Trying to Become Real: A Buddhist Critique of Some Secular Heresies
By David R. Loy

International Philosophical Quarterly
Vol. 32, No. 4 (December 1992)
pp. 403-425




Freud emphasized that repression is the foundation of psychoanalysis. If something in my mind makes me uncomfortable and I do not want to cope with it, I choose to ignore or forget it. This clears the way for me to think of something else, but the price for this is that part of my psychic energy must be expended to resist the suppressed idea and keep it out of consciousness. What has been thus repressed returns to consciousness as a symptom. What is not consciously admitted into awareness erupts in obsessive ways bringing those very qualities it tried to avoid.

    While Freud considered repressed sexuality as the main culprit for most of his life, towards his end, he shifted his focus to death as the primary repression.

    Consciousness of death is our primary repression. The Buddhists claim that, since the self is insubstantial, the death-denial represents quite valid suspicion that "I" do not really exist.

    Fear of physical death is one manifestation of the deeper fear of the death of this "I".

    Buddhism analyzes the sense-of-self into sets of impersonal mental and physical phenomena, whose interaction create the illusion of self-consciousness, i.e. that consciousness is an attribute of a self. Thus, Freud's Oedipal complex, the never-ending project to become father of oneself, is a suitable metaphor for developing sense-of-self to become autonomous. (Note: Tangled hierarchy is another term for this.) Self-consciousness is not something self-existing but a mental construct.

    The problem occurs when this conditioned consciousness wants to ground itself, i.e. to make itself real. The sense-of-self construct can realize itself only by objectifying itself in some fashion in the world. The ego-self is this continual attempt to objectify oneself which would amount to grasping oneself, even though that is something that consciousness cannot do.

    The perpetual failure to achieve this results in the sense-of-self always having as its shadow, the feeling of lack, which it constantly tries to escape. Stated differently, the trace of nothingness in our being, of death in our life, is a feeling of lack. We experience this sense of lack as the feeling that "there is something wrong with me". This feeling can manifest in many different ways. One way is for this anxiety to objectify into fear of something, because then it gives us something to do: to defend ourselves against feared things. Another ploy is guilt, which justifies one to organize a life of non-enjoyment.

    All this stems from the core desire to become real.

    Yet another consequence is to try to resolve this sense-of-lack collectively, which actually compounds the problem.

    Following are four historically-conditioned forms of delusion and craving resulting from our attempts to resolve this lack: desire for fame; romantic love; the money complex; and humanity's collective project of technological development to ground ourselves by transforming the environment as a testimony of our reality.

    Fame: We strive to become real through the eyes of others, who in turn are striving to become real through still others, etc. This is despite Nagarjuna's demonstration that such infinite regress is futile, because if there is no self-being there cannot be a dependent being either, since any dependent being would require the self-being of another. If others teach me that I am real, then the natural tendency will be to cope with my repressed sense of unreality by continually reassuring myself with the attention of other people. But no matter how appreciative others' attention of me, I will be constrained by those perceptions. You cannot use fame without being used by it. When we differentiate between good and evil, success and failure, in order to valorize one over the other, we cannot have one without the other. Grasping one half also maintains the other, as these pairs of opposites are interdependent. So to live a "pure" life one gets preoccupied with avoiding impurity. Hope for success is equivalent to fear for failure. The more we are applauded socially, the more we feel our lack.

    Romantic love: What most persons love is not the person as they are, but some idea of love. Each loves the other from the standpoint of its own self. Unhappiness results from this false reciprocity that disguises twin narcissism. The other is not experienced as they are but as an opportunity to fill up one's own lack.

    Money: Schopenhauer says that money is human happiness in abstract. He who is not able to be happy concretely sets his whole heart on money. The problem is not with money as a medium of exchange, but with the money complex that arises when money becomes desirable in itself. Money is the purest symbol. An ironic reversal takes place between means and ends: everything else gets devalued to maximize a symbolic goal that has become a fetish. We no longer believe in life but in symbols, and manipulating these symbols becomes the main goal.

    Technology: Technology can be seen as our effort to overcome lack and insecurity by transforming the entire world into our own ground. We try to make ourselves real by reorganizing the whole environment so that it attests to our reality. Technology is our attempt to own the universe, but this is always frustrating because we never possess it enough to feel secure in our ownership. Technology is our attempt to objectify nature, and that which has become an object to us captures us.

    Instead of nondual participation, there is a dualistic relation in which the reified sense-of-self uses objects in its vain Oedipal project to fill up its sense of lack. The tendency is towards greater objectification, which is also subjectification, since the sense-of-self is the first thing to be objectified.

    Nagarjuna uses the dependence of things upon their causal relationships to refute their self-existence. Transcending this sense-of-self is not a matter of appealing to some higher thing, but realizing the interdependence of all phenomena, including the very notion of "me". The only need is to come out of my private and delusive hiding place.

    Since lack is the inescapable shadow of self, the result of repressing the intuition that I am unreal and merely a mental construct, the only way to end this lack is to end the sense of self. This means transforming the sense of myself as a self-sufficient self-consciousness separate from the objective world, into a more relational awareness that is nondual with the world. In other words, the other side of my being is the anxiety or threat of nonbeing or nothingness. The Buddhist way to resolve such bipolarities is to yield to the side that has been denied. If it is nothingness I am afraid of, the solution is to become nothing.

    Meditation is becoming nothing by unlearning the sense-of-self, by absorption. Since the sense-of-self is a process of consciousness attempting to reflect back upon itself in order to grasp / ground itself, meditation is an exercise in de-reflection. Enlightenment occurs when the usually automated reflexivity of consciousness ceases, which is experienced as a letting-go.

    When I am no longer striving to make myself real through things, I am actualized. When I stop trying to become something, I discover that I am everything.



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If one looks with a cold eye at the mess man has made of his history, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he has been afflicted by some built-in mental disorder which drives him towards self-destruction. (Koestler)

"Madness is something rare in individuals," said Nietzsche, "but in groups, parties, peoples, ages it is the rule." A century so full of war, revolution, genocide and now ecological suicide testifies to the truth of this but has yet to understand it. Is it because our self-destructive disorder is built-in, as Koestler speculates, or do we build it into ourselves, by collectively repressing and projecting mental processes that we haven't been able to cope with more consciously? If history is a nightmare from which we're trying to awaken, perhaps that nightmare began as a daydream more attractive than reality -- until the dream took a life of its own and an ugly turn, as we became objectified by our own objectifications. Then the key to this puzzle is why we prefer daydreaming to waking up, and that brings us to duhkha, the Buddhist concept of "dis-ease".

    In trying to understand the Buddhist claim that "life is duhkha" we can benefit from the psychoanalytic concept of repression and "the return of the repressed" in symbolic form. Freud always emphasized that repression is the foundation-stone of psychoanalysis which underlies the whole edifice. If something (a mental wish, according to Freud) makes me uncomfortable and I do not want to cope with it consciously, I can choose to "ignore" or forget it. This clears the way for me to concentrate on something else, but at a price: part of my psychic energy must be expended to resist the repressed idea and keep it out of consciousness, yet (the real rub) what has been repressed tends to return to consciousness anyway, as a symptom which is therefore symbolic. What is not consciously admitted into awareness irrupts in obsessive ways that affect consciousness with precisely those qualities it strives to exclude. Freud traced the neuroses of his Viennese patients back to repressed sexuality and concluded that sexual repression is our primal repression -- although, like many of us, his attention gradually shifted from sex to death as he aged.

    Recently many existential psychologists have followed him there, to conclude that consciousness of death is our primary repression. This is much closer to what Buddhism implies, and many of its implications will be adopted in what follows, but there is still a significant difference. The Buddhist claim that the self is insubstantial suggests that even death-denial re-presents something else more immediately terrifying: the quite valid suspicion that "I" don't really exist. Buddhism analyzes the sense-of-self into sets of impersonal mental and physical



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phenomena, whose interaction creates the illusion of self- consciousness -- i.e., that consciousness is the attribute of a self. This transforms Freud's Oedipal complex into what Norman Brown calls an Oedipal project: the never-ending attempt to become father of oneself -- that is, one's own origin. The child wants to conquer death by becoming the creator and sustainer of his own life. The Oedipal project is the attempt of the developing sense-of- self to become autonomous, like Descartes' supposedly self-sufficient consciousness. It is the quest to deny one's groundlessness by becoming one's own ground: the ground (socially conditioned and maintained but nonetheless illusory) of being an independent person.

    If this is what happens, the Oedipal project derives from our intuition that self-consciousness is not something obviously "self-existing" but a mental construct. Rather than being self-sufficient, consciousness is more like the surface of the sea: dependent on unknown depths that it cannot grasp because it is a manifestation of them. The problem arises when this conditioned consciousness wants to ground itself -- i.e., to make itself real. If the sense-of-self is a construct, it can real-ize itself only by objectifying itself in some fashion in the world. The ego-self is this continuing attempt to objectify oneself which would amount to grasping oneself, something consciousness can no more do than a hand can grasp itself.

    The consequence of this perpetual failure is that the sense-of-self always has, as its inescapable shadow, a sense-of-lack, which it always tries to escape. In deconstructive terms, the ineluctable trace of nothingness in our being, of death in our life, is a feeling of lack. The psychoanalytic concept of "the return of the repressed" in the distorted form of a symptom shows us how to link this basic yet hopeless project with the symbolic ways we try to make ourselves real in the world. We experience this deep sense of lack as the feeling that "there is something wrong with me," but that feeling can manifest, and we can respond to it, in many different ways. In its "purer" forms lack appears as guilt or anxiety that becomes almost unbearable because it gnaws on one's very core. For that reason anxiety is eager to objectify into fear of something, because then we know what to do: we have ways to defend ourselves against feared things.

    The problem with objectifications, however, is that no object can ever satisfy if it's not really an object we want. When we don't understand what is actually motivating us -- because what we think we want is only a symptom of something else (according to Buddhism, our desire to become real) -- we end up compulsive. Then the neurotic's anguish and despair are not the result of his symptoms but their source; those symptoms are necessary to shield him from the tragedies that the rest of us are better at repressing: death, meaninglessness, groundlessness. Likewise, the guilt that bedevils our lives is less the cause of our unhappiness than its effect. "The ultimate problem is not guilt but the incapacity to live. The illusion of guilt is necessary for an animal that cannot enjoy life, in order to organize a life of nonenjoyment." [1] (Brown) From the Buddhist perspective, if the autonomy of self-consciousness is a delusion which can never quite shake off its

1. Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History (New York: Vintage, 1961), p.270. "The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive" (Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death [New York]



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shadow-feeling that "something is wrong with me," it will need to rationalize that sense of inadequacy somehow. Without a religious means of absolution, modern man usually experiences his lack as "I don't yet have enough; I must get more." This paper explores some of the forms that flight-into-the-future takes.

    All this seems to suggest conservative political and economic conclusions: reformers are projecting their own lack when they see the shortcomings that require radical solutions. Yet the element of truth in that yields to something of greater consequence: our individual lacks collectively objectified in social structures that return the favor and objectify us. Holderlin said that what makes the state a hell on earth is that man tries to make it his heaven. In lack terms, that becomes: by trying to resolve our sense-of-lack collectively, we have compounded the problem; and such compounded lack-objectifications assume more of a life of their own. We need to see how our personal senses of lack plug into the collective unconscious of our social behavior and institutions.

    This paper offers a new perspective on secular modernity by arguing that four historically- conditioned forms of delusion (and craving) are attempts to resolve such lack: the desire for fame, the love of romantic love, the money complex, and humanity's collective "Oedipal project" of technological development. These four tendencies are not bound to any particular time and place, of course, but it can hardly be a coincidence that they began to gain special importance at the time Christianity began to decline. Burckhardt, Huizinga and Aries each noticed a striking increase in death-preoccupation at the end of the medieval era. [2] In psychoanalytic terms, such an increase in death-anxiety requires stronger psychic devices to cope with it. In lack terms, the stronger sense-of-self that began to develop then must have been shadowed by a stronger sense-of-lack, leading to greater need to real-ize this self and more radical attempts to do so.

    The pursuit of fame and money are attempts to real-ize oneself through symbols; romantic love tries to fill in one's lack with the beloved; technological progress has become our collective attempt to ground ourselves by transforming the environment into our ground, until the whole earth testifies to our reality. As long as there was a truly catholic church providing an agreed, socially-maintained means to cope with lack, such projects were not spiritually necessary. Here we can benefit from Nagarjuna's denial of any difference between samsara and nirvana. If we do not presuppose the usual difference between secular and sacred, we can see the same religious drive operating in each case: the conscious or unconscious urge to resolve our sense of lack. To the extent that these four are motivated by such a spiritual need, they may be considered "secular heresies." Since they cannot fulfill that need, they tend to spin out of control and become demonic. The secular/sacred dualism seems important insofar as we are wary of materialistic and psychologistic reductionism, but there is another way to understand their nonduality. Rather than viewing sacred as a function of secular, this

2. Chapter 11 of Johan Huizinga's The Waning of the Middle Ages (trans. F. Hopman [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987]) begins: "No other epoch has laid so much stress as the expiring Middle Ages on the thought of death. An everlasting call of memento mori resounds through life " (p. 135). But he never explicitly relates this to the beginning of chapter 2: " At the close of the Middle Ages, a sombre melancholy weighs on people's souls. Whether we read a chronicle, a poem, a sombre melancholy weighs on people's souls. Whether we read a chronicle, a poem, a sermon, a legal document even, the sam impression of immense sadness is produced by them all" (p.30).



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paper suggests that modern worldly values (desire for fame, money, etc.) acquire their compulsiveness from a misperceived spiritual drive.

    The conclusion briefly outlines the Buddhist solution to such secular heresies.


1.The Fever of Renown

Because the public image comes to stand as the only valid certification of being, the celebrity clings to his image as the rich man clings to his money -- that is, as if to life itself. [3]

    "How can he be dead, who lives immortal in the hearts of men?" mused Longfellow, bestowing on Michelangelo our highest possible praise. "If his inmost heart could have been lain open," wrote Hawthorne of a character in Fanshawe, "there would have been discovered the dream of undying fame; which, dream as it is, is more powerful than a thousand realities." More powerful, because of such a dream is reality woven, and the nature of this dream ensures that there is no lack of historical testimony to its power. Unfortunately, seeing through one aspect of this delusion does not immunize us against others. Horace warned that the race for public honors traps men, for the urge to glory and praise ruins both wellborn and lowly: "those who seek much, lack much." But this did not stop him from crowing, at the end of his third ode: "I have wrought a monument more enduring than bronze, and loftier than the royal accumulation of the pyramids. Neither corrosive rain nor raging wind can destroy it, nor the innumerable sequence of years nor the flight of time. I shall not altogether die." Was Horace more vain than us, or just more frank about his own motivations?

    According to Alan Harrington, the urge for fame has one purpose: "to achieve an imitation of divinity before witnesses." What do gods have that we do not? Immortality, he says. The rest of us will have to settle for a symbolic substitute, which requires witnesses. "Being recognized before many witnesses strengthens our claim to membership in the immortal company." [4] But Marcus Aurelius already saw the problem with witnesses: Those that yearn for after-fame do not realize that their successors are sure to be very much the same as the contemporaries whom they find such a burden, and no less mortal. What is it anyway to you if there be this or that far-off echo in their voices, or if they have this or that opinion about you? What is the advantage of having one's own name on the lips of future generations, if their overriding concern will be the same as ours: to have their name on the lips of their successors -- how does that confer any reality on us? Nagarjuna demonstrated the futility of such infinite regresses with his argument against dependent being: if there is no self-being there can be no dependent being either, since dependent being requires the self-being of another. Yet we strive to become real through the eyes of others who strive to become real through the eyes of others who will strive.

    Nonetheless, in Western secular societies belief in an afterlife has been largely replaced by fame and the approval of posterity; physical death may come, but

3. Lewis H. Lapham, Money and Class in America (New York: Ballantine, 1988), p.230. "The fever of renown" is from Samuel Johnson's poem The Vanity of Human Wishes.

