MAKING SENSE OF THE CONCEPTS OF UNIVERSAL SUFFERING & LIBERATION[i]
Department of Philosophy
Monterey Peninsula College
Monterey, CA. 93940USA
It is difficult to shoot from a distance arrow after arrow through a narrow hole, and
miss not once.It is more difficult to shoot and penetrate with the tip of hair split a
hundred times a piece of hair similarly split.It is still more difficult to penetrate to the
fact that "all this is ill."
(Saying of the Buddha, quoted in Conze: Buddhism, Its
Essence and Development, New York, 1951, p.45.)
My aim in this paper is to try to make sense of the notion of Universal Suffering and its complementary, liberation, conceived as freedom from suffering, particularly as freedom from its alleged cause, desire.My explanation will be limited to what I consider to be suffering typical to humans.I shall mean by "Universal Suffering" the idea that suffering is a basic fact of human life,and that it haunts most of our conscious life, even if we are not immediately aware of its presence.
In my discussion I draw freely from modern Western psychology (especially the idea of conditioning, although I modify it to suit my purposes), and from our day?to?day experience.I also draw from some contemporary Western philosophies such as that of Jean?Paul Sartre, as well as from some traditional Indian, particularly Buddhist, pronouncements on the subjects of suffering and liberation.The reader (or listener) will find some similarities between the ideas presented here and the teachings of a couple of contemporary Indian teachers, J. Krishnamurti and U. G. Krishnamurti, to both of whom I am deeply indebted.
It is well?known that the concept of universal suffering has been a stumbling?block in the minds of many Westerners, and indeed some contemporary Eastern thinkers as well, standing in the way of their understanding, let alone acceptance of the basic insights of some Eastern philosophies.First, it is not clear to them how suffering is a basic fact of life.It seems patently false that everyone suffers all the time, although we all acknowledge that people at times have problems in their living, problems of physical pain, illness, economic and social problems or problems of relationships.Second, it appears as if a philosophy which expects us to see only the "negative" side of life is deliberately ignoring the positive aspects of it and does not teach us how to enhance life's quality. As Albert Schweitzer would say, this type of thinking seems to be "life?negating."
The concept of liberation as the counterpart of suffering has also become problematic, for if suffering is diagnosed as caused by desire, and liberation is conceived as freedom from it, it is not clear how one could understand a living without desire. In order to avoid the pain arising from desiring if one wishes to get rid of desire itself, then one has neither pain nor pleasure.Does Buddhism advocate only a way of "playing it safe?"Furthermore, if human personality is constituted by just the five "factors" (the Skandhas or the psychophysical processes which make up the human person), and if Nirvana is understood as extinction of them, it is hard to imagine what remains in the human person after these are annihilated.If there remains nothing, then for whom is Nirvana?
In fact, problems concerning suffering and liberation are not peculiar to Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies.Some ancient Western philosophies such as Epicureanism and Stoicism share to some extent a similar difficulty, although the situation is not so drastic.For example, a life of serenity, peace or freedom from pain advocated by Epicureanism or Stoicism would probably connote a total stagnation to the contemporary Westerner, and, because of the spread of Western culture to the East, to many Easterners as well.Have these notions become obsolete and irrelevant, or do they have anything in them that can make genuine sense to us now?
3. The Buddha's Description of Suffering.
I will begin my discussion by giving a brief summary of the early Buddhist description of universal suffering.According to the tradition, the Buddha says:
Being born is suffering, not as much in itself as in forming the basis of suffering: only if we are born do we strive for things and experience pain and suffering; only then are we subject to the ill?effects of karma.Sickness and old age also constitute suffering.Old age arises from the fact that the body is a conditioned thing, i.e., subject to changes caused by various conditions.Old age is also a source of further suffering.Death is suffering because it portends evil in a future life, or because it causes bereavement from what has been dear to oneself in the current life.(Conze, Buddhist Meditation, Harper, 1956, pp. 140?142.)
