Hedonism: An Empty Path

buddha-india-mind-prayer-161170.jpegI am not necessarily opposed to hedonism, rather, I find it to be too shallow and spiritually empty. While I think that, in terms of physical enjoyment, hedonism can be quite grand, for the most part, hedonism simply encourages a form of living that is too materialistic. Hedonism attempts to be a method of escape that lacks any spiritual prowess. The goal of hedonism is to escape suffering, to try and enjoy as much of life as you can. But this enjoyment is based purely on material things, and it also fails to mention that pain and suffering are important tools in creating a stronger individual and thus are necessary for development. There is a reason why, when one thinks of a hedonist, one usually imagines an irresponsible, shallow and idiotic person. There is a reason why “hedonist” is used an insult and the word “ascetic” is not. One must understand that everything material is subject to change, and that materialism will only bring a short amount of joy but a long period of suffering. Hedonism, which is rooted in materialism, is a guaranteed way for a person to fall into spiritual oblivion, emptiness and possibly cause serious psychological or physical damage. One must live a life of adventure and pleasure, yes, but one must also have some sort of anti-materialist foundation to fall back on – otherwise all your materialistic and physical gains will quickly become meaningless and unsatisfying to you. Hedonism is therefore not “evil”, but it is shallow and misguided, and it’s philosophy is only appealing to those who lack any real sense of intellectual or spiritual character.


Transgression and Enlightenment

Image result for transgressive art
I encourage drug use, sexual experimentation, dangerous activities, chaotic behavior and putting ones life at risk. Most people live their lives repeating the same experiences, feelings, emotions and routines – and yet they are miserable or are too stupid to realize how pathetic their lives are.
One must be willing to break taboos, to go to the dark corners of human existence, to experience true fear and terror, to see both heaven and hell. One must attempt to climb both the highest mountain and sink to the lowest abyss. The spiritual gurus want people to teach about love and peace, yet they forget that these things cannot exist without hate and conflict. One must be willingly to experience both sides of the spectrum in order to fully understand themselves.
There is an entire world of experiences out there; just because society or religion has deemed some of them (a lot of them actually) as being ‘bad’, ‘immoral’, or ‘destructive’ does not mean you shouldn’t do them. One must try to experience as much as they can in order to obtain enlightenment.
Take the Buddha for example. Born a rich prince, he lived the early part of his life as a hedonistic playboy with all the materialistic riches he could obtain. And yet, he was still unsatisfied, so he then became a ascetic – starving himself, barely sleeping, and essentially turning his body into a breathing corpse. And then, finally, the Buddha found the Middle Way, and did not participate in either an excess of riches nor an excess of asceticism.
But the Buddha only found his peace and enlightenment when he experienced both the extremes of pleasure and of suffering. Thus, the same is probably true for most individuals – one must experience great pleasure and great suffering in order to fully understand enlightenment.
One must understand that society is purposely built to keep people ‘unenlightened’ – so to speak. The goal of society is to turn every individual into a cog in a machine; society does not wish to better the individual; because a ‘better’ individual will follow his own will rather than that of some arbitrary social-norm. Societies goal is to keep people compliment, obedient, unsatisfied, and unenlightened.
Thus, in order to better oneself, one must disregard societies rules and laws and live their life as they see fit.
Most of you have lived your lives by being good citizens of society; thus, it only seems fair that you now become transgressive. The goal of transgression is mostly to shock – to shock the individual into a new state of being and to shock those who witness it, in order to break their sense of security and order.

A Better Place?

If everything is subject to change, what use is it to make a utopia, or a ‘better society’ – when inevitably this society will someday decay, alter, or be destroyed altogether? The reason why I do not care for ‘making the world a better place’ is because it will inevitably come to an end eventually. I see no reason why I should waste my time and energy trying to improve something that will someday be subject to change. Even if you do create a better world, it will eventually be destroyed somewhere along the line.

On ‘Getting Your Life in Order’

Image property of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.

Some people try so hard to control every little aspect and every little detail and every little event of their lives. They value structure, and order, and they want everything to be in its right place – as if life is some kind of puzzle that can be put together with a little effort. But when you build a puzzle you’re putting together another persons work of art. Someone else designed the puzzle, and you’re just trying to put it together in a way that the designer wanted you to. This analogy can be applied to life. Everyone tries to get their lives ‘in order’ because they want to please others – because they want to please their parents, or their friends, or because they want to fit in or make something of themselves. The problem is that your life will never be in order – it will always be chaotic, or chaotic to some degree. Even if it was perfectly in order you’d find it extremely boring and not worth the effort. Everyone’s life is like a puzzle, and they’re all trying to put the pieces together hoping that, in the end, it’ll be this beautiful, coherent picture. I, on the other hand, say fuck it, throw the pieces in the air and let them fall where they may.