4. Alan Harrington, The Immortalist (Millbrae, CA: Celestial Arts, 1977), p.112.



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symbolic life will continue in the work. Reputation -- primarily through public deeds -- was also paramount for the Greeks and Romans: "a culture whose afterlife offered so little comfort to the soul was obsessed with preserving the fame of the dead on the lips of the living." [6] Yet, like Derrida's elusive trace, genuine heroism is always receding if true greatness means achieving a being without a sense-of-lack. A few generations ago, madhouses were said to be full of Napoleons, but Napoleon was inspired by the example of Caesar, while Caesar lamented that he hadn't accomplished as much as Alexander, even as Alexander the Great modelled himself on Achilles... When lack is "the origin of the origin, " such traces become unavoidable. "If he was real, I can become real by imitating him" -- but not if his reality is a past that has never been present. Then trying to recover the past in the future merely loses the present.

    What little remains today of our discomfort with fame is a residue of the Judeo-Christian critique of Roman standards of public glory, for "in the wake of Jesus, public men of all sorts develop a kind of guilty conscience about their desire for achievement in front of an audience." [7] Christianity offered a different project to overcome lack. The success of this project accounts for the Middle Ages as we remember them; or, more precisely, that we remember so little about them. If, as Hegel said, history is what man does with death -- a record of how humankind runs away from death -- a society less preoccupied with death will make less history. Then it is no coincidence that at the end of the Middle Ages (when, according to Burckhardt, Huizinga and Aries, man became more obsessed with death) man became more obsessed with fame: "from the Renaissance until today men have been filled with a burning ambition for fame, while this striving that seems so natural today was unknown to medieval man." [8] (Burckhardt) The crisis in Europe's collective religious project to cope with lack opened the door to a proliferation of individual projects, both secular and sacred (e.g., personal mysticism). The Reformation worked to de-institutionalize religion by shifting from a corporate orientation towards salvation (the Church as the body of Christ) to a more private relationship with God. If God is first and foremost the guarantor that our lack will be resolved, we can understand how God may be sought symbolically on earth -- perhaps must be, if we no longer seek him in heaven.

    In his comprehensive study The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and its History, Leo Braudy traces the modern history of fame from late medieval glorification of the saint (e.g., St. Francis and Jeanne d'Arc) through the painter and playwright of the Renaissance (Michelangelo, Shakespeare) and the writer of the nineteenth century (Byron, Dickens, Victor Hugo) to today's performer (Madonna, Michael Jackson). It seems to be a gradual descent from sacred to secular: saints are believed to gain their being from direct contact with God; Dante and Milton strove to be worthy of fame; today we have celebrities whose only claim to fame is that they are famous. Fame has become self-justifying as an end in itself.

    According to Braudy, the eighteenth century (also singled out by Aries for its

6. Oswyn Murray in the Times Literary Supplement, June 16, 1989, p.656; see also Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and its History (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986), pp.28, 59-60.

7. The Frenzy of Renown, pp. 56, 160.

8. Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (New York: Macmillan, 1921), pp.139ff.



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death-preoccupation) was a turning-point in the development of our modern preoccupation with fame:

[I]t is difficult not to characterize the latter part of the eighteenth century as a world in which the waning of belief in an afterlife has bred a twin obsession with posterity and death... In a culture where talk of the afterlife was becoming less and less important to theology, let alone the ordinary believer, the hope of fame on earth was part of the expectation that one might be fulfilled, that is, recognized in one's lifetime. Hope of heaven, hope of immediate fame, and hope of fame in posterity were becoming difficult to distinguish. [9]

This became tied up with the belief in progress (and, later, evolution): "The cult of progress, of growth, of achievement -- the image of new dawns, new tomorrows, and a new sense of time so prominent in both the American and French revolutions -- turned all eyes to the future, where perfection and understanding would be achieved on earth." [10] The decline in a sacred after-life was accompanied by a rise in the importance of secular after-life, for need to project a lack-free time somewhere in the future remained. Diderot argued that in posterity fame will redeem one's work from the envy of the present, much as the Christian afterlife redeems the reputation of the virtuous from the persecutions of the wicked.

    Gradually, however, this secularization of fame led to a decline of belief even in a secular afterlife. Hazlitt noticed that the young value posthumous fame because they don't yet believe in their own deaths; the aged would rather have their celebrity on earth. Nowadays it has become more difficult to believe in the future, so we prefer our fame too on the installment plan. This profanation of salvation has eroded the distinction between "good" and "bad" fame. "How many times do I have to kill before I get a name in the paper or some national attention?" wrote a murderer to the Wichita police. Only with his sixth killing, he complained, had he begun to get the publicity he deserved. When it is believed that recognition by others is what leads to self-fulfillment, "fame promises acceptability, even if one commits the most heinous crime, because thereby people will finally know who you are, and you will be saved from the living death of being unknown." [11]

    The living death of being unknown. When the "real world" becomes what's in the newspapers or on television, to be unknown is to be literally nothing. If the sense-of-self is internalized through social conditioning -- i.e., if others teach me that I am real -- then the natural tendency will be to cope with my repressed sense of unreality by continually reassuring myself with the attention of other people. Yet if my sense of reality is gained by others' percep-

9. The Frenzy of Renown, p. 378.

10. Ibid., p. 429. "We will have to wait till the eighteenth century-for even the Renaissance does not truly bring the idea of progress-before men resolutely enter the path of social optimism;-only then the perfectibility of man and society is raised to the rank of a central dogma, and the next century will only lose the naivete of this belief, but not the courage and optimism which it inspired" (The Waning of the Middle Ages pp. 36, 37).

11. Associated Press,12 February 1978, in The Frenzy of Renown, pp. 3, 562. "How many who could distinguish themselves by nothing prais- eworthy, strove to do so by infamous deeds!" ( Machiavelli, Florentine History).



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tions of me, then, no matter how appreciative that attention may be, I will be constrained by those perceptions. "The difficulty arises when to be free is defined by being known to be free, because then one might be more known than free." This applies to anything that constitutes one's claim to fame: you can't use fame without being used by it. Part of this problem is the fan, who seeks to bask in the glory -- the being -- radiated by his or her heroes. "The audience ... is less interested in what they [celebrities] think they 'really' are than what role they play in the audience's continuing drama of the meaning of human nature." [12] That drama may be dangerous, as John Lennon, Ronald Reagan and many others have discovered.

    "[T]he essential lure of the famous is that they are somehow more real than we and that our insubstantial physical reality needs that immortal substance for support....because it is the best, perhaps the only, way to be." De Toqueville, visiting America in the 1830's, noticed that democratic societies aggravate this tendency. Aristocracies fix one's social position so everyone knows who and where he is, but democracy engenders a need to stand out from the crowd. Democratic man usually has no lofty ambition, de Toqueville said; he just wants to be first at anything. [13] We academics can readily appreciate the consequences of this: "And hence this tremendous struggle to singularize ourselves, to survive in some way in the memory of others and of posterity. It is this struggle, a thousand times more terrible than the struggle for life, that gives its tone, colour, and character to our society". (Unamuno) To make matters worse, this struggle is not just with our contemporaries. The heaven of fame is not very large, and the more there are who enter it the less is the share of each. The great names of the past rob us of our place in it; the space which they fill in the popular memory they usurp from us who aspire to occupy it... If additions continue to be made to the wealth of literature, there will come a day of sifting, and each one fears lest he be caught in the meshes of the sieve." [14]

    The importance of fame as a secular salvation has become so pervasive today that we no longer notice it, any more than a fish sees the water it swims in. It has infiltrated all the corners of our culture, including Christmas carols ("Then how the reindeer loved him/ As they shouted out with glee/ 'Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer/ You'll go down in history!'") and spaghetti sauce bottles (See the label on Newman's Own Spaghetti Sauce). The Guinness Book of World Records has become one of our most important cultural icons.

    From a Buddhist perspective, the struggle between fame and anonymity is another self- defeating version of dualistic thinking. We differentiate between good and evil, success and failure, etc., in order to valorize one over the other. But we can't have one without the other because they are interdependent: grasping one half also maintains the other. So anyone who wants to live a "pure" life will be preoccupied with (avoiding) impurity. Our hope for success is equal to our fear of

12. The Frenzy of Renown, pp. 589, 592, 590. Derrida on his own Reputation: "to try to free myself from it is sometimes difficult. You are caught in a nework of differences. Even if people are welldisposed, even if they welcome you, it's sometimes good and bad at the same time. It's gratifying, so to speak, and at the same time it's threatening, because you become a prisoner of this reception" (Salusinsky interview, p. 23).

13. The Frenzy of Renown, pp. 6, 461-62.

14. Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life, trans. J. E. Crawford Flitch (London: Macmillan, 1921), pp. 52-54.



