No Buddhism

9 mins read.

We are making all of this up as we go along. Always have been. Always will be.  everything depends on mind

That’s the thing I admire the most about Buddhism – it explains so clearly that the only truth is that nothing is really true. Nothing exists inherently. We are creating everything with our thoughts — there is nothing out there existing from its own side. Yet, at the same time, right here right now we have not just the potential but also the option to realize this—and, if we do that, we are finally free. It’s epic.

The phenomena that I normally see or perceive
Are deceptive – created by mistaken minds.
If I search for the reality of what I see,
There is nothing there that exists – I perceive only empty like space. ~ Request to the Lord of all Lineages

The things we normally see — inherently existent things or things outside the mind — do not exist at all. This applies not just to mental constructs such as shared myths, but to our biological reality such as our body or our physical reality such as radioactivity. If we go looking for anything with wisdom, as explained for example in this article about the emptiness of the body, we will find nothing. Emptiness, or ultimate truth, is the mere absence of the things we normally see. As Buddha pointed out in the shortest Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, called the Heart Sutra:

There is no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, not tactile object, no phenomenon.

Not only that, but there is no inherently existent suffering being, no samsara, no Buddhas, no liberation, no enlightenment.

There is no ignorance and no exhaustion of ignorance and so forth up to no ageing and death and no exhaustion of ageing and death. Likewise, there is no suffering, origin, cessation, or path; no exalted awareness, no attainment, and also no non-attainment. ~ Heart Sutra

That means, does it not, that there is even no Buddhism?!

Heart SutraEven emptiness doesn’t exist inherently, from its own side, outside of thought. There are no absolute truths — not even emptiness, not even awareness, not even Buddhas, not even the path to liberation itself.

Which doesn’t leave us with much of a leg to stand upon. But this turns out to be a very good thing, actually the most extraordinary thing, for, as I like to say:

Samsara sucks
Samsara sucks for everyone
But luckily samsara is not real.

Imagined orders

The things we see do not exist, and yet things hang together due to collective agreement or convention. According to Buddhism, everything, whether a corporation or a chair, exists only as mere appearance, via convention or collective agreement.

So corporations and money etc can function because we collectively allow them too. And because of the huge power of human imagination, we have invented all sorts of useful and not so useful things that, for example, have allowed our societies to grow in size and complexity. As it says in the book Sapiens by the Israeli historian Yuval Harari that I mentioned in this last article:

Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths.

The book gives some excellent examples of imaginary constructs – companies such as Peugeot, various world views over the millennia, the American declaration of independence, money, empires, even evolutionary biology itself. People invented all these systems and then got enough people to believe and participate in them for them to moreorless work.

superior imaginationWhen the agricultural Revolution opened opportunities for the creation of crowded cities and mighty empires, people invented stories about great gods, motherlands, and joint stock companies to provide the needed social links …. The human imagination was building astounding networks of mass cooperation.

Everything from myth to religion to nations to moral codes to money are inter-subjective realities according to Harari. They have force for as long as people believe them, and cease to exist the moment people no longer believe them. This explains how people could cooperate in groups larger than 150, giving them a military and security advantage, and encouraging specialization which eventually gave them a technological advantage.

The term Harari uses is “inter-subjective;” and he distinguishes between “objective” and “inter-subjective”:

The inter-subjective is something that exists within the communication network linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals … Inter-subjective phenomena are neither malevolent frauds nor insignificant charades. They exist in a different way from physical phenomena such as radioactivity, but their impact on the world may still be enormous. Many of history’s most important drivers are inter-subjective: law, money, gods, nations.

illusionHarari has a brilliant mind; but I don’t think he goes quite far enough. So I would just like to add, kinda crucially, that Buddha said nothing is objective. I think of the term “inter-subjective reality” as a synonym for existing by agreement or existing by convention. And everything is therefore inter-subjective, existing by convention, including radioactivity! But I agree with Harari on how things you cannot see or sit on have nonetheless had enormous impact on the world.

As it says in Lord of all Lineages:

When I search with my wisdom eye,
All the things that I normally see disappear
And only their mere name remains.

