A practical paradigm shift

Someone just sent me this gif, saying she has been trying this out in her meditation sessions on retreat, lol. Blaze the fire of wisdom, and it can consume all our delusions and suffering.

In Buddhism we rely on the realistic minds of wisdom and compassion, starting with a confidence that we can grow these because we have Buddha seed or Buddha nature. Literally whenever we have this Dharma experience functioning in our minds, we are free from feeling anxious, free from feeling tight or hemmed in by the day’s worries, free from feeling overwhelmed.

Therefore, rather than using our delusions to solve all our problems outside the mind, in the “real world”– which in chapter after chapter of our life is turning out to be a rather exhausting and futile venture — I think the sooner we can shift into that Dharma perspective the better. It is a good idea to visit that refuge zone every single morning when we wake up (instead of the caveman mentality that immediately casts around for things to worry about); until one day we discover we never have to leave it.

This will not only help ourselves, but transform us into a source of refuge and courage for others. We can’t solve our own or others’ problems if we stay confused and unhappy. refuge zone“There are too many unhappy people already,” as Geshe Kelsang once put it. For a practical guided meditation to start feeling that refuge, check out this article

This is by way of preamble as to why I’m talking about the cool science shown in this quantum video, here. Also, a friend sent me a great book called The Order of Time by physicist Carlo Rovelli, excellent bedtime reading. One thing he says is:

If the world were made of things, what would these things be? The atoms, which we have discovered to be made up in turn of smaller particles? The elementary particles, which, as we have discovered, are nothing other than the ephemeral agitations of a field? The quantum fields, which we have found to be little more than codes of a language with which to speak of interactions and events? We cannot think of the physical world as if it were made of things, of entities. It simply doesn’t work.

What exactly am I grasping at?! However, it is one thing to impress people with this kind of fact at parties, and quite another to use this knowledge to intentionally change ourselves and the world around us. We take it in on a superficial, “Wow,” level — like a great Matrix or What the Bleep! type movie, and then continue about our seemingly solid lives as if they’re real.

what the bleepWhy? Maybe it is because we haven’t brought this information into our hearts. We don’t have the wisdom, yet, actually — we can’t bring this information into our hearts because we don’t have the wisdom, only a superficial intellectual head-based knowledge. It is someone else’s idea — we haven’t developed our own experience of it so it’s not affecting the way we view ourselves or other people.

These cosmic ideas are not making a dent in that persistent illusion, an illusion we are not combatting because either we don’t want to or we don’t know how to. Which is where Buddha’s teachings are so immensely useful because he laid out, step by step, how we could understand the true nature of everything, parts of which the quantum physicists are figuring out now. And, more importantly, he explained why we would want to — because gaining a deep experience of this will destroy all our ignorance and suffering.

The Matrix

While we’re on the subject of The Matrix, let me get something off my chest quickly. It’s a thought-provoking movie, and I sometimes think I’m in it as I wander the streets of New York, especially when I wear my cool black coat. But when Neo et al take the red pill and get unplugged, they don’t end up in bliss but in a “real” world — and it frankly isn’t that enticing! It has its moments (dance scene), but otherwise it seems to alternate between dull and scary, not unlike any other ordinary, impure, seemingly inherently existent world. Doesn’t really surprise me that Cypher chose the blue pill of ignorance.

Matrix black coatHowever, according to Buddha, what will actually happen when we unplug from the matrix of our beginningless hallucinations, purifying our mind with wisdom and compassion, is that we will end up not in the samsaric Zion but in the Pure Land of great bliss, a world that we are free to create and play with as we choose. As Geshe Kelsang says in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra (page 20):

There is no such thing as a Pure Land that exists from the side of the object; the  Pure Land is merely an appearance to a pure mind. Equally, there is no such thing as an impure world that exists from its own side; an impure world is merely an appearance to an impure mind.

And what about the mind?

From my very beginnery understanding of modern science, it seems that scientists are saying that everything is illusory, in that it doesn’t exist and appear in the same way; and yet we are buying into the illusion.

However, there is still that “hard problem of consciousness.” The Guardian science section published this article:

“Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness?” … For example, how could the 1.4 kg lump of moist, pinkish-beige tissue inside your skull give rise to something as mysterious as the experience of being that pinkish-beige lump, and the body to which it is attached?

