Anchors Away  

Thursday, 22 February 2007

If I were asked to identify the one single characterisitic that defines modern society, I would say 'selfishness'. There's no doubt in my mind that selfishness plays a huge role in many of the problems which are all too evident in the world we live in today. Placing your own interests above those of others, or above society in general, causes resentment, stress and anxiety in those around you.

Preoccupation with one's self is the textbook definition of selfishness. But another might be as the opposite of selflessness. Selflessness is a trait which used to be admired in others, and one that in a less cynical age, people would aspire to cultivate in themselves. Our slavish addiction to the idea of the self can make this appear quite a difficult idea. But it's not really so alien; It's the same quality that drives a parent to protect a child, a fireman to risk his life saving others. In a more mundane way, it is also found in the countless small acts of everyday courteousness and consideration for others which is essential in any civilised society. The fact that such niceties seem to be in terminal decline are an indication of increasingly self-centred attitudes. But does "looking after number one" make us more happy as individuals? I don't think so.

In the Buddhist teachings, all human suffering arises from attachment. As all things in life are demonstrably impermanent, emotional attachment to anything that we can touch in this life will inevitably bring a sense of loss and heartache as those things pass away from us. Worse still, a mind which is "fixed" or "stuck" on a particular idea ceases to percieve the world in an open and honest way, and becomes deluded and rigid. A mind that is fixed and unyielding cannot grow, cannot fully experience all that life has to offer. And, as in all things in nature, that which doesn't grow inevitably dies.

To be attached to one's self - to be selfish - is to fix the mind into a closed and rigid state in which life becomes filled with frustration, regret and remorse. Removing such a restriction frees us from concern by removing our emotional attachments to transient things. The removal of worry allows happiness to arise as a natural consequence. Naturally,letting go of the emotional anchor that keeps us shackled and unabled to ride life's turbulent waves is easier said than done. But,true happiness can only come when we learn to let go.

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