In a world of illusion, what matters?
For one thing, I think it’s important to explore the connection between our intentions and our experiences — the infallible law of cause and effect as applied to our consciousness — so that we’re in charge of where our daily actions are taking us. To be free, we need to observe the law of karma – practicing ethics and kindness and ideally bodhichitta so as to create the best possible intentions. Why? Because everything is mere karmic appearance of mind. Our intentions are what sow the seeds for what appears to our mind as well as the quality of our experiences – whether they are positive, negative, or neutral – and the quality of our life 100% depends on the quality of our experiences. There is no life outside of our experience of life, is there? So it does matter what we do. If we are nihilistic and going around harming others, like Jobu, then we will end up in a hellish situation.
Carrying on from this article on Everything Everywhere All At Once (But feel free to read on even if you have no wish to see the movie, lol.)
I just tipped my server 20%. The choice I was offered (on one of those now ubiquitous screens) between 10%, 15%, and 20% got me thinking … if we visit a place we’ll never visit again, why not just tip 10%?! Or nothing? After all, we’ll get away with that, we’ll never see that server again. One good reason is karma – we don’t have to do things because of how our dining companions will view us or because it’s the expected thing to do, we can do the same actions with the best possible motivation. The quality and outcome of any action depends on the quality of our motivation. So if I tip my server 20% with no particularly good motivation, that action is not particularly powerful. If I tip them 20% while feeling resentful of that intrusive screen (they just handed the coffee to me over the counter, for goodness sake!), I may look the part but that action won’t lead to any good result. But if I tip them out of bodhichitta, when that karmic seed ripens I will end up rich.
On a sort of related note, in terms of what kind of karma we are actually creating with our actions regardless of what it looks like from the outside … I have developed the impression recently that if I don’t empty the dishwasher in this house, no one will. I even put it to the test, and sure enough the dishes started to pile up (albeit a one-day experiment only. I’ll keep you updated). However, when they did a bunch of studies some years ago on who does the housework, one quite amusing conclusion was that almost everyone thinks they are doing 70-80% of the chores. Due to our self-cherishing, we are just highly aware of what we are doing and less aware of what others are doing. So when I put this egocentricity aside, rather than resenting it I find I enjoy emptying the dishwasher and wiping the counters with bodhichitta motivation, happy to create some good karma, happy to help. It is true, after all, that all the happiness in this world comes from wishing others to be happy, as Shantideva so succinctly put it.
I think this mental attitude can be applied to a lot of situations where we feel we are doing more than our fair share. And perhaps our natural cheery enthusiasm, rather than our nagging or controlling behavior, might even encourage others to do more 😂 Especially over the long-term.
Quick note of warning: remember this kind of mind-training is that – training the mind – ie, primarily improving our own inner motivation. So there’s no need to go to an extreme on this, it is also fine to say no. Just sayin’. When we work for the benefit of others, we have to be responsible for ourselves, not like a child just doing what they’re told. A good litmus test is to check if we feel inside that we’re being controlled or bossed around by others as opposed to self-motivated to help – which scenario sooner or later does lead to resentment, guilt, burn out, and/or quitting altogether.
And one last thing while on this digression: I think it’s always a poor idea to accuse people of delusions to get them either to do things or to feel bad for not doing them. I have done that to my poor dad; and of course it always backfires. Speaking to myself here: let’s try not to do this! And please never get upset by anyone who says “you’re being self-cherishing” if you’re not doing what they want – true or false, that’s obviously an inappropriate thing for them to say. And it might sometimes reflect more on them than on you. Better for them/us to own their annoyance, “you are annoying me!” Lol. Dharma is a mirror for our own minds, not a magnifying glass. Nor a weapon. We know our motivation better than others do; and, although people’s paths may cross, we have to be the one responsible for our own karma, journey, and destination. A bit more on that here: Trust vs personal responsibility.
Deception and intrigue
Talking of hell-realm appearances, I don’t need to tell you that there’s a lot that’s already going seriously wrong with our visible human and animal world. I just read an article about the alarming speed at which our oceans are warming, for example, and another about how avatar news anchors in Venezuela are managing to spread misinformation far and wide. In a world of illusion, AI is a whole new level of confusion and deception.
