The Long-Cut

Everybody’s interested in the short-cut, but no one’s interested in the ‘long-cut’. So what’s the ‘long-cut’, we might ask? What is it and why on earth should we be interested in it? It doesn’t sound particularly interesting after all. Who would want to go the long way around things if there was a shorter and quicker alternative? That doesn’t sound very smart!

 

The ‘long-cut’ – we might say – is our life as it actually is, and as soon as we say this we can see why we might not be very interested in it. We might be interested in theory perhaps – in theory it sounds fine, as a kind of noble ideal – but in practice definitely not. In practice it’s a very different matter entirely.  In practice we are constantly trying to avoid our life as it actually is in whatever way we can. In practice, we’re always looking for ‘a short-cut’. In practice we are always looking for ‘something else’, something shinier…

 

‘Short cutting’ life means skipping over the difficult bits, the ‘not so good bit’, the ‘boring’ bits, the bits we don’t like and jumping ahead to the good bits, the interesting bits, the bits we do like. This is what M. Scott Peck means when he talks about wanting to eat the icing on the cake before we eat the cake itself. We do this all of the time of course – we try to separate the bits we like from the bits we don’t. This is what attachment means, and who amongst us is free from attachment (or ‘like and dislike’)? Our normal everyday way of relating to the world is in terms of attraction versus aversion, which Buddhists sometimes call ‘the mind of preference’. Some things we like and try to get more of whilst other things we dislike and try to get less of, which seems almost too obvious to point out. But what we don’t see is the automatic (or unfree) nature of this tendency – if we experience attraction to something then it is ‘automatic’ that we try to get more of it and the same is true in reverse for what we are averse to. The ‘judgement’ (good or bad) and the purposeful or goal-orientated action that follows on from this are all of one piece. ‘Judgement’ and ‘reaction’ are both aspects of the same mechanical movement and this mechanical movement is completely non-volitional, no matter what we might believe to the contrary.

 

What this means therefore is that there are parts of our life that we like and try to optimize and other parts that we dislike (or don’t particularly care for) and these we try to minimize as much as possible. We live in an uneven fashion – we ‘play favourites’, so to speak. This very pronounced tendency to favour some aspects of our life at the expense of other is what we have referred to as ‘short-cutting’; we’re actually impatient with life – we’re impatient with life precisely because we’re always trying to skip ahead to the good bits. Short-cutting is of course considered by all and sundry as a very sensible thing to do; we could go so far as to say that we see this as being what life is all about – separating the bits we like from the bits that we don’t like. With regard to life in general we call this ‘being positive’ or ‘being goal-orientated’ whilst with regard to our mental health we call it ‘self-development’ or ‘self-improvement’. We’re striving to optimize the good stuff, we’re trying to ‘actualize the positive’, etc, etc. This is pop-psychology in a nutshell; it’s also regular psychology in a nutshell too. Our clever so-called ‘therapies’ are patented ways of separating the good from the bad, the desired from the undesired – they are all ‘short-cuts,’ in other words. Naturally our therapies are short-cuts; inasmuch as a therapy is directed towards a goal it is a short-cut! Anything that is directed towards a goal is a short-cut and we in the West don’t really understand anything else. ‘Goals’ is all we get…

 

The question that arises here of course is ‘What’s wrong with ‘jumping ahead’ from painful states of mind to less painful ones, particularly if it looks like we can do something about it? What’s wrong with having this as a goal? Why would we want to stay in the pain?’ This is a hard thing to understand, and the chances are that we won’t be particularly motivated to want to try to understand it, either. Pain doesn’t cause us to be reflective after all, it causes us to act on reflex, it causes us to run away as fast as we can! We have a fear that deep there is some part of us that wants to wallow in the pain and so naturally we don’t want to encourage this type of unhealthy wallowing. The trouble with our reflexive tendency to want to skip the difficult or painful parts of our life is however that they are just as legitimate as the parts that we do like and so if we try to bypass them they’re just going to come back and haunt us. We’re then going to be caught up in continual avoidance, continual fruitless struggling, continual ‘running away’. Our regular ‘fixing’ approach to painful states of mind embroils us in a non-terminating game of ‘Whac-a-mole’ therefore – we keep on whacking the mole as hard as we can with the mallet whenever he pushes his nose up and then he immediately appears from another hole. We can whack the hell out of the mole on a full-time basis if we want but we’re never going to get anywhere by it!

