Monday, October 10, 2016

On Being Rational in an Irrational World

You know, tradition (the Āyācana Sutta) has the Buddha being very reluctant to teach his Dhamma because it too subtle, too refined, and to difficult to “realize,” by which is meant to understand clearly. 

The “problem” in the human condition is dukkhā.  I’ve discussed dukkhā extensively (expansively?) in previous posts, so suffice it to say dukkhā is a condition of unsatisfactoriness of life.  The “cause” of the problem is duplex:  avijjā, the lack of insightful wisdom, interacting with taṇhā, the desire for, the emotional attachment to, self-gratification.  We lack the vision, the understanding, the knowledge of Reality (as it really it), and we are driven by wanting life to bring us pleasure, as we want it, when we want it.  But life and reality don’t work that way all of the time, so we get upset, we get discouraged, we get annoyed, we get vituperative, and sometimes we get violent, trying to make reality and life conform to our picture of how it should be.  All of our responses to dissatisfactoriness are subsumed under the rubric of dukkhā. 

Since we are sentient beings, conscious, aware beings, beings with the capacity for ratiocination, and beings with a conscience, we can, and according to the Dhamma we therefore should, raise our consciousness, apply our reason, take charge of the human condition and make it better.  We need to fix the problem.  We need to become “Homo sapiens” (wise humans) rather than “Homo neuroticus” (crazy people).  And over time we can become “Homo nobilis.” Noble Humans.  

The solution to dukkhā, the “fix” for the less-than-perfect human condition is to be disciplined in the practice of the Noble Path. 

If we examine this discipline closely, we find it is a well-thought-out program of dealing with our emotional dysfunction in a benevolent, compassionate, calmly rational way.  There is nothing in this teaching that calls on us to be devout, pious, holy.  This teaching calls on us to practice sammā-diṭṭi,”  that is practicing right knowledge, right understanding, right perspective, right view.  That is knowledge, understanding, perspective and view that is untainted by emotional bias and illogical thinking.

We are admonished to practice sammā-saṇkappo, sammā-vācā and sammā-kammanto as well.  These are respectively, Right Intention/Aspiration, Right Speech/Communication/Expression and Right Action.  You can read earlier posts on these, and you can research the whole Noble Path on your own.  The point here is that “sammā” as used here includes the idea that to be “right” means to not engender dukkhā; “right” is free of taṇhā and avijjā; “right” is unbiased, logically sound, and rationally consistent with the objective world.  “Right” is reasonable.

That’s not being practiced very much in our society.  We’re not being rational and reasonable about far too many things.  Politics, violence, religion, relationships, economics, morals, communication – dare I say Reality.  We are so un-wise, un-informed, un-insightful, so ensnared in avijjā, and we are so enmeshed in our own beliefs, caught up in our own desires, so consumed by our “selves,” that we can’t even see we’re being delusional, irrational – crazy. 

And when somebody comes along and points this out, their words, no matter how compassionately or benevolently presented are read through delusion and bias.  We have made icons out of our delusions and biases, and when someone says something that triggers those icons, we respond irrationally, and they are insulted, attacked, vituperated mercilessly.

It makes it really tough to be rational in an irrational world.

Just something to think about.

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