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by David Truman

CAUTION: This paper purposely fails to support the popular view that it is wise, necessary, and appropriate to be essentially selfish. It WILL, however, put a broad smile on the face of any soul who believes that the essence of loving is to transcend the lower impulses of ego and selfishness. Your actual smileage may vary.
What are you living for? If you're like most people, you're living, by and large, for YOURSELF. (If the shoe doesn't fit, be Cinderella.)
First, we are seeking release from the troubles of life--working on the problem of existence from our own personal point of view, trying to solve what we experience as the difficulties and frustrations of our lives.
Selfishness and the drive to be better.
Second, we are seeking release from the difficulties that are self-created. Many of us understand that outer difficulties are not the only troubles we suffer; we realize that many of our problems result from our own flaws of character. So we work on improving ourselves, in order to have a more pleasant experience of life.
You see, the usual life purpose has two prongs to it, but both have one thing in common: They are both for YOU. Running through all your aspirations there is a hope that you will arrive at a time when things are more pleasurable for YOU, and less painful, less difficult, less frustrating overall--for YOU.
Selfish "good works"
But wait -- are we REALLY so selfish? Don't we all do good things for other people? Sure we do: We certainly show some care and consideration to others, we certainly do deeds we do that appear benign and helpful, and even, at times, generous.
But here again, the question of motive is significant. By and large, WHY do you do good works? WHY are you willing to accommodate others, to serve them, to try to make a positive difference to them? Without white-washing your real purpose, what really is it for?
Goodness: A necessary evil?
If you look honestly at your motivations, you will find them to be for YOU. Even your most elegant efforts to become socially appropriate are rooted primarily in your motivation to realize your own personal dreams.
The thing is, even the most selfish person in the world has a practical side. So even if, as selfish people, we don't really WANT to help someone else, there are times when apparent altruism becomes a "necessary evil."
Believing, "If you do good to others, it will come back to you," lots of people feel highly motivated to do good.
Evidently, we are all smart enough to realize that many of the things we personally want and need are SOCIAL realizations of pleasure and possibility -- not merely some sort of solitary enjoyment. Therefore, if we are to fulfill our more pleasant dreams, we must get along with others. If we could somehow become more contributory, nurturing, beneficial -- or at least amusing -- to them, then that effort would yield a form of a life that is more personally fulfilling, less difficult, and less frustrating for us.
Quite possibly, we would not do good works if there was a way around it. But, when we see how the system works, and we reckon the potential payoff is good, we may sometimes TOLERATE the fact that we have to do someone else good in order to get what we want. We think, "This is what it takes to get ahead."
Win-win, sin-sin?
What a sneaky form of self-service! It is the moral equivalent of sleeping your way to the top in Hollywood: an unethical arrangement whose PRIMARY purpose is to achieve a SELFISHLY desired gain. We can't even say the ends justify the means when the ends are selfish!
The practical pig
Most of us accept the rightness of self-interested giving; in fact, our language has many popular idioms that express it: "What's good for the goose is good for the gander," "It's a win-win situation," "I'll scratch your back, and you'll scratch MINE." Most people would not see anything wrong with thinking this way: "I hope that if I can do all these wonderful things for you, then I can get MINE. I am counting on the fact that my good works will come back to me; that it will all benefit me in the end."
There is nothing wrong with gain; but it's a problem when our motivations are PRIMARILY selfish. We are not criticizing the fact of having rewards. We are criticizing being in it PRIMARILY for the purpose of receiving rewards.
Effects of excessive selfishness
Always and forever, the important question in life is not WHAT are we doing, but WHY -- WHAT FOR? Our actual words, our actual deeds, are merely the medium for our motive. The impact and meaning of everything we do depends on WHY, exactly, we are doing it. When our answer is, "Generally, for myself," we reap the results of living a selfish, egocentric existence.
What are those results? How does being essentially selfish affect our lives? Let us count the ways:
Why selfishness can be hell on sleep.
1. Selfishness makes us dishonest. Whenever it appears to us that the expression of truth might get us in trouble -- or somehow prevent or delay the realization of one of our selfish dreams, plans, or purposes -- we are liable to LIE. (Or at least, shall we say, the truth may be twisted, distorted, or otherwise withheld -- even if a falsehood is not DIRECTLY spoken.)
