Essays2008 Essays2009 Essays2010













..:: Challenges ::..


Alan Schneider


              Whatever else may be the case, this life is filled with challenges, great and small, as its consistent condition.  Some of these are more relatively welcome and workable – others are daunting in the extreme, and may even initially appear to be curses to our human consciousness. Everything in this life depends upon our perspective – our observational vantage point – and this, in turn, is a function of our social conditioning, more often than not.  Is the proverbial glass half full, or half empty, and with what?  The nature of challenges is the subject of this essay.  

            The nature of existence on the Physical Plane of Expression is that of turbulence – frequently sudden, perhaps violent, change – that tends to occur with little, or without any, forewarning. Our consciousness in and of the physical vessel – the body – is more or less continually tossed about on “The Eternal Boiling Sea” (from the Biblical New Testament, Book of Revelations) of existence.  The fact that we have evolved to function under this circumstance accounts for our proliferation as a species, but this only generates an additional set of complications – among them the struggle for resources and social advantage in the world.

             What are the healthiest responses – emotionally, physically, and spiritually – to the problematic state of affairs outlined above? What manner of living will tend to produce the greatest coefficient of peace, happiness, and well being for humanity? Sages and scholars have debated this matter for millennia, and at least some productive results have been the outcome, particularly in the fields of perceptual and motivational psychology.  

            Approximately two thousand years ago, the Prince, and heir apparent, of a certain province in India was abruptly exposed to the harsh reality of suffering on the Physical Plane, and subsequently dedicated his life to solving the riddle of such “negative challenges”, or adversities, ever after. His name was Siddhartha, and after he did eventually attain the solution he was seeking through an epiphany of Enlightenment, he became renamed as Gautama Buddha – the Enlightened One, and became the founder of the Buddhist spiritual and philosophical tradition. In my opinion, this approach remains the single most accurate, effective study and analysis of the human condition and human perception in history to date.  

            The Buddha’s discovery as the result of a prolonged interval of deep meditation was that all suffering, and, in fact, most perception of events on the Physical Plane, occurred as the result of desire.  When asked what the essence of human behavior amounted to, a junior college photography instructor I once had replied “We scan and fixate on items of interest – scan and fixate”, and this is substantially correct, but the underlying question that the Buddha answered was why? It is our permanently unfinished, and only temporarily satisfied, nature as organisms that drives this behavior, and we experience that as a more or less constant state of desire. Hence, the famous Buddhist observation that suffering can only be extinguished by extinguishing desire – the two are inseparable from each other. Unfortunately, as my instructor observed, nothing is more natural to human experience than desire, and this remains true even in the relatively fortunate case where a given individual is capable of successfully satisfying the many desires of the Physical Plane.

             The fundamental tenet of Buddhism is that all life is a mosaic of suffering. In the situation noted above, the repeated successful gratification of desire produces a conditioned response to expect such outcomes, and this is bound to produce abundant suffering when age or infirmity remove the physical capability to obtain gratification, as they always do eventually.  The best that can be hoped for is a series of temporary escapes from the aggravating truth of existence, and we must always confront that truth at some stage of life – that it is a temporary, ultimately insoluble, riddle as long as desire remains the focus of our consciousness.  We are doomed to face ourselves for what we are – the only way out is through, and even this involves suffering.  

            So, the first (and fundamental) challenge of existence is the control, and eventual negation, of desire as a factor operating in our consciousness. In this regard, at least as physical organisms, we are our own worst enemies in every sense and circumstance of the term. Who has no desires? The Buddha himself foretold that there would be a succession of subsequent Buddhas to follow him in his tradition, but this has not been the case – no one else has ever mastered his level of Enlightenment again, not even the well known Dali Lama of our modern period of history, although such a consciousness as the Lama’s certainly comes close to Guatama’s attainment of absolute detachment and spiritual freedom, and serves as a model for human achievement. 

            A large part of the desire “problem” resides in the propensity of the physical organism to continually thrust new desires into consciousness.  As I said earlier, the manifestation of desire is an inevitable consequence of human nature. What must first change is our entire attitude toward the very presence of desired conditions in our consciousness.  Since they are the invariable harbingers of disappointment and suffering, they are not to be accepted or trusted at face value.  Buddhism has produced volumes of discourse on extensive methodologies for eliminating desire and the subsequent desire-actions intended to obtain gratification, but the initial caveat is still to hold desire in suspicion when it occurs. 

            It can next be argued that, without desire, we would not eat, nor sleep, nor reproduce, nor experience motivation to act, per se, at all, and this brings us to the discussion of the moral ramifications of physical life as we know it. These ramifications are nowhere as clearly delineated as they are in the concept of Karma. As has been noted elsewhere in these essays, the literal Sanskrit translation of the term Karma is Action – referring to all mental and physical “movements” experienced in life on any Plane of Expression anywhere. Even ideas are mental movements, ones that frequently result in a cascade of subsequent mental and (eventually) physical movements, and this does not include the vast array of physical movements that occur every minute of every day as the result of essentially mindless, thoughtless habit formation.  Spiritual movements are less subject to this classification schema, because they at least demonstrate the possibility of Mindful, aware action devoted to the attainment of Enlightenment and Truth (although there is a range of spiritual activity on the lower Planes that is capable of generating more Karma through relative ignorance).  In essence, any movement that takes place as the result of anything other than Enlightenment and God Realization is going to generate more Karma – unfinished psychospiritual business – that persists thereafter in life until it is confronted and released through Dharma – spiritually Mindful devotion to the Truth of Enlightenment. Under this consideration, the less that one does in ignorance of the Truth, the better, and all thoughts and actions should be considered first and foremost in view of their moral and spiritual consequences.  

