I've been trying to avoid philosophizing abstractly and saying, "Aha, Buddhism is just like this philosopher because..." for several reasons:

-For every comparison, you're going to find differences.
-Buddha didn't seem all that keen on people just working with ideas and arguing about them.
-My experiental practice of Buddhism is pretty...well, I'll just say, pretty inferior. I don't think I could legitimately defend any claim in the entire Buddhist canon with my own experiential evidence. :)

But, we're reading Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil" right now in my Existentialism class (PHIL324), and it really leaps out at me. I just felt like sharing a quote from it. :)

"I shall repeat a hundred times; we really ought to free ourselves from the seduction of words!"

The whole thing with Nietzsche is that he's basically demolishing all Western philosophy which came before him. He's saying that all of the different metaphysical and moral systems constructed by Plato, Spinoza, Aquinas, Mill, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, etc. were basically just hubris--false pride. It's foolish to try to make claims about the nature of the universe, or what's objectively moral or immoral. All that we're doing is just repeating our own subjective experiences, biases, and fictions and dressing them up with flowery language to make it sound objective or rational.

One reason which I changed my major from philosophy to psychology was that I was really averse to "system-building" in philosophy. It seemed to be all that philosophers were able to make--metaphysical systems, moral systems, epistemological systems, and so on.

Philosophical wisdom goes: "You need to have a set of principles to live by. Having a personal philosophy is the most important thing, because it allows you to keep a perspective on your life. You need to study ethics so that you know what's right and wrong--how to act in everyday life. And you need to be able to judge claims about what's true and false."

But, my experience doesn't back this claim. System-building doesn't seem to really help at all. Actually, when I look back, I started to feel more miserable when I first started studying Epicurus, Epictetus, Plato, and Aristotle in 11th grade. And I've been feeling happier ever since, 6 months ago, I said, "Screw you guys!" :)

And so, the other reason which I changed my major was that philosophy didn't seem the least bit useful if I wanted to be able to help other people deal with problems in their lives. Which is really the only thing that I would expect or want from philosophy. But it can't even do that, hehe...

Here's the thing: if you have strong views about what's right or true, if you feel certain about ideas that you've dabbled with--you're going to be afraid of having them destroyed. And this will INJURE your relationships with other people, and it will injure you:

1. You begin to have this pretentious air of superiority, where you're only too willing to "compassionately" and "humbly" correct your poor, misguided friend.

2. You are anxious, edgy, defensive, and on the alert for views which contradict your own.

3. Your encounter with "the other" becomes a harrowing, tumultuous test to see if you're able to maintain your integrity and uphold the views which you like (but you don't really know, or even fully believe) without appearing narrow-minded or rigid.

4. You're eager to go through some intellectual acrobatics to show how amazing you are for being able to understand the parallels between, say, Nagarjuna's tetralemma and Derridean deconstructionism.

5. You're later ashamed of yourself for your heroic, discreet boasting and indirect ego-boosting. :)

6. You taint your friendships with other people by thinking about people as pure or impure, dependent on how closely their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings match your ideas about what constitutes "enlightenment" or "the good life".

7. You taint yourself by thinking about yourself in the same way. You become dispirited, guilty, and exacting when you're unable to perfectly carry out these moral dictums that you've picked up from buddha-knows-where. :)

8. In the end, you remain just as conflicted and confused when you realize that you don't really have a f--ing clue what love, compassion, happiness, justice, or goodness actually are. Except that these are things that you want. Because someone else said that's how you're supposed to be.

Personally, I think Buddhism is very appealing. But, I'm not the type of person who can practice it without completely corrupting it. I can't really meditate on the word "compassion" without adulterating it with a holier-than-thou sense of being a beacon to humanity. Either that, or just taking joy in imagined scenarios where I find some crying girl and give her a hug, and she eventually becomes psychologically dependent on me and clings to me like a dog on a leash. :p My personal biases--my subjectivity--can very quickly leak into what seems like lofty, noble, universally amazing concepts and goals.

So, I'm thinking, why bother calling something "compassion" if all that this does is make me really anxious to live up to some standard, really attached to that moment in which I am a "good" person having "good" experiences, and really spiteful and disdainful towards anybody who doesn't live up to my personal standard of "goodness"?

Just saying, I'm not going to bother labeling my psychological practice of self-improvement with the word "Buddhism", even if there are a lot of analogies. It only wrecks and limits my practice, and it turns "Buddhism" into something really mundane. :)


Anonymous said...

I associate the word "compassion" with "understanding" more than anything else. It usually doesn't involve any action on my part, it's more of an attitude. I don't even think I'm very good at it. But when I'm judging someone else (like we all do), I try to remind myself to consider things from their point of view and experiences.

By the way, it's funny that you mention Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil" because the following was was the quote from my daily calendar of zen quotes for today:

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." ~ Rumi

Vaulker said...

A lot of your questions are the result of thinking....lots and lots of thinking. If you find yourself not finding answers to your questions stop asking. The Buddha instructs to test all theories against our experience. When you practice, you don't have to go somewhere. I am a cashier at a grocery store and let me tell you, that is about the most fertile ground for applying these concepts which you are not sure of.

As far as these terms like justice and what not. I believe much like Nietzche, there cannot be an objective definition, because how you arrive to that understanding is solely dependent on ones perception of it. Some people call the death penalty justice, I call it vengeance. That is a result from my own understanding. Theories will remain theories until applied.

Raymo.E-J said...

This post puts the many abstract aspects of Buddhism into perspective. And I like your approach, if I can call it that.

I also noticed the system-building thing recently; seeing you solidify the idea in words, I now realize why practice is becoming increasingly hard. Thank goodness for upaya.

Josh said...

As far as words go, "understanding" makes me happy. It seems to balance thinking and feeling. And I've been meaning to read Rumi, but haven't gotten around to it yet. It's the story of my life -- lol.

Hehe, Vaulker. Your point makes good sense. I can't really think of any times where I was able to answer difficult, agonizing questions by repeating them, dissecting and analyzing the words in the question, and trying to force the pieces together with my will and intellect. :)

Thanks, Ray. :) It's just that I get frustrated when I read about something and the concepts simply don't seem to match up with what I've experienced. My options are:
-Force the words upon my experience and falsify it
-Describe myself as "lacking" in some vitally important element, which is sort of a downer :D
-Just stop trying to name myself, hehe