The Wheel of Life
Aloneness and separation are branded into the core of every human experience, initiated at birth and dissolved at death (except for rare brief periods when one might feel momentarily complete and integrated with all of life). These experiences fade quickly, leaving one with a taste or reminder of the deeper possibilities. Then there are the “almost” moments, when we feel relatively safe and satisfied. The list of these is long and includes all human activities considered desirable – things we do which make us feel happy and satisfied, or even ecstatic at times. But only ‘at times,’ because nothing works always, and often we become desperate or too dependent on these “almost” strategies. Classic examples are addictive activities such as eating, relationships, work, and material accumulation. The list goes on to include almost everything we do. It seems that much of our “doing” is really an attempt to somehow re-unify with the world and to lose these feelings of separation. Unfortunately, these attempts are ultimately pathetic, like a rat spinning on a wheel as it tries to escape his cage. Yet, all this energy expended is what composes the bulk of human activity and experience, and is what makes this world go around. You could call it our “wheel of life.”
Fate of Prometheus
The appropriation of power – whether it be money, status, possessions or learning it is always a theft of “divine” power – the attempt to take power unto ourselves – to make it ‘mine’ where ‘I’ become the source and repository of the power. It’s not enough to allow the power to remain recumbent within its divine repose awaiting use; we have to steal it just like Prometheus. It’s the ego that is responsible of course because it has no inherent substance, only a needy structure seeking constantly to be fed. We know what fate befell Prometheus so beware or the vultures may also pay you a daily feeding visit.
The Hanging Fruit of Tantalus
Something unprecedented happened after the industrial revolution. Humans became richer than they ever had before—and in far larger numbers. Millions were freed from ceaseless toil, and for these lucky recipients of the fruits of progress life was no longer ‘nasty, brutish and short’. Within a few hundred years, millions were driving cars, shopping in air conditioned stores, and sleeping safely in comfortable houses with amenities previously unavailable even to royalty. Never in the history of man have there been so many enjoying such comfort and wealth. And how do most of these people react to their new found wealth? Are they delighted and satisfied with their good fortune? Of course not. They want even MORE wealth, and BIGGER things: Mega stores, mega cars, and mega houses. We are the mega people, our exploding populations leading to seemingly unstoppable growth, expansion and consumption. Tantalus warns us: reach for the hanging fruit but know you will never possess it – for it will always be just out of your reach. The addictive cycle of grasping and accumulation only leads to renewed attempts to acquire more power, more wealth and just more stuff and leads nowhere, except quiet desperation. You would think we should be able to live happily in a land of peace and plenty – but somehow we can’t… We are the Tantalus people.
Enlightenment won’t make you a better person, or even improve your sex life. It will, however, definitely take the fun and excitement out of living. The whole idea of seeking “enlightenment” is absurd. What’s the point? An enlightened being can’t tell you, because he or she is no longer there. So, you think you’ve finally become a fairly ‘enlightened’ individual? SURPRISE! Watch the dance when you hear the IRS wants to audit you for the last seven years.
A Horrible Truth?
Is it such a horrible truth that life is ultimately futile? Does the plum tree consider that its life, producing an annual outpouring of sweet and juicy fruit, eaten and soon forgotten, has been futile? The plum tree is also doomed to a short life span with limited productivity, and then must wither, die and return to the soil. There is nowhere else to go, for the tree or for us. Life is really only futile if considered within a western conception and linear frame of eternal progression and development; however, that is not the Taoist and “plum” view of life.