The Buddha distinguishes between apparent and non?apparent suffering.Mental and physical pain, suffering which arises when a pleasant feeling is reversed, and suffering arising from conditioned things, as when an indifferent feeling is changed to a painful state by various causes, are apparent suffering."Non?apparent" suffering is suffering the causes of which are not immediately known."One can (recognize the reason why someone seems to suffer) only by making enquiries, and when (the occasion which causes) the attack is not apparent." (Ibid.)Suffering arising from physical pain "such as sharp pains in the ears or teeth, or mental afflictions such as the feverish pain born of passion or hate," are included in this category.
The Buddha also distinguishes between direct suffering and indirect suffering: pain, for instance, is direct suffering, while birth as the basis of it is indirect suffering. (Ibid.)
As regards liberation, in Buddhism there is hardly a single description of the state of Nirvana which tells us positively what it is, except perhaps that it is a blessed state or that it is somehow "wonderful."We only hear mostly that it is not a state of suffering, that it is not caused, or that it is "extinction" or "annihilation" of the "five factors;" (Ibid.) or that it is freedom from becoming, i.e., the changes (such as pleasures and pains, birth, old age, and death) that one is
subjected to as effects of one's karma.
From the above it is clear that there are two basically different meanings of suffering:Any condition of the human being which involves physical or mental pain is suffering.For example, old age and sickness or being frustrated in obtaining what one desires are suffering.Anything which causes pain is also suffering, such as the arising or passing away of things, and birth.For example, "Grasping through any of the five skandhas" causes pain and constitutes suffering.Let us add here that it is not the "objective" facts of old age or sickness themselves that should be regarded as suffering, but a person's perception of them as painful.
In the following, I would like to present an understanding of suffering which I think will avoid some of the above difficulties and yet make sense of liberation.Toward this purpose I will employ a few primary notions:first, a concept of what I consider to be typically human conditioning which is mediated by the human capacity to think by means of mental images and symbols acting as concepts.Our capacity to think includes the abilities to abstract, generalize, compare, utilize past experience to solve problems, envisage possible situations and draw consequences from given information; and second?order abilities of observing one's own actions, behavior and mental processes, and so forth.It also includes the phenomenon of identification through which our notion of the ego or the self is formed.Second, I will also utilize the notions of becoming and alienation which I will explain as I go along.
While the human ability to think has made us superior to animals, it also has caused us the problem of alienation.In my view, it is alienation which constitutes the core of what is characteristically human suffering.While we need to utilize the functions of reasoning and self?consciousness for purposes of survival, it is also possible at the same time, as part of the liberating process to become free from the alienation created by the identificational functions of thought.
Human conditioning mediated through thought on the one hand creates the notion of ego which is an object synthesized by thinking, and on the other hand, the becoming[ii] which is inherent in our idea of the ego.It is this becoming which causes the restlessness or unease or "dis"?ease, the constant having to be "elsewhere" that constitutes part of the core of suffering.This becoming manifests itself in the form of desire and fear, or pursuing what is pleasurable or avoiding what is painful, what I would call the "pleasure principle."
Conditioning:By conditioning I do not mean merely animal conditioning, which involves learning to respond to new stimuli, or simply learning to modify old responses to new situations by being positively or negatively reinforced to the stimuli or situations.For example, when it rains we learn to take shelter in houses which are built for the purpose, rather than taking shelter under a tree or cave.I try this new pudding.It seems palatable. I prefer it over other foods the next time I eat.I hear a piece of music by Beethoven now.I seem to enjoy it.The next time I prefer it to other types of music.Or, trying out a problem and solving it wins me praise from my teacher.In order to receive praise on future occasions I would tend to pursue similar problem?solving situations.The more I succeed at such situations the more I become reinforced by my success.On the other hand, I receive no praise but only blame for trying to dominate my peers; so I tend not to repeat such behavior in my future dealings with them. These are some typically animal kinds of conditioning, although some of the examples I chose involve extension of animal conditioning to include understanding and responding to words, and verbal behavior.[iii]
Human Conditioning: Conditioning that is characteristic of humans is more complicated than animal conditioning.It not only involves verbal abilities, imagery, capability to think[iv] with symbols and the capacity to be reinforced to prefer or avoid certain objects, situations, activities or people, but also involves being identified with objects, people, actions, experiences, beliefs, viewpoints, etc.When we are identified with something positively, we not only tend to recreate it, or repeat our experience of it, but tolive it in our thinking, imagination or fantasy.If it is a belief or point of view, we Act as if we are the belief or point of view.For example, because I am "identified" with or "conditioned" to a previous trip to Yosemite, I tend to relive the experience, even though I am not currently taking a trip to Yosemite.I modify the trip in my mind to suit my interests, and derive vicarious satisfaction from the reliving.
