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But actually, no.

Sometimes something comes to you in a "wisdom" package, and you're conditioned to nod humbly and say yes, yes, I see, but sometimes, if you (or in this case, I) stop and think for a moment, the wisdom seems completely bogus.

Case in point, this, which is apparently from Swami Satchidananda (but I don't know who that is ... yes, I know I can Google it. I probably will, at some point)

“What is it that dies? A log of wood dies to become a few planks. The planks die to become a chair. The chair dies to become a piece of firewood, and the firewood dies to become ash. You give different names to the different shapes the wood takes, but the basic substance is there always. If we could always remember this, we would never worry about the loss of anything. We never lose anything; we never gain anything. By such discrimination we put an end to unhappiness.

No. I have way different relationships with planks of wood, a chair, firewood, and ash. WAY DIFFERENT! You might as well say that all of us are made up of electrons and protons and neutrons, so we're interchangeable. Maybe so, at the subatomic level. But that's not the level at which we experience the world. If a chair gets turned into firewood, you bet I'm going to mourn the chair! And when the firewood is gone and all I have is ash, I'm going to be sad, too--and I'm going to need more firewood, because you can't burn ash. So no, Swami Satchidananda, I disagree with your logic here entirely, and this thought experiment does *not* put an end to unhappiness.

So there.



( 43 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 25th, 2016 07:47 pm (UTC)
This is why I adore you, and why I wished you lived next door so we could spend a few minutes every morning or every evening talking about the many lenses through which we can choose to see the world.
Jul. 25th, 2016 07:49 pm (UTC)

Thanks for indulging me in my irritable rant!
Jul. 25th, 2016 09:48 pm (UTC)
and I'm going to need more firewood, because you can't burn ash.

Jul. 26th, 2016 12:19 am (UTC)
I think if the takeaway had been "things change form; nothing stays the same," that would have been one thing, but the notion that somehow we should be happy because conservation of matter and energy ... no. It's basically just restating reality and asking us to like it.

ETA: I mean, much of reality is plenty likable. But much of it isn't.

Edited at 2016-07-26 12:19 am (UTC)
Jul. 25th, 2016 10:26 pm (UTC)
There are so many messages...I guess we accept the ones that we are the most comfortable with and which "take". I too find so many philosophical messages completely meaningless as far as I am concerned. In the existential supermarket, we choose the aisle and the brand we like the most....

(LJ friends feed "opened up" just now!)
Jul. 26th, 2016 12:21 am (UTC)
It's nice to have the confidence now to just dismiss the ones I don't want to engage with. There is no requirement that I accept any philosophy I don't want to! So freeing. (... I admit it probably does me good to at least think about things that people offer up. But it's okay to say no after giving it some thought.)
Jul. 25th, 2016 10:42 pm (UTC)
There were soooooooo many "wise" conversations that I tiptoed away from during the seventies. This sounds like one of them.
Jul. 25th, 2016 10:50 pm (UTC)
Worse, some writers go and put such wisdom in the mouths of their sages to show off their sagacity. . . .

Sages are really hard to write right. I still remember the book I put down because the main character wrote the same sort of sophomoric drivel that I did when I was a teen, and while the character had the same excuse I did, the author was trying to use it to show off her wisdom.
Jul. 26th, 2016 12:28 am (UTC)
I remember even as a little kid being bothered by the supposed wisdom offered up by the Wizard in the Judy Garland movie version of The Wizard of Oz.

"And remember--a heart is not measured by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others." Child-me--an unpopular child--realized this was essentially saying that the popular people (the ones loved by others) had the best hearts. NO.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 26th, 2016 12:37 am (UTC)
We are united in our dislike!
Jul. 28th, 2016 11:26 am (UTC)
As much as I get a kick out of watching Wizard of Oz, I have and always have had issues with it's "logic" and arguments, like what you quoted and Dorothy talking about never losing her heart's desire in the first place if it can't be found in her own backyard. o.O
Jul. 28th, 2016 10:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah, what the--? The enforcing of the notion that home is always a wholesome, supportive place (manifestly not true) and that no one should ever look for happiness elsewhere.

I get that you bring yourself and all your internal baggage with you wherever you go, but the fact is that some places ARE better for some people than other places, and they will be much happier if they get to go find those places.
Jul. 26th, 2016 12:25 am (UTC)
Some stuff is SO muddle-headed. People sometimes attempt profundity by saying things in the pattern of, "Does X because Y... or is it Y because X!!" As if just flipping something around somehow will generate some meaningful insight? "Do I fight because I love? Or do I love because I fight?" ???? This is not profound! (Sometimes these sort of work, or you can contort your thinking to make them work, but often not.)
Jul. 26th, 2016 04:37 am (UTC)
But sometimes the flipping works.

Like the saying "Love goes thorough the stomach" left me cold as long as it was explained to me as "Men love the women who feed them", but works as "Women will love men (well, any creature, actually) who will allow the women to feed them"

The overheard example - a woman around 70 with a lapdog, telling with such a regret: "My dog eats so little, like a baby bird!" (hence giving not enough outlet to her need to feed somebody?)

