In his article Love the Bombs, the popular personal development blogger Steve Palvina asks,
“Do you feel that poverty, war, famine, disease, imprisonment, etc. are all negative experiences that we should avoid as much as possible? Are these scourges that we must rid the planet of? Are they terrible things for anyone to have to experience?”
The vast majority would answer “yes” – don’t you think? I bet Palvina would probably add global warming into the mix too. He goes on to explain his logic,
“These experiences have been with us for a long time for a very good reason. They help us grow. And so we’re going to continue creating them as long as they continue to serve that purpose so well.”
According to Palvina, there’s no point in trying to change the world,
“You’re not going to change these aspects of reality, not because you don’t care about people, but because deep down there’s a part of you that recognizes the intrinsic value of such experiences, even if you’re not ready to consciously acknowledge that.”
He concludes that “the world is perfect as it is”. Palvina says that what really needs attention is your relationship to it.
What About Prayer?
Andreas Mortiz takes this line of thinking a step further in his book Lifting the Veil of Duality. He says:
“It is not in our or anyone’s best interest to pray to change anyone or anything…” Praying, he says, “moves us into the limitations of what has already come to pass.”
Moritz discourages lending a helping hand to anyone who is suffering unless they request it. He believes that we unconsciously choose our particular forms of suffering as a means to grow. By trying to help people who are suffering, you are interfering with their growth. Helping may seem like a selfless act, but he sees it as your ego’s expression of your own fear or pain.
In the last year, I’ve met many people – on and offline – that ascribe to New Age or New Thought philosophies. I love and appreciate these individuals immensely. So I’ve wanted to understand more about their way of thinking. I’m also curious about these ideas because they are very different than my own beliefs about life. Did I somehow miss the boat and get it all wrong?
Thus today’s exploration.
The Buddhist Take on Suffering
The Buddha also understood suffering as an impetus to spiritual realization. It was the focus of his first teaching after realizing enlightenment, which was called The Four Noble Truths:
- the truth (or reality) of suffering which is to be understood,
- the truth (or reality) of the origin of suffering, which is to be abandoned,
- the truth (or reality) of cessation, which is to be actualized, and
- the truth (or reality) of the path, which is to be relied upon.
He didn’t necessarily proclaim that suffering is good or necessary. He observed that it exists, that there is a cause (karma – resulting from own negative actions – and negative emotions), an end to suffering, and a way to achieve that end. He devoted his life to teaching and helping others find the way to end suffering in their life.
In contrast to the views espoused by Palvina and Mortiz, in Mahayana Buddhism the aspiration is to dispel the suffering of all sentient beings.
“For as long as space exists
And sentient beings endure,
May I too remain,
To dispel the misery of the world.”
Indeed, there is the tradition of the “compassionate warrior” known as the “bodhisattva“.
“…the being who takes on the suffering of all sentient beings, who undertakes the journey to liberation not for his or her own good alone but to help all others, and who eventually, after attaining liberation, does not dissolve into the absolute or flee the agony of samsara (the world of suffering), but chooses to return again and again to devote his or her own wisdom and compassion to the service of the whole world.” – The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche
Of course, this aspiration of selfless service is not exclusive to Buddhism. In the words of St. Francis,
“Lord make me an instrument
Of thy peace, where there is hatred
Let me sow love;
Where is there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that
I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we
Are pardoned, and it is in dying
That we are born to eternal life.”
The compassionate warrior is not a neurotic perpetual helper. His or her wish to help others springs from a profound realization of the nature of reality. Naturally, he or she focuses on cleaning up their own act too.
Back to the question of prayer – good or bad? I guess no one told the Dalai Lama that it’s actually harmful to pray for people.
Last July, he presided over a 10-day ritual ceremony in Washington D. C. called The Kalachakra for World Peace, where at least a zillion prayers were said. Not to mention the fact that he prayers every single day.
Honestly, I’m not trying to criticize Steve Palvina (and he doesn’t care whether you agree with him or not) or Andreas Moritz. I resonate with some of their ideas. And they certainly are trying to help others in their own way. But when I come upon statements like the one’s quoted at the beginning of this article, I’m at a loss as to how to understand them.
I realize the importance of living – as best we can – without judgment. At the same time, in my view, this does not preclude seeing reality as it is and lending a helping hand.
What do you think? Should we love the bombs? Should we give up trying to change the world? How do you understand these ideas?
Image: Public Domain. The 1,000 Arms of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara