It is a strange thing, this life that many choose to live. A combination of grasping and self-delusion brings about a strange relationship – a kind of disassociation – from the truly glorious experience of being alive.
We create a vision of ourselves; a kind of avatar. It becomes the mask we put on. It gets pushed out into the world as the ‘real us’. The entire charade become a kind of comic opera with stick figures as the main character and irrelevancies the common currency. And, as a result, our attention and experience of living becomes very narrow. Our awareness of the truly magnificent gift of being alive is shuttled off to the side and eventually forgotten.
In Buddhist terms, the tendency to create artificial or virtual realities and then cling to them as if they were real is called grasping. We try to hold on to something permanent and, in the process, give away the most important gift that we have ever received.
You see, the fundamental problem with insisting that the virtual is real is that nothing which is virtual can ever be satisfactory. Compared to the pure, true experience of living as a unique individual, the artificial reality always seems lacking. And so we go to battle with them. We end up in opposition to our own creations. We find them imperfect and unsatisfying.
Buddha identified this conflict as the central cause of dissatisfaction. Grasping for gossamer virtual creations brings an unending flow of unsatisfactory experiences. But it is not the unsatisfactory nature of virtual creation that causes this discomfort. It is our insistence that the virtual real.
And so, entire lives are spent struggling to perfect the virtual and convert it into an acceptable substitute for the experience of being alive. We constantly evaluate our experience, looking to see what’s wrong with them and how they could be improved. We tend to focus on what’s wrong with the moment and how to make it better.
But, in doing so, what are we really in opposition to? Not the virtual. Not the manufactured reality. Not even the grasping. We are in opposition to the one central, reliably real fact in each of our lives. That we are alive and experiencing this very moment directly and authentically.
And where does this opposition come from? To answer that question, we have to go back to the creation of the avatar. It is that virtual creation of our self that is the progenitor. The struggle comes from the idea of ‘I’.
There is nothing more to it than that. The Four Noble Truths described not only the source of dissatisfaction but the way out. How few words it takes to describe such a monumental understanding. The fact that there is a way to end suffering and dissatisfaction was the great insight that Buddha arrived at. The way to end suffering and dissatisfaction was his gift to humanity – and to you. Yes, you! Everyone can make the journey. Everyone can come to realize the wonder and joy of the gift of life. You just have to take the first step along the path and all will follow as it should. Nirvana is not knowing – it is being awake!
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD