The Tyranny of Novelty

M. - If you're always looking for novelty, you're often depriving yourself of the most essential truths.

The antidote to suffering and to belief in a self consists of going to the very source of your thoughts and recognizing the ultimate nature of the mind. How could such a truth ever grow old? What novelty could 'outmode' a teaching that lays bare the very workings of the mind?

Very often, fascination with things that are new and different is a reflection of inner impoverishment. Unable to find happiness within ourselves, we desperately look for it outside, in objects, in experiences, in ever stranger ways of thinking and acting. In short, we get further away from happiness by looking for it where it simply isn't to be found.

The risk with that is that we may completely lose any trace of it. At the most ordinary level, the longing for novelty arises from an attraction to superfluity, which erodes the mind and disturbs its serenity. We multiply our needs instead of learning not to have any.

It seems to me that the notion of novelty, the desire to keep on inventing things through a fear of copying the past, is an exaggeration of the importance given to the 'personality', to the individuality that's supposed to express itself in an original way at any price.

And from the perspective of someone trying to do just the opposite - to dissolve any attachment to the all-powerful self - such a race for originality seems at best superficial.

For instance, the idea that the artist should always be trying to give free rein to his imagination is clearly foreign to traditional sacred art, which exists to provide material for meditation and reflection.

Artists put all their heart and talent into what they do, but their personality vanishes completely behind their work. For that reason, Tibetan painting is essentially anonymous.

J.F. - [...] Do you think [that] Buddhism might provide a refuge for people who are fed up with the whole tyranny of novelty?

M. - [...] If you try to see where that thirst for novelty comes from, it seems to arise from neglect of the inner life.

We stop going back to the source of things, and the idea occurs to us that by trying all sorts of new things we might be able to compensate for that feeling of lacking something.

[Matthieu Ricard]
and [Jean-Francois Revel]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.313

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