Thursday, March 28, 2013

Being and Becoming - Two Completely Different Things, Part II

(I've been plagued by the ideas of mere "being" distinguished from "becoming" in the recent years. This is a fundamental distinction in the ontology and metaphysics of different people; at one point I had envisioned this distinction being entirely cultural--that the west maintains a monotheistic and static "being" of an existence and the east maintains a more fluid and ever-changing "becoming" of an existence. Perhaps the distinction also traces itself to the religious undertones of east and west, or perhaps the distinction is attributed to the fundamental philosophical dominance in the perspective regions. We see this in the prevalent Kantian "Categorical Imperatives" maintaining that there is something immutable and universally true while the Chinese ideologies maintains that the only constant and universal truth is in the change itself and nothing in its form is so immutable as the suffering of that illusion. 

However, the more I investigate into this distinction, the more I realize that the distinction is not so easily categorized. People who follow the Judeo-Christian tradition have also recognized the distinction while people from the east, in places like China, maintain a sort of hope for the universal immutable regardless of their spiritual and national influences. 

Therefore, I've come to see that perhaps this distinction is more fundamental than regional influences and religious indoctrinations. Perhaps this distinction predates conceptions of ontologies and metaphysics of the world. In this respect, perhaps there is something more to human progress than mere intelligence and sociability; that in the ways we move forward, we invariably draw from the deeply rooted sense of wanting to be more. While some are comfortable with the status quo, others, as I come to see, are driven mad by their quest for change. That is the beauty of humanity, isn't it? That no matter where you are, what religion do you believe, or what political ideology do you follow, invariably you will find the desire to change and become something more if it is within your mind set. That mind set, as I see, comes from the human condition of suffering, which is universal in of itself.

So, today, I bring you another post I wrote a while ago on this topic that so plagues me and drives me mad for change. Perhaps in these lines, we find a common answer to a paradigm shift towards something sustainable--universally.

You can read Part One of this here.)


There are palpable similarities between eastern philosophical thoughts of “becoming,” its consequential influences in Buddhist philosophies of suffering, and what Dr. Martin Luther King had recognized as the steps of progressive social change.

In Dr. King’s Letters From Birmingham Jail, he starts his defense of his civil disobedience by noting social change as a process: first one must define where injustice exists, then negotiate reform, allow for self-purification and finally, when one exhausts the steps, direct action should take precedence (define, measure, analyze, and control).

Six Sigma—a mathematically driven industrial process improvement method—also advocates for similar sequence of steps: to improve any industrial process, one must first know where the problems lie from all relevant stakeholders; the stakeholders themselves, with the process change agent acting as a facilitator, must then negotiate the process’ current status with a desired outcome; following the negotiated proposals, stakeholders must understand the steps necessary to implement the negotiated changes from what is internally possible (bar external influences—since external influences are considered most relevant to the control step—addressing external forces is more significant to a process improvement during control, or verification, since those external forces will dictate hypothesis in the reality of the situation); and finally, one must control the proposed process change—testing the process improvement hypothesis limiting errors to few mechanical applications of the process improvement method so continued improvement is possible.

We see the same steps Dr. King had described, and Six Sigma tried to mechanize, in Buddhism. Buddhism is generally accepted to have four fundamental truths; (often the philosophical undertone is lost to a western reader by the use of “suffering”—Buddhism is not about suffering per se, but about the overcome of suffering to attain enlightenment. The art of Becoming.). 

The four noble truths in Buddhism are:

1. Life means suffering. (Define)

Here, the Buddha teaches us that the predicate of living is suffering because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in.

Recognize that imperfection, a priori to a Buddhist, means we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression.

Life, to a Buddhist, in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This is the definition of our problem in achieving enlightenment—recognizing that we are imperfect, that all things are impermanent, that we are powerless to change the external forces that shape the “reality” of our situation, we must then understand it to the best of our abilities—in essence we must understand not only our minds, but our souls, in search of our imperfect being in a world of becoming perfection—thus we shape external forces internally.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment. (Measure)

Because we are attached to transient things in life, we cause our own sufferings; we cause our own imperfections and our own social ills.

Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas—ideas like the “old way of life” (or the “southern way of life" confronted by Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement).

According to the Buddhist teaching, our ignorance comes from our lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. This ignorance is not just on one side or the other of the political divides, or one the one or the other side of our moral divides for that matter.

For the Buddha, this ignorance is what keeps us from investigating into the systemic problems of things as they appear; we rely on our suffering to prompt desire, passion, and motivation to strive for better things according to our imperfect being.

This sort of change, accordingly, is imperfect still; it causes further suffering because we are still craving and clinging to some kind of status quo. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, and our passion and desires forever measured against more passion and desires, our failure is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily continue.

To better understand this particular truth of Buddhism, one must also recognize that our passions and desires, as measured against further passions and desires, even of the better of changes as we see them today, still are objects of attachment within the idea of a "self" which is a delusion. Because there is no abiding self, what we call "self" is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable. (Analyze)

In conducting an analysis of our problems of the “self” and our ignorance, the Buddha recognized that the cessation of suffering could be attained through nirodha—the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment.

Here, the expressed idea is that suffering can end with dispassion; by extinguishing all forms of clinging and attachment we discover that suffering can be overcome through human activity, through collective dispassionate activities, simply by removing the cause of suffering.

This forces the act of our analysis into the systemic problems of our collective human experience. Through this act of analysis into the systemic challenges of our passion, we find and perfect dispassion on many levels in how we relate to others. This ultimately leads us to the state of Nirvana—freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas as we encounter in our interactions with others.

But Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not recognized the systemic, the root, of our ignorance and suffering.