Buddhism may differ from much of modern science in stressing the importance of consciousness. Buddha specialized in psychology whereas scientists seem to be suggesting that they have a ways to go in this area. For example Carlo Rovelli says:

We understand biology by studying how living beings evolve and live. We understand psychology (a little, not much) by studying how we interact with each other, how we think.

Buddha Shakyamuni (BC 500) has arguably gone further than anyone else in known history in unveiling reality because not only has he explained the nature of apparently external reality, but he has also shared his deep wisdom and direct experience of the nature and function of non-physical consciousness, which is what is doing all this perceiving and hallucinating. (Nor was he the first Buddha or “Awakened One” to do this, countless came before him in countless world systems. What on earth makes us think this is the only universe?! It’s like an ant thinking there’s only one anthill. Anyway, that’s just a random thought I just had, definitely formless.)

Is there a mind-body problem or not?

The article says:

Critics point out, if this non-physical mental stuff did exist, how could it cause physical things to happen – as when the feeling of pain causes me to jerk my fingers away from the saucepan’s edge?

easy-and-hard-problems-of-consciousness-lThe dichotomy long held onto in the materialist or reductionist world view seems to be both contrived and false, for why should there be a “mind-body problem” — formless mind and “physical” reality can and do get along just fine. We don’t need to do away with subjective consciousness to make sense of jerking our fingers away from pain or making sense of creation in general.

If we accept that there can be two primary realities, or arguably that mind is the primary reality producing “material” or at least perceived reality, we can not only make far more sense of our existence but learn to transform it by changing our perceptions. If we can change our existence by changing our thoughts, which we can and do, then this in itself makes a pretty compelling case for the existence of non-physical mind, wouldn’t you say?

Again, from that article:

Yes, it may be true that most of us, in our daily lives, think of consciousness as something over and above our physical being – as if your mind were “a chauffeur inside your own body”, to quote the spiritual author Alan Watts. But to accept this as a scientific principle would mean rewriting the laws of physics.

I dunno, physics is evolving and being rewritten all the time, so I’m fine with that. Accepting our subjective experience is common sense. None of our internal thoughts, feelings, pleasure, pain, and so on are experienced as physical, yet we cannot deny that they are experienced – the author of that Guardian article uses the example of painfully stubbing his toe. I think we know full well what our states of mind feel like inside, even if we can’t see them, sit on them, or physically measure them. We are experiencing and using them non-stop, day and night. Our whole life is determined by them. And without conscious awareness, what, for example, are the scientists having their ideas about the non-existence of conscious awareness with?!

Inner scientists

Buddha and scienceFrom what I have read (admittedly not much), the “how’s” of existence are not explained yet in modern science, which hasn’t figured out what consciousness exactly is, nor the mechanisms by which it projects everything, nor its different levels; but they are explained in Buddhism in great detail and we can come to know what conscious awareness is in our own direct experience. In fact, Buddha Shakyamuni said:

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

Buddha said we needed to become inner scientists, coming to know formless consciousness more and more deeply through observation with our formless consciousness. As soon as we even close our eyes, our conscious awareness is evident. Do check out this article if you like, for tips on how we can come to know it.

From that same Guardian article:

Why aren’t we just brilliant robots, capable of retaining information, of responding to noises and smells and hot saucepans, but dark inside, lacking an inner life?

I don’t know about you (well, I kinda do), but I am not a robot because I am a sentient being with, as it happens, an infinitely deep inner life. Just like you. We are conscious and that consciousness cannot be seen in the “material” world. The definition of mind is, simply, that which is clarity and cognizing. Buddha explains how our consciousness is an impermanent formless continuum that goes on forever. It cannot be detected by any of the five sense awarenesses nor their instruments, such as microscopes or particle accelerators, because it has no visual color or shape, sound, smell, taste, or tactile properties. It has zero atoms and molecules. But despite its lack of matter, it matters. Its function is to cognize, to experience, to perceive, to understand, and, in fact, to create.

Conscious awareness exists

Buddha explains in detail how our mind relates to a seemingly external reality beyond our thoughts. Although it created that physical world in the first place through conceptual imputation or naming, our self-grasping ignorance then believes it exists “out there”, independent of perception, as in a dream. It is not just in this life time – since beginningless time our conceptual mind has been over and again projecting an impure sensory and mental world that we then torturously try to live in as if it were real.

