a physician/biologist looks at life
N. Abraham, M.D.
books, 2000 - ISBN 0-9672950-0-9
The nub or main point
of most self-help books can usually be expressed in a single sentence.
The rest is ingratiation of the reader, padding, repetition and
waffle. In our world, to publish a book consisting of just a sentence
- or even a paragraph - would be deemed risible. This is why a
website can be superior to a book: it can present a single intelligent-
or even wise - statement without the howls of editor, now-usually-inept
copy-editor, or lily-livered publisher. Yet it is considered OK
to publish a book of blank pages as has been done in Italy and
probably elsewhere. I have such a book in front of me as I write:
Il libro senza errori (The Flawless Book, The Book without
Mistakes) which has no author (why not ?) and was published
by Editoriale Paradigma (no date, no ISBN, nothing printed
on its 256 blank and unnumbered pages).
course, Paradise is where we are without flaw or fault - and can
indulge ourselves faultlessly and eternally in all our biocidal
acts without the opposition of an earthly environment.)
A compilation of
the single ideas of self-help books (a few have two or even three
- and those by the famous Tibetan Chögyam Trungpa have well
over a dozen, while those of the unjustly-notorious American Carlos
Castaneda have perhaps half a dozen) would make an interesting
book indeed, and the happy author thereof need do no more research
than walk into a large bookstore one morning and spend the day
skimming through the dozens of self-help books on offer, and murmur
his findings into an invisible cassette machine - since bookstore
staff do not like people walking in and writing notes on pads.
Maybe I should do this myself and call the resulting slim volume
The Ultimate Self-help Book - or something a bit more catchy
- like Dying Can Be Fun. But perhaps the book - if accepted
by a greedy publisher - would be remaindered both because it would
be too much for today's dumbed-down reading public, and because
it was not by an academic parading meaningless letters after his
name, as the increasingly embattled Noam Chomsky does not do.
Of course, every
author thinks (or hopes that his or her readership thinks) that
his or her book is the ultimate self-help book. Authors are (by
definition) vain people (in both senses of the word).
Dr Abraham is one
of those few who has more than one message. His main one is that
his Anglophone readership is obsessed with success. America particularly
depends on several underclasses of losers throughout the world,
and a ruling class of winners. But the only thing worth winning,
Dr Abraham thinks, is happiness. This is itself a very American
idea, for the word is incongruously included in the romantic Declaration
of Independence (not the hard-headed and deliberately anti-party-political
Constitution), where it (together with life and liberty) is linked
with the upper class notion of pursuit, as of a fox, a hare, or
a bear. Happiness is defined neither in the Declaration nor in
the book I am discussing. Let us assume for the moment that what
is meant is Deep Contentment, a feeling of self-fulfilment (even
though I know full well that the latter does not produce the former).
The two current
obsessions of Americans are success and happiness - so why aren't
the successful happy, and why are the genuinely happy invisible
? There are of course many who claim to be happy (mainly Christians),
but they declare it so much that one is bound to doubt it, for
the truly happy would not be demanding our attention - and less
still our money!
If money produced
happiness, everyone would be giving it away and it would have
have just discovered that the receptor-spots for pleasure/happiness,
and for desire are in different places in the brain. So desire
has nothing to do with happiness - nor has the fulfilment of desire,
which is why the successful are no happier than everyone else.
This seriously undermines the thinking behind capitalism!
reason why the successful are often unhappy (or at least eaten
up with desire and ambition) is that they are successful only
in climbing greasy poles and doing down their peers and anyone
they see as 'competition', and to maintain this success they not
only have to (literally) 'sell their souls' but have to work like
hell to stay up the greasy pole. Is George W. Bush a happy man
? Is George Rumfeld or Condoleeza Rice ? Is any million- or billion-aire
you have ever heard of ? Come to that, is there anyone whose biography
you know even just a little, who could be described as 'happy'
? I cannot think of any famous or famously good person whom I
could describe as 'happy'. Mother Teresa ? Definitely not: her
life was given over to publicitous self-sacrifice. Mark Rothko,
creator of some of the most wonderfully 'spiritual' art ever created,
was profoundly miserable. Diogenes of Sinope - perhaps the wisest
and most authentic human being in recorded history - was not a
happy bunny, either. Chögyam Trungpa (the very wise and perceptive
Tibetan mentioned above, who founded a prestigious college and
publishing housein Colorado) was a predatory womaniser and a drunkard.
Osho, the Maharishi, all those who went to Esalen, and the entire
tomfoolery of Christian, Muslim and Buddhist saints are not famous
for their happiness, but for what they said or wrote, suffered
or endured. Certainly the wisest
man known to me, who refuses to be a teacher since he rightly
teaches that all teachers are bogus by definition, who refuses
to have acolytes, followers, groupies, PhD students, publishers
or others who can find their own wisdom if they would just adjust
their vision and apply themselves, is not a happy man. Who can
be merely happy, knowing that this planet of pain is screaming
deafeningly - and all but a few of us are deaf.
