The yearning to be happy is quite possibly the most destructive force in the world. The amount of suffering it causes, the amount of psychotic behaviour it generates, the number of lives it wrecks, is incalculable. As a destructive force it far outweighs Nature’s meagre attempts to whip up storms, floods, earthquakes and the like. Millions of lives are being hurt, maimed or destroyed every single day in the name of happiness, yet you will never see a story on this in the news. It is simply taboo in the modern era to expose the truth this deeply.
The yearning for happiness is also the biggest source of human ignorance. It is easy enough for the mind to deceive itself at the best of times, but once the yearning for fulfillment, security and pleasure is thrown into the mix it virtually becomes a fait accompli. When a person manages to secure what he thinks is a reliable source of happiness, you can more or less kiss him goodbye. He ceases to be human and becomes a kind of cunning fox, his mind perpetually on the alert for anything that might threaten his prize possession. Always on the defensive, his eyes constantly darting around, he intuitively fills his mind with emotions, justifications, rationalizations, platitudes, snippets of scripture, popular opinions, women’s views – anything that can muddy the waters and save him from having to look too closely into the truth of his own situation.
For example, I often encounter philosophically-inclined men who go to great lengths to justify their marriage and being in love with their wife. They are compelled to go to these lengths because, being philosophical types, they respect logic and therefore agree that it is important to give up attachments. But when it comes to their wives, they suddenly whistle a different tune. A common justification put forward, usually in sheepish tones, is that the wife in question is a very intelligent woman who also happens to be deeply spiritual. But many of them are simply content to argue that their love for their wife is “unconditional” and therefore spiritual in nature.
But is their love really unconditional? One can say to these men, “If you were to come home from work one day to find that your wife had run away with another man, would your love for her be as blissful and affirmative as always? Or if you found out that she was slowly poisoning you for the purpose of eventually killing you and inheriting your money, would you continue to adore her as much as ever?” If the man is honest, he will answer that it would be highly doubtful. For deep down he knows and I know that his love for his wife is very much conditional. It is sustained on the strict condition that she continues to love him back – that is to say, that she continues to boost his ego and give him pleasure.
Unconditional love is an entirely different matter. It is a love which goes beyond the emotions and embraces all things without reservation. It is an adoration which wholeheartedly affirms everything that happens in Nature, regardless of what it is. Loving every person that one meets, no matter how they behave. Loving all circumstances as they occur, no matter how gruesome or unpleasant. Loving every aspect of every moment that one experiences, right down to the smallest detail. If you are foolish enough to have a wife, then it means loving everything else in the Universe in the same way that you love your wife. And should she run away with another man, or die an agonizing death, then that too is loved with as much fervour as ever. Anything less than this and it ceases to be unconditional love. It instead becomes just another instance of ordinary, run-of-the-mill, selfish love. For unconditional love is nothing other than a love for God, a love for the All.
The difference between unconditional love and selfish love is immeasurable. When a person loves unconditionally he expects and receives no rewards at all. He gets absolutely nothing back in return. He loves all things because he clearly sees they are manifestations of his true nature. All things are literally his self, and thus it becomes impossible for him to isolate one particular thing in the Universe (e.g. a beautiful woman) and cherish it more than other things. To him, the woman is no more special that the trees, mountains and clouds. They are all part of the nature of God. Selfish love, by contrast, expects and demands certain benefits, and if the husband does not receive them he becomes angry and begins to fight with his wife.
The compassionate love for the welfare of all humanity falls into the same category. It is fundamentally indistinguishable from ordinary, selfish love. Unconditionally speaking, it makes no difference whether the human race lives or dies, or whether humans are miserable or happy, or whether they are ignorant or wise. None of this matters to God in the slightest. And so the mind of the man who is fully immersed in unconditional love remains tranquil in all circumstances. He has tuned into the All and therefore gone beyond all forms. He sees the joy of God in utterly everything. He knows there is nothing he can do to increase this joy, nor does he have any power to diminish it.
Just as a husband expects certain rewards for loving his wife, so too the compassionate person is motivated by the selfish desire to gain rewards. There is always an underlying egotism to the practice of compassion. Religious people, for example, like to be compassionate because it makes them feel more holy. It makes them look good in the eyes of their God (or so it seems to their eyes) and they believe it accrues them brownie points towards the goal of reaching heaven. What pleases them most is basking in the certainty of a rewarding future.