The Enduring Self? The Concept of ‘The Self’ in Western and Eastern Traditions

The term ‘self’ refers to an individual human being, along with their body, mind, and in some cases, the concept of a ‘soul’. The western view of the ‘enduring self’ refers to the notion that “you are the same person you were earlier in your life. In other words, it assumes that we humans are selves that endure through time” (Velasquez 96). So, despite the many mental and physical changes that may occur during our life, we are essentially the same ‘self’ throughout our many developments. While western traditional has, for the most part, accepted and championed the idea of an ‘enduring self’, the exact definition and characteristics of this ‘enduring self’ are diverse. However, the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume and the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, both rejected the idea of an ‘enduring self’, even going so far as to claim any concept of a ‘self’ is an illusion. In this essay, I intend to examine the two different views and state my own thoughts on which viewpoint is more compelling.

The European philosophers Plato, Descartes, and Locke all believed in an ‘enduring self’, however what exactly constituted this ‘self’ was varied. The concept of a ‘soul’ is often the most popular representation of an ‘enduring self’, because according to western belief, a soul is “immaterial or spiritual” (Velasquez 100), thus a ‘soul’ is beyond the physical realm and not subject to change like material objects. Plato was one of the first philosophers to state that the soul is eternal, so it is the soul of a man that makes him an enduring self, because even after death the soul continues to exist. Many years later, the philosopher Descartes stated that “thinking is an attribute of the soul” and that “the continuity of his thinking mind [is what] makes him remain the same person” (Velasquez 100). In other words, our consciousness is a result of our ‘soul’, or of our ‘enduring self’. Descartes basically believed that, if he could not think, then he could not exist, and thus ‘thinking’ in and of itself was what constituted an enduring self. Locke had a similar view, though his idea was the ‘enduring self’ is a person’s memory. In other words, it is our memory that allows us to identify ourselves, and it is the process of identifying ourselves that allows us to formulate the idea of a ‘self’.

While the western tradition may make some fairly significant justifications for an ‘enduring self’, the Buddhist philosophy completely rejects the notion of a ‘self’ in general, viewing it as an illusion. Buddhist philosophy believes that everything in life is ephemeral, or that nothing lasts forever. Everything is in a constant flux of change and impermanence, thus, the ‘enduring self’ cannot exist, because an ‘enduring self’ would imply something that is ‘permanent’ or ‘unchanging’. The Buddha taught that the idea of a ‘self’ is an illusion, and that this illusion leads to pain and suffering. By renouncing the ‘self’ and transcending the ego, one can obtain release from suffering (nirvana) and finally be at peace.

The Enlightenment thinker David Hume had a somewhat similar idea, in the sense that he too believed there is ‘no self’, and that what we think of as a ‘self’ is just an illusion. Hume “argues that all real knowledge is based on what we can actually perceive with our senses” (Velasquez 104). Hume believed that it was impossible to perceive the ‘self’ with our senses because it doesn’t actually exist – ‘the self’ is just an imaginary concept. Like Buddhism, Hume believed that “because everything is in flux, there is not even an enduring self” (Velasquez 105).

Personally, I find the Eastern tradition (along with Hume’s views) to be more compelling. Like Buddha and David Hume, I too believe that everything is impermanent, including ourselves. For example, right now I’m typing this essay, but the thoughts in my mind at this very moment are different from the thoughts in my mind a few seconds ago. Thus, how could I be an ‘enduring self’ when every few seconds the thoughts in my head are changing? In order to be an ‘enduring self’, wouldn’t that imply that I am unchanging, permanent and stagnant? Even the cells and carbon atoms that make up our bodies change repeatedly. Mentally and physically we are constantly changing, so I think that the idea of an ‘enduring self’ is nothing more than a mystical, idealistic concept.

I would say that the idea of a ‘self’ is just a notion that has been mentally created in order to give ourselves a feeling of identity and purpose. ‘The self’ is really only a product of our evolved consciousness – I personally don’t believe that it exists on any metaphysical, material or spiritual level. ‘The self’ may exist as a product of the mind, in other words, on a psychological level, but in all honesty I think even that definition might be stretching it. I agree with Hume in his reasoning that “we have no real knowledge of a self and so [we] have no justification for claiming that we have a self. What we perceive within ourselves is nothing more than a changing bundle of disconnected sensations” (Velasquez 104). In the end, I feel that David Hume and the Buddha’s views on illusionary nature of ‘the self’ are more rational and realistic.