Friday, July 18, 2008

Misanthropic Buddha by Alison Ross

Misanthropic Buddha
by Alison Ross

Most thinking people seem to be plagued with a certain inescapable and absurd affliction: that of cherishing and reviling humanity simultaneously.

Now, perhaps I am overstating the case. Perhaps most thinking people are NOT afflicted with this paradoxical condition. Perhaps it’s just a smattering of thinking people like myself who love and loathe the human species. Or perhaps I am not a thinking person at all. Perhaps I take refuge in aspiring to be an intellectual imbued with a fascinating cynical sensibility, while in reality my mind is as mundane as cardboard.

But whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure: a few of us out there harbor both abject disdain and utter adoration for humanity.

And I am not sure how to reconcile these two polarized emotions except to say that perhaps the proverbial yin yang phenomeon is in full effect, wherein light and dark energies thrive on each other in order to self-sustain. Perhaps it is healthy rather than harmful to harbor such antithetical sentiments. Or perhaps it is a dangerous dichtomy I am flirting with here, and in order for mental sanity to resume, I will need to transmute the hideous hatred element into shimmering love.

Herewith, a dissection of my love and hate:


What I love in humanity has to do with its pure potential as a species. When humans are good, they are heartbreakingly so. Humanity’s capacity for compassion is boundless, as evidenced by both the fleeting and monumental deeds of altruism we perform for each other every day, from caring for our families and friends to extending kindness to strangers. We can’t NOT be compassionate; it’s an inextricable part of our nature. Human’s flair for charity is evinced most boldly in times of tragedy, but really, it’s always there, even in nuanced form. Our whole lives are founded on the element of compassion.

And of course compassion ties in with conscience - and humans are endowed with abundant conscience. Without a conscience, our brains and hearts would not be able to breathe, as it were. Conscience is the intersection of intellect and compassion, I do believe. It is our hearts telling our minds to act justly and proportionately. It is the perfect fusion of intellect and emotion. In most Eastern cultures, the heart IS the mind, and for me this makes much more sense than the stifling Western idea of the preeminence of rigid logic - the heart disdained as the fount of childlike meekness.

I also love humanity’s sense of humor, which evolves from our deeply intellectual bent. The human ability to caricature our own follies is key to enduring the vapid meaningless of life.


The thing I dislike visciously regarding humanity is, strangely enough, exactly that: our vast capacity for expressing hatred, which when hardens becomes nihilistic. In my view, hatred and violence are a crude corrosion of our more positive elements. The Buddhists feel that such malevolence is merely a misguided attempt at happiness.That may sound wildly distorted until you realize that we spend our entire lives seeking happiness. When we are unhappy, it’s because we don’t know how to find happiness. We have lost our emotional equilibrium and attempt to stabilize by doing things that might actually counter that balance - obliviously, of course, for if we were aware of the harm we were doing to ourselves and others, we would work to rectify it.

You can see this expression of hatred in the most insignificant situations and the most bombastic ones. Of course, any event that involves spiteful sentiments evolves from self-loathing, ultimately - a deep discomfort with one’s own sense of being. Serenity with one’s self breeds serenity toward others. The converse is also true.

Mark Twain, naturally, feels that the “damned human race” is actually AFFLICTED with conscience, and this is what impels humans to commit atrocious acts. This is contrary to the typical image of humans being “blessed” with a conscience, unlike the “lesser” animals who pitifully lack such moral vigilance. But Twain holds that the common conception of the natural hierarchy is upside down; that really, it is the animals that are superior to humans, since animals merely satisfy their needs without profound purpose, whereas scrupulous humans agonize over right and wrong, and yet still somehow end up acting in horrifically barbaric ways .


So here I am, stuck in a quirky quandry: loving humans for all our latently good traits, but also loathing us for frequently squandering such pure potential. And yet, I am the ironic embodiment of what I love and hate.

Was the Buddha a misanthrope too? Is this what drove him to seek to transcend human nature altogether? Did he merely hope to obliterate such pesky paradoxes?

Is the curse of humanity, as Twain so bluntly put it, our conscience, compelling us to do what’s right but more often than not failing us? If so, what’s the point of having it at all?

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