World population is estimated to be 0.1 billion during Buddha’s time. Maybe a quarter of it lived in India then. Now, 2600 years later, the world population is 7.7 billion. The human predicament has remained the same – with or without material progress, with or without war, with or without peace, with or without spiritual progress, with or without <you-name-it>.
I have always wondered so many apparently great teachers, enlightened masters, teachers who have figured it out all, have come and gone – the Rams, Krishnas, Buddhas, Christs, Prophets, Kabirs, Rumis. Nothing has really changed. The physical aspects have changed, the way human life is organized is much better but fundamentally human suffering remains the same. Its nature remains the same. They have tried their best to teach mankind but what’s the result? A big nothing.
After analyzing it pessimistically and then realistically for a long time, a thought popped up that the problem has not been solved because there is no problem at all. It’s the appearance of a problem that isn’t really there. How can one solve something that doesn’t exist? It’s just an appearance; an illusion. The masters were pointing towards it. They weren’t truly proposing any solution. How can one?
To explore this thought, I have been reading books and listening to audio files, watching videos of many “wise” men (and women) for many years. I have still not completely understood it but here is an explanation, drawn heavily from an Alan Watts lecture, that summarizes this line of thought in a beautiful way. It tries to show why the problem is really not a problem or there is no real existence of the problem in itself.
We look upon life as if it is an encounter. Conflict seems to be the fundamental framework of life. It happens in all sorts of ways – the encounter between spirit and matter; the encounter between body and mind; the encounter of oneself and the world as if these things came from unimaginable distances apart and suddenly met each other. By reason of being logically opposite to each other, there is conflict.
Obviously, there can’t be a battle without a common field. It’s often said, there can’t be a battle between a tiger and a shark because there is no common field. Wherever there is a battle, preceding to it, underlying it, there is something in common. The very fact that people are having a fight implies they are fighting to win some common thing. Because they have the same desire, they are the same kind of creature, they have that life in common. So, underlying every contest, there is a fundamental commonality.
This is the essence of this line of reasoning – to go down underneath the conflict to discover harmony. At the deepest level, beneath conflict, prior to conflict, because it’s prior to conflict, life is not a problem.
Let’s take the dialectic approach to understand this.
Student: My problem is that I suffer, and I want to know how to stop suffering. I want not to suffer.
Master: You suffer because you desire.
Student: Well, how am I to stop desiring?
Master: Do you really want to?
The attentive student scratches his head – if I want not to desire, this is also a desire.
Student: Yes and no. I want to make an end to the kind of desires that lead to suffering, but I don’t want to make an end of the desire to do that.
Master: Suffering comes from desiring more than you are going to get or can get. Desiring more than you are going to get or can get leads to anguish. Don’t desire more than you are going to get.
Student: Yes. Supposing I fail in not desiring more than I have or can get, won’t that lead to anguish too?
Master: Don’t desire to succeed in this enterprise more than you can succeed or will succeed.
- Notice that on the one hand there is the student trying to control his desire.
- There is the student and there is his desire, his hunger.
At each step in this question and answer, the teacher is taking the student to a higher level.
- At the lowest level, the conflict is simply between his own inner appetites and the state of affairs – the facts of life, as we call them the hard facts.
- But at the next step, he has made the student see that his own feeling is part of the facts.
- To put it in another way, if you learn not to desire more than you have or can get, you are learning to accept things as they are but among things as they are, are your own feelings.
- These may be unacceptable or unpleasant feelings. So, he turns the student’s attention to the fact that you got to accept your own feelings as well.
- Now, the student says, ‘I can’t accept my own feelings’.
- The teacher says, ‘well, don’t accept it any more than you can’.
Then that goes up another level and you see what happens ultimately as the conversation goes on.
- The student comes to regard his whole inner life, his feelings completely objectively.
- They have become part of the world that was his problem and he suddenly wakes up one morning to find himself in a very strange situation.
- He thought that he stood opposed to the world.
- He identified himself with his desires and thought. Outside him was the world that negated him.
- Suddenly, all this was gone in a flash. It has changed.
- His inside (his emotions, his desires, his feelings) and the outside world were all the same.
- So, where is left the person who had the problem?
- He is reduced, for a moment, to nothing but a witness – a kind of passive observer of an outside world and his own inner life and his feelings – they all go together.
- And finally, even the one who seems to watch it turns out to be all one with what is being watched.
- That’s another way of saying – to be aware of something, you don’t have to have on the one hand a knower and a known.
- The whole process can be described much more simply as a knowing.
And … the problem does not get solved… the problem dissolves 😇
Photo credit: Artem Beliaikin from Pexels