 

The short-cut isn’t so much of a short-cut after all really – it only appears to be and that’s what keeps us tied into it. Playing the ‘Whac-a-mole’ game also drastically reduces our perspective on matters to ‘the next mole’ and then ‘the next mole after that’ so we not even going to be able to see where we’re going wrong. We won’t have any insight into what’s really going on at all. Understanding that continually whacking the mole on the head every time he turns up isn’t a fruitful approach isn’t a ‘pessimistic’ or ‘hopeless’ sort of a thing at all therefore, even though it will of course seem so from the perspective of the entrenched game-player. Seeing through the ‘short-cuts’ is actually a profoundly liberating sort of thing – it might seem negative to our regular goal-orientated state of mind but negative is actually the only thing that is ever going to work here! ‘Negative’ is good, ‘negative’ is liberating; it’s the not-doing that’s going to save us, not the doing…

 

Not one of the problems that we have in this world was ever solved, says Omar Khayyam, but this isn’t a pessimistic or despairing thing to say. Omar Khayyam isn’t loved and celebrated as a mystic philosopher throughout the world because of his gift for pessimism! The point is that we don’t have to do anything about these problems. The problems in question pertain exclusively to the conditioned state of being – they are absolutely inescapable just so long as we exist in the conditioned world, the conditioned state of being. The ‘problems’ and ‘the conditioned state of being’ are the same thing and we can’t have one without the other. We can’t have conditioned existence with the ‘snags’ that comes with it and yet we never give up the hope that we can do and this is where our blindness lies…

 

We spend all out time trying to ‘cure’ or ‘fix’ the conditioned state of being so that we can remain safely within it and yet not suffer from the snags that come along with it, the snags and short-comings that actually are it. If someone comes along and says to us that the snags and short-comings can’t be fixed then we won’t be very impressed. We won’t be very favourably disposed to them. We want to hear some nice positive technical fixing language, we want to be told that the impossible thing we want to achieve actually is possible and there are no shortage of experts will to tell us this! If someone like Omar Khayyam comes along and tells us that during our time in this world we are not going to be able to solve even one of our problems then we’re going to be downright pissed-off. We want positive messages, not negative ones and if someone with integrity comes along and tells us something helpful we’re going to want to string them up!

 

We completely fail to see the liberating nature of what they are saying, the liberating nature of the ‘negative message’, which is that we don’t need to fix the problems because they don’t pertain to who we really are but only to who we have artificially made ourselves to be. The snags and short-comings that we are railing against don’t exist in reality, only in the false ‘constrained’ version of reality that we have adapted ourselves to and taken as ‘final’. Any talk of the ‘short-cut’ of finding peace and happiness whilst still imagining ourselves to be who we aren’t, whilst still remaining in the falsely ‘constrained’ version of reality isn’t helpful at all therefore, but the very reverse of this. Samsara is made up of these ‘false rumours of short-cuts’!

 

Once we can clearly see that any hope we might be harbouring of one day ‘finding a short-cut’ is actually the root cause of our suffering then this leaves us with the ‘long-cut’. We come back to the long-cut, which was waiting patiently there for us all the time, after a life-time’s obsession with finding a short-term fix. What then is the long-cut, we might ask? What is the long-cut and how do we go about finding it? These are of course purely rhetorical questions when it comes down to it since the long-cut is, as we said right at the beginning of this discussion, ‘our life as it actually is’. We don’t therefore need to go searching for it, the way we might go searching for a ‘magic answer’ or ‘magic fix’ – we don’t need to go searching for it because it was there all along. We don’t need to learn any special methods to actualize this state of affairs; any cleverness or artifice is quite beside the point. Any cleverness or artifice is actually the very devil, any cleverness or artifice is actually ‘the short-cut’!