So far in this review,
there has been no definition of happiness. Yet before anything
is discussed, a definition acceptable to all must be proposed.
It is surely not bliss - which is the state of permanent and pleasurable
detachment. But bliss is certainly a state, whereas happiness
is usually thought of as a feeling or bunch of pleasurable feelings.
This cannot be, since feelings are subjective, and happiness is
not. Happiness, like bliss, is a state. And because it is a state
rather than a feeling, it may not even be conscious: those few
who are happy, may be happily unaware of it.
This may be why
the happy are (when not suppressed) despised. Despised because
of their pig-headedness in being happy enough (for
happy enough = happy; I am not talking here about such
infantasies as Eternal Bliss, Continuing Ecstasy, Coruscating
Serenity and so on) living at the bottom of the heap, unnoticed
and unnoticeable. To that extent, perhaps U.G. Krishnamurti
is happy. Perhaps I also, since I seem to have a sunny
disposition despite my nihilism and crushing awareness of the
evil of mankind. But neither of us is going to mention it. Anyone
who proclaims his or her happiness is most unlikely to be so,
because the happy don't use words. Words are used exclusively
by those locked into the concept of achievement. This concept
is evidence of our hyper-evolution: we want to be what we are
not, and we will destroy the whole planet in the attempt to turn
our fantasy into grim reality. It is our Original
Sin, which is only a religious way of saying that we are Nature's
hubris, that we have evolved beyond the planet's ability to sustain
us and our greed. (I am not talking childish fantasms of paradise,
god-longbeard, serpent and pomegranate [mistranslated as 'apple'].
fatal flaw is that we are social animals whose capacity for and
addiction to deceit prevents us, increasingly, from behaving socially.
That makes us unhappy. We instituted crude morality (in the form
of religion) to try and contain our social and environmental destructiveness.
But our addiction to deceit and our obsession with gadgets have
outstripped the powers of mere morality to restrain us. And so,
the richer we get, the more unhappy. We have all become outsiders,
but very few of us are natural outsiders. I am such a 'lone wolf'
and count myself happy - all the more so because I'm looking forward,
in perfect health, to being dead and beyond the reach of mankind's
(Curious that nobody
talks about the right to happiness. Surely such a right
is far preferable to the right to education which really means
forcible socialisation, normalisation and infantilisation ?)
But, to get back
to Dr Abraham's book, he very subtly believes that the path to
happiness lies in giving yourself permission to lose. In
other words, to reject the opinion of other people and to understand
that notorious Zen statement which in a sense means nothing at
all: Zen mind, beginner's mind. I would prefer Zen to be
less cosy than this - for Zen claims to be the antithesis of cosiness,
which is why 'Zen Masters' have their pupils doing all those ridiculous
subservient exercises - yet feed them cosy koans and vague statements
which can be cosily understood. Most religions cater to cosiness
of mind, which is why they are so utterly and emptily banal. Zen
is no exception, though it tries to - claims to - abolish cosiness
to read what I, inspired by Diogenes rather than exotic Japanese
Masters, would prefer as a basic Zen perception.
Now, Dr Abraham
is surely right to tell us that the opinions of others are largely
the fabric of the conspiracy of misery-in-power-politics which
is the foundation of civilisation. Unfortunately, it is very difficult
for most people to live (as I do) in a self-validating vacuum.
They have to work (as I have never had to, being content being
autonomous at the bottom of the heap of indigents) in order to
eat. But he doesn't explain how the anxious conformists (almost
all of us) can turn themselves into autonomous, happy beings through
exercise of the reason which he displays. After all, 'society'
deliberately creates anxious conformists to keep itself going.
This is why the relatively-harmless drug cannabis was banned by
the US long before anyone else banned it. Cannabis is a mañana
drug unlike coffee, tea, alcohol, nicotine, or the most addictive
and poisonous of all obtainable drugs, sugar. You can't have a
workforce which takes cannabis. People who just want to be
can't be relied on to do.
Capitalist Doctrine in Three Words
Man's worldwide fixation on feeling rather than awareness, doing
rather than being (and killing animals and plants rather than
letting them do their own thing of being) results inevitably in
competitiveness. Once we world-devouringly rise above adequate
subsistence-level, we devote our lives to scoring points off each
other, to 'conquering' mountains and nature, rowing backwards
to Antartica, producing a culture of winners and losers which
governments, media and busyness/business exacerbate and grow fat
on. We are not happy, even though we live lives of luxury undreamed
of by the most sybaritic Roman, Byzantine, Persian or Ottoman
emperors - themselves, to a man, pretty unhappy and unadmirable
people. But we are taught to admire achievements, possessions,
not qualities such as gentleness, reliability, integrity, perceptiveness,
uncompetitiveness. Our minds,
our consciousnesses have been goaded into being always busy and
up-and-doing rather than ticking over contentedly in 'meditation'.