There is no deception that is not being created by the master illusionist living in people’s minds — self-grasping ignorance and its creepy retinue of agitated, distorted thoughts. And what can little old me do about all these hallucinatory problems everywhere?! For one thing, we need to keep our noses and our karma clean by watching our intentions carefully, trying at least not to add to the mayhem by acting out of delusion. For another, we need to get ourselves and others out of this cycle of suffering by realizing the true nature of reality.
If we remember that we’ve had countless lives, that this life is a mere pixel in the never-ending movie of time, we’ll be less prone to sweat the small stuff. We’ve already had every problem imaginable under the sun – financial, relational, being overlooked, and so on – over and over again. And that’s not the half of it — there is another perspective we can entertain as well. One of Venerable Geshe Kelsang’s teachers, Venerable Song Rinpoche, visited us a few times back in the early eighties; and in one memorable teaching he told us: “I know where to find you. I know your address.” Reason being, we are only in this precious human life for the equivalent of a two-week vacation, which means he can find us again in the lower realms. (Song Rinpoche was not one to mince his words.)
However bad this world is becoming, it is still only one of countless terrible worlds in the human and other realms. Any help we can offer is, from one point of view, just a drop in the bucket. It doesn’t mean we don’t try because every drop helps someone – hence the starfish story. However, if we want to help everybody, and if we want to help them all the time, we have to stop tinkering about on the surface trying to fix the waves. We need to completely purify the ocean of our root mind and help others do the same.
By the way, not unrelated, someone asked me:
“Are you going to talk about restoring broken connections with our mothers from the movie? I think that is a huge problem with our world …”
I agree 😁
We are working for future generations
I heard Geshe-la say this many times:
We are working for future generations.
This usually helps me to stop grasping at results for me or the people around me alone. We are planting shade trees to give shelter to future generations. Someone shared this with me the other day in response to my posting those words:
The video includes the lines:
Happiness is amazing. It is so amazing that it doesn’t matter if it’s yours or not.
Shantideva said something similar. In other words, even though everything is empty and everybody is empty, people still want to be happy. Suffering is also terrible, whoever it belongs to, and people still want to be free from suffering. Therefore, it is important to work for others.
Fortunately for all of us, there’s nothing hard about reality, nothing solid, nothing fixed – there is no depth other than emptiness. There’s nothing behind all these appearances – it’s as if they are luminous or see-through — mere label, mere name, mere appearance. What exactly are we so worried about? We ourselves can learn to navigate more lightly through life and, insofar as we’re just trying to be of service, as Geshe-la says:
There’s nothing to be unhappy about if we are practicing Dharma. (I know this is a lot easier said than done and a work in progress, but I like to keep remembering it’s possible).
Buddha taught dependent relationship – which means that all phenomena arise in dependence upon other phenomena, such as their causes, parts, basis of imputation, name or label, and imputing consciousness. Even emptiness is dependent related in the last four ways, and it also depends on its object (eg, the emptiness of me depends on me and the emptiness of you depends on you). We can’t point to anything and say, “This is it. This exists from its own side. This is a fundamental building block of the universe.” There is no such thing. Therefore, the only sanity we’re ever going to have is if we realize this, become one with bliss and emptiness, one with reality.
The union of the two truths
Buddha taught many levels of reality depending on his audience, rungs leading up to the Madhyamika-Prasangika view. This final view, elucidated by Nagarjuna, includes and explanation of the union of the two truths, which can also be understood on different levels, including the interdependence of wisdom & method or wisdom & compassion. The middle way (Skt. Madhyamika) philosophy avoids the two extremes of (inherent) existence and nihilism. Emptiness and the dependent relationship of cause and effect depend upon each other – they are not contradictory but end up being realized as the same truth.
Everything Everywhere proposes that everything seen with infinite perspective is empty of specialness or centrality, but that it still requires our heartfelt, engaged participation. Although everything is empty, cause and effect functions and operates. In fact, the law of cause and effect only functions because cause and effect are empty of being inherently or independently existent, depending as they do 100% upon each other.
After realizing this, becoming sort of omniscient (it is just a movie, lol), Evelyn drops all the parallel lives and comes back to the ordinary world of this one precious human life, where she helps everyone with equanimity, compassion, and fearlessness. She realizes what her daughter could not yet understand: the union of wisdom and compassion. Everything can be empty but still meaningful – on a practical level, we need to be kind and observe the infallible laws of karma.
