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Buddhism and pessimism

In the present essay, I understand philosophy as an “immanent practice,” which is found in the work of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. This practice is contrary to a philosophy that aims at something transcendental – beyond or above life. “[T]hought is creation, not will to truth,” writes Deleuze.

Seen in this light, Buddhism is not a philosophy, in the sense that it operates with trans-empirical states of being: the divine or a God. A Buddhist is one who has woken up or who experiences an enlightened consciousness. The thinking and practices in Buddhism, therefore, are controlled by will to truth, i.e., by the demands of this “God” or the reality of an “enlightened consciousness.” On the other hand, a pessimist claims that suffering is the “immediate object of our life … evil is precisely that which is positive,” as philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer writes. He continues, “… all happiness and satisfaction, is negative, that is, the mere elimination of a desire and the ending of a pain.” Happiness is the absence of the positive element, i.e., pain. Thus, pessimism corresponds with Buddhism, since the latter also claims that life is suffering.

The tragedy is where the pessimist and the Buddhist part. The Buddhist believes that one can find happiness if one follows the teaching of the Buddha; the pessimist does not share such a belief. However, regardless of the similarities and differences, I question the underlying premises of both Buddhism and pessimism: whether all human beings really seek a predefined meaning; whether the main object of life really is suffering per se – and, if so, whether this suffering might be overcome by referring to a higher form of reality. For a simple example, why should the feeling of pain and suffering be more authentic than the feelings of joy and happiness? The problem is metaphysical. My thesis is that a religion (or a rigid pessimistic philosophy), in general, is less receptive, less open; that it encourages less vulnerability and awareness, because of its embedded “will to truth.” Philosopher Deleuze would say, “We write only at the frontiers of our knowledge, at the border which separates our knowledge from our ignorance and transforms the one into the other.” In other words, philosophy as presented here becomes an a posteriori test of what is in the midst of coming into being.

An immanent philosophy as presented here, therefore, is open to what – at the present moment – is outside our experience or system of knowledge. It questions its ignorance in order to know more, but it does not claim that another world exists before it encounters this world. “By and large, it is painful to think,” says philosopher Arne Næss, which is not the same as saying that life is painful per se. It is painful to be confronted with one’s ignorance. It is, therefore, through questioning that one moves beyond pessimism and Buddhism and becomes a philosopher. The philosophical creation begins with inventing a problem. This questioning is missing in pessimism and Buddhism, because both apparently know what is true and not true. A true detective does not exclude anything; he remains open to whatever. He questions what he does not know. Thus, the invention of a problem activates the creation of new solutions. The mystery is only a mystery due to one’s ignorance. The philosopher (or true detective) questions his or her ignorance.