Not only that, but our formless mind itself is even not as real as it appears – it is also empty of existing from its own side.

How to Understand the MindIn his brilliantly intelligent but common-sensical way, Buddha explains the differences between the unpeaceful delusions that are based on that mistaken way of seeing things and the peaceful virtuous states of mind that are not; and how we can effectively train in overcoming the former and perfecting the latter, eventually attaining omniscient wisdom that knows how and when all phenomena exist.

Bottom line is that we can exist in the material world while also existing as spiritual beings, I don’t think there is any actual problem with that. If you want to find out a lot more about any of what I just mentioned, can I recommend you study How to Understand the Mind. It has it all.

What’s the point of all this?

Buddhism’s HUGE! IMHO it’s huger than anything yet discovered in quantum physics, and that’s saying something. Beginningless time, endless world systems, endless consciousness, countless sentient beings, infinite enlightened beings, universal compassion, omniscient wisdom — and all of it illusion-like and dream-like, completely empty of existing from its own side.

But who cares about gaining all this extraordinary understanding of reality if it’s not actually helping us to get rid of our unhappiness, bring us joy, or help people? That’s all any of us really want, deep down, isn’t it? Therefore, when Buddha gave his teachings, his whole motivation was to permanently end suffering – all of which comes directly and indirectly from grasping things as being real when they’re not. What our ignorance is doing is projecting things and people that are not there but also believing that they ARE there and then reacting to that; and this the core reason why all of us are suffering. So Buddha wanted to dispel that illusion to lead everyone, including you and me, to the lasting bliss of enlightenment – the inner light of wisdom that is permanently free from all mistaken appearances — which is mixed with and is reality. 

We can’t wake people up from a nightmare if we believe the nightmare is real.

liberation from sufferingIf we align with reality, like all the countless omniscient beings have done, there is no end to what we can do. The sky’s the limit, only there is no real sky. As it says in that sugar cube video:

There are no limits to your power when you align to a more truthful view of the world you live in. The love that you feel in your heart is an actual power that you have. It’s literally the most powerful force on earth. This is not a cliché — you’ve just been conditioned to believe that it has no real effect. But we’ve seen that its power is absolutely world-changing.

More coming up soon, including the power of our intentions to create our experiences.

 

Meantime, over to you, would love to hear your thoughts …

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Quantum Buddhism

6.5 mins read + a video

A nun in South Africa sent me a video recently, a quantum physics thing. You’ve probably seen videos like this by now on social media or elsewhere, or maybe you even study science?! It seems to me like some of modern science is catching up to Buddha’s wisdom. I have to say that because whenever I see anything or read anything about peoplequantum physics—and I do find it fascinating, at least when it’s in plain English—I always think “That’s what Buddha said! Only, like, 2500 years ago!” However, perhaps more to the point, not only did he say it, but he also showed us how to actually gain personal experience of these mind-boggling facts and use them to our advantage to be rid of all our suffering and get happy.

So there’s around 7.7 billion human beings, or thereabout, on this planet … (didn’t we just get to 7 billion the other day?! I can’t keep up). In any event, there are a lot of us, not to mention all the animals and so forth … But … (and do pause to think about this for a moment) … if you removed from human beings alone all the empty space between our atoms, how much matter would be left?……

 

 

A sugar cube.

The entire human race would fit into a single sugar cube!

C’mon, that’s pretty impressive, don’t you think?! Fits nicely with one of the earliest examples I read about which is how, if you look at a wall, it appears very solid – ‘cos everything appears solid to us. This is the persistent illusion we have that there’s a real, physical, external, solid wall, which has nothing to do with our perceiving consciousness. But a solid wall is made of lots of atoms, and molecules, and quarks, and leptons, and the rest of it, and they’re all whizzing around really, really fast, and the space between two atoms—apparently, this is what I read—is the equivalent of the space between two planets. And there are also absurdly huge spaces between the subatomic particles. Turns out there is 99.999% more space than matter in a solid wall and in anything else that mistakenly seems solid.

I mean, that’s crazy, no, how it is nothing like it appears?!!!

wallSo why, from a conventional or scientific point of view, do things appear so darned solid if they’re not, if they’re just space?! Because apparently these subatomic particles are moving so fast that they give the illusion of solidity. Maybe it is like quickly twirling a stick of incense in a dark room – it appears like a continuous ring of fire when it is just the point of the incense stick.

