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Eastern Thought, Western Thought, Determinism, Free Will, The Self.. And Water.

February 17, 2021

Water has no mind. Water has no choice. Water does not determine its course. Water is subject to greater natural laws. A creek evaporates. A river flows into the ocean.

Water does not choose.

Is being like water really.. good?

Being formless, “you pour water into a cup, it becomes the cup,” and so forth. That is a quote from Bruce Lee, but he was just parroting the writers of the Tao Te Ching.. ancient Chinese thought.. at least 3,000 years old.

Is being like water good?

Water has no identity.

From an Eastern perspective, this is good.

From a Western perspective, this is inconceivable, and can lead to madness.

But for Easterners, deep within them..

“The nail that stands up is pounded down.”

This is an old Asian proverb.

Conformity.

Homogeneity.

Part of the whole, the individual diminished, destroyed.

That is the goal of Eastern thought and religion.

Nirvana.

Die, finally without rebirth, and merge into all that is. That is the ultimate. Not only ultimate in the literal sense, “ultimatus” Latin.. “to come to an end,” but also, in our more Western and Modern definition: The Best.

To lose our individuality is the opposite of trying to be, and being, The Best, according to Western Thought.

The best is Ego.

Individual Glory.

The Super Bowl game-winning touchdown pass caught by the wide receiver, having outwitted multiple defenders, just over the line of the end zone.

One who achieves true rock star legendary status.

The individual who has made his or her first billion dollars. Who has reached the perceived pinnacle of financial success.

Or just the first middle class person on the block to purchase a luxury German-made automobile, whether he or she can afford the monthly payments or not.

We cannot relate to the Eastern.

Is the Eastern any better?

To be an individual, is that truly worse than to work and work at being the best completely nondescript, unnoticeable worker bee in the hive?

For we in the West, this is Anathema.

So it is also for those in the East who have adopted our Western ways, and who have become even more extreme than we are. Or rather, they have tried to adopt our Western ways, and have failed. They have unwittingly fallen back into conformity. Consider the Japanese “salaryman” (both men and women). The person who dresses the same as everyone else, fills one of endless middle management positions, and who cannot cope with his or her existence except by, after finishing the working day, getting off the subway and heading straight to the bar. Getting drunk until the small hours.

Stumbling home, and upon arrival, without a kiss for the spouse or acknowledgement of the child, falls into fitful sleep, for too few hours, only to repeat the experience again. And again. And Again. And.

That is the Eastern version of Western individuality, only to be turned into another form of Eastern conformity and Loss of Self.

The Eastern mind was not suited for this form of modernity. Some adopted this Western mindset, and have gone even more mad than we in the West.

Is free will an illusion?

What does religion tell us?

Even the Islamists have a saying, “It is Written!”

The Hindus, and the Buddhists who piggybacked onto the Hindus.. The promoters and self-appointed expositors of the messages of Christ, or rather, their myriad interpretations of it, who piggybacked onto Judaism, as Christ did (for how could he not.. as Buddha was a Hindu, so was Christ a Jew.. reformers never forget their hometowns, even though there, a prophet is without honor) do they have a denunciation of free will?

The Christians..

They are divided. Some, those holding with iron-fisted grip onto Calvinist tradition, say that there is no freewill, there is only Predestination. That God, in His “infinite mercy,” before the beginning of time, predestined some of we pathetic humans, we dust dwellers, to be lifted up, glorified, transformed into heavily creatures, so privileged as to enjoy God’s company forever, while the rest, the hapless and damned masses.. burn.

No wonder some Christians have a problem with ego.

But getting back to the Easterners..

To Taoism, where Bruce Lee found his inspiration for his “be like water”..

For the Hindus and Buddhists, who believe in karma..

For those whose ultimate goal is to shed all individual identity, and merge with the One, or the Nothing, depending on one’s interpretation of what nirvana even means.. (Maybe the One and the Nothing are the same? The One is Nothing?)

Is this lack of self any better than glorification of the self?

Or is it just…

Nihilism?

I do not know.

I was raised Christian, but could not help (determinism, not free will, seems to me) but abandon that path.. no matter how obsessed with it..the way of Christ, the apostles, the saints, the Church, the thousands of denominations, breaking down to even more infinitesimal expressions of ego: the tiny, non-denominational “churches” polluting our strip malls and office parks.. this path that, no matter how strongly and miserably compelled…

I Cannot Walk.

And so I have, in the past, this path, or rather, this wandering of faded or too heavily-trodden paths of Christianity, tried to abandon. And in so doing, have become even more confused, perhaps even more severely agitated and insane.

There is a saying, “Putting one’s right foot in a canoe, and one’s left foot in another canoe, does not give one the ability to walk on water.”

For me… having studied Buddhism for years, and having dipped my toes into Taoism and Hinduism..

