Saturday, May 3, 2008

What is the Basis of Life?

In the 6th century BCE, somewhere in the center of what has come to be called the axial age, East and West asked their foundational questions. These questions are very important because they helped to shape the world views that we live with today, and without an understanding of world view, we have no way of discerning the underlying assumptions that define our construction of the truth.

The first of these questions was asked by Prince Siddhartha. His question was: "Why is there suffering?" This is an inner question and led to much inner wisdom.

The second of these questions were asked by various philosophers in Asia Minor and in Greece. Finding mythology unsatisfactory, they rejected it. (Buddha did not reject mythology; he simply went beyond it.) The philosophers' question was "What is the world made of, and how do things retain their identity even when they change?" This is an outer question that cared very little how people happened to feel.

I invite you to consider the implications of these two questions upon human and non human life.

The question "why is there suffering?" realized that if there was suffering, there also was the possibility of not-suffering, since even under the worst conditions suffering is not unrelieved; therefore, the essential condition of our lives must be impermanence. Since impermanence is the key, then change becomes normative and a being can, through careful practice and right seeing, change from ignorance to wisdom, from anger to kindness, from attachment to freedom and thereby achieve the cessation of suffering. When I have ceased to suffer, I am less likely to inflict suffering upon others.

The second question, because it sought permanence, distrusted change. Because the search was for substance, not spirit, the material achieved primacy, and with it the the possibility of a "right" answer. Without the Greek passion for the material world, we would not today have science, technology and all that stuff. But without the Greek belief in a right answer, and the Greek faith in the brilliance of the human intellect, we would not today be so mired in conflict, for with a right answer comes also a wrong answer, and an intellect untempered by kindness is a razor that slices its opponents in two.

Buddha saw no objection to science as it did not change the truth of karma, or the inner life, or the silence of meditation.

The west, on the other hand, created a tension between faith and reason. Since there can be only one right answer, the west created narrowness. Those found to be in error could be dismissed as mad or even dangerous, and could be destroyed.

Buddha teaches that nothing can by destroyed, that it keeps coming back.
Jesus' resurrection taught the same thing, even as the West tried to destroy him.
Of course, materialism says that resurrection is simply impossible.

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