The Lucy Syndrome

“The Lucy Syndrome” refers to I Love Lucy, the longest-running series in TV history. This show portrays the well-tuned comedic ensemble of Lucy and Desí Arnez, Fred and Ethel Mertz, adrift in a sea of typical domestic difficulties. Fred and Ethel are perfect straight men: an older couple, seemingly resigned to the unyielding unsatisfactoriness of American suburban life. Desí is a cubano immigrant musician, an unlikely Hollywood success, a stranger lost in a strange land.

Lucy, the lead, is the enigma. She sails through the vicissitudes that trouble her costars unfazed, without a ripple in her relentless cheerfulness. In Hollywood shop talk, this plot type is known as the “goofball”, a device used with similar effectiveness by comedy veterans George Burns and Gracie Allen. She gets everything wrong, is clearly living in a world of her own, and yet is the only one of the cast who is completely happy.

While entertaining, this plot device sends a serious message: in today’s world, to be happy you must be delusional. The twentieth-century existentialist philosopher Heidegger concluded that while a measure of personal satisfaction can be derived from maintaining individual integrity, it is won at the price of alienation from the surrounding society. Sartre took it further and declared that there is no exit from suffering. Most people accept these conclusions as foregone. But is it really so?

It is trivial to find many examples of people accepting delusion in the pursuit of happiness. The tragic mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult springs to mind. It is possible to find people who believe they can live on air alone; that the prophecies of The Urantia Book must certainly come to pass; that they have transformed their DNA from two strands into twelve.

Obvious nut-cases aside, we all use pet irrationalities to get us through the day. Some delusions are more socially acceptable than others. The baseball professional who never goes to bat without his lucky coin is tolerated. Fanatics who demonstrate against others’ moral views or sexual practices find less acceptance. The typical religious person falls somewhere in between.

Of course, cynics claim that any belief in something beyond this world or life is simply self-delusion. The provenance of the origin stories and scriptures of all religions are more or less dubious. Certainly, in most cases they have been subject to major editing and redaction. Yet even knowing this, many people find comfort and solace in the stories and promises of religion.

Why? The common theme of all religions is relief from suffering. And the method given in most of them is belief. Religion says, “Simply believe in this story, in this set of values, in this ritual, and you will be saved” from the suffering of life. But is there any hard evidence to support these promises? In most cases, no. There the cynics reign unchallenged.

The teaching of the Buddha, however, does not rest on faith but on phenomenology, the very same method of self-observation and analysis used by the existentialist philosophers. The Buddha admits there is suffering in life and asks, “Who or what is suffering?” And the answer will surprise no one: it is ‘I’.

To exist is to suffer. But the Buddha turns this problem on its head: instead of proposing to get rid of the external conditions causing suffering, he proposes to get rid of the sufferer instead. Instead of changing the world, the object—an impossible task—he turns his attention to changing the subject. He found by self-experimentation that when the ‘I’ is eliminated, suffering also ends. This is a capsule description of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths: suffering, its origin, its cessation and the path to that cessation.

The interesting thing about the Buddha’s approach is that it does not require faith. Rather, it relies on facts that anyone can confirm by observing his or her own life. Thus, the Buddha’s teaching focuses on getting rid of the biggest delusion of all: the irrational belief in the existence of ‘I’.

But wouldn’t life without an ego be like life after a prefrontal lobotomy? Isn’t egolessness more or less like aphasia or amnesia? Wouldn’t an egoless person be in danger in this world full of aggressive people? No, no and no. The Buddha showed by his personal example that by getting rid of ego a person becomes more intelligent, energetic, compassionate, resilient and perceptive.

After all, by getting rid of the ego there is no one to suffer, and also no one to feel ill, to fail or to die. The Buddha’s teaching eliminates all forms of suffering at once, simply by eliminating the sufferer. And his theory has been proven in countless cases by people from all backgrounds who enhanced their experience of life by taking up his teaching.

So the Buddha’s teaching is not simply another instance of the Lucy syndrome. Actually it is the cure for all forms of delusion, because it cures the root of all delusions: the delusion of ‘I am.’


Published by

Dev Jacobsen

Musician, author and yogi, developer of Palingenics.

