The title,The Absurd Lightness of Being is a tribute to Milan Kundera and his philosophic novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) which is a play on Friedrich Nietzsche's notion of “eternal return” that all events in the universe have already occurred an infinite number of times and shall do so again, and again. Kundera writes:
“If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. It is a terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make. This is why Nietzsche called the eternal return the heaviest of burdens” (1984, 3).
By turning Nietzsche’s weighty notion of eternal return upside down as a “lightness of being” Kundera is able to expose all that is superficial in our world today, especially, our reluctance to engage adequately with the heaviness of being symbolized through Nietzsche's eternal return and, I would add, the Buddhist idea of rebirth and all that it entails.
For inexplicable reasons many of us only want the lightness of being even though history warns us of life’s almost unbearable heaviness of being. But this wish—and trying to ignore future heaviness—will only lead to future man-made hells in my opinion.
So what are the consequences of desiring the lightness of being in which many wish to avoid the heavy side of life? Let’s take the current belief that we live only one life; that after we die, that's it—there is no karma or rebirth. Incidentally, this view is also shared by some modern Buddhists who reject the Buddha’s notion of rebirth/reincarnation.
By believing that this life is our only life we are giving ourselves a green light to live with reckless abandon, are we not? The only thing that is stopping some of us is we’re not quite sure that this is, in fact, the only life we have. After all, being born once does not come with any guarantee that it will not happen again, or that we won't end up in Nietzsche's eternal return.
Another consequence suggests that if we have but one life, then all life is entirely superficial if not actually meaningless and insignificant. Even suffering and the ending of suffering count for nothing. Indeed, it will all end one day—perhaps even violently—but it will end with all is for naught.
From what I can gather, according to Kundera, from where such lightness views arise, for example, that this is the only life we have, owe pretty much to the totalizing effect that kitsch has on our psyche. It is so pervasive that we even refuse to engage with profound anti-kitsch ideas thus ennobling the opposite: a kind of agnostic stupidity which doesn’t want to know. On this track, kitsch is aptly described by Frank Burch Brow taken from his book, Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste:
For Kundera, kitsch is a beautiful lie; it prettifies and falsifies the world, often by embracing, implicitly, a cause or an ideology that requires cheap emotions and an unqualified (but blinkered) acceptance of reality, a categorical “agreement with being” (129).
The way I see it, what kitsch works to achieve is to hide the heaviness of our being that can only be overcome spiritually through a great deal of effort. This may explain why kitsch abhors the Buddha’s notion of rebirth and Nietzsche’s kind and institutes the one life plan! Kitsch is also behind every work of propaganda. It shows the multitude that everything is okay in River City, so to speak. It pumps out slick, colorful ads of smiling little blond children running to greet dad who just came home from work driving his big chromed Buick. Above all, kitsch implicitly wants us to believe that whatever I believe in—and we all agree—is the truth.
Not only does kitsch create a fake, gaudy world for its inhabitants, but it also is capable of creating a fake religious attitude.
In the main, the kitsch religious attitude fails to understand that true reality is something profoundly deep; that it lies beyond the emotions and sentiments. In fact, true reality can only be accessed by introspection, an introspection capable of penetrating through the hard rind of phenomenality, including this corporeal body and its entire existence. This is something a modern kitschified religion doesn't want to think about or engage with. It is off-limits, in other words. Kundera likens this attitude with how we treat “shit.” He says, “kitsch is the absolute denial of shit.” Nevertheless, shit is a fact of everyone’s life, just as introspection is or karma, or our rebirth, according to Buddhism.
For a Buddhist to dismiss rebirth saying, “I don't believe in it” is a symptom of kitschness—and shit avoidance. These same Buddhists have only lived on the surface of Buddhism because their very being seeks only the lightness of being and will not settle for anything less. In other words, they are not ready for prime time gravitas (i.e., guru, meaning heavy, great, large, violent, serious, important, weighty, of much account, etc.). They will also be the ones who will eventually destroy Buddhism with their kitsch.