As the video says:

The hidden truth of reality is that this is a universe built on pure energy—pure consciousness … This consciousness has no physical boundaries. It is intimately connected everywhere.

This science confirms what Buddha has always been talking about, that everything depends 100% upon the mind and everything is interconnected – something he proved in many different ways.

Okay, let’s get back to the 7.7 billion of us who are now shrunk to the size of a sugar cube. That’s us, right, a sugar cube. So, where do all these apparently solid bodies that we see keep coming from!? Why are we seeing them everywhere? Where are they really? How come they keep getting in my way?!!where is everybody

As Einstein is quoted:

Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.

Buddha also takes this a lot further because, for one thing, the molecules, the subatomic particles, and the space are also all mere illusion. They’re dreamlike, we can’t find them anywhere if we look for them, they don’t exist from their own side. They are mere appearance, mere name, like objects in a dream.

Buddha explained how everything is “empty like space,” and he did so thousands of years ago, long before the invention of particle accelerators and fancy microscopes. He went a lot further than modern science – proving that nothing exists from its own side, not that sugar cube, not even the consciousness perceiving it.

Things’ lack of existing from their own side, or objectively, is ultimate truth. It is reality. There are no ultimate or findable constituents of the universe, not even really dense sugar cubes.  Everything is empty of inherent existence. We can’t find a single thing when we go looking for it. There is nothing there to grasp at.

Conventional reality is an illusion, and therefore, if you think about it, not really sugar cubereality. Only ultimate truth, or emptiness, is reality because only emptiness exists in the way that it appears.

As this video shows, what we’re doing is projecting a world that’s not there; even on the level of conventional science we’re projecting a solid world. We don’t go around and see infinite space everywhere, do we? No, everything appears to be solid and chunky and real. And the problem is, we believe it. We’re actually projecting that solidity with our thoughts, with our consciousness, but we still manage to believe that it’s real.

Our whole lives are trapped within the imaginary confines of that hallucination. If we are so far off understanding and perceiving reality, we are suffering – how could it be otherwise?

And Buddha also had an enormous amount of insight into consciousness – what it is, how it creates our world, and how it is not just doing that in this one brief dreamlike life but in life after life. Everything is arising from the continuum of our consciousness moment by moment, as in a dream, in a never-ending story.

What are the implications?

However, Buddha didn’t explain these things simply so we could all go, “Whoaaaah!!!!”, followed by “What’s for supper?” This kind of information may not be impacting us at a deep level because we don’t really know what to do with it.

This video, at 5 minutes, is almost too long by today’s standards but still it goes by very fast. It may make some of us think “Wow!” But how long does this wonderment last if we don’t slow down to think about it and take the implications deep into our heart? And how can it help us? As the video says:

But despite this knowledge that has been written about in countless ancient mystical texts, and proven time and time again by modern science, we continue to behave as if it wasn’t true. We continue to use the old paradigm model of a physical universe when trying to change the world and fix its problems.

Prince HarryI was telling my childhood Guyanese friends about this video over a Chinese meal in Jamaica Queens, and their eyes did widen. Five minutes later, however, we were discussing Prince Harry and Meghan leaving the royal family, “You’re British! What do you think about THAT?!” Any potential implications from this mind-boggling insight into our existential predicament were already dismissed or forgotten in favor of useless opinions about the “real world”.

And I thought, “Well that had a lot of impact!” I didn’t blame us – it is Albert Einstein’s point, we are living a very persistent illusion. Most people never seem to leave it, even for a minute – it’s horrible, to be honest. And even those of us who do, thanks to the kindness of our wise teachers, are going to keep getting sucked back into this illusion until we can maintain a far deeper knowing in our heart.

The purpose of Buddhism is to gain a deep functional wisdom of all these truths, which sets us free — finally!!! — from the beginningless hallucinations of samsara. Plus it is so much easier to study Buddhism than to study quantum physics! Given this, I cannot resist exploring this video to see if we can start taking its revelations into our hearts and lives to really change stuff up. More coming soon …

Meantime, I would love to hear what you make of all this in the comments below!