In non-religious people, there are other forms of egotism at play. There is the desire to prevent feelings of guilt from arising, for example. Most people subconsciously know that if they refrain from behaving compassionately in a particular situation before them they will come to perceive themselves as being mean-spirited and self-centred. There is also the egotism involved in trying to make the world a better place – that is to say, in laying down the groundwork for the production of future benefits for everyone, including oneself. And then there are some people, usually women, who desperately spend their lives serving others as a way to ward off loneliness and boredom. Without such an outlet available to them, they would have no life at all.
People often invoke the Golden Rule when it comes to compassion: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Expressed in this way, compassion becomes an investment in the future. Weak, vulnerable people, in particular, are quick to adopt this rule. They instinctively feel that if they treat others in a caring, non-judgmental way, then others in turn will probably treat them in the same manner. It is a cunning method aimed at disabling the strength and violence of others and wiping away all potential conflict from the world – that is to say, to recreate the womb on earth. Nietzsche was pretty much on the mark when he described Christians as being haters of life.
Stronger, more successful people understandably tend to be not so enthusiastic about the Golden Rule. Nonetheless, many of them donate to charities and become philanthropists, not because they expect charity in return, but to assuage their guilt. Successful people usually gain their success by trampling over people in their eagerness to climb to the top, which can poison their conscience with the nagging thought that they really are despicable narcissists. Indulging in philanthropy is their way of alleviating, not other people’s suffering, but their own.
Compassion, then, essentially boils down to being just another method to boost one’s ego. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be helping others, and I am certainly not arguing for the preservation of the mean-spirited, petty-minded selfishness which consumes most people on this planet, but it is important to be completely honest about what motivates us in everything that we do. All too often, compassion becomes little more than a drug that people take to make them feel better about themselves. And when people are addicted to drugs they cannot think clearly and they end up causing far more harm than good.
While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.
If compassion is limited to simply picking up the pieces in the aftermath of human greed and brutality (e.g. feeding the hungry, healing the injured, comforting the distressed, etc), if it refrains from dealing with the root causes of human suffering, then it does nothing to prevent the same sort of suffering from occurring again and again in the future. Compassion, in this sense, is like trying to douse flames with petrol. It might quieten the flames for a moment or two, but watch how they roar back into life with even greater ferocity than before!
The greatest form of compassion is the compassion that seeks to prevent suffering from arising in the first place, as opposed to simply trying to contain it after the horse has bolted. If human beings could be encouraged to tune their minds into the All, abandoning the desire to seek their happiness in particular circumstances or particular forms, learning to get high on life itself without the need for particular things to emotionally and psychologically prop them up, using reason to free themselves from their mental prisons and becoming fully open to the truth, then 99% of human suffering would vanish overnight. In other words, the greatest form of compassion is the practice of reason and the perfecting of one’s understanding of reality, all the while encouraging others to do likewise.
Most people, however, are repulsed by the very thought of this, for it means having to make radical changes to what passes these days for ordinary, everyday life, and very few have the stomach or desire to do that.
For example, love is easily the biggest cause of human suffering worldwide. Anyone can see this. You don’t have to be a genius to see it. It is obvious that the consequences of love are truly terrible, yet people everywhere are more than happy to turn a blind eye. What is the love between a man and a woman but the fertile soil out of which springs heartbreak, jealousy, domestic violence, child abuse, bitterness, revenge, murder, loneliness, low self-esteem and alcoholism? It is a dreadful condition which, although it might generate the occasional moment of bliss, produces endless amounts of misery all over the world.
Yet who among the compassionate are truly serious about abandoning love? Not a single one of them, I wager. This fact alone reveals that their proclaimed desire to eliminate suffering is insincere.
What would be your reaction if you observed a person deliberately setting fire to an occupied house and clapping his hands with joy at the sight of the flames growing larger and ever more fierce, only to start empathizing with the victims as they stagger out of the burning house and actively going over to help them? You would probably consider him to be an utterly deranged nutter who should be locked away for a very long time for the good of public safety. And yet that is exactly how the compassionate appear to me.
Compassion and misery are two sides of the same coin. Just as the joys of harmonic resolution in music depend on the prior existence of dissonant tension, so too the enjoyment of compassion depends on the existence of ignorance, greed, pettiness and violence. Without human insanity to constantly botch things up, there would be no need for compassion, and the delicious joy that people derive from compassionate acts would be denied them.
