Friday, September 9, 2011

Poisonous Children


In Buddhist thought a poisonous monster lives inside each of us and it has three characteristics—greed, anger and delusion. These three are the child of our precious ego, the mythical surrogate we all create to identify ourselves. I say “precious” with tongue in cheek because this is the mother of all sorrow. It appears precious until we understand its phantom nature. It is who we think we are and we defend it to the death. Different religions refer to ego death as the necessary condition for final liberation—being set free to experience fundamental humanity. Christianity calls this experience being “reborn” (sadly misunderstood) and the mystical arm of Christianity refers to this state as “the dark night of the soul,” the darkness everyone must pass through on the way to freedom.

Soul is a term, which often is used to describe ego, but has the added characteristic of life after physical death. When Gautama was enlightened he realized his true nature and came to understand that neither the ego nor the soul were real. He saw them for what they were: as ideas rather than something real, and along with his enlightenment he understood the source of suffering—the idea of ego. If you wanted to reduce Buddhism down to a single statement (which would be a gross devaluation) you could call it the solution for overcoming suffering. I’ll explain:

We have a sight challenge: We can’t see our self. The truth is we can’t see each other either. What I see when I look at you is your outer skin—call it a cloak. And since that is what we can see we think of a person (including our self) as a body. But none of us is stupid. We know we are more than just a bag of bones. We know that there is someone inside that bag and we call that inside dimension by a name—our self. Unfortunately this “our self” is just another cloak, an inside cloak which conceals our true identity. So why don’t we see this identity behind the cloak? The answer is simple (but not so simple). We don’t see the real us because our true identity can’t be seen but it’s there in spite of our sight challenge. If it wasn’t there we couldn’t see anything because our true self is what’s doing the seeing and it’s called consciousness.

What can we see? We can see objects. What can’t we see? We can’t see subjects. Anyone who has studied grammar is taught the difference between an object and a subject. If I write the sentence “I see myself,” the “I” would refer to subject and “myself” would be the object. But there is a subtle problem with such a sentence (and a clue). Is it possible for a subject to be an object? Isn’t that sentence illogical? Think about it. Either they are different or they are the same thing with an illusion of difference.

Our real nature is not an object, like a stone, which we can see. When we objectify anything we devalue it, stripping it of fundamental humanity. We are not objects. We are not an idea. We are real beings, an incarnate spirit with two dimensions, one part of which can be seen and one part that can’t be seen. These two parts can’t be divided. If our spirit is removed we’ll just be a bag of bones. If our flesh is removed we’ll be a ghost. We may talk as if they can be divided but such thinking is delusional. And there is an inherent awareness in us all that knows this truth, but it is such a vaporous aspect that it goes beneath our detection. It is a conundrum, which produces the three, poisons of greed, anger and delusion. Why? Because “We”—the real us—wants desperately to be set free and it makes us angry that we can’t find the solution! We are in prison—a prison of our own making—and we can’t find our way out, and the keys to that prison are held by Mr. or Mrs. Ego (the gate keeper of our prison) who is extremely greedy; who wants to possess and defend; who clings to everything desirable and rebuffs everything undesirable. Our ego judges with a criterion of objectivity—what it can perceive. If I look good, that is desirable. If I look bad, that is undesirable. If you act well, that is desirable. If you act badly, that is undesirable. We judge based on our capacity to perceive, not what we can’t perceive.

Since it is impossible to see the real us, we all create a surrogate identity that can be seen. And this surrogate is fabricated (clothed) with a vast wardrobe of ideas, judgments and points of discriminations. We objectify ourselves and in the process strip ourselves of human dignity. An ego is like a hologram—an image in our mind (a self-image), which we watch with our minds eye. We can see this hologram twist and turn, to reach out and be reached at. It is amorphous and in constant motion, subjected to both assaults, and adoration.

We hate assaults (and become easily offended) and love to be adored. When we are assaulted we naturally take offense and when we are adored we love it and gravitate to the one who expresses love. We are yo-yos on the string of life. And you know what ticks us off the most? That we see this manipulation happening and seem powerless to stop it! And that makes us really mad! And then we take the next step: we then learn to hate our self for being so powerless and vulnerable. The downward spiral—which in the grand scheme is a very good spiral. Why? Because it hurts so badly and we hate pain. Pain is really our friend. It tells us something is wrong that needs fixing and if we humans are nothing more, we are fixers and very inventive. And what is generally missing is motivation. Suffering supplies the motivation.

Suffering is our friend. It is something we experience inside. It is not an outside condition. It happens inside—it is a response (an effect) not a cause. And who causes this response? Our suffering is not caused by another nor experienced by them. It is caused by our response, not by outer circumstances, which can never be altered. And who is behind our responses? Why the keeper of the prison keys—Ego (our surrogate self). Ego is the source of our sorrow; our suffering, and since it is the source, it is there we must turn for a solution. Our system is an amazingly delicate instrument with all manner of built in sensors designed to warn us of impending disaster. When we are being affected by a virus we start to feel poorly and we go to the doctor. When we are not feeling well emotionally we also seek out a doctor. But sadly today’s doctors of emotions either drug us to not feel the pain or reinforce our self-image so that we think better of our ego. These approaches only partially help since they work to remove our motivation to reach beyond the illusion and find our true substance. Consequently we never remove the cancerous seed but instead just slap on another band-aid.

An ego is a toxic substance, that produces emotional disease, which is why these children of ego are called the three poisons. Greed, anger and delusion are toxic children and the only solution to this poisoning is to vanquish the mother—the ego, and allow our natural goodness to emerge. The answer is not to bolster our self-image or anaesthetize suffering but is rather to vaporize the mother—to see it as the phantom that it is. Meister Eckhart—Christian Mystic and prophet (circa1260-1329)—said:

“Humanity in the poorest and most despised human being is just as complete as in the Pope or the Emperor.” And we know what sort of clothing the Emperor wears—none.

Fundamental humanity is not flawed in any way. It is complete already. The flaw is what stands in the way of our human birthright that puts one head above another. At the ground level of our humanness we are equal and good, whether Pope, Emperor, Buddha or an average person.
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