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Why grasping at oneself creates suffering
March 9th, 2018
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illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Why grasping at oneself creates suffering

The suffering comes from projections / expectations based on how you 'define' ('grasp') yourself. The 'issue' is that reality constantly challenges whatever definition you give of yourself, which may trigger disappointment, fear/defensiveness, confusion/anguish (we feel reassured/secured when we 'know', i.e. when we feel we can 'predict', and anxious when 'out of control'… we'd rather lie to ourselves than admit that the contingent life is out of control, but lying doesn't prevent you from hitting a wall).

For example, people might think "I'm meritorious" and expect that, thanks to their 'merit', this-or-that should happen (or not happen), so one day you'll hear "I'm meritorious, so why the hell is this happening to me? it's not fair… bla bla bla".
Or people might think "I'm strong/clever, I should be able to do this" and then they meet some disappointment, and suffer from having to shatter the illusion of strength… "I'm such a weakling, it's hopeless…"
The moment you identify with a characteristic, you'll have associated expectations, and some will not be met. You might then blame the characteristic (e.g. for not being developed enough) or your grasping of it (e.g. for lying to yourself about the reliability of said characteristic)… but overall you'll have to experience a loss, and renewed confusion about who you are, what you might count on, what you can or cannot do (incl. to end your stress, incl. not to grasp erroneously again [at the next trait which shall capture your attention]), etc.

The problem with grasping at the self is that it keeps biasing your response to life, and biases create subsequent difficulties.
Whatever your definition of yourself, you'll end up asking "why is this happening to me?" and the moment you "take things personally", you will favour sub-optimal responses to the circumstances at hand, sub-optimal because you'll become blind to the bigger picture by focusing too much on a small part of it: 'you'.
Sammādiṭṭhi is usually translated "right view" for historical reasons, but "complete view" would be a better translation (as in "the big picture", beyond the self, inclusive of the self but also of all other perspectives… thus beyond the self without suppressing the self).
Only by perceiving all the information available can you provide one of the most constructive responses (there might be several, equivalently 'good', responses, to choose from… and equivalence means it's somehow irrelevant which one you choose, but choosing is necessary not to stay stuck). Sub-optimal responses will naturally prove (slightly or majorly) disappointing in the long run, by definition. Disappointing or… "unsatisfactory" (dukkha).


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Illustration: "Kate Moss" gold statue by Marc Quinn
Buddhism has no specific guideline on supporting teachers, it simply asks for you to consider causality: if you want this living tradition to survive, how are you participating, in practical terms, to make this happen? Nice words, exposure or social media ‘+1’ might feel good, but they do not actually help with the basic necessities: koan.mu/donate.htm