It made me understand these old people, always feeding the birds or stray cats - apparently too poor to feed someone all the time, so not able to keep pets, but unable to live without feeding somebody ...
Jul. 26th, 2016 02:19 pm (UTC)
Yes, sometimes it does work! Sometimes it can be illuminating.

The story of the woman with the lapdog--so poignant. People want to be able to **bestow** love (in this case, through the medium of food) as well as to receive it. And feeding is such a basic way of showing love. "Let me give you this thing that you need to stay alive."
Jul. 26th, 2016 02:38 am (UTC)
I was about to say, it sounds just like a conversation that stuck in my mind as the archetypal "Why you should not attempt to converse with stoned people when you are sober:"

Stoned dude (suddenly realizing the Truth of the Universe): "You know… I just realized… Underneath, people are just people! Like, you're you, and I'm me, but we're both people. So even though you're you, and I'm me, we're BOTH PEOPLE! And that means we're both DIFFERENT AND THE SAME! Like, you're you, and I'm me, but--"

Me: "Great point, Nate. Aaand goodnight, I gotta go, see ya!"

Nate (addressing my departing back: "And even though you're leaving, and I'm still here, WE'RE STILL BOTH PEOPLE! Like, we're the same! Only different, because I'm still here, and you're--"

Me: [out the door.]
Jul. 26th, 2016 02:53 am (UTC)
Yeah. Being stoned doesn't make you perceive great things. It just makes you feel that ordinary perceptions are great. It's like revelations in dreams.
Jul. 26th, 2016 02:58 am (UTC)
I know, I have so often had amazing revelations in dreams that, upon awakening, turn out to be either nonsensical or "duh."

Much like the Swami's "Hey! The conservation of matter and energy exists!" That was only revelatory the first time it was discovered.

I am also generally suspicious of applying principles of physics to human emotions and relationships. (Except in a few of Connie Willis's short stories and some other works of fiction. Fiction/poetry/art, sure. Philosophy or sociology or psychology, not so much.)
Jul. 26th, 2016 02:21 pm (UTC)
"Hey! The conservation of matter and energy exists!" That was only revelatory the first time it was discovered. Right?? As I was saying to my kids, the guy is basically describing life as I know it, only now he's telling me to be happy about it.
Jul. 25th, 2016 11:28 pm (UTC)
I think that particular Profound Wisdom (gong sound) is interesting and useful in two respects:
(1) as a reminder of the opportunity cost involved in creation-- original materials are destroyed in being transformed,
(2) as a woo-woo and not entirely successful parable of non-grasping. (I love non-grasping.)

You are so right that a plank is not a chair, and so on.

I think the smug Wisdoms I loathe most are the ones about how you determine your own mood, your own possibility, and so on. So far I have refrained from saying "So would you have told that to someone in a Nazi concentration camp? Would you say it to an enslaved person? Someone imprisoned at Guantanamo? A cjild in a Westboro Church family? So many more?"

Jul. 26th, 2016 12:31 am (UTC)
I can understand that it was attempting to say something about nongrasping, but yes: not entirely (or, for me, even a little) successful. ... The essay tutor in me feels that the conclusions don't fit with the examples. The examples are about change and opportunity cost, as you say (the grain of wheat must die to become the plant, etc.), but the conclusions are that therefore nothing is lost and that we should be happy. But something IS lost.

Jul. 26th, 2016 02:50 am (UTC)
Do you know Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia? It's on the theme that on the level of ideas, nothing is ever lost forever, but on the level of individuals, everything is. (If you don't know it, I recommend it. I think it works best onstage, but it also reads well.)

“We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?”
Jul. 26th, 2016 03:03 am (UTC)
Now see this I find both true and moving. I guess that goes to show I'm a product of the western twentieth century. (I didn't know the play--thanks for mentioning it.)
Jul. 26th, 2016 03:05 am (UTC)
Let me know what you think if you read it! Also, it benefits from being read unspoiled, so I would not read the blurb or back cover or anything - for some weird reason plays often spoil the entire story on the back. Possibly because they assume audiences already saw them in the theatre, but a lot of times they didn't.

And once you read it, I can link you to an excellent but spoilery Yuletide story based on it.
Jul. 26th, 2016 03:24 am (UTC)
I've just reserved it from the library.
Aug. 1st, 2016 11:05 pm (UTC)
I listened to in on audio during a drive to Logan airport to see Little Springtime off to Japan. It was **wonderful**. I loved it. When the lines you quoted above came up, I felt all glowy inside. And later, the part where Valentine says that the areas of physics that have seemed all wrapped up are at extremes--the subatomic particles and the universe as a whole--but that physics at our level of perception are still open for explanation--and then that ties in to Thomasina's equation of .... was it a leaf? I **love** that she did that. I loved that then Valentine ran it through his laptop a few million times to extend it and named the set after her. And I loved the humor of it! From the start when Septimus says that if anyone says he didn't turn up for his dalliance w/Lady Chater, then it's a mad slander (and then a few minutes later when he says he can't spend all his time satisfying Lady and Lord Chater). And I loved that Lady Croom refers to Noakes as Culpability Noakes.