Here we recognize external forces are constantly dividing us internally, causing us to pull our passions and desires one way or another. This is where our crafted Six Sigma technicians have recognized the imbalance of external considerations have attributed to a lack of process improvement in the industrial place. Here, we also note that Dr. King struggled with his critics while in jail, where he coined this stage of the process as "self-purification."

4. The path to the cessation of suffering. (Control)

According to Buddhism, there is a path to the end of suffering. This is the controlled step of one’s enlightenment—a gradual path of self-improvement confronted by external forces. These, in particular to Buddhism, are described more detailed in the Eightfold Path.

Here, we find ourselves confronted with the supposedly middle way; some would call it the compromise.

We do this inadvertently, on a daily basis, to ensure our political system is functioning, our judicial system is just, and our human experience worth memorializing. We essentially compromise ourselves into injustice.

The control step, then, is a delicate tight-rope walking between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence of ignorance (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism) leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth—leads to better societies embedded with positive social changes.

Yet if we dwell on the artificial, political, moral, ethical, or whatever else human creation divides, we risk being stuck on inaction; our controlled steps non-functioning. This, Dr King recognizes, as the duality between the forces of “complacency and insensitivity” on the one end and “bitterness and hatred” on the other.

For “[i]f I [Dr. King] sought to answer all criticisms [addressing to those ends] . . . I would have no time for constructive work.”

Here, we note in Buddhism, in Six Sigma process improvements, and in the Civil Rights movements, the asceticism quality discerns the act of change from other paths which are merely "wandering on the wheel of becoming” with no final objective; the other extreme leads us to the path of inaction and continuing suffering oblivious to its effect on ourselves. Even Gandhi thought non-violence meant not inaction, but action with self-imposed non-violence.

Where does this leave us and our sustainability movement? What is the lesson we can draw from these seemingly random correlations between process thinking, noble truths of a religion, and social change?

Eastern cultures, I come to observe, are largely influenced by a Confucian aesthetic order as opposed to the western civilizations so influenced by the rational ordering. This aesthetic order effectuates a process in which personal cultivation in social hierarchy inspires emulation—father inspires son, mother inspire daughter. In this process, the participants become the sociopolitical order based on the emergent harmony from their voluntary participation.

One important similarity between the aesthetic ontology and Alfred N. Whitehead’s thoughts on the priority of process, or becoming over substance or being is, while Classical western metaphysics are concerned with substance of things, its assumed axioms in the likes of “identity” (a=a) of things, the process metaphysics (the philosophy of organisms) maintains that the final real things of the universe are actual occasions or entities, which are a unit of process (or process of becoming) rather than substances (being) in the traditional sense.

In this process metaphysics of becoming, the facts of identity (assumed a fundamental axiom of analytic and mathematics) are not the focus. (In formal logic, and mathematics, one encounter a basic, fundamental, assumption of identity “a=a”; I’ve always thought this particular thought troubling. Intuition tells me that nothing is identical to itself and change is always happening. In quantum physics, we know our subatomic compositions are never the same from one moment to the next. Intuitively, to me, the axiom a bi-conditional relational statement “a if and only if (iff) a” makes more sense). In the process metaphysics, the ontology focuses on a relational focus: not a concern to describe how things are in themselves, but how they stand in relation to something else at particular times—in effect: how things can change.

At focus, between process and being, we note some distinct issues of human rights. With respect to human rights and in light of a different metaphysics of the eastern ontology, both Douglas Strum* and George Pickering* have set forth relational or process perspectives on property rights. Strum replaces the individualistic ontology of “classical western liberalism” with a process-based “communitarian political ontology.” Their insight, focusing on a more relational and ecological, even organic character of metaphysical inquiries, coupled with a Communitarian perspective seem to drive at the heart of how countries like China can address its human rights violations as well as how the west views China’s human rights issues.

Strum argues that a “jurisprudence of solidarity,” as opposed to jurisprudence of individuality, where the “driving passion of law is not so much to protect the individual against trespass as it is to create quality of social interaction conducive to the flourishing of a vibrant community of life across the world.” The consequence, Strum argues, is that “human rights are of greatest importance as a form of empowerment, enabling people, as individuals and in their association, to participate effectively and through political community.” On that notion of empowerment, I find that sustainable industrial developments, which encompass human rights as well as environmental sciences, can merge with China’s need to lift its improvised people out of poverty all the while continue to improve substantial human rights and environmental protections.

Sir Ken Robinson said in a famous presentation that the “human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity,” is only productive “by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are, and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate [the children’s] whole being, so they can face this future . . . [our future] — [one] we may not see . . ., but they will. And our job is to help [] make something of it.”

A law professor recently professed that it’s not just about our children or our children’s children; the human ecology is urgently in need of something that we can do to teach ourselves now, at this moment, so we can create a better condition to foster this human ecology for the eternal moment, for the children then.

But we must act now; yet how we act is also mightily important to the movement—to any movement.

"What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely, and that we avert some of the scenarios that we’ve talked about. And the only way we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are, and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. . . ." - Sir Ken Robinson

For references, see:                                                                  


IMMANUEL KANT, CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON (Dover Philosophical Classics, 2003).



*George W. Pickering, Property Rights: Another Relational Perspective, in ECONOMIC LIFE: PROCESS INTERPRETATIONS AND CRITICAL RESPONSES (W. Widick Schroeder & Franklin I Gamwell eds., 1988);


See also: What Virtues and Formalities Can Do For Corporate Social Responsibility and the Chinese Rule of Law? 仁 礼 誠 人 | 人 必 治 法 | 法 修 其 德 | 德 必 治 國 - by Jin Kong

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