Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Warning: this post is likely to contain no science, a little religion, and a lotta pontificating, none of it original.

Yesterday I was chatting with a friend about happiness, enlightenment, and compassion. I indicated that I'm not really looking for "happiness" out of meditation -- in fact, in my less deluded moments, I don't even prefer happiness to sadness. Consider the distinction between the mere physical perception of pain and the suffering one typically unleashes on oneself as a result. If you can mindfully observe the pain, it's just another curious apparition of mind, a cloud drifting across the untouchable sky. So it is with regular happiness and sadness.

Similarly, I'm not looking to become more compassionate in the sense of REALLY FREAKING WANTING to save more starving children. And yet, I think something like happiness and something like compassion are likely byproducts of more meditation. Is that just wishful thinking?

The Tibetans -- having learned from contemporaries who have spent tens of thousands of hours investigating the question -- claim that compassion is indivisible from mind. Prima facie, this sounds reasonable: can you imagine spending countless hours on the mat, refining the clarity of your mind, only to discover that the right path is to stab kittens? If so, I humbly suggest you're doin' it wrong. The more you meditate, the more malice and greed seem extrinsic and parasitic, and the less compassion does. I think this is not an accident.

Earlier I referred to my "less deluded moments." In Buddhism, "delusion" or "ignorance" refers to our amazing capacity to read the world wrong. When you quit fighting reality -- that is to say, when you're more in harmony with it -- things hurt a lot less. "Happiness," check.

Eventually perhaps you realize that yours is but one consciousness amongst a sea of others. And since your particular instance isn't really so special (the worse you are at reading the world, the more special it seems), you might as well roll up your sleeves and assist the rest in moving toward harmony, too. "Compassion," check.

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