Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Inner and Outer Life

Having a good inner life is the goal for Buddhism and Christianity that is monastic or leans in that direction. The relationship between the inner life and the outer life is an interesting issue. What I think is that the outer life has a coarse effect on the inner life and the inner life has a subtle effect on the outer life. If your outer life is bad (e.g., bad actions, bad thoughts, too much stress, etc.) your inner life cannot be developed. This is why both Buddhism and Christianity stress the need for a moral life. As your inner life develops it transforms how you experience life. This is its own reward but it should also have subtle effects on your outer life. That is, when you are done meditating or contemplating you should be calmer and more peaceful in your outer life. However, I think it is possible to get some very profound mind states in meditation that do not have an effect on your outer life. I’ll call these mind effects to distinguish them from inner life. Mind effects are probably a sign your on the right track to developing an inner life but they are not the same thing and it is possible to get stuck on them. A good strategy therefore is to regard any positive inner state you achieve as good, but not the real deal (I suspect that fully realized Saints and Bodhisattvas continue to believe this – e.g., Saint Francis frequently made statements along these lines). Another really important point is that a good inner life will not necessarily lead to a less problematic outer life. It will lead to a more principled and compassionate outer life, but that can actually get you in a lot of trouble (Jesus is a good example but there are lots of others). The inner life is undertaken as its own reward and as a way of helping others, which feeds back to strengthen your inner life. Also, having an inner life gives you a place to go when you need a break from problems in your outer life. 

1 comment:

  1. Coupe of really good comments there Rob. I can't copy and paste them for some reason - but the bit about it being possibly to develop a good inner life with no effect on your outer life is spot on. In Buddhist meditation sometimes we talk of meditative absorption - very concetrative meditation states which are actually subject to subtle sinking and so do not actually help refine our awareness.