I don’t have a lot to say lately, because I find myself meditating and reading a lot, in an effort to seek answers to difficult questions. Sometimes I meditate entirely sober, other times I meditate while I chew on a small bit of Salvia Divinorum leaf. The most difficult questions in life have been explored by human beings for thousands of years, so there is a high ratio of things I read to things I have something to say on.
When it comes to me personally, I’ll say that I spend most of the time I should be working, studying Buddhist philosophy. It’s not so much that I would consider myself a Buddhist today. Rather, I’m increasingly starting to think that I have spent large portions of my life failing to properly understand certain tenets of Buddhism.
As an example, we can look at the Buddhist term Dukkha, the first of the four noble truths. If you wish to boil it down to its purest essence, then I think it means that life is suffering. However, it’s difficult to properly translate a word like this into the English language. Dukkha also conveys a sense of unsatisfactoriness.
If you refer to life as suffering, it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that Buddhism is overly bleak in its assessment of the human condition. However, unsatisfactory would be a better description of life. What joy we experience, seems transitory and fleeting. It merely seems to raise the goals we pursue. The joy we experience here also seems to be tied intimately to suffering.
As an example, you can think of all the food you enjoy. If we wish to enjoy chocolate, then someone in Africa has to work as a modern day peasant, opening those pods. If we wish to enjoy eggs, male chicks have to be killed. For milk, male calves have to be killed. The foods we enjoy most, the simplest least complicated pleasures, are the ones that make our bodies sick.
If you genuinely think about climate change, then you end up at the conclusion that the things that bring you the most joy in life are the ones that impose the most suffering on other people. Cryptocurrency made me and many other young men rich quickly, without having to graduate college. What did it impose upon humanity? Misery and pollution. The highlight of your year, is probably the vacation you take. What is the one single easiest thing you can do this year to reduce your carbon footprint? To stay home and not fly.
But that is of course not the whole nature of Dukkha. There’s also the sense that a pleasure leaves you wanting more. Most drugs you take are only truly pleasurable during the first few times you take them. After a while heroin stops being fun, you just became dependent on it to feel normal. Sex is the same way. It tends to be fun with someone new, or when you do something new.
Everything that gives us pleasure also makes us dependent and vulnerable. If you love someone, then life ceases to be worth living without them. If you take pleasure in your beauty, then life becomes unbearable in older age. Every beautiful woman will have to live with the reality that the world seems to revolve around her in her early twenties, but the world seems to forget that she exists around menopause.
And every blessing we receive, tortures another person in its absence. Who doesn’t feel at times, as if nature has been unkind to him? We might say that these issues are merely an issue of perspective. If you’re poor you must remind yourself that you are beautiful, if you’re unpopular you must remind yourself that you’re intelligent. But some forms of suffering are so severe, that we become hesitant to be reborn, out of fear of ending up in the wrong life.
You might happily consent to reliving your own life exactly up to this point. But would you consent to being a medieval lepra patient, spending your life isolated from everyone else, as your fingers and your genitals rot and fall off? Would you consent to being reborn as a chicken, growing so fast that you can not stand on your own legs?
Surely you can think of many such lives, the thought of having to live through them just terrifies you. But it’s distant and abstract, maybe it’s hard to empathize with something so alien to us. But what about some people today? We see cases of girls who are depressed and self-injure. Their legs or arms are covered with enormous scars. They see their friends transitioning and becoming happier (because that’s what sex hormones do in our brains, particularly at levels higher than the brain is used to), so they try it too, thinking this is what was missing all along. But then they begin to transition themselves and realize it was a mistake, so now they live the rest of their lives unable to pass as either gender.
Imagine a life filled with the greatest pleasures, being born as a modern day elite, a Jay-Z or an Elon Musk, or a European princess, or anyone else you look at with envy. Then think of the worst possible life you can think of, as a mutilated slave in South Sudan whose entire family has been murdered, or a child born deformed, or anything else that terrifies you. Would you really sign up for the prior, in exchange for also living through the latter?
