Saturday, October 28, 2017

Letter To a Friend

Dr. Moore,

Back when I was a student at Auburn (in 2000-2001) I read a book called What The Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula.  I found the book to be incredibly dark.  One of the chapters was called The Doctrine of No Soul.  In it the Buddha breaks down consciousness to its component parts and notes that a soul or self is not to be found in any of the parts.  But of course, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and self is found in the synthesis.

But that was not the extent of what I found foreboding about it.  The Buddha introduces the dharma by saying that it is the path to a life "free from cares and troubles."  So he sets out by saying that the only way to be free from Samsara (the process of death and rebirth)--the way to attain nirvana--is to be free from desire, to be completely indifferent toward everything in life, to not be bound by attachments to anything dear, to hold nothing dear--basically, to love nothing.  And yet he says that compassion is good.  

The Buddha also says things that are irrational.  Since he says there is no self, he also says, "There is pain but no one to feel the pain."  I would say this reduces a person to one dimension, but it goes further that that.  It abolishes the person.

But the magic elixir of indifference was slowly presented to me throughout the book.  If you stop caring about everything your suffering will end.  In Buddhism this indifference is total.  Any attachment keeps one bound to the wheel of Samsara.  Holding anything dear is a crime against yourself.

I remember you saying that indifference is the opposite of love.  But the Buddha, as being a proponent of the Middle Way, says that indifference is a midpoint between hatred and love.  Here's how I see it: There is a triangle with love at the top, hatred on the left corner and love on the right corner.  In this sense love is opposed by both hatred and indifference.  Of course, there is a time and place for everything.  There is a time to be indifferent, just like there is a time to love and even a time to hate.  One day when the Buddha was meditating he heard a musician teaching his pupil, by saying, "Tighten the string too tight and it will break.  Make the string too loose and it won't play."  So the Buddha approached everything this way--as if everything were reduced to a flat line.  Buddhism is totally reductionistic, and yet it is attended by a great deal of obfuscation.  It's designed that way.



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