Of course I could also have titled this, “why optimism doesn’t work” just as easily.
Either one of these ‘isms’ is a method. We may not know it, in fact we may identify so strongly with out preferred method that we actually believe that our true selves are formed out of this method! As when someone says “I am a pessimist (or optimist, or relativist, or nihilist)” But, of course, no one can really ‘be’ something that is simply a technique, techniques and methods are employed, they do not create us.
So Pessimism is simply a set of filters one uses to look at the world. The truth comes at us moment to moment and we feel that to make sense of it we need to cast it in terms we control. So if you find comfort in believing everything is fucked you tint all that incoming truth with a pessimistic filter, if you are an optimist you do the same thing only with an happy filter. Either way it makes us miserable to do this (because when our ‘views’ and the truth dont line up the result is always suffering) , but at least we feel like we are in control of our lives. And control seems to be the best we can hope for, we crave it because what is the alternative!? Our minds sure don’t know but they are terribly afraid of what happens if you don’t try to run everything. The funny thing is that what actually happens when you have “the serenity to accept things you cannot change” is that life feels so much easier!
So, I can already hear someone saying “ok then, but don’t you look at the world through a Buddhist filter?” and of course the answer is yes, however the point of Buddhism is, unlike any other method out there, is to do away with all filters. Even Buddhism. It is, as far as I know, the only ‘religion’ which tells you that , sooner or later, you will have to give it up! Over and over in dharma teachings we are reminded that Buddhism is like a boat you use to cross a river (from suffering to non-suffering, from delusion to reality) and that when you finally do reach the other side you will have to leave the boat behind( leave ‘being a buddhist’ behind!) Once you cross the river you don’t lug the boat around with you everywhere, you leave it behind while you go on. So it is with Buddhism.
The reason pessimism doesn’t work is simple, as long as we keep filtering out the truth there is always dissatisfaction within us. Suffering. And it doesn’t matter how often you are ‘right’ or how many people agree with you or how strong you conviction is, as long as you are tinting the truth there is a part of you that knows it, doesn’t like it, and aches for pure unfiltered truth. Your body and mind know it is there, even after a lifetime of setting up elaborate beliefs, patterns, and conditioning. It is like a Hollywood set, flimsy and 2 dimensional. When I began sitting I was amazed at how rapidly and completely all my ‘cherished” beliefs and views simply crumbled away.
I had always believed I was a depressed person, i believed I was angry and self-righteous, I believed I enjoyed arguing and pointing out other peoples faults, I was a stone cold atheist and nihilist, I believed i was unfairly put-upon by the world and resented it for making me feel freakish and unwanted. I truly thought I WAS these things and that nothing in the world could change that because it was “the Real ME”. Within months of my first zazen, however it all began to fall away and it tripped me the fuck out! All my cherished personality ‘traits” began to unfold one by one, all my deeply held biases and habits began to feel like a badly fitting suit, I had to take them off. The less I clung to them the better I felt!
I’m am FAR from perfect, believe me i know, and yet the ‘me’ who emerged was so much more true that it felt like I had been a drowning man finally coming up for air. All my ‘isms’ became like weights clanking and dragging behind me and I had to let them go. It wasn’t easy either! I spent 30 some years of my life forming those patterns and views and filters, and I was really afraid that I would lose some fundamental part of my ‘personality’ at times, and yet the more I let that shit go the more I realized that it really was shit! Stinky smelly poop that I just couldn’t stand the smell of anymore. So I flushed it.
The fact is, I cant get rid of all my ‘isms’ yet, I’m trying but its slow going. However, I do have the benefit of knowing that sometimes what my brain coughs up is simply the result of my lifetime of conditioning and not to take it too seriously. I now realise that viewing the world through a filter or a method strips away a large chunk of its wonder and amazing truth.