Saturday, March 10, 2012

To what does humankind aspire? What might the very purpose of life be?

(The source and background of the passage from which this is excerpted is given at the end. Why the text continues to appear in all caps, despite my best efforts, I have no idea)

To what does humankind aspire most deeply and what might the very purpose of life be? Buddhism’s answer is that what we all seek in life is happiness. but this is not just an agreeable sensation.

What is happiness? It is the fulfillment of living in a way that wholly matches the deepest nature of our being. It is knowing that we have been able to spend our life actualizing the potential we have in all of us. It is to have understood the true and ultimate nature of the mind.

What distinguishes the experience of a happy life from an unhappy one? For someone who knows how to give meaning to life, every instant is like an arrow flying to its target. Not to know how to give meaning to life leads to discouragement and a sense of futility that may even lead to the ultimate failure, suicide.

Happiness necessarily implies wisdom. It provides the capacity to put right the principal cause of what we perceive as unhappiness. That is, persistent dissatisfaction dominating the mind; a consequence of the inability to overcome the mental poisons of hatred, jealousy, attachment, greed, and pride. These poisones arise from an ego centered vision of the world and a powerful attachment to the idea of a "self" that is inage and powerful, withinn us

The other essential component of happiness is summed up in three words: altruism, love and compassion. We cannot fully experience happiness for ourselves, when around us others are suffering all the time. Thus, our own happiness is intimately linked to the happiness of others.

What Buddhism offers that is of greatest value is a ‘contemplative science.' It is a science of mind that deals with the most basic mechanisms of happiness and suffering. Why is this needed? It is because the mind is critical in determining how we live our lives and how we see “our” world. It is behind every experience in life. Changes in the mind can “turn our world completely upside down.” They can completely change how we perceive people and things. All great spiritual traditions are, fundamentally, intended to help us become better human beings, [which requires training the mind].

Why can science cannot help us much to attain that goal? The purpose of science is to elucidate the nature of tangible phenomena and in the light of those discoveries, to harness phenomena for our use, It can provide us with warmth if we feel cold. It can cure us if we feel ill. From the viewpoint of its own purposes, the goal of science would be to have every human being live for hundreds of years in perfect health But science does not address the goal of inner meaning.

What is the role Buddhism can play? It seems to offer the means to instill in all of us a degree of inner peace. Its fundamental truths can be used in such a way that the potential for perfection we all have within us can be actualized. (As we pursue our practice, we must check over the months and years to keep in touch with our commitment to attaining it and to ensure that we are moving forward toward it.) Our goals should be to free ourselves from hatred, grasping, pride, jealousy and, above all, to free ourselves from the ego-centeredness and ignorance that causes them.

The discipline that achieves these goals should be viewed as true wisdom. Experience is the path. In the quest for wisdom, dialogue (as in the dialogue between Mathueu Ricard and his father, Jean Francois Revel) can be enlightening. But no dialogue, however enlightening it might be, can ever be a substitute for the silence of personal experience, so indispensable for an understanding of how things really are.

Experience is the path and, as The Buddha once said, “It is up to you to follow it.” … so that one day, the messenger might become the message.

The above is from the concluding epilogue by Matthieu Ricard, one of the two co-authors of a remarkable book, The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life (1998). “The Father” is Jean-Francois Revel (1924-2006), a leading French philosopher and author, among many other books, of Without Marx or Jesus: The New American Revolution has Begunand The Flight from Truth: the Reign of Deceit in the Age of Information. “The Son” is the author of the passage outlined below, who became a Buddhist Monk after receiving his Ph.D. in molecular biology at the Pasteur Institute. Ricard is the French translator for the Dalai Lama and has been a leader in the Mind and Life Conferences, a dialogue on the relationship between contemporary psychology (especially neuroscience) and Buddhist contemplative practices. He was the first Buddhist monk to collaborate with the University of Wisconsin’s Richard Davidson on the emerging fields of contemplative neuroscience and neuroplasticity. Those fields use state-of-the-art brain scanning techniques to study how the structure (and consequently, the functioning) of the brain are altered by practices, especially those that are intensely pursued. These include meditation but also, chess playing, musicianship, computer programming, and craftspersonship (such as sculpture or pottery making), and athletic practices such as tennis, badminton, quarterbacking an NFL team, world class football (soccer) and competitive endurance racing (50 and 100 mile marathons) on horseback.

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