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failure. And whether we win or lose the struggle for fame, we must internalize the dialectic between fame and "invisibility."

Just as the titles of winners are worthless unless they are visible to others, there is a kind of antititle that attaches to invisibility. To the degree that we are invisible we have a past that has condemned us to oblivion. It is as though we have somehow been overlooked, even forgotten, by our chosen audience. If it is the winners who are presently visible, it is the losers who are invisibly past.
As we enter into finite play -- not playfully, but seriously -- we come before an audience conscious that we bear the antititles of invisibility. We feel the need, therefore, to prove to them that we are not what we think they think we are...
As with all finite play, an acute contradiction quickly develops at the heart of this attempt. As finite players we will not enter the game with sufficient desire to win unless we are ourselves convinced by the very audience we intend to convince. That is, unless we believe we actually are the losers the audience sees us to be, we will not have the necessary desire to win. The more negatively we assess ourselves, the more we strive to reverse the negative judgment of others. The outcome brings the contradiction to perfection: by proving to the audience they were wrong, we prove to ourselves the audience was right.
The more we are recognized to be winners, the more we know ourselves to be losers.... No one is ever wealthy enough, honored enough, applauded enough. [15]

    The more we are applauded, the more we feel our lack: if what I have sought for so long does not make me real, what can? "Many seek fame because they believe it confers a reality that they lack. Unfortunately, when they become famous themselves, they usually discover that their sense of unreality has only increased." Why? "The reception of the great work by the world can never satisfy the expectations its creator had for its own fame and his own." [16] If fame symbolizes my need to become real, such a disappointment is inevitable: no amount of fame can satisfy me when it's really something else I seek. Here there are two ways to go. One is concluding that I am not yet famous enough. Then each achievement has to top the last one, for if you're not going up you're headed down; this tends to become demonic. The other danger with becoming famous is that one might accomplish one's project for overcoming lack without overcoming lack, with the effect of increasing one's anxiety about being unreal. From a Buddhist standpoint, however, this second problem is also a great opportunity, since it opens up the possibility of confronting one's sense of lack more directly. Then the issue is how one deals with that heightened sense of pure lack.


II. All You Need Is Love

Few people would fall in love had they never heard of love. (La Rochefoucauld)

    As a word, "love" means too much and therefore too little; this section addresses only that specific and historically-conditioned form of attraction between the sexes called romantic love (defined by Madame de Stael as "self-love a deux"). It has been argued that this type of love verges on the ridiculous, like a

15. James P.Carse, Finite and Infinite Games (New York:Free Press, 1986), pp. 72-73; his italics.

16. The Frenzy of Renown, p. 589.



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man dying of starvation because he could not find any brussels sprouts. Then why does it so seldom seem ridiculous to us? Is it because romance has become one of the most widely accepted ways to overcome lack?

Our eagerness for both novels and films with their identical type of plot; the idealized eroticism that pervades our culture and upbringing and provides the pictures that fill the background of our lives; our desire for "escape," which a mechanical boredom exacerbates -- everything within and about us glorifies passion. Hence the prospect of a passionate experience has come to seem the promise that we are about to live more fully and more intensely. We look upon passion as a transfiguring force, something beyond pain and delight, an ardent beatitude. [17]

This beatitude may transfigure pain but it is still dependent on it, for we know there is nothing more fatal to passion than the completion that brings lovers down to earth. Unless the course of true love is hindered there is no romance: it thrives on difficulties, misunderstandings and forced separations, which postpone the complacency inherent in familiarity, when housekeeping emotions take over. Such a dismal encore to ecstasy is unendurable, hence suffering -- the literal meaning of passion -- comes to the rescue. So enmity between the families of Romeo and Juliet is necessary to challenge their attraction. Without it there would be no story to tell and (we have reason to suspect) no such grand passion to begin with.

    As Diotima taught Socrates, love thrives on lack -- or is it the reverse: does our lack thrive on love? We are not unaware that passion means suffering, but we imagine that such passion is nonetheless exciting and vital in a way ordinary life is not. Therefore we revel in the pain, for all pain is endurable if we can see a reason for it and an end to it. Our formless sense of lack seeks to objectify itself into an object lacked, which grants the possibility of a project to gain the lacked thing.

    The Greeks and Romans were not unfamiliar with romantic love, yet for them it was the exception rather than the rule and they looked upon it as an illness. Plutarch called love "a frenzy": "Some have believed it was a madness.... Those who are in love must be forgiven as though ill." Then how we have come to cherish this frenzy so highly? If salvation through romantic love is an historically-conditioned myth, what were its origins and why did it arise at the time it did?

    Many of the answers are found in Denis de Rougemont's classic study Love in the Western World. It traces the myth back to the legend of Tristan and Iseult, a tale whose origins are unknown but which became widespread in the twelfth century, about that time of the late Middle Ages singled out by Burckhardt and Aries as the turning-point in man's increasing awareness of death -- in Buddhist terms, increasing awareness of lack. De Rougemont's analysis of the legend demonstrates that Tristan and Iseult do not love one another. They say they don't, and everything goes to prove it. What they love is love and being in love... Their need of one another is in order to be aflame, and they do not need one another as they are. What they need is not one another's presence, but one

17. Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World, trans. Montgomery Belgion, rev. ed. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1956), pp. 15-16. All italics de Rougemont's.



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another's absence." [18] If absence gives us a project to overcome lack, presence must disappoint because it accomplishes one's goal without ending one's lack. Therefore each loves the other "from the standpoint of self and not from the other's standpoint. Their unhappiness thus originates in a false reciprocity, which disguises a twin narcissism." Narcissism, because the other is experienced not as he/she is, but as the opportunity to fill up one's own lack. Of course that is not the way Tristan and Iseult experience it. Like all great lovers, they imagine that they have been transported "into a kind of transcendental state outside ordinary human experience, into an ineffable absolute irreconcilable with the world, but that they feel to be more real than the world." De Rougemont concludes that, unaware and in spite of themselves, the desire of Tristan and Iseult is for nothing but death. The approach of death acts as a goad to sensuality, aggravating their desire. Love in the Western World begins by quoting Bedier's version of the legend: "My lords, if you would hear a high tale of love and death..." Of course we could listen to nothing more delightful, for that is the fateful equation; "a myth is needed to express the dark and unmentionable fact that passion is linked with death, and involves the destruction of any one yielding himself up to it with all his strength." [19] Dismissing this as "anti-life," de Rougemont misses the point, if death is what most intimately symbolizes our fear of letting-go of ourselves as well as our desire to let-go of ourselves -- which is the only way to overcome one's lack, according to Buddhism.

    From a lack perspective, the most important aspect of De Rougemont's analysis is that he sees the "spiritual" character of romantic love: [T]he passionate love which the myth celebrates actually became in the twelfth century -- the moment when first it began to be cultivated -- a religion in the full sense of the word, and in particular a Christian heresy historically determined." [20] Again, it is unlikely to be a coincidence that the myth of salvation through romance arose just at the time of decline in the prevalent Christian myth, which cleared the ground for more individualistic alternatives to develop. De Rougemont traces the rise of the romantic heresy back to the troubadours, who were probably under the influence of the Cathar heresy, itself likely to have been influenced by Manichaeism from eastern Europe. He thereby marginalizes the infecting virus into an external "other" invading pure Christianity, which probably reveals more about de Rougemont's anti-pagan bias than about the origin of the Cathars.

    The famous twelfth century judgement by a "court of love" in the house of the Countess of Champagne declared that love and marriage were incompatible, for the first is by choice and the second by duty. But their judgement was also opposed to the "satisfaction" of love: "Of donnoi [courtly love] he knows truly nothing who wants fully to possess his lady. Whatever turns into a reality is no longer love." So the troubadours adored inaccessible ladies without hope of requital.

18. Ibid., p. 43.

19. Ibid., pp. 55, 40-41,16, 21-22.

20. Ibid., p. 145 (de Rougemont italicizes the entire passage). "When in the twelfth century unsatisfied desire was placed by the troubadours of Provence in the center of the poetic conception of love, an important turn in the history of civilization was effected. Antiquity, too, had sung the sufferings of love, but it had never conceived them save as the expectation of happiness or as its pitiful frustration... Courtly poetry ... makes desire itself the essential motif, and so creates a conception of love with a negative ground note" (The Waning of the Middle Ages, p. 104).



