Buddhism, and the Power of (Positive) Thinking…

IMG_0599I live in a world of opposites, sometimes Amerika, sometimes Asia, sometimes elsewhere, according to taste, according to style, sometimes necessity. On the surface the two places might not seem much different, shopping malls out the yin or shopping malls out the yang, just now taking over Asia, same time old hat in Amerika, just shut the door on your way out…

…but deeper down, they’re almost exactly opposite. This is more than just happenstance or circumstance, but dyed in the woof, warped in the weft. I’m talking about the sutras, of course, sutures holding together lives, stitches in time saving nine, literally the sayings of the Buddha offering recipes for life in narrative form made simple for mass consumption…

It’s a common comment, from almost every foreign ex-pat in Thailand, that: “They don’t think!!!” with a nod and wink, and an invitation to drink, and just slightly more than a hint of superiority complex, implying that Thais couldn’t do so even if they wanted to, whether for lack of brains or inspiration, never clear from the context or the subtext, or just the prophecy fulfilling itself with a lack of details in explanation…

But in fact there is some truth to the matter, and that’s not necessarily bad, but made maddeningly more clear the deeper I get with my peeling of an onion skin that perhaps was never meant to be peeled. And it is woven right into the fabric of the religion, the same which brought culture and civilization to the region some two thousand years ago, but who’s counting?

Because Buddhist high monks of the Theravada school, to which Thailand subscribes, in fact teach exactly that, that thinking is a ‘defilement’. So it’s more than just a bar girl’s admonishment to not “think too much” while plying the hapless victim with sweet nothings and her cheap red drinks, along with his own personal poison, the bar tab meanwhile full to bulging along with that other member from down under sitting silent waiting with hopes and expectations that may or may not ever be totally fulfilled…

A certain high monk even carries the definition of suffering to the extent that childbirth is suffering, what with the long gestation, the pesky preparations and the predictable aftermath. Wow! How despicable! Another baby is born and the world frowns in disapproval—and maybe that’s right, what with our planet looking at 10B population by year 2050 and no place to put them, except more city cum jailhouses…

But to the mother and father that suffering is nothing compared to the joy that is being conceived that day, by the miracle of childbirth, not only giving love to the proud young couple, not only giving succor in the old age of that same couple, but giving hope that there is more to this life than the mere planting of seeds and the counting of beans, that there is some underlying mystery that transcends it all and which is beautiful, and metaphysical, and worthy of profound respect, sometimes even worship…

How anyone could describe childbirth as suffering is beyond my conscious capabilities, notwithstanding the constant turmoil of over-population. And that same high monk goes on to say that we are, and I quote, ‘addicted to life’. Wow again! Just consider: life as a bad thing, that which some consider the most special of gifts, even hard-core ‘re-birther’ monks, waxing proudly on one’s good fortune at being “re-born human” (especially if that human is a man)…

Now the meaning behind the statement is clear, that we are sometimes overly attached to our pathetic little lives, when our time might be much better spent in silent meditation, as good monks do. There’s only one catch: you gotta’ eat, or die, so in the case of monks, be fed by lay supporters. So this is troubling to me, troubling not because human beings are voluntarily dependent on life-support, which is their choice, but because the high priest has the gall to insult those very disciples providing the support…

And the power of positive thinking—yes, THINKING—can help, up to a limit, and that’s the important point, that vanishing point of our limits (and their capability for satisfaction), forever receding into the distance. Here’s a clue: Thinking doesn’t have to be so narrative, and that’s where meditation can really help, by stopping the dialogue, if even for a moment, or an hour, or a day…

Thought existed before language; I have no doubt of that. The only question is: what was it like? I suspect it was much like logic, probably Boolean long before Aristotelian, but that’s academic. With modern technology, it has the ability to become much more visual, and that’s good, I think, the real possibilities for a new kind of non-narrative thought. Because endless narratives are the real problem, not thought itself, whether pop music or mindless politics…

So what’s the problem with Buddhism? Plenty, though it’s still the best option out there; it just needs to be updated to reflect the needs of a year 2050 planet of ten billion non-selfs with serious growing pains. And what the Buddha said way back when should not be a deal-killer. He was a rational man and he advocated a rational cause-and-effect belief system. I believe Buddha reportedly even called re-birth and past lives ‘my greatest blunder’ (joking, but still…), and we’re still trying to make sense of rebirth without selves or souls; so what exactly gets reborn?

I prefer to focus on this life, as that’s all we really know. And that’s the main difference between Asia and the West, is that for all the Buddhist (particularly Tibetan) hubbub about Enlightenment as the release from ‘cyclical existence’, this existence is exactly what most Westerners want—eternal life. Westerners are in love with the same life that Buddhists see as full of suffering. Try to explain that away. So will Westerners only wake up to Buddhism as their daily lives become more miserable? We shall soon see…

 

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