The Gautama Buddha was kept by his father from seeing the outside world, because his father wanted him to be a great king rather than a great spiritual teacher. When the Buddha left his palace, he was shocked by the suffering he saw people go through, so he began his path towards enlightenment.
Doesn’t this principle apply to you and me as well? How much are you really aware, of all the suffering that is necessary for every pleasure you enjoy? The animals we eat are kept in dark buildings, that we are forbidden from filming in some jurisdictions. The pollution caused for future generations, is something that is invisible for you. History itself, with all of its suffering, was necessary for you to come into existence as well. When people perform their jobs for us, your mind begins to perceive them as objects, so you don’t empathize with them. Society functions, because we’re all kept in the dark about each other’s suffering.
Buddhists traditionally divide Dukkha into three types. Dukkha-dukkha is when we experience things that are simply painful: Sickness, aging, death andsoforth. Viparinama-dukkha is what we experience when things that were pleasant cease to be pleasant, because the conditions that made them pleasant have ceased. As an example, you inject heroin and it’s fantastic. Then you start using it regularly and now it no longer gives you that same pleasure. This is a known phenomenon with MDMA too, as people complain often that the magic eventually disappears.
Finally, Sankhara-dukkha is the sense that the pleasures in life are fundamentally unsatisfactory. They just leave you seeking more extreme things. I was really happy for a short while, when I realized I had enough money to buy a house. After that, I merely rapidly found myself moving on to an inability to tolerate a state of being forced by financial circumstances to work. After that, the next state of dissatisfaction comes: Having enough money to stop working, but not enough to do something meaningful with your life. With every worldly measure of success, you will always find yourself unsatisfied.
Then the next question for me becomes: If the world is intrinsically unsatisfactory, why would it exist? The answer appears to be that you make it exist. When I read about Buddhist cosmology, I’m reminded of The Mysterious Stranger, a story by Mark Twain:
“You are not you–you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a thought. I myself have no existence; I am but a dream–your dream, a creature of your imagination. In a moment you will have realized this, then you will banish me from your visions and I shall dissolve into the nothingness out of which you made me. I am perishing already, I am failing, I am passing away.
In a little while you will be alone in shoreless space, to wander its limitless solitudes without friend or comrade forever—for you will remain a thought, the only existent thought, and by your nature inextinguishable, indestructible. But I, your poor servant, have revealed you to yourself and set you free. Dream other dreams, and better!
Strange! that you should not have suspected years ago—centuries, ages, eons, ago!—for you have existed, companionless, through all the eternities.
Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected that your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction! Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane—like all dreams: a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell—mouths mercy and invented hell—mouths Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him!
You perceive, now, that these things are all impossible except in a dream. You perceive that they are pure and puerile insanities, the silly creations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks—in a word, that they are a dream, and you the maker of it. The dream-marks are all present; you should have recognized them earlier.
“It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream—a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you are but a thought—a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!”
There are different schools of Buddhism, in simple terms, we have Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Theravada is the oldest most original form of Buddhism, it hasn’t really accepted new literature since 250 AD or so. Its scripture is the Pali-canon, composed of the sayings of the Gautama Buddha. Mahayana Buddhism evolved as a different branch, but it has continued to incorporate new insights and literature since then.
Out of Mahayana Buddhism grew Vajrayana Buddhism. Like the other forms, Vajrayana originated in India, but it did not really survive there. It survives in Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet (from which most people know it) and Mongolia. Another branch of Vajrayana Buddhism is the Shingon Buddhism of Japan. The Vajrayana schools of Buddhism tend to be referred to as Esoteric or Tantric forms of Buddhism.
The Esoteric schools of Buddhism suggest that the world has no ontological foundation or inherent existence. Through emptiness meditation, they believe themselves able to change and recreate the world, because the world has no ontological foundation of its own in the first place. Visualize yourself as a particular deity and you rearrange the world accordingly.
To me, this makes sense. If you touch the point of emptiness, where your senses pass you no information from your external environment and your mind is empty of wants and thoughts, then isn’t that state of mind equal no matter who you might be, where you might be, and when you might live? And if so, then what necessitates for you to come back to the world as it is now?
