Mathematics is the cause of human suffering
"Life is what it is." — unknown author
Siddhartha Gautama is reported to have said that desire is the root cause of human suffering. That is essentially the same as saying that human life is the cause of human suffering, because you cannot possibly have human life without human desire. It is also true that you cannot have any life or any existence without mathematical relationships.
Siddhartha Gautama was a man of the prescience era, and he believed in the ancient Hindu myths of gods, ghosts, karma, and reincarnation. Many Buddhists now claim that Siddhartha did not believe in the Hindu concept of 'soul,' but rather in a soulless "bundle of desires" that magically reincarnates from one life to the next. No matter what words you choose to obfuscate the issue, there is no credible scientific evidence that any personal wheel of life exists, or that there is any 'moksha' (final spiritual freedom) other than ordinary physical death. The very idea of gaining total freedom from suffering and the hardships of life through meditation and/or right behavior is destroyed if there is no soul or bundle of desires that survives death. Many Buddhists talk out of both sides of their mouths on the issues of reincarnation and soul, but that discussion is not the main point here.
The big issue is the very nature of the universe, of time, energy, and space. The entire universe is formed and bound by infinitely complex mathematical relationships, geometry, and the laws of chance. Biological life springs from chemistry, which is created by the mathematical relationships of atoms in chemical reactions. At a deeper level, life is created by mathematical relationships of subatomic particles within atoms, and perhaps even deeper by mathematical relationships of yet unproven cosmic "strings," whose vibrational existence is promoted by famous string theory advocates. At every level, mathematical relationships, which include the laws of chance, are involved in the creation of the Earth, the stars, and all life.
The inherent problem with human life is that there are literally trillions of things that have to go right for it to exist in a healthy state, and thus there are literally trillions of chances that something will go wrong. The odds are against our being born in a healthy environment, with perfect DNA, and having all the events surrounding us go so well that our lives are totally enjoyable and satisfying. This is not karma. This is just an unavoidable fact of the laws of probability we all live under no matter how virtuously we conduct ourselves.
Take, for example, the life of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917- November 22, 1963). JFK was born with wealth, privilege, goods looks, and an intelligent mind, yet he had to struggle with Addison's disease because a tiny portion of his genetic code was incorrectly constructed. JFK succeeded despite his health problems and became a husband, father, senator, and the 35th President of the United States. JFK possessed enough biological and social kinetic energy that his life could be considered a brilliant success,...right up to the moment he was assassinated on November 22, 1963.
The odds that things will go wrong for human beings outweigh the odds that everything will go right, so we as individuals are playing against a cosmic house of death and destruction that plays its hand with better intrinsic odds than we possess. Las Vegas casinos consistently make money on games of chance because the odds are in favor of the house by the very nature of the game. The laws of chance are highly consistent over time and on a large scale. A few individuals get lucky for awhile, but over time even their good luck runs out. Despite his great wealth, even legendary singer/actor Frank Sinatra called himself a "loser" in his final years because he was subject to old age and ill health just like everyone else. The rich and famous are often less happy than ordinary people, and many feel the need to escape through the use of alcohol and drugs. Ironically, ordinary people often mentally escape by imagining themselves becoming rich and famous.
If a six mile wide asteroid suddenly hits the earth and destroys all human life, it would not mean that everyone in the world had developed "bad karma." It would only mean that our collective luck as life forms on planet Earth had run out, just as it had run out for so many other species who existed here before us. If you drink too many beers today and have a hangover tomorrow, it means your foolish behavior caused a negative reaction in your body which you pay for with a splitting headache. That is simple action and reaction, not supernatural karma. If you eat and drink in moderation, get adequate exercise, and do good deeds for yourself and for others, the chances are you will have a healthier and happier life. Good behavior and positive actions usually do result in positive reactions. Unfortunately, even right action can be overpowered by bad luck.
Life is much more of a casino than most of us would like to admit, so the myth of supernatural karma was developed to wallpaper over the unfair and often scary facts of life with a fictional philosophy of supreme justice. There is no all-seeing eye of karma that directs events in this life as well as events yet to come in a mythical future life. The idea of ultimate justice through karma and reincarnation is heartwarming, but life cannot live up to our lofty expectations for goodness and reason. Man is a product of life on Earth, not the creator and architect of life on Earth. We must play by cosmic rules of chance that are often as cold and cruel for us as they are for the animals we eat and the bugs we squash.
