Saturday, May 18, 2013

Is the Problem Our Attitude or the World?

We've already seen in Zen Preliminaries III that attachment to craving is the central cause of suffering. While this seems to be the case for the human condition as we know it thus far, would it still be the case under different circumstances? Put another way, is the underlying cause of human suffering the result of the human mind or the world in which it's forced to inhabit? Buddhism doesn't exist within a vacuum; it's a system designed to alleviate the suffering caused by an imperfect world, but what if the world were more accommodating? Imagine that instead of the actual world, we inhabited one where desires can be satiated at will.

Buddhism teaches us that to find deep and lasting happiness, we need to shift our attitude towards the world, ourselves, and each other. But if the world no longer provides us with obstacles, is it really our attitude that needs shifting? To really distill the essence of this question, allow me to phrase it this way: Would you rather live in a world where no one experiences attachment to desire and everyone is in a perpetual state of tranquility, or would you rather live in a world where every desire and whim may be satisfied immediately and infinitely?

Unfortunately, to the hedonistically inclined, the right answer is probably closer to the former.

For one thing, it's logically suspect whether or not a world where every desire is satisfied can even exist. Humans have a notorious affinity towards novelty, so any pleasure no matter how satiated would eventually lead to the craving of the original novelty of that sensation. A craving that is logically impossible to satisfy, since it's impossible to experience something for the first time twice. Therefore, a world where every desire is satisfied is impossible. Of course, you could always substitute "every desire" with "every desire that's logically possible to satisfy", but then you'd miss out on certain desires that you would inevitably want to satisfy that can't be satisfied (such as the one explicated above), and consequently generate suffering (the thing we're attempting to avoid).

But let's assume that this obstacle can be overcome through further detachment or some other method, and that novelty fetishism is no longer an issue. Can it then be said that the hedonist's paradise is the ideal world? In this case the answer is difficult to give. Will there be a place for art in the hedonist's paradise (is art even relevant anymore, and if not, who cares)? Will there be for love? For self-transcending love? Or will life consist of merely satisfying sensory cravings?

This becomes a fundamental wedging question that splits people into either camp based solely on personal values that are so deeply ingrained as to almost be entirely removed from the scrutiny of the conscious mind. As such, I am forced to admit that I don't have a satisfying answer to this question, and I doubt one exists. It seems to me that both worlds have their costs and benefits, and both have sustainable paths to lasting happiness, so my only conclusion can be that both answers are valid. 

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