And yes, the pleasures of love and compassion can be very exquisite indeed. It can bring a tear to the eye to watch people who were once apart coming together – the prodigal son coming home, a Muslim and a Christian embracing each other, a black man and a white man becoming friends, the public appreciation of a woman’s skills in a misogynistic society. These dissolving of barriers speak to our own alienation and conflict with the world. It brings to the surface our own yearning to be accepted by others, which is the true source of our tears. The joy found in compassion ultimately derives from own ignorance of the nature of reality, from the deluded belief in our own self-existence.
One of the greatest dangers of compassion is the effect it can have of turning people’s minds against reality. It is a truism that nothing brings two parties closer together more effectively than the presence of a shared enemy. We can see that in the way a nation pulls together during a time of war, or when a community comes together in the aftermath of a natural disaster. In a similar way, the easiest and most efficient way to bring all of humanity together is to make an enemy out of life itself. Everyone can thus huddle together in the face of a threatening larger reality. In this way compassion becomes a form of evil, causing people to turn their backs on God.
When the average person is asked to provide an example of a compassionate person, they invariably point the finger at Mother Teresa. Just as Einstein has become the poster boy of genius, Mother Teresa has nowadays become the poster girl of compassion. And I admit that in some respects the extreme nature of her lifestyle was admirable. Most people put firm limits on their desire to help others. They quickly put the brakes on their compassion as soon as it begins to interfere with their personal lives. But Mother Teresa went out on a limb and turned her entire personal life into an exercise in helping others.
Yet, as with other compassionate people, her motivation for helping others was entirely egotistical in nature. According to the official story, Mother Teresa started off on her life-long path while she was teaching at a convent school in Calcutta, where she became increasingly disturbed by the poverty surrounding her. The sight of all that poverty was making her suffer inwardly, and so at bottom her desire to help others was really a desire to ease the pain inside herself. It was her maternal impulses coming into play, akin to rushing over to comfort a crying child. Although she devoted herself to easing the physical and emotional sufferings of the poverty-stricken in an immediate sense, she never tried to resolve her own suffering through wisdom, nor did she strive to eliminate the root causes of suffering in others. Quite the reverse, in fact, she actively promoted suffering through her desire to get people addicted to religious fantasy, which is like getting people addicted to heroin.
Contrast this to someone like Soren Kierkegaard, who made it his life to suffer for the truth. Although Kierkegaard rarely helped the poor his compassion was immense, completely dwarfing that of Mother Teresa in all respects. The way in which he stared into the truth without flinching and the humility with which he took it upon himself to accept the role of being the conscience of humanity, even though it came at great personal cost, is awe-inspiring. Kierkegaard’s work will continue to live on through the ages, terrorizing the dishonest and the deceitful, while inspiring others to form a genuine relationship with truth and open their minds to God. Mother Teresa, on the other hand, will increasingly become a dim memory and her influence, such as it is, will vanish.
Here lies the difference between the genuine compassion of the wise and the ordinary compassion of the egotist. The former seeks to increase suffering in the world (as a spur towards higher things), while the latter tries to eliminate it. Ordinary compassion is entirely worldly in nature and its core aim is to bring people happiness and peace – or spiritually speaking, to put people back to sleep. It is the opposite of true compassion in every respect. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”, said the compassionate Jesus.
It is no coincidence that the modern worship of love and compassion has arisen at the same time that society has granted more social and political powers to women. It is a reflection of the growing feminization of Western society over the past century. In the past the highest virtues were considered to be things like honour, courage, rationality, knowledge, and idealism; nowadays, it is all confined to what is motherly. Indeed, the archetypal compassionate person nowadays bears a close resemblance to the archetypal mother figure – that is, someone who is soft, comforting, nurturing, accepting and non-judgmental.
There is nothing about Mother Teresa that reflects the Infinite. She inspires no one to abandon their delusions and become perfectly wise. While the extreme nature of her lifestyle did harbour some possibilities, it was undermined by her maternal manner and her conventional Christian outlook, and so her life failed to express the rarest and most glorious of all things – namely, the madness of the divine. Unlike her mentor, Jesus, who himself rarely helped the poor and instead spent his life suffering for the truth, she eliminated the dangerous elements from her life and retreated to the safe confines of the mother figure. In effect, she was little more than a super-mum, with all of the limitations that entails.
This is why I am utterly dismayed that Mother Teresa and her like are nowadays regarded by most people to embody the highest of human virtues. The whole thrust of such worship serves to place worldliness front and centre in people’s minds, while the spiritual wisdom of a Kierkegaard or a Jesus is being marginalized and pushed out of sight. It distracts people’s attention away from what is truly important and thus becomes a powerful force for evil.