On Claptrap Part 3
I bet I’m going to get in trouble for this one …
The Second Noble Truth: Your desires are at the root of your suffering.
The Third Noble Truth: You can eliminate suffering if you eliminate your desires.
One Zen thinker I’ve read goes so far as to suggest that when you’re ill, you don’t expect the doctor to write a prescription for your neighbors. The problem is not with them but with you. He goes on to say that, by analogy, if you’re suffering you don’t need others to change (your lover, your boss, your teachers, or whomever), you need to change yourself (by altering your desires, dropping your attachments, changing the expectations you have of others, etc.).
So, people wouldn’t suffer if they had their desires in order? Right.
Would you be willing to tell that to all the minorities presently suffering from discrimination in the US? Would you be willing to tell that to the kids working in the sweatshops overseas? Would you be willing to tell that to the victims of the current American carpet bombing in Afghanistan?
“You’re only suffering because you’ve got your desires all wrong.” Really?
I thought their suffering had something to do with prejudice and white privilege. Or with how capitalist competition drives down labor costs so I can buy a cheap jacket at Old Navy. Or American imperialist powers dead set on controlling the Middle East so I can buy gasoline for under $3/gallon.
Don’t get me wrong—I have a great appreciation for Buddhism. I particularly like the early Mahayana non-dualist discourses on “suchness.” But I can’t buy Samudaya and Nirodha. Suffering results from a nexus of causes, not just individual desire. As a result, any solution has to begin with that nexus of causes, not just with the individual.
Yes, I know there is no “individual” in the strict sense in “orthodox” Buddhist doctrine. Nevertheless, those forms of Buddhism that start with the four noble truths still focus on you and your desires—there certainly is a “you” in the conventional sense.
I don’t know any forms of Buddhism that begin with an analysis of systematic social relations, although some of them may end there. I think they start at the wrong end. I’d rather begin with an analysis of how systematic social relations produce desire.
The idea that all of your suffering results from the way you approach the world—and that all you need to do is change yourself—is ass backwards.
If you’re a Buddhist and you think I’ve got this all wrong, I’d love for a sporting debate! (Part of the problem, of course, may be that there are a wide variety of interpretations of Samudaya out there. Maybe the interpretation passed down to me is particularly superficial?)