Saturday, July 20, 2013

Ask Teal: The #1 Problem in the Human Race and How to Solve It

In response to the above "Ask Teal" Youtube video, Ms. Teal makes the assertions that it is our slavery to the notion of suffering that causes us our unhappiness.  She makes some good points here, but challenging her notion of an exclusive focus of “going in the direction of our joy” misses half the mark because it does not address the fact that such a focus often causes a great deal of needless suffering in others (just ask any spouse of a narcissist). While I agree with the general gist of what Ms. Teal is “trying” to say, and I appreciate her challenging of the standard narrative of the Judeo-Christian notion of suffering, I think she makes a lot of unsupported declarative statements here (one can only assume, based upon her own, personal experiences and/or sense of reality?).  I disagree that it is pain and suffering that causes us to become the opposite of good or loving.  That is a very black and white statement to make.  It has the “potential” but it is not the root cause (that would actually be ignorance). As we ALL grow old, get sick and inevitably die, suffering is an inevitable fact of life, which has nothing to do with accepting any mantra or a dogma that “embraces” suffering as a “lifestyle choice.”  While I understand many see suffering as necessary, the reality of the matter is the fact that pleasure and/or pain is neither good nor bad, only thinking makes it so (i.e.: we all create our own realities). 

It is often said that there is a razors edge between enlightenment and despair.  The first Noble Truth in Buddhist psychology states that life is suffering.  This is not a dogma, as the Buddha often encourages people to come to this truth on their own accord.  Many turn away from this idea because of their own misunderstanding (i.e.: ignorance).  We will become enlightened only to the extent that we fully understand the nature of suffering.  This is not to say we “invite” suffering into our lives.  This is just to say we radically accept it as a natural aspect of life.  Suffering is only "good" (or useful) in terms of it's nature to cause (one might say “encourage”) humanity to "evolve" and inevitably discover the ability to disconnect the "reality creating" internal dialogue that serves to primarily to protect our fragile egos.  Suffering can be seen as a positive force in the manner in which it motivates us to touch the inherent wisdom/strength/compassion that has always been there (hence the motivation behind the saying, "enlightenment comes from suffering").  The only reason many (most) of us fail to see this is because of ignorance (e.g.: not knowing). 

Technological advances often come from an attempt to solve a problem initially caused by suffering.  In that sense, suffering serves as a motivation that likely wouldn't have been there with out it.  This is obviously neither good nor bad, it just is what it is.  It is unrealistic to believe that life never entails suffering (although to Ms. Teal’s credit, she never said this and I’d be interested to hear what she thinks about it).  The reality of life entails an acceptance of suffering - not to "seek it out" as Teal suggests most people do, but to have a much more reality-based relationship with it.  Notions of good or bad are merely the judgments of a discriminating, compartmentalizing mind and are often based on our own lack of understanding.  Ignorance is only bliss to a person who lives in a inoculated bubble and has absolutely no basis in reality.  Not many individuals in this world can afford that luxury.    

Only through suffering and feeling pain do we inevitably discover our true strength and gain the insight (if we are open to the awareness) that others suffer very similarly to us.  This is where true compassion comes from - an awareness of anothers suffering.  Despite harmful meme’s such as the sin hypothesis inherent in Judeo-Christian mythology, compassion (and cooperation) is our true nature as a species.  We could not have evolved to be where we are today as a “collective species” without these traits.  A mothers selflessness often has much more to do with an innate, evolutionary by-product than an animal trying to make itself feel better (a quick look behavior of animals will quickly tell you that).  The ability to understand another’s pain was necessary for the survival of our species.  The mother essentially "understands" the suffering of her child and therefore is instinctively driven to protect it.  There is likely a self-serving by-product to this, but one cannot simply ignore the fundamental mechanics of evolution here (an either/or hypothesis is often evidence of a dualistic thought process, inherently attached to a self-serving ego which conforms to individual biases, not to mention a thinking error, but I digress).

Teal asks the question, whether you "self-abuse by saving for a rainy day"?  That perspective appears to maintain a very myopic point of view.  Some people save in preparation of future suffering (as in, preparing for unforeseen, future hardships, such as being unemployed or having to pay for unexpected hospital bills, etc.).  I have personally found myself unemployed several times over the last several years after not adequately having saved anything. It was a truly horrible time that entailed much more suffering than I would have been exposed to if I had merely been more aware of my impulsive behavior and drive for immediate gratification.  A little "self-abuse" (I prefer to call it restraint) in this case would have been far more helpful in terms of being happy (i.e.: able to eat, pay my bills, and/or get my medications, etc.).  And of course, my happiness inevitably affect the happiness of others.  The Buddha often spoke of a middle path for this reason.  

While Teal asks many helpful questions, life entails suppressing primitive impulses on some level, and therefore, suffering.  Not that Teal suggested this (and it’s very hard to tell how she feels about this subject from the video clip), the concept of eternal happiness is truly a delusion.  Obtaining what you want, when you want to is the definition of addiction, plain and simple (which inevitably causes much more suffering in the long run).  Without suffering, we have a much more limited experience with reality and therefore, inevitably live our lives in an imaginary world constructed of our own self-serving delusions (much like in Buddhist mythology, before Siddhartha left his life of privilege in the palace where his father attempted to shield him from the pain of the world).  No one willing asks for suffering on their own accord, but without an deeper awareness of it, we will become blissfully ignorant of racism, discrimination, prejudice, abuse, etc. because we won’t have an intimate understand the suffering of others.  Only with understanding (and an awareness of the reality of suffering) can we have compassion for another's plight in life.  It may not be a completely "selfless" form of compassion, but feeling another's pain is the gateway to deeper insight into our own nature and the concept of interfusion (the notion that we are all intimately connected and dependent upon one another, and the notion of a separate, intrinsic self is a main delusion in and of itself, not to mention a major obstacle to happiness).  I would be tempted to call that a "good" thing for lack of a better word. 

With that said, Teal asks some great questions at the 14:30 mark that everybody would do well to meditate upon.  Everybody should observe their life and identify the “needless” suffering they bring upon themselves (and others).  Namaste.