a little something extra

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sabbath 17, or, why I would make a very bad Buddhist

This chapter marks the beginning of a new section of the book. The section is titled "Happiness," and the chapter title is "The Pursuit of Happiness."

In this chapter, Muller takes aim at desire as the anti-rest, anti-Sabbath force. He draws on examples from the Buddhist traditions to bolster his argument, which is essentially that craving results in constant striving and action, which countermands rest but gives birth to more craving. The cycle continues with the human being never finding satisfaction, always wanting more.

Towards the end of the chapter, Muller turns his attention towards gratitude. If one is busy giving thanks for what one has, one cannot simultaneously crave more. Returning to craving can closely follow the act of gratitude, but it can't actually be simultaneous with it. So, the more time we spend being grateful for what we have, the more we break the hold of craving on our psyches.

The major flaw I find in this chapter is Muller's disregard for any happiness that one might find in one's work. From what I know of him, he likely gains some happiness from his own work, so I decided to chalk this oversight up to authorial strategy. I think at this moment in the book, if not throughout the volume, Muller is staking out one pole, a rather extreme position, in the hope that his readers will leave the opposite pole and land somewhere in the middle.

Because my work makes me happy, I'm kind of a bad target audience for this chapter. Other things make me happy too -- this is what makes one attempt to create the fabled Work-Life Balance.

But I'm also aware that my core beliefs are pretty far from Buddhist tenets. Where Buddhists preach DEtachment, I embrace passionate ATtachment to the people, ideas and pursuits I love. I know I'm buying a certain amount of pain guaranteed to come with love -- which leads to the second way I'd be a bad Buddhist. Buddhism attempts to end suffering, or avoid it. I believe that suffering is currency. If I want love, I have to buy it with willingness to endure pain when that love is not returned, or when the person I love leaves. I'd rather do that than never love. I'm willing to suffer.

This chapter's exercise is so general as to approach being difficult to identify. In short, Muller says, "Be consciously grateful for the good things you have." Well, right on. And I'll begin by being grateful for however many chapters may limp by before Muller uses the phrase "bread from the oven" again. I'm about ready to pop him in the nose for gratuitous repetition.

Tripp's post on this chapter is here; here is Cristopher's.


At 10:38 AM , Blogger kgmoreno said...

Funny, you just put your finger on why I didn't make a very good Buddhist myself: I'm attached to my attachments. :)

I've really been enjoying your commentary on this book. Kim recently started reading a similar one. It's much more explicitly Judaeo-Christian in its approach to the Sabbath, but I'm noticing a lot of parallels in the messages.

Right now we're participating in a spiritual formation group through our meeting, in which we read a different book each month. Your 'Sabbath' project is inspiring me to start writing my impressions of those texts, although my deconstruction will be nowhere near as thorough as yours, I'm sure.

At 12:22 PM , Blogger meeegan said...

Oh, cool, Kevin! I hope you'll consider posting some of your impressions of that book on your blog.

As far as thoroughness, I think it helps that I read "Sabbath" for the first time a couple of years ago. This grupenreadingwriting project is the second time around, for me.


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