And absolutely everything changes moment by moment. Nothing lasts even a moment. Check out these articles on subtle impermanence to find more.
And, even more profoundly, everything is empty of existing from its own side.
We are attracted to the five sense objects and, like a moth to a flame, we get burned again and again. We need to learn to enjoy lightly without getting absorbed into everything, taken over and burned.
We get so attached to shapes — bodies, houses, art, carpets, mugs, and any number of other shapes, such that we think we can’t even live without them. Sometimes it seems that we are more attached to the shape of things than anything else?! Maybe the color too. This might be because our visual awareness is so important to us. In the old days, some meditators would even pray to be born blind! However, there is an easier way, which is to remember emptiness. Hence me posting this video as a visual reminder.
We think these shapes are actually there, solid and real. But if we go looking for the object of our attachment, such as our lover’s body, we’ll never be able to find it, any more than we can point to a shape in those birds. There is only emptiness. Every shape is mere appearance or mere name — nothing behind that. So what exactly are we so attached to?
(We like the smell, taste, sound, and touch of physical things too, of course, and they are all just as unfindable.)
The problem is not with attractive appearances, but with the belief that they are outside of our mind and hence outside of our control. Hence attachment, or “uncontrolled desire”. So we seek to own (or be owned). We seek to control (or be controlled).
Ideally, in the world of moths, there’d be a flame education program… “Listen guys when you next see that bright shiny thing, fly around it and not right into it. Discover how to enjoy its warmth and beauty from a safe distance and you’ll be happier – trust me!” Similarly, we can learn how to enjoy the mere appearance or mere name of beautiful things, such as we enjoy these starlings, without getting sucked into something that is not actually there.
On the basis of contentment (or renunciation), compassion, and wisdom, we can find out how to channel the desire energy aroused by attractive things into open-ended non-dual blissful wisdom, rather than falling into the flames of attachment and craving and experiencing suffering.
It seems to me from Buddha’s teachings that we need to help others locally and practically, with what and who is under our nose, whether we work in business or a caring profession or whatever, and whatever our personal circumstances. But our thoughts about it all need to change. Our thoughts are not fixed; we can learn to think whatever we want.
Thoughts conducive to freedom and happiness are selfless ones — both in terms of unselfishness and in terms of the wisdom understanding there is no self. We, our body, and everyone and everything else cannot be found to exist in and of themselves. As Shantideva, an emanation of Wisdom Buddha Manjushri, says in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:
Living beings are like objects in a dream
For, when analyzed, they have no ultimate identity, just like a rainbow.
So, if we want to free ourselves and others from suffering in any lasting way, it is very important to understand emptiness – undergo a paradigm shift. Otherwise we are restricted to two inadequate options, it seems to me:
(1) We can continue trying to fix stuff out there, all externally, without taking our mind and intentions into account at all. This is like trying to move the furniture around in a dream, or trying to get the cowboys on the screen to stop shooting the Indians. Lots of expended energy, limited results.
(2) We can change our states of mind and intentions, and this is good and important – we can make our projections and karma better by using love, compassion, and so on, as explained in this article. However, we can only patch things up this way. We are still in samsara, so the hallucinatory dream appearances continue unabated, and we suffer.
To stop suffering once and for all by pulling the plug out from the ocean of samsara, we have to realize that we, others, suffering, and everything else is mere appearance of mind, unfindable, empty of inherent existence.
The disappearing flower trick
Now for the disappearing flower trick — hopefully a helpful way to see what’s meant by the unfindability of everything. It would be good to have a video of this, any volunteers?! Until then, you’ll just have to imagine.
Imagine I’m holding up a rose. Where is the rose? “It is there”, you say, as you point in the direction of the rose, maybe waving your hand around a little.
Where, though, exactly?
Why, somewhere in its parts – at least that is where it seems to be.
So, now imagine I am pulling the petals off one by one – is this the rose? No. This one? No. That’s just a petal. Perhaps it is this green bit then (forgive my lack of botanical knowledge)? No.
So the rose is none of its individual parts.
But maybe it is the collection of these parts, then?
So imagine I am holding the collection of petals and green bits in my palm. Is this the rose?
So where is the rose? The only other possibility is that it is somewhere else, other than its parts.
Imagine I now put my hand full of rose petals behind my back. Where is the rose?
