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some thoughts for contemplation

November 29, 2008

Some thoughts for contemplation:

– I dislike people in general (my favorite quote currently being, “People are just garbage”), even though I often wish otherwise. I agree with Epicurus, Seneca and the Buddha about the benefits of associating with small, like-minded communities rather than with the general population. At the very least, I find this idea to be practical considering that people are so variegated when it comes to beliefs, personalitites, likes and dislikes, etc. I also agree with Seneca that we should associate with people who are likely to improve us in some way and welcome those whom we are capable of improving (Letter 7). As with Seneca, albeit under different circumstances, I have found myself to become crueller and less humane after prolonged contact with human beings (Letter 7). We can be terribly cruel, selfish and stupid.

– Honesty is the most important virtue because it is through being honest that we are able to truly grow emotionally, spiritually, etc. When we are open to being wrong, to making mistakes, to new ideas, etc., we gain knowledge, real knowledge. We learn more from our mistakes than we do from anything else. I hear that is why hospitals ask potential brain surgeons questions like “Have you ever made a mistake” and “If so, what would you do differently next time” to determine who would make a good surgeon and who would not. It is also through honesty that we can show the world our commitment to the truth, whether relative or ultimate. It is interesting to note that in all of the past-life stories of the Buddha, which are essentially morality tales that detail the Buddha’s quest for enlightenment during preceding lives, the precept against lying is the only precept he never broke. In addition, he once said to his son, Rahula, “… when anyone feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie, there is no evil, I tell you, he will not do” (MN 61).

– Even though I have no objective basis for it, ethics are very important to me. Perhaps this is because this is one of the areas where I have some semblance of control. It is one of the places where I can make a distinction between myself and the rest of society (which, from personal observation, I have little regard for), a place where I can define my individual identity in a relatively positive way.

– Happiness and freedom from pain are major motivating factors in life. I agree with the Stoics, as well as the Buddha, that people act in ways that are harmful to themselves, to others or to both out of ignorance, i.e., if they understood the nature of happiness, of the mind itself, they would never willingly act against their own happiness nor the happiness of others. Why? I would say that one reason is that we are “open-systems,” and that cause and effect works both ways. Perhaps that is the idea behind kamma, the Golden Rule, the Three-fold Law, etc.

– I wonder: Are we solitary creatures who want to be social or social creatures who want to be solitary? Both? Neither? Perhaps refer to Epicurus again: Social within the proper context. This reminds me of two things I thought about just recently: (i) It seems that as travellers in life we are by nature of being “individuals” isolated from one another; yet in as much as we are able to accompany one another through our solitary journeys we can share little pieces of ourselves with each other via bonds that cannot easily be put into words. (ii) Is there something underlying phenomena, something that threads together events in an unseen way, e.g., the Stoic idea of universal reason or logos, the Buddhist idea of kamma, etc.? Perhaps life is nothing but a random series of happenstances; and yet again, perhaps not.

– Fact of nature: All living beings, all living organisms without exception, must consume/feed in order to survive. Feeding is natural; however, my ethical standards apply to all living creatures. Why? Perhaps because I see my desires for happiness and freedom from pain in all living creatures. If I do not respect that in them, how can I ever expect the same? This is especially true regarding human beings. Here I agree with the Buddha that, besides some rare and special cases, there is no one that is as dear to us as ourselves, that all beings essentially want to be happy in their own way (according to their specific capacities), and that it is a fairly decent and logical reason to desire their happiness as well as my own (SN 3.8). Why? If my happiness comes at the expense of their happiness, then they will do everything in their power to upset that happiness. Conversely, if they were to infringe upon mine, would it not follow that I would likewise do everything in my power to upset theirs? It seems like a vicious circle to me. Is this the rationale behind the Stoic logos? Maybe not, but something to keep in mind.

– Religion is, among other things, a creative expression of our search for happiness, meaning and truth. I have heard people express their desire to “kill religion” (e.g., Dawkins et al.), and I understand some of their reasoning for making such statements, but I cannot help but think that doing so would come at a great cost to humanity.

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