Over the years I’ve encountered numerous philosophies and ways of being in the world. I’ve tried them on like outfits. Some fit okay but weren’t suitable for all occasions and had to be left behind. Others didn’t fit at all and, in their metaphorical stitching, were shoddily made, had too many loose threads and too many hidden pockets. I can’t deal with that sort of mess. Some have fit rather well – sexy when they need to be sexy, respectable when they need to be respectable, and secure, when they need to be secure. In essence, some have reflected deeper ways of being for me than others. Some have fit in far more circumstances than others.
One proverbial outfit that I have been drawn back to, time and again, is Buddhism. This isn’t to say that I identify as “a Buddhist”, just that it’s approach and philosophy – it’s way of looking at the world – has continually supported my growth and, at it’s core, it’s basic system of understand, has yet to have show any loose ends.
Of the vast tree that is Buddhism – a philosophy that has devolved into a religion as much as the teachings of Christ have branched out into a multi-headed beast – it is the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism that have been the most present in my life and, of that school, I’ve tended to appreciate the rather lucid and accessible writings of Chogyam Trungpa (as well as Pema Chodron, a student of his). There are various views and stories of Trungpa and I’ll leave that to you to ferret out. However, it is perhaps his association with the Beats, with Allen Ginsburg, with Naropa, with drinking and drugs and the psychedelic 60’s that allows him to bridge a cultural divide and the worlds of the ancient East with the new age West, entering into Western culture through the hippie doorway. The beats and poets and their entourages were seeking to get down to the core – away from the story, man, and just go with what was happening. Trungpa had an uncanny knack for writing and speaking very straight forwardly and stripping the story – the dogma, the religion – away from the philosophy. And I appreciate that.
Buddhism itself can be a very dogmatic religion full of curtseys and salutations and rules and restrictions. In this way, it isn’t any different than most other religions. Because of this, I can understand how those who are raised Buddhist gravitate toward Catholicism and vice versa.
I, myself, was raised a Catholic. Did I take to Catholic philosophy the way that I did to Buddhist understandings? Well, for me, it was tough to weed out the philosophy from a religion that states, in answer to the question of “Why?” that it’s because it’s in the Bible and because God said so. That is decidedly not philosophy. Later on, I came to understand the message that Jesus (or whoever that whole bit of the Bible was about as that is sometimes up for debate) had to share. His message of brotherhood and compassion and seeing God in all things, seeing the divine as the abundant core of all things, is very relevant and inspiring.
Ultimately, Christianity had a lot to say about this human family – how we should treat one another, how we should love and that we should do so because God is at the center of all things (according to the Gospel of Thomas) but, as a religion, it had very little to say regarding why it was difficult to do so sometimes other than the dogmatic devolvement into sin and guilt. Buddhism, on the other hand, deals a lot with why we have such a hard time being open and loving and compassionate in the world. It can be summed up in three words: attachment, indifference, and aversion. It is the dance between those things, and all the desires and stories and fears and beliefs that we associate with them, that makes it sometimes difficult to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, which is, ultimately, to love one another unconditionally and, in fact – love all things unconditionally: even this glass, the driveway, the lines on the street, my cell phone, the floor. Everything. Just let them be as they are. Instead, we have a belief in a separate ego identity and, because of this, create hierarchical system of likes and dislikes according to the whims of an illusion. Madness!
Religions are powerful because they speak to some of the deepest parts of ourselves: our desire for spiritual union, our loves, our fears, our projections. God is, for so many people, a great big projection of Parents, a safety net that makes people feel cared for. It gives them a sense of authority when they need to tell someone else what to do (well, God said so!). Or it’s just something to answer to that isn’t themselves. Granted, the UFO-heads have simply replaced the outward “God” with Aliens or Star Beings or whatever. Same with the 2012/Mayan Prophecy folks. One way or another it’s this superstition that something out there is going to come and save us or is watching over us or is something we will have to answer to that is the basis of most belief systems. The superstitiousness of religious thought pulls us away from the religions core philosophy. Religions become as powerful and huge as they are because there is, inside of them, core truths about human nature and they capitalize on this.
Buddhism, too, is not without it’s own superstitions, belief systems, and dogmas. However, the core of Buddhism, it’s answer to the question of “Why is it hard to love others openly at all times, including myself and all that surrounds me?” is what always drew me back. According to the various teachers I’ve met over the years, the answer is always the same: “Why? Well, because there is this belief in ‘ego’ and this attachment-aversion thing. You are skeptical? Good! Great! Tell you what, try it out, see how it works. If it doesn’t work, throw it out. If it does, keep at it.” And that was it.
“Why is it hard to love unconditionally?”
“Well, because we have attachments and the basest attachment of all is to the belief of a solid core ego-identity. As long as that belief is there then we will continue to fall. Whenever you can get through the ego, there is always this thing that remains and the best word we have to describe it is: compassionate wisdom.”
“Ah, well… how do i know what you are saying is true? After all, when I asked the priest that, he just said it was original sin, guilt, all that stuff.”
