Friday, July 7, 2023

Suffering, Peace and Meaning

    It's difficult to appreciate the corrosive effect that our society's dreary materialism has on even those of us who consider ourselves religious or spiritual. What is your default mood? When there's nothing specifically pleasant or unpleasant going on in your personal life, how do you feel - bright, gray, or dark? Even if our own life seems to feel OK for the moment, most of us are seriously disturbed by the war in Ukraine and the environmental crisis. But do you feel hopelessly doomed?
    Imagine, after many years of wanting one,
you're finally driving down the highway in your gorgeous expensive sports car, but instead of luxuriating in the smooth, controlled ride & powerful purring of the engine, you're frustrated by the constant weird vibration & annoying repetitive whirring sound from an obvious wheel-alignment problem. You go to get that fixed, and the mechanic finds one problem after another; then the car gets scratched & banged up; the paint job fades; the car is never 'in tune'; it starts rusting; new models make it look strangely out of date; your dream is a chronic disappointment. And this is a 'first world problem' - boo hoo! How about constant change, aging, sickness & death - not just of ourselves, but all our loved ones & our material possessions?
3,000 years ago, the Buddha left his family & privileged life behind because he felt that he had to discover how to be happy in a world of 'dukkha.' Commonly thought of as suffering, dukkha more accurately refers to a wheel on a cart that's off center - today we might say, 'dis-ease' over the fact that nothing stays even satisfactory, never mind perfect!
    HOW CAN we live the best life possible, in a world that is NOT aligned at all with our individual material hopes & desires?

    Non-duality ('perennial philosophy') is the understanding that underlies all the great religious & spiritual traditions. If we were to distill the essence of that understanding and express it in contemporary terms, it would sound something like this: Peace & happiness are the nature of our being, and we share our being with everyone & everything. The first part of this phrase, ‘peace and happiness are the nature of our being,’ refers to our inner experience – our thoughts and feelings. The second part, ‘we share our being with everyone and everything,’ refers to our exterior experience, that is our relationship with people, animals and things." Rupert Spira "Nonduality, Consciousness, and Ending Suffering" :

    A transcript of, imho, two wise, intelligent people - Rupert Spira (RS) and Bernardo Kastrup (BK) - in conversation:

RS: What is it that causes most people to question the materialist paradigm? Suffering. If we didn’t suffer, there would be no reason to question our view of the world, on the contrary, we would think the happiness I experience is a confirmation that my view of the world is correct. We would never question anything and that’s why so many people are first open to the possibility that we are discussing here.
    Through the experience of suffering their life falls apart. They realize something’s not working. And it’s not just today that it’s not working, it gets worse the older you get. As Henry David Thoreau said, ‘Most people lead lives of quiet desperation.’ You get half-way through your life, and you realize it’s not working - relationships, activities. You’ve experienced enough suffering to no longer be able to keep it at bay through objects, substances, activities, relationships
. You’ve been failed by life sufficiently often to probe a little bit deeper – could there be something about my attitude that is responsible? Might I have got something wrong? And for most of us, it’s suffering that opens this door.
    For me it was, although I had this very early intuition, at age seven, that everything is a dream in God’s mind. Then I forgot that intuition as I grew up. It was suffering that re-ignited my interest in these matters. In fact in my case it was a very particular experience, when my first girlfriend, with whom I thought I would get married, have four children and live happily ever after, ended our three-year relationship in a two-minute phone call. And for the first time in my life I became aware of the extent to which I had invested the thing that I loved the most – namely happiness – in objective experience. This cracked my world. My world had already been cracked by my parents’ divorce, but this was a crack that I could no longer plaster over. Am I going to spend the rest of my life investing the thing that I love most in life – which is peace or joy – in something which is inherently unstable? This brought urgency. I was already interested in these matters, but it became a passion. There must be something wrong with my model of reality
can I know for certain is true? And if I were to start there and hold onto that, and only lead a life that was consistent with that, what kind of life would that be?”

    How the perennial philosophy / non-dualism has influenced their lives:

    RS: Suffering arises less & less frequently, and it lasts for less & less time. And fewer & fewer experiences have the power to provoke it. Now I would never say that it never happens. I can be triggered in a situation and it can create an emotional resistance in me – that’s what suffering is, emotional resistance. But I notice that fewer experiences have that capacity. They have to be quite intense. So it happens less & less frequently, and when it does happen, when the experience of suffering is triggered, then this understanding kicks in quite quickly, and I’m able to trace my way back to my essential being and its innate peace that lies behind, so to speak, the content of my experience.

