Acquisitions and Inquisitions

To be human is to acquire and inquire.

Being acquisitive and, dare I say, not merely inquisitive but critically so doesn’t get a lot of good press in “yoga worlds.” I was thinking this morning about words that really irk or somehow demand that we ignore them out of concern for the trouble they cause. Acquisition and inquisition are a lot like shame inasmuch as the more you think about what’s at stake, the more you realize that you don’t like living with them but that it would be so much worse living without them.  Do you really want to be a person without shame?  Really?  I doubt that.  Now, enter the yoga or “spiritual” solution, which never fails to fail appreciating the irony proposed.

Somehow we’re supposed to be without, beyond, or better than any of those “negative” things. And furthermore—and this is the important part—there are real solutions, ones that smack of real fulfillment.  There are lots of fancy Sanskrit words (isn’t all Sanskrit fancy?) for fulfilled, perfected, attained.  Purna, siddha, even buddha.  There’s always sum’thin’ even better than things. We’re further shamed, chastised, encouraged, told all sorts of stories about how addressing our issues means we can arrive at resolution, evolution, progress, or even fulfillment.

We can try to push past the finality nomenclature and say we’re in a “process,” that we are moving forward, that we are growing.  Sure but are we not also telling ourselves again what we want to acquire and we inquire about how to do that.  What if none of what we acquire in the telling ourselves is at last fulfilling or that what final is true, or at least what if it’s not for you.  Are you a mere creature of failure doomed to more samsara?  If rebirth is real then any story will do.  And almost any story will do, which is why we tell them.

What if there are no such finalities, no ultimacy, and no one or any thing, not even enlightenment that really finishes things off, you know, in a good way. Wanting this kind of finality may be a problem or it may be just another thing we want. Thinking we need to be this way or that is another ideological assertion that, if harbored, usually becomes another dogma.  Then we have at last acquired another way to tell us what is true apriori.  Experience may show otherwise but denial may have its way too, When a dictum of finality or fulfillment appears in sources of provenance lavished with authority of some kind or another, we cower to challenge or aver confrontation because we might offend (or be offended). What we want to believe or believe we want usually deflects the important questions enough to avoid more inquisition.

In privileged worlds it is at best unseemly to talk about being acquisitive and impolite to distinguish real inquisition from entertainment or gossip.  We would rather pass over or pass the time than do the work.  No one really likes to do the work.  That’s why it’s work.  Resources can be abundant, scarce, difficult even to recognize as resources but no matter how access (or don’t), we mean to acquire and inquire.  When we feel like we’re not allowed to be something deemed unacceptable or at least problematic, we aver the conflicts that otherwise might invite a more serious endeavor. Humans are just as likely to avoid seriousness as anything else that taxes emotions or thinking.  Even a pandemic can fail to seize people’s attentions sufficiently enough that they consider the relationship between autonomy and responsibility.

Why do something hard when you can instead do something easy? Who wants to hear that the better things in life are not easy? Worse, if you need some?  Who wants to do more than mention the hard stuff so we can once again ignore what that means? We acquire and inquire but not always very well if by that we mean with some sense of what happens when we deny or claim we don’t.  It’s more acquisitions, no matter the quality of our inquiry.

I’m not trying to be reductive or incurious here. We do lots of other things in addition to acquire and inquire that make us human in ways that distinguish our nature. And obviously we aren’t the only creatures who do both. We might be the only creatures who like to deny we do either and find it difficult. Last I looked our new pup has no qualms about wanting or acquiring stuff she wants and as for inquiry, that seems utterly insatiable about, well, most everything including much that can cause trouble.  We’re a lot less like puppies and a lot more determined to invent what doesn’t exist just to get by.

So it seems reasonable to say that even humans determined not to acquire and to delimit the scope or purpose of query are nonetheless collecting, promoting, claiming, analyzing, and inspecting. To wit, there’s no way past or beyond the matter: we acquire even before we can articulate our wants and we are inquiring shortly after leaving the womb about our needs. Allowing for only slightly more adult perspectives and we soon realize that wanting things means that without things we are naked, alone, and deeply in denial. Without inquiry we find out that all that’s left is “acceptance” or “answers” unless we make some self-superior claim that somehow being “beyond thought” is more than trance, indifference, or insensibility. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that both acquisition and inquiry can’t be fulfilling; it’s not just that they won’t be.  This happens not only because the things we want, need, or get won’t fulfill but because they can’t fulfill. Not things, not god, not heaven, nuthin’ really works to finish the unfinishable.  We want to believe in fulfillment and so we do.

