Does suffering have a “source”?


What are the limits of introspection?

You can search inside yourself.

You can spot the feelings of horror that are the real controlling forces of your acting and intending. You can confront the terrible chemical undulations and eddies that populate your abdomen, your stomach, your chest. You can admit that your face tingles.

These are the valid objects of introspection, because the are present. But rarely are these the actual objects of our introspection. Instead, we try to uncover the alleged causes of these data. And so we make an Awful Inference—from what is really present to its alleged cause. We take our feelings not as they are in themselves, but as surfaces of something deeper. Behind all of these feelings is The Source that pushes them into manifestation.

On one hand, there is awareness of feeling. On the other hand, there is an inference towards the feeling’s source; but this source itself is never present. The absence of any prior-to-feeling was correctly noted by Hume and Buddha. Only feeling is present; its alleged source is not.

The Awful Inference is that there is a cause of all this crap, and the cause is the self. Once this inference has been made, we dutifully attack the self that makes the feeling.

The irony is that punishing is an act of self-exertion—it amplifies the thing we are supposed to be punishing. When you hate yourself, who is hating and who is the hated? If the self is what you hate, shouldn’t you stop the attack since attacking amplifies the thing you are trying to diminish? If the self is to be punished, why let it do the attacking? Isn’t it the enemy?

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