Writing my thesis, I worked over the philosophy of a human experience of alienation that stems from the illusory nature of mundane existence. In the works I read, I argued, Nagarjuna, an important Buddhist philosopher, and Valentinus, an important Gnostic writer, were saying that when humans become enlightened to the illusory nature of their mundane existence they transcend alienation and in so doing, they transcend suffering.
Pretty abstract stuff. But my interest is practical. I’m interested in understanding peace. The kind of peace that manifests on the personal level. And I think these guys are onto something.
The Nag Hammadi texts, which contained our first glimpse of the Gospel of Truth on their discovery, are a collection of Early Gnostic writings. Not all of them were Christian. But the Gospel of Truth is a Christian Gnostic text, and describes men as s being “… sunk in sleep … finding themselves in … disturbing dreams… Either (there is) a place to which they are fleeing, or without strength they come (from) having chased after others, or they are involved in striking blows, or they are receiving blows themselves, or they have fallen from high places, or they take off into the air though they do not have wings … ”
I find this idea similar to the concept of Samsara, which translates to journeying (from Sanskrit, and there are various similar translations floating about for this word). The buddhist concept of this journey is the individuals journey in the wheel of life, which is a place full of suffering… and illusion.
Dr. George Boeree (http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/samsara.html) describes it this way:
“… the Tibetan Wheel of Life, … represents Samsara. In the very center, there is a rooster chasing a pig chasing a snake chasing the rooster — craving, hatred, and ignorance. Around that are people ascending the white semicircle of life, and others descending the black semicircle of death. The greatest portion of the Wheel is devoted to representations of the six realms — the realm of the gods, the realm of the titans, the realm of humans, the realm of animals, the realm of the hungry ghosts, and the realm of demons — each realm looked over by its own boddhisattva. The outermost circle is the 12 steps of dependent origination. The entire Wheel is held by Yama, the Lord of Death.”
These sound similar to me.
So with that as a starting point, I wrote a thesis about how our dream-like circling in the wheel of life is the journey of ignorance that we can choose to transcend (that would be karma – the law of moral causation in which we have control over our actions and therefore our outcomes) — or not.
Because alternatively, it’s occurred to me since, there’s a pleasure to some aspects of our existence that could, arguably, be embraced fully.
But in the end, my experience hasn’t borne that argument out. I might embrace a desire, a goal, an exercise, but in the end it doesn’t make me any happier or more peaceful. That, I believe, is an internal state that has to be cultivated and can’t be earned with external achievement. I think ultimately, people are seeking a realization of themselves that somehow equals peace and maybe happiness. It isn’t a definition of self or an income level. That realization, if you believe the sages, comes with knowledge of our true state.
Which is where this meditation/compassion/expanded state of mind thing comes in.
I’m inviting arguments. 🙂