Sunday, June 8, 2008
There is a fellow out there in the world and I am his bête noire. Perhaps I was naive but I never had myself pegged as one to end up so designated. But it seems it's my lot. Over at smokingmirrors my least utterances reduce him to a caps-lock apoplexy. Truthfully I do not read him. I blink to see if I'm copping it yet again and then move on. But this blink is enough for me to know that I am the antichrist's cousin once removed, guilty of worshipping the false idol of selflessness. Or somesuch.
But forget that, the purpose of the exercise here and now is to clear up 'selflessness'. It's not hard because there's really nothing to it. Let's just say it's as simple as you want it to be. All a person has to do to be selfless is to do something for another that is not self-serving. Sharing food is perhaps the single most human expression of this. Otherwise one might help an old lady to a chair, a mother with her pram, or friends move house. If you expect something in return you don't get it. This is simple, simple stuff and I don't doubt that those reading here, do this kind of thing every day. In embodying this, not only will you make the world a better place but, believe it or not, you will find true happiness.
This is the simplest definition of selflessness and it is not wrong. If you like this definition and choose to lead your life in this fashion, I say, long may you live.
Or if you wish, we can take it further. Actually let's rewind. To say that performing acts of selflessness will bring happiness is somewhat simplistic. If doing things for others brought 'happiness', people like Gandhi would have been reduced to a puddle of orgasmic delirium. Somehow I doubt that this is an accurate description of him. What if I was to suggest that acts of selflessness don't bring happiness so much as they dispel unhappiness?
What unhappiness is that? It is that universal unhappiness that things are other than we would wish them. Buddha called it 'dukkha', which is to say suffering, which is to say desire. No human is free of this desire that they might feel better, look better, be more successful, be more famous, have more stuff, blah blah blah, ad infinitum. This desire is all in your head sure enough. In a discussion of selflessness, which is what we're having, it is that which defines you. It is the self, the sense of 'me'. Those who embrace desire embrace the self and are sensibly called 'selfish'. Those who let go of desire let go of the self and are thus called selfless. These are the people who share what they have, who help the old lady, the mother, the friends, or like Gandhi, devote their lives to freeing a people. Even if they don't mentally articulate it, this is how it works.
Believe it or not, this diminishment of unhappiness is readily apparent whenever you meet the selfless who devote their lives to others. You'll notice not that they're madly happy, but that they possess a calmness, a placidity. What you will see in their face is the absence of unhappiness, of desire, of the self. These are all the same thing.
This is a definition of selflessness taken one small step further. But it's actually no different to the first one. But whatever, if this is how you define your selflessness it's all good. Hats off to you.
Or we can go further, and take that final step to the metaphysical. If you're with me so far, it seems that who we are - the self / sense of desire - is actually a discussion of how we relate to the world (which is to say that which is not us). Is the world there for us? Or are we there for it? Do we make ourselves greater by taking from those not us? Or do we lessen ourselves and give to those not us? The answer is obvious and not the final step here. The final step is to wonder how far the diminishment of the self can go and what that means.
Can one shed all desire? What happens to the self? Does it disappear? Does a person who does this disappear? Are they no more? Ayah! Scary stuff. Who wouldn't fear this? Who would wish to cease to exist?
Funnily enough, no such thing happens. In fact it's the precise opposite. Those who take from others do not become greater. They actually harden into black holes of negativity. They become a dense speck of hatefulness. Those who give of themselves expand. It is they who actually become greater. They radiate love. Where this path leads to is that old chestnut of becoming 'one with the universe'. This is what Buddha became. He cast off desire, fear, and all delusion of the self. He ceased to differentiate between himself and that which was not him. And anyone can achieve what he achieved. Anyone can become Buddha.
If you think that this last bit is bullshit, that's fine with me. Take the second meaning instead. Or the first. It doesn't really matter. It's certainly not worth having an argument about. The important thing is that there is nothing to fear from selflessness. In whatever way you view it, it cannot lead you astray. None of these definitions have anything in them to cause unhappiness, ill will, or any form of negativity.