Contrariety as Method and “Goal”

I’ve recently laced into the idea the spiritual life has final goals (or goals at all), that it is a pursuit of happiness. But this can lead to a few mistaken impressions including that we are advancing the idea that discontent is for its own sake, that this process makes us more “unhappy,” and that we are rejecting outright goals or meaning. Let’s start with a resounding no to each of these suggestions.

*Discontent is not a goal nor is it for its own sake. We may however generate a certain discontent or discomfort because that’s what it takes to keep learning.

*The idea isn’t to be more unhappy much less to generate any unhappiness. It is to say that “happy” can be in the way, a positive obstacle, to deeper inquiry. We have to take the world as we find it, not as we wish it were—that is the starting point.

*Goals, be they outcomes or process, are not in anyway a “bad” thing. Goals mark success and success is a fine thing—albeit not the end but the beginning of the contrariety method. To put it more radically, goals are mundane in comparison to the deeper, unfinishable, provisional, deeply engaging work of inquiry. “Inquiry” means any serious pursuit be that an action or an understanding. You might be building bicycles or reading Sanskrit, thus anything worth doing that fosters your imagination and curiosity is an inquiry. There is no more worthwhile an inquiry than self-inquiry: who are you, how have you been made, how do you make yourself, what are your relationships? Goals are like milestones but the road is not made by milestones, it is merely marked that way. Carry forward.

So now I will repeat some of what’s been said elsewhere for the sake of putting some clarification into one place.

The method we’re discussing I call ‘contrariety’, partially in homage to Hitchens from whom I stole the term but also because I can’t quite find another that captures my meaning. It’s not being merely petulant or disagreeable. And while

I haven’t read the book (and so I’m not commenting on it), it likely stands in contrast to “The Subtle Art of Not Giving Fuck.” Though I am intrigued by the title, I’m not suggesting being in any way disengaged from the acts or the consequences. Even when one acts on principle, one can still very much suffer the consequences—those “fruits of action” do matter, no matter what is said about bypassing them. There’s a real difference between engaging and somehow disregarding consequences for an action preferred.

The thesis I’m making works has four principal points:

1*If we want the best things in life, like love, we will suffer, we will necessarily grieve.

2*It is not in happiness that we find out the most about ourselves but in the deeper exploration of the relationship we have between happiness and our shadows. And in that process, everything that remains or is suppressed into the shadows only leads to less satisfaction with life.

3*When we study, when we are really learning, we have to ask the uncomfortable questions. If we only ask the questions we can we never find out what more we could know. This can prove disturbing, of course, but asking the best questions is not a pursuit of happiness, it is a pursuit of discovery.

4*The strife, frustration, or uncertainty we feel is not only a part of the process of the best kinds of learning, it is demonstrable proof of learning. You learn more at the frontier of your competencies and that is often daunting, scarce, anxiety producing, and fearful. It can be hard to go there, harder still to sustain that kind of process but it is in the prospects of failure and continued experimentation that we grow.

None of these things is not giving a fuck nor is it the same as Krishna’s advice to act without regard to the fruits of action. All of these things create some degree of stress and further complication that may not prove “happy.” There is plenty of time in life, hopefully, to “back off” some, take a vacation. There are other kinds of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty that are not as constructive—including bypassing these kinds of contrariety methods.

I am further suggesting that these strategies for inquiry and exploration _are_ a “spiritual” path, or maybe _the_ spiritual path that lies at the heart of what I was taught. To make that clear allow me another brief contrast.

*Indian yoga traditions make three points. First, they agree that our human condition is deeply problematic. They call this samsara and tell us that things go amiss either of their own accord or by our making, and so we necessarily suffer. Second, they posit the _solution_ to samsara that they all call (one way or another) liberation. The various traditions do _not_ agree on the description of liberation, only that it solves samsara. Liberation can be oneness, emptiness, god identity, god submission, and on and on. Third, they posit methods and processes by which to identify samsara and arrive at liberation. These include actions, external and internal, altering or establishing intentions, ideas, or feelings; understandings or knowledge and then commitments such as vows or love or other strategies of devotion.

*These yoga traditions all aim to solve samsara either completely or in part. Since there is no way to refute someone’s experience, it is fair to say that all of these forms of final liberation are rightly called religious or mystical claims.

Now onto Rajanaka.

*Rajanaka does not dispute the claims or terms of samsara. We agree that suffering is not an end unto itself, that we humans prefer less and that to create more suffering is equally unhealthy.

*Suffering however cannot be overcome, bypassed, or somehow solved. So Rajanaka rejects all claims to final liberation by nearly any traditional definition. This is such heresy that it means we may no longer be “Hindus” but the Vedic life posited no such liberation, only methods to love life. Love your life is our aim. This isn’t always happy or pleasant, not by a long shot.

*Loving life includes loving, loving will entail suffering and certainly grief, anxiety, fear, loss, and the rest that are clearly part of samsara.

*Diminishing suffering is not the same as overcoming it. Sometimes we want less, sometimes we ask for more (like when we love).

*Rajanaka affirms the methods of yoga (part three above) but for the purposes outlined in the previous note—exploration, discovery, inquiry that does not conclude or have final results (only provisional, unfinished results). Keep lovin’ your life, even when you know it’s hard.

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