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Thursday, October 04, 2012

What we are (not?)


Quoted from Guy Newland's "Introduction to Emptinesss."

"We suffer unnecessarily because we do not know ourselves. Like addicts fiercely clinging to a drug, we cannot let go of the sense that we are substantial, solid, independent, and autonomous.
...To be real, to be alive, we feel that we must deep down somehow exist in a solid and independent way. Death tells us a very different story, but for that very reason we find a million ways to avoid hearing the message of death.
That message is that we are impermanent. Our bodies are disintegrating moment by moment, right now. And though we desperately wish to believe otherwise, the truth is that beneath our ever-changing minds and aging bodies there is no eternal and essential self. We have no natural existence, no independent way of existing.
We exist contingently, interdependently. We exist, but only in dependence on our ancestors, our body parts, our food, air, and water, and the other members of our society. We could not and do not exist otherwise. Devoid of any independent or substantial nature, our existence is possible only because it is far less rigid, less concrete, than what we imagine it to be.
Rather than seeing things as they are, we superimpose upon ourselves -- and on things around us -- a false existence, a self-existence or essential reality that actually does not exist at all. In the Buddhist philosophy explained here, the ultimate truth is the sheer absence, the lack, of any such essence.
       This is emptiness

While this may sound bleak, disappointing, or frightening, it is the very nature of reality. And it is reality -- not fantasy -- that is our final hope and our refuge. The path to freedom from needless misery, for ourselves and others, is through profound realization of this fundamental reality."
By and large, I think Newland and Buddhism (Mahayana variety) have it right. Emptiness, in the Buddhist sense, is wonderfully compatible with modern science, including modern neuroscience. There's no enduring self to be found within the brain.
Nor outside of it, notwithstanding the widespread religious belief in an ethereal soul which somehow floats around independent of body and mind, while also somehow being intimately connected with them as a source of life and consciousness.
Of course, I could be wrong. Buddhism could be wrong. Guy Newland could be wrong. This is the way of science: uncertain, open to new evidence, provisional.
Heck, even The Onion could be wrong, as shocking as that sounds. I bet, though, that "Search for Self Called Off After 38 Years"Search for Self Called Off After 38 Years" is much closer to ultimate truth than the teaching of any religion is.
CHICAGO—The longtime search for self conducted by area man Andrew Speth was called off this week, the 38-year-old said Monday. 
"I always thought that if I kept searching and exploring, I'd discover who I truly was," said Speth from his Wrigleyville efficiency. "Well, I looked deep into the innermost recesses of my soul, I plumbed the depths of my subconscious, and you know what I found? An empty, windowless room the size of an aircraft hangar. From now on, if anybody needs me, I'll be sprawled out on this couch drinking black-cherry soda and watching Law & Order like everybody else."
"Fuck it," he added.
My sentiments exactly. Except I prefer to drink strong coffee, or red wine, and watch Survivor or So You Think You Can Dance. (See my related blog posts here and here.)"

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