I thought it was so wonderful that I have ordered a copy of both the audio and text version. I want to give them to my dad; I think he'd love them. Thank you *so much* for recommending this to me.
Aug. 2nd, 2016 02:22 am (UTC)
Oh, I'm so glad you liked you. I thought you would. I saw it onstage, unspoiled, with the past and present-day characters walking in and out of the same house, Thomasina's algorithm finally understood (yes, I think it was a leaf) and the final image of the two couples, one present and one past, waltzing on the same stage.

Here's the Yuletide story: http://archiveofourown.org/works/141955
Aug. 3rd, 2016 03:46 am (UTC)
The yuletide story was lovely. One line of it ("Sex is perfectly lovely. It's people I'm not interested in.") could have been in the original (and that's high praise--I really loved the language of Arcadia).
Jul. 26th, 2016 01:01 pm (UTC)
Now I'm thinking that it may be intended for "forms are inconstant, so `reality' is illusion [gong]."

Jul. 25th, 2016 11:35 pm (UTC)
Sometimes, what is wise in one context is foolish in another. That's the problem with words of wisdom, especially in our soundbite- and tweet-driven world, these days. So much is simply spouted without context and repeated ad infinitum. Without context, all wisdom becomes drivel.

And, there you go. What I just wrote above seems to me to be just about the same drivel. Perhaps I should stick them on a graphic and share them to be passed around the internet with the hashtag nocontextforyou. (Carefully avoided actually using said hashtag.)
Jul. 26th, 2016 12:33 am (UTC)
You're very right: things are often taken out of context--"wise quotes" especially--and often things make much more sense if you do have the context. For one thing, often the claims to profundity are smaller.

And what you wrote wasn't drivel in the least!
Jul. 26th, 2016 04:43 pm (UTC)
What little I know about world views from that part of the world suggests that material things are seen as temporary and attachment to material things is seen as something best done without. It's a way of coping with a life in which one has very little, and like so many philosophical perspectives has both positive and negative aspects.

And what you wrote wasn't drivel in the least!

Lol. Thank you for defending my wisdom. I have turned my words into a meme and shared it on Facebook, as I don't have the wherewithal, just at the moment, to figure out how to place it here. Perhaps, later, I can post it to my journal.
Jul. 26th, 2016 01:02 am (UTC)
A lot of philosophies/religions make these kinds of gross oversimplifications, which is why my skeptic flag stays flying high.
Jul. 26th, 2016 03:03 am (UTC)
Yep, definitely.
Jul. 26th, 2016 08:50 am (UTC)
I so commiserate... Loathe oversimplification repackaged and marketed as "wisdom". So here's another take on it:

The worm has no wish to be eaten, even if it turns into a bird. The bird has no wish to die and be turned into soil fertilizer. The tree, if it could speak, would tell you to bug off and stop cutting it into firewood. The fire isn't alive and so couldn't care less. /end wisdom
Jul. 26th, 2016 02:35 pm (UTC)
Your wisdom expresses the reality I feel much more truly ;-)
Jul. 26th, 2016 12:12 pm (UTC)
Jul. 26th, 2016 02:36 pm (UTC)

Thanks for reading!
Jul. 26th, 2016 12:59 pm (UTC)
:D You tell him, asakiyume!

also "by such discrimination..." - doesn't he mean "by abjuring such discrimination"?
Jul. 26th, 2016 02:38 pm (UTC)
Haha, thank you :-)

Perhaps he just means discrimination in the sense of separating truth from untruth? So, by recognizing the truth (as he sees it), we gain happiness.
Jul. 28th, 2016 10:58 am (UTC)

What is it that dies? A tree falls over in an autumn storm and dies. The first winter, chickadees use the small holes as beds where they can sleep during the long dark. In spring, woodpeckers drill in the bark, hoping to impress their lady friends. Bark beetles crawl under slits and lay eggs. Their larvae hatch in the warm summer. They chew and chew and chew. Dust and tiny debris falls to the ground underneath the tree.

Ants find the tree. They munch as the seasons turn. Mushrooms push up from the ground and latch onto the protruding roots. More decay ensues.

Fifteen years later a huge snowstorm weighs heavily on the tree trunk. It cracks in several places. When spring comes a human walks off the path to pick fiddleheads. Her foot squishes down on a section of the old tree. It disintegrates.

It becomes soil. The human had a cottonwood seed left over from last summer wedged in a her running shoe. When she stepped on the decaying wood, the seed fell off her shoe on top of the new soil. Rain and sun fed the seed.

It grew. In time it became tree in its own right.

(Not a board or a chair or firewood or ash)

Nature replenishes itself. Nature replenishes us.

Jul. 28th, 2016 09:49 pm (UTC)
Your wisdom sounds much more wise to me ♥
( 43 comments — Leave a comment )

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