Vajrayana Buddhism basically sees itself as a particular form of Mahayana Buddhism, with special techniques that enable the practitioners to reach enlightenment faster. They believe it is possible for practitioners to reach enlightenment in one lifetime. One of the things that makes it interesting to me is the fact that it interprets sensual pleasure and other experiences in this world as a tool to achieve said goal. It aims to transcend the duality, by violating taboos.
Tantric Buddhism is quite different from the Buddhism known to us from the monasteries. In the monasteries, violation of scriptural precepts is highly taboo. On the other hand, in Tantric Buddhism, transgression of norms is encouraged, to transcend the dichotomy of virtue and vice. The Hevajra tantra for example states that one should go out and kill, lie, steal and sleep with married women. In medieval India, Tantric Buddhism tended to be practiced by laypersons, whereas non-Tantric Buddhism was mainly the domain of monks and nuns.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead that became popular in the Western world, is a product of Tantric Buddhism. It’s a common belief in the West that this text is read to people while they are dying, to help them end the cycle of reincarnation, or at least end up in a better life. However, it’s generally read by practitioners themselves, so that they may hopefully remember its teachings while they are dying.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead is seen as part of the Highest form of Tantra. In Tibetan Buddhism, there are four categories of Tantra. The lowest category is the Tantra of action, called Kriyā yoga. Here, the God the practitioner meditates on is seen as external to oneself. It’s a form of Tantra seen as useful for those who are prone to the use of various external rituals: Chanting, ritual cleansing andsoforth. The God is approached with great anxiety. I won’t be alone, in noticing that this form of Tantra seems reminiscent of the approach to God among the masses in the Abrahamic religions we’re familiar with.
As you reach higher categories of Tantra however, the rituals start to change. External rituals become less important and rather, the practitioner focuses more on meditation. More interestingly even, is that the practitioner begins to use his own innate desires, redirecting his passions to serve the goal of reaching enlightenment. The practitioner is taught to visualize themselves as the God they wish to reach.
That’s important to note. In the West, we associate Buddhism with meditation. However, in countries where Buddhism is practiced today, meditation tends to be a niche aspect of Buddhism. Most lay Buddhists never practice meditation and focus instead on the other aspects of the eightfold path. Even among Zen monks, meditation is rather unpopular. In Vajrayana Buddhism it seems to be more prominent and so we can expect that in previous eras meditation was a more important aspect of Buddhist practice.
When we arrive at higher categories of Tantra, the most intense passions are seen as proper to redirect. In the highest form of Tantra, the ritual carried out is sexual union with someone of the opposite sex. Of course, the average specimen of the 90k college debt generation will think about this and conclude: “I need to take a gap year, go backpacking in Tibet, become a Buddhist, find myself a local Tibetan sweetheart and reach enlightenment.”
However, the thing about Esoteric Buddhism is that it is esoteric for a reason: There are ideas that not everyone benefits from hearing. When you have access to knowledge that 10% of people seek, but 1% of people benefit from, then you have to keep it secret. It’s believed that if you find yourself succumbing to illusions through Tantric practices, the result is that you are set back many lives. Another reason Esoteric Buddhism tends to keep its practices secret, is because of the long history of Esoteric Buddhist practices that sought to transcend the duality of virtue and vice, which offended non-practitioners.
Consider the Tachikawa-ryu, a Singon Buddhist sect from 12th century Japan, founded by a monk called Ninkan, who died from suicide after jumping from the peak of a mountain. They practiced rituals where they stole skulls and smeared sexual fluids on them. It shouldn’t be hard to see how this would alienate the general public. It’s believed by some that the sect went underground, but there is no clear evidence for this.
If it seems to you, that Vajrayana Buddhism is unusually compatible with the ideas you arrive at through psychedelics, that doesn’t seem to be coincidence. Because the Vajrayana sects of Buddhism are occult and secretive, there are a lot of rumors out there I stumble upon, that are difficult to confirm or deny. As an example, some pages say that Tibetan Buddhist monks make use of Syrian Rue, Peganum Harmala, to contact a female deity during certain rituals.
