Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I'm So Narcissistic I'm In An Article About Narcissism And I'm Narcissistically Posting About It!

Yep! Elizabeth Bromstein up in the wilds of Toronto has quoted me in an article about narcissism for NOW! magazine. The link is here:

When Self Love Sucks

She did this interview with me by telephone the day I was writing the posts about conscientious selfishness. So the quote she used has a bit of that notion in there.

I'll try another way to express this: The reason you don't hurt others as a Buddhist is not because you're trying to be a kind, loving, beautiful, spiritual person who would never hurt anyone. It's because you realize that hurting someone else is exactly the same as hurting yourself. This is a much more powerful and much purer motivation.

A person who throws an empty Starbucks cup out of his SUV thinks that there is a difference between littering his SUV and littering the road. He thinks someone else will clean up his mess. A Buddhist doesn't perceive that difference. And he knows that there is no one else "out there" to clean up his mess. No matter where he throws his mess, he knows he will still be the one who cleans it up.

OK. So lately I've been hacking away at the manuscript for the English translation of Nagarjuna's Fundamental Song of the Middle Way and I've come up with some bits from the commentaries that I kind of like. Here they are:

We tend to make the mistake of dividing the function of seeing into two, and imagining that there is a seer who sees things. But this thing we call the seer is actually just the functioning of the sense center as a sense organ. Någårjuna expresses this by saying that the function of seeing produces one’s own mind. In Buddhist philosophy, consciousness is not an entity in and of itself. Consciousness is produced when the external and internal worlds interact. Therefore the function of seeing is just a simple fact at the present moment and not evidence for the existence of something we can call a “self” which sees. It is impossible, Någårjuna says, for the function of seeing to look at one’s own mind. We can never see our own eyes, the closest we can come is seeing their reflection in a mirror. In the same way, our mind can’t perceive itself. This is one of the reasons we say a Buddhist student must have a teacher. In the final analysis, the functioning of our senses is just as it is. There is no separate entity behind our sense functions that performs them.

Were it not for our ability to consider things, we could not speak of any ability to see, or for that matter any other sensory ability. The sensory abilities we attribute to ourselves are matters of consideration only. We imagine that we are a thing that somehow owns these abilities. But this concept may be an illusion. Furthermore, our own perceptions cannot be perceived by others. We are fooled by our excellent ability to communicate with one another into believing we are actually conveying such experiences. But this is never really the case.

Even though the function of seeing has limitations, we should never hold it in low esteem. This is because the attitude that esteems things as higher or lower can be called a kind of interpretation. So the fact that someone esteems something as lower might suggest that that person is insisting on some kind of personal view. Master Någårjuna points this out because many idealistic philosophers of his day really did hold the sense functions in low esteem, as many Indian idealistic philosophers still do today. The fact that we are seeing something and the fact that something is being seen is the fusion of 1) seeing something and 2) something being seen. In Buddhist philosophy, we do not accept the division of the observer and what is observed. The combination of these two is the back and the face of one single undivided fact at the present moment. Still, the action of seeing is real. We see here that Master Någårjuna’s philosophy does not negate the reality we experience. It is not nihilism.