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September 12th, 2006

Ego v. Altruism

Someone finally pieced together my understanding of the Ego v. Altruism case in the context of psychology and Buddhism.  I want to put a disclaimer that I generally dislike the superficiality of Psychology Today but Ellison articulated points from a variety of sources while still remaining concise, so it's worth skimming over.  Here are two quotes that allude to the Western skepticism of altruism:
Urging seekers of happiness to not only shake off egoism but to understand the amorphous nature of the ego itself remains a subversive idea in the West, even though some leading neuroscientists have come to the same conclusion. Wolf Singer, director of the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, for instance, describes the brain as lacking any decision-making "coherence center." It's like an orchestra without a conductor.
I read several journal entries -- I include my own -- where we fly off with our emotions or describe how our emotions "drove us" to primal reactions.  Such journals are typical given the sayings 'get real', 'let it all out', or Carpe diem, as criticised by Ellison:
It remains a radical notion in the West that benevolent states of mind such as concentration, kindness and happiness can be developed with practice. Apart from a growing "positive psychology" movement, ... Western scientists are still largely oriented toward healing the mentally ill, rather than improving the lives of the functionally OK. ... Western science is content to believe that each of us has a more or less genetically determined set point for well-being—and that happiness and love happen to us.
That last phrase is the crux of my understanding; it is describes a misunderstanding of Carpe diem.  The misunderstanding rises from the belief that flying off with our emotions or being driven by our emotions is being true to one's momentary self -- the a priori.  Oh! if we were such simple beings. 

Many misunderstand that mindfulness suppresses emotions as some denial; to the contrary, I am more aware of my emotions, and through meditations of compassion, more aware of other's emotions.  My understanding of Capre diem rests in awareness, as psychologists say, or mindfulness, as Buddhists say, of my emotions where I chose to react a particular way.  For example, if someone insults me, with mindfulness I embrace the feeling of anger but I determine whether to retaliate with a barb or understand why they made the insult.  Perhaps I interpreted what the person said as an insult where it was meant as a joke or perhaps the person was being critical but meant it constructively; eitherway, with a focus on primal reactions, we assume our first response is the somehow more genuine than any other -- but no other justification is given! 

Some critize mindfulness as 'giving in to others' or 'too nice' but imagine a crafty person bent on manipulating your emotional reactions.  By reacting to contrived stimulus as the manipulator expects, you are giving into him! and being skilled in his craft, how would you be aware being manipulated?  Of course this is a negative example but it is necessary to demonstrate the altruistic end of mindfulness: no one would manipulate people because everyone would be far too aware of their emotions and other's emotions. 

So I find understanding the moment empowering my ego and servng altruistic ends.

Killing the Buddha

The title Killing the Buddha at first repulsed me, but after reading the magazines manifesto, I find this approach to religion -- codified with the motto "99% fatwa free" -- amiable.