We thought there was a real rose out there, existing in and of itself, from its own side. But there never was. That was a projection of our mind. We decided there was a rose there, we imputed “rose”. And then we believed in our own imputation as if it had nothing to do with us. Rather like believing our dreams have nothing to do with us and then reacting to them as such.
Depending on how attached we are to roses, we may or may not get too upset that I have seemingly pulled this one apart. But we are being deceived in a similar way by all those people and objects that we are deeply attached to and irritated on behalf of – our body, our self, our partner, our job, our computer, etc. Nothing is out there existing from its own side. Nothing at all. But we react to everything as if it was.
If you find it, you can have it
Sometimes I like to say to myself: “If you find it, you can have it.” I go looking for the places, enjoyments, and people of samsara that I feel attached to – they have to be either in their parts or separate from their parts or somewhere else; and, if they are not, then what exactly am I so attached to?! As Shantideva says:
With objects that are empty in this way,
What is there to gain and what is there to lose?
Who is there to praise me?
And who is there to blame me?
This is a way to enjoy without grasping. For, if we cannot find these things, we surely have to ask ourselves, “What am I doing spending so much time thinking about them?!” We lighten up and start having more fun. As Shantideva says:
I beseech you, O reader, who are just like me,
Please strive to realize that all phenomena are empty, like space.
These wisdom teachings of Buddha are very profound but I hope you have gotten a bit of a taste in these last eight articles and want to read more. Please pick up Geshe Kelsang’s books, for he is the Wisdom Buddha, a total master of emptiness, and he teaches it all the time. (Any vague understanding I have of this subject comes entirely from him, and any mistakes in talking about it are very obviously my own.) As he said in 2006:
I’ve told you this hundreds of times, and I will keep telling you this until my final breath – the world you normally perceive does not exist.
It is so worth persevering in this listening (or reading), contemplation, and meditation on the subject, now that we have this rare opportunity, because with a realization of emptiness we can do anything. When we realize the true nature of things, there are infinite possibilities. We can purify our mind and our world, experience freedom from suffering forever, and help everyone else to do the same.
So, please don’t stop until you get there! And good luck 🙂
“It’s a good day to have a good day”, said the sign on the side of the carpet van I just saw in Charlotte, NC. I couldn’t agree more. But it’s not always easy because our delusions keep interfering with us, destroying our inner peace and happiness. As ignorance underpins all our delusions, the best way to have a good day today — and every day — is to break free from ignorance and stop going round and round in circles. How? By realizing the true nature of things. So, with the wish for you all to have a really lovely day, I’m going to continue these articles on the emptiness, or true nature, of our body. And please bear with the new terms if you are not yet used to them, it’s worth it.
That experience of not finding our body, as explained in this last article, is the experience of emptiness. We are experiencing the non-existence of the body we normally perceive, the non-existence of the inherently existent or objectively existing body. We are not looking at nothingness, but at the mere absence of inherent existence of the body. This is a deeply meaningful absence and the most profound object of knowledge.
So, what is my body?
Our body does not exist in the way that it appears, which is findable and real and outside the mind. This does not mean that our body does not exist at all, but that it “barely exists”, as Geshe Kelsang has said – it exists as mere appearance or projection of mind. We normally don’t think of our body as mere appearance — we believe it is really there, just as we believe that objects in a dream are really there (until we wake up). And that wrong belief or wrong conception is ignorance.
And we don’t just do this with our body – we are doing it with everything. It is absurd. And it is causing all our suffering.
We think there is a reality out there, existing from its own side, appearing at us, solid. And so we grasp with ignorance – when things appear attractive we have to have them, for example, and when they appear unattractive we want rid of them. In dependence upon these three poisons of ignorance, attachment, and anger, and their subsidiary delusions, we create karma that causes us to keep circling in dream-like samsara. We are failing to recognize that we are creating our whole reality with our thoughts.
It’s like believing there’s something real out there when watching a movie, as if there really are people there, as if something really is happening, as if there is something coming from the side of the screen. Whereas in reality everything comes from the mind — is dependent upon conceptual imputation or label or projection.
A small boy standing in the gangway at a movie was looking at the screen and then back at the projector and then back at the screen again, with a growing expression of surprise on his face. Then, pointing at the screen, he yelled happily, and loud enough for all of us to hear, “Look, mommy! The movie isn’t coming from out there!” Then, practically jumping up and down with glee, he pointed at the projector: “It’s coming from over here!!!” We all laughed. He may have ruined the magical illusion of the movie for some, but to me he seemed like a little Buddha emanation granting the relief of realizing that things do not exist from the side of the object but are projected by our mind.
