We might be able to close on this apparent agreement, when you say that, “once contentment is realized it is present exactly as horror, awe, and disgust.”

It’s a question of seeing past the mainstream, happiness-industry’s take on spiritual enlightenment, to recognize how the pessimistic, nontheistic version merges with the perennial insights.

I’m not in favour of all forms of suffering and I don’t mean to defend sadism or anything like that. But there are honourable, perhaps inevitable kinds of suffering that seem to me to characterize an enlightened state of human being, a radical grasp of our existential situation. Blissed-out contentment strikes me as a sign of being duped, as in the Brave New World that reflects the automated happiness of consumers who are addicted to empty, unsustainable pleasures.

Compassion seems to me to be complemented by suffering, since the empathy for others or the admiration for the world’s wholeness will entail suffering on behalf of victims such as fellow human minds or God who falls into a universe-creating trance which would itself be the cause of all suffering.

Towards the end of the Pixar movie Insight Out, there’s a scene that depicts the bittersweet mental state. There’s a kind of elevated, perhaps condescending suffering that’s reserved for enlightened people, I suspect, a dread mixed with joy, awe, and disgust. Whatever the enlightened person’s mentality, I don’t see how it could be purely peaceful or joyful. Such a mentality would lack existential depth.

We can always train ourselves to feel only this or that; we can delude or practically lobotomize ourselves. We can subscribe to this or that ideology and practice this or that lifestyle which in turn sustains a certain emotional range. The defender of each worldview will declare the latter’s superiority to all others, in which case it begs the question to speak of enlightenment. In some sense, there are only kinds of enlightenment.

I think the secular kind I explore is the most profound, but the spiritualist says the same about hers. At least they may meet in the middle when it comes to the radical implications of any elevated, genuinely philosophical or spiritual perspective.

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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