Friday, November 19, 2010

Thoreau Living Hinduism's Doctrine Through A Buddhist Lifestyle Part 2

To recap on my last post:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”-Henry David Thoreau
To fully undertake the Eight Fold Path in order to end dukkha, or lives of quiet desperation, one must cut off their ignorance. And so when something profound like transcendentalism appears to mainstream America in the late 19th century, only that which can coincide with our comfort is learned and accepted from that philosophy. 
Reasons why we tend to be surrounded by comfort are found within technology. Technology should never be condemned, and within Buddhism’s Three Components, prajna encompasses the benefits that inventions bring. Described as an accurate understanding of reality, prajna accepts technology because it is a part of reality; its transformation. But prajna isn’t found within a Westerner’s vocabulary. We have no discernment; our logic isn’t prajna. Nevertheless, we still find ways to justify gluttony and desire. Hedonism is now called “play;” we go to work and we come home on the weekends to play. Engaging in ephemeral pleasure and abusing technology delude what our true desires are and become factors that make pictures of Kali seem so shocking and primal. To have our ignorance that resides in our beautiful and omnipotent heads chopped off by a fierce female deity is abhorred by not only the arrogant, presumptuous, and self-righteous, but also the weak, lazy, and incompetent. I think that going straight after our egos, our tanhas, with a sword wielded by a higher being is something that completely contradicts our self-gratifying Western society.
I think looking at Thoreau’s radical movement really puts Hinduism’s ideology into perspective; it is not simple, it is not half-hearted, and it certainly isn’t a Sunday-only devotion. When you start looking into the Four Yogas, you realize how inclusive Hinduism is, especially when it engulfs Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu. What is to be gained through the practice of yoga, particularly raja yoga that embodies psychophysical tests on a yogi, is similar to what Thoreau wishes to achieve at Walden Pond. However, even though Thoreau’s profound experience came across as a radical response to the 19th century, it is not radical enough. This isn’t to say that Hinduism trumps transcendentalism, but it does hint at how something profound in Western society is dwarfed by mainstream Eastern culture.
There are burdens that the First Amendment of United States Constitution instills. A common Hindu philosophy is discerning right from wrong, what is holy and divine, and ultimately what is atman or soul; “Neti…neti…” which translates into “Not this…not that…” And this is the complete opposite of freedoms that are given, particularly those within the First Amendment. Freedoms say “this is acceptable…this is acceptable.” And this isn’t necessarily suppose to be bad or limited, but look at how much precedes and follows the First Amendment, seven articles and nine amendments. And again, this isn’t to say that Hinduism’s “neti” discernment process is a one-size fits all moral law, but with prajna, one is able to make decisions and say no, rather than be tempted to test the legal restraints. I immediately think of the protesting at the Lance Corporal’s funeral in Kansas, it was within the restraints of the law, but what was ultimately gained from using the law in that way?
               I think that the idea of laws saying “this is acceptable, this isn’t” is another reflection of how gluttonous and self-assertive we are in the West, especially when our freedoms were initially instituted to protect our self-interests, our tanhas. Protecting our excessive wants and desires make it even harder to ever consider chopping our egos off for the sake of devoting time to someone else, much less a god, or God, or even our true selves. Our atmans, souls, aren’t reaping the benefits of our hedonistic indulgences. “Ephemeral” doesn’t mean anything when technology and innovations make it cheap for replacements. Our animas, to trump our weak English word for soul with an etymologically superior word coming from Latin, aren’t fueled by our tanhas, but are weakened drastically.
               As an aside, the Media plays into our tanhas. The availability of what news we want to hear, when want it, and how we are going to receive it are all now determined by the individual. This is just another example of how we are able to shape our worlds into what we want, and this is consequently the definition of gluttony. We may or may not need news, but since it is there, we might as well obtain it for what it is worth. However, instead of consuming it raw, uncooked, and pure, we begin to perceive reality in a skewed telescope. We no longer perceive the tangible reality of this world, which in Buddhist, Hindu, and transcendentalist contexts is not the ultimate reality. 

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