Although it is beyond wonderful that Buddha explained all this, we don’t have to take his word for it. We can see the truth for ourselves, using our own wisdom.
In Step One, identifying the negated object, we get to the point when we think, “If this body is not real, what is real?! This is the body I’ve cherished my entire life. Whenever it feels uncomfortable or sick or fat or rejected by someone, I feel sad. Are you telling me I have been wasting all this energy, all these moods!, on a mere figment, a mental elaboration?
In the remaining three steps we try to find something that matches exactly this vividly appearing real body. But when we look for our body, we find nothing that corresponds to the vividly appearing body that we normally perceive. We look everywhere that it could possibly be, so, if we don’t find it, we have to conclude that it doesn’t exist. It is like mistaking a pile of stones at dusk for a man, as Shantideva says:
Therefore, there is no body, but out of ignorance
The thought of “body” arises through perceiving hands and so forth;
Just like developing the thought of a man
Through perceiving a pile of stones. ~ How to Transform Your Life
Within the parts of the body we think there is a real body — but if we go looking for it we cannot find it anywhere. It is an hallucination, like being startled upon seeing a man out there in a pile of stones, only to relax by realizing we made him up.
Maybe if I just look a little deeper?! …
But maybe, we think, if I just looked a little deeper I would find something out there. For example, maybe we think that the parts of the body are real, so there is some sense after all in imputing a body onto them and holding onto it. There is something out there on which to pin my body. My arms and legs, for example, must be real, or my hands. Of course stones are not a suitable basis for thinking “body”, but the parts of my body surely are!!!?
(By the way, we need to bring our contemplation on the non-existence of the real body to a conclusion and meditate on that emptiness before we delve further into looking for its parts. These are different contemplations — emptiness of the body, emptiness of the hand, etc.)
To be continued in the next exciting article, when we’re going to look for the very building blocks of the universe … !
Once again, if you are enjoying this subject, please download this free ebook, How to Transform Your Life, and take your time reading the chapter on Ultimate Truth, where it is explained clearly and perfectly.
We have the target, the body we normally perceive, the independent body. Here is my body appearing to me, existing from its own side, generating awareness of itself. It’s really there. Like a lump. A monolithic lump. Can’t miss it.
As Geshe Kelsang says in Joyful Path of Good Fortune:
We have a mental image of our body as something different from its parts. When we think “My body is attractive” we are not thinking “My feet are attractive, my elbows are attractive, my forehead is attractive …”, and so forth, but we apprehend an independent body.
And we believe with all our heart that this body we are apprehending does exist. Our life revolves around it. Could I point to it? Yes, of course I could, it’s right here isn’t it?!
At this point, once we have identified the negated object, we are ready to go looking for it using Steps Two to Four.
Just a couple of things first, though, before we continue. When we do this meditation on emptiness, it’s important to remember why we’re doing it. This would be because samsara sucks and we are trying to dissolve it away for everyone. How? By realizing it is empty of inherent existence.
I was thinking recently how innocent the term “samsara” might sound to the new ear. A Buddhist once ruefully told me he had named his two kids Sam and Sara before he knew better. Sweet kids, too. Samsara even has a perfume named after it. But there is nothing sweet about samsara. Monstrousara, evilara, deceptivara, sufferingara, cesspitara, crazyara, etc is more like it. A prize for the best word …
Also, when we do this contemplation, it is good to do it in our heart not our head, and not in a big hurry at first — for example after a little breathing or clarity of mind meditation, taking refuge in our own inner peace and pure potential mixed with the wisdom of Buddha.
Step Two: Ascertaining the pervasion
So if our body is as solid and real as it appears, if there is a body there appearing to me, then I will be able to find it if I look for it. In fact, the more I investigate, the clearer it’ll become. If there is mayonnaise in the fridge, for example, then a search should reveal it more and more clearly.
And if my body exists inherently or objectively — if it can be found outside the mind, existing from its own side, as it appears — then I must be able to find it or point to it without pointing at something that is NOT it. That’s only fair, isn’t it? If I’m looking for the mayo in the fridge, I can’t go pointing at the ketchup and say “Found it!”
And there are only two places where my body could possibly be — within its parts or somewhere else. No third possibility. Agreed?
