Motivation 2


One of the things I’ve been working with in meditation lately has been rousing what we refer to as the great motivations. They are great renunciation, great compassion, great doubt, great determination, and great faith. To a crude first approximation, they’re how we at the Monastic Academy approach the problem of installing something like a Sacrifice or a Heart (see previously) on the already-running superintelligent AI that’s already taken over the world, i.e. us.

They’re not any good, and you wouldn’t mistake them for being any good. This is a design feature, not a bug, since if you thought they were good you’d just try to grab onto them and make them last forever, which defeats the whole purpose.

Great renunciation is the intent to give up any and all personal gain. It’s the desire to lose everything we have, to relinquish, to die. It’s not wanting anything whatsoever for me: no fame, no money, no pleasure, no happiness, no comfort, no rest, no satisfaction. Not just wanting these things and then suppressing that desire, but actually not wanting them.

Great compassion, then, is what’s left when we’ve given up everything for ourselves: the intention to benefit all beings, to relieve suffering, to make the world kinder and less cruel. If we’re doing this fully, then compassion is the only reason we do anything: we don’t eat, make money, or become successful out of self-interest, but we’re willing to take on that burden in order to help others.

Great doubt is what naturally arises when we are not fully successful in rousing great renunciation and great compassion. It’s not a shallow, thinking-about-things kind of doubt. It’s a deep sense of insecurity and horror that comes from seeing the effects of actions that are motivated by selfishness, and seeing that we are still acting selfishly.

Great doubt naturally leads to great determination. We stop messing around when we see that we have to do this now. Not tomorrow, not next week, not once we’ve gotten into a better place with ourselves: this very breath. It will never be any easier than it is now. We forget everything else and throw all of our energy into the technique, not holding anything back. When we do this, we discover that we have way more energy than we thought we did, so we throw all that in too.

With great determination, we naturally experience great faith. We see that we can do this, so we don’t need to stick around and micromanage it or freak out about it. We can just let it happen. Which leads to greater insecurity, to greater energy, to greater faith.

The answer to “how do you produce these?” is just that you try, and keep trying. And instead of just making a token effort to satisfy yourself that you’ve tried, you throw everything you’ve got at the problem.

I’ll reiterate that this doesn’t seem all that good to me. But as a solution born out of desperation, to try to solve a problem that’s already on top of us—well, if you’ve got anything better, I’d like to hear about it.

My experience of this is that it’s somewhat effective if you do it on silent retreat. By effective, I mean that selfish motivations temporarily drop away, I observe myself acting in helpful ways more often, and I don’t suffer as much (or put another way, I experience a lot more joy.) I don’t know much about its utility outside of a monastic retreat type setting, aside from that it doesn’t seem as feasible to implement it effectively. So maybe you can experiment with it, but I wouldn’t advocate for making it into your main technique.