    BK: “Rupert radiates peace. … I’m not there. I still have my anxieties. What did happen for me, and I’m extraordinarily grateful for that, because I think that’s what makes all the difference, the banality, the meaninglessness that most people experience as their lives, that is completely gone for me.
not in profound peace, I have my demons, my anxieties, I suffer – suffer with things that there’s nothing I can do about, some of them physical in my own body, but I never have that notion that all this suffering is for nothing, that life is meaningless, that everything comes to a total end and it’s all for nothing. That I don’t have.
life is infused with meaning. In particular, the suffering is infused with meaning. Suffering is a great drive. It’s what keeps us moving in the direction of depth. Otherwise life would remain so shallow. We wouldn’t be asking the deep questions."

RS: “I think the fruit of this (non-dual) understanding is peace on the inside – absence of suffering on the inside – and love on the outside. And when I say love, I don’t just mean a warm cozy feeling, when I use the word love I mean the recognition that we share our being, our reality, with everyone & everything, in other words, it is the felt sense of the understanding that we are speaking of here. So these two experiences are, I would suggest, the fruit of this understanding – peace on the inside, and love, beauty or oneness on the outside.
I have always felt, with you Bernardo, that you share this understanding profoundly, but that the fruit of it, at least on the inside, has been delayed in your case. Why? Because, as you’ve just said, suffering propels us to go deeper & deeper & deeper. It’s the fuel for this investigation, and I think you have a unique role in the world to share this understanding in a way that nobody else can, and rather than a way, in a field that nobody else can – for instance, in a way that I’m not qualified to speak – in the world of science. And for this reason, I feel that the fruit of this understanding, although I see it in you more & more over the years, but I feel the fruit of this understanding is being withheld from you precisely to keep you motivated to do what you are supposed to be doing in the world. And I think, as time goes on, I see it happening in you already, as time goes on, this peace will gradually emerge in your experience. And it’s absence, I do not in any consider to be a failure of your understanding. I think it’s necessary for you to do what you are doing so beautifully in the world."

    BK: “Of course what Rupert is saying instills hope in me. But … I am at peace with my lack of peace. I don’t double my suffering by not being at peace with the suffering. Because if you’re suffering, and then you tell yourself that I should not be suffering, then you just multiply it by two, you just make it worse. Now I don’t make it worse. I don’t have that voice telling me, ‘I should not suffer.’ I am in peace with my suffering, it’s part of nature. I’m aware that life is sacrificial. … I am OK with it. I do suffer, but I don’t make it worse than it needs to be."

RS: “This is what is meant by 'ananda' in the Vendantic tradition. It’s the peace that lies behind the content of our experience, no matter what. It’s the peace that surpasses understanding. Peace that has nothing to do with what is taking place, so that your suffering is in the foreground, it’s the content of your experience. For most people, the experience of suffering takes up the full picture. But there is this peace behind your suffering, that enables you to say, ‘I am at peace with my suffering.’ And I suspect, that the peace behind your suffering will grow, and will progressively outshine the suffering in the foreground. That’s my intuition. And as you say, even if it doesn’t, in a way it doesn’t matter, because the meaning of our lives is so much bigger than our own personal experience." 

    BK: “Life is not about me. Life is not about any one of us.”

    RS: “It’s sacrificial as you say, yes.” 

    BK: “It is imaginable that if suffering in your life has come to a point where it has become so completely unbearable that nihilism would seem like paradise – a way out of that. There is no point in this whole thing. There is no point to the suffering. It’s all for nothing anyway, so why worry?
    Milan Kundera called it ‘the unbearable lightness of being.’ There is a character in his book, Dr. Tomas, who is sort of the embodiment of this lightness of being – of this nihilism, which gives a certain lightness to what’s going on and that can be alluring to some people, if they are desperate enough
    Now my own relationship with the core of my being, the world, other people, and life in general is not nihilistic at all. Much to the contrary, for me, materialism is highly nihilistic: there is only matter; whatever insights you have come to a complete end when you die; so, whatever you learn, whatever maturity you accumulate, it’s all for nothing anyway. That’s nihilistic
    Today I live the reality that there’s tremendous meaning to whatever suffering I have because they are the conduits to insights, and these insights are eternal in the sense of being outside time. Life is what provides the universe with a perspective, a point of view on itself, that it would otherwise not have, and therefore life is pregnant with purpose & meaning. The world of appearances is now a book to be read. It’s the superficial image of a deeper truth. There is a dimension of depth, meaning & significance to the entire world that wasn’t there before. Everything you are surrounded with now is a dance of symbols, symbols that point at something beyond themselves. They point to something fundamental to mind, the mind of the universe, to consciousness. And there is a point to this particular seemingly individual state that we are in right now, in trying to make sense of this. This is the antithesis of nihilism. This is the universe pregnant with meaning. This is life pregnant with purpose. It is baffling that someone would equate this with nihilism."

    "Is Everything Made of Matter or Consciousness?" - Rupert Spira & Bernardo Kastrup in Conversation :   *** EXCEPTIONAL INTERVIEW ***

Constant change - Bath, UK

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