Desire and fear[v] (or avoidance) are mental processes which involve thinking.In both what I have previously experienced as pleasant or painful becomes the object of my desire or avoidance. I am aware of the object as pleasant or painful. The object may or may not be actually present.But I think of it as attractive or repulsive.I find myself desiring it or avoiding it. In human conditioning, it is the process of identification I described above that manifests itself as desire and fear.For it is because of the identification with a previous experience that my thinking has turned the object of that experience into an object of desire or avoidance.
The vicarious enjoyment which results from my primary conditioning itself becomes a secondary process of conditioning: each time I relive the experience of my previous trip to Yosemite I become more and more attached to it, as well as becoming more particular about what events and qualities that trip should contain.When these qualities and events don't all materialize the next time I take a trip, I tend to feel disappointed.In other words, I use the previous experience, as well as my vicarious reliving of it, as a standard of judgment in evaluating other experiences or places.
The Ego:Both in desire and fear and in my vicarious living (when I "merely thinking" about things), I have an awareness of myself.But this awareness is limited to being aware of myself as lacking an object or as being threatened by it.The consciousness of myself has no existence before such desire or aversion.This consciousness is not as explicit as at a higher level when my desires are either satisfied or frustrated (or my fears allayed or not allayed).Then I am aware of myself as having achieved the object of my desire (or as having failed to attain it).I cherish my achievements.I fantasize further achievement of similar goals.I desire further goals and objects.Or I am aware of myself as still plagued by fear.
In the process of "mental" or vicarious reliving of situations I am also aware of myself as having a pleasant or unpleasant experience.In this reliving I am never neutral to what I experience.I modify the situation I am reliving by adding elements which would make the situation suit better my previous interests and expectations, or lessen its threat to me, if the situation be a threatening one.If my relationship to the situation be one of uncertainty, I try to eliminate the uncertainty by imagining the "worst" possible scenario.All these approaches are variations of the same theme of the pleasure principle."
The process of desire has created not only a mental life for me, but also a notion of myself.My explicit notion of myself begins with an awareness of simple lacks and achievements.As more and more of these lacks and achievements are comprehended through memory in my thoughts, I develop a higher and higher integrated notion of myself or the ego, a unitary and continuous self.This "I" is seen as the center of my consciousness and accompanies all my consciousness, experience and knowledge of the world as their subject.My notion of myself, because of the processes of abstraction and generalization, becomes more abstract, although in the concrete it is nothing but a set of more or less integrated identifications.
I also become as it were possessed by the initial immediate experience.My thoughts about other experiences are from that "point of view," the point of view being my enjoyment or threat in the initial situation.The experience provides my identity. I am not aware of this identity except as thoughts produced by a certain point of view.I, however, assume that I am someone independent of the thoughts, someone who has the thoughts.Even when I do become aware of the point of view, as when someone makes me aware of it, or when I myself become so aware in self?consciousness, I do so only from another point of view.I still think I am someone who has the point of view, but not as someone who has been the point of view itself a moment ago.
Thoughts such as these, whether we are explicitly aware of them or not, act as the subject knowing the object.In the knowing and judging a thought, i.e., an identification, seeks continuity of itself, a permanence or enhancement. Knowing in our daily life is the way we seek certainty: the way we make sure that we have in fact achieved what we thought we have achieved.