 

The ‘point’ – we might say – is not that the long-cut is hard to find but rather that we don’t want to find it. We don’t value it; it is worthless to us. Nothing is of less interest to us ‘as our life as it actually is’; nothing is of less interest to us than our life as it actually is because we’re always looking for something special, because we always looking for something glittering and attractive. We might of course come out with fine self-affirming statements about loving our lives or loving ourselves but we don’t really mean it – we love our ideas of life, we love our ideas of ourselves and this isn’t the same thing at all. The truth of the matter is that we love our distractions, because that’s what thought and ideas are. We love the games that we play. And yet even this isn’t really true – we don’t really love our games and distractions any more than an addict loves his addiction. We need it but we don’t love it. If something is compulsory, then how can we ‘love’ it? All we can do is adapt to it as best we can and say that we love it, but that is a far cry from actually loving ourselves or our lives. It is actually pure theatre – theatre that we feel obliged to buy into because we can’t see any alternative…

 

The long-cut doesn’t mean that we should be ‘appreciative of our lives’ or that we should ‘feel gratitude for what we have’ or anything like that – it doesn’t mean that we ‘should’ anything. It doesn’t even mean that we should be ‘authentic’ because as soon as we think we need to be authentic we cease to be so. As soon as we think we ought to be anything we cease being authentic, so it’s useless thinking about it. To ‘be authentic’ would be to accept that one is inauthentic rather than trying to change things. This is like the jinx of ‘being good’ – if I try to be good then I am automatically not good. I’m pretending, and pretending to be good isn’t being good. I’m actually being false if I try to be good! ‘Trying’ has nothing to do with it because ‘trying’ is just a reflex reaction to avoid what we don’t like. ‘Trying’ just means looking for a short-cut!

 

One good way of talking about the long-cut is to say that it is when we are not looking for results, therefore. This is the philosophy propounded in the Bhagavad Gita – one acts, and acts wholeheartedly, but one does not orientate oneself towards the result of the action. We don’t hang around waiting for the fruit of our action to drop into our lap, which means that there’s no possibility of satisfaction for the ego happening here. The long-cut isn’t actually going anywhere, in other words, and this is what is so hard for us to understand about it. The long-cut isn’t actually any sort of ‘cut’, long or short. Challenges arise and we respond to them, but this is not done for any sort of a reason, because it is ‘good’ or ‘right’ to do so, or anything like that. There’s no sort of model or theory to what we’re doing. In the most succinct terms, therefore, the point is that what we have called ‘the long-cut’ is simply us living our life as it happens. The long-cut is just ‘living one’s life’ in other words and to express it like this tends to come across as rather an anticlimax. It’s something of a let-down to hear this because we were expecting something special! We were actually wanting to learn something fancy but there’s nothing fancy here, nothing for the thinking mind to grab hold of. This may not be anything fancy, anything clever, but simply ‘living one’s life as it happens’ is all the same the greatest challenge that there could ever be. This is the ultimate ‘secret’ of everything; this is the fabled ‘philosopher’s stone’…

 

 

 

 

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What You Cling To You Lose

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‘What you cling to you lose’, the Buddha is reported as saying (or ‘what you don’t let go of you lose‘, which comes to the same thing). “Aah,” we might reply in all our Western sophistication, “but if we’re not holding on to it then we don’t have it anyway and so what’s the difference?” What’s the difference between losing because we’re holding on to it and losing it because we never tried to win it in the first place?

