Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Buddhists lose the game

Reminds me of a quote by Samuel Beckett that I saw on a poster once: 'All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'

One of the strangest things about Buddhism is the fact that Buddhists knowingly set themselves unattainable goals. The Bodhisattva vow is to forever reincarnate in this world so long as all sentient beings are not yet enlightened, but Buddhists texts repeatedly refer to living beings as, 'innumerable.' All sentient beings, including those currently manifesting as insects, have the potential for Buddhahood, but Buddhahood is only attainable in a human incarnation. The literal fulfillment of the Bodhisattva goal would necessarily lead to the destruction of the ecosystem. Enlightenment itself is logically unattainable. Your own sensory perception fundamentally constrains your ability to see the world from an egoless perspective, which is why the Buddha's death is called Parinirvana - complete enlightenment only comes when your human life ends. This is aside from the fact that enlightenment is very hard and the vast majority of Buddhists will not achieve enlightenment in this lifetime.

I find it very uncomfortable to have an unattainable goal at the centre of my life. This might be why I've put less time into learning about Buddhism and meditating the more I've achieved at university. My other goals in life seem attainable, so it's only natural that they would take priority over this airy fairy stuff. But this point that Hank makes about the Game is really useful. Even though I may have the impression that I am succeeding in life, my goals will always cause dissatisfaction - either because I sometimes fail, or because succeeding doesn't feel as good as I anticipated, or because I'm worried about losing the things I have gained. If I really wanted to be happy and contented, I wouldn't try to achieve anything. Rather, I would put my all into something unattainable, and stop worrying about the outcome of my efforts.

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