Now that I’m Buddhist: Where’s the Ecstasy? Where’s the Bliss?

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Buddhism in Sri Lanka

Where’s the enlightenment available in four fashion-friendly colors and tested without harm to any animals? Shady men in rose-colored glasses sell hopes and dreams on semi-abandoned street-corners in Harlem, under dim lights, on the dark web, and in the dark corners of your mind, promising enlightenment and fulfillment, all at reasonable costs, but with no guarantees, no money back, no warranty implied or intended, you pay your money and you take your chances…

No, I’m not talking about the latest designer drugs from the bathroom labs of Little Pharma, more like the latest New Age-y religious fads from the laptop labs of the Western Lands, in which you read a book, take a course, have a sit, make some new friends, do some yoga with the semi-naked guy and his six-pack flashing, and then wham! Bam! Presto change-o, you’re in a new dimension, of lights and colors and sounds you’ve never seen before…

Such are the expectations of some newcomers to Buddhism, full of hopes and expectations that may never be met, expecting lights! Camera! Action! When all the time the reality is more like: sit down… be still… eyes closed. Which is the only way to meditate, of course, but quite the opposite of some of the groovy ‘woo-woo’ quantum Buddhist entanglement that some people are looking for, and in which you just might get laid, if you’re lucky…

But Buddhism is all about control…

…self-control, that is, and the diminution of passions, not their fulfillment. Buddhism is about acknowledgment of our limits—and loving it (albeit quietly and without drawing attention to yourself)! As always, there are two ways of dealing with some unrelenting desire. You can devote yourself to fulfilling it, or you can devote yourself to getting rid of it…

The paradigmatic Western way, of course, is to go for it! Never give up! Give me liberty or give me death! While the paradigmatic Eastern way is to resign yourself to doing without it. It’s not worth the effort, really. On second glance, it doesn’t look so good after all. I’d rather it come to me, than I have to go get it…

And this is especially apparent in the approach to freedom, something over which Westerners—Europeans, Aussies, Kiwis, and especially Americans—go absolutely gaga, to the extent of literally dying for it, which is the moral equivalent of suicide IMHO. But Buddhist control is about self-control, not control over others, at least that’s the way it should be. And freedom without limits is no freedom at all; it’s chaos. Even if the sky is the limit—that’s a limit—the sky!

I don’t pretend that Buddhism is always the best solution…

…but it’s the best solution now, with our civilization in dire straits. Back in the days of struggle, long before these days of leisure and opportunity—and colossal chaos, those periods of struggle were punctuated by occasional celebrations, like rainfall after a long drought, or feast after a long harvest, or famine, to acknowledge a job well-done, and no hurry to return to the drudgery of daily existence, the quest for a destination, and the hunt for food…

Survival itself was a limit, and a good one, too. It kept us humble, which is the goal of all religions and belief systems, almost without fail. And Christianity was right that we should go forth and multiply, as that was the only hedge against extinction of the species. But instead we went forth and divided, any benefit from large numbers erased by a superiority complex and homicidal tendencies. And now the celebrations are all too commonplace, a goal in and of itself…

And the metaphysical search is largely abandoned, that quest that largely defines us, or did until the modern era of leisure. Now we must set our own limits, and that is the hard part. And the hardest part of ‘enlightenment’ is being content with conditions, without being resigned to them, finding that sweet spot in the middle, that path to fruition, and following it without fail, advancing and retreating as appropriate to those conditions…

So I get extremely skeptical when someone talks about ‘finding their bliss’…

…or ‘living ecstatically’. To me it suggests that they’re heading for a fall. We all are, but no one has to get hurt, not really. It’s a bargaining position, with yourself, or lack thereof. So when I suggest that you abandon your dreams, all of them, every time, I don’t mean permanently, of course, just to let them go, psychologically, and then keep coming back, from a different angle, with a fresh attitude, or not, depending on circumstances, and depending on those changing conditions…

And when my hero Joseph Campbell says his disciples should ‘follow their bliss’, (from which he later backtracked BTW), I’d say that is less appropriate for our times than his. We’ve seen the threshold of a new era in my lifetime, maybe about 1975, when ‘small planet’ and ‘global village’ ideals of discipline and conservation replaced the previous “do yo’ thang” and “tune in, turn on, drop out” ideals of self-indulgence and hedonism…

Unfortunately that new ‘small world’ ideal was not well defined nor nearly as fun, for some, so we’ve since backtracked, and the world has suffered for it. Can we get back to the garden, and a sustainable existence? Can we find the middle path to freedom—within limits? It really can be quite nice in that world, you know, so let Wall Street look inside for enlightenment now. We need it—badly…