As for self-improvement,
this is discouraged except in the most banal forms, for looking
into oneself is not only extremely difficult, and achievable only
without consumer-products, but it leads to people 'dropping out'.
Most of the cultures of the world - especially that of Islam -
are set against social and self-examination. And most of the religions
fail to point out that 'true' wealth is not money - but integrity,
feeling good in one's heart and not fearful.
Dr Abraham's book
starts off with the grounding Buddhist asnd scientific premise
that there is no reality. Everything is illusion, and most of
our illusions are consensual, conspiratorial. The most terrible
of these illusions is money, which has absolutely no reality -
yet is visibly destroying the real world. The real world is 'dirt'
('soil' in British English) for from dirt/soil comes everything
that sustains us which does not come from the oceans we are fast
defiling into watery deserts. From dirt comes mind. From dirt
comes happiness. Yet one of the present foundations of American
culture is not so much the culture of fear of Terrorism promoted
by government, but fear of dirt, rejection of their bodies as
imperfect and defiled and only perfectible by the expenditure
of large sums of money to the most greedy tribes - doctors, pharmacists,
manufacturers, distributors and their accountants.
Women have suffered
for centuries not just from male contempt for their lateral thinking,
their creative mode of conversation, their lack of interest in
technology, but also - amazingly - from male perceptions of their
impurity - usually menstrual and pre-/post-partum. Even more amazing
is that women by and large have passively accepted this, as now
in the West they accept perceptions which have shifted from fear
of bodily function to desire for unnatural and even cartoonish
appearance. Both men and women now are expected to be like non-personalities
in comic strips. Body hair must be removed. Armpits must not only
be washed daily (removing their enticing smell) but shaven as
well and doused in expensively-marketed chemicals which (to me)
smell carcinogenic and cannot possibly do the body any good. Whole
areas of the body are shaven. Men who shave are surely afraid
of their primary sexual characteristics, so men with beards get
frequent jibes, and women with beards and moustaches (often very
attractive to this trichophile) are invisible or treated like
hunchbacks. Sexual attraction is now the domain of the eye as
trained by sickening glossy magazine, and not of the nose which
is programmed to revel in pheromones and produce showers of endorphins
in the brain. So people have sex without natural stimulus - and
wonder why sex doesn't make them happy.
the many reasons why I rarely watch American films is because
the female actors are so characterless, so blank, so bland - so
empty in their faces. When they are not bland, then they are grotesque
as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford revealed themselves to be in
the marvellous Baby Jane. Yet France - home of the cosmetics
industry - produces sensationally characterful female actors like
Jeanne Moreau, Cathérine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche - as
well as characterful but hardly rugged (yet not plucked) males
such as Daniel Auteuil and the ever-expanding Gérard Depardieu.
In fact, had I been born and raised in France rather than in a
backward Anglophone nomansland, I would probably not have developed
my fascination for the reality of hairy men, but been happy to
admire some of the hundreds of thousands of poised, assured, unaggressive
and personality-full French women.)
may be - of course - the notion of 'happiness'. Unhappiness is
visible, even tangible, but happiness is something of a will o'
the wisp. Or is it just that the happy are not just invisible
but also silent ? This may well be the case. But my highly-autonomous
and undemanding dog Oscar displayed
happiness with no effort and no falseness at all. He was happy
at least five - perhaps fifty - times a day, and his happiness
made me (albeit briefly) happy. Happiness may well be the Union
with the Moment and the Moment's Environment that non-domesticated
animals experience frequently and regularly if not continuously.
Oscar taught me
much. And since his death, what he taught me has sunk in. And
I can now count myself as a happy person - since his death! And
despite all I know about our loathsome species.
While I was reading
Dr Abraham's book I remembered a book I read many years ago, and
pulled it out of my bookshelf. It is FLOW - The Psychology
of Happiness, by Mihály Csikszentmihályi. I
remembered it as 'a very good book' (I dispose of 'bad' ones immediately),
but on re-reading it I realised that it was just another single-idea
volume (over 300 pages of small print in the paperback edition).
