite preoccupied, I believe, by the question of suffering. He saw that by anesthetizing passions, suffering was also anesthetized, for suffering is a passion!

One must distinguish and highlight the difference between not loving and not being (sufficiently) united to ones good whilst desiring to love and be united with ones good (typically suffering), and not loving because we desire nothing, and it is this last state which is Buddhist apathy. Yet passions are not good or bad of themselves, it all depends what the aim is. Thus, anger can be just, where not being angry would be a raging fault, or the sign of an incapacity or debility of the heart and reason! I say this because nowadays we oft hear that one must remain "zen" in all circumstances, and that anger is the sign of a person who doesn't control himself. Yet when one becomes angry, in particular, this shows where one is wounded, thus where one "loves". I am obviously not speaking of an infantile burst of anger, but of a just anger. And yet we are oft told that one must not demonstrate anger. Thus we are told not to be affected by anything, in other words we are told not to love... keep cool, do not love! Lol

Passions are neither virtues nor vices, they proceed from our capacity to suffer. I don't know if one can say this, but it seems to me right at this moment, in some sense, that passion is almost the opposite of virtue, for virtue does not in the least consist in suffering, and I think that many have moralized passions.

There is another thing that is very important, imo, that must be closely scrutinized, and that is what bad/evil is, which thus produces suffering, whichever angle we look at it, physical, affective, intellectual, spiritual. It is a big bone, upon which many a neuron has stumbled, sometimes without surmounting the obstacle, other times only doing so after ten or so years. Bad/evil is obviously linked to suffering, and depending on how we answer the question "what is evil", the consequences are immense downstream. The zen tendency, in fashion, likes to infer that evil does not exist, or that it is equal to good, in brief fashion is misguided. Nietzsche would say, "beyond good and evil", which is rather a Buddhist attitude for that matter, necessarily, for if good has something to do with love, evil has to do with suffering, the two having to do with desire, be it satisfied or not, but with desire. Thus if I no longer desire, I do away with good or evil. The philosophical question of "what is evil" is the real foundation of ethics, there can be no other, the rest is for suckers. But one must treat this question radically, as far upstream as possible, well before morality which is one of the consequences of the answer we arrive at or not.


  1. Great piece enjoyed reading this one a lot.
    Trying to put a definition on good and evil I agree is quite misleading as they both spring from our desires. Its the action of people trying to fulfill their desires that leads to consequences which may be termed good or evil. There is also a question of perspecive - on how to define good / evil - in that there is no objective definition.

  2. SD,
    In this day and age, Good/evil has been reduced to a moral consideration. In his Metaphysics, Aristotle shows that good is an acolyte of Being - a transcendental (ie it is convertible to being) - along with Truth (Verum), One (Unum), Other (Aliquid) and Something (Res). More on that in the future :)

  3. "Passions are neither virtues nor deficiencies", I agree, passion can bring joy and pain. When we don't have desire and passion, we don't have creativity and vigor. In some culture, they really define a passionate woman a bad woman.

  4. Can evil not also be a good thing, a motivator in a sense? If one was to remove desire and passion, as stated, they would no longer love, feel, or care, is this also not a definition of evil? Good and evil must both exist for the other to prosper, can you eliminate one (considering the nature of humans) without eliminating the other? Is there hope for a utopia in our future, I'm saddened to say there is not. However, I love the beauty in our surroundings and love some of the devilishness as well, with fluctuating definitions.

  5. Jade,
    Nice to drop in. That should have been virtues and vices. I hear what you are saying, although it looks like you are thinking of Passion (versus the different types of philosophical "passions").

    Evil is the absence of good, so I'd find it difficult to say it's a good thing. ;) Since you finish with a comment on beauty, I posted this a little while ago...

    "...good attracts, whereas beauty seduces. Seduction often remains internal, whereas a good enables "extasy". Good is what we never posses but all want to possess. Seductions are sometimes quite strong, for the "diabolical" can seduce, without ever being able to attract, but it can seduce, the intellectuals, the mathematicians, the artists… the logicians."

  6. This a most interesting post and question. I think we have to discriminate between the teachings of Prince Gautama, both Theravada and Mahayana schools, and Zen.
    Gautama taught that we are what we think.
    Zen simply provides a solution to the problem: Stop chasing truth. Just cease to cherish opinion. One is theoretical, the other is a practical solution. Shakespeare's Prince Hamlet arrived at the same conclusion as Prince Gautama by saying there's no good or evil, but that thinking makes it so. The path of negation that Gautama taught and the practical solutions of Zen are not incompatible at all. This was a most interesting posting and should draw more comments. Excellent.
    Count Sneaky

  7. Your comments open many angles Count Sneaky. Nice!

  8. Very good! From my very limited knowledge, however, it seems to me that the practice of some Buddhist meditation (the Vipassana variety)implies the existence of a state beyond the absence of desire (or perhaps that the absence of desire does not involve indifference to evil).
    I will try to explain. The frame of mind that is initially exercised in the meditation process is one of non-attachment: sensations arise and pass away - there should be no craving or aversion. (That applies to bodily sensations, emotions and thoughts.) However, the frame of mind encouraged at the end of the process is metta (loving kindness): may all beings be happy.
    So it seems to me that this version of Buddhist practice is encouraging a particular belief about what is good.
    I think there are pros and cons to this approach. Most of us would be a lot happier and healthier if we had less craving and aversion in our lives. But non-attachment seems to me to involve missing out on too much of the joy of living (i.e. flow). My bottom line is that it would be good if everyone expressed a bit more metta, and I don't think this need be inconsistent with love of life.

  9. Very interesting Winton. You know more than I (the translator) do on the subject.

  10. I love you posts, very spiritual. So much wisdom, knowledge we can share with each other.

    Great! keep writing.

  11. Thanks Rebecca! Unfortunately, Avatar stopped writing. I'll keep translating though! :)

  12. The cessation of dukkha (desire) would indeed leave us in what many might consider a "pleasant" state, since Nirvana (the cessation of dukkha realized) has nothing unpleasant in it!

    To understand this, one must first understand that there are only varying degrees of pain during life. Even the highlights and the joys are painful, because they are impermanent and doomed to end. This is why pain overrides all in our lives. Only when we can cease the thirst we have for everything can we realize Nirvana.


  13. this is really good , I just happen to stumble upon this

  14. hello heather, really glad you are following :)