Saturday, December 20, 2008


My friend Andre Kalden once told me about a women he interviewed that was known as the happiest woman in Holland. When questioned about it she said that she basically spent her entire life caring for her sick father and gave very little thought to herself. After he passed, she kept the focus as it naturally was, mostly on others. This was the secret to her happiness. 

My evil west coat twin, Al Billings, just wrote a very insightful post on a similar topic, noting the happiness of those that meet thier own basic needs than are involved with others. In a further comment he calls it "one of the failures of our age - to be so focused on one's self"

One of the biggest reasons that I rejected Crowley's vision of Thelema is that focuses so intensely on the self, yet does nothing to lead one to a real understanding of what the self is. If I did believe in the Aeon of Horus (which I don't) I would say that while Freedom is its great gift, Selfishness is its deep flaw. Of course its not alone in this.

I think one of my biggest disappointments in the Dharma scene is exactly this selfishness. While ostensibly Buddhism teaches compassion, all to often this gets expressed as visualized offerings to visualized beings, meditations on taking in negaticity and sending out positivity, and generally meditating on thinking of all beings as ones mother. In short, a lot of mental gymnastics and not a lot of actual compassionate action to back it up. 

In December 1999 and January 2000 I worked in a soup kitchen every morning in Boudhanath. It was directly accross the road from a Dilgo Khyentse's old monestary, yet we got no help whatsoever from the monks.  Zero. When I asked a monk about this he fed me a line about people working through thier Karma. This is such BS, but it can be a pretty common view in Asia. It turns Karma into a kind of Calvinism. People are poor because of past misdeeds and rich because of good past deeds. Not much different than being favored or unfavored by God. I don't buy it either way. One of the things that I like about Christianity is that there is at least an emphasis on genuine compassionate action rather than navel gazing. Buddhism could use more of it. 

Everybody talks about transcending the ego, but if you really want to transcend it you have to stop focusing on it so much. The intense desire to transcend the ego is often just another type of egotism. I am writing this in a room surrounded by spiritual claptrap. I mean lots and lots of shit. Most of which, if I am gonna be honest about it, is not really about unlocking the cage of the ego so much as decorating the bars. As I look back upon that sojurn in Nepal, nearly 9 years past now, I sometimes think that the only thing that I really did that had any real spiritual worth was work in that soup kitchen. Sure I learned a lot and took lots of empowerments (over 150 in fact), but Liam and Laura who ran the kitchen easily beat most of the Dharma Bums, yogi's, and even most of the Lamas at actually having reduced their clinging to ego. Mostly be giving up being concerned with their ego at all. 

As I approach the initiation of fatherhood I meditate on these mysteries more and more. If you want to find an antidote to clinging to self, try doing for others, or at least being involved. 

1 comment:

Rose Weaver said...

You make outstanding points, but I'd like to offer a slightly different point of view. I was a very selfless individual for the majority of my life, yet I was miserable. It wasn't until recently that I realized why; I cannot selflessly help others and be joyful about it until I am able to help myself first.

I agree that always focusing on the Self isn't the way to go, at least it isn't the best path for me. I also agree with your thoughts that working to transcend ego is, in itself, a form of egotism. But there are times when one must do this form of work in order to take care of business long left forgotten which, eventually, gets in the way of selflessness. And until one takes a bit of selfish time to work out the kinks, the ability to find joy in selflessness, the ability to continually fill one's own cup by filling the cup of others, isn't going to be found.

Living a full time selfish life is a form of cop out from life itself, I believe, but I also believe it takes courage to be selfish for a time so one can get their proverbial shit together and live life to the fullest; compassion and selflessness being a part of this fullness.