(“Ascertaining the pervasion” is just a fancy way of saying that we become certain that our search pervades or covers everywhere our body could possibly be.)
So in this step we set up the parameters of our search so that we can know when to stop looking. I’m going to look for my body within its parts or somewhere else and, if I don’t find it there, I know I have looked everywhere it could possibly be and so there is no point in looking for it further.
For example, if I have lost my glasses somewhere in the house, they are either in my bedroom or outside my bedroom. If I look in both places and fail to find them, I can conclude that there are no glasses in the house.
Once we are sure of this, we are ready for the next step in the meditation. We are going to look for the body within its parts and separate from its parts to find out, “Is my body really there, or is it just appearing to be really there?”
And we need to search “without prejudice”, as Geshe-la says in Joyful Path, not “Oh yeah, Buddha already told us that the body is unfindable, so I only need to go through the motions to come to that conclusion.” There is no point being half-assed about the search, but rather we can be like a child playing hide and seek — if anything expecting to find what we are looking for. Then the experience of not finding it — if that indeed is what happens — is all the more impactful, “What the heck?! Where’d it go? Are you telling me I have been grasping at an illusion all this time?! Phew, that’s actually seriously cool.”
Step Three: Ascertaining the absence of oneness
This is where we look for our body within its parts – is there anything in the parts of our body that matches up with the image of the body we’re looking for?
Is my back the body? No. It’s a back. My head? My arms? My internal organs? Etc. No. They are all just parts of the body, and the body is the part-possessor.
Each part is in fact a not-body.
What about if we add all these parts together? Eh voilà, a body?! No. We still only have a collection of not-bodies. If you collect a lot of not-sheep together, such as goats, you don’t suddenly, magically, get a sheep. You just have a bunch of goats.
(“Ascertaining the absence of oneness” is just a fancy way of saying that we become certain that our body is not one with, or identical to, its parts.)
The body is labelled on its parts, or imputed on its parts, like a forest imputed on a collection of trees, as explained here – but we can find absolutely nothing within the parts that corresponds to the body we are searching for.
Step Four: Ascertaining the absence of difference
If our body is different from its parts, then we should be able to get rid of all the parts and still be left with a body.
We can imagine our head, trunk, arms, legs, etc all dissolving away into nothingness. Is there anything left that is the body? No.
If you check, whenever we try to point to our body, we point at a part of our body.
(“Ascertaining the absence of difference just means we become certain that our body is not separate from its parts.)
Conclusion of our search
So, we’ve looked for our body everywhere it could possibly be found, as ascertained in Step Two — both one with or separate from its parts. And we have found nothing that corresponds to, or matches up with (“Snap!”), the vividly appearing body we normally cherish so much. This means that this body doesn’t exist — there is no body existing from its own side.
This absence of the body we normally perceive is the emptiness or ultimate nature of the body. It is a very meaningful absence, as explained here. It is the only truth of the body. As Geshe Kelsang says in How to Transform Your Life:
It is almost as if our body does not exist. Indeed, the only sense in which we can say that our body does exist is if we are satisfied with the mere name “body” and do not expect to find a real body behind the name. If we try to find, or point to, a real body to which the name “body” refers, we shall not find anything at all.
We should focus on this space-like unfindability or emptiness of the body – the mere absence of the body we normally perceive – for as long as we can. Every second we mix our mind with this emptiness we are reducing our ignorance that grasps at or believes in a real or inherently existent body, and are moving along the path toward permanent bliss.
It is worth it
You know, this meditation is not so difficult if you go through these steps. And when we get it right, there is nothing that compares with the relief and joy of meditating on emptiness. We can also see for ourselves how it is the truth. It might be the first time since beginningless time that we have been privy to the truth.
There is nothing abstract or airy fairy about this meditation. Emptiness is reality itself. It is going around grasping at things that are not there, things created by ignorance, which is our fantasy. The more we stop our self-grasping ignorance, therefore, the happier and freer we become. And when, for example, our body is ill, it no longer bothers us; which has got to be a good thing as I, for one, hate physical pain.
Out of space. More coming soon. If you like this subject, please download this free ebook, How to Transform Your Life, and read the chapter on Ultimate Truth – I don’t think there’s an easier explanation anywhere.
Everything is as insubstantial as a dream, even our own body. Even our own self. Even our own mind.
Our mind keeps trying to go out there, as if to grasp onto things out there. But there is nothing there to grasp at, we come up as short as someone trying to drink a mirage.