2. Selfishness makes us negatively honest. The honest self-expression of a selfish individual is ugly, shameful, offensive. For example, a man who was pursuing his best friend's girl defended his actions by saying, "Honestly, when it comes to getting women, I haven't got any friends." Or frustrated women will often say, "I want what I want. If I don't get it from you, I'll get it from someone else."
3. Selfishness makes us manipulative toward others. We have now acknowledged a selfish ulterior motive behind many actions that SEEM to be beneficial to others. We have seen how so many things that we say and do are said and done with an eye toward the personal outcome of saying or doing it. Thus, we are hoping and planning to INDIRECTLY get something from actions that are not openly self-oriented, and THAT is manipulative.
4. Selfishness makes us manipulative toward our own bodies. We sometimes try to work with our bodies and energies so as to make ourselves more attractive, more electric -- or simply to experience more pleasure. Even those who seek esoteric pleasures, such as spiritual raptures and the like, are trying to wrestle out of their physical mechanisms some sort of pleasure, fulfillment, promise, or potency.
5. Selfishness makes loving actions insincere. Selfishness makes individual actions complicated and insincere -- especially ones that appear to be loving. When selfishness is involved, apparently loving actions are not really loving, and gifts are not given purely for the benefit of the beloved. Our actions are not simple transactions like, "have this;" rather they are complicated transactions, like, "have this and now give me what I want."
6. Selfishness can be hard on sleep. Think of all the nervous and expectant posturing, the hopeful dreaming, scheming and planning, the obsessive self thought. We toss and turn in fitful sleep, fretting, wondering: "How can I get out of a jam? How could my behavior be refined so as to become more beneficial to myself, more effective for the realization of my personal dreams?" We model the scenarios, mentally manipulating the factors towards desired outcomes. "Which approach will come out the very best for me, and which one second best -- and why?" And then of course, we wonder, on top of all that: "How can I prevent the problematic perception that what I am doing is excessively SELFISH?"
Hint: Don't worry about perception; worry about the truth of it.
How can lies, off-putting candor, manipulative actions, and insincere giving work for love? It is impossible, on the basis of selfish motivations, to expect or achieve relationship harmony. Therefore, it is necessary to rise to a higher standard.
What SHOULD a person be living for?
What really should a person be living for? A person should be living for the benefit of OTHERS, for God's sake! A person should be living for love's sake. A person should be living as an extension of Divinity. Perhaps that sounds like a bit of religious dogma, but actually it is a straightforward description of the enlightened life. And enlightenment transcends religions and dogmas of all kinds.
Ultimately, we need to be bigger than the motive for personal pain relief. We should not live merely to escape the pain and frustration of our life experience; we should not seek merely to create, within this maddening and miserable world, some sort of personal oasis, a release from the challenges of being here now.
The right reason to face the challenges and find the solutions is love.
That does not mean that we should not be problem solvers; we should creatively interact with the arising difficulties day by day. We should be committed to live and love THROUGH the pain and difficulty of doing so -- and engage in that creative struggle for reasons that are not selfish.
Enlightened living is not a pattern of systematic avoidance of difficulty. Nor does enlightenment signal the end of difficulty. Instead of running away from life, the reality of enlightenment is to be connected to all things. If anything, that connection will INCREASE our awareness of many difficulties of which we are now unaware.
What kind of God would make a world like this one?
A spiritual disciple asked his teacher, "What type of a God would have created all this difficulty? What type of God would have created a place like this earth, and people like ourselves?" The teacher replied, "The type of God that we HAVE. There's your answer. Now what are you going to do about it?"
Apparently, there is a PURPOSE for this madness, for this difficulty, for the frustration here. The purpose is to arrive at an orientation within the difficulties of living that is a not, in itself, ultimately problematic, "selfed," or self referential. The purpose is to effectively transcend the cramp of one's own reactions, to transcend one's own plans and purposes, to release the selfish orientation, the lower motives, the base and egoic proclivities -- and thereby become enlightened.