These numerous human narratives, myths, legends, religions, and evolutionary and scientific theories all tell a story, but only ever part of a story, and not an entirely true story. And whether a narrative succeeds in getting us all cooperating and communicating depends entirely on how many people can be persuaded to believe it and thus buy into it.

With this mere name I simply accept everything for the purpose of communicating with others.

Evil monkeys

sapiens 1Homo sapiens have been hands down the cruelest of species, entrapping and torturing and murdering vast numbers not just of other species but our own. We have used our extraordinary imaginations over millennia to become the dominant species on this planet, getting to the top of the food chain despite our relatively puny bodies, using ever more creative ways to indulge our self-cherishing and profit-driven attachment, even making virtues of them along the way.

But what has been our undoing — for example our own species now being on the verge of extinction on this planet — can also be our saving. Our imagination can be used for evil, but it can also be used to transcend.

Conspiracy theories are not helpful

I was talking to a conspiracy theorist the other day – for sure, these days everyone seems to be a bit of a conspiracy theorist, even me. These stories of victimhood and blame can be convincing and there may be some relative truth to them sometimes. However, these narratives often involve so much mental elaboration in pursuit of the deep perpetrator of all that ails us – and if not careful, far from becoming more free, people fall deeper and deeper down the rabbit holes of hallucination, paranoia, and blame.

we are all being played conspiracyThe only conspiracy a Buddhist really has to uncover and blame is that of our self-grasping, the one that underlies every other conspiracy there has ever been, that fabricates all deceptive appearances. If we had all the time in the world, maybe we could spend weeks and months contemplating other possible evil conspiracies as well. But we don’t have much time, so we need to focus. At least that is what I think, and probably some of you do too. Now we only need to persuade everyone else of that 😁

Until we rid our mind of self-grasping and other delusions, it remains impure. And it seems as if nothing we have created with our impure imaginations has ever had the power to make us happy, at least not for long – whether that be politics or technology or sports or even medicine. Something cannot be real happiness if its cause is not a real cause of happiness, can it? So because politics, science, medicine, and so on can also cause problems, they are not real causes of happiness, and therefore any happiness we derive from them is not real happiness.

Plus our grasping at all these things – including religions — as inherently existent (self-grasping ignorance) and as inherently existent sources of happiness (attachment) has led us to huge suffering. Real happiness comes only from real causes of happiness, inner peace and wisdom.

We have also been kept very busy at justifying our attachments. For example, as we domesticated more and more other species, it must have become convenient at some point to develop the belief that we were somehow of a different order of special (despite Sapiens 2our tail bone) and that animals were put on earth just for our benefit. Of course, therefore, we can treat them however we want.

The domestication of animals was founded on a series of brutal practices that only became crueler with the passing of the centuries.

To this day that exceptionalist world view lingers such that we feel our cruel treatment of animals is justified – but what reasonable justification do we have for this behavior, really?

It’s reasonable to assume, for example, that bulls prefer to spend their days wandering over open prairies in the company of other bulls and cows rather than pulling carts and ploughshares under the yoke of a whip-wielding ape.

And where has this subjugation of animals led us? To the burning of the Amazon and our own potential mass suicide, for one thing.

Not just another invention

Instead of inventing just another imagined order for us to believe in as if it really existed from its own side, outside of our minds, Buddha basically — right out of the door — said that this IS all imagination; that we are making it all up. Everything is emptiness, ie, the mere lack of inherent existence.

The whole methodology of the Buddhist faith is then designed to get us to that understanding so that we can walk through the door of emptiness to lasting freedom.

sapiens 3Everything in Buddhism starts with that — or sometimes with the other side of the same coin which is that everything depends upon thought. That is Buddhism 101. You’ll hear something along those lines the moment you walk in the door of a Buddhist Center. Geshe Kelsang for example has said that he has put emptiness teachings in all of his books in the hope that people will therefore find them; and that the main reason for his appearing in this world is to reveal emptiness to us.

Countless enlightened beings have appeared to say these things in countless world systems, leading countless people like you and me through that door to join them. There may be more enlightened beings than samsaric beings by now, for all we know.

