Recently I was wandering around aimlessly on the internet, having searched for some thing, and after either finding that thing or not, soon enough I was chasing down pretty, diverting little butterflies of interesting snippets like a demented medieval scholar with a butterfly net. I stumbled on an interesting website that way: WikiAnswers. As you know, Wikipedia is a free, online, open-source encyclopedia which anyone can contribute to (if you don’t know that, get thee posthaste to an internet connection, type in wikipedia.org and then search for an article on your favorite subject.) by writing or editing articles. Well, WikiAnswers is the same sort of thing; anyone can ask any question at all, and anyone can answer it. Then other anyones can edit the answer. All of us anyones, in fact, can even edit the questions. Answering questions on WikiAnswers is my new obsession.
I find it strangely soothing to answer questions – and I get a small dopamine rush when I see a question I know I can answer. Back in the third grade- especially in math class- there was a regrettable dearth of dopamine in my brain as I stared, non-plussed at the equations on the test paper. I remember being amazed that I had not the tiniest hint of recognition that I’d ever been taught how to solve that particular type of problem. It was like getting off the bus at what was supposed to be my stop and seeing a brand new landscape there, with street signs written in Swahili. Working on WikiAnswers is utterly different. Its like being given a test on which you only have to answer the questions you want to, and not only that, but its an open-book test, so you can meander around the halls of learning to the beat of any drummer you like. In this environment, I welcome signs in Swahili.
So there is that pleasure – of learning for fun – and there is the pleasure of winnowing my thoughts down into cogency. When I look at a question such as “How much power does the Dalai Lama have?”, I can think of hundreds of vantage points from which to frame my answer. After all, he has the ultimate spiritual and political power in Tibet, but of course he’s influenced by advisors and surely there are those around him who subvert or circumvent his power, and on the other hand, his power is most directly derived from his wisdom and spiritual acumen, while it is also true that it is really a cultural remnant of a feudal society and really only exists because the Tibetan people agreed to bestow it upon him…and etc. I get pleasure from taking all those thoughts and expressing just enough about them to suggest an answer, and perhaps spur a bit of conversation. But then I get pleasure from reading textbooks.
Its too bad no one has edited one of my answers so far. I’m curious to see how I’ll react, since regardless of all the pleasure I derive from answering things, there is no small measure of the Sin of Pride here. I mean, I actually answered the question: “How do you get enlightenment?”. It’s an important question. It took a lot of my small store of will power to resist treating that question as though it was an epidemiological one, however. How do you get enlightenment? Don’t wash.
Oh, and speaking of Sin; I had this thought whilst pursuing one of my butterflies which had alighted for a moment on a website about Catholicism: generally, sins are considered to be those pleasures we ache to experience but are prohibited. Despair, however, like prostitution and suicide, represents an important exception. An overlooked but serious sin, losing all hope may well terrify us. We don’t want anything to do with it. Should we ever find ourselves sinking into it, we want compassion. Yet Catholic theology singles out despair as singularly sinful because in it a person rejects God. Despair combines blasphemy and pride together, and is the sole sin that can not be forgiven.
The Buddhist point of view of sin, however, is completely different. If I have a problem with something you are doing, I don’t call it sin and condemn it, but I look at my own motivation. If I have a trouble with you it is because I want something from you. The Lam-Rim teaches us that attachment, grasping at your own pleasure is the source of pain and misery.