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The history of passionate love since then is the devolution of this courtly myth -- still with strong spiritual overtones -- into more "profane" life, the account of the more and more desperate attempts of Eros to take the place of mystical transcendence by means of emotional intensity. But magniloquent or plaintive, the tropes of its passionate discourse and the hues of its rhetoric can never attain to more than the glow of a resurgent twilight and the promise of a phantom bliss." [21] From spiritual transcendence through emotional intensity to... our present preoccupation with sexual fulfillment. Why has sex become so important in the contemporary U.S.? If we do not dualize secular from sacred, we can see the same urge functioning in each: today we unconsciously seek a spiritual satisfaction from sex. Spiritual, because we want sex to fulfill us and heal us -- that is, to resolve our lack, yet that is to expect something it cannot provide. "It is once more the aspiration towards the life sublime," says Huizinga, "but this time viewed from the animal side. It is an ideal all the same, even though it be that of unchastity." [22] And if we do not dualize animal from spiritual, perhaps the main difference between troubadours and one-night stands is that the myth of sexual salvation is easier to see through. It's as easy as giving up smoking, which some people can do twenty times a day. Then the logical and demonic culmination of this myth is Don Juan, who turns out to be motivated by the same dream as the troubadours. Not lust but the inadequacy of sex as a religion -- its more obvious inability to satisfy lack for very long -- is what drives him from one woman to another.

    De Rougemont contrasts passion-love with life. The first "is an impoverishment of one's being, an askesis without sequel, an inability to enjoy the present without imagining it as absent, a never-ending flight from possession." Instead, he says, happiness depends on acceptance and is lost as soon as we try to gain it, since it pertains not to having but to being. "Every wish to experience happiness, to have it at one's beck and call -- instead of being in a state of happiness, as though by grace -- must instantly produce an intolerable sense of want." [23] Again, one can appreciate the wisdom in this without being satisfied with de Rougemont's solution, which is a return to more traditional Christian values, including a decision to keep troth. Religious faith and fidelity do not necessarily resolve the problem of lack, for it may simply be that one myth has been replaced with another. Romantic passion is anti-life, insists de Rougemont, but he doesn't see what impels the widespread fascination with anti-life: the lack-dissatisfaction built

21. Love in the Western World, pp. 35-36, 179. James Hillman generalizes this point into a critique of our preoccupation with "inter-personal relationships": "By our use of them to keep ourselves alive, other persons begin to assume the place of fetishes and totems, becoming keepers of our lives. Through this worship of the personal, personal relationships have become the place where the divine is to be found, so the new theology asserts. The very condition that modern rational consciousness would dissuade us from-personifying-returns in our relationships, creating an animistic world of personified idols. Of course these archetypally loaded relationships break down, of course they require constant proprietary attention, of course we must turn to priests of this cult (therapists and counselors) for instruction concerning the right ritual for relation to persons... We seek salvation in personal encounters, personal relation, personal soultions. Human persons are the contemporary shrines and statues where personifying is lodged" (Re-Visioning Psychology [New York: Harper, 1975], p. 47).

22. The Waning of the Middle Ages, p. 108.

23. Love in the Western World, pp. 300, 294.



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into life as we ordinarily experience it, a frustration that must be addressed one way or another.

    None of the above is a critique of love in its spiritual, emotional or physical aspects; rather, it is an attempt to explain the widespread inability to find happiness in such relationships. Of course, the Western tradition has other, more ancient myths about love. One profound example is the myth of Psyche and Cupid; another is found in the Phaedrus and the Symposium. In these dialogues Plato mentions a frenzied type of love that spreads from the body to infect the spirit with malignant humours, and contrasts that with a different kind of delirium conceived in one's soul by the inspiration of heaven (therefore to be called enthusiasm,"possessed by a god"). In the Symposium Diotima teaches Socrates that erotic passion at its best is transformed into a love delighting in beauty of every kind. The lover who has ascended high enough will therefore experience the perfect form of beauty, which is the reality and substance that is in everything we perceive as beautiful. [24]

    This Platonic account of pure love and everlasting beauty does not survive Nietzsche's scathing attack on all such "Real worlds," but it touches on something that does: the ability of love to transform our way of experiencing everything. We smile on the man for whom the whole world has suddenly become inexpressibly beautiful, simply because his beloved reciprocates. But who, he or we, experiences the world more truly? Love shakes us out of the utilitarian, everything-for-the-sake-of-something-else way of seeing things and therefore it opens up the possibility of a deeper transformation. Ernest Becker wonders if "the reason that love is one of the principle sources of anguish in the higher primates is because it stands at the threshold of a this-worldly liberation." [25]

    The best example I know of such liberation is Etty Hillesum's love for Julius Speier, as recorded in her extraordinary diaries. [26] Soon after she met him in early 1941, Speier became the focus of her life and they became lovers, although he was even more important as a "guru" figure for her. By the time that "dear spoilt man" died a year and a half later, however, her love had grown far beyond him to encompass everyone, and during the Dutch holocaust she devoted herself wholeheartedly to helping all those who were suffering. Survivors from Auschwitz confirmed that she was "luminous" to the last, doing everything she could to comfort others. Such love has nothing to do with narcissism. This implies that, instead of using the other to try to fill one's lack, one may participate in a deeper love that consumes self-love and self-preoccupation, and therefore their lack-shadow as well. Perhaps, like all bodhisattvas, Etty realized that when there is no self there is no other.


III. The Midas Touch

If there is to be a psychoanalysis of money it must start from the hypothesis that the money complex has the essential structure of religion -- or, if you will, the negation of religion, the demonic. The psychoanalytic theory of money must start by establishing

24. Symposium 211a-b.

25. Ernest Becker, The Revolution in Psychiatry (New York: The Free Press, 1964), p. 246.

26. Etty Hillesum, Etty: A Diary, 1941-43, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (London: Triad Grafton, 1986). Also under the title An Interrupted Life.



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the proposition that money is, in Shakespeare's words, the "visible god"; in Luther's words, "the God of this world." [27]

    One of Schopenhauer's aphorisms says that money is human happiness in abstracto; consequently he who is no longer capable of happiness in concreto sets his whole heart on money. The difficulty is not with money as a convenient medium of exchange, but with the "money complex" that arises when money becomes desirable in itself. That desire is readily understandable when it improves the quality of life, but what about those many situations, individual and collective, when its pursuit reduces the quality of our lives? How does this happen? Given our sense of lack, how could this not happen?

    Money is the "purest" symbol "because there is nothing in reality that corresponds to it." [28] As Midas discovered, in itself gold is worthless: you can't eat or drink it, plant it or sleep under it. Yet it has more value than anything else because it is value; it can transform into everything because it is how we define value. The psychological problem occurs when life becomes motivated by the desire for such "pure" value. We all sense what is wrong with this but it's helpful to make it explicit: to the extent that life becomes focussed around the desire for money, an ironic reversal takes place between means and ends: everything else is devalued in order to maximize a "worthless" goal, because our desires have become fetishized into that symbol. "The crux of the matter is the general fact that money is everywhere conceived as purpose, and countless things that are really ends in themselves are thereby degraded to mere means." [29] When everything has its price and everyone his price, the numerical re-presentation of the symbol-system becomes more important, more real, than the things re-presented. We end up enjoying not a worthwhile job well done, or meeting a friend, or hearing a bird-song, but accumulating pieces of paper. To find the method in this madness we must relate it to the sense-of-self's sense-of-lack, whose festering keeps us from being able to fully enjoy that bird-song (just this!), etc. Since we no longer believe in any "original sin" that could be expiated, what can it be that is wrong with us and how can we hope to get over it? Today the most popular explanation -- our contemporary original sin -- is that we don't have enough money.

    The origin of money is puzzling: how did the transition from barter ever occur? How were human cravings fetishized into pieces of metal? The answer is elegant because it also reveals the persisting character of money: money was and still is literally sacred. "It has long been known that the first markets were sacred markets, the first banks were temples, the first to issue money were priests or

27. Life Against Death, pp. 240-41. Marx: "Money is the visible deity, the transformation of all human and natural qualities into their opposite, the universal confusion and inversion of things." Cf. Ronald Reagan: "What I want to see above all is that this remains a country where someone can always get rich " (quoted in Money and Class in America, p. 8).