The ancients invented myths of immortal souls and a variety of heavens in order to lessen the fear of death, a fear which creates a continuous burden on the minds of intelligent animals who understand the inevitable time-death equation. In time we all die unless, of course, we invent a magical escape hatch called 'reincarnation' or 'heaven.' Along with religious myths of immortality, meditation has helped humans escape suffering by training our brains to behave as a simple plant rather than as a complex mammal. Plants have no past or future, no goals, no desires, and no attachment to life. They exist right here and right now. The worlds of trees, shrubs, and grass have no problems because plants are not aware of themselves as individuals. They are full of life energy, but they have no individual consciousness or personal ego that can become bruised and hurt.
During meditation the human brain falls back into a simpler vegetative state where complex cerebral capabilities become inactive, and this has been demonstrated by functional magnetic resonance imaging scans (fMRI scans) of the brains of Buddhist monks and Hindu yogis. There is no reasoning, planning, measuring, or owning in meditation. Because so many energy intensive portions of the brain are turned off during meditative practice, the brain stores up large amounts of unused neurotransmitter energy. This saved energy is transformed into pure consciousness, and this is part of the reason that the practice of meditation takes so much time. Time is needed to store up sufficient excess energy, and time is also needed to gradually relax and let go of the thinking functions of the brain. During meditation the brain deeply relaxes and forms a sea of consciousness without personal attachments. The mind-brain then feels like cosmic life essence without any individuality.
It is the individual that suffers, and plant consciousness reduces suffering, not by solving problems, but by diverting our attention away from life's inherent conflicts and the constant struggle to survive. This diversion of attention works beautifully, right up to the moment a tiger eats you, your family starves, or your country is invaded by a hostile foreign power. The vegetative meditative state feels good, but has little survival value unless you use your plant consciousness power of presence to become a guru selling religious myths to the masses. Meditation often sparks religion, and religion always becomes a business.
Human beings are biological creatures and part of the Earth's carbon cycle, not part of any cycle of reincarnating ghosts that haunt the world for all eternity. There is nothing mystical about the carbon cycle, but it does unify all life on Earth, from bacteria to man. Scientists and mathematicians have calculated that the carbon atoms in the atmosphere become so mixed up over time that when we take a deep breath of air we are inhaling at least a few of the carbon atoms, in the form of carbon dioxide, that Siddhartha Gautama exhaled during his last dying breath. Your body contains recycled carbon atoms that were once part of the bodies of Lao-tse, Genghis Khan, Jesus, and countless other deceased humans, plants, animals, and bacteria. The farther back in time an individual existed, the more likely the chance some of their carbon atoms are living again as part of your own body. Our DNA code structure is carbon based as well, and we all share many common DNA code sequences with other animals, plants, and bacteria.
Human suffering is inevitable and predictable because of the basic mathematical structure of the universe. There are ways to reduce the suffering of life, but there is no way to escape suffering entirely as long as you are alive and have a pulse. Even the "enlightened" continue to suffer on the physical level until the moment of death, and even the enlightened have at least some psychological suffering, disappointments, and regrets. Famous gurus usually don't like to talk about their personal suffering because they have a public image of perfection to uphold. If you look deeply into their eyes and analyze their life histories you will find that they do suffer psychologically, but less so than the average human being. Suffering is dramatically reduced by the enlightenment phenomena, but it is not eliminated completely. There is no state of 100% freedom possible for flesh and blood animals living on planet Earth.
Meditation is a great cosmic convergence with many benefits for the individual and for society as a whole. Meditation can bring peace and psychological balance, and meditation can become a beloved refuge of serenity in the stormy seas of social conflict and politics. It is important to remember that the practice of meditation should always be balanced with the need for social responsibility in order to ensure the survival of family, friends, nation, and the planet itself.
Christopher CalderCopyright notice: Please feel free to copy, repost, or publish Mathematics is the cause of human suffering! (© 2006 Christopher Calder) for educational, noncommercial use. You may repost or publish any of my essays without cost, but you must clearly state that the essays were written by Christopher Calder; you must not change any of my words or their meanings, and no one has been granted permission to use my writings to sell any products or services. This is a 100% free website, published only for the benefit of other students of meditation.
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