The death of a loved one, or having serious health problems oneself, has a way of highlighting the pettiness and pointlessness of much of daily life. What things might survive death? Personal afterlife (liberation, redemption, salvation, etc., depending on your views) and personal legacy (e.g., children and their inheritence, one’s own tangible and intangible contributions to the world, maybe choosing to live/die in a location where one would like to be reborn, etc.) are the main things I can think of. Except as things pertain to either afterlife or legacy, most everything else seems like short-term issues about which one shouldn’t get too stressed or invested.
If betrayal is defined as selfishly pursuing one’s own interests over the interests of others, most everyone betrays each other, at least in small ways, every day. Only large betrayals usually draw personal or social complaints or punishments (e.g., infidelity, theft, treason, etc.). But, as subjective beings with needs and desires, everyone is faced with a kind of inherent, moment-to-moment conflict-of-interest with everyone else, and sometimes within ourselves, namely: do I do what someone else (or a part of me) wants/needs, or what I (or another part of me) want/need?
For example… do I spend more time/energy on a certain person, or not? Do I follow my heart about relationships, career, etc., or do I do what my family or society want? Do I eat what my tongue, nose, or mind most enjoys, or what my body finds most nutritious? Do I help that needy person who looks or behaves differently than I prefer, or do I ignore, reject, or punish them somehow? Which is more important: my life/health, or the life/health of the plants and animals I eat — or, my family or country, or someone else’s family or country? Should I win, even if someone else must lose?
Selfless love is everywhere, but so is selfish betrayal, often in a complex mixture.
From a Buddhist perspective, the current human condition is inherently unfortunate, unstable, conflicted, etc. The point is to feel frustrated by it, to see the danger and pointlessness of it, and to seek a better state of being.
By the same logic that it’s more ethical or moral to eat plants than animals, because plants are less cognitively complex than animals, shouldn’t people who need to eat meat for health reasons choose from among the least cognitively complex animals (i.e., small fish, birds, rodents, etc.)?
Mainstream media find any excuse to make sex seem appealing, so here are 9 ways in which sex is disgusting.
- It’s a chemical addiction, and it’s built into most people’s bodies, so it’s very hard to stop taking the drug. If you think you’re not a sexual drug addict, just try not doing or thinking about sexual things for a few days, weeks, or months (depending on how often you usually do it). The withdrawal symptoms are similar to cocaine (anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, nightmares, obsessive thoughts, etc.). Sex is often associated with other drug use.
- There are few/no natural safeguards. Sexual cravings often lead people to create unwanted children, too many children, or to have abortions. There are also a wide variety of sexually transmitted diseases, some life-threatening. It’s very easy for people to be physically compatible but mentally incompatible, with short, lustful actions causing many difficult, life-long consequences for multiple people.
- Sex involves close, including oral, contact between parts of the body that are otherwise only associated with using the toilet.
- Sex-related organs of the body (e.g., women’s enlarged hips and breasts, men’s prostate and external sex organs, etc.) are quite fragile, and are prone to cancers, injuries, pain, and infections.
- Sex involves the body automatically creating things that are technically alive (sperm and eggs), and then destroying most of them.
- People’s bodies are just different configurations of skin, fat, muscles, glands, nerves, bones, etc., but sexuality causes people to get attached to certain configurations, putting pressure on people to modify their bodies, often unhealthfully.
- People often associate sexual thoughts with racist thoughts, preferring the physical features of their own ethnic group. Humanity probably began as a single species in Africa 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, and we keep moving farther and farther away from that genetic unity.
- Sex, and sexualized media, encourages people to revel/wallow in very self-indulgent, fickle, exploitive, greedy, jealous, aggressive, objectifying, shallow/mindless, etc. states of mind. Much like food advertising, sexualized media is very charged and harsh, showing exaggerated things in extreme situations. Often apparently/mostly because they are pretty, people often receive ridiculously large amounts of money and power as actors, models, or politicians.
- Sex has led to a variety of dangerous, exploitive, or criminal social activities: harassment, discrimination, segregation, strip clubs, sex clubs, porn, prostitution, sex slave trafficking, forced marriage, rape, genital mutilation, castration, etc. About 50% of people who have been raped develop PTSD (source).
“…since Freud, the most extravagant fancies in the realm of love are considered to be perfectly normal (a person without them is regarded as a case for treatment), in the realm of death (the other great pole of human life) any strange fancies are still classed as ‘morbid’. The Suttas reverse the situation: sensual thoughts are the thoughts of a sick man (sick with ignorance and craving), and the way to health is through thoughts of foulness and the diseases of the body, and of its death and decomposition” (Ñāṇavīra Thera, “Clearing the Path”).
As a Western scientist, here are the questions that I would ask the most accomplished Buddhists (i.e., Arahants, Bodhisattvas, or Buddhas) about mindstreams and self-other mental construction:
- Can we identify substances that act as substrates/support for mental phenomena, as well as their properties, how they nourish/support minds, and the ways in which certain mental phenomena can emerge from, or be encoded/preserved upon, certain substrates?
- Is nirvana a more stable substrate for the mind?
- Why is the mind radiant? Are mental phenomena encoded on some kind of light?
- How cohesive and stable is a mindstream? Does it degrade, when the body is old or unhealthy? Between lives, can mindstreams split (like light) or fade/degrade (like radio waves), if they are not reborn quickly enough?
- Could we develop signatures/fingerprints (like a hash function) for specific mental phenomena or for an individual’s mindstream, and track those phenomena’s movement through and between different substrates/lives?
- Can the karmic seed-to-fruit metaphor be demonstrated under well-controlled (i.e., laboratory) conditions? How exact/one-for-one/fair is karmic retribution, and do any other forces intervene (e.g., the natural environment, genetics, the actions of other beings, etc.)?
- Can we compare the mental and substrate phenomena of different species with our own?
- If everything we see and think is a construct, are there methods of consciously controlling the constructions? For example, could I consciously construct the perception/vision of an apple sitting on a table, or of another person in the room with me, when there is not really one there (i.e., a waking lucid dream)?
In my opinion, there should be much lower legal or practical limits on how wealthy an individual or a corporation can become. Billionaires and large corporations just gobble up, and decide the fate of, most everything they encounter. Only they can often manage/afford representation on government committees. Only they can hire as many lawyers as necessary, and appeal for as long as necessary, to win any battle. Only they can afford to hire the most popular artists and constantly saturate the world with their marketing campaigns. Only they know that they will always have enough customers and employees, such that they can have exploitative internal policies and rude external customer service without consequences.
Why does a person need more than maybe a million dollars of savings (i.e., enough to have a middle-class family, house, car, health insurance, retirement, etc.), or a large corporation more than maybe a billion (i.e., enough to provide their service at a high quality to a large region)? Why do wealthier people get to act like monarchs/dictators and decide the fates of poorer people? Did they really earn their wealth fairly — through a daily workplace grind, like most people — or are they being rewarded for out-thinking, out-maneuvering, or being willing to do more unethical things than others? How many local people’s lives would have been enriched, how many local companies and jobs would have been created, if a large corporation’s store(s) had been required to close early, because they had reached their sales limit for that day?