The other side of the Buddha

February 22, 2009

The essence of Buddhism claims that :

Ones life ultimately leads to suffering of some form or the other, and that this suffering is caused by cravings or desire for worldly pleasures.

This teaching has been infused into the minds and hearts of millions of people all over the world. It seems Buddhism has stood the test of time. However, there is more to the Buddha with regard to existence itself. While reflecting upon my standing in this world and in turn this world’s standing, I came to realize that perhaps there is another side to the coin (one side being desire). That is uncertainty.

From the Buddha’s teachings it can be interpreted that the urge to live is not a desire,¬† for if it were, then the Buddha’s teachings would have been more along the lines of mass suicides. No, what the Buddha says is to learn to live. Alongside with ones own suffering and identify its source (a material desire) and finally learn to remove it.

Imagine a peaceful content peasant who is virtuous in nature. Who possess no more than what should suffice. Who wholeheartedly is ready to part with his excesses. Now imagine that this person walks along a path until he reaches a bridge in between two tall cliffs. He finds that he cannot cross due to the poor state of the bridge. Understanding this simple setback he decides to turn around and head back, but just then he notices another man who in his impatience had indeed used the bridge and was now clinging¬† on to dear life screaming for help. Now this simple content peasant has to make a choice. One which guarantees a certain future with his life intact, and another uncertain future. From the argument in the previous paragraph, an extended interpretation can be made: regard for life whether it be ones own or an others’ does not qualify as desire.

Of course certain brave people will claim that they would nimbly but surely attempt to rescue the trapped man. Other ‘uncertain’ people would claim that they would run to a nearby town to ask for help. I don’t think anybody would at least openly declare that they would ignore a trapped person, but the point here is not about the best course of action one could take. It is to point out the mental suffering with which one has to make a decision. For a typical person the thought process would be as follows:



This cycle of thought is fueled by uncertainty and a way out of the mental suffering during this process is only by breaking this cycle. Hence the solution to suffering caused by uncertainty is very similar to the solution to suffering caused by material desire.

Break the cycle, and be satisfied.

For Desire: Be satisfied with what you already have.

For uncertainty: Be satisfied with what you decide.

This directly links to the concept of dharma(sense of duty): To do what we have to do regardless of the outcome. To be free from the suffering of desire we must possess a strong sense of contentment. To be free from the suffering of uncertainty we must possess a strong sense of duty. It is often said however intelligent one is, without a sense of direction that entire talent is lost. The forest of uncertainty is indeed deceptive, and can be tread with out falling into the traps of desire, only with the steadfast footwork of duty.

These two causes of suffering boost each other. Falling for one makes us fall for the other. Despite difficult times, remember, by inaction only the worse can be achieved not the better.


I post

March 30, 2008

This is my Ist post. I am Shivakeshavan – Philosopher, wanna-be neuro-modeller, a selectively tech- crazy guy, and an absolute pessimist. I created this blog mainly out of boredom just like all the others. I aim to project my discordant N-d mind on this 2d plane. I have the writer’s block already so don’t expect much from me. Well just for starting ….

The brain is said to be the seat of consciousness, so lift the seat up before flushing..Nah just kidding. The brain is possibly the most complex network we know. Which is why we have hardly been able to scratch the surface of its functioning. I am currently working in this field and I must say that most of the knowledge about the human brain is so very volatile. What is seemingly a right assumption today is a criminal mistake tomorrow. This resembles the earlier days of physics. Not that physics is in a great shape right now, but at least physicists can be sure of some things. Right now all neuroscientists can agree on is that the brain is in the hollow space we call the skull. Theories abound in this field and all try to desperately fit experimental data. In fact there are as frequent revisions to theories as there are Microsoft security updates. Imagine Brain_Theory v.0.1a followed by Brain_Theory v.0.1 stable , until new experimental data surfaces and both the theories are ditched in favour for a totally new one. Well its a dangerous profession this, neuroscience. Tread lightly or you’ll be shot.

Most mathematicians and physicists on the other hand have their way of dealing with the brain. They ignore the intrinsic connections and bountiful complexities of the brain and minimize it to two words: error minimization and so we get neural networks under the cloak of machine learning. All just extensions of McCulloch & Pitts, Hebbian learning, SOMs etc. Well there is a very basic similarity in these networks to the real neuron but if these networks were what nature had actually intended, I’d be biting off my own arm for no reason right now. Well all is not bad totally. I may have exaggerated a little. Regions of the brain have been mapped. Certain linear mappings have been identified. But on the whole we have just mined like 1/trillionth of all the info we really need to understand the brain. We are uncovering more faster, experimentally, but a few good theories to fit the data are the missing keys. What we need is a Newton or Einstein with the power of insight to unravel at least a bit of the mystery. So long.