Posts Tagged ‘Dalai Lama’

Misanthropes

July 25, 2012

Back on my perch after  another summer road-trip, this one to the sweltering American breadbasket. I was going to lay low ’til August but sometimes, as they say in Mayberry, things have just got to be brung out.

I spent some time with Irv Yolem’s Schopenhauer Cure yesterday, and then with Carlin Romano’s mention in America the Philosophical of the vitriolic philosophy blogger Brian Leiter. I think I’ll find it helpful to myself this morning to think a bit about the uses and abuses of misanthropy.

Old Arthur hated his species,  probably due in large part to a bad formative start with his hard-hearted Mama. She never missed an opportunity to tell him what a drag he was, as a youth, on her freedom. He more than fulfilled her vision of him, long after she was gone. He isolated himself from both his fellow “bipeds” and his own bipedal nature, thinking himself superior.

And who knows, that very attitude may have fueled the imagination and will to write the books that almost give pessimism a good name. What we can’t know, except through the fictive  speculations of people like Yolem, is whether Schopenhauer’s misanthropy seemed to himself to make his own life worth living, in his own mind. We do know he said it did not make him “happy.”

Leiter is merely emblematic of the cheap culture of snide  and sneering rudeness so prevalent and apparently popular on the Internet. I don’t know if it makes him or his readers happy to be that way. It doesn’t me. I tend to avoid his posts and their comments, as I try to avoid mood-dampening & heart-shrinking contaminants generally.

So what I just want to bring out about all this is a small piece of hard-earned self-knowledge: I find that I am a happier and a better person when I actively resist the misanthropic impulse, and do not surrender to it as Schopenhauer and Leiter apparently did.

I also picked up the Dalai Lama’s Beyond Religion yesterday. I like him. He may be naively humane, but at least he’s no misanthrope.

My faith enjoins me to strive for the welfare and benefit of all sentient beings, and reaching out beyond my own tradition, to those of other religions and those of none, is entirely in keeping with this. I am confident that it is both possible and worthwhile to attempt a new secular approach to universal ethics… We all prefer the love of others to their hatred. We all prefer others’ generosity to their meanness. And who among us does not prefer tolerance, respect, and forgiveness of our failings to bigotry, disrespect, and resentment?

I know I do. Anger, in my experience as apparently in the DL’s, is not a usefully generative fuel. But I’m a pragmatic meliorist, and pluralist. I presume to speak only for myself here.

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roads to freedom

November 18, 2011

In a silly mood this morning, for some reason. Speaking of J-P Sartre’s Roads to Freedom, 

Marie was noting, in connection with yesterday’s SOL discussion of the Dalai Lama and the question of emptiness at the core of human existence, that Sartre wrote (and wrote and wrote) of “the desire to be good…or if you prefer the desire to be god”…

Well, as Woody Allen said: I gotta model myself after someone.

Sartre was wordy. Did anyone ever write more about Nothingness? But he was very terse when Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion crossed the channel to ask him about freedom.

HHDL & something completely different

November 15, 2011

Our assignment in SOL today is to find something relevant pertaining to the Dalai Lama and share it. Here’s my choice, HHDL in London a few years ago. Isn’t that John Cleese, 20 seconds in, appreciating the DL’s pluralistic observation that Buddhism is not for everyone (but neither is Christianity, et al)?

There’s a wealth of relevant stuff out there, online and in print. Check out the “Night-Stand Buddhist” site for more suggestions.

Those of us with the Dalai Lama’s book in hand have the alternative assignment of reading and posing questions about the first three chapters. Circumambulation, mentioned briefly in chapter one, is the topic I’m most intrigued by. It’s a ritual practice intended to facilitate or “fabricate” an enlightenend state of mind and feeling more conducive to selfless and compassionate Buddhahood, and it largely involves walking around in circles.

To circumambulate literally means to ‘walk around.’ The principle involves making a clear and conscious connection with something that is regarded as special. This is often a physical object but it could also be a person. In a religious context ‘the thing’ would be seen as especially related to or embodying the transcendent qualities aspired to. In a more mundane situation one could go round a dwelling say as part of a blessing. Buddhamind

Great! I’ve been practicing this one unwittingly for years, though usually without explicit thought of any sacred foci. The circuit around Radnor Lake might be an occasional exception there, like Thoreau’s Walden perambulations.

More typically, my circles tend to meander in wide and mostly-random spires. Nor do I walk in robes, or in a pack. (Can a peripatetic fly solo, or with canines?)

But this begins to answer my old perplexity: why must effective meditation be zazen, “seated”? Evidently it needn’t be, though the blog Zen Man Walking indicates that the seated form has its special dispensations.

My own contemplative nature, though, is best activated by slow and steady motion. In my experience the mind is most calm and clear at about 4 mph. As the Buddha said, “to walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.” Good shoes don’t hurt either.

Give peace a chance

May 14, 2011

The Dalai Lama came to New Jersey yesterday with his message of peace, compassion, and loving-kindness, versus “too much emotion, attachment, anger or fear.”

Fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams took issue with HHDL.

“I thought it was strange to be asked to be on this panel on inner peace, because I don’t have much,” she said. “It’s anger at injustice which fires many of us.”

She went on to criticize aspects of American policy that favor corporations and the wealthy, and, without naming a particular conflict, said there was no such thing as a “just war.”

They’re both right. The path to peace is fraught with conflict, anger and negative emotion can be constructively channeled to positive ends, and the ultimate personal prize is still a happy disposition. It’s not an either/or.

It’s reported that Deepak Chopra was also in Newark, explaining the (pseudo?-) neuroscience of happiness. He makes some people angry, too, like Julia Sweeney (but in a sweet way.) We’ll see how he and others play this Fall in SOL (the course formerly known as “Happiness 101” and now rechristened “Happiness and the Secret of Life”), with their various candidate Secrets.