We can seemingly quell or attenuate desires; we can even claim to extinguish them and that might be possible. If you arrive at the fulfillment of being wholly disinterested, unmoved, accepting, and reconciled with your new-found indifference to acquisition or inquiry then you’re likely also bereft of any irony that you also just procured. There ain’t no cure, just different procurements.

I’m not proposing indifference to our unfulfillment but rather the contrary. Our unfulfillment is not only our interest, it is the solution that offers none. That there is no solution doesn’t go down well so we tell ourselves it’s all fine or is gonna be or, worse, we resign to suffer or ignore it. Suffering is not optional to being human but if you don’t want that humanity, there are religious alternatives and you may get them. You can tell yourself your reward will be great in heaven or that you have woken up to that wisdom of unwanting. Want that all you like and you can tell yourself those stories rather convincingly. I’ll see ya’ at lunch because, you know, you’re gonna want to acquire some of that or at least ask when it’s gonna happen next. You see, there’s no way around or out of acquisition and inquiry and getting through means getting and asking for more.

Let’s try to make this clearer even if it’s hammering a merely proverbial nail. We don’t fulfill our needs, we meet them. And when we meet them we do everything we can to acquire and inquire, even deny that we are or that we need to. We want so desperately to find fulfillment or some end game of reconciliation or acceptance that we will tell ourselves we can reach those goals. But goals, like ambitions, too often substitute for meaning and a more honest receptivity. No matter what we acquire or how well we inquire, we come face to face with the reality of, at best, temporary fulfillments, that is, fulfillments that aren’t fulfilling. Suddenly we’re all Buddhists?

Nah. There is even for Buddhists supposed to be an awakening that relieves, extinguishes, solves the problem fulfillment-seeking. We can be hip to the irony and so can they but no one likes admitting it.  When we meet our needs we come to know that we can’t reach fulfillment and that meeting them is a way of living in that crisis, that irresolvable set of unresolved terms. The desires aren’t met, rather they are put into conversation, negotiation, compromise, unfinished processes that much remain unfinished.  Finalities can also be denied, like “there is no enlightenment” but such claims are also telling you that there is no real problem.  Good luck with that.  The problems, however constructed or imaginary, are real enough.  Just skip enough meals.  You’ll find out.

You make a bargain with living with what you can so that you can live better than what otherwise is easier to do, indulge or reject or deny or worse yet achieve. For example, zazen will give you the realization of no need, no want, but is that really the healthy solution? Or for you? Your call. You will acquire, or at least do your level best to acquire, whatever you need to deal with acquisition.

But if you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m proposing that there are no solutions to acquisition anymore than there is fulfillment. And that means there are no healthy solutions because there are no solutions. This doesn’t leave us only unhealthy anymore than helpless, victimized, resigned, cynical, or lost. It leaves us with plenty of choices, including those but why choose those? There is no achievement that solves but once you know that acquisition, like inquiry, remains contested, you can decide what to do with that.

For my part, I try not to be so conflicted about acquisitions that I make myself the worse off. It’s easy to be depressed, resigned, and unhappy that you aren’t getting what you want, especially if it is a right or at least a human need. It’s probably not a bad idea to be angry about that kind of conflict or crisis, particularly when the odds, like systemic racism, sexism, or poverty or some other preventable disadvantage is being inflicted.

When we work for change, we inquire into better acquisitions and ask what makes them better. Better at the very least is better than the alternatives or at least not worse.  Better may just have to be not just better for me but doing as little damage as possible to others and to the world.  When you know that “at least not worse” is all the betta’ya’ got, you’d better not make it worse than that. So our actions, non-actions, and misactions all matter and what matters most about them is inquiring about the differences.  Acquire such a difference will let you make a difference.  That can be a good, so try it.

What we can do is learn how to address the wounds and shadows, the gifts and opportunities, the prejudices, structures, and powers that shape us. We don’t reach fulfillment because we are never in complete control of, well, anything. Learning from mistakes, being made of our mistakes is not easy nor is it fulfilling. Umm, see above if there’s still much doubt.

When we stop looking for fulfillment we aren’t compromising to mediocrity or failure, we’re not merely resigned or stuck in some beleaguered surrender to the facts. Not need to surrender to the facts, but figure out if you can receive them with any measure of grace, dignity, and humility. We gain integrity, which might be almost as satisfying as empathy is important, when we figure out how to live with all of the ways needs and wants invite more acquisition and inquiry.

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