Non-FIML sociology and Buddhism

Non-FIML sociology cannot but be based on and imbued with vagueness and uncertainty. Individuals make their ways in this foggy social environment according to their upbringing, experiences, and the different ways they have learned to negotiate ambiguity. Each non-FIML individual cannot but conform to or accept a position somewhere on the spectrum of private neurosis-public semiotics.

This is so because non-FIML individuals cannot attain interpersonal certainty; they can only attain a semblance of interpersonal certainty that is necessarily made up of many erroneous interpretations of the world around them, their loved ones, and themselves. Their understanding of themselves and of others will necessarily be made up of either private interpretations (that are sure to be largely false and thus neurotic) or public/cultural interpretations that are similarly just as false and/or too narrow or generalized (science, mainstream psychology, professional societies, religious or ethnic allegiances, etc.) to be fully satisfying to the profound needs of the individual. This is not to say that many individuals living in conditions like that are not happy, but rather that their sense of who they are and what they are doing is false, utilitarian, exploitative, slavish, or otherwise limited in one way or another. Individuals in conditions like that cannot but offend their deep-seated needs for interpersonal honesty/certainty by compromising their individual understanding of what the world around them means by accepting either prepackaged public explanations (public semiotics) or making up their own (private neurosis).

Most individuals in the world are, thus, contorted in some way. Some are deeply unhappy because they can sense something is wrong but have no way to grapple with it. Others decide to make their way in the world as it is, fully accepting, even enjoying, their perceived “need” to deceive themselves and others, to manipulate others, to take advantage of them, etc.

I think the above roughly describes a big part of what is meant by delusion and suffering in Buddhism. Delusion and suffering constitute the first two of the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth says unenlightened life is characterized by suffering or dissatisfaction. The second explains the first by saying, briefly, that people suffer because they become attached to delusions. Delusions can be egocentric, sociocentric, or both. They can be a private neuroses or the very public madness of a whole society, or both. However you look at it, individual human beings will suffer and experience discontent under these conditions because their core sense of what is true is almost constantly being violated.

In the Buddha’s day, you fixed this problem by becoming a monk. You can still do that today, or you can practice Buddhism as a lay person. My feeling is that if you only practice Buddhism and do not do FIML practice, you will make a lot of progress but remain unsatisfied. Societies today are so large and complex, it is nearly impossible not to be influenced constantly by them. If you can join a monastery or build a cabin in the woods, lucky for you. Most of us, though, will continue to live among unenlightened people and will continue to have deep needs for highly satisfying interpersonal communication with our loved ones and close friends. FIML practice fits in right there. Since so many monasteries today are burdened with the weight of their own semiotics, FIML practice probably would be a very good practice even for monks, if it can be arranged.

In the Chinese Buddhist tradition, there is a story about heaven and hell. In hell people sit at a dinner table to eat but are forced to use chopsticks that are so long they cannot put any food in their mouths, and so they go hungry and feel miserable. In heaven, conditions are exactly the same, but people there use their long chopsticks to feed each other, so everyone if well-fed and very happy.

FIML practice is like heaven. By doing it we feed each other and grow more satisfied as we come to understand what the real conditions of this world are.

Incidentally, I am of the opinion, and many share this opinion, that Buddhists can and should work with the basics of the tradition to make it speak to them. I am fully convinced that FIML practice will open a very large door for almost anyone who tries it. Non-Buddhists can do FIML, but so can Buddhists. I do not see any contradictions between FIML and Buddhist practices. And I do see many advantages to augmenting Buddhist practice with FIML.

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