The notion of myself is not only that of a self or a person with certain qualities, character, personality traits (as I see them), experiences, desires, fears, goals, and projects.It is also of someone who has potentialities, who has to become something else.Any image I have of myself is not only as someone who is someone, but also as someone who is yet to be or become something else.Indeed, although most thinking I have about the projects or goals I have is ostensibly about them,it is indirectly about me having to become them.If my thinking consists of judgments about people, then it is indirectly about myself being "different" from or "superior" to them.All that this thinking does for me is to turn me away, through a process of implicit comparison with its past identifications, from the present actual world to the surrogate mental world of reliving the past or fantasizing about a fictitious future.
The ego fabricated by us thus has not only an identity, but a permanence, a continuity in space and time, a destiny, potentiality to realize its goals, and so forth.Also, this motivational structure which constitutes our self is tied with our very "will to live".Because we are identified with the notion of self artificially created by our human conditioning through thought, we no longer distinguish our physical or biological survival from the survival of this psychological "self." Seeking or Striving:The process of desire is also a process of seeking fulfillment.Essentially it is a state of becoming, trying to be other than what one is.There would be no problem with conditioning if it were nothing but a means of teaching us how to make our lives more successful, avoiding what is painful and helping us survive better in this world.Typical human conditioning also creates fictitious goals and ideas of fulfillment which in many cases cannot in principle be satisfied.Examples of such goals are going to Heaven or becoming God or the most powerful man on earth, or proving oneself to be superior, and so forth.Human conditioning creates artificial needs not based on survival needs, but based on comparison with what one has experienced in the past.The artificial needs are developed from the primary survival needs by extension in imagination. They are constantly recreated ad infinitum. In fact, the needs get regenerated each time we are conscious of ourselves, even in moments when our desires and wishes are satisfied.For the consciousness of our satisfied goal is instantly also a becoming in terms of seeking its continuance or permanence in some form or other.The elation derived from satisfaction of the goal lasts only a moment, however short or long a "moment" is.This creation of artificial needs develops a duplicate life which is inherently one of restlessness, lack of peace, and "dis"?ease.This life not only conflicts with reality every now and then, but in extreme cases like in Schizophrenia altogether loses touch with it.
If one merely is, where is the necessity to strive for any goals beyond satisfying one's survival needs? It is clear that this striving is brought about by man's capacity for thought, thinking by means of symbols.It is through this activity that man has created many fictions such as institutions, nations, gadgets, sciences and molded reality into these fictions.Objectively, this striving manifests itself as being conditioned to desire or fear an object, only the stimuli are more symbolic.
But subjectively, the story is more complicated.For we can use our thinking capacity to fantasize, reminisce, plan, and project into future, all this done "internally" through images and symbols.These processes are not apparent to an external observer.In fact we respond to stimuli which we create for ourselves and which have no objective existence (at least in the present).But we also respond as if we are some of the things we are conditioned to.We like, dislike, attack others or defend ourselves on that basis.For instance, through a common identification with the idea of a nation we become a nation and fight for it.We respond to stimuli which are only "abstract" and fabricated (by thought).
It is such becoming with its consequent pleasures and frustrations which the Buddha regarded as "non?apparent suffering."This becoming (or seeking) presupposes grasping or attachment to the object of desire.This grasping is the same as what we find in the Buddha's "twelve?fold cycle of becoming" as "grasping."
An Objection: One might object to the above analysis of suffering in terms of striving by saying that it is not true that striving (or restlessness) is painful at all levels, and that it is only painful when it reaches a certain intensity, or when it generates frustration.The critic will point to the analogy of heat: warm water, for instance, below the threshold of pain is quite pleasant.Only when it reaches above a certain temperature is it painful.(When the temperature is raised gradually, in fact it is hard to tell that it is painful, even though the water may be scalding to someone else.)
Reply: The reply to this objection is to point out that the analogy is misleading: for while everyone feels water at moderate temperatures as pleasant, some "sensitive" people, or people who are seriously frustrated in their basic drives or motivations consider striving at any level a "disease" and hence as painful.
