Response to Ivhakiv (2) Why the ego is no fun
Also, since Ivakhiv advances several interesting observations on why the ego, in its effort to grasp at what is actually empty, grows frustrated and seeks, in it suffering, to dominate, I have to add that Blake had an amazing handle on this. When Blake wrote, in “There is No Natural Religion –
If the many be-
-come the same as
the few, when pos-
-sess’d, More! More!
is the cry of a mista
ken soul, less than
All cannot satisfy
– he was pointing out that the experience of dissatisfaction is not constitutive of sentient existence. It’s not that Buddhists are pessimists who believe that everything has to be renounced because everything is basically dissatisfying. [This, by the way, reminds me of a comment Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche made, about liking Rajneesh better than Krishnamurti, ostensibly because it takes balls to own like a hundred Rolls Royce’s and thus mock the whole idea of hedonism, while austerity just leads to humorless, self-reifying righteousness. His opinion at that moment, I think, not mine].
No, the point is that – whether Zizek likes it or not – meditation can really lead to happiness, of a kind, because we recognize a basic mistake we’re making. We grasp at objects of desire, only because we misunderstand. We think we are separate from material interrelations to begin with. We REALLY think that. We experience ourselves as somehow bounded, individual, discrete. We hope to find security in identity and knowledge, when it in fact produces insecurity. When we meditate, we have the opposite experience. The bound between I and not-I relaxes. This terrifying taboo relaxation (you’ll go mad, you’ll be possessed, you’ll stop going to work) turns out to be blissful and bracing: it makes one more alert, more attentive, more present. The “keyless rhyme” – not the buzz of the fly, but the subtle sound of active immanence – that Dickinson quietly spoke of comes close to us, because there’s no division. Instead of grasping at man-made structures for security or permanence (with the cry, more, more), we let go of identity to allow relationship (Blake’s “all”).
It’s not an arid renunciation at all. It’s easy. As Lao Tzu wrote, “The way is empty, / used, but not used up…. Forever, this endures, forever. And all its uses are easy.” How else would cave meditators sit for decades? They’re not crazy. They’re not isolated either. The suchness, the interrelatedness, the bliss or wisdom of it all visits them. They’re with the whole world, in living interrelationship. It’s not about finding oneself, but about entering interrelationship, undoing that awful curse of alienated personhood, that cult of identity, that we value so much. They can come out of their caves and be much more robustly spontaneous and individual, and it’s not out of some kind of pity, but out of real joy.
So, here I’ll end:
“Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself. We do not enjoy virtue because we keep our lusts in check. On the contrary, it is because we enjoy blessedness that we are able to keep our lusts in check” Spinoza, Ethics, V, Proposition 32.
“Men are admitted into Heaven not because they have curbed & govern’d their Passions, or have no Passions, but because they have cultivated their Understandings.” William Blake