Martin Heidegger presented to the West a fundamental truth of Eastern thought. That is the very simple fact that Being, that is to say existence in the sense of I am, is a verb rather than a noun. Existence is not a thing, but rather, a process. This concept, as presented in Being and Time, is central to Buddhist thought. The implications for shifting one’s sense of being from an object to a process, one radically transforms their experience of existence. This is a radical shift that can have a liberating effect in one’s life.
The first consideration is that of what Heidegger discusses as living towards death. When one experiences the loss of someone close to us, whether this is through actual death or symbolic death (the end of a love affair or a friendship) we experience a sort of deathlike loss. Sigmund Freud discusses the loss that occurs and how this mourning leaves us with a sense emptiness and despair. It is during this time of loss that Heidegger describes a certain clarity that enters into our lives. We typically live, he tells us, in a state of forgetfulness-of-Being, a sort of mundane, taken-for-granted experience in which life or our existence, our finite mortality is forgotten. Like the gold benchmark that gives meaning to a currency, our lives lose meaning when we forget the benchmark by which it has value: death. When someone close to us leaves, or dies, we are thrusted into a mindfulness-of-Being, a state in which we are fully aware of the temporality of our existence. This shift into one of clarity is typically accompanied by a sense of wisdom, insight, and perspective. Living within a state of mindfulness-of-Being cannot be sustained, and after some period of time, we drift back into a state of forgetfulness-of-Being.
When loss of love, loss of friendship, or death brings us great sorrow we can also find great clarity and an opportunity for wisdom. We must make use of this moment of insight, because it soon slips away with our return to the illusion of being as an object, rather than a Being of time. This sense of time is not chronological, “clock time”. Time as we know it on the clock is an objectification of time, an artificial transformation into time as quantity. The Greeks referred to this as Chronos time. Instead, Heidegger points us to God’s time, what the ancient Greeks called Kairos time. This is the right time, time as a process rather than as an object. Time flies when we are having fun, or rather, when we forget Chronos we experience Kairos. When the machinery breaks down, when death and loss visit our world, we are forced closer to our own existence through a breaking-down of Chronos and entering into Kairos. This brings us closer to what is important, meaningful, and ultimately the purpose-giving wellspring or our lives.
One of the best books that I have read in recent years is Quiet by Susan Cain. A lawyer by training, Ms. Cain uses her incredible research skills and piercing intellect to present a view of the experience of introverted people, living in an extroverted world. If you tend to prefer peace and simplicity over loud and chaotic, and you have not read this book, do so!
I had never viewed myself as an introvert, and some people who know me superficially are surprised to hear me refer to myself as an introvert. It took me some years to realize my introversion, as well as to embrace it. Once I discovered this about myself, other struggles dissolved away like magic! Reading Susan Cain’s book was a big part of that awareness. Continue reading
In Buddhist psychology, we have many concepts that are presented in many ways, in a variety of different languages. The teachings are simply a way of life. They need not be religious, spiritual, or otherwise. The teachings are simply an approach that has proven to be useful in living life.
Of these ideas, the Twelve Nirdanas are part of the first teachings that most students of Buddhism encounter. The word nirdanas can be translated as links. These twelve links describe how we come to perceive the world. Much like a cognitive psychology of sensation and perception, the twelve links show how our worldview come to be through a series of linked ideas, each idea leading towards the next, from ignorance to death. We can think of the Twelve Nirdanas as a stage process of human development of personality. We can understand how the self (called the ego in Latin) develops from conception through death.
Let’s take a look at the Twelve Nirdanas and see what they have to teach us. I will be reading and interpreting the nirdanas as they are presented in Dwight Goddard’s classic text, A Buddhist Bible. Continue reading
The German thinker Immanuel Kant is regarded by many to be the greatest thinker of modern philosophy. There are numerous introductions to Kant and his thinking available, a few of which I will list at the end of these thoughts. One of Kant’s many areas of thinking was on thinking itself. Kant introduced a concept into philosophy which he called transcendental idealism. This term is often intimidating to newcomers to philosophy, but the basic idea is not complicated. However, the implications of the idea are radical to our common experience of reality. Continue reading
By the time many Americans and other foreigners made the voyage to Switzerland to meet with the world renowned Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, his name had become synonymous with living a creative, artistic life. It is no wonder that many creative individuals flocked to Lake Zürich to ask Dr. Young to be their guide into their individual and collective unconscious.
In his middle years, Jung was often Conducting analysis from his sailboat. Along with using the I Ching, Jung used his sailboat and Lake Zürich as a teaching apparatus. He would direct the patient to the helm and ask them to navigate the course to the opposite shore. Continue reading
“Today humanity, as never before, is split into two apparently irreconcilable halves. The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves.” -C.G. Jung, 1959
The sentiment that our lived world is a manifestation of our psychic lives is deeply rooted in our human history. Contemporary interpretations of the idea are very popular and very controversial, and it seems to me that much of the ridicule that the idea receives is more of a statement about the motivation for such ideas, rather than the idea itself. The mind as an active participant in creating our experience of our lived world is not contested by most neuroscientists, philosophers, and psychologists. The active mind is the central point of what we call cognitive psychology. Yet, talk about manifesting what we want in life by focusing on it mentally receives skeptical reactions and even ridicule. It seems to me that the ridicule is mostly aroused by the motivation, not by the concept itself. Continue reading
We can generally observe that we are motivated to seek happiness. The word happiness is a rather slippery term that means different things to different people. Typically, the qualities that we believe will bring us happiness are directly related to what we feel we lack. This sense of lack often originates in beliefs we form in childhood, and reinforce through our adult lives. Although a sense of lack can be a great motivator for change in our lives, the results of achieving or securing the things we lack often fail to bring sustained happiness and a sense of wholeness. Whether our lack of money, education, social-status, or respect be the motivation for our pursuits, the achievement of these things often fails to bring us to a place of completeness. The belief that fulfilling our individual sense of inferiority will make us happy seems like common-sense. However, there are many who achieve intellectual, material, and social success who continue to be extremely unhappy. So what then do we need to do to gain a sense of wholeness and completeness? It has little or nothing to do with wealth, formal education, and social clout. In fact, these three pursuits are often distractions and obstacles to true self-actualization.
Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who spent his life studying the characteristics of people who achieved contentedness. His term, self-actualization is the Westernized version of the Eastern concept of enlightenment. In fact, much of Maslow’s theory is inspired by ancient insights from Eastern thought. In 1987 Maslow published his findings after a lifetime of examining what self-actualized people believe and how they live. Maslow compiled a list of fifteen qualities that truly content people possess. Continue reading