Flow in this book means absorption in something outside the self
- the opposite of how we're taught to be. Csikszentmihalyi's idea
is that if we can experience Flow in (almost) everything we do,
we will be happy/content/fulfilled. If we don't feel Flow, we
really shouldn't be doing - either because we are not in tune
with what we want to do, or what we want to do (such as getting
rich quick, having a lot of sex with different people, wanting
power) is anti-Flow. Csikszentmihályi also refers to the
completely satisfying absorption of animals in the Moment and
the Moment's Environment and similar moments occasionally experienced
by humans - especially (as we now know) the 'handicapped' such
as those 'suffering from' Asperger's Syndrome, 'Autism' and Down's
Syndrome. The rest of the book is impressively taken up with case-histories,
with quotations from luminaries like Durkheim and Nietzsche, social
anthropology, psychology and other fascinating material. This
book rests on many years of thought and research, but it is not
clear whether the flow that is discussed is directional (the flow
of a river) or tidal - or (the flow that I recommend) circular,
like that of water going down a plug-hole.
We learn too much
about, and too little from.
Of course absorption
outside the self is classically exhibited by such pleasant and
common people as torturers, animal researchers and thousands of
other 'respectable' people who seem 'happy in their work' or in
their 'hobbies'. So one is forced to consider the moral dimension
of 'happiness', not addressed by the non-religious , who can therefore
quite reasonably take over the whole notion and call it 'salvation'
or some similar appealing abstract. True happiness must also include
complete and open acceptance of one's whole self, recognising
the warts, psychoses, trauma, pettiness, stupidity and all. This
is no New Age pap - nor is it self-analysing disappearance up
one's own colon. It is more the 'Journey without Goal'
that is one of Trungpa's many profound themes. Aborption in the
Journey which is facing up to the self, acceptance of the self,
and then the wearing of the self like a pair of comfortable shoes
rather than the platinum collar that our culture sets up happiness
to be. Happiness is very animal, very childlike (before adults
have mauled the being of the child with their corrupt words and
behaviour. It is often unconscious. Conscious happiness for me
is the state of watching-empathising with a dog having one of
his or her moments of joy.
Dr Abraham would
have done well to weave the idea of (circular) Flow into his book.
It would have fed in nicely to his argument that one large source
of unhappiness is a false (largely television-produced) perception
of reality which makes us want and want. If your perception
of reality is like that of a breakwater rather than a wave, of
a concrete dam rather than a rippling stream, or of a canal rather
than water circling round the plug-hole, then your life is going
to be devoted to getting and achieving, and you are bound to be
unhappy - not least because you destroy your ability to appreciate
things alongwith the rest of the self you were born with.
On the other hand,
the readership his book is aimed at is definitely suburban and
lawn-mowing if not 'gated'. He is wisely not writing for a coterie
of intellectuals, nor is he trying to hook those who end up in
Hare Krishna or very much worse. The kind of people who buy this
kind of book buy many different ones, and if their lives are not
changed by them, they will remember very little contained in them.
And here the author comes up against a no-win situation! This
book is unlikely to change anyone's life dramatically because
its author recognises that such 'conversions' are bogus. Only
the other day I listened with great embarrassment to a half-hour
BBC broadcast about a student in Sheffield (Yorkshire) who had
such a 'conversion' and founded a Retreat Centre which charges
a cool £300 a month for people who think (if they think
at all) that happiness is feeling good, to come and feel good
about a lot of Tibetan mumbo-jumbo currently so popular in the
West. It is so appealing, indeed, that I suspect the Dalai Lama
is not all he is cracked up to be. Every word that the ex-student
spoke in that broadcast sounded false.
I have read books
by other similar guys who have ended up as Rimpoches of this 'lineage'
or that. I know an expert in Tibetan language and culture who
runs a Buddhist college in southern England and courses in Oriental
Philosophy, Sanskrit and Pali in an English university, whose
whole life is a busy and anxious antithesis of the Buddhist teaching
which he explains and perhaps proclaims.
So full marks to
Dr Abrahams for giving himself 'permission to lose' in a world
run by the bogus, the mad, and those who strive anxiously to be
bogus and mad, bad and dangerous to know: successful.
he turned himself into a publisher to produce his book... [discuss!]
Vrhka Baba, May 2005
Becker (described as a 'melancholic existentialist')
"Material production is the greatest evil in human
history because it destroys the very conditions that sustain our
There is indeed "original sin" - but
it is not ours.
It is Nature's hubris in producing us to evolve beyond the planet's
ability to sustain us and our greedy technology.
(Evolution through sexual competition rather than elective hermaphroditism
may have proved to be the cause behind the cause of the Sixth
And 'God' is just the echo of our mania for power superimposed
upon the echo of our horror of death.
We are grotesquely over-evolved. The Deadly Species, the Beast
of Annihilation...that writes books and creates web-pages.
For further discussion on happiness and
evil, see Mark Rowlands' The
Philosopher and the Wolf , London 2008
ISBN 978 1 84708 059 2
"RIGHT PLANET - WRONG UNIVERSE."
- Douglas Adams
towards unachievement >