Monday, August 02, 2004


I wrote this yesterday, in response to a comment thread I may have misunderstood completely. My interlocutor, by the way, said genuine human connection was nearly impossible, not impossible. I don't have time to edit this properly, even to try to mitigate the sanctimonious tone I fall into so easily, but I'm posting it anyway, because if I don't I will try to edit it, and I need to get other things done. And besides I already said I was going to post it.


I see. Yes, you're right, of course: I was getting hung up on terminology. But I agree. The thing you're calling "genuine human connection" is indeed impossible.

What does "genuine human connection" mean? It means three things, I'm guessing. One is lucid communication, that is, communication in which the receiver gets precisely what the sender is sending. This is clearly impossible in ordinary worldly relations; I suspect it's impossible even for those -- supposing they exist -- who can communicate without material mediation. Short of complete enlightenment (which is to me a purely theoretical state that I don't particularly believe has ever been or will ever be attained) such communication is impossible.

The second thing that "genuine human connection" might mean is a connection in which neither fails the other. This too is impossible in worldly relationships. The lack of lucid communication would render it so in and of itself; but even picturing a relationship in which neither ever let the other down even by the lights of such communication as they have, there's always the final betrayal. One dies, leaving the other alone. (You can make up car-crash fantasies if you like; it so seldom works that way that I don't find it interesting.)

The last thing I can conceive of "genuine human connection" meaning is, a connection which is untainted by ego-gratification. Only beings untainted by ego could pull such a thing off. I don't see a lot of those around, and I'm not expecting them to show up any time soon. As Yeats's old priest says,

...only God, my dear,
Can love you for yourself alone,
And not your yellow hair.

The concept of Refuge is a terribly important one in Buddhism. The vow that marks the difference between Buddhist and non-Buddhist is called the Refuge Vow. And the gist of that vow is the recognition that all worldly refuges fail. Including, of course, genuine human connection. So we turn away from those refuges and take refuge in something else.

Note that the pleasures of the world are not what we turn away from. Likewise human connections are not what we turn away from. What we turn away from is what we call "false refuge." "Genuine human connection" is a perfect example of false refuge, of leaning on the world for things the world, in the nature of things, simply can't supply.

There are two reasons to turn away from false refuge. One, the most important to me, is that it turns us away from true refuge, from the things called, in my tradition, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha (read, if you like, in the widest sense, "my own pure mind, the teachings of any spiritual tradition, and everyone who practices them." Or in the narrowest sense, "Siddartha Gautama, the sutras, and the great bodhisattvas.")

But there's another reason, which you don't need to get all religious to take seriously. By taking false refuge in things, you can ruin them. How many friendships have I destroyed in my life, by pushing them till they broke, by trying to make them "genuine connections?" Too many. I almost did it again recently, and I'm still white from the shock. And not just that. When do they break? Precisely when I lean hardest on them, that is, precisely when I need them most.

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