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Dispassion or dispassion*?

Updated: Oct 15, 2022

The discourses of the Buddha are fond of emphasising attitudes of dispassion, weariness, absence of desire and craving, equanimity, detachment, and similar. This might strike the ordinary person as a bit too cool blooded, in fact, even slightly inhumane.

One reason for this dissonance is that, from the point of view of the discourses, the ordinary person does not actually know what these attitudes are, since they experience them only rarely (if at all), and do not have the conceptual frame for interpreting their meaning. Upon hearing about the idea of dispassion and similar, the ordinary person interprets this as a mix of ignorance (not wanting to see, not caring) and aversion (putting at a distance what one does not like), and rightly judges this negatively. Call this dispassion*.

The fact that dispassion* is judged negatively is in fact a good sign, since it does not take much effort to articulate the complementary view that caring and friendliness (the opposite of ignorance

and aversion) are in fact worth developing. The ordinary person might know these latter attitudes, although they might still be experienced within a number of boundaries and restrictions (friendliness is good, but only towards certain people; caring is great, but only in certain conditions, and so forth).

Perhaps a more skillful way of presenting the message of the discourses is thus to emphasize that friendliness and care are the beginning, the middle, and the end of the path outlined by the Buddha. His teachings are tools meant to help remove the boundaries that ordinarily constrain the experience of friendliness and care, by thus making them boundless. Eventually this leads to the complete abandonment of dispassion* -- and that is genuine dispassion.

Of course, in the beginning this will sound abstract. Fair enough, but that's why it is better to start from where one is, and from what one does understand and value. Do you like friendliness? Cultivate it! Develop it, make it your own vehicle. It will lead a long way ahead.

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