If we don't see any problem with this becoming, if we cannot see it as suffering, the reasons probably lie in the fact that we have taken our striving for goals so much for granted that without such a striving we feel ourselves empty, lacking, alone, insecure, inadequate etc.The awareness of this emptiness, which we mistakenly construe as suffering, is sufficient to instantly put us back on the track of becoming something else.Or we see the frustration resulting from unachieved goals only as painful but not the struggle itself, or the "dis"ease arising from it.
This becoming is under the surface of the threshold of pain all the time we are seeking.It is the process of grasping which creates the state of being divided from ourselves, alienated from ourselves.The movement away from the present in the process of desire is also a movement away from myself, a separation from myself.This is what I would call primary alienation.When the implicit comparison of the present with past identifications creates dissatisfaction with the present we have boredom.And when boredom is taken to extremes, we have loss of the meaning of life.The loss of meaning in one's life is a climactic case of alienation.In the concrete, however, the loss of meaning in life is only a result of the frustration of one or more of our fundamental identifications, be it our desire for love or success or achievement or something else.
Alienation is a feeling of separation.We feel separate from the world, from other people, and from ourselves.How does this feeling of separation appear in our consciousness?When I desire something I seek to be united with the object of my desire.I see a distance between myself and the object, and I wish to close that gap.The feeling of gap is the feeling of separation.When I am afraid, I seek to maintain the gap.Something is threatening to close the gap and I seek to widen it.How is this a case of alienation?Because it is also a case where I am aware of myself as threatened by the object, is it not?If I am not alienated then I belong to the world in some fashion.Then I am at peace.I am well adjusted. Then I don't have to change anything, as for instance by becoming what I am not.The question of separation would never have to arise in the first place.
Why is the restlessness, the becoming, the alienation, a suffering?Because it makes you weary, unharmonious with yourself, lacking peace, at "dis"ease.Why is peace preferable to this becoming?There is no answer to this question.One cannot prove to a person that it is preferable, only that some people in fact do prefer peace, or find themselves in situations where peace seems preferable.
This grasping and self?alienation are probably what the Buddha meant by "non?apparent" suffering.An indication that such alienation does constitute suffering stems from the fact that any recognition of our own state does not just end with that, but turns the recognition into an attempt to change the given situation into something else, something which we would wish the situation to be, even if it be something which we have already achieved.(As proof of this notice how we "want" to do things or undertake them, such as having sexual intercourse, when in fact we have already done them a moment ago, or are in the process of undertaking them.)Such "dis"?ease or restlessness and lack of peace seems to me to be at the root of what is typically human suffering.
It is not that life contains more painful than pleasant experiences.Suffering is not a matter of accounting, but is indicative of a pathological state of man.This is the existence that at some moment of one's life one may become weary of and disillusioned with.Then one seeks liberation.
Self?Consciousness and Fundamental Philosophical Questions: Our self?consciousness can be developed to its ultimate limits. The idea of the abstract ego is that it is separate from our body, from our past and future, from our thoughts, emotions, feelings, memories and experiences, from our achievements; it is separate from everything, including our society, the world and even our very life.When we arrive at such a stage of consciousness of ourselves, when we are not occupied with thinking about any particular thing, then we become aware of ourselves as a nothing and ask about the meaning of life, whether we will survive our death, or whether there is a higher power who controls the universe.We ask questions about the destiny of life or where we came from and where we are going.
These are typical philosophical questions.But at the bottom of these questions are certain key identifications, such as our life, our property, possessions, relationships, achievements, our knowledge, and so forth.We inevitably develop a fear of death, and contrive various philosophies which are intended to allay this fear but never do. There is no real solution to these problems in the Philosophical realm, as Nagarjuna well points out, for they are generated ultimately from the phenomenon of "grasping to existence."This grasping to existence, although it seems to be abstract, is actually rooted in concrete graspings of this and that identification.Until we ultimately become free the identifications, at least the dominant ones, and the accompanying illusion of the ego, we are bound to remain with the fears.
