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Who Needs Utopia When We Can Be Happy? The philosophical context of The Option Method[ Jul 31, 2011 ] [ by Frank Mosca, PH.D. ]
What philosophical camp or framework does The Option Method fit into? This a great question that comes up as people hear about OM and may ask themselves: so what’s different about this perspective? Why would I pay attention or spend time getting more fully acquainted with it? Isn’t it just like Buddhism, or cognitive behavioral therapy, or the alleged revelations of some “channeled” angelic entity or other, or some of the best sellers that have appeared in the last years with what seem like similar leanings etc., etc.?
No it is most certainly not. I have been studying philosophy and psychology for over 50 years now, and in my opinion Bruce’s perspective is utterly unique and therefore just about impossible to stick into any one “camp” or grouping. That doesn’t mean that people wouldn’t do that and think they had pegged Bruce and labeled him fully. Often to define is to make irrelevant however paradoxical that might seem. Let me give an overview of Bruce’s perspective starting from its very basic assumptions as best I can.
The Fundamental Illusion: The Belief in Unhappiness
First Bruce, like the Buddha rests his view on the notion that human thought has negotiated its way through the centuries on the basis of a fundamental illusion. For the Buddha, the illusion was the belief that what humans perceived as “reality” really existed. Not only is it “maya” but the engine that drives maya and deepens the hold of the illusion on humans is desire. Precisely to the extent and intensity with which a given human may pursue and become enmeshed with the illusory seductions of desire, precisely to that extent is that person bound to be unhappy, miserable, confused and often addicted to the blandishments of power; it is striving to somehow order the uncontrollable, unpredictable chaotic alterations that emerge out of the very attempts to control something which doesn’t even exist.
It is like wrestling with an illusory tiger; you take the creature to be real and respond with reactions you deem suitable to such an extreme existential situation. The more fiercely you struggle, the greater the misery and the wider the undesirable outcomes of your power strivings. This point of view already existed to some degree in the Hindu traditions that were the matrix out of which the Buddha emerged.
I make the point about the Buddha, first because it is close to being the most popular philosophical/spiritual method on the planet with a core initial starting point that has something in common with OM; secondly, only to indicate that here is a system that defines as the core problem the existence of a fundamental illusion to which all humans give allegiance. This system has gathered literally billions of adherents over the centuries, so it demonstrates that taking illusion as a point of departure does not vitiate your argument as it were.
Moving on to Bruce we see that he also begins with the assertion that humans have lived their lives enmeshed in a fundamental illusion: the belief in unhappiness. That belief has been the bedrock upon which all cultures have been built. So that the laws, customs, imperatives, strivings, struggles and conflicts have all poured forth from that illusory cornucopia of endless insoluble paradoxes. Just as the Buddha attempted to resolve all of the human problems by basically denying their existence, so too does Bruce get out from under all human problems by the same type of understanding. The difference here is that instead of declaring all of reality an illusion and making desire the instrument of the maintenance of that illusion, Bruce ratifies the existence of what is and merely reveals that access to what is, which is self realization of one’s “happiness nature” so to speak, is made enormously difficult through the belief in unhappiness.
The Connection between Desire and Will
When you make desire the central culprit, then you spawn a methodology called non attachment, which is the meditative procedure of becoming indifferent to all the dimensions of reality/illusion. But, Desire is not the issue; indeed desire is the cutting edge, the instrument of self manifestation and self realization. We are happy beings or better to say happiness is the cause of who and what we are and the more fully we acknowledge that and surrender our allegiance to the culturally imposed requirements to be unhappy, the more, fully and freely our desires flow from our being in the world. Desire is the endless flowing cauldron of creation and engagement. There is nothing absolute about any desire because we already are happiness ab ovo, so never is happiness a question in desiring. We get whatever we can get under the given circumstances that obtain as we attempt to get it and if that doesn’t work, then we just keep on desiring as it pleases us.
So Bruce solves the great paradoxes that come with the belief in unhappiness. The basic polarities of good and evil vanish. What is, is; and what is not, is not. Period! All that is, is good in that it has no power to deprive us of our basic ontological status: happiness. Things are only deemed “good” or “not good” pragmatically as they arise through our moment to moment engagements with the world. Some things help with our present desires, others do not. But nothing is bad in itself i.e., requiring our unhappiness.