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Just passin’ through …

Today I was wondering what people might want to do with my ashes, if anything at all. For the record, if any of you can be bothered, I would like them scattered in the lake at Madhyamaka Centre, Geshe Kelsang’s first Buddhist Centre in the West, where I spent a number of formative years. If that’s inconvenient because I die in another country, I don’t mind being scattered on the plants at any Kadampa Center.

riding through townAnyway, this got me thinking. And maybe it is because I live in the Wild West these days, but I got this image of myself as a cowboy riding into town – one of those fake Hollywood towns with a saloon, livery, general store, sheriff, and all that other atmospheric stuff.

I have no idea how long I will be on this set — it could be days or weeks or perhaps even years, but one thing I know for sure is that I am only passing through. I have been riding my whole life through town after town, and before long I will be riding onto countless more. And the same is true for everybody else in this dusty desert.

For the sake of argument, lets say that everything I do in this town is going to count towards where I go next — I will be taking my intentions or karma with me like credentials or a rap sheet. Also, in this town, everybody, just like me, wants to be happy all the time and never wants to suffer.

So, given this, what am I going to do while I’m here? What is the best way to help myself and help everyone else?

I will do my best to make sure they’re comfortable. I will try and make this town more peaceful, harmonious, fair, and equitable. I will try and help people find enough to eat and have roofs over their heads. I will speak up against injustice. I will vote for the best sheriff on offer. When there is trouble, eg, a violent storm, I will try my best to help people rebuild. As Geshe Kelsang says in How to Transform Your Life:

Through technological progress and by organizing society in fairer, more humane ways, we can certainly help improve people’s lives in some respects.

All of this is very important. But even more important, I think, is to help everyone realize that they are just here for a short time and that none of this is really happening.

indianAlso, when I do help in those external ways, I need to be able to set the intention and release the outcome, as it were – not getting attached to results, because these are by no means certain in samsara. This is not fatalistic, it is realistic; and recognizing it will make me more, not less, effective in helping my townsfolk, while keeping the discouragement of false expectations at bay.

Also, I need to be prepared not to freak out if there are unwanted consequences from some of my actions – I am dealing, after all, with a truck-load of cowboys and girls, with all their uncontrolled minds and bad karma. For example, I might protect the damsel from the gunslinger, but she may go on to shoot someone else.

Whatever we do will inevitably have some unwanted side effects. The best we can hope for is to provide people with conditions that bring some temporary relief from problems and difficulties, but we cannot give them true, lasting happiness. This is because the real cause of happiness is inner peace, which can be found only within the mind, not in external conditions. ~ How to Transform Your Life

Whatever happens in this town has no lasting impact or value because soon we will all be moving on. Realizing this obviates the 8 worldly concerns. For what use are fame, wealth, and so on, except insofar as we can use it to help others? I need to realize as well that this town is basically fake, a back lot at Universal Studios. Appearances are deceptive. We can sometimes have happy moments in a virtual reality, but buying into mistaken appearances overall causes nothing but problems and confusion.

The source of everything that appears to us in this movie-like reality is mind, an extraordinarily creative mind. One that happens to be our own. We need to harness and control it as soon as we can, take over the narrative, and help everyone else do the same.

Portals

So let’s say that in this town there is a place that has uncovered the mystery that lies at the heart of the Wild West and all its people, ie, it is all fleeting and it is all false.

sceneryAnd if I were to stumble upon this place, it would be utterly eye-opening, it would shatter my complacency, it would be a portal into a blissful new world of possibility and freedom. I couldn’t get enough of it. And I would want to help it grow so that more and more of my friends and fellow inhabitants could find it too.

As the townsfolk discovered it, and gradually learned the ideas that set them free, they would naturally bring those ideas into their lives in the town, share them with others, whatever line of work they were in. They would naturally work to help their people because they would WANT to, and they might have imaginative and fresh approaches to old problems. Society could change for the better.

Welcome to your local Buddhist Center.

Buddha said:

This world is not our permanent home. We are travelers passing through.

In this short human life, of course I want to help with practical kindness as much as I am able, even if it’s only donating to disaster relief. But my main wish is to help create portals of wisdom and compassion so that everyone in the world can learn the true nature of reality and escape from the bad dream of samsara forever.

I heard Gen Rigpa, the Kadampa Buddhist teacher in Los Angeles, say that every atom of a Dharma Center is made of compassion. I love that.  For of course the Center is not just bricks and mortar, or what happens inside those walls. It is not even just the people attending at any given time. It doesn’t have boundaries. It spreads into the society cowgirlaround it via the hearts and deeds of all its members. People get peace from the teachings and are inspired to pay it forward. Everyone is welcome. No one is excluded.

