The world view of most seekers in the West is pervaded by popular psychology – a mixture of psychology and esotericism – on which they base their behaviour. Preferred concepts vary from seeker to seeker, but there are some things that most agree about.
1. I should take care of myself; I do this best by fulfilling as many of my desires as I can.
2. If something in my life does not work the way I would like, it signifies that I am doing something wrong. I should then change my behaviour because, if I am different, my circumstances will turn into what I desired.
3. To fulfil my desires/needs and solve my problems, I should address them without holding back (particularly in relationships).
There are a lot more concepts floating around in the mind of the Western seeker but here I will start with the above three. All three are based on three premises.
A. I alone am responsible for what happens in my life.
B. Psychological patterns are significant; if they do not lead to a satisfying life, one has to change them.
C. Problems are either an expression of my inability to fulfil my desires or to change myself in such a way that they will be fulfilled automatically.
Reading these three points many will nod their approval. They may have some kind of relevance according to popular psychology, but they do not follow logic. Taking the first point: „I alone am responsible for what happens in my life.“ Doesn’t this sound perfectly mature and grown up? There is only one flaw: it is absolutely illogical. It is logical that I am responsible for my actions; but what results from them definitely does not fall within my remit. Nobody is in charge of what happens in his life.
If it rains and I take an umbrella with me, this certainly does not mean that I will remain dry. Maybe there is a storm which renders the umbrella useless – because it constantly folds down or because it flies away or because the rain sweeps crosswise under it. Maybe I slip somewhere, sprain my ankle and lie helplessly on the sidewalk while the rain drums down on me. Or I forget the umbrella in the streetcar. Or, well protected under my umbrella, waiting at the traffic light, a car shoots right through the puddle in front of me.
The fact is that people are decidedly helpless. There is such a lot that one cannot influence that the little one can influence hardly seems worth mentioning. Premise A must actually be: I alone am responsible for how I act – end of matter. I am not responsible for anything else. With this the first part of premise C has also become redundant.
Point B and the second part of point C come down to the statement: „I have to change my personality in order to succeed.“ Now, this may be so. Or not. Arguments can be found for both; the mind is tremendously inventive at producing causal connections. It is worthwhile to check from time to time whether the accepted causality really does exist.
„I only met this person because I went to the place where I met him.“ Sure? No way. „If I had not dared to speak my mind openly, everything would have been swept under the carpet.“ Sure? No, even this is not certain. „If I had not invested the money, I would be a poor man now.“ Certainly? Who knows? „If I hadn’t done all that work on my personality, I would be a psychological wreck by now and my life would be a disaster.“ None of these statements necessarily apply. Again here the imponderability of life comes into play. To make a causal connection between my personality and the events of my life is impossible on account of the amount of required data alone. So point 2 and the second part of point 3 are not supported by logic.
What implications does all of this have for the search for truth?
1. Life is about the fulfilment of my desires.
2. I can achieve what I want if I change myself
get in the way of the search for truth.
As long as the seeker of truth is concerned with the fulfilment of his desires, he does not have the energy available that is needed for the search for truth. As explained in the essay of January 2011, there is only one single desire that serves in the search for truth: the desire to find the truth. All other desires may be well and good, you are welcome to have them. Nevertheless, for those who believe that life is about the fulfilment of these desires, the desire to find truth is not important enough. Whoever is surprised as to why he has not found the truth yet, even though he is in search of it, should ask himself what other priorities push the desire for truth into the background over and over again.
The previous essay has shown that for most of us the desires for security and well-being prevail. However, it has also shown that the real obstacles are not the desires themselves, but the identification with them. Desires as such are natural, only if we think that they absolutely have to be fulfilled they turn into a problem for the seeker of truth. Hence, the idea that a psychologically healthy person is known for his ability to fulfil his desires is quite obstructive – even if this ability is called „taking good care of oneself“.
The situation is complicated by the idea that if one does not succeed in meeting one’s own desires there must be a psychological defect – linked with the idea that one can repair this defect (and should do so). Both involve the seeker in an endless series of attempts to follow up on the presupposition that life is a matter of fulfilling one’s desires by fiddling with one’s personality structure. The almost inexhaustible ability of the mind to make causal connections, plus the almost inexhaustible supply of personality improvement methods ensure that the true spiritual search is postponed over and over again.
The third obstructive point is hidden in the statement “To fulfil my desires/needs and solve my problems, I should address them without holding back (particularly in relationships).” The idea that I should communicate my desires freely is based on the idea that life is about fulfilling these desires. Quite soon, from this springs the belief that, just because I have a certain need, it automatically follows that my partner should meet it. This fallacy leads to all kinds of convolutions, which also unduly take up the energy of the truth seeker.
The optimum attitude for the seeker of truth is:
To find the truth, meaning to recognise who I really am, has a high priority in my life. To be able to recognise it, I wish for a healthy financial base, a pleasant life situation and a good conscience. (see previous essay)
My aims and desires motivate me to act. I do what I can do to achieve what I want. However, I leave what in fact results from my action to the laws of the universe which neither I nor any one else can know in their entirety.
Such an approach is relaxing, and at the same time, no-one has to contort himself to ‚extinguish’ his desires. Desires are natural and motivate us to become active. The spirit and purpose of life, however, is not the fulfilment of desires – at least for one who wants to recognise his true self. The attempt to force life to conform to the fulfilment of one’s desires, whilst trying to change one’s psychological structure, is a waste of energy.
However, the work on one’s own personality is not necessarily ‘bad’. In the West it is largely part of the preparation of the seeker; the personality patterns that obstruct the search for truth must be worked on first. Only when the psychological work becomes a self-perpetuating mechanism (because one has got used to it or because one takes it to be spiritual work), does it turn out to be a problem. Or if it is used in order to make oneself fit to create more security and well-being. Even this is okay if one really is only interested in security and well-being. But whoever actually seeks truth will not find it in this way.
Why not? Because the sought – the true self – is not a part of the personality. It is generally not a part but that which underlies all parts. One can discover it, though not through psychological work; instead it is necessary to accept limitations of the psychological work and go beyond them.