The issue of the struggle of “will” vanishes. “Will” is just an illusory explanatory concept that arises in the context of happy vs. unhappy, good vs. evil. Only when getting what one wants becomes paramount does there arise a struggle based on the dread of non accomplishment. Hence humans devised a conceptual notion called “will” to somehow describe the disparities in getting what one wants. Indeed wants are transformed into “needs” in order to underline the either/or, “have to have it or else” nature of the enterprise. Those who somehow persevere despite intense difficulty and unhappiness in getting what they want, are described as having this alleged quality called “will.” Those who don’t are seen as not having or manifesting this quality. But there is nothing there except unhappiness.
Being, Freedom and Happiness
Freedom is integral to the notion of happiness. Indeed as I have noted many times, Being, Freedom and Happiness are transforms of one another; they are the same thing seen from different angles. The greater the happiness, the greater the feeling of freedom. So the question of freedom vs. determinism disappears. To have a question of this kind, you have to be dealing with the world of causality where one thing is caused by another in an endless chain of events. Bruce did not challenge causality. He merely explained that freedom does not operate in that arena. We are, to whatever degree humans can make a helpful guess about how this operates, determined by causal contexts; but our attitude toward those contexts is under our control. To be happy is to be free in the sense that nothing that occurs in the universe of causality has the ability to alter that fundamental ontological truth. Since happiness is the alpha and omega of our existence, that towards which we strive, that which we can come to realize and acknowledge as the truth of our being, then the whole deterministic argument loses its relevance to the human enterprise. Like will, it fades from the picture.
So also with notions like and “mind/body” split. There is no mind or body separate from the wholeness of who you are. Words like mind and body are expedient explanatory concepts that have different levels of pragmatic application as we evolve in our understanding of reality. But the minute you reify them or make them absolute, you are imprisoned by your own mythologies and constrained by what further myths you build from having done so.
Now the problem arises when people build their cultural constructs and see the world through the “eyes” of those constructs. They become dedicated to realizing whatever they want by using the means permitted and designated for that purpose. When that fails they become unhappy. So motivation is a big part of the role of unhappiness. Discomfort of an almost endless variety is utilized to sculpt responses and describe appropriate “right” and “moral” paths to goal accomplishment. This is the bedrock of how cultures control people by prescribing when it is legitimate to feel happy or unhappy through the use of permission giving devices built into the day to day patterns and habits of people within that culture.
When Unhappiness is No Longer a Question
So in judging the nature of a system, it seems to me important to assess whether the system solves basic problems that plague humans or whether it raises more questions and creates more problems. From that perspective, the Buddha solved all problems by declaring reality an illusion. Thus all problems, paradoxes, issues of any kind are instantly dissolved because those problems could exist only in a context described as reality. No reality, no problem.
Bruce accomplishes the same thing but without having to dispense with reality. Unhappiness is the central problem for humans. Once unhappiness is understood as an illusion, then we become immune to what happens with reality. Whatever is, is; whatever happens, happens. There is no occasion for primal dread or existential anxiety of any kind once unhappiness is no longer a question. Remember also that “reality” is not experienced directly but only through our senses. So just about all of our appraisals, judgments, hypotheses, conceptions of reality are approximations continually subject to amendment. We create explanatory systems as a way of making pragmatic guesses about reality. Some serve us, some fail; we are lead strictly by a pragmatic, scientific method that continually tests hypotheses and replaces them when they fail to have the explanatory power to render us some useful truth or outcome. Take a look at theoretical physics as the example par excellence of an ever changing picture of what is.
Therefore we have to be on guard not to take contemporary explanatory systems as dogma or as communicating some absolute truths. So often these explanations become promoted to absolute status and that muddies up the waters of understanding whatever we can about this thing we call reality. The statement “what is, is and what is not, is not,” is absolute; however understanding and determining what “is” at any given historical moment is a moving decimal point. We don’t have to settle for any culture’s insistence on their explanatory principles being supreme or absolute.
