Sisyphus Pushing v. Buddha Sitting

Someone recently said to me that to conclude that the universe is without purpose needn’t lead to pessimism and Albert Camus-like rebellion (as I have been suggesting lately). Nihilism might just as well mean “the loss of misery and despair as well. One cannot mind that nothing matters.”

There’s certainly some truth in this.

But I think that the problem of human consciousness is that it prefers some states over others in an otherwise indifferent environment. In other words, consciousness has preferences; the universe does not. And it is outrage at this absurdity (that one is born into a world with desires that cannot be reliably satisfied) that consciousness rebels against. To resign oneself to the state of nature—“one to me is loss and gain; one to me is shame and fame; one to me is pleasure and pain”—is to, in my view, make Heidegger’s move (to embrace “Being”). But I’m still with Sartre and Camus here. I think we would lose our human consciousness and identity if we did not rebel against the preference-free, unconconscious universe. I’m okay with being a Buddha occasionally, and sitting and letting the world come and go with equanimity. But unlike Paul McCartney, ultimately I don’t want to just “let it be.” I will rebel.

Maybe rebellion is just a heightened form of suffering. Sisyphus pushing his rock. But what else are we going to do? Buddha sitting is certainly an alternative. But Buddha sitting is a kind of death before dying; an embrace of nothingness before you are nothing.

So Buddha sitting isn’t really a great solution either, is it?

This is why Camus said that the first question of philosophy is suicide. Once you’ve absorbed the universe’s apparent indifference and purposelessness, your next move is some form of death or rebellion.


Or this:

For me, I’m not ready to die yet.

But maybe it’s foolishness on my part.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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