I am trapped between East and West.

Better to be one or the other?

I do not know. I have not the experience of being only Western or only Eastern. It is too late for me now, for that.

But maybe, this.. both this and that and yet neither.. gives me a little insight..

Perhaps at least the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is correct:

Life. Is. Suffering.

And maybe that is the only Noble (perhaps.. not so noble, but.. blatantly obvious).. Truth that is accurate.

Whether we have free will or not, whether we reach a glorified state of egoism, that of the Western Mind, or attempt to lose ourselves entirely into the Eastern Mind.. mired in the attachment of striving to attain non-attachment..

Do we not suffer?

That is all we are guaranteed.

I do not know if free will is illusion or not.

I partook of well-crafted wine and dark beer tonight, ate much tasty food, and finally, after much thought, somehow came up with an idea for something I thought was actually worth writing down..and editing, and revising, as the hours passed. For writing is like sculpting stone. It is a pain-staking task of creating and refining. As none of us are perfect beings, if indeed any such beings exist at all, mistakes always remain. Some visible only to the sculptor or author, and some, tragically, visible to all.

I came downstairs, to my small room, in a hurry, in a semi-inebriated state.. (Was this truly an act of free will?)

And typed these words. And slaved over this post, which I am still uncertain of, and which, for better, worse, or neither, you now read (and do you not find yourself in doubt, wondering if your time was well spent just now?)

For what you have found..

Is.. at best..

Yet more scribble about infinite and unanswerable questions we all deal with.

For most people their religion (whichever it may be, I care not) provides at least a semi-satisfactory answer.

For some of these people, politics is the new Faith, the new Creed, in which they all too happily drown themselves.

But regardless..

For all of us, we who are Eastern or Western, it is the self we cannot bear.

And if we truly have free will, we cannot bear that either.

Succumbing to addiction.. social media, the next episode of the show we are binge-watching, religion, politics, sex, substance abuse, mindless entertainment…

It seems to me this perverse aberration of nature called the Self is something we cannot bear.

So it may be that Bruce Lee, and the Taoists from thousands of years ago, were truly wise.

Be like water.

Water does not think.

Water does not choose.

Water has no self.

© Tom Meninga. Yes, putting my name on here is a sign of egoism, but I don’t care, or if I do, does it really matter?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. DiosRaw permalink
    February 17, 2021 1:29 AM

    🖤

  2. May 8, 2021 6:06 PM

    I appreciate the depth and the honesty of your wandering in this post. I too have spent a lot of time migrating between “east” and “west” and I have come to a different dichotomy which seems to have a much stronger influence on how one lives in the world. I see the people who are willing to ask the questions and go in search of answers, and I see the people who are not. There may yet be at third group of blessed people to whom the questions seem unimportant. It is clear that you are asking the questions, and you are courageous enough to follow your curiosity towards a place of un-knowing and uncertainty. Uncharted waters. Good luck out there. At least know that you’re not alone!

    • Tom Meninga permalink*
      May 30, 2021 3:27 PM

      Sorry I did not respond to your question sooner. I am almost never on my blog anymore. I stopped writing regularly probably two years ago, except for a music series of cover tunes I wrote about for maybe a month last year.

      It is really really unpleasant being stuck in between philosophies and faiths.

      I still deal with a Christian compulsion, considering I live with my mom and aunt, who are very devout Catholics, and my dad, who is a devout Protestant.

      On some Sundays, I still feel the compulsion to go to a small Catholic parish here in Boise, one of the smallest.

      It is called Sacred Heart (meaning the Sacred Heart of Jesus.. whatever that means.. Sacred Heart is a very common name for Catholic Churches).

      It is in a neighborhood that I like.. of course I like.. very much like and appreciate.. pretty much all of Boise.. but this area is one of my favorites.

      I have been to to five of the eight parishes in the area, and I like Sacred Heart the best.

      It is a small church, and humble and homey, not fancy. Not even a huge crucifix.

      And the music is mellow.. acoustic instruments.. sometimes one of the musicians even plays a banjo.. nothing radical like bluegrass, just some chords and a few grace notes.

      A pleasant church. Good service, with the Catholic dignity and beauty of the mass, despite it being all about eating flesh and drinking blood of the Catholic god Christ.

      Yes, Sacred Heart is Catholic.

      And I have a multitude of serious problems with Catholicism, and Christianity in general.

      Catholicism is great for some, but I think Christianity is horrible because the Old Testament god is horrible, and the Old Testament God is God the Father, and Christ is God the Son, another member of the three in one God..

      And I won’t go into all the problems I have with Christianity.

      So.. I do not go to the Catholic church, even though I feel some need to go, because I have no communal, ristualistic connection to any deity.

      So that is the best I can do.