As it says in The New Heart of Wisdom, a commentary to the Heart Sutra:

Although we need to strive to develop a new realization of emptiness, it is important to understand that emptiness itself is not a new development or creation. It is not a product of philosophical analysis or an invention of Buddha. Emptiness has been the actual nature of all phenomena from the very beginning. Our body, for example, has always been empty of inherent existence; there has never been a time when our body, or anything else, existed inherently. Although emptiness has always been the true nature of phenomena, we need to receive instructions to realize this; and for this reason Buddha taught the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.

If you are interested in emptiness, and haven’t had a chance to read The New Heart of Wisdom yet, I strongly recommend it! I wouldn’t have a clue what I am talking about without reading  that book for the first time decades ago, and many times since.

Summary

Sapiens 4

I do hope I’m not confusing anyone – please go now read The New Heart of Wisdom if I am! But I suppose what I am trying to chat about in this long article is how Buddha came along and blasted all imagined realities, including religions and other belief systems, out of the water by saying that nothing is actually out there, our minds are making the whole thing up – always have been and always will be. Some imagined realities work better than others — some lead us to hellish suffering and some to the bliss of enlightenment — but everything is equally unfindable and illusion-like. That is what we need to realize.

I am going to let Buddha have the last word. In the Heart Sutra, he says:

Therefore, Shariputra, because there is no attainment, Bodhisattvas rely upon and abide in the perfection of wisdom; their minds have no obstructions and no fear. Passing utterly beyond perversity, they attain the final nirvana.

Over to you. What do you think about all this?!

There is another installment here, called Evil monkeys.

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Will this make me happy?

I asked some people recently if they want to be happy all the time. I thought they’d all say yes, duh!, but some of them weren’t in fact quite sure. When I asked why, they come things that make me happyup with two classic observations (1) because they felt that without unhappiness they wouldn’t appreciate what happiness was, and also (2) how can you be happy when you get cancer or people die?! 

These seem like reasonable points. Made me remember that we have to understand what Buddhas might mean by happiness as opposed to what the rest of us usually mean by it. There are two types of happiness, which Geshe Kelsang has called artificial and real. Both are pleasant feelings, both feel good (even great), so what’s the difference?

Real happiness is not the pleasant feelings such as excitement that come from worldly enjoyments such as a new relationship or a new hairdo. That is worldly pleasure, and the reason it is not real happiness is because it doesn’t last and is simply the changeover point between unpleasant feelings and more unpleasant feelings (as is explained more here.)

mosquitos in Dallas Texas

Buddha called this type of happiness “changing suffering” —  not because it feels bad or because there’s anything wrong with it per se, but because it is not the pure or unconditional happiness of inner peace that arises from wisdom. It’s like the relative pleasure we get from scratching an itch (and I know about that, as I’ve just spent the weekend in Texas with about 1,234 mosquito friends). As it says in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

The mental peace that develops from worldly enjoyment is not real happiness but changing suffering.

So in response to the first observation, it is true that without unhappiness we wouldn’t know what this kind of happiness is, because it is just the temporary alleviation of unhappiness.

In response to their second observation, I would say that actual happiness is not the same as excitement or glee. It is not generally appropriate to jump around with joy when someone drops dead.

To get closer to what Buddha means by the real happiness that comes from wisdom, I decided to ask the same people a different question – did they want to be at peace all the time? This time, everyone said yes.

For one thing, it is easier to see how being at peace is not just in contrast to being depressed — it is not part of that seesaw, but an underlying way of being. It is also easier to understand how we can learn to be at peace even when things go wrong. We are learning to maintain an internal locus of control, taking ownership of our lives.

The practice of meditation

And when we’re at peace, we’re happy, are we not? That’s the happiness we’re talking about, the happiness that we can grow more and more deeply by meditating, aka familiarizing our mind with wise positive thoughts both on our cushion and in our daily activities.

The Oral Instructions says:

This book principally presents the practice of meditation, through which we can develop and maintain a peaceful mind all the time. If our mind is peaceful all the time, we will be happy all the time.

As Gen-la Dekyong pointed out during this year’s Kadampa Summer Festival, there is a difference between these two questions:

Will this make me happy?

and

Will this make me happy all the time?

