In every way that matters, the picture above is a self-portrait. I am covered in blood yet I claim that the creature in the garden tore him apart. I am trying to escape blame for my actions, yet I am clearly the actor who bears sole responsibility. I created the garden and placed the creature in it and I am of course both the garden and the creature. I am the dead man and the detectives surrounding him. I am the wrongly blamed creature and I am sad and hungry. I am guilty but there’s no guilt in my eyes. I dare you to discover me. I am in awe of my own actions.
This is a picture of a man with a toy train.
A great uncoupling. If you begin where you are and face outward and decouple your sense of self from “what’s out there” and then turn around and decouple your sense of self from “what’s in there” and then you dissolve what’s left you will find what remains is just awareness itself.
I read Sam Harris’s book and was disappointed. I think he’s made a significant error in his approach.
I find myself giving rise to a deep sense of conservatism in my own approach to the Buddhist path. I understand the desire to strip Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism, of all of its cultural trappings and mysticism and just keep the spare and clean concepts of mindfulness and compassion and the human engineering aspects that are so helpful in gaining control over the tortured and confused mind. I get that, I do, and the appeal to that approach is that you can jettison everything in the teachings that makes one uncomfortable, that does not fit in with the framework of the modern western mind. No more worrying about the ideas of reincarnation, of the functioning of karma, of hell realms and pure lands, all this magical bullshit that reeks of provincialism and voo-doo. Just call it the leftovers of an ancient and primitive society and toss it out. Keep the framework of the scientific view in place, then, wherever there’s a little bit of space, you can take a piece of what’s left over and put it in where it fits. Then you get to keep the materialist, rational, scientific viewpoint and augment it with some very smart and proven techniques for human contemplative achievements and you’ll be good to go. Smart, and mentally balanced. Very nice, very neat.
And, I think, absolutely correct and beneficial if you want to be a calm, mellow, peaceful person who functions very well in our current society and culture.
I used to think that was my goal for myself. I think it was my goal. At least on some level. But it certainly isn’t my goal any more, and I think that it is the very strangeness and magical thinking aspects of Tibetan Buddhism that might be responsible for my abandoning that initial goal and shifting to this much stranger, much bolder, much crazier goal of attaining enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. Which is what I now aspire to.
And regardless of my ultimate success or failure on that front, it seems to me that there’s great benefit in making that effort, in binding myself to that outcome; body, speech, and mind. Because with that goal I no longer can maintain the old framework that I relied upon to ground my sense of reality. I have to abandon it entirely, dismantle it completely, and that’s a very strange and difficult thing to embark upon.
But it is the work that every mystic engages in. It is the real hero’s journey that Joseph Campbell talks about. And you have to go do it, you can’t read about it, you can’t watch someone else make the journey in a movie. And you have no guarantee about the outcome, no one can tell if you’ll make it back safe or not. I think Harris’s mistake is in his blindness to this journey- it’s not that he refuses to make the journey, to take the risk, it’s that he doesn’t understand that the journey is in fact the whole point of the teachings, of the Buddhist path. It’s not a set of self-help tools to make your existence in Samsara better, less painful, a little bit easier on you. The point of the teachings is to assist you and guide you in dismantling Samsara altogether.
Of course, the journey isn’t for everyone. At least, not right now. I believe, though, that it is one that each of us must make. I believe that it is a door through which you must pass and that until you do you’ll just keep circling in the same place- for the rest of your life and for a numberless amount of future lifetimes. You don’t have to make the journey, it’s not compulsory in that way, there’s no score keeper deciding if you can pass or not, I think it’s completely impersonal. I think, though, that it is a real thing, a real kind of evolutionary leap that must be made individually. Like we’re fish in a dammed up river and we’ve got to leap up over the barrier to reach the next part of the river or to make it to the sea.
So for me, I feel like I’ve decided, I’m going, I’m jumping out of the water and I’m flinging myself out into the void. And because this is my quest, this is what I’m committed to, I want the help of these teachings to guide me on the way. I want the real deal, not some piece-meal aggregate of the things that make sense to me now, at the beginning of my journey. I want it all. I trust that these teachings, especially the ones that make no sense, must be valuable and necessary later on, or they’d have been ditched long ago.
But they weren’t. So many, many men and women have made the leap themselves, and they stuck around and helped others do the same thing, and used these teachings to make their way successfully.
Maybe it’s strange, and even backwards of me, to turn my back on the rational world and the scientifically accepted view of the nature of reality in favor of a view of reality that originated in India twenty-five hundred years ago and that has undergone so many shifts and changes in that time. Perhaps so.
But what it feels like to me right now is that I have broken free from the dim darkness of the riverbed and flung myself into the raw sunlight and empty blue sky. I don’t know where I’ll land, but it won’t be where I began.