We can understand why we really have no way of answering any of the fundamental philosophical questions completely to our satisfaction with the means we have at our disposal by looking at the matter from another angle.The search for the answers implies that when we obtain the answers, our questions should cease to exist.But no knowledge we can gain through our thought and reason is such that we are no longer aware of our answer as an object of knowledge, that we no longer ask the why's and wherefore's of that knowledge, or how one is related to the answer.This quest is born out of adivision between the self and the world, and as long as the consciousness of the object as such, and the self as separate from the objective world, exists, the quest, and therefore the restlessness, is bound to remain.And thought, as soon as it touches anything whatsoever through a concept, creates the divisive consciousness of the self and the object
Summary: Suffering takes place at different levels of formation of human "self?identity." Primarily, it takes place at the level of desire or fear when an initial experience of attraction or repulsion to an object is turned into a mental process. Suffering is also indicated by the process of becoming or seeking fulfillment, which is a state of restlessness or "dis"?ease. Thirdly, we become aware of ourselves as alienated from what we desire or fear, from particular persons, situations or our society, when we become frustrated with them.And finally, our alienation, our suffering reaches its climax when we are aware of ourselves as an abstract ego or the self separated from the world, life, and existence itself, and ask fundamental questions about the meaning of existence and the "why"s and "wherefore"s of our existence.All this constitutes suffering.
Liberation: Liberation consists basically in being free from the identification function of thinking and the consequent attempts to become something other than oneself in order to fulfill oneself.It is also becoming free from the restlessness, the travel which characterize our suffering.
The Problem: If becoming free from estrangement is liberation, and if most of our conscious lives automatically involve thinking, and thinking means becoming, then becoming free from becoming must involve either being unconscious or being stagnant or being dead; or so it seems.
Liberation in my view could be achieved without impairing the other functions of thinking that I have partially listed in the beginning of the previous section.Even though in some sense liberation is freedom from desire, I believe that it (i.e., liberation) is not an incoherent notion, if we understand by desire a process of striving in order to achieve a fulfillment or happiness in something other than oneself.
Although becoming is automatic, it is not inevitable.One could be free from it.To become free from suffering one must become free from its source, i.e.,the identifications which cause estrangement.The functioning of thought is such that when we are identified with an experience or an object or a person thought creates the division between myself and myself, as explained above.If I am free from the identification with the object, then there is no division within myself as the subject and the object.
To be free from identifications I must become aware of them and detach myself from them: that is, let them go and be able to see myself even as nothing without them, and be the nothing.To free myself from identifications I detach myself from the positive ones and do not resist the negative ones.Non?resist?ance to fear helps me come into direct contact with the positive identifications on the basis of which negative identifications develop: for instance, I am afraid of a lion pouncing on me, and I see it as a threat only because I am in the first place attached to my life, and losing it appears horrifying to me.If I can let my attachment to my life go, then I can face the idea (not the actual lion) of the lion without resisting it.This is how I become free from fear. (Or frustration or disappointment or loneliness or an endless number of other things which constitute suffering.)
Please distinguish the above remarks from the fact that when a lion actually approaches me, I see it as threatening me; I step out of its way or attack it.When I am done with this responding to the lion, the lion is gone from my consciousness until I am confronted with it again.My mental lion, which I am talking about here, on the other hand, is not disposed of that easily.I make it larger than life, worry about it, and even have nightmares about it. It is the fear of that "thought" lion I am saying we can become free from.
Doesn't this reduce the quality of our living?Only to the extent that we lose many of our so called pleasures derived from fantasizing and daydreaming, from knowledge and pride of achievement, and so forth.But if we mean by enjoyment laughing and enjoying a sunshine or a poem, there is no reason to believe that we will be deprived of any of it.We often operate under the assumption that without striving for happiness we will not have any of it, while in fact the opposite is the truth: without initially having some pleasant (or happy) experience we would not have any concrete notion of happiness to strive for in the first place.In the second place, the mere fact that we strive for happiness is no guarantee that we will achieve it.It is also well known that the more consciously we seek our "happiness" the less we achieve it.In the third place, true moments of "happiness" occur without any effort at all on our part.