In the Condensed Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, Buddha says:
If you search for your body with wisdom, you cannot find it.
As I plan to examine a bit more in the the next article, we normally see our body within its parts, such as in the hands and head. But this way of seeing our body “out there”, or even “in here”, findable within its parts, is mistaken, because if we look for our body in its individual parts we won’t find it – it is not the head, not the hands, etc. And if we look for it in the collection of its parts we won’t find it, only a collection of things that are not it. The more we look, the less we’ll find it. We will only ever be able to point at things that are not it.
And if we look for our body other than its parts, which is the only other option, we won’t find it either. We’ll be left perceiving an absence of the findable body. This in fact proves that the body we normally see does not exist.
There is nothing out there, out there, as I have heard some people say.
Our mind also tries to go “out there” in a dream, but where is it actually going?! What is “out there” in a dream?
So, given that I have one, and it is not out there, what the heck is my body?!
The other side of the coin of unfindability is that our body (and everything else) exists as mere appearance to mind, or of mind; and how it appears depends on our karma. As a musician put it in the comments to this last article (I’m sure he is exaggerating a little but you get the point):
Listeners sometimes enjoy and sometimes don’t enjoy hearing our voice. We are like karmic conductors when we sing. Barbara Streisand is loved by some and she is hell-realmish for me to listen too, as is Whitney Houston.
And as I replied:
Depending on karma, we see different things. Mistaken karmic appearances. So we need to rely on our relatively non-deceptive minds of love and compassion, and definitely on wisdom, as I tried to explain in this article called Beneficial believing.
One common illustration: someone can be attracted to our body one week out of karma and attachment, and then not interested the next week when their karma and attachment has changed — at which point no amount of dieting or make up or plastic surgery will help 😜 I wrote this article as a lead up to a couple of articles on the emptiness of our body because that is a very effective way to stop being so hung up with body image if we can learn to do it.
If we realize the emptiness of our body, we can dispatch our own convoluted unsolvable suffering related to that conceptual grasping at mere appearance as a real body, leaving us feeling a lot more spacious and free. And we will find we have a lot more energy for others. Before too long we can attain liberation and enlightenment. So it is not just a philosophical curiosity to think about this; it is a BIG deal.
Where does your body go at night?
This body that you are sitting in right now, by the way, the one you might be really quite fixated upon, thinking “My gorgeous body!, My flabby body!”, are you even bothered about it when you fall asleep and dream? Are you even relating to it as “My body!” at that time? No. It seems that at that time we are using another body, a dream body, quite possibly feeling all bent out of shape and suffering distorted body image about that one too.
My body in my dream last night, for example, felt very real and solid. I remember it had blue eyes (my waking body has green/brown eyes.) If a tiger had bitten it, I would have freaked out. If someone had told me I was ugly, I would have been sad. At that time, I wasn’t using this body I am using now – I was not even aware of it, as it lay prone in the bed. It could have been as ugly as it wanted and I wouldn’t have cared.
During our dreams, the body that is an appearance of our waking mind disappears for us. This endless coming and going, this sheer appearance and disappearance, in itself might be telling us something. How real and solid is this body that we cherish and worry about so much? How important is it?
The cosmetic industry knows how much some people can be fooled by an apparently fixed idea of their body, so much so that they will spend thousands of dollars on “correcting” the slightest wrinkle or jowl – well, I reckon we are all doing it to a greater or lesser extent. We are all being fooled by our own permanent- and inherent-seeming mental images or projections, imagining our body to be far more solid and unchanging than it actually is, and disapproving of — sometimes even loathing — what we think we see in the mirror.
The purpose of photoshopping
Where did last night’s dream body go, the one that felt so real when we were using it in our dream? If it was as real or objective as it felt at the time — existing from its own side independent of the mind — we could expect it to go somewhere, it couldn’t just disappear. But it went nowhere because it was mere appearance to our dreaming mind. When our dream mind ceased, so did our dream body – other than that there is no reason why our dream body should cease.
Likewise, where did yesterday’s seemingly solid, real body go? If it was real, existing objectively or outside the mind, surely it has to be somewhere? But yesterday’s body, too, went nowhere because it was also mere appearance to yesterday’s mind.
My dream body was only ever dream-like appearance. It was never really there. It was just an idea of my dreaming mind. Any Nutribullet diet I embarked upon would have been a waste of time. And I knew this for certain the moment I woke up.
