Jordan Peterson – The Story of Buddha

Buddha’s father is visited by an angel who tells him that his son is going to grow up to be the greatest. . . temporal profane ruler the world has ever seen or a great spiritual leader. And his father, being a pragmatic and conservative man, decides that “There’s no. . . possible way I’m going to allow my son to take the ambivalent road of spiritual enlightenment. I’m going to allow him to fall completely in love with the world so that he will remain. . . attached to his domain. ” So, prior to Buddha’s birth, his fatherconstructs a great city with walls around it and inside that city he removes all signs of pain,frustration, and disappointment: any sign of ugliness– –the only people that are allowed toexist within this city are those who are in perfect mental and physical health, who areparagons of beauty and virtue. And the idea that lurks behind that archetypal story is that:when a father has a child. . . his. . . moral obligation is to shield the developing consciousness of that childfrom contact with any of the horrors of lifethat couldprovide the child with an experience tootraumatic for that developing consciousness to apprehend. So, because it’s an archetypal story, it relates to the development of all people, not justthe redemptive Savior. And that’s the motif that the Buddha’s story initially follows: a good fathermakes his child fall in love with life by enticing that child into a direct relationship with all that life has to offer. So, Buddha grows up within this walled garden. . . this unselfconscious paradise. But precisely because he’s being shielded to this degree and allowed to maturehis consciousness continues to expandand the world outside the boundaries that his parents have established for himstarts to attract his attention. Now,we know already that the”forbidden fruit”, right, the lure of what’s outside the walls,is something that human beings just can’t keep their mangy little paws off, right?We are absolutelyuncontrollably curious and the best way to make sure that we investigate something is to lay down a stricturethat says, “Whatever you do, under whatever circumstances. . . NEVER LOOK THERE,” right? And then the automatic systems that underlie our orientingand that motivate our seeking experience are constantly pulling our attention precisely to that forbidden spotcompelling us to investigate exactly that which has been forbidden. So, because Buddha isa consciousness developing in a healthy manner,he immediately becomes curious about what lies beyond. . . the limits that have been established with him,and he makes a decision to go outside of paradise. Right? Which seems a particularly ridiculous thing to do,given that in principle he has everything he could possibly want inside the walls. But then again we have the troublesome notion of the original sin of Adam, right,which is that if any of you were offered a forbidden fruit, again, under. . . circumstances. . . mythologically equivalent to those that obtained in the beginning,you’d immediately reach your hand out and take it because:What we haven’t got, for human beings, is always far more compelling than what we have got!So Buddha goes outside the walls, but his father. . . who’s a good father, although somewhat conservative, decideshe’s gonna rig the game a little bit. So he gets rid of everybody that’s. . . diseased or unhappy or uncomfortable or ugly or old or anything that could possibly disturb the Buddha. And he lines the streets with flower-waving women and. . . puts petals on the road, and sends his son out in a gilded chariot. But the gods who are lurking around, right?The troublemaking gods who represent chaos and disorder in the unknowndecide to send in front of Buddha a sick man who hobbles unsteadily into view and Buddha asks his–his. . . “retainer” precisely what this phenomena. . . represents and his retainer says,”Well, you know human beings, like you, since you’re human,are subject to the deterioration of these their physical powers in an arbitrary way andthis man is one person who’s being so afflicted. ” And so, Buddha is completely. . . disenchanted by his exploratory move out into the terrible unknown and runs back into the castle walls and shuts the door andis perfectly happy to think of nothing for monthsbut then, as his anxiety habituates and his curiosity grows,he can’t stand the notion of never going outside the walls again and outside he goes again. And this timewe–after his father prepares the route ever so carefully, the gods send in sight an old man whohobbles into view and Buddha looks at him in shock and horror and says to his retainer,”Just precisely what’s going on here?” and his retainer says, “Well. . . that’s an old man and everybody gets old, and you’re going to get old too, and that’s the way of all humanity!”And that’s the point at which Buddha’s self-consciousnessexpands not to only include the possibility of degeneration but to includethe temporal horizon that’s characteristic of life. And he finds that so terribly shocking that he runs back into the castle and shuts the. . . walls down and plays with his friends for another six months or maybe a year till his anxiety finally habituatesand he goes out one final time and, this time, the gods send a funeral parade for him. And he sees his first dead body. And. . . this is such a terrible shock to him that he can’t even go back to the castle. So. . . his father prepares for him a great party in the woods near the castle, full of nude dancing womenwho are perfectly willing to flaunt themselves and to offer themselves to him. But Buddha is so absolutely and catastrophically shocked by this notion of emergent deaththat he can’t take any pleasure whatsoever in what’s being offered to him. . . and he leaves the kingdom once and for all. And you think, well, that’s exactly what happens to you when you grow up, right?If you’re reasonably well-socialized and properly looked-after, then your curiosity gets the better of youand you keep going out into the world until. . . what your parents have established for you is no longer sufficient for you. And as a consequence of that movement out into the world, you find out all sorts of things–characteristic of your own life–that not only your parents can’t precisely explain to youbut even the broader formal structures of your culture have a very difficult time handlingand when you finally do encounter such realities andALLOW their effect on you to fully manifest itself, well then, you’re finally independent. And you no longer can return home, but from that point forwardyou’re also burdened–as Adam is burdened when he loses his paradisal unselfconsciousness–with thefull revelation of what it means to be limited and alive. So, what happens to Buddha as a consequence of this revelation?He becomes an apprentice and the. . . chronicles of the Buddhist adventure are careful to say that he becomes the world’s most proficientpractitioner of samkhya, which was a philosophical precursor to yoga, and then to yoga. So he masters all the positions in the asanas until he’s disciplined physically to an almost unlimited degreeand then he decides that he’ll adopt a stance of world renunciation,which is also something he’s remarkably good at,and he starves himself until the chroniclers say he resembles nothing so much as a pile of dust. And then having exhausted all the disciplinary structures that his sophisticated culture has to offer himbut still not precisely finding the answer that he’s looking forhe retreats into the forest, a place of the unknown, and sits himself at the base of a tree. Underneath the tree,he’s visited by visions and temptations. The first vision is an essentially erotic one:life itself tempts him back out of his self-conscious state into the domain of pure physical pleasure. A perfectly reasonable temptation, right? And one that’s powerful enough so that Hindu philosophers say–as their churches and cathedrals are covered with erotic drawings–“If you can’t get past the erotic drawings into the church, that’s the domain that you should still inhabit,” right?In the dawning phases of life, at least till middle age,that’s the appropriate mode of being: to be enticed and seduced by the physical pleasures that life has to offer. But in the final analysis, those are not sufficient to solve the problem of emergent self-consciousness. And so the angel of death visits him and offers him the opportunityto exist. . . permanently in a state of Nirvana. A very, very interesting twist on the story because you have to wonder,given the association, say, betweensuicidality and the notion of paradise that exists underneath that,if what Buddha isn’t being offered by the angel of death is in fact deathand the cessation of all the problems of being. Regardless, he rejects that, attains enlightenment briefly,and then decides to return to the world to share what he’s discovered with all of suffering humanity. The idea being that the Buddha, who is the awakened or enlightened one,is capable of attaining a transcendent state, but also knows fully that. . . because human beings have a shared social aspect,it is not possible for any one person to attain redemption until all people attain redemption. The reason being that it’s very difficult to be transcendent and enlightenedwhen you see someone, who’s sick, lying in a ditch.

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