 

Another thing the Buddha might have said however is that when we cling we create a false self. When we hold on we create the illusion of who we think we are but actually aren’t. Once this is taken into account then it changes everything – not only do we lose whatever it is we are so determinedly clinging to (and experience therefore the anguish of loss that goes with this), we’re suffering in vain because it wasn’t us who wanted it in the first place but ‘the mistaken notion of who we thought we are’. We’re suffering in vain because we’re not really the clinger who loses – we just think we are.

 

When we cling we create, by this act, ‘the clinger’, but this clinger is not at all who we are. The clinger is the false idea of who we are; the clinger is the false self, the ‘self who we are not’. To this false self, to this clinger, to this ‘attached one’, the thing that is being clung to is of course very important indeed. The strength of the clinging is a measure of this importance and the strength (or rather, the pure desperation) of this clinging goes off the scale. The urgency (or rather desperation) of our clinging has no end, no limits…

 

The ironic point about all this however is that ‘the thing that is being clung to’ is desperately important only to the clinger and the clinger (as we have been saying) isn’t who we are. The thing we are clinging to is desperately important to the false self, to the ‘mistaken idea of who we are’, but not at all important to who we really are. How can we be so sure of this? Simply because what the false self, the ‘clinger’, the ‘attached one’, is clinging to is actually itself.

 

The attached one, the clinger, only really cares about one thing and that is itself. What else would it be attached to? It is not attached to anything other than itself, and never could be. We can understand this very clearly just as soon as we see that clinging is how we create the self. That’s the whole point of clinging, that’s the ‘secret agenda’ behind this whole tiresome business of attachment. We naively imagine that when we grasp we are wanting to obtain something to benefit the self, something to enhance or augment or accessorize the self but this isn’t true. The bottom line is that what we’re doing when we cling (or strive) is to create the one who clings, to create the one who strives…

 

It could be said perhaps that from a psychological point of view what we’re  trying to obtain by our clinging and striving (to / for whatever it is that we’re clinging / striving to/for) is an increase in our sense of ontological security. This is true, but what constitutes ontological security for the false self is the belief that it actually exists when it doesn’t! ‘Striving for ontological security’ is the very same thing as ‘striving to exist’, therefore.

 

This is a tremendously frustrating sort of a business, obviously. When we play the game which we don’t know to be a game (the game that we exist as this concrete self when we don’t) there is only one thing that really matters to us and that thing is obtaining a type of security that just isn’t possible for us. Obtaining the sense of security that we are so painfully missing (necessarily missing, since the false or attached self doesn’t actually exist) is more important to us than anything else. It is desperately important to us in fact and at yet the same time as being desperately important it is at the same time flatly impossible. This isn’t just ‘a tremendously frustrating situation’, it’s the most frustrating situation there ever could be! It’s also the situation we find ourselves in every day.

 

In one way this strategy might be said to be working for us. It works for us in the sense that we get to believe very firmly indeed that we are this concrete self, for good or for bad, for better or for worse. We REALLY DO get to believe that we are the wanter, the striver, the clinger! The other side of the coin is however that we have to base our life on believing that we can obtain something that we can’t actually obtain, and at the same time avoid something that we can’t really avoid. We’re always ‘straining in a futile way’, therefore, and this straining is suffering.

 

The straining is futile because there is never a satisfactory outcome, because we can never ever get the result that we want to get (although it on occasion might for a while seem to us that we have). In another sense – as we have just said – the painful straining isn’t futile because we have created a self. As Alan Watts says in one of his talks, this painful knot of futile straining is the self! By striving to achieve the goal we create the striver, the wanter, the hoper. By planning and scheming we create the planner, the schemer. Is the planner or schemer ever happy? Plainly not, but who cares? Ultimately, it’s not being happy we care about but possessing – however temporarily – a misleading sense of ontological security. It’s believing that we are this ‘concrete self’ that matters, not anything else.