2 thoughts on “The Lucy Syndrome”

  1. And one of the delusion is to not know the difference between the two Buddhas. I have a post called ‘The Real Buddha,’on the difference, but I’m sure someone like you already know. 🙂

    1. I do know exactly what you refer to, but you probably will not like my views on it. First of all, there are not two Buddhas but innumerable Buddhas. A Buddha arises whenever the knowledge of awakening has been completely covered in human society. A full Buddha comes once in an eon, a very long time indeed. Gautama Buddha appeared about 2600 years ago, and he told of 27 most recent Buddhas before him. This history is recounted in the Buddha-vaṃsa.

      Actually the ‘two-buddha theory’ of the Hindu chauvinists is a complete fabrication. In fact, most researchers now accept that the Vedic literature in its present form was compiled less than 2,000 years ago in reaction to, and out of envy of the tremendous success of the teachings of Gautama Buddha. The theory you refer to is analyzed very nicely by Rajneesh:

      Hindus have invented a very cunning story about Buddha. … The story says, God came to the world as Gautama the Buddha, corrupted people’s minds, destroyed their beliefs, uprooted their conventions, shook their faith, created doubt in their minds, suspicions…

      A very cunning story. Do you see the delicate cunningness in it? In one sense Buddha is recognized as God’s Avatar. Hindus are more cunning in that way than Jews. They simply denied that Jesus was the Son of God, they rejected Jesus. Hindus are more sophisticated in that way, more polished, more cultured—of course, a more ancient civilization. And the more ancient the civilization becomes, the more cunning it becomes.

      See the cunningness: Buddha is accepted as the tenth incarnation of God, and yet God takes this incarnation into the world to corrupt people’s minds. So although Buddha is God, beware, don’t listen to him! You see the strategy, the trick? They don’t deny Buddha godhood—in fact it was almost impossible to deny Buddha godhood.

      H.G. Wells has said that Gautama the Buddha is a paradox: the most godless man and yet the most godly. He never talked about God, he never told people to believe in God. God is simply missing from his teaching. It is not a necessary hypothesis, it is not needed. The most godless and yet the most godly…nobody seems to be so godly as Buddha, so graceful as Buddha—just a lotus flower, the purest consciousness conceivable, as fresh as dewdrops in the early morning sun.

      They could not deny that, they had to accept that he was God. But they could not accept his approach because his approach, if accepted, would destroy the whole established religion, the whole establishment. He takes away all the beliefs; in fact he makes it a very important thing, very essential, that a man of belief will not be able to know [nibbāna, true enlightenment] ever. He does not mean become a disbeliever, because disbelief is again belief in a negative way. Neither be a believer nor be a disbeliever.

      Buddha’s approach is that of an agnostic. He is neither a theist nor an atheist—he is an inquirer. And he wants you to remain open to inquire. Go with no prejudice, go with no ready-made idea—because if you go with a certain idea, you will project your idea onto reality. And if you have some deep-rooted idea in your mind, you will see that idea being fulfilled in reality and it will be only a hallucination, a dream projected by you. You have to go utterly empty. If you really want to know the truth you have to be absolutely empty, you should not carry any idea, any ideology; you should go naked, nude, empty. You should function from the state of not knowing. The state of not knowing is the state of wonder.
      The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha, Vol 2

      This analysis is really perfect. Once I spent six weeks with the Dalai Lama taking instruction in the deep Buddhist philosophical tradition of Madhyāmaka. Although God is never mentioned even once in Madhyāmaka, it contains the most potent arguments for the existence of God I have ever heard. At the same time, what we call ‘God’ cannot be a person, at least in the way we understand persons, because the source of everything has to be transcendental to everything. What is transcendental to things is no-thing, and a no-thing is also a no-self, a non-person.

      The Vedic literatures, especially Vedānta-sūtra, slander the Buddha by presenting a false teaching that has nothing whatever to do with the actual teaching of the Buddha. They present a false, straw-man argument and then rip it apart. Along with making the Buddha an Avatar (something he would never agree to) it is one of the most reprehensible lies in all history. For it led to the wholesale torture and slaughter of millions of Buddhists at the hands of the Hindu Brahmans and their Mohammedan collaborators. In fact to this day, the collusion of the Brahmans and Islam goes so deep that the Imams can get away with anything in India.

      For this terrible crime against humanity, India lost its status as the most civilized and prosperous nation on earth and descended to a filthy, poverty-ridden killing ground, conquered and plundered by everyone from Alexander to the British imperialists.

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