I’ll be pulling for peace, myself. It was in somewhat short supply here last night, with our house full of ‘tween-age sleepover guests celebrating Younger Daughter’s impending birthday. I hope Mom finally got some sleep, it’s like the sign on Mother-in-Law’s door says: “when [she] ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

“Peace in the family” is something we all need more experience with, Your Holiness.

in pursuit

September 17, 2009

(HAP class: we’re not meeting today.)

Chapter Five of Happiness Hypothesis is pivotal. Jon Haidt considers the Buddhist/Stoic hypothesis that happiness must come only from within, and throws a surprise left hook with some strong words against emotional detachment. “Surrender all attachments,” rise above pleasure and pain? Don’t “seek to have events happen as you want them to”? He’s not so sure. Me neither. Our next read, Matthieu Ricard, will bring a different perspective on this.

But first: he cites Lyubomirsky et al’s research bearing on a distinction between conditions and activities.

Conditions of life include the relatively fixed (race, sex, age, disability) and the semi-fixed, but sometimes fluid  (wealth, marital status, where you live) facts of your life. Conditions are more-or-less constant; it is usually the path of least resistance to build your life around them and focus instead on activities. But, see below.*

Volunatary activities– including exercise, meditation, vacationing, and learning a new skill– are said to be more elective and malleable. Because you choose them, they’re more likely to stay in the foreground of your day-to-day awareness and you’ll not “adapt” to them in ways that rob you of their potential pleasures. They “offer much greater promise for increasing happiness and avoiding adaptation effects.”  In the case of habitual regular exercise, one of my voluntary activities, I can second that statement. I have not “adapted,” daily walks (and gym visits, when the weather’s hostile) always give me a boost. “But that’s not happiness,” you say? Coulda fooled me.

H = S + C + V. That’s the equation we’ve already considered: Happiness equals your biological Set Point plus your life conditions plus your voluntary activities. Positive psychologists are challenged to substantiate this form with data, but meanwhile each of us can accept the challenge of seeing just how much leverage we’ve got in this game.

* “It turns out there really are some external conditions (C) that matter… changing an institution’s environment to increase the sense of control among its workers, students, patients [etc.] was one of the most effective possible ways to increase their sense of engagement, energy, and happiness.”

So I wonder, fellow institutional inmates here at the nation’s 57th best public university (and the state’s best, according to Forbes): can you think of any changes in the environment here on the ground at Enormous State University that would raise our collective, or your personal, Happiness Quotient? I fear that we’ll lose our happiness edge if we start naming deficiencies. We might do better to just count our blessings. You think?

But then again, I didn’t know that Charlotte Bronte was a pragmatist: “It is vain to say that human beings ought to satisfied with tranquility: they must have action…”  I welcome her to the cause. Action begins with the recognition of a deficit state or a problematic situation. Blessing-counting may not be active enough.

Flow redux. Csikszentmihalyi (my mnemonic for the first syllable was always “chick,” Haidt’s is “cheek”– I like mine better) distinguishes pleasures from gratifications. If pleasure’s your thing, you might as well hop on into the Happiness Box (Experience Machine). Trouble with that is, hedonists tend to overdose. My college roommate wore out Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” for me, to my continuing regret. AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” on the other hand, was non-gratifying from the start. Different strokes. The message here is to try and make an Epicurean of your elephant. Wisdom is gratified by “not the greatest quantity of food [or music, or other sensual indulgence] but the most tasty.”

“Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. Stop wasting your money on  conspicuous consumption. Work less, earn less, accumulate less, and ‘consume’ more family time, vacations” etc. Okay, then.

We noted the Dalai Lama’s exceptional status as a world-class spiritual leader who actively promotes the  scientific investigation of human life and consciousness (including the nuts and bolts of meditation). He wrote  “Our Faith in Science,” for instance, for the Times op-ed page. “After all, if practices from my own tradition can be brought together with scientific methods, then we may be able to take another small step toward alleviating human suffering.” (More Dalai Lama news)

He also stands out as a spiritual leader who actively discourages proselytizing and evangelism. Buddhism is not for everyone. Follow us if you can and you must, he seems to say. But there are other paths to happiness, the art of which he’s also written about for western readers. And The Universe in a Single Atom: the convergence of science and spirituality explores our theme too. Still looking for the London appearance with John Cleese in attendance. This is not it, but it’s still a warm and colorful occasion.

Heard a Freemason on the radio yesterday, by the way. Dan Brown’s pulled back the veil, it seems. The spokesman said their only stipulation is that one must believe in some God or other, details irrelevant, to belong. That’s fine, but Buddhists go them one better on the God question. They’re right up with the Unitarians on that front.

Haidt’s objection to Stoics: “When life is unpredictable and dangerous (as it was for Stoic philosophers, living under capricious Roman emperors), it might be foolish to seek happiness by controlling one’s external world. But now it is not… to cut off all attachments, to shun the pleasures of sensuality and triumph in an effort to escape the pains of  loss and defeat” is an overreaction.

Pointed harsh words for Buddhists and Stoics alike, inspired by Robert Solomon: The life of cerebral reflection and emotional indifference  (apatheia) advocated by many Greek and Roman philosophers and that of calm nonstriving advocated by Buddha are lives designed to avoid passion, and a life without passion is not a human life. Yes, attachments bring pain, but they also bring our greatest joys.

Cue the drum and sitar: happiness is within you and without you.

(I know, the Beatles’ lyrics don’t say exactly what Haidt does. But the song’s been in my head ever since I started typing, gotta get it out.)