 

The wanter and the striver, the schemer and the planner, cannot ever be happy, obviously. If we’re wanting then by definition we’re not happy. By definition we are suffering. We haven’t got what we think we need, so how can we be happy? We have something else instead of happiness though – we have a workable substitute and the substitute is the excitement we experience when we (falsely) believe that we really are going obtain what we are so determinedly looking for. This ‘enjoyable excitement’ is a fool’s paradise, however – it’s all just a mirage that’s about to vanish into thin air the moment I close my hand on the prize. And the greater my excitement was beforehand, the greater the let-down is going to be afterwards when the mirage slips through my fingers (as it always does, as it always has done, as it always will do).

 

Once the prize has slipped (yet again) from my fingers then there is nothing for it but to go chasing after the next ‘object of desire’; I have to start playing the game again so that I can receive the next dose of enjoyable excitement. I have no choice apart from ‘playing the game all over again’ because this is the only way I know of getting to feel good again. I need this feeling of pleasurable anticipation – I am addicted to it, I am a slave to it. All I know is the euphoria of hope and the anguished let-down of loss and I crave the former just as much as a hate and the fear the latter. This attraction to euphoria and aversion to dysphoria is what traps me in the ultimately unfulfilling cycle of conditioned existence therefore. This is what traps me in the game of samsara.

 

Not only have I made myself into a slave of the enjoyable excitement (which is ‘the rapture of self-creation’) therefore, I have at the same time set up another master over me – that master being the negative excitement (or dysphoria) which is dread and anxiety. What I am in dread of is also only an empty mirage, but it is very real to me because that is the game I am playing. Because I want so much to believe in the concrete self, I have to be a slave to the fear that comes with it. The ‘addictive excitement’ of which we speak is nothing other than the excitement of creating the self but any pleasurable excitement which I manage to gain in the game is always going to be counterbalanced or cancelled out later on by unpleasant variety! This ‘pleasurable excitement’ is what Daisaku Ikeda calls the state of rapture. Because I crave euphoria so much, I have to make myself subject to the dreadful scourge of dysphoria. In order to have what like I also have to have what I don’t like. If I am to believe in the ‘positive’ euphoria-producing projections then I also have to believe in the ‘negative’ (dysphoria-producing) ones.

 

So in this game not only am I compelled to be forever chasing after attractive illusions, I am also compelled to be forever fleeing the frightening ones. This game – the game that I am playing – is the game of the self, and this is how I CREATE the self – by planning and scheming, by hoping and striving, by constantly chasing after attractive illusions and running away from repellent ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trapped In The World Of Duality

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When we strain to change our situation (when we make the mental effort to control the way that things are) then we ‘separate the opposites’. When we don’t strain to change things, then the opposites remain unseparated. When the opposites are (apparently) separated then a whole world opens up – the world of duality, which is the world of ‘plus-without-a-minus’ or ‘minus-without-a-plus’.

 

The perception of ‘plus-without-a-minus’ generates the agreeable mind-state of euphoria, which lures us on from ahead. The perception of ‘minus-without-a-plus’ gives rise to the disagreeable mind-state of dysphoria, which drives us on from behind, like a slave-driver with his whip.

 

Between the siren-like call of the euphoria beckoning us on from ahead of us and the fearsome whip-cracking of the dysphoria driving us from behind, we are caught on the wheel. How can we resist the siren-call of euphoria, or refrain from running away from the fearful threat of dysphoria when the very way our everyday mind works is to seek the one and avoid the other? It is as if our very constitution yearns to taste the honey-like sweetness of the euphoria and pulls back in dread from the poisoned needle of the dysphoria. It is as if the yearning and the dreading are embedded in us, encoded in us, programmed into us, so that we have no choice but to be deterministically driven this way and that in accordance with whatever external conditions happen to be prevailing.

 

The yearning for the sweetness and our dread of the sting is not really something that is embedded into us or written in stone in our very constitution, although this is what it feels like. The yearning and the dreading, the hoping and the fearing is written into the nature of the dual (or ‘conditioned’) self which is created when we strain with our thinking to achieve one outcome and avoid the other, complementary one.

