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Buddhist Mind-Games and their Side-Effects


One of the potential side effects of Buddhist meditation and study is an expanding empathy. Once you knock down some of your own ego walls, and realize how interconnected we are, that we are all chaotic open systems interlocked with and within other chaotic open systems, it is possible to experience a wider range of empathy than before.

For some Buddhists, this expanding empathy leads to dramatic changes in behavior -- a code of right speech, right livelihood, nonviolence, sexual monogamy, avoidance of all intoxicants, daily meditation, and continual mindfulness. In this, they are not unlike some born-again Christians, trying to live their entire lives as idealistic adherents to a special code of conduct (perhaps to be rewarded in the afterlife).

This realization that the universe is made up of interlocking open systems can also lead to heavy feelings of guilt for past and present behaviors, because it is practically impossible to go through life without ever damaging other living entities, sometimes intentionally. A form of totalitarian political correctness can take over the Buddhist's mental life, as he or she tries to carefully shape every action in ways that will reduce harm the most.

In addition, this realization can create pressures to help all other living entities who are in need.

An enlightened Buddhist could spend all of her waking hours chasing after a better world, paradoxically forgetting the drill that sparked her enlightenment in the first place -- sitting still, viewing the world as it is, and accepting whatever she sees.

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Spiritual pursuits, as well as the more secular ones, can lead to the creation of a Messiah Complex, in which a human being is convinced that he ought to be saving the world from its sorrows, even at the price of his own greatest sacrifice.

Saving the world in return for sacrificing one life (either via enslavement to a cause, or death). Not so much to ask for, eh? Especially if you believe in a punishment/reward system that exists in the afterlife. Karma, nirvana, heaven, hell, you name it -- the idea is that you'll be rewarded later for current sacrifices, or that you'll be punished later for current indulgences.

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Other Buddhists avoid this sticky totalitarian web, by continually reminding themselves that good and evil arise only within the grasping mind, and that their own perceptions of the universe will always be limited and imperfect. After learning, via Buddhist practice, to avoid their own suffering by accepting their personal pains, they learn to avoid additional empathic suffering by accepting their empathic pains (which are presumably echoes of the pains felt by others).

They act mindfully, within each moment, caring about others, but they do not fool themselves that they can solve all the world's problems. They accept their limitations. They realize they can't help causing pain for other entities from time to time. They even have fun once in a while. They embrace being human and doing whatever it is we humans do.


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