Monday, August 4, 2008

Thoughts on the Spiritual Goal

In my adopted tradition, "good" is defined as any chosen behavior that has the intention or effect of reducing unhappiness and suffering for sentient creatures.

Interesting concept, "sentience".

The dictionary defines a sentient creature as one that is "receptive to or conscious of" sense impressions. And "sentience" is defined as "feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception and thought." In other words, to be sentient is to be aware of the sensations of pain and pleasure—having the capacity for suffering  on the one hand, and to experience peace on the other hand.

It is quite a mixed blessing, this capacity for sentience. Looking around, you can readily see that it is the managing of pain and pleasure that drives virtually everything we do. Almost every human behavior you can study becomes pretty easily understandable as an expressions of sentience. The man honking frantically behind me in traffic this morning probably was not really trying to make the rest of us suffer; some kind of fear and pain was making him desperate to reach his workplace. He was just trying to relieve his suffering.

We hurt, and we want to not hurt. This is the human condition, as well as the condition of all living sentient creatures. It is true of me, and it is true of all creatures. It is the first truth, and one upon which all others are based.

This knowledge, this truth of suffering, is indisputable. It is a noble truth. To pretend it is not so is to live in delusion, and delusion is the root of all evil.

To call someone a "pleasure-seeker" is thought to be a pejorative label. In reality, though, the avoidance of pain is the instinct behind the spiritual urge, too. Though the goal here might be more accurately labeled "peace-seeker," the goal of the spiritualist, like that of the most blatant hedonist, is to minimize pain and suffering. If the hedonist makes an error, it is only because he imagines that pleasure conquers pain rather than being its intimate partner.  

So I'd argue that an effective spiritual path must be one that acknowledges the phenomenon of pain and suffering, studies it, even; and proposes practices that reduce that pain and suffering for ourselves, for other people, for any creatures who experience suffering. 

If your tradition doesn't offer you any help in this most basic of needs, then something is seriously wrong.

May you know happiness, as well as understand the causes of happiness. 

1 comment:

Jerri said...

What are the causes of happiness?

Please answer soonest.