Bruce makes no direct commentary or suggestion about how society might organize itself. The reason is that all, as I have noted, of the socio cultural constructs down through the ages have been woven out of the belief in unhappiness. Thus societies, religions, ideologies have all tried to remedy the issue of unhappiness. Their attempts and actual historical constructs were/are full of the contradictions and difficulties that arise from a belief in unhappiness. Sometimes they were/are merely the power operations of individuals and groups to control as much of their world as possible because in the face of the belief in the inevitability of unhappiness, power over others becomes the path for so many as an answer to their perceived existential helplessness. Often the answers behind which the power masters hid/hide are basically utopian. They demanded a kind of allegiance to some way of being even if it meant experiencing unhappiness. The reward was either in an afterlife where happiness somehow would become instantly and forever available as a state of being, or they preached that humans would have to tolerate a kind of evolution out of lesser or imperfect states until gradually a utopian state would emerge and people would be happy as a result of how that state was formed. A reading of Plato’s Republic would give the best picture of the implications of such attempts.
Who Needs Utopia When We Can Be Happy?
Thus there is no script for a perfect society in Bruce’s observations. Rather, he wisely notes that when the motivations that issue from believing in unhappiness disappear, then for the first time people will begin to see the outlines of what a social reality coming from happy beings might look like. He makes no extended guesses but counsels instead to be patient, wait and see what happens. What he does say sometimes by implication is that happy people will have markedly different kinds of relationships. Their being glad for their own happiness will open them up to being glad for the happiness of others. They have no desire to stem or stand in the way of other people’s happiness. What that would look like on an extended scale is not specifically relevant because some kind of utopian world is in no way a requirement for any one’s happiness. People will do whatever they do; they will come to happiness in whatever ways they manage to do that. OM gives the best understanding of how to do this and answers objections to any fears of moving to embrace that reality.
So there is no grand scheme for the salvation of humankind or of the necessary creation of some specific form of human social order. At best Bruce noted that what is relevant for a happy person would of course be relevant for groups of happy people. Freedom would be a paramount component of social intercourse. There would be no motivation for hurting or savaging other humans simply because other humans and their activities and desires, goods, relationships are in no way a problem for the happiness of anyone. The activities of those motivated by their unhappiness might move happy people to assure that their own physical, political and economic safety was as certain as they could make it to be under all and every circumstance.
To review: for Bruce, there is reality; we are embedded in that reality; we are the kind of beings we are. Being that way, we are perfectly at one with ourselves and our surroundings in that what/who we are is in no way at odds with or conflict with what is in any way. We are fulfilled by the nature of who we are. No striving or struggle or pursuit or goal seeking or special methods or arcane knowing is required. The one issue that stands between that self knowing of perfect okayness on all levels is our belief in unhappiness.
The OM solves that problem by exposing unhappiness as non existent illusion. OM liberates us from that belief and restores our primal integrity. Better to say it doesn’t so much restore it as simply reveals the fact that it never was nor could be absent since it is who and what we are. So we are not in any way recreating a reality that we somehow lost, but only acknowledging the truth of what is. We could merely believe that we were out of sync, phase, in conflict with that truth.
The Great Democracy of Being
Okay, so OM is a complete system. Our knowingness originates in the subjective experience of the knower. We can discover through OM that beliefs, social constructions of all kinds, all culturally created moral dictums, mores; in a word every dimension of human experience are just explanatory systems that attempt to inform and guide human conduct. Their relevance and pragmatic import is totally relative and infinitely inferior to the truth which every person has resident in them by virtue of who and what they are. Happiness is the truth. Unhappiness is the illusion. To know this, to acknowledge this and to realize this brings a person totally beyond illusion and beyond the binds, bonds and limitations of the historically constructed vehicles humans have put together out of ignorance of that truth. That is what Bruce meant by happiness for no reason or happiness without any reason. There is no reason required to be what and who you are. You simply are what and who you are.
So OM is the prime vehicle for deconstructing all beliefs, rendering all prejudices and misunderstandings about happiness irrelevant. In what I call the Great Democracy of Being, it offers equal access to all and every human to enter in to the state of primal awe which is the potential, ongoing knowing and manifestation of one’s being, one’s freedom, one’s happiness.
So where in the taxonomy of philosophical thinking does this belong? It begins and ends with the person. It renders the person capable of uniquely appreciating and relating to other humans to the degree that they come to know this truth as well. So it solves all problems that humans complain about and does so without contradicting the maxim what is, is and what is not, is not. I’m sure someone will designate it to be some form of epistemological existentialism or other. To me none of that has any meaning. My hope is that this overview will provide some clarification and perhaps the motivation to take a closer look.
Best wishes and I’m happy to expand on anything you find of further interest, Frank Mosca