It is true that in order to make plans, we place ourselves in our imagination in certain situations.But that does not mean that we have to be identified with the roles and derive a senseof fulfillment through them.We just would not have a need to seek fulfillment, because seeking itself, in the sense of becoming, is now completely absent.Any temporary identification is seen as temporary, and as a source of alienation, and we become instantly detached from it, as a natural process of recoiling from "unease".These temporary identifications, on the other hand, now could also be seen as mere functions of the mind.If one is free from the central or the most dominant identifications, then he uses momentary identifications as tools for survival.Thus the distinction between function and content may turn out to be only relative.What is content in one identification may turn out to be function in another.But the distinction makes sense at any one particular level of identification.One "sees" the identifications as such and let's them go.It is not hard to imagine a liberated life of "being in which lesser "becomings" "come and go."
We need not be deprived of any of the symbolic or computer?like functions of the mind, such as checking one's experience or its contents or one's activity in self?conscious?ness by means of comparing and contrasting, or rational functions like planning and calculating.Even though it is just these functions which created the "self" and its divisions in the first place, since we no longer are subject to the illusion of the ego, one can remain in the present, not be seeking any self?fulfillment, and yet use the functions to meet the demands of the present "moment" which vary constantly.We can even say that the person "strives" to satisfy particular goals, yet does not strive for any personal fulfillment.
Once the illusion of the ego is created it keeps striving for fulfillment.Liberation is not only becoming free from striving, but also from the illusion of the ego which perpetuates the striving process.The origins of the illusion of the ego lie in our self?consciousness in which we are aware of ourselves as someone who lacks what we desire or who is threatened by what we fear.In liberation we become free from the illusion of the ego, and the consequent striving or seeking for fulfillment by the objects other than ourselves.We do not seek fulfillment because we see no need to do so.We simply do not carry over our past experience into the present in terms of its affectivity.We use it only in order to effectively deal with the present, if there is a need for it.Nor do we project from our past experience goals into the future to fulfill ourselves.
We would have no problems of identity.For we would understand that any identity we acquire is a "put on", and just as Sartre has shown in his Being and Nothingness, we would be aware that we can never really be that identity, because in the very awareness of it we become other than it.This does not mean we do not respond to the needs of life, of people or of situations as is appropriate.Nor does it mean that we do not enjoy or suffer in the present situations either.Only that we would have no "knowledge" (which makes us cherish and be proud) of our enjoyment and hence no projection of it into the future by attempting to make it permanent (although we would still have self?consciousness as a mental function).This does not prevent us from using all the symbolic, logical, and psychological functions of thought.Only we would not be subject to the self?identification produced by thought.All the thought processes previously used in identifying ourselves and seeking for fulfillment can now be utilized as just mental functions for purposes of survival.We would not be able to arrive at this state, however, without relinquishing the very idea of the self, although this may seem very frightening to the extent of appearing to be death itself.
Since he has no "private" or self?centered ends, such a person when he relates to other people, has no judgments in his mind about them, and hence does not create a feeling of separation between himself and others.He empathizes with one and all to the degree he feels their pains and pleasures and responds to them as though he were them.This I see as the content to the Buddhist notion of Compassion (Karuna) which is automatic with such a person, and to my mind is not a special virtue to be practiced.
One might think that such a notion of liberation would make a person irresponsible or whimsical because his responses are to the "moment."But it would not.For one thing, a whimsical person is constantly trying to gratify himself with little pleasures of the moment, and the liberated person does not.For another, the same needs of the situation which existed on a prior occasion, would once again bring an appropriate, if not similar, response to a similar situation.So, to an observer the liberated person would appear as the most responsible person, although the person himself would have no consciousness of himself as such.
In what sense is such a person prompted to respond to the demands of the situation or of the moment?Part of the answer lies in the biological needs of the situation.The rest has to do with his finding a need for action in any given situation:it may be that he identifies himself with the interests of other people as his own for the moment such that he sees a need for action.Or it may be that he sees that there is a fundamental solution to the problem of human suffering and in whatever situation he finds himself, he teaches others whenever it is appropriate.