The portal doesn’t have to be secret, not at all. It could be in the building right next to the Saloon. The commercial spaces being created all over the world are particularly interesting for this reason – when I started out, Buddhist Centers were always out in the sticks, not obvious, and self-contained like the monasteries of Tibet. Now they are very much a public service, part of the fabric of modern life, found in the middle of cities everywhere, open and accessible to all the people walking by. People show up to relax at a lunchtime breathing meditation, and find themselves with access to an entire path to enlightenment. This is modern Buddhism.

So everything we do directly or indirectly to help these Centers is of great service to our one-horse town and — because each Center is dedicated to world peace — it is also of implicit service to everyone else.

There are temples for world peace everywhere, where the teachings are available and prayers for world peace are being offered up all the time. And prayers work. Luckily there is a world peace temple being built in Washington DC as we speak; and it is is also clearer to me now why Geshe Kelsang seemed so keen on starting a Center in South Korea, even though this has not properly materialized yet. None of these temples will come a moment too soon.

Practitioners at the Centers learn what they need to know, become more and more like Bodhisattvas, and gradually take their wisdom, compassion, skill, and imagination into their own and others’ daily lives. Wherever they go, the Center goes with them so to speak – as artists, doctors, social activists, teachers, parents, entrepreneurs, flight attendants, film makers, and so on. There are no real limits. That’s how I see it at least. I think these teachings, far from leading to escapism, can light fires under the socially engaged.

WestworldAnd, by the way, it seems to be a two-way street – Dharma Centers cannot flourish in a vacuum. People need to have a certain number of good human conditions and the space and freedom to practice. Think of Tibet – when it was overrun, Dharma could not flourish. If we want Dharma to flourish, I would say we have some responsibility for helping make our society conducive. For right now our world does not seem to be going in a fabulous direction, not at all.

Buddhism is therefore not about navel-gazing – once we know and have some stable experience of it, we apply it also with relevance to “real-world” problems, while at the same time recognizing that there is no real world.

For material development alone, for its own sake, is not good enough. Temporary liberation from particular sufferings is not good enough. And no matter how hard we try, we’ll never find happiness where it is not. Of primary importance is the radical shift within, especially realizing the true nature of reality. As modern-day Buddhist master Geshe Kelsang says:

Just as the only way to solve our own problems is to find inner peace, so the only way to help others to solve theirs is to encourage them to engage in spiritual practice and discover their own inner peace.

This peace is not just a feel-good option but a must-have. It is the path to lasting freedom and happiness. There are many levels of inner peace – from the patience that stops shooting at everything that moves, right through to the enlightenment that dissolves away the suffering world and recreates a Pure Land.

The teachings on selflessness and Tantra in particular are capable of flipping switches left, right, and center. The lasting inner peace we want people to experience is the inner light of omniscient wisdom, where they see through the illusion, see through the deception, and are finally completely free to create the blissful reality and worlds of their choosing.

The actual portal to freedom is not outside of us – it is the doorway into the heart of bliss and emptiness. We need to realize the impermanent and illusory nature of the scenery, ourselves, and everyone else in this godforsaken town! As Geshe Kelsang says:

We can sometimes help others by providing them with money or better material conditions, but we should remember that the greatest benefit we can give is to help them overcome their delusions and find true, lasting happiness within.

And that is the true and only purpose for helping power up these portals — wherever you are and however you can.

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All the world’s a stage…

Do you ever feel you’re being manipulated when you’re watching something? Like it’s staged to make you think and feel a certain way?

Of course, all plays and movies are! But sometimes for some reason you see right through it.

Mad Men is a popular drama and several friends had recommended it to me so I watched some of it. Notwithstanding the intentionally annoying misogyny that pervades it, I enjoyed the fact that it was set not long before I was born but might as well have been made in the dark ages, so much has changed since then. Those telephones! I remember we had one as a child; it seemed perfectly fine back then, now it belongs in a museum. The whole way of life without cell phones and computers is entirely different. And yet this is only 50 years ago, and I was born pretty much into the tail end of it. This is the world of my parents. Mad Men and Buddhism

It also struck me that one reason there was no way out for these characters is because meditation hadn’t even arrived on the scene yet – they had to hit the bottle or the sack because they had no reliable sources of pleasure or satisfaction, especially as on the whole these were not church-going types and yet had few spiritual alternatives.

