I use a lot of quotes in my work but one of my absolute favorites is Einstein’s well-worn definition of insanity:
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
What struck me the other day was that Buddhism has a similar description of insanity called samsara (which is so very related to karma). Simba from ‘The Lion King’ might call this the ‘circle of life’ (albeit with that anything-is-possible-if-you-wish-hard-enough fluffy Disney spin).*
*Yes, I am taking some liberties but I am also linking one of the greatest mind of the 20th century to records of an enlightened being to a song by Sir Elton John, one of the world’s greatest dressers. I am doing this because it amuses me.
Samsara, according to the Gospel of Wikipedia, is the ‘continuous flow’ from one cycle of life to the next–birth, life, death, rebirth. It is when we are on this cruel (at least in our perception) cosmic wheel that we suffer.
Our attachment to this wheel is in the form of the past shaping our current perspective. This is one of my favorite ways to describe karma–the cumulation of past experience shaping your present outlook and decision-making abilities. Put another way: the past shapes how you perceive the present and that affects how you move into the future. Lose that tendency and you get off the samsara wheel. Get off the wheel and you’re enlightened. How easy.
I’m guilty of it too.
I ask, ‘What exactly does that word mean? How is that concept defined?’
The parts I often miss is the ‘to me?’ and ‘by me?’ parts of those questions. I’ve mentioned this before: we get way too hung up on words, especially spiritually loaded words. So, rather than going back to notions of samsara and karma and suffering and lions and such, let me try a different approach:
We do the same thing over and over again–often because of tradition, fear of change, and/or an unwillingness to admit that we see other possible-but-more-difficult paths–and we’re miserable (and maybe thinking we’re going insane) as a result.
We eat too much. We drink too much. We do things that we know will hurt but dammit if the instant gratification doesn’t make it seem worth it right now.
We have romantic relationships crumble under the same pressures because we seem to keep being attracted to our ‘type’.
We grow restless in our relationships because s/he ‘never changes’. We have the conversations we expect to have.
We find the same dissatisfaction in our work, our community, and our lives because we keep doing the same shit over and over again. We learn to do this because we learn to do this.
A redundant statement?
Our experience shapes our outlook. Our outlook shapes our decision-making. But, if our past is defining our present then aren’t we doomed to repeat the same patterns in the future? Welcome to existence on the circular wheel of insane suffering life. It reminds me of a great ‘demotivational’ poster I saw recently:
“Tradition: Just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly stupid.”
Buddha and Simba and Einstein would agree this is all pretty messed up. Call it samsara, insanity, or “our place, on the path unwinding, in the Circle, the Circle of Life.’
I call it perpetuating bullshit and I have a sign on my door that says ‘No Bullshit’ for a reason.