In liberation we become free from karma.My past affects me psychologically (if this is how we understand karma) only to the extent that it is carried over through my self?identity into my present and responds to the demands in the present as my self.This response is the effect of my past, and is my karma.If I do not let my past determine my identity, then I am also free from the effects which these responses cause in my psyche.
Whether such a liberation is gradual and reversible or sudden and irreversible is a controversy about which I at the moment do not wish to take sides.Suffice it to say that the controversy could perhaps be resolved by separating the subjective and objective points of view.Subjectively, from the point of view of the person himself, at any moment the person is "here," in the world of bondage, or "there," in the world of liberation.There is nothing between the two.But if one takes an objective point of view, the same person may appear as if he is moving between "here" and "there" and only making gradual progress toward liberation, sometimes losing the ground he has gained and sometimes making headway.It may well be that from an objective point of view the person may come to a stage where there is no going back.
It would be the subject?matter of another paper to discuss the question of what a society would be like in which some or all the members are liberated people.
6. The Means.
Meditation would be of help in this regard.So would many other means such as working selflessly, or submitting oneself to "God's will." In meditation you focus on something in the present (or on nothing) so you can disrupt the process of thinking.But this, as well as any self?knowledge which seeks to discover the basic motivational structure of oneself, is not completely successful unless it is accompanied by the practice of detachment from and total acceptance of (or non?resistance to) what one may find, and unless one lets go of the grasping of the object.Here is where I see the value of a Philosophy such as that of Nagarjuna, not as being merely interested in metaphysical debates, but as an aid in meditation.For if we can "see" that things have no reality or "self?substance" in themselves, that no view of reality which does not lead to contradictions is possible, and that both Nirvana and Samsara are purely relativistic notions, then both my attachment to Nirvana and my abhorrence of Samsara would disappear, and my grip over existence will loosen.I would understand all goals for self?fulfillment as in vain, for the idea of a self which in the first place seeks the fulfillment is itself put together by thought by projecting an object of identification as possibly "desirable."Then I can effortlessly return to the present out of the realm of mental illusions.
7. A Note on Method.
For purposes of this paper the methods I have employed are very simple:first, an analysis of our common experience of desire and frustration, how we form our desires or fears; second, an analysis of our thinking process to show the various structures and functions involved in it; and third, to show a few possibilities for living which may not normally suggest themselves.
If I seem to be talking about mental phenomena which are inaccessible to "objective observation" or postulating entities or processes which are not normally observed even in one's ownexperience, the reader (or listener) should bear in mind that my intention here is to make a coherent theory of our mental lives which would account for what we know to be true about them, and yet make sense of some traditional theories of suffering and liberation at the same time.If, to that end, I have to refer to entities that are not objectively observable, I make no apologies for it.
As for the truth of some of the statements I make in this essay, particularly those about possibilities for living, the listener (or reader) would perhaps have no way of verifying them in his own experience without actually practicing some detachment, meditation or what have you.Furthermore, statements I make such as "Thought is the thinker," or that "The thinker or the abstract ego is only a set of dominant identifications operating in us from time to time, each arrogating to itself the status of a whole self," will remain statements of theory.
As for a proof of the desirability of liberation, I wish to say that it is not a value like any of the other values we pursue and cherish.Besides, no one can show to another that one must see life as replete with suffering or that one must seek "liberation," whatever that liberation may consist of.The aim of this paper is only to show that the notions of suffering and liberation are not incoherent, and that some such meaning must be involved in the traditional theories, such as the Buddhist ideas of suffering and liberation.
When we think of the object a judgment is made concerning it. The process of thinking or judging, although it is seen explicitly in the internal dialogue which goes on within ourselves most of our conscious lives, has its beginning in any conscious recognition of an object even in the "present actual world," for such a recognition almost always involves a judgment and a consequent "flight" into the mental world.