And the same is true for my waking body sitting writing this, now. It is just an idea or imputation of my waking mind. If I want to accept and like my body I don’t need to diet, cut bits out of it, or Photoshop it — I just need to change my ideas of what “My body” is. And I will know this for certain the moment I wake up from the sleep of ignorance.
This really works once we understand it. We can contemplate how our dream body is unfindable outside the mind — and therefore exists as mere appearance to our mind, mere projection, mere label — and then apply that understanding to our waking body.
With this we can let go of grasping so tightly at this waking body in a fixed way, as a limited deficient thing. See how much freedom we now have to relate to our merely projected body in a different way altogether – to re-label it, for example, as a vehicle for enjoying this precious human life or as a vehicle for helping others. Moreover, we are more likely to want to keep it healthy so that it feels stronger and lasts longer for our own and others’ sake – eating right, sleeping enough, exercising.
Through the Tantric teachings we can even come to see that our actual body is not the one grown from parts of our parents’ bodies, but our own very subtle wind that we have had since beginningless time, along with our very subtle mind. We can learn to identify with this purified into an illusory body, and see this fleshy outer thing as just like an old overcoat that we keep in good nick as far as we can, but without freaking out when it doesn’t look as new and perfectly tailored as it once did.
So instead of sucking in your stomach and smiling oddly at yourself every time you look in the mirror, or quickly removing the Facebook tag when people post a photo of you from the wrong angle (or is that just me?), when we see our body we can recognize how lucky we are to have a human body at all and what we can do with it. We can clean our teeth and brush our hair not out of a worry about how we look, but simply to take care of our body so that we can use it to help others. Check out that powerful parallel scene in Schindler’s list that I write about here.
You know what I think? I think the self-confidence that comes from this acceptance, and from taking control of our own perceptions, makes us appear far more attractive than ever before. The ability to help others grows exponentially. And this attractiveness and fulfillment will never fade.
Next time, reasoning our way into reality, more meditation on the emptiness of our body. Meantime, please share your thoughts on any of this.
I was woken at 4am this morning by my mom in London: “Oh sorry darling, I didn’t mean to wake you.” (Funny how a loud ringing noise in your ear can do that). “It’s just that I was watching the royal wedding and I wished you were here.”
Today something is happening. No one can deny that. Two billion people have tuned into watch this happening, both live and recorded, and plenty more are trying to ignore it. But what is it exactly?!
In the last article I explained that when we wake from a dream it is clear to us that our dream objects do not exist independent of the mind… we don’t go searching for them as we know we will not find them. But it is the same when we are awake! Where was that wedding? What was it?! If it existed as it appeared to, out there, independent of our minds, then we should be able to find it, either within its parts or somewhere else. So was the wedding in the milling swarms of people? In Kate’s ring? In the vows? In the buildings of Westminster Cathedral or Buckingham Palace? No, none of those things were the wedding either individually or collectively – they were just parts of the wedding. But if we take the swarms, the ring, the vows, the buildings etc away, the wedding vanishes, proving it does not exist other than its parts. So it is not in its parts nor anywhere else, meaning we cannot find it anywhere, we cannot point to a “royal wedding”. It therefore does not exist as it appeared to, independent of our minds.
In dependence upon various parts appearing to our mind, we imputed or labeled “royal wedding”, and voila it existed for us. The royal wedding was therefore no more than mere label or mere name, imputed by our conceptual thought. [For a perfect explanation of all this, consult the teachings on emptiness given in Heart of Wisdomor Modern Buddhism.]
Due to our collective karma we experienced moreorless a similar appearance, and shared a conceptual label. We can say that from this point of view there was only one royal wedding – it took place in London, not Beijing for example, the main protagonists were Will and Kate, and the Queen wore a canary yellow dress. But we can also say that everyone experienced their own royal wedding — I reckon that if you were to interview every one of the two billion people they’d be telling different stories, let alone if you interviewed all those who boycotted it! And the stories they’d be telling would depend entirely upon their own individual karmic appearances and their minds. Yet they’d probably all agree that it really did happen, they really saw it or missed it.
I alone watched three royal weddings simultaneously – I don’t have a TV so I watched one on the YouTube Royal Channel to get some commentary, one on CNN to get it live (the Royal Channel was 20 seconds behind), and one on CNN mobile on my iphone as my computer kept crashing due to a virus, and in fact has now died altogether [that’s another story – I originally wrote this article on there and it was better, but its lost…You have only my word for it 😉 ] Which of the three was the real wedding?