I’ve been finding this very helpful. For sure, as I’m about to take my first sip of this Costa cappuccino and have my first bite of muffin, if I ask myself the question “Will this make me happy?,” the answer is “Of course!” But will it make me happy all the time? No.

muffinOnly inner peace can do that. Therefore, I can get a lot more out of this cappuccino and cake by learning to enjoy it with inner peace. And I can recognize too that the happiness of those first few bites (before the worldly pleasure wears off) is in fact coming from the inner peace rather than from the muffin – if I remain in a miserable mood, for example, no muffin on earth has the power to make me happy from its own side.

What this means is that if I can keep the inner peace going, my enjoyment can go on! It’s like having my cake and eating it! But otherwise it can’t – the eating will just turn back into a sickly feeling and/or the need to lose 5 lbs.

Searching for happiness

Since beginningless time, in life after life, we have all been roving around in search of happiness. If we subscribe for just a moment to the narrative of evolutionary biology … in just this one world, Planet Earth, we can see how living beings — whether dinosaurs, marsupials, mammals, fish, or primates — have been trying nonstop to find happiness and get rid of suffering. Home sapiens (that’s us I’m afraid) have been uniquely cruel, koala bearsselfish, and destructive in our pursuit of happiness and profit, managing in the past few millennia as we roamed further and further afield to “domesticate” (ie, own and entrap) untold living beings while driving the majority of other species to extinction. And we’re obviously still at it (including Koala Bears!), justifying ourselves every step of the way.

Nothing exceptional about me

Self-grasping, thinking everything really is out there for the grabbing, is why we are in samsara experiencing one hallucination after another. That constant craving of uncontrolled desire — seeking happiness out there — then perpetuates samsara, keeps it rolling on and on, traveling everywhere but nowhere.

I’ve been reading the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s very thought-provoking – not least because it reminds me that the difference between me and a monkey is … yikes, monkey handsnot much! I am a primate!! So are you!!! There is only 1.2 percent genetic difference between me and a chimpanzee! Look at your hands … they’re designed for climbing trees!

I mean I went to school, so I knew that — but this book has brought it home to me and made me appreciate even more that I have to use this life to break free. It’s obvious. I cannot afford not to because there is nothing at all exceptional about me, especially my body. Feelings of human superiority are very deceptive. I am simply a part of this ancient scary endless horror movie, nature red in tooth and claw; and if I remain as such, how can I hope for anything other than disaster and pain to befall me sooner or later? It’s all very well fearing taking rebirth in the lower realms, such as the animal realm, in our next life – but it turns out we’re already in the animal realm according to this paradigm. We even have tail bones!

monkey babiesRight now, due to the power of a more creative imagination, I am finally able in this life — after countless lifetimes as monkeys, albatrosses, cockroaches, and dinosaurs etc in this and many other world systems — to use my mind to break free. This is due to some out of the blue good fortune whereby I have met enlightened beings who know that life does not equal samsaric suffering, that there is an alternative. They are explaining clearly how I can manifest and purify my very subtle continuously residing mind, the formless awareness that goes from life to life, in order to realize my potential for enlightenment. They are revealing that none of any of this is as it seems, that there is nothing beyond mere appearance, that everything depends 100% upon thought; which is what makes it possible, at long last, to break it all down.

I saw this video of a toddler last week – he wanders up to a mirror, looks curiously at his reflection, and then walks around the back of the mirror to find out where it’s coming from. We are, according to Buddha, childish ones – but we can learn through our own examination and experience that the things we normally see do not exist, that there is nothing behind mere appearance. And that truth will make us blissfully happy, forever.

This opportunity is what makes my current life a precious human life as opposed to an animal life with no freedom or endowments. I may have a primate’s body, complete with opposable thumbs; but there is nothing to stop me at the moment from developing a Bodhisattva’s and then a Buddha’s mind. Notwithstanding I have only a few hundred months left (at most) to get this done before I find myself in a new body, perhaps with an actual tail.

Luxuries become necessities

However, I do digress ever so slightly, because what I was planning on quoting from that Sapiens book is this (when the author is talking about when the human species started to domesticate their world):

One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.

