Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday's MeditationMom's Moment - Nihilism Versus Buddhism - 12/15/08

Q: I wonder if you can shed light on what possible difference there is between the idea of non-identification and nihilism. I used to think that spiritual enlightenment came from non-identification with anything, while nihilism was an identification with nothing. I'm no longer so sure there is any meaningful difference between them. I no longer see what that difference might be. The erasure of the ego may seem like a necessary step on the path to enlightenment, but if you're not a tree or a flower but an actually living human being with choices, with responsibilities, what practical use has it?

MM: There is no practical "use" for enlightenment."Usefulness" is a very human idea.

Flowers will be flowers and human beings will be human beings. A human being will make human choices and flowers will make flower choices. A flower will turn towards the light and open to warmth, and retreat from coldness and darkness. Human beings are the same - until they get confused. They think too much.

This distinction between "nihilism" and "emptiness" is very important.

Nihilism is the result of thinking (philosophy) whereas Buddhist teachings about emptiness are a result of not-thinking (meditation). The mistake many people make is that they approach Buddhism as a philosophy. They try to grasp and understand Buddhist teachings through intellect, rather than confirming them through meditation.

If a person studies Buddhism without meditating he or she will often end up a nihilist. Nihilism concludes that nothing matters and life is meaningless - so depression or insanity is a common side effect. Nihilism, as well as Buddhism emphasize non-attachment. This leads to arrogance and coldness - a false kind of detachment which avoids attachment and as such is nothing but attachment in disguise. A more experienced Buddhist teacher is often around to pull the student out of this blindness by demonstrating to him his attachment to the idea of non-attachment itself. The Nihilist usually has no such teachers.

Genuine non-attachment, on the other hand, as a side effect of maturity developed through meditation, leads to warmth and compassion, even glad self-sacrifice and service. It does not avoid responsibility or making choices, at all.

Nihilism - and even the teachings of non-attachment of Buddhism - are a great attraction for the young - because it helps with overcoming the heartbreak of failed romance. But only initially, because later it becomes an excuse for avoiding love altogether. Therefore, this so-called non-attachment creates suffering as it serves to protect the self rather than risk it.

Meditation leads to the discovery of what is behind existence. Through it we encounter the source of all things. Everything is recognized as of no ultimate importance because of impermanence. At the same time everything becomes infinitely precious and miraculous, not because of its usefulness, but simply because of its very existence and interconnectedness.

Attaching importance of meaning to things, ideas and people imprisons us, while deepest gratitude without attachment - frees us. The Buddhist goes about his daily tasks in gratitude valuing even the tiniest insect. The Nihilist, on the other hand, values nothing, and is only almost right. He is even a step ahead of others. Therefore Nihilism is dangerously deceiving.

The infinite and eternal - manifests as something finite and impermanent - therefore pointing towards the eternal... in an inexhaustible variety of forms, endlessly appearing and disappearing - for our enjoyment, inspiration, and in-formation about the beyond. The Nihilist, attached to his intellect, ideas, and insights, does not go beyond - he stays here with nothing - dying of thirst while swimming in the river.

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