Pursuing The Impossible


Leszek Kołakowski wonders if human beings can be truly happy:

Both Buddhism and Christianity suggest that the ultimate liberation of the soul is also perfect serenity: total peace of the spirit. And perfect serenity is tantamount to perfect immutability. But if my spirit is in a state of immutability, so that nothing can influence it, my happiness will be like the happiness of a stone. Do we really want to say that a stone is the perfect embodiment of salvation and Nirvana?

Since being truly human involves the ability to feel compassion, to participate in the pain and joy of others, the young Siddhartha could have been happy, or rather could have enjoyed his illusion of happiness, only as a result of his ignorance. In our world that kind of happiness is possible only for children, and then only for some children: for a child under five, say, in a loving family, with no experience of great pain or death among those close to him. Perhaps such a child can be happy in the sense that I am considering here. Above the age of five we are probably too old for happiness. We can, of course, experience transient pleasure, moments of wonderment and great enchantment, even ecstatic feelings of unity with God and the universe; we can know love and joy. But happiness as an immutable condition is not accessible to us, except perhaps in the very rare cases of true mystics.

(Image: "Butsu Hall with Buddha", made from cardboard, by Yuji Honbori via Hyperallergic)