It’s like me with camping, or rather not camping. I camped at UK Kadampa Festivals for years, maybe even a decade or more! The tents did become larger as the years went by, I admit, and the thermoses, pillows, and so on became more and more fancy. But the point is that I didn’t much mind camping, and I might even have quite enjoyed it from time to time. Slowly but surely, however, I was invited to stay a night here or a night there on a Amelia tentsitting room floor by someone who took pity on me when it rained. These invitations grew over the years to being offered more nights inside, space in a caravan, a bed in a shared room, even my own room from time to time … Then some very generous  American friends said I could share a modest house with them in my own small room for the whole Festival! What luxury!!! However, sure enough, the moment I put down my suitcase and lay down on my soft bed, I had started to take this for granted. Fast forward several years, Summer Festival 2019, and I am writing this in a beautiful house that is a darn sight posher than my own apartment … and there is no place to go from here but down. I am already plotting neurotically how to maintain this level of luxury next summer.

So, what about this lasting happiness then?

In Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s teachings on developing love in 2009, he said:

Probably we think: If I have money I will be happy all the time. If I have a good friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, I will be happy all the time. If I have a good reputation or a higher position, I will be happy all the time. This is wrong.

More on why “This is wrong” (ie, worldly enjoyments don’t make us happy all the time) is explained all over this blog, including here.

We need stuff, but we probably don’t need it quite as much as we think, and we definitely don’t need to grasp at it for happiness. As soon as we do that, it is like trying to drink water from a mirage, we will always come up thirsty. As Geshe Kelsang says in How to Transform Your Life:

It is as if we are continually chasing mirages, only to be disappointed when they do not give us the satisfaction for which we had hoped.

It doesn’t matter how hard we try, or how speedy, inventive, or efficient we become in the pursuit of pleasure. Talking about the transition from snail mail to emails etc., for hamster treadmillexample, Harari says:

We thought we were saving time; instead we revved up the treadmill of life to ten times its former speed and made our days more anxious and agitated.

To be happy all the time, we need to learn to enjoy mere appearance without the grasping – enjoy the mirage without grasping for the water, or enjoy the muffin or the hairdo or the relationship without grasping at something actually being there causing happiness. As it says in Oral Instructions:

When I search with my wisdom eye,
All the things that I normally see disappear
And only their mere name remains.

The point is that we can come to enjoy everything if our mind remains at peace thanks to wisdom, whether that be mirage-like muffins, relationships, or whatever. But not if it’s not. That’s the difference between liberation and samsara.

Tried and tested method for finding lasting happiness

As it says in Oral Instructions:

Meditation is a scientific method to transform human nature from bad to good. Everybody needs to be good-natured with a good heart.

Why do we need to be good? Why shouldn’t we all just stay like we are, each man out for himself, with occasional heroic flashes of selflessness (recorded on social media?)

I don’t know about you, but whatever I see in the news, in history, around me, or in my own life confirms that cutting ourselves off from others, being selfish and mean, doesn’t seem to be a remotely successful self-defeatingstrategy for finding lasting happiness or freedom, either individually or collectively.

Instead, the way to develop deeper and deeper happiness is by getting rid of our inner problems – our delusions – and cultivating our boundless potential for good qualities such as love, compassion, patience, and wisdom.

This is the real method to solve our own inner problems – problems of ignorance, depression, anger and so forth – and is also the real method to benefit others practically.

You’d think we’d know this by now! But we seem to have surprisingly short memories about what makes us really happy and what doesn’t.

Rather than just lumber around like great apes, we need to unleash our spiritual side. It is there, have no doubt – it has always been there inside you. As Buddha says in a Sutra:

If you realize your own mind you will become a Buddha; you should not seek Buddhahood elsewhere.

When we manifest our very subtle clear light mind we can mix it directly with the true nature of all things, emptiness, the mere absence of all the things we normally see; and the mental peace that arises from this wisdom is real deep happiness, pure and lasting. As Ven Geshe Kelsang says:

So, if we really wish for ourself and others to be happy all the time, we must learn to practice meditation. Eventually, through practicing Mahamudra meditation we will be able to benefit each and every living being every day.

i myself must make myself happyThere is life with suffering and there is life without suffering. There is life without any real or lasting happiness, and there is life with real and lasting happiness. At some point we have to choose because it looks like we can’t have both.

Which brings me back to Gen-la Dekyong’s practical question that we can ask ourselves throughout the day:

Will this make me happy?
Will this make me happy all the time?!

Over to you. Comments are warmly invited.

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Samsara’s pleasures are deceptive

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