But for the purposes of this article I was interested in how much effort and how many causes and conditions were brought together to convince me, the viewer, that it was real. The telephones for sure, and all the design pieces. The Neanderthal attitudes, the drinking, the nervous reaching for a cigarette at times of the remotest stress or pleasure, the boredom, the futility… Thousands of people have engineered this reality for me, making it as real as possible, and a huge variety of causes and conditions have gone into it. Remove any of them – the hairstylist, the director, the camera man, the cigarettes, the clunky telephones, etc – and I may not have been as convinced.

A movie clearly depends completely on its causes and conditions. It is none of those causes and conditions either individually or collectively, yet take even one away and it disappears. It has no power to exist from its own side. The same is true of life.

When I was living in San Francisco I visited the set of Pixar with a friend, T., who was working on Ratatouille. My mind boggled at the number of causes and conditions going into producing a 90-minute animated movie – thousands of skilled people, several years, and seemingly never-ending still drawings and sculptures both traditional and computerized. In The Incredibles, there is a typical teenager called Violet, who is characterized by hiding behind a large fringe of hair, until she gains confidence (helped no doubt by saving the world with her superpowers) and the hair gets tucked back. During this whole eye-opening visit to Pixar, the thing that struck me most was learning that one of T’s friends had worked for three years on … get this… pretty much just Violet’s hair! Violet from the Incredibles and Kadampa Life

If we really examine it, we can see that our own hair has also risen and continues to arise in dependence upon numerous causes and conditions – both physical and karmic – going back a very long way. Even just one moment or freeze frame of our hair depends on genes coming from our parents and their parents etc, and karma we have created – and moment by moment these causes and conditions continue to evolve to produce moment after moment of hair (or hair loss).

Countless causes and conditions have also gone into the scene I am witnessing right now. I am sitting at my desk writing on a PC with a splendid cappuchino from the World Peace Cafe downstairs, looking out onto a park that is vividly green with flashes of rhodedendrom colour, half-sunshine/half clouds and a sky close enough to touch, magpies hopping about on the branches, goslings on the lake, and people kicking a football… Remove any one of these causes and conditions – the desk, the park, the sunshine, even the football — and the scene is a new one. If I was to look for anything really happening, from its own side, as in the movies, I would find nothing – none of the causes and conditions is this scene, but remove even just one of them and this particular scene dissolves.

goslings in Sefton Park Kadampa Meditation Centre Liverpool(In a few days, all the causes and conditions for my sitting here in Liverpool will have been used up. New causes and conditions will be kicking in to produce new effects as life unfurls … )

Everything is illusion-like according to the Buddhist Madhyamika view of reality. Even though it appears to, nothing exists inherently, from its own side. In Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva says:

Provided all the necessary conditions are assembled,
Even an illusion will come into being.

Illusions like movie characters appear in dependence upon causes and conditions, and so do we.

Different types of cause
Give rise to different types of illusion.

We take one rebirth after another in dependence upon particular causes and conditions, and Mad Men comes into being in dependence upon different causes and conditions. There is no single cause that can give rise to the infinite variety of different effects. A movie may not last as long as us, but this is no proof that we are more existent from our own side – or it would follow that a dream of long duration was more valid than one of shorter duration.

sowing seeds of love karmaI can tell I’m being manipulated by the acting in Mad Men — the fake smoking and the fake sex and the fake attitudes. Not that it isn’t well acted; it is just that sometimes you can’t help seeing through things, you can see they are staged. Just like a movie, all the causes and conditions of my life effect an appearance that I get sucked into as real, even though this reality is just a set-up, a projection of my ignorance. How great it will be to see through the seeming permanence of every scene in my life to see that it is changing moment by moment in dependence upon causes and conditions. How great it will be to see through the veneer of my current reality to see that it too is fake, artificial, Drapersmile-lg1appearances pretending to be something solid and “out there”. We already are the designers, producers, and directors of our own reality. Once we realize this, we can design, produce, and direct a life we actually want!

Postscript 3 years later: Who thought Mad Men would end with Don Draper meditating?! There is hope for us all.