      And it is not good enough.

      Yes, I could get a statue of Ganesh, the Elephant-headed deity, and set up a little shrine with flowers and so forth.

      Or a statue of Odin, with offerings of mead.

      But I can’t relate to doing that.

      I feel I cannot trust any gods, and they do not like me or have interest in me.

      And yet I pray every day.. I pray to Whoever.. whoever is good out there and might be listening.

      __

      Buddhism…

      I had some credits on Audible. I already have a massive digital collection of audiobooks, most of them I have not listened to, and probably won’t.. and so don’t need more, but, I let my account continue, and now I had three credits, and had to get.. something. I felt before I cancel my account, though I think we an cancel and still use our credits?

      Anyway…

      So, I’ve been struggling a lot with my mental health, and my physical health has gotten worse..

      So I thought maybe a Pema Chodron book would help. She is a very prominent Buddhist author.

      I read a bit of one of her books many years ago, and got only a few pages in before I .. recycled it? Donated it? I don’t know.

      She is a woman who is not ethnically Tibetan, she is white, but has been an nun in the Tibetan tradition for many many years, and has written a lot of books.

      I listened to a few lectures of hers on youtube in years past, and, although she said some helpful things, I really did not relate to the Buddhism.

      But I was desperate to use a credit, and find something that might help, even though I knew better than to get a Pema Chodron book, so I bought the audio download for her book. “Start Where You Are.”

      Nice title.

      But by the third chapter, she was already deep into Buddhist paradoxes.. the whole emptiness thing.. this teasing contradicts tat.. and then the next “slogan” as she calls it, the next saying has to do with not thinking about things being empty. Even though the previous slogan talked about all being emptiness..

      I forget the words.. all is illusion, all is a dream (that is one Buddhist teaching that really messes my head up, one of many Buddhist teachings) and yet it is there, whatever it is..

      One slogan would contradict the next.

      I can’t handle that!

      So I stopped listening.

      .. And dug out from my cabinet of books a title called “A Path With Heart,” and read that a little.

      The book is by Jack Kornfield.. a prominent Buddhist writer.

      I was hoping he would not get too heavy into Buddhism, but provide answers and a spiritual path that could work for anybody.

      But, in the acknowledgment section at the beginning of the book, a page and a half, he used the word “dharma” at least five times.

      I looked at the table of contents..a fairly long book, and probably somewhat helpful..

      But there is a later chapter called “The Dissolution of the Self.”

      Warning bells and red flags.

      The ol’ no self teaching and doctrine.

      Yes, we have conflicting selves within us, and we are not a whole self.. but no self and all is illusion?

      I cannot live with that.

      There is a severe mental health problem.. I forget what it is called.. but people lose all sense of self, and find this to be terribly alarming.
      __

      I also have a pagan book, but I’ve not gotten far into it, even though it has journalling excesses and other things to do, which might be very useful.

      It is called “Paganism: An Introduction to Earth Centered Religions,” by Joyce and River Higginbotham.

      I’ve not gotten into the early chapters, because they are about general pagan rituals that people do as a community, the wheel of the year, and so forth, and I just don’t care about that stuff.

      I tried being part of a pagan community. I went to meeting for newbies.. meetings of a small Wiccan group in town made up mostly of middle-aged adults, not gothed-out teenagers or creepy adults.

      Nice people, and I got to know the head priest, named Jon.. he and his wife Jeanne were the leaders of the open circle group for new people and for those who were more experienced, but who still wanted to go to the open circle, and the closed circle, which was the coven.

      I talked with Jon quite a bit, before he died several years ago. Cancer.. Jon was 50.

      One of the kindest, wisest people I have ever met.

      But my Christian compulsions and thoughts got in the way. I could not become what he was.

      I not only communicated with him in person.. he and his wife ran a local shop called Crone’s Cupboard.. a wonderful store.. for Wiccans, various pagans, new-agers, etc.(His wife still runs the business, and is likely the only head priest now, because Jon passed away).

      But Jon and I also exchanged a few emails.

      After a year or so of talking with him off and on.. Jon… no silly Wiccan faux-Native American name.. like most Wiccans have.. they usually have the word “wolf” or the word “raven” in their names.

      There is even a very well-known author named Silver Ravenwolf.

      But Jon was just Jon.

      Wonderful to talk with..

      But, I wrote to him that trying to learn Paganism was like when I was trying to learn a few words of Japanese years ago.. when I tried to remember a Japanese word, a Spanish word would come up in my head instead, because I had, many years before, studied Spanish because I had to in school.

      Mental interference.. Christianity would keep popping up in my head when I was trying to learn about Paganism.

      Also, I did not want to become a witch. Sometimes I went to the meetings, and just didn’t care about divination, or whatever was being taught.. didn’t care at all.

