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Tired of Western Intellectuals Discussing Deep Matters

I am starting to feel a mixture of amusement, anger, and impatience with what passes for intellectual Western culture. Almost everyone, from the literary to the scientific world, acts as if the meaning of life is still to be determined, as if extended suffering is unavoidable, and as if struggle is the mark of an authentic engagement with the world. This outlook is widespread and deep in the culture. It is also based on ignoring the wisdom, experience, and literature of half the world.


The spiritual and wisdom traditions of the East have been seeing the deepest into reality for about 3,000 years. Unlike Western philosophy, the essential teachings of these traditions have remained unchanged over those years. There are no philosophical fads in Eastern wisdom. Instead, Indian yogic tradition, Taoism, Zen, and Buddhism are all variations on what has been called the “perennial philosophy” in the West.[1] It was also Christ’s essential teaching.


This “philosophy” is less a philosophy than an experience or a recognition—a kind of knowing that one gains through practice. It is a recognition that the world is an emanation of the divine; that everybody and everything is an extension of that divinity. This divinity is constantly unfolding and creating. Every human can find their personal connection to that divine energy and allow it to unfold through them. We don’t need to struggle to achieve this connection. The opposite is true: divine energy flows by effortless allowing. This allowing—or aligning—brings a sense of peace, happiness, and fulfillment. It is individualized. It allows each of us to make our own meaning. This perennial wisdom also teaches that our inner world is not fundamentally separate from the outer world. We create our experience based on our beliefs.


All the above is being discovered in dribs and drabs in various Western disciplines, from psychology, to sociology, to quantum physics. But Western intellectual culture is not really interested in peace, happiness, or fulfillment.[2] So if you’re looking for these things, you can’t look solely to Western intellectual tradition. That’s like trying to use a hammer to paint your house. Western culture doesn’t offer us the right tools. It isn’t interested in the truths that help us live in a deeply satisfying way. Western culture is more interested in achievement, competition, conflict, dominance, and prediction. Many Western intellectuals believe this approach is superior to Eastern wisdom, which they view as naïve and simplistic. Being happy is not a worthy or impressive enough goal in Western culture.


Western culture can be thought of as the brain of the world. Our technology is brilliant. It is also heartless. Traditional Eastern wisdom and practice can be thought of as the heart of the world. A brain needs a heart or it’s a goddamned stupid brain.


[1] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldous Huxley, and others in the West gave voice to this wisdom.

[2] Thus an academic scientist, like the Stanford neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky, can write an entire book about free will and believe he is being broadminded because he includes evidence from several academic fields, while completely ignoring human experience that goes back millennia in the east.

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"Happiness is a Swedish sunset--it is there for all, but most of us look the other way and lose it."

- Mark Twain, Notebook, 1899

I agree.

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