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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Cause of "Self-Centered Fear" - A Buddhist Perspective

"What now is the Noble Truth of the Extinction of Suffering? It is the complete fading away and extinction of this craving, its forsaking and giving up, the liberation and detachment from it."

"But where may this craving vanish, where may it be extinguished? Wherever in the world there are delightful and pleasurable things, there this craving may vanish, there it may be extinguished."

"Be it in the past, present or future: whosoever of the monks or priests regards the delightful and pleasurable things of the world as impermanent (
annica), miserable (dukkha) and without an Ego (an-atta), as a disease and sorrow, it is he who overcomes the craving."
["A Buddhist Bible," Dwight Goddard, ed., page 31.]

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"The chief activators of our defects has been our self-centered fear," we read in Step Seven of the "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, "primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded. Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration."

What then is the source of our "self-centered fear?" Quite obviously it is our attachments to and desires (or cravings) for some person, thing, idea, circumstance or situation that we are essentially powerless to hold onto or grasp, as everything in life it turns out is fleeting at best.

This is an essential truth of all wisdom or religious teachings, and is the Second Noble Truth, the truth of the cause of suffering, in the great Buddhist tradition. The Third Noble Truth, the truth of the end of suffering, is that if we end this perpetual clinging and craving (we give up our "usnsatisfied" and, ultimately, unsatisfiable "demands") we end our suffering. "No peace was to be had unless we could find a means of reducing these demands," Bill observes. A true statement, indeed, in my experience.

In the first of a series of articles on The Huffington Post, author Kevin Griffin ("One Breath At a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps"), writes:
"The function of the first Step . . . is more than just telling us we have a problem with addiction. It is the realization that the whole premise of our pleasure-seeking lives is flawed. Another classic template for spiritual transformation makes this same statement: the Buddha's Four Noble Truths.

The Buddha starts his teaching with the recognition of all the ways that life is challenging, physically and mentally: that we're often stuck with what we don't want or wishing we had something else; that we inevitably get old and sick and die. Just like Step One, he's trying to get us to see past the surface to what's really going on. The starting point of both paths, then, is to see the truth: in 12 Step terms, to come out of denial; in Buddhist terms, to shed delusion. To begin on any spiritual path, and to deal with the destructive power of addiction, we have to be honest with ourselves."

Once we have made this honest start, and have "come to believe" that there is a "Power" or "Great Reality" that we can tap into which remains, for now, "obscured" but that is "deep down within us" ("Alcoholics Anonymous," page 55), we can set about clearing away the "calamity, pomp and worship of other things" that obscure this "inner resource" (the "Spiritual Experience" appendix). And, we do this by working on the craving for, or clinging to, our "old ideas" that there is a person, thing situation or circumstance that will bring us ultimate happiness and satisfaction. Like the "Power" that manifests these feelings, in reality, true happiness and satisfaction are only found within.

We therefore need to disattach from our outer "self" - or "ego" - along with its clinging to the idea that something we have or might get will ultimately fulfill us. It is an illusion, and these desires give rise to the fear (the unthought recognition, perhaps) that we will not attain our misdirected goals, and so activate our character defects. And, it is when our actions are motivated by these character defects that we step on other people's toes, in our vain efforts to "manage life."

Thus, as Bill (and the Buddha) recognized, while the "chief activator of our defects has been our self-centered fear," it is our unexamined desires that activate this ego-centric, or self-centered fear. Or, as Griffin notes:

"As long as we believe that pleasure-seeking and acquisition are the way to happiness, and that all we have to do is get better at acquiring and holding on to things, we will never resolve the real problem. That's because, as the Buddha tells us, what's actually causing suffering is the very attempts to control and acquire, our craving and clinging. He points out that, since everything is constantly changing, there's nothing that we can actually control or hold on to. His strategy, then, is to let go, to surrender -- exactly the solution offered by the 12 Steps." (Emphasis added.)

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What is your reaction to this unorthodox look at the 12 Steps process? Do you have any comments that you would like to share. If you do, please do so, below.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for the blog post. I got so much out of this. It's exactly what I was looking for. Keep up the good work(s).