            Buddhism holds meditation as being among the spiritually highest human activities, because it simultaneously avoids ignorant actions that produce more Karma, and creates Enlightened consciousness that accomplishes Dharma through the contemplation of the Divine Principle.  In general, that which creates the least degree of external turbulence on the Physical Plane is deemed appropriate in Buddhist doctrine as essentially augmenting inner and outer peace and harmony, and prolonged meditation certainly fulfills this condition.  Meditation is synonymous with peace.  

            Now, a point that remains to be explored in this discussion of Challenges regards the manifestation of material abundance that is such a popular theme in this time of constricted material abundance and involuntary austerity confronting humanity everywhere in the world. Clearly, the Earth’s human population currently has financial renewal, and the attendant material prosperity, as top priorities. What is the Buddhist impression of this world mindset?  

            I mentioned in a previous paragraph that desire accounts not only for the personal perception of suffering, but of most perception of any kind in life.  This is due in large part to the action of the ego in consciousness. Although the ego does not, per se, create desire (which originates in the physical processes of the body), it does always interpret desire and classify and prioritize the many desires that we experience according to their relative importance, attainability, and persistence. The ego essentially exists to gratify our desires as a meta-survival mechanism. Under this circumstance, it is quite natural for the ego to respond with interest and enthusiasm to any prosperity themes that it encounters in life, whether these are the least bit viable or attainable or not. The world is currently filled with people practicing every manner of prosperity “generation” technique, including every kind of visualization imaginable, social networking ad nausium, compulsive working of enormous amounts of under paid overtime, attempted associative “magical” manifestation of every conceivable variety, frantic prayer, directive “prosperity” meditation, and a truly astounding field of social-economic manipulations, great and small. The statistically predictable minority of successes in any or all of these areas of course fuels the fire for the rest of the prosperity devotees, who then pursue their obsessions with renewed enthusiasm.  

            The bitter truth of prosperity is that it results in most cases from a lifetime of hard work and moderately good fortune (i.e. luck), consistently applied through the individual’s social system. Instant prosperity windfalls resulting from ego motivated perceptual self-manipulation do occasionally occur, but they are far more rare than their many advocates will admit. And, under the heading of “good fortune” noted above, we encounter our old nemesis, Karma. I say to you right now that, until we have processed through our negative life Karma by confronting the things that we generally wish very strongly to avoid, our fortunes will not and can not change for the better, because it is we ourselves who are preventing the change through our obstinate denial of our own self-defeating attitudes! Does God create Karma? Well, yes He does, and we also co-create our Karma over the entire course of our lives through the decisions we make.  There is no “prosperity manifestation” easy, quick fix for poverty and misfortune as the modern day hucksters and snake oil salesmen claim. As painful as it may be, we must admit to our role in our fate, take stock of our lives, and then press on by realistically working in measured increments of improvement.  The pace of progress is two steps forward and (hopefully) only one step backward, but the net result is that patient persistence gradually advances our fortunes in life. 

            In the light of the contentions made above, what are the roles of intuition and positivitiy in our human condition? Intuitive sensing amounts to the ability and inclination to “follow your Heart” as the preferred guidance mechanism in life, as opposed to following ones head, i.e. ego-based logical thought processing. The intuitive faculty directly connects us to the highest means of realization – from the level of the Heart Chakra and beyond – while the ego can go no further than Manipura, the Social Power Chakra, and customarily resides in Muladhara, the Root, and lowest, Chakra. The Path of the Heart leads to joy and fulfillment in all of life’s activities, while the Path of the Ego literally leads to a dead end. At least there is hope in the Heart, and intuitive living. This then brings us to the matter of positivity as another practice augmenting spiritually healthy living. As completely “unrealistic” as it often appears to be, the maintenance of a consistently positive outlook on life is absolutely necessary for the achievement of a successful, happy existence. As we pursue the real pace of progress noted in previous paragraphs, the entertainment of a condition of positive detachment from the consequences of our thoughts and actions will do much to insulate us from the psychological corrosion – i.e. depression and discouragement – of the many “backward steps” that we will experience along the way.  This is why Buddhism stresses the attainment of detachment as the most desirable condition in life – come what may, we will inevitably pass from incarnation to incarnation as the work of material Karma continues, and to become attached to the fruits of our actions in life is to lose sight of the spiritual goal of living itself – the attainment of lasting Peace and Happiness. This state of Being is the source of all positivity and benevolence, both within and without.  

            When the two horns of the desire dilemma (the ego and the organism) are brought under control by the correct sequence of spiritual actions, we find ourselves in an entirely different mode of consciousness, one that is internally focused on peace and harmony, and substantially less concerned with external abundance and prosperity.  Can we attain external abundance? Yes, we certainly can, but only by confronting our adversities with honesty, detached positivity, and patience. Is this external abundance important? Only in the general terms of adequately providing for our physical existences. Of far greater importance is the attainment of Enlightenment as did the Buddha – through meditation, compassion, and the austere grace of simple living – “chop wood, carry water”.


                                                                             - With Love, Alan -

                                                                      (CR2008, Alan Schneider)


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