This post is Mr Wang's Vesak Day special. Mr Wang recalls the time when he wrote in his personal blog that his goal in this lifetime was "to gain enlightenment". Subsequently, Mr Wang deleted that entry. The idea of being regarded as crazy does not appeal to Mr Wang. And if you publicly declare that your goal in life is "to gain enlightenment", the chances of being regarded as crazy seem to be quite high. Hence the deletion.
Nevertheless, Mr Wang's formulation of his Crazy Goal - the attainment of enlightenment - did not spring from craziness. Instead it arose from Mr Wang's systematic analysis of human motivations, goals and our notions of success. Allow Mr Wang to explain.
The classic Freudian view is that our core motivations are deeply buried in our unconscious. They will remain unknown to ourselves (unless we have had the benefit of a trained therapist or talk regularly to our own right brains). While Freudian thinking has fallen out of favour, this particular aspect of Freudian thinking still attractively explains:
1. Why so many of us consistently fail to achieve the goals we set for ourselves (still remember your 2006 New Year's resolution?); and
2. Why the goals that we do achieve rarely bring us the long-lasting satisfaction and happiness which we thought they would.
The explanation lies in the idea of the Covert Goal.
We may make plans and we may set goals, but more often than not, we only have a superficial understanding of WHY we chose those goals. Our core motivations, as Freud would say, are buried in our unconscious and therefore hidden from ourselves. Since we don't know the WHY, one of two things usually occurs:
(1) we fail to achieve our chosen goal (we give up halfway, lacking any core motivation to persist with the endeavour); or
(2) we achieve the chosen goal, only to discover that the satisfaction or happiness we derive is short-lived (because the achievement did not satisfy our core motivations).
Now, the Covert Goal is a little different. The Covert Goal is the unconscious goal behind our consciously chosen goal. Keep probing deeper, and you may discover not only the Covert Goal behind your consciously chosen goal, but a Covert Goal behind your Covert Goal, and another Covert Goal behind that one. In other words, you get closer and closer to the core motivations in your unconscious.
Suppose that your conscious goal is to build a highly successful career. Now ask yourself why you would want to do that. Obviously there may be several reasons. But keep asking "why?" for each reason that comes up, and keep probing deeper.
For example, one reason you want to build a highly successful career may be to earn a lot of money. Then ask yourself why you want to earn a lot of money. One reason may be that you wish to buy a big house. Then ask yourself why you would want to buy a big house. One reason may be that you want your family to live more comfortably. Then ask yourself why you want your family to live more comfortably ....... and so on.
When you keep probing in this way, you may make some surprising discoveries. For example, you may discover that your true motivation for wanting to build a highly successful career - the reason why you work all those late nights in the office - is to make your family happy. Upon discovering this, you may realise that all your late nights in the office in fact do not make your family very happy. That is to say, your actions do not bring you optimally to your true goal. Instead, the optimal route to your family's happiness could well be for you to scale down your career - so that you earn less money, but get to spend more quality time with your family.
You can apply this same analysis to any of your goals - whether your goal is to quit smoking; get married; travel around the world; rescue homeless animals or win the General Elections. Take the analysis far enough - and it is very likely that you will discover some very interesting results about your own life.
What has all this got to do with Mr Wang's Crazy Goal of attaining enlightenment? Well, Mr Wang has previously probed all his many goals, big and small, in many different areas of his life. You can do the same. For each goal in your life, simply keep asking "why?" and keep chasing down all the reasons that come up. Mr Wang's tentative conclusion is that Buddha got it completely right. Ultimately, our deepest Core Motivation is the same:
And that only happens when we gain enlightenment. So enlightenment is not just something that the crazy Mr Wang wants. It's something that we all want - in fact it's the only thing we really want.
Most of us just don't know it.