Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Liberation Through Limitations, Origins

Let I breathe, Jedi knight
the more space I have, the better I write
if ever I write, I need the space to say, whatever I like
-- Jay-Z, "Change Clothes"

"We are part of a nameless and faceless generation united for the renown of God!" said the speaker on stage. I glowed with enthusiasm. I sang the songs. I lifted my hands. My spine sparked with spiritual ecstasy. "Yes Lord, Yes Lord, Yes, Yes, Lord!" The hall resounded with these words.

The cause of suffering is desire. If you cease your desire, your attachments, you will no longer suffer. The goal of life is to purify your sins through clean living so that you may eventually escape the cycle of samsara. Existence itself seemed to be an error. This is what I gleaned from a book on Gautama Siddhartha that I read in the 3rd grade in my father's library.

Everywhere I turned, the message seemed to be the same -- life, your life, is meaningless. Your joy is foolish. That joy only produces more attachment to this world. 

In college, I remember a close group of friends that would go to Applebee's nearly every Saturday. We would eat and talk. Those discussions set the course of my thinking for many years afterwards. Although I've now rejected a great number of things I agreed to back then, I am grateful that they set me down this road. Every single one of the conversations we had left me with the distinct impression that the "self" was an entity to be battled at every turn. The self wanted to be known, to become greater, while in fact, it should be aiming to become lesser. Humility. Because we all had the mindsets of young men, every idea had to be turned up to 11. The logical conclusion then was that we must become so small as to not exist.

I ardently marched down this path for 6 years. If you know me, then you know what I mean by ardent. Once I have an idea stuck in my mind, I become the Juggernaut. And so I marched on working to remove traces of my existence believing that the goal of life was to diminish it that I might not obstruct anyone's view of God. I mean, everyone hates it when someone stands up at the movie theater right? We're all supposed to be here for the main show, not some guy who stands up. Such a person is selfish, an egoist without care and concern for others.

But how does a person live in this way? I came to realize how unlivable this ethos was in actual living. I could not continue to exist believing that the purpose of my own existence was to diminish itself. On a very basic instinctual level, it struck me as deeply wrong. Rand eventually put it into words for me. Because of her, I finally realized that one could only receive love when one decided that one deserved to receive love or at the very least did not deserve its absence. This was perhaps the most enormous step I ever took in my life. 

In my heart, it was a step away from Buddhism, away from the Puritans, away from what my teachers had taught me. In my heart, I felt it was a step closer to the God who existed. I was beginning to learn what everyone else viscerally knew but could not put into words. A small step but an important one.

I began to battle for my own existence, for my own life. It started out with some admissions that may be painfully obvious but I couldn't ever bring myself to say. I worked out because I wanted to look good. It required tremendous effort to say that looking good was a value, that trim was better than fat, that health was better than sickness. Years and years of Christian teaching taught me that such thinking was superficial and sinful. Years and years of Buddhist culture imprinted on me its meaninglessness. The two combined to make me think I was in the right for being a nerdy, fat kid. That's just one example. There are others but I like to go back to the physical changes primarily because they're obvious and secondly because I am rather proud of the work.

That's something else that took me a great deal of effort and work to say: I'm proud of what I've done. It has taken me a very long time, much journaling, much work and sincere searching to say that I've done something that is justifiably impressive. Good work, even when I'm the one who did it, deserves praise and notice. In Islam, the strictest adherents do not believe in music as only God should be praised. (Of course, there are less strict practitioners who blast Jay Sean from their Escalades. I acknowledge both realities exist.) 

In their own small ways, receiving love and saying thank you, these two actions deeply affirm my own right to be a part of this universe. This isn't your typical Christian blogging. I've read innumerable Christian blogs. God taught me to be humble like this... I've been convinced through Scripture that glory goes to God alone... Soli Deo Gloria! And so on and so forth. 

But I have also come to realize something else. A good number of those who wrote those came from having a healthy sense of self -- something I'm becoming more and more convinced that a not-insignificant number of Asians, particularly Asian-Americans lack coming from our inherited culture and bullied by our adopted culture. I was one of those who received the worst brunt of both cultures. Although I love my life now, I find myself wishing that I could have been born in the Age of Wonders. I would've killed a man to be a part of Shelley's circle. Of course, I'd be dead in a year or two considering none lived into their 30's but then again it's better to die of thirst than drink from the cup of mediocrity. What an un-Asian (and sometimes I think, un-Christian) sentiment! 

But in the end, I can't walk someone else's road to God. I can't take the advice so easily dispensed to others. I, in a very deep way, am not like them. I have to forge my own road. Whereas they had to learn how to break down their identities, a large part of my own growth, perhaps the most important part, is learning that having an identity is not evil. 

This much I know.

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