No relief in sight!
The enlightened life is not a utopian realization -- a happy la-la land that is somehow idealized, de-clawed, and stripped of the endless challenges of loving. Likewise, love is no opiate, and unity offers no insulation. God's plan for human life is that human beings should live as love, but that plan does not imply or promise that human beings will thereby escape all the difficulties of life, or be incredibly gratified, or have it all come up roses in some way. There is no relief in sight, and the clearer your spiritual vision grows, the more obvious that becomes.
If enlightenment sounds like the opposite of the selfish solution to life you've been seeking, you're right -- it IS. From the point of view of the ego, it is really no solution at all. How positively GRAND! To put it bluntly, the life of love does not in any way extend the strategies of the ego -- or further the desires of the ego, or implement the plans and purposes of ego. The only enlightened life is a life of living sacrifice, and there IS no relief for the ego in entering into a life of sacrifice.
A sacrifice, not a gain device
Love requires nothing less than the living and literal sacrifice of the body-mind, without self concern or self-interest, in a world which remains difficult, frustrating, and challenging. As a lover, you are not stinting or self-protective in that sacrifice, and you are not calculating, because cost is not really an object. Whatever you are doing, you are really doing it to further other people. That is what you are living for, and what you should be living for, as a lover. And that's WHY you are free to do what love requires of you.
When you take the enlightened position in life, your body becomes an answer to this prayer: "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace . . ." It becomes a gift. It becomes usable. All its functions can be turned into gifts in a real sense -- SINCERE gifts, gifts given for reasons that are truly altruistic, not as part of a personal plan for selfish gain.
Until enlightenment dawns, your life is nothing but an effort to beat the system, a system that is unbeatable. You are only bashing your head against the wall at every moment -- trying, paradoxically, to gain relief. It's a bloody mess!
After enlightenment is achieved, there may not be much gain in anything the ego would want. Some things may change, but the only significant difference is that you yourself are enlightened in the middle of it all, because you have become a sacrifice, not a gain device. That is the real difference.
Will it do ME good to be good?
Perhaps -- a loving, serviceful life is undoubtedly fulfilling. Yet if you were good, would personal benefit be your primary concern?
Example: Imagine two brilliant intellectuals, both of whom work for the same Think Tank, and both of whom draw the same high salary. And yet, there is an important difference between them: One of them is in it for the money, while the other one is in it for the creative nature of the work.
Clearly, reward and motivation are distinctly separate elements. Getting the money and being in it for the money are two different things.
People are free to wonder, "If I live the life Divine will I get mine?" But if you are in it primarily to get yours, then you are not living the life Divine in the first place. Obviously, you do not become a true lover just because you realize that loving people spend less time in the doghouse than unloving people. You do not become truly altruistic just because you realize that altruistic people get the chicks or the guys. You do not achieve spiritual heights for egoic reasons. Those are CONTRADICTIONS. And if those are your motivations, you are living a life which is fundamentally selfish. The rewards of a truly loving life cannot possibly accrue to you if the primary reason you are doing it is to get yours.
A fundamental change, for a change
The single question, "Why am I doing this?" should be applied to every single activity, plan, strategy, action, thought, word, and deed, no matter whether it seems to be sublime and virtuous or grotesque -- even when it seems to be ordinary, mediocre. Whatever you are doing, honestly ask yourself, "What is my essential reason for being here? Why exactly am I doing this? What am I really living for?"
Then honestly evaluate your answer. A person who is unwilling to admit what's wrong with an essentially selfish life does not see the forest for the trees. Wake up! See it! This is coming to consciousness.
Some day, there must be a fundamental change; a shift in the essential motive. Until and unless you are willing to make the necessary corrections at the root, nothing can be different -- everything remains the same. If you can see that, you stand to gain relief from the cramp of the guilt, the pain, and the madness of constant selfness, from the constant reacting and acting out of selfishness. That relief is available. That relief is real. But mind you, though such relief is achievable, it can never be achieved as the result of selfish purpose.
Life's finest and most perfect catch twenty-two.
And that, my dear friends, is life's finest and most perfect catch-twenty-two.

by David Truman

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