On a Cosmic Perspective

Posted on Jan 14, 2016
Berlin, Germany

A person’s true joy and felicity lie solely in his wisdom and without knowledge of truth, since this does not increase his own wisdom which is his true felicity.

- Spinoza, A Theological-Political Treatsie, Chapter 3.

There’s an interesting precept in Buddhism that human suffering is caused by attachments. The way to reach a more enlightened state is therefore to reduce the attachments that one has. Though I am not well-versed enough in Buddhist philosophy to claim to have a deep understanding of this precept, it appears on face-value to be logical and self-explanatory. Emotional pain comes most often from unmet expectations–someone you planned to spend your life with has other plans, your idea of your relative worth in the organization that you are a part of is different from how other people in your organization see you, your youthful expectation of what you would do and where you would be when you were the age you are now seem more glorious than where you currently are at, or you continue to do things that you yourself think you should not be doing, to name a few. If you didn’t really care about these such things, then there can be, by definition no unmet expectations and thus emotional pain is reduced.

Such an analysis assumes that the absence of unhappiness is happiness, which is probably not correct but for the sake of argument will assume it to be true The key to happiness is then to have an uncaring, detached, unambitious existence. The distance between expectations and reality is non-existent. This to me seems empty and devoid of meaning–for we need a reason to wake up and get out of bed in the morning. Alternatively, one can become the person that it wishes to be, but as a result of a person’s large ego or ever-growing ambitions, this can at times not be achieved. Another alternative is to dissolve the tension between expectations and reality, much as certain types of liquids dissolve bonds holding certain types of molecules together–think of acids, for example.

One such insight that can procure such an effect psychologically is always keeping a cosmic perspective in the back of your mind. What I mean by a cosmic perspective is making the realization that all of us are very small when compared to the vastness of the universe, that our lives are as short as the sound of a single clap sounds compared to the standing ovations given in concert halls, and that our expectations are even themselves relatively smaller than that! Think of the people who have come down to us through history as individuals of infinite ambition–Napoleon, Caesar, Cao Cao for example–and then consider that even they are insignificant when compared to just the history of the human species, just blinks of light that flashed once and then went out.

With the backdrop of planets and stars we know exist, but that we could never reach because just getting to them would take longer than the length of those with even the most longevity, what really are we striving for? To have relatively more things than other people around us? Take a cosmic perspective, most of us have many more things than those who lived just a century ago and even the richest among us will never know comforts that will be commonplace to most ordinary people in 500 years. To be more respected, or loved, or feared, than others? Can you name one person from 10,000 years ago? Do you think our descendants will likewise be able to name you in 10,000 years time even if you’re the president of the US?

A cosmic perspective allows us to see how relatively small even the greatest expectations of ours are. It follows that a cosmic perspective shortens the distance between one’s expectations and reality, and make us all a little bit happier.