 

This is what the dual self is – it is the yearning for the sweetness of the euphoria and the dreading of the bitterness of the dysphoria. It is made up entirely of wanting – the wanting to obtain the plus and the equal and opposite wanting to avoid the minus. This dual or conditioned self isn’t who we really are, it is simply a construct that we automatically identify with just as soon as we start straining to separate the opposites, just as soon as we start acting on attachment. When we strain to push the opposites apart we instantly bring into existence ‘the world of duality’ – we create the world of duality without seeing that we have created it, and then having created it we get trapped in it…

 

We get trapped in the world of duality because the only way of seeing things (or thinking about things) is in terms of one opposite versus the other. Seeing things this way is what creates the world of duality and this is also what traps us in it. Polarity is now our basic orientation and we can’t use this orientation to escape itself. We can’t use thinking to escape thinking. We can’t escape our black and white categories by using those same categories. We can’t wash away blood with blood!

 

The very word ‘escape’ is dualistic – as soon as we use the word we are thinking in terms of ‘escaping versus not-escaping’. We’re thinking in terms of ‘win or lose’. We want to win and we fear losing. We yearn to escape and we dread not escaping and so we’re caught on the wheel of duality – running, running, running, but never getting anywhere. We’re caught in the hamster wheel – the faster we run the faster we have to run. The faster we run the faster we get nowhere.

 

Running faster isn’t how we get off the hamster wheel! Striving to obtain one outcome and avoid the other complementary one isn’t going to get us off the wheel. Chasing one opposite and fleeing the other isn’t going to get us off the wheel because running after one opposite and fleeing the other IS the wheel!

 

That’s what straining to separate the opposites is – it’s a spinning wheel, it’s the wheel of samsara. Patrul Rinpoche explains samsara as follows –

The term samsara, the wheel or round of existence, is used here to mean going round and round from one place to another in a circle, like a potter’s wheel, or the wheel of a water mill. When a fly is trapped in a closed jar, no matter where it flies, it can not get out. Likewise, whether we are born in the higher or lower realms, we are never outside samsara.

The world of duality is a wheel and the self which orientates itself in terms of one opposite versus the opposite is running around that wheel. Our lot – when we are identified with the dual self (this self that is driven by the urge to chase euphoria and flee dysphoria) is to be forever imagining that by orientating ourselves towards the positive direction and away from the negative direction we are changing our situation.

 
Chasing after the plus and running away from the minus isn’t actually any sort of change at all though. It isn’t change at all because the opposites never were separated – they were only separated in our imagination! Plus and minus can’t be separate from each other anymore then ‘front’ and back’ can be – or as Alan Watts says – anymore than ‘buying’ and ‘selling’ can be. Like and dislike, euphoria and dysphoria aren’t really separate either. Who after all likes or dislikes? Who experiences euphoria or dysphoria? The answer to this not-very-difficult riddle is of course the dualistic self.

 

Liking is the front of the self and disliking is the back and there’s no distance at all between the two. When I think that I am going to get what I like then there is euphoria and when on the other hand I think that I’m not going to get what I like then there is dysphoria. Either way it’s all about what I like, or what I want, which means that it’s all about me. Like and dislike, euphoria and dysphoria couldn’t be closer and yet I keep on thinking that they are separate things. There’s no distance at all between them, but because I think there is the dualistic self keeps spinning around and around like a coin, showing first one face then the other in rapid succession…

 

When I don’t separate like and dislike then there’s no more euphoria and no more dysphoria. Instead, there is the release from the wheel of illusion, release from the trap of duality, and so instead of the endless sterile repetition of euphoria / dysphoria there is bliss, or ananda. Or as we could also say – when we don’t strain with the thinking mind to try to separate the opposites (which can never really be separated anyway!) then the world of duality never comes into (apparent) existence and so we don’t get trapped in it…