I read a quote the other day by the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, where he said, “I have no problem because I don’t mind what happens. I don’t mind if I fail or if I succeed. I have no problem because I don’t demand anything from anybody or from life. I wonder if you understand this.”
I have to be honest, I don’t always understand this. Although this philosophy resonates with me very deeply, I often struggle to make sense of it in practical terms.
The honest truth is, I do mind what happens! I worry when I’m not succeeding and there’s no money coming into my bank account. I mean, there are bills to pay and mouths to feed and I can’t help but wonder whether Krishnamurti understood this. And then I also begin to wonder whether these zen-like philosophies are still relevant today or whether they were better suited for a different time and place, when life was a lot simpler than it is now.
I grew up in a culture and attended a school that was largely influenced by Christian thought. I remember getting into trouble for drawing a yin yang symbol in the margin of my book, as it was thought to be satanic. Now I know that the yin yang is so much more than just a groovy symbol that looks cool as a button badge on a backpack or a sticker on a skateboard. The yin yang can teach us a lot about the fundamental nature of the universe and our existence. If we can begin to understand what the yin yang means, we might just begin to understand everything.
The yin yang is commonly associated with Taoism, which is a philosophy that originated in ancient China. Lao Tzu, who is said to be the founder of Taoism wrote that, “existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other.”
In other words, everything exists because of its opposite and cannot exist without its opposite. The idea of failure only exists because the idea of success exists. Think about it this way: at some point, the concept of money came into existence. But because the idea of having money came into existence, it’s polar opposite came into existence as well, which is the idea of not having money. And for most people, the non-existence of money is a terrifying idea. But the non–existence of money wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the existence of money.
Another example is relationships. The moment you meet someone amazing, the idea of their existence arises in your consciousness. But at the same time, the polar opposite – the idea of their non-existence – arises as well. What if they die? What if they leave? The idea of this person’s non-existence only bothers you now because of their existence. And so it is that, “existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other.”
Our problem, therefore, is that we want the solution of existence without the problem of non-existence. The tension between having success in love or work, opposed to not having it, and other similar dualities, is what causes our frustration in life.
In his book, The Subtle Art of not Giving a Fuck, Mark Manson talks about the “The Backwards Law”. According to Manson, “the Backwards Law is the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place. The more you desperately want to be rich, the more poor and unworthy you feel, regardless of how much money you actually make.”
When problems or disappointments arise in our lives, we can know that the only reason why it has arisen is because we’ve created an expectation somewhere in our consciousness. The problem arises as the polar opposite of the expectation. So, according to Krishnamurti, he had no problems, because he had no expectations.
Again, this is easier said than done. But what would it look like if we didn’t expect anything or anyone to be anything other than what they are? “No”, you might say, “We can’t just allow things to be as they are, because we have to make the world a better place”.
Sure, but how has that worked out so far? Have we really made the world a better place? How much has our idealism really served us? Or has our solutions only given rise to more problems? How many politicians have sworn to eradicate terrorism, only to intensify it? How many lovers have tried to change each other, only to alienate one another? Despite all of our attempts to be more tolerant, people seem to be more offended than ever before. It is a self-frustrating system.
So, what do we do? How do we let go of expectations and ideals, and what would it look like if we did?
We don’t need to look much further than nature itself. Nature doesn’t demand anything from anybody, yet it is taken care of. There’s harmony in nature, not because anything is ideal, but because nature doesn’t expect anything to be ideal. Nature accepts itself as it is and somehow it all works out, until human ego comes along to “improve” it, but in the process, fucks it all up.
So, maybe the key to living a good life does not lie in eliminating the bad and increasing the good in order to bring about some kind of ideal. As we’ve seen, most of the time this has the opposite effect. Maybe the key to living a good life lies in accepting the good and the bad; the success and the failure; the joy and the hurt as the opposite sides of the same coin; and instead of trying to eliminate the tension between these polarities, live more peacefully within it.