On religion, relationships and mind hacks

This is going to be personal, so if you know me in person and also can tolerate the random gyaan I spew every once in a while, read on. If you don’t, I’m glad you are here but maybe (just maybe) you’d want to skip this one.

This post is inspired by two posts by two people I know and is about two (slightly related) things I’ve been thinking about for sometime.

The first one was this innocuous tweet (also Facebook status) by Rahul about Stephen Hawkings declaring that the universe did not need a creator. That generated a couple of comments on Facebook about the (ir)relevance of religion. I chimed in with the comment:

Religion is good as something that provides a moral compass, but it
need not be required to answer questions of existence. That's why I
like Buddhism. True Buddhism is a practical religion without the need
for an existence of a God (let alone a creator). Science is excellent
in answering the questions "who are we ?" and "How did we get here ?"
although the answers aren't comprehensive yet. Religions like Buddhism
are excellent in answering the question - "All that's great and
logical, now what ?"

To which he replied:

Now what? Free will Steve. Go forth and do good :-) Like all
religions, Buddhism started out with good ideas but now it is corrupt
and no one seems to practise the original ideas anymore.

While I don’t claim to know anything about the second part, I do feel the need to address the first — `Go forth and do good`. You see ‘do good’ is often fairly subjective. I don’t think I need to give examples about this. Every day we are faced with questions on morality, which may range from the simple and mundane to the extremely hard to decide on. So, my definition of good might not necessarily be the same as yours …but here’s the thing – It should be !

These questions only appear to be subjective. One of the many things I like about the teachings of the Buddha[1] is this — There is always a very simple, straight forward, unchanging, binary (yes or no) answer to every ‘Is this good or bad ?’ question. What makes the answer hard to reach is external to the question. The answer is often clouded by our own emotions, which tends to make us `prefer` or `justify` one answer to the other. Even when we choose the right answer we tend to choose it for the wrong reasons. It is hard to say something is ‘right‘ or ‘wrong‘ when we are feeling anger, hatred, depression …or even love, attachment, sympathy, compassion. Should a rapist be hanged ? Should a mass-murderer have any rights ? Is it right to be angry when someone hurts you ? Is it wrong to forgive but not forget ? The answer to such questions lie not in the morality of the question but whether we can answer any of them with detachment from our feelings.

I know it might not sound profound or on the other hand only sound profound but be too abstract with zero relation to reality.

If you feel that way, I encourage you to think of any conflict you are facing right now (big or small — for instance, do you feel conflicted about reading this post when you ought to be working ? — there you go ! šŸ™‚ ). Now, that you are feeling conflicted think about your preferred answer and then dwell not on the answer but why you came to it. Was that insightful ? If it wasn’t you haven’t dug deep enough !

It’s a neat mind trick that the Buddhists have been trying to teach for a long time …and that IMHO, is what Buddhism is all about — a whole bunch of life/mind-hacks to be happy — and `do good`.

Now, about that second post. My ex vented out in her latest blog post[2] about `what the hell do men want ?` I was initially tempted to reply back there but wanted to be as unobtrusive as possible. So here is my attempt at an answer to the question which vexes her.

You see, the question never was about ‘what does he want ?'[3]. What’s unfortunate is that (and this is why I said this bit and the earlier one were related), all the time she was asking the question ‘what the hell do men want ?’, she was really trying to answer the question ‘why am I not getting what I want in return ?‘. She was unsatisfied with the way her life was. Unsatisfied with her job, her health and me. Could I have done anything to satisfy what she wanted ? No ! As a matter of fact, nobody can do anything that would satisfy anybody ! If one is conflicted and in need of something, it cannot be satisfied by something external. No matter how contrary this might sound to real life experience. The reason I say external things cannot truly satisfy, is because when we feel they do, what is really happening is we are making peace with our wants …until they resurface again. One has to find peace and balance in one’s own life, internally. It is a hard thing to do. Bloody hard.

The failure of our relationship was because neither of us could be at peace nor could find balance. I expected patience and a little less ‘craziness’ from her. She wanted me to be a loving, caring, romantic person. Were we not that way ? Well, the mind trick that I hope I knew (/know) how to apply was to detach my wants and see things as they were. I wish, I had the patience for her and she had the freedom from her ‘want-in-return’ and both had the ability to meditate on life’s little problems.

Well, that said tho’, I don’t think I would have come to this conclusion without separation. I was morally conflicted at more levels than just our ‘needs’ and it wouldn’t have resolved when we were together (or at least, it would’ve taken a huge amount of effort for both of us, which I think neither of us could put in at that time).

So, what’s the bottom line of this whole post, it is:

KISS. Learning how to is bloody hard but once you know how, it is
extremely gratifying.[4]

Thanks for reading, cheers !

[1] I am not a practising Buddhist (or a practising anything, when it comes to it)
[2] Yes, I read her blog, does that make me sad and pathetic ? If you think it is, read the preceding paragraph again
[3] but still to humor, what I wanted was for her to be herself and be happy at being that
[4] KISS == Keep It Simple Stupid

  1. Heheh I thought you would say Keep it Simple Sweetie :p

  2. Late but just chanced upon it. I think you might want to read http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/the-moral-landscape/

    There is a Ted video and various other things where Sam Harris explains why he thinks moral questions are not as subjective and can be answered objectively. I think you might like it

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