What’s clear is that the Mahākāla Tantra mentions Peganum Harmala among a long list of psychoactive plants. Essentially the Mahākāla Tantra is a documented search for a plant that is considered “perfect medicine”, with the ability to transform the mind and the body in the service of liberation. Other plants that are known to be used and mentioned in the Mahākāla Tantra include Hemp and Datura.
I think the fundamental reason for the Western world’s current state of sickness is because we have no real spiritual tradition of our own left. The Christian church developed its own rich mystical tradition over the centuries, but then during the reformation people sought to simplify Christianity and explain it in rationally defensible terms, in response to corruption among the clergy. When you reduce the religion to a series of rationally defensible postulates however, the logical next step becomes that people will use reason to explain away the need for any sort of God whatsoever.
As opposed to asking yourself why you are here, the dominant response became to simply enjoy life and pursue your own material interest. If you are rich, you become a liberal who believes the government needs to leave us alone, if you are poor, you become a socialist who believes that government must redistribute wealth.
Both of these ideologies operate based on the same unspoken assumption, which is that you can gain happiness in this life, by pursuing sensual pleasure. However, Buddhists don’t fall for this type of reasoning: To mindlessly indulge in sensual pleasures simply generates attachment. Attachment then sets you up for misery.
If you look around, you’ll notice that the one religion Marxists hate most of all, with a true passion, is Buddhism. They don’t like Christianity, particularly Orthodox Christianity, as the long list of Russian mystics tortured to death reveals. Their most vile hatred however is reserved for the Buddha. After all, Marxism reaps the harvest of people’s entitlement to worldly pleasure, which Prince Siddhārtha Gautama nips in the bud.
The Marxist promise of utopia essentially comes down to the idea that machines will do all the work for us eventually and protect us against death, then everyone will be able to consume whatever they might want to, at an equal standard of living. We’re almost there now, the Marxist utopia is almost complete and it should be increasingly clear how profoundly miserable this way of life truly is. What makes it so miserable? Emptiness and meaninglessness. In a Marxist society, all hope for transcendence is lost.
Marx said that religion is opium for the people. Marxists however, promise to offer you fentanyl for the soul: A universal basic income, a subscription to Netflix, a college degree paid for by the government and a “friend with benefits” from Tinder (because love is transcendental and thus impossible to reach), while you wait impatiently for the day when the government declares you’re allowed to leave your house to meet other people again.
I think it’s possible to get a decent clue in regards to what sort of wisdom a culture has to offer, by looking at the art that it produces. If we look at the Salafists, we see that they merely destroy art, replacing it with kitsch nonsense funded by oil money. If we look at the Marxists, we see socialist realism, which glorifies the average blue collar working man. The blue collar working man is now seen as “problematic” however, because he votes for right wing populists, so modern day socialist realism would probably glorify a non-binary plus-sized latinx womxn of colour.
On the other hand, Tibetan Buddhist art is probably among the most beautiful in the world. As with all religious art that came into contact with Marxists, a lot of it has been lost. During the cultural revolution, almost all Buddhist temples in Tibet were ransacked. Mao saw that he was losing power and that the bureaucracy was abandoning orthodox Marxism, so he ordered the youth to go out and ransack everything that reminded people of the old China. This tends to be how Marxism survives the test of time: If there’s anything left that reminds people of the old era they’re going to long back for it, so it has to be destroyed.
When it comes to me personally, I plan on studying Vajrayana Buddhism more closely. I should note however that I’m not as naive as I might appear. Most attempts at importing Eastern religion to the Western world tend to blow up once the practitioners realize that their guru or tulku likes to use them for sex and their HIV test comes back positive. I don’t see this as evidence of a flaw in the teachings of the Buddha however, just as I don’t really let priests predilection for adolescent boys affect my image of Jesus.
Rather, this simply tends to be the problem you run into when you put bad men in positions of authority: Karl Marx also impregnated his maid and then refused to take care of his bastard son, which is reason number 3562 why he has reincarnated as a pinworm in an Orangutan’s colon. Over the years I’ve learned to see through people’s words and I think I’m able to distinguish between charlatans and scholars.