28. Life Against Death, p. 271.

29. Georg Stimmel, The Philosophy of Money (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), p. 431. The passage continues: "But since money itself is n omnipresent means, the various elements of our existence are thus placed in an all-embracing teleological nexus in which no element is either the first or the last."



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priest-kings." [30] The first coins were minted and distributed by temples because they were medallions inscribed with the god's image and embodying his protective power. Containing such mana, they were naturally in demand, not because you could buy things with them but vice-versa: since they were popular you could exchange them for other things.

    The consequence of this was that (as Becker puts it) "now the cosmic powers could be the property of everyman, without even the need to visit temples: you could now traffic in immortality in the marketplace." This eventually led to the emergence of a new kind of person "who based the value of his life -- and so of his immortality -- on a new cosmology centered on coins." A new meaning-system arose, which our present economic system makes more and more the meaning-system. "Money becomes the distilled value of all existence... a single immortality symbol, a ready way of relating the increase of oneself to all the important objects and events of one's world." [31] In Buddhist terms: beyond its usefulness as a medium of exchange, money has become modern man's most popular way of accumulating Being, of coping with our gnawing intuition that we don't really exist. Suspecting that the sense-of-self is a groundless construction, we used to go to temples and churches to ground ourselves in God; now we work to secure ourselves financially.

    The problem is that the true meaning of this meaning-system is unconscious, which means, as usual, that we end up paying a heavy price for it. The value we place on money rebounds back against us: the more we value it, the more we find it used (and use it ourselves) to evaluate us. In The Hour of our Death, Aries turns our usual critique upside-down. Today we complain about materialism but modern man is not really materialistic, for "things have become means of production, or objects to be consumed or devoured." [T]he ordinary man in his daily life no more believes in matter than he believes in God. The man of the Middle Ages believed in matter and in God, in life and in death, in the enjoyment of things and their renunciation. [32] Our problem now is that we no longer believe in things but in symbols, hence our life has passed over into these symbols and their manipulation -- only to find ourselves manipulated by the symbols we take so seriously. We are preoccupied not so much with what money can buy, but its power and status; not with a Mercedes-Benz in itself, but what owning a Mercedes car says about us. Modern man wouldn't be able to endure real economic equality, says Becker, "because he has no faith in self-transcendent, other-worldly immortality symbols; visible physical worth is the only thing he has to give him eternal life." Or real Being. Our spiritual hunger to become real, or at least to occupy a special place in the cosmos, has been reduced to having a bigger car than our neighbors. We cannot get rid of the sacred, because we can't get

30. Life Against Death, p. 246. "The magical properties, with which the Egyptian priestcraft anciently imbrued the yelow metal, it has never altogether lost" (John Maynard Keynes, Tratise on Money [New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1930], vol. 2, p. 290).

31. Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil (New York: The Free Press, 1975), pp. 76, 79 (ref. Geza Roheim), 80-81.

32. Philippe Aries, The Hour of Our Death (Penguin, 1981), pp. 136-37. "We, at the present day, can hardly understand the keenness with which a fur coat, a goods fire on the hearth, a soft bed, a glass of wine, were formerly enjoyed" (The Waning of the Middle Ages, p. 9).



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rid of our ultimate concerns, except by repressing them, whereupon we become "the more uncontrollably driven by them." [33]

    We tend to view the profit motive as natural and rational (the benevolent "invisible hand" of Adam Smith), but Brown's and Becker's summaries of the anthropological literature remind us that it is not traditional to traditional societies, and in fact has usually been viewed with fear. For us, the desire for profit defines economic activity, but in archaic society there is no clear division between that sphere and others. Man's economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships. He does not act so as to safeguard his individual interest in the possession of material goods; he acts so as to safeguard his social standing, his social claims, his social assets. He values material goods only in so far as they serve this end... The economic system will be run on non-economic motives. [34] (Polanyi) Primitive man had no need for a financial solution to lack, for he had other ways to cope with it. Tawney brings this home to us by discovering the same truth in the history of the West:

There is no place in medieval theory for economic activity which is not related to a moral end, and to found a science of society upon the assumption that the appetite for economic gain is a constant and measurable force, to be accepted like other natural forces, as an inevitable and self-evident datum, would have appeared to the medieval thinker as hardly less irrational and less immoral than to make the premise of social philosophy the unrestrained operation of such necessary human attributes as pugnacity and the sexual instinct. [35]

Again, the crucial transformation evidently began at the end of the Middle Ages. But once profit became the engine of the economic process, the tendency was for gradual reorganization of the entire social system and not just of the economic element, since, as Polanyi implies, there is no natural distinction between them. "Capital had ceased to be a servant and had become a master. Assuming a separate and independent vitality it claimed the right of a predominant partner to dictate economic organization in accordance with its own exacting requirements." [36] The economic changes occurring now -- for example, the transformation of the publishing industry, and the expansion in banks' sphere of activity -- remind that this process of reorganization is still going on, even as the individual money complex continues to supplant other personal meaning-systems.

    "Happiness is the deferred fulfillment of a prehistoric wish," said Freud. "That

33. Escape from Evil, p. 85 (ref. Rank). This lends psychological support to Weber's theory about the influence of the Protestant ethic on the rise of capitalism. You and I shall die, our children will die, but there is something else to inves in, that can take on a life of its own. "Death is overcome on condition that the real actuality of life pass into these immortal and dead things. Money is the man; the immortality of an estate or a corporation resides in the dead things which alone endure." Instead of erecting time-defying monuments like he pyramids, now we find solace in the numbers sent to us by banks. "By continually taking and piling and accumulating interest and leaving to one's heirs, man contrives the illusion that he is in complete control of his destiny. After all, accumulated things are a visible testimonial to power, to the fact that one is not limited or dependent. Man imagines that the causa sui project is firmly in his hands, that he is the heroic doer and maker who takes what he creates, what is rightfully his." (Life Against Death, p. 279; Escape from Evil, p. 89)

34. In Life Against Death, p. 262.

35. R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1926), p. 31.

36. Ibid., p.86.



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is why wealth brings so little happiness: money is not an infantile wish." Then what kind of wish is money? "Money is condensed wealth; condensed wealth is condensed guilt." [37] The most brilliant chapter of Brown's Life Against Death, "Filthy Lucre," develops this link between money and guilt. "Whatever the ultimate explanation of guilt may be, we put forward the hypothesis that the whole money complex is rooted in the psychology of guilt." The psychological advantage of archaic man is that he "knew" what his problem was and therefore how to overcome it. Belief in sin allowed the possibility of expiation, which occurred in seasonal rituals and sacrifices. "The gods exist to receive gifts, that is to say sacrifices; the gods exist in order to structure the human need for self-sacrifice." [38] For Christianity that sacrifice is incarnated in Christ, who "takes our sins upon him." Religion provides the opportunity to expiate our sense of lack by means of symbols -- e.g., the crucifix, eucharist, the mass -- whose validity is socially-agreed and socially-maintained. In such a context, we do feel purified and closer to God after taking Holy Communion.

    But what of the modern "neurotic type" who "feels a sinner without the religious belief in sin, for which he therefore needs a new rational explanation"? [39] How do you expiate your sense of lack when there is no religious explanation for it? The main secular alternative today is to experience our lack as "not yet enough." This converts cyclic time (maintained by seasonal rituals of atonement) into linear time (in which atonement of lack is reached-for but perpetually postponed, because never achieved). The sense of lack remains a constant, but our collective reaction to it has become the need for growth: the "good life" of consumerism (but lack means the consumer never has enough) and the gospel of sustained economic growth (because corporations and the GNP are never big enough). The heart (or rather blood) of both is the money complex. "A dollar is ... a codified psychosis normal in one sub-species of this animal, an institutionalized dream that everyone is having at once." [40] Brown is almost as damning:

If the money complex is constructed out of an unconscious sense of guilt, it is a neurosis... The dialectic of neurosis contains its own "attempts at explanation and cure," energized by the ceaseless upward pressure of the repressed unconscious and producing the return of the repressed to consciousness, although in an increasingly distorted form, as long as the basic repression (denial) is maintained and the neurosis endures. The modern economy is characterized by an aggravation of the neurosis, which is at the same time a fuller delineation of the nature of the neurosis, a fuller return of the repressed. In the archaic consciousness the sense of indebtedness exists together with the illusion that the debt is payable; the gods exist to make the debt payable. Hence the archaic economy is embedded in religion, limited by the religious framework, and mitigated by the consolations of religion -- above all, removal of indebtedness and guilt. The modern consciousness represents an increased sense of guilt, more specifically a breakthrough from the unconscious of the truth that the burden of guilt is unpayable. [41]

37. Sigmund Freud, The Origins of Psycho-analysis, eds. M. Bonaparte, et al. (New York: Basic Books, 1964), p. 224; Life Against Death, p. 266.

