Perceiving life as cruel and brutal can cause one to stop participating in the world. If existence is such a futile and hopeless experience, why bother doing anything at all. If the world’s activities are so harsh and vile, why contribute to the toxicity. This dilemma occurred to both Siddhartha and Arjuna.
In the Buddha’s origin story, he was so struck by the concepts of death and decay that he gave up on his active life, pursuing instead the life of an ascetic, renouncing worldly entanglements. But after many years of giving up on life, his perspective changed, he saw life in a new light.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna was so distraught over the impending violence, that he froze into a state of inaction. After God incarnate intervened, Arjuna overcame his immense distress, accepted his position in life, and no longer perceived his role as cruel killer, but as player in the spectacle of life.
The prescription for both being the same: live life as your nature dictates, all while maintaining a positive perspective. But as can be seen, it is not easy to have one’s perspective altered, it may take years of solitude or even an intervention from God himself. But in both cases, the world did not change, perception did.
Just try to contemplate the ceaseless suffering that surrounds us — the rampant physical abuse, the exploitation of the weak, the crippling injustice, the heart-wrenching anguish, the drenching tears, and the agonizing pain — just try to maintain such thoughts in your mind and you’ll be driven mad. From this wicked perspective, existence becomes suffering incarnate.
The youngest, clinging on for dear life, ripped from home, but the savage creature cares not, as teeth pierce flesh, warm crimson flowing down the gullet, savoring the taste of death — or as we colloquially call it: eating a fresh strawberry. The world can be described in many ways, and one description is not necessarily more accurate than another, but certainly some are more pleasant to reflect upon.
Considering that we already ignore so much suffering, why should we acknowledge any of it? Does selective recognition not make us hypocrites? If we truly believe existence to be pervaded by misery, then how could we do anything enjoyable while others literally ache all around us? What kind of monsters would we be? What treat, what deliciousness, do we deserve while so many languish in our midst?
So our choice is this, either we perceive the world in a way that does not acknowledge suffering, or we see ourselves as fiends deliberately denying the distress of others. Caring only when convenient, is an untenable compromise, unsatisfying and illogical. We must recognize our powerlessness as individuals and not lament our inability to alleviate suffering, lest we bring sorrow upon ourselves.
An otherwise unpleasant experience can become enjoyable when shared. And life certainly provides an endless stream of potentially unpleasant events. So depending on our connection to those around us, these events can become enjoyable bonding opportunities.
Unfortunately, we tend to severely limit our enjoyment by excluding people, often requiring specific individuals or types to be present in order to consider a situation enjoyable. But by increasing our willingness to accept all others as equal participants, we increase our likelihood for enjoyment.
When we’re of the mindset that we’re all in this together, then life improves. To accept the multitudes as partners on a shared journey, is to increase our joy. To close ourselves off, is to decrease everyone’s satisfaction, especially our own.
This is why we must give of all we have and then some. By treating all others as precious companions, by opening ourselves up, we increase our love and appreciation of life. Companionship, is what life boils down to. There really is no other point. We all have a good time, or none of us do.
It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that Buddha, Jesus, and Krishna characterized the world as a shithole. Buddha was so distraught by the suffering he saw, that he left his family and sought enlightenment — Jesus castigated the religious leaders of his time until dying at their behest — and Krishna urged Arjuna to slaughter his treacherous family.
So those seeing this world as messed-up, are not crazy. In fact, they are following in hallowed footsteps. But of course, this path does not end with complaining, it requires transcendence of the crap. Mere acceptance will not do — this path requires the realization of a purity existing beyond the dung.
But make no mistake, the flesh will become soiled — ceaselessly so. The body is a poop-tube after all, food goes in, poop comes out. As Buddha abused his body while in a depressive state, as Jesus hung from the cross, and as Arjuna butchered his cousins, we witness the filthy nature of existence.
And dealing with the stink of life is not about avoidance, or covering over the smell, or holding the nose — as those strategies ultimately fail — it’s about removing the connotation of “stink”. By questioning the very nature of stink, we begin to let go of the idea that “stink” is a concrete concept.
When we train our mind to no longer focus on feces, when we quiet the turbulent thoughts that tend toward the noxious, we escape the taint of excrement. Although we are ever surrounded by fecal matter, our essence, that which is experienced in the stillness of a quieted mind, remains untouched.
The mind creates calamity. No matter your circumstances, the mind seeks to define some aspect of life as misfortune. Whether it’s loss of a loved one or loss of a game, whether you’re without a home or without a matching sock, whether you’ve lost a leg or chipped a nail — the mind strives to find hardship.
Reject these thoughts each and every time they manifest. There are no actual difficulties or disasters, only perceptions. The external world plods along, never ceasing, simply observe without becoming too attached to the scenes it displays.
Life is a fictional narrative created in the mind. Shape this narrative by discarding thoughts that paint life somberly. While events are beyond your control, their interpretation is within your power. Even if the world behaved exactly as expected, the mind would still attempt to create affliction.
It is never the external world with which you’re at odds, it is the mind alone. Avoiding outcomes is a futile endeavor, therefore focus your energy into dismissing dismal thoughts. To find happiness and satisfaction in life, the mind must be tamed through persistent practice.
Now, sit on the floor, either tuck your feet under your knees or place one foot on top of the opposite knee if you find one foot getting crushed. Lean forward a little and straighten your back, and lean back until upright and supported. Overlap your hands while resting your forearms on your thighs. Tilt your head up, and bring it down until comfortable. Let your eyelids gently fall. Inhale through your nose. Exhale through your nose. Inhale. Notice that it’s your tummy inflating and deflating.
Now when exhaling, mentally say the word OM. Inhale. Exhale while mentally saying OM. Keep doing this. Eventually you’ll notice that you’re thinking about something else and no longer saying OM. Good job! Now repeat the pattern: inhale, exhale OM, notice your wandering mind, inhale, exhale OM. Eventually your mind will wander less, you’ll be inhaling, exhaling OM, inhaling, exhaling OM, for long stretches at a time.
Practice this routine for twenty minutes twice per day. Consult a clock to know when the time is up. If you get sleepy during your practice, try a different time of day. When you maintain this practice for a few weeks, you may begin to notice yourself drifting — you’ll stop mentally saying OM but you’re not actively thinking, you sense yourself somewhere beyond thought. You may notice a calm peacefulness, as if you’re away from the world, and at one with everything.
Eventually, after having so much practice quieting your thoughts, you’ll be able to do it during your daily life. While observing your everyday thoughts, you can notice their effect on your mood — and when you notice a feeling you’d rather not experience, silence the thoughts that cause it. Again and again the thoughts will come, but with practice, they’re simply brushed aside. Through your discipline, you will have gained control of your life — negative thoughts pruned, attitude altered — the unbridled storm within your mind is now reined.
I wanted to believe what I was told, I really did. But the more I was told, the less it added up. To ask “why” anywhere along the way, and expect a definitive answer, is to start a chain-reaction of doubt.
Suddenly, nothing is as it was. Structure, authority, the very foundation of life — it’s all unsubstantiated. End points are not reached by straightforward paths. Maps are but glimpses of the past, frustrating if followed.
If we believe scientific and philosophical understanding lacked throughout the historic narrative, it would be folly to believe our own understanding represents anywhere near a complete knowledge.
This isn’t what they say it is. This isn’t what your senses say it is. This isn’t what your thoughts say it is. Only in the quiet of your mind do you transcend, experiencing what “this” is.