20 Apr 2015

If We Were All Buddhists, Life Would End When the Sun Burns Out 

Arun walks over, excited.

Arun: Woooweee!

Me: You feeling this music?

Arun: Now I am. I had two beers earlier tonight, which was two too many. My body doesn’t respond well to alcohol these days. It just slows me down. Not the right energy for dancing or for interesting conversation.

“So, I walk over to Sofia. I say, I need to wake up, my energy is all wrong right now. I need you to smack me, OK?

“OK, she says, and smacks me, all half-hearted like.

“I grab her by the shoulders and look her right in the eyes, and I say, If say you are going to do something, fucking do it!

“I let her go and she winds up and rips me across the jaw, harder than I have ever been hit by anyone in my life.

“I was reeling for a few seconds, seeing stars, and then everything was clear. It was like an adrenaline shot into my heart.

“I’ve been dancing for the past ninety minutes. I wish they had green juice here.

Me: I love that, if you say you are going to do something, you better do it. I was just thinking the other day, I am never going to tell my kid, Shoot for the stars, and if you miss you’ll land on the moon. If you say are going for the stars, you better get there.

Arun: Amen, brother.

Me: And, figurative language aside, I also quite literally don’t think the moon is an ambitious enough target.

Arun: OK, now you have piqued my interest, sir. Go on.

Me: Well, for a long time now, my framework for “the good” has been to imagine myself on my deathbed, looking back at my life, and asking myself, did I do as much as I could with what I was given to help others? I think the good is living your life in such a way that you can answer yes.

“Something I have struggled with for a long time is wondering whether this is some sort of innate good or whether my conception of the good is simply a product of the culture I grew up in—the classical Western canon, the American dream, the Protestant work ethic, my parents, my mentors, etc.

“It’s pretty difficult to argue that my conception of the good is not an arbitrary product of circumstance. But also, I cannot imagine my conception of the good changing now, even if I wanted to change it, I don’t feel it would be possible. And this feels incongruous to me.

“So I was thinking about this, along with some of my feelings about alternative views of the good. For some time now, my tongue-in-cheek take on Buddhism has been: If we were all Buddhists, life would end when the sun burns out.

“Now, there’s quite a bit that Buddhism gets right. You don’t see many wars started by Buddhists, which is more than you can say of many religions. And, I think a lot of their teachings help people cope with harsh realities that are outside of our control, injustices, nature’s lack of pity. Their techniques are excellent for combating fear and despair.

“But ultimately I cannot see how the level of detachment they preach leads to any progress.

“And the way I see it, progress is a responsibility.

“THIS experience, LIFE, is pretty amazing. It’s so beautiful, and I am grateful for every second of it. It’s a miracle that it exists at all, and it would be a tragedy to take away this experience from other living things.

“I think that life itself is a force that strives to continue to exist. Dylan Thomas’ “rage against the dying of the light” is a pretty succinct way to describe a biological imperative to survive.

“But biological adaption through random genetic mutation and natural selection is really slow, so life evolved a species capable of improving survival mechanisms faster than biological evolution. What we call technology, I think is just life passing the baton of adaption from genetics into the hands of our species, probably because there’s no way genetic evolution would evolve anything fast enough to enable life to get off of our planet before the sun burns out.

“So we know the sun is going to burn out, we know that life’s very nature is to struggle to survive, and I feel we, as a species, have now been entrusted to ensure that all life has a hope of continuing past the death of the sun.

Arun: The trees are not going to do it.

Me: Exactly. So I grant that Buddhism is a great way to live a life of acceptance, without emotional pain, without harming other living beings. But ultimately, it feels a bit selfish to the future generations of all species living on this planet to value peace of mind more than progress and the hope of perpetuating life past the death of the sun.

Arun: And then, we need to figure out this expansion of the universe, end of the universe issue.

Me: Yes!


Thoughts? Email me: andrew.kortina@gmail.com

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