Eastern and Western approaches to life seem on the surface to be in conflict. In reality they may not be.
Eastern spirituality, if we can rudely summarize and generalize, seems based on renunciation, dispassion, and selflessness. It dissolves conflict.
The spirit of the West, on the other hand, is pure ego, individualism, ceaseless limitless self-expansion, endless acquisitiveness of ever more wealth, territory, information, and technology, infinite universe-conquering ambition, pure passion, and eternal plunging into the ocean of interpersonal, physical, political, and mental conflicts and struggles which these quests require.
The way to reconcile these is to recognize that one of these is the technique to fulfill the goal of the other. If the goal of the East is to put out the flame of passion, one of the best ways to relax the passions is to stop resisting them. Resisting passions only inflames them.
Maybe the truth of human nature is the flame of passion cannot actually be put out, or shouldn’t be.
Instead maybe we should instead purify the flame instead of putting it out. This means achieving clarity of purpose, peace of mind as we unify our divided attention into a single will, not losing desires or passions or amibitions but becoming more meditative, wise, and patient in our pursuit of them.
Maybe we come to a strange Tao-like state.
In the same way that the void of space seems strangely to be a substance that can be compressed and warped rather than pure absence, perhaps the flame of human desire becomes a similar state. Perhaps when we purify our inner flames, it is similarly present-and-absent, flame-and-not-flame. It is passion, but no longer torments us. It is simultaneously samsara and nirvana.
To quote Deathspell Omega, fire and void become one.
This is similar to crazy wisdom. We don’t abolish desire. We embrace the chaos of life. In it we find enlightenment.
We go on deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper, until we reach the point where there is no answer. […] At that point we tend to give up hope of an answer, or of anything whatsoever, for that matter. […] This hopelessness is the essence of crazy wisdom. It is hopeless, utterly hopeless.
If samsara is the entrapment in the illusory phenomena of life and reincarnation due to desire, and nirvana is freedom from this, perhaps the way to achieve nirvana is not to ceaselessly strive for nirvana, but to accept samsara. If attaining nirvana is about acceptance, then the ultimate acceptance is accepting that you cannot attain acceptance and are trapped in samsara. Perhaps acceptance of samsara is nirvana. Paradoxically, you achieve the non-striving of nirvana by ceasing to strive for nirvana, by accepting that you will sometimes strive, in fact by embracing your occasional strivings, and in reality it seems more about finding the proper balance and moderation between striving and rest, difficult to achieve, aided by keeping things in proportion.
We’re always going to want things. We’re always going to desire. We should. That’s the point of life. To not desire anything would be ridiculous. This is life. It’s our universe. We might as well enjoy it. We should make it how we want it. (It may, at times, also be wise to enjoy it how we find it.)
Lose your attachment to non-attachment. Often people influenced by Eastern thought get frustrated with themselves for being “bad Buddhists” etc. because they can’t be free from attachment. Well, that’s just how people are. You’re never going to be entirely free from attachment. What you can do is lose your attachment to pure non-attachment.
Lose your attachment to detachment.
You’ll still be attached to things, so you won’t be perfectly at peace.
At least you’ll be at peace with your non-peace.
That’s probably as close to peace as we can get.
When you just let yourself flow with yourself, even your drama feels weirdly peaceful and way less dramatic than you’d expect when it actually erupts.
Passion is the point of life. (The point of Eastern philosophy is, after all, to extinguish life itself, to extinguish reincarnation. I happen to be in favor of a cycle of alternation between existence and non-existence.)
But to be in passion is to be out of control. This actually conflicts pretty strongly with my preferred Western individualist egoism of being in control. Oddly, it’s also anti-Eastern because it’s over-emotional. So the West contains internally conflicting tendencies of logic for power’s sake, and emotion for its own sake.
To be out of control is to be passive. It’s to let whatever impulses come to you.
To be logical is to be in control, but to be unfeeling.
We need both. We must both choose our actions and feel our lives. We must be both in and out of control.
The biggest challenge of life, stability, enlightenment, is how to be involved with other people without losing control, without becoming impassioned, without becoming overly emotional.
To be involved with other people is to lose control by definition sometimes.
You will always lose control sometimes. Maybe the trick is losing control less and less.
Eventually you will find ways of losing control that are more and more harmonious with the people around you, where your ways of being spontaneously yourself are compatible with their ways of being spontaneously themselves. The wavelength patterns of control and non-control harmonize.
Sometimes you hope this will happen with people and the opposite happens. You collide horribly and some catastrophe occurs. You appear as monsters, or even become monsters.
It’s okay, we’re all monsters sometimes. We’re other things too. Keep your wavelength oscillating. Focus on the present. Find people you harmonize with. Keep working on ways of relating to others while remaining in control, and ways of letting go of control that work with the people around you.
What can the West learn from the East?
The stillness and stability to do one thing at a time.
The peace to pursue one’s goals and path with calm of heart.
Balance between destination and journey.
The patience to bring true excellence to one’s craft – an artist’s ability to master every single point on a line, to draw a perfect curve, with utter meditative dedication to every millimeter of every piece of the picture.
What can the East learn from the West?
The point of life is to get attached. We’re not supposed to be dispassionate. We’re supposed to let ourselves get carried away.
Sometimes the best way to tame a passion is to embrace it.
Maybe you should just embrace it anyway.