38. Life Against Death, p. 265.

39. Otto Rank, Beyond Psychology (New York: Dover, 1958), p. 194.

40. Weston LaBarre, The Human Animal (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1954), p. 173.

41. Life Against Death, pp. 270-71.



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The result of this is "an economy driven by a pure sense of guilt, unmitigated by any sense of redemption, " which is "the more uncontrollably driven by the sense of guilt because the problem of guilt is repressed by denial into the unconscious." [42] Nietzsche said that it's not only the reason of millennia but their insanity too that breaks out in us. Isn't our collective form of that insanity today the cult of economic growth, which has become our religious myth? "We no longer give our surplus to God; the process of producing an ever-expanding surplus is in itself our God... Schumpeter agrees: 'Capitalist rationality does not do away with sub- or super-rational impulses. It merely makes them get out of hand by removing the restraint of sacred or semi-sacred tradition.'" [43]

    If so, we can see what the problem is: money and economic growth constitute a defective myth because they provide no expiation of guilt -- in Buddhist terms, no resolution of lack. Our new holy of holies, the true temple of modern man, is the stock market, and our rite of worship is communing with the Dow Jones average. In return we receive the kiss of profits and the promise of more to come, but there can be no atonement in this. Of course, insofar as we have lost belief in sin we no longer see anything to atone for, which means we end up unconsciously atoning in the only way we know, working hard to acquire all those things that society tells us are important and will make us happy; and then we cannot understand why they don't make us happy, why they don't resolve our sense of lack. The reason can only be that we don't yet have enough... "But the fact is that the human animal is distinctively characterized, as a species and from the start, by the drive to produce a surplus... There is something in the human psyche which commits man to nonenjoyment, to work." Where are we all going so eagerly? "Having no real aim, acquisitiveness, as Aristotle correctly said, has no limit." Not to anywhere but from something, which is why there can be no end to it as long as that something is our own lack-shadow. "Economies, archaic and civilized, are ultimately driven by that flight from death which turns life into death-in-life." [44] Or by that flight from emptiness that makes life empty. If money symbolizes becoming real, the fact that we never quite become real means that we end up holding pure deferral in our hands. Those chips we have accumulated can never be cashed in, for the moment we were to do so, the illusion that money can resolve lack would be dispelled and we would be left more empty and lack-ridden than before, because deprived of our fantasy for escaping lack. We unconsciously suspect and fear this; the only answer is to flee faster into the future.

    I think this points to the fundamental defect of any economic system that requires continual growth if it's not to collapse: it is based not on needs but on fear, for it feeds on and feeds our sense of lack. In sum, our preoccupation with manipulating the "purest" symbol, which we suppose to be the means of solving the problem of life, turns out to be a symptom of the problem itself.

42. Ibid., p. 272.

43. Ibid., p. 261.

44. Ibid., pp. 256, 258, 285.



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IV.Progress Is Our Most Important Product

While we think of ourselves as a people of change and progress, masters of our environment and our fate, we are no more entitled to this designation than the most superstitious savage, for our relation to change is entirely passive... We talk of technology as the servant of man, but it is a servant that now dominates the household, too powerful to fire, upon whom everyone is helplessly dependent. [45]

    Like the urge for fame, the profit motive and the secular salvation of of romantic love, we tend to think of scientific progress and technological development as natural, which means: something that doesn't need to be explained. It is difficult to grasp the significance of any of these myths because they are too alive, too much our myths. Then can technological transformation too be another case of mistaking nurture as nature? Is it natural to "progress" from the Wright brothers to a moon-landing during one generation? This question can no longer be evaded; the ecological crisis impels us to find out the answer.

    At the end of his historical study of death, Aries comments on the belief that technology has no limits. "Technology erodes the domain of death until one has the illusion that death has been abolished." This suggests that technology might somehow be another symbolized version of our attempt to avoid death." [46] Heidegger seems to agree: "The self-assertion of technological objectification is the constant negation of death." However, Heidegger's reflections led him to conclude that technological objectification is the main way Being discloses itself to contemporary man. The essence of modernity is the technological tendency to reorganize everything into "standing- reserve." Rather than explain this in terms of something else, such as repression of death or nonbeing, Heidegger came to believe that we must simply accept this as the self-disclosure of Being today. In contrast,Buddhism, which does not refer to any transcendental Being, relates such problems back to desire based on ignorance. From a lack perspective, technology can be seen as our effort to create the ultimate security, by transforming the entire world into our own ground. We try to make ourselves real by reorganizing the whole environment so that it attests to our reality. "The purpose of the god-imitator is to subdue his environment absolutely... The would-be god on earth never stops trying to incorporate the environment into himself." [47] This is why many people today can dispense with the consolations of religion: now we have other ways to control our fate, or to try to. If the world isn't "developed" enough yet to quell our lack, it will have to be developed more.

    Part of our problem is how we understand the relation between science and technology. We celebrate the scientific quest for truth, and subordinate technology into the application of that truth. Heidegger and others have suggested that we should reverse that relationship. Technology is not applied science. It is the expression of a deep longing, an original longing that is present in modern science from its beginning. This is the desire of the self to seek its own

45. Philip Slater, The Pursuit of Loneliness: American Culture at the Breaking Point (Boston: Beascom Press, 1970), p. 44.

46. The Hour of our Death, p. 595; Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), p. 125.

47. The Immortalist, p. 119.



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truth through the mastery of the object... The power of technique is not to connect thought effectively to nature; it alters nature to its own purpose. Its aim is to master its being; to own it. [48]

    Another way to put it is that technology is our attempt to own the universe, an attempt that is always frustrating because, for reasons we don't quite understand, we never possess it fully enough to feel secure in our ownership. Is that because the only genuine salvation is in being owned by it -- i.e., by participating in something greater than us? "We now use the word Nature very much as our fathers used the word God," John Burroughs noticed at the turn of the century, "and, I suppose, back of it all we mean the power that is everywhere present and active, and in whose lap the visible universe is held and nourished." Nature can take on the role of God because both fulfill our need to be embedded in mystery; Technology cannot because it is motivated by the opposite response, attempting to banish the mystery by extending our control, as if that can grant us the security we crave. Bill McKibben sums up his sombre elegy on The End of Nature: "We can no longer imagine that we are part of something larger than ourselves -- that is what all this boils down to. We used to be." [49] Our success in "improving" nature means we can no longer rest peacefully in its bosom. We cannot manipulate the natural world in a collective attempt to self-ground ourselves and also hope to find in it a ground greater than ourselves.

    In religious terms (and this whole essay is an argument that in the end we cannot avoid religious terms), the world-view implicit in technology has an inadequate eschatology. It is a meaning-system without any ultimate meaning, because lacking any vision of cloture between humankind and the cosmos. This is a defect that is quite literally unendurable: a sense of purpose in the universe must be and always is found somewhere. Then the issue is not how hard-headed we are in our supposedly non-metaphysical materialistic realism, but how repressed or conscious we shall be in our commitments. The technological response to ultimate questions -- those questions which, because they are ultimate, can never be avoided -- is to believe in... the future. What is the meaning of life? Where are we all going so fast? Since we no longer have answers to those questions, but can't live without answers, our answer is to defer the issue. Until the last few years, our eschatology has been progress: things are getting better, or, when they obviously aren't, things will get better. The ecological crisis, which we are now well into, signifies the end of this collective dream, although it remains to be seen whether our collective psyche will recognize this fact in time. The supreme irony is that our collective project to secure ourselves, technology, is what threatens to destroy us.


V. Conclusion

    When our motivations are unconscious, we tend to pay an unexpected price: what we project rebounds back onto us. The recent Japanese philosopher (and Zen master) Hisamatsu put it well: "That which has become an object to me is something that has captured me." What does that imply about technology, if

48. Donald Phillip Verene, "Technological Desire," in Research in Philosophy and Technology, (London: JAI Press, 1984), vol. 7, p. 107.

49. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990, p. 77. The Burroughs quote is on pp. 66-67.



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technology is our attempt to objectify nature? For Buddhism, the problem with technological objectification is only an extreme version of the problem with all objectification: since we are nondual with the world, not separate from it, to objectify the world is to be objectified by it and in it. As the earth becomes a collection of "resources" for us to "manage," the material and social structures created to do this do the same to us, and we find ourselves increasingly subjected to them. Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed, said Bacon. But if we must obey in order to command, then our commanding is really obeying.

    It is more than curious that the same karmic-like problem with objectification also infects the other three projects to resolve lack. One can't use fame without being used by it. In Being and Nothingness Sartre argues that in order to win and keep the love of the other, I must present myself as a fascinating object. Pursuing the purest and most important symbol of all, money, we become preoccupied with what it symbolizes about us. And insofar as the sense-of-self uses these projects to fill up its sense-of-lack, each tends to become demonic, because none can grant the reality we seek. No one is ever rich or famous enough to fill up the sense of emptiness at his or her core; the myth of romance ends in Don Juan's joyless quest for sexual fulfillment; and today we are destroying the whole earth in order to save it, as we once did for Vietnamese villages.

    Rather than being natural, as we tend to think, the contemporary importance of these four projects has been historically-conditioned. Of course there have been people in most times and places who were greedy, fell in love with love, sought glory, and tried to harness the resources of their environment. But the decline in collective faith at the end of the Middle Ages cleared the ground for these to take root and grow into "heresies" that assumed a more central role in our psychic struggle against death-anxiety and dread of groundlessness. We could say that today the weeds have taken over the garden; but what is the alternative? What would we rather cultivate in their place?

    Another remarkable similarity among these four is that the modern history of each is a gradual "devolution" from (what might be called) sacred to secular. In the late Middle Ages saints were the most respected. St. Francis didn't seek fame; it was a by-product of what was believed to be his more immediate relationship with God. Dante and Milton strove to be worthy of fame but today fame is sought for its own sake and we celebrate celebrities. The troubadours adored noble ladies without hope of satisfaction or even the desire for it; later this became an emphasis on emotional intensity; today's version is sexual fulfillment. In exchanging the fruit of his labor for medallions with the god's image, archaic man used the god to protect himself, but only by participating in the god's reality; later such cosmic powers could be bargained for in the marketplace and now the stock market. When we look for the same pattern in science/technology, an otherwise peculiar fact makes sense: the spiritual origins of Western science, which we think of as defining secularity. Pythagoras was a mystic, the founder of a religious school whose sacred doctrine was numbers and their harmonies. The Harmony of the Spheres may seem absurd to us, but not to Kepler. Some of this religiosity persists in the attitude of such great scientists as Einstein, who demonstrate and celebrate a non-utilitarian quest for understanding that still has spiritual overtones, but that motivation has long been superceded by



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our desire for power and control over natural processes. [50] This answers the question of how a secular civilization could ever evolve out of a non-secular society. It didn't: what we think of as secularity is still sacred, for our secular obsessions are symptomatic of our spiritual need. By trying to become real through them, we continue to seek Being in a distorted, heavily-symbolized fashion.

    These conclusions give us a new perspective on the Mahayana denial of any bifurcation between sacred and secular: "There is no specifiable difference whatever between nirvana and the everyday world; there is no specifiable difference whatever between the everyday world and nirvana." [51] Without that dualism, then, how can Buddhism describe these four devolutions? The pattern translates into a movement from nondual participation in something greater than the sense-of-self (and therefore greater than the sense-of-lack), to a more dualistic relation in which the reified sense-of-self uses objects in its vain Oedipal project to fill up its sense-of-lack. The tendency is towards greater objectification, which is also subjectification, since the sense-of-self is the first thing to be objectified. For Buddhism, however, "greater than sense-of-self" does not refer to something transcendentally Other to this world, but to the interdependence of all phenomena. There is no appeal to another reality, just the need to come out from my private and delusive hiding-place -- my sense-of-self -- in order to realize this one, including the full implications of "my" interdependence with everything "else."

    Such interdependence is the crucial point of Mahayana Buddhism. Nagarjuna uses the dependence of things upon their causal relationships to refute their self-existence; Chinese Buddhists made the same point more "positively" by elaborating on a metaphor for cosmic interpenetration found in the Avatamsaka Sutra: Indra's Net, which stretches out infinitely in all directions, with a glittering jewel in each "eye" of the Net; in the polished surface of each such jewel "there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring." Indra's Net thus "symbolizes a cosmos in which there is an infinitely repeated interrelationship among all the members of the cosmos". [52] As Nagarjuna might put it, each of its "eyes" is at the same time an effect of the whole and the cause of the whole.

    The Vietnamese Zen teacher (and poet) Thich Nhat Hanh brings this home to us by show- ing how in this very page you are reading right now is nothing less than the entire universe:

50. Philippe Wolff, in The Awakening of Europe (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), describes the origins of European science in Moorish Spain: "It must also be admitted that the products of Arabic science were not always viewed in Europe in their loftiest and most fertile aspect. It was not only the pure, disinterested thirst for knowledge which drove so many savants to Spain and to work so hard when they got there, nor was this alone what made their writings so valuable. Much more important was a naive desire to acquire power over the hidden forces of nature by wresting her secrets from her" (p. 283).

51. Nagarjuna, Mulamadhyamikakarika 24:19, in Mervyn Sprung, trans., Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way (Boulder, CO: Prajna Press, 1979), p. 259.

52. Francis H. Cook's description in Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra (University Park, PA: Penn State Univ. Press, 1977), p. 2.



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If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow, and without trees we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either...
If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the tree cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger's father and mother are in it too...
You cannot point out one thing that is not here -- time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper... As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it. [53]

    How does one real-ize this "inter-being"? If a sense-of-lack is the inescapable "shadow" of our sense-of-self, then the only way lack can be ended is by ending the sense-of-self -- that is, by transforming the sense of myself as a Cartesian-like, self-sufficient self- consciousness separate from the objective world, into a more relational awareness that is nondual with the world.

    In order to understand the Buddhist solution, it is helpful to recast our situation in terms of the dualism that bedevils us. The first part of this paper suggested that the problem of lack originates in our repressed intuition that "I" am not real, for the self-of-self is a mental construction. In other words, the "other side" of my sense of being (tails to its heads, if you like) is an anguished sense of being threatened by nonbeing or nothingness. The Buddhist way to resolve such bipolarities is yielding to the side that has been denied. If it is nothingness I am afraid of, the solution is to become nothing. A famous passage in the Shobogenzo of the Japanese Zen master Dogen sums up this process: To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly." [54] Meditation is learning how to become nothing by learning to "forget" the sense-of-self, which happens by becoming absorbed into one's meditation-exercise (mantra, etc.). Since the sense-of-self is a process of consciousness attempting to reflect back upon itself in order to grasp/ground itself, such meditation practice is an exercise in de-reflection. Consciousness unlearns trying to grasp itself, real-ize itself, objectify itself. Enlightenment or liberation occurs when the usually-automatized reflexivity of consciousness ceases, which is experienced as a letting-go and falling into the void and being wiped out of existence. "Men are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They

53. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1988), pp. 3-5.

54. Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen, ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985), p. 70 (Genjo-koan fascicle).



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do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma." [55] Then, when I no longer strive to make myself real through things, I am "actualized" by them, says Dogen. What we fear as nothingness is not really nothingness, for that is the perspective of an ungrounded sense-of-self haunted by fear of losing its grip on itself. Letting-go of myself and merging into that nothingness leads to something else, the common origin of what I experience as nothingness and what I experience as myself. When consciousness stops trying to catch its own tail, I become nothing, only to discover that "I" am everything: not a formless Oatmeal in which each spoonful is the same as every other, but a network of differences whose textuality (literally, "that which is woven, web") encompasses the whole universe. [56]

55. Huang Po in The Zen Teaching of Huang Po, trans. Hohn Blofeld (London: Buddhist Society, 1958), p. 41.

56. For more on the Buddhist solution to the problem of lack, see "The Nonduality of Life and Death," in Philosophy East and West 40 (1990), 151-74, and Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1988), chapter 6.