By J.L. Pendall
I’ve always been assaulted by questions.
The main one is, “Who the fuck am I?” closely followed by, “What the hell is going on here?”
They usually culminate into a plead: “Please, make it stop! I don’t want to hurt anymore!” I’ve tried everything that I can. I even sank 50 grand into getting a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology just so I could cling to some kind of structure that puts everything into perspective.
Nothing worked. Even Buddhism, when I really try to wrap my head around it, collapses and my Buddhist identity goes with it. Some say that that’s the actual “goal” of Buddhism, but if it is, then saying that defeats the whole purpose of it.
All of these -isms, -ologies, -osophies and sciences I’ve cycled through—they’re just scripts. Someone says, “Alright, so here’s the plot, here’s your character history and here are your lines. Action!” Everything, every single freaking thing is like that. Even if we do something esoteric like go off script, well, there’s a script for that too.
Even the hard sciences, like physics, are still just desperate, fragile attempts at getting rid of that pesky question mark.
Dukkha is all of the things we think and feel when stuff falls apart. All of these Big Ideas (and the tiny ones too) are a means to putting it all back together again. We could probably trace all human progress back to dukkha. All of this, even the tech you’re using to read this, is a response to some kind of suffering and question, “How do I, ya know, not suffer?”
It all just keeps the cycles going. Christ died for nothing, and Buddha just sat under a tree. The wisdom attributed to them is all gobbled up by the monkey mind in its feverish attempt to stay on its branch.
The only thing that really helps me, the only solid answer I can give to, “Who am I? What’s my purpose? Why am I here? What’s happening? What am I supposed to do? What is the—” is, “Breathe.” Breathe and forget about it. Just drop it and go with the circumstances.
I’m never going to understand myself, I’m never going to have a trippy awakening that suddenly reveals the true nature of existence. I’d dig that for awhile, but then I’d reduce down to some kinda psychedelic trip.
I’m never gonna know anything for sure except how I feel in this moment.
That’s a different kind of knowing, a kind that doesn’t have anything to do with second-level doodads like my identity, outlook, or purpose. I just feel. Even if I can’t slap a name on the feeling, it’s still there.
Descartes concluded, “I think, therefore I am,” but he also thought that the body and mind were separate and that the soul is housed in the pineal gland. They’re not and it’s not. I guess he really put Descartes before da horse, eh?
“I am,” is still a structure, a second-level rationalization. but feelings—feelings are just… there. I can’t draw any reliable conclusions from them, I can’t narrow down the variables to say what causes them, I can’t identify what their purpose or meaning is because all of that can be questioned.
Feelings are just feelings, whether we understand them or not. They persist even when everything else falls apart. Breathe and feel, feel and breathe. Everything else, all the things those second-level (and beyond) processes try to figure out? They’ll fall into place with or without the grand narratives we use to understand them.
So, Dear Reader, here we be. it’s done. Over. See ya later, alligator. It’s time for me to turn shit around, and that starts by admitting that true understanding is impossible.
Here be the birth of Post-Buddhism.
Editor: Dana Gornall