      And because of my heavily anti-witchcraft teachings.. a typical conservative Protestant anti-witchcraft and the occult.. all is of the devil sort of thing..

      .. I was scared to learn how to do witchcraft. I still feel that way a little.

      And I haven’t gotten myself to do the simple witchcraft exercises that are part of the pagan book.

      __

      So.. I can’t relate to deities, get screwed up when exposing myself to Buddhism..

      And am unhappy spiritually.

      __

      In 2019, I saw an autism specialist several times, and at the age of 46, was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

      Years ago, I read that autistic people are far more likely to atheists than members of the general public.

      The circuits in peoples’ brains.. the chemicals.. the neurons.. the electrical activity.. just aren’t as present in people with autism. Or are not functioning at all.

      It’s like that part of our brain does not work..

      So that is part of the problem.

      __

      As I am writing this in my room, I can hear the lively conversation of my aunt and her Catholic friend.. God this and that.. all this Catholic stuff..

      And just over an hour ago, an Anglican (Protestant, but in some ways similar to Catholic) priest came to visit my homebound father.. going through the communion ritual. Father Jeff visits dad every Sunday after the service he leads is over.. a good man, Father Jeff) I got to hear all that at the same time as the Catholic conversation, while I was eating breakfast.

      Instead of sitting in the room between the two, I went into the dining room for conversation with my aunt, her friend, and my mom, who usually sits quietly and listens.

      All this Christianity in the home I share with relatives.. still is a bit of a trigger.

      And I still think that maybe the universalists are right..

      My unitarian-universalist interpretation of God or Source or Spirit or whatever..

      Just a thought of mine, not a belief..

      God (I don’t like to use that word) or the gods, or Whoever.. doesn’t mind being called “Jesus” or “Allah” or “Vishnu” or whoever..

      This Whoever is kind enough to respond as any particular deity..

      So why did Jesus.. perhaps not the historical Jesus, but maybe the whoever who has decided to work and communicate through the name of Jesus.. why did Jesus, whatever whoever he was or is.. never like me?

      Why did I feel rejection by Christ, and rejection from Christians for so long, and strongly dislike the God of the Old Testament, or the Jesus of the New?

      Why don’t I have a happy Protestant or Catholic faith?

      I don’t know.

      __

      I don’t know if I can progress spiritually and get better.

      I read somewhere..

      Don’t let what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can.

      There are better things to do with my time, like working through an online, secular self-help psychology course, practice deep breathing, exercise, study Spanish, etc.

      But..

      As you can tell by this very long reply..

      All this spirituality stuff..

      Still an issue with me..

      __

      Maybe the people who don’t look for answers are better off.

      The Who, one of the best bands ever, did a song called “The Seeker,” about a desperate man looking for truth, and asking the Beatles, Bod Dylan, Timothy Leary..

      Nobody had the answers he sought.

      And the last line of the chorus..

      “I’m not going to get what I’m after.. ’til the day I die.”

      Not a happy thought, but maybe true.

      And maybe even in death we find no answers, but find something better..

      An end.

      __

      Yes, there are many blessed people who don’t ask questions, they are just happy in their faith.

      And there are people who are atheists or agnostics, who don’t care and don’t question. They are fine too, and just get on with their lives.

      Those people are fortunate as well.

      But I am not like those people.

      __

      I would like to find a happy, peaceful path, and commit to it..

      Instead of being stuck as part Christian, part Buddhist, since I was into Buddhism for years, a little bit Taoist, a little bit pagan..

      And a whole lot of uncertainty, unhappiness. Something so important that is missing.

      Yes.

      A good path.

      One good path.

      But my mind resists.

      There is a man I greatly admire.. a psychologist, philosopher, lecturer, etc. named Jordan Peterson.

      He once said he was not religious because he did not want to be in a box.

      He liked to open up boxes and look inside them.

      He said he could not do that if he was in a box.

      I am like Jordan Peterson in that way, I suppose.

      I just can’t adopt one worldview..

      Religions say… THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD IS. THIS IS REALITY.

      Well.. maybe yes, and maybe no.

      But being on one path, and practicing one faith, happily and peacefully, with myself, and sometimes with others..

      Would be wonderful.

      I could become a Unitarian-Universalist, I suppose. I agree with some of their spiritual ideas.

      But they are some extremely leftist and aggressively political, that I cannot, as a political moderate, be a part of their community.

      Too bad about the politics.. it could be a place for me to go, otherwise, even though I do not have a particular belief system. A path.

      But yes.. this uncertainty and spiritual wandering and depression..

      One happy peaceful path would be good.

      __

      There is a saying..

      “Putting one’s right foot in a canoe, and one’s left foot in another canoe does not allow one to walk on water.”

      __

      Thanks for your comment.

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