A related note — we are not starting from scratch. The same person asked me:
“And also are you going to talk about verse-jumping to our past lives where we had realizations and being able to tap into those in the here and now? Like have confidence that we can rely on our collection of wisdom… sorta how you say to start off our meditations believing we already have realized the object we are meditating on. Just wondering 😃 I like being a spiritual ninja 🥷🥰💃🏻”
The tranquil ocean of reality
From a Buddhist point of view, realized beings CAN emanate in many different worlds at the same time (without ever losing the plot). For example, have you ever thought through how you’re going to abide in a Pure Land such as Keajra while also emanating in the human realm to help people?! To do this, we need to become one with reality. We need to become a Buddha who is actually everywhere all at once! Who, despite emanating countless bodies in different universes to help numerous living beings, is able to stay aware of all of them without a moment’s confusion or distraction.
Despite being everywhere all at once, Jubu did not gain anything close to real omniscience or omnipotence because she never realized the basic truth that all these universes were not outside her mind but created entirely by conceptual thought. Without this actual wisdom and a meaningful connection with others, nothing is stable – and we fall into the two extremes of (inherent) existence and nihilism.
I think about this sometimes — Buddhas are helping all the messed up people in all the messed up worlds of samsara, and yet they remain totally peaceful. How do they manage it?! Geshe-la describes Buddha Shakyamuni in The Bodhisattva Vow:
His purified mind abides eternally in the tranquil ocean of reality, seeing all phenomena as clearly as a jewel held in the hand, and suffused with an all-embracing compassion. He is the ultimate refuge of all living beings.
Buddhas are literally everywhere all at once, but they’re not pulled about or yanked in any way. They understand where everything’s coming from – that it is the same nature as fully purified consciousness. They can appear in all realities everywhere to help living beings; but beyond that they have no personal need of appearances because they have accomplished their own purpose and abide eternally in the deep stillness of enlightenment, the Dharmakaya.
My North Star
Like Desert Island Discs, but on a more existential level, if you could take anything physical with you to your next life, what would that be?
I know I’ve said this before, but for me it’d be Venerable Geshe-la’s books because they contain all this knowledge and obviously a lot more. They would be my North Star in any rebirth, bringing me back to compassion, wisdom, and all the other teachings. Therefore, as I can’t physically carry the books through the death process (even on my tiny iphone!), it probably follows that I need to be appreciating and studying them now.
For me, it is very important that these books are discovered and that Buddhism thrives and flourishes. I generally try to help with this however I can from my own side, working within whatever constraints and obstacles come up due to my karma; and especially remembering Geshe-la’s advice to me:
Your main job is to practice Dharma – everything else will follow naturally from this.
If we keep this intention, we will eventually succeed in becoming omniscient and all-loving, a Buddha, able to enter into other universes at will and help everyone. If Evelyn Wang managed it in the course of one movie, then of course how can we not, with all these teachings at our disposal?! 😆
Okay, sorry this article got a bit lengthy, but I have now said everything I’m going to say about the movie. Over to you. I would love to read your comments and feedback below and will try to respond in a timely manner.
Thank You, dear Guru, for providing us with all kinds of Teachers (in many different guises such as films, Kadampa blogs, challenging situations… etc!) May Pure and Hoy Dharma flourish forever more!
Thank you, Luna. It´s so inspiring reading your entries!
Haha, yes, endlessly appearing in every which way that can reach people in today’s world. Podcasts!
I am glad you enjoy the articles, thank you 😁
This post and your very 1st Everything Everywhere one touch me the most. I’m not sure why. Somehow this article reminds me to take care of ourself in order to make progress on the spiritual path is timely. As one of my Dharma teachers said so recently, “You have to take care of that ambulance.” Buddhas being everywhere all at once without losing the plot. Jobu missing the wisdom. Evalyn dropping the other -verses to return to her human life uniting compassion & wisdom. We’re planting seeds for future generations. Purification. Keep karma clean. Main job is to practice Dharma—everything else flows from this. So meaningful. I tend to make it much too complicated. 🙏❤️🙏
Thank you for a succinct summary! I’m glad these two articles have been helpful. It is true that Dharma is simple — it is always our mental elaborations that make everything complicated. x