“Sit. Breathe. Focus on your breath. Do this for a long time. Then get back to me.
And sure enough! There it was! Burning endless compassionate love. Only after days of sitting did I uncover what had never been covered. That’s the only way I have to describe the underlying nature. To put it into words is to compartmentalize an experience. So we will move on.
The point is: we’ve been given inwards paths and outwards paths and they are all one path and it’s only how deeply we choose to self-identify and how much we are willing to let go that either ever hold us back.
I ran into my landlord the other day. He happened to be outside of my house, dealing with remodeling the back house. He’s a small (to my 5′ 11.5″) Asian fellow. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know from where: Japanese? Korean? Chinese? I confess ignorance. I think he’s Vietnamese. Southeast Asian, for sure. In any case, he wanted to chat a bit. He’s seen my art and likes it, has even told me he reads my blog sometimes and enjoys my writing. He might be reading this right now. Hi Edward!
He asked me about Violet, who he knows is studying philosophy, and that ignited a thought in his head about things he’d read about quantum physics. The gist of which, that he related to me, is that physicists have found that these minute particles – smaller than quarks – solidify when we go to measure them or predict them to be in a certain place but, at other times, simply go back to being waves. it is as if they solidify in response to our measuring tools and, at all other times, are simply energy waves. When we let everything be as it is, it is simply energy? Undefinable, unmeasurable, imperceivable: except when we choose to perceive it. Unquantifiable – except when we choose to quantify it.
This amazed him, he said. Not just because of it’s relevance to how we perceive the world but because of it’s relevance to the religious Buddhism that he grew up with. “I’d just thought it all was superstition – that life is just perception,” he said to me, “but now science is proving what these people had figured out many many years ago – that reality is a response to our perceptions.”
I laughed. It was true.
I confessed to him that I too had grown up with a superstitious religion – Catholicism – and only later in life did I come to appreciate the truths that were buried within it.
He laughed and said that I was perhaps smarter than I gave myself credit.
Fair enough! Can’t argue with that!
The thing is: so many of us get turned off by Religion and Superstition that we fail to see the truths that are embedded within these systems. I’m not suggesting you go out and get a Bible or a copy of the Dhammapada or the any other book. It’s just that the belief systems that last are the ones with a core Truth. And the truth is that which is the simplest, most sincere way of being. Why? Because those belief systems are the ones that are most attuned to self-preservation and living harmoniously with the world around themselves. If we create a healthy world around us, then we will live a healthy life and if we can figure out how to do so – all the better. Sadly, those core truths then get tampered with by humans whose sense of Self doesn’t extend any further than their own skin and, in greedy and manipulative ways, end up using these truths for their own self-aggrandizement: for controlling the masses, for money or power or lust or greed. It has happened to the teachings of Jesus, to the teachings of Buddha, to the teachings of Mohammed, and so on.
And yet, there is a line, a lineage, a train of thought, that has continued throughout time and has woven itself through art, science, music, literature, poetry, philosophy… A train of thought that has continued to evolve even as it’s left it’s own religious structures. It is a spiritual way of being and a sense of union that unites all things. It is only up to us to perceive it.
It is this:
I am you. You are Me. Which is to say:
One, all, everything, none, all at once, and not at all. We. Us. Now.
It is a voice which is projected and perceived through countless means: through paintings and poetry and song, through the work we do and the way we greet each other, through the lives we lead and the seeds we plant, through the plants we nurture and the hearts we fill. We repeat the story back to ourselves again and again and again simply because of the joy of doing so, of hearing so, of experiencing so and the ecstasy that happens when one more note is discovered in that endless endless song.
Yet, are we so enraptured by this story that we will destroy the earth while we listen to it, while we speak it, while we sing and dance and love and rejoice and hate and cry and mine and pillage and burn and trash?
Is that, too, part of the dance.
If it is all perception and the whole of reality freezes itself into whatever view I take of it: “the people need saving” or “the people are saved” or “the people are. period.” or “….” then who am I to do anything?
I can only live as I know how with my own sense of self-preservation. Why would I do unto others as I would have them do unto me? If I kill, I will be killed. If I steal, then I’ll be stolen from. If I love then, likely, I’ll be loved. If I feed, then I will be fed. And so on.
I seek to live a healthier, happier, more loving life because it helps you to do so as well. And, by helping you to do so, you will help me to do so. And we will live long. And prosper. That’s the goal. To live long and
Yet, when I die, when I close my eyes, for all I know: it’ll all be gone.
I identify as an artist and, as such, I love and seek beauty. For me, the most beautiful is the most loving, the most compassionate, the most joyful. I’ll never know those things if I don’t dredge up the dirt. I can only be the diamond if I have been the coal. I can only be the lotus if I have planted myself in the muck.
Muck is a perception. Coal, and our attachments and ideas around it, also just a perception. Diamonds, too. Life is simply endless becoming and endless is-ness.
I love the darkness as much as I love the light because I cannot see a difference between the two.
I am you. You are me.
You and I are one.
I wish you happiness.
I wish you freedom.
One thing at a time.
And all at once.