I decided to write this article partly as I was wondering how Kate felt at having two billion people watching her every dimple. Did she feel like a fairytale princess arriving in Cinderella’s glass car and leaving in a horse-drawn carriage with her Prince Charming, with loads of black horses and marching men wearing black fuzzy hats all just for her?! Planes flying over, and her mouth could be seen saying “Perfect formation!”, and yes, all for her! People practically swooning in anticipation of that first blissful kiss, camping out all night for this?!
I know there are a lot of republicans reading this and I have no trouble respecting your point of view. Also, in a casual chit chat about the wedding, someone who shall remain nameless was heard to say “Who are Charles and Diana?”, proving conclusively I think that we live in parallel universes! But whether you’re a royalty lover, a royalty hater, or a couldn’t care lesser, there is no real wedding happening out there today. Our dreams show the power of our mind to create a whole world, with temporal and spatial coordinates all intact; and then to mistakenly believe that it has nothing to do with us. Due to our ignorance we project a wedding out there within its parts, which we believe is real, and feel annoyed, in love, or blasé about it. But to live in a pure world, and experience happiness, we need to purify our mind, whether republican or royalist. As Buddha Maitreya puts it:
Because living beings minds are impure, their worlds are impure.
When living beings purify their minds, they will inhabit a Pure Land.
To fully purify our mind we need to realize the part we are playing in creating everything so we can create something better. It is hard to over-emphasize how important this is.
I was wondering however why people the world over do like adulating other people? It is not just the royals – just think of the magazines devoted to movie stars, or have you been to rock concert or a football match recently?! And do you remember President Obama’s inauguration?! He wasn’t just waved to his oval-shaped office and told to get on with it. We love all that pomp and circumstance, don’t we, even republicans, come on admit it, even just a little?! The question is why?
I don’t really know! But I will hazard a guess. We like to worship something we consider bigger than ourselves, larger than life, to get out of ourselves. (The sermon seemed to be somewhat about that, about cultivating a love and devotion that is bigger than ourselves and bigger than just the two of them/us as a way of transcending self and becoming a better human being.) Focusing on others in this all-absorbing way gives us a temporary respite from being stuck in self.
And it is interesting how in Buddha’s teachings (and other religions) a lot of worshipful royal symbolism is used – today is also Protector Day, for example, and I recited a prayer to Manjushri “Your princely body is…” Dorje Shugden is the “Great King”.
And what, I was also musing, are the statistical chances of a “commoner”, like Kate, marrying into a royal family in a rare ceremony that only takes place once or twice in most people’s lifetimes? (My mother has reminded me more than once that Kate and I went to the same high school – though at somewhat different times!) By developing bodhichitta we become a son or daughter of the Conquerors, a princely or princessly Bodhisattva. This is rare. And the odds of a “commoner” or ordinary being encountering the Tantric empowerments and entering the mandala palace are even rarer.
Kate and Will could have gotten married in a small church followed by fish ‘n’ chips, and still be just as married. But two billion people wanted to buy into this elegant ceremony and feel the noble tradition and lineage of the ages, even if time also is imputed by mind. People were happy to feel part of this BIG thing. Perhaps this is a promising sign that we seek transcendence? And it doesn’t have to be escapist, especially if we understand our role in creating this reality.
After all, who knows who anyone is really?! In Tantra we train in pure view, trying to see everyone as a pure holy being. Even in Sutra we try to focus on the pure potential of others, and their kind natures rather than their faults. Why?! One main reason is that mind and its objects are dependent related. If we train in viewing pure objects, our mind becomes pure by relation because our mind depends upon its objects. And as our mind becomes purer, objects appear more purely to it, because objects likewise depend upon our mind – like clear reflections will appear in a pristine mountain lake. And on it goes. According to Buddhism, this is the spiritual path leading to liberation and enlightenment.
I want to tell a short story that has a lot of meaning… I don’t even pretend to understand its full meaning, but it has made me think over these years about the nature of reality, of pure view, of what things are really. It has helped me loosen up. Things are clearly not as fixed or ordinary as they appear! Buddhas have delusion-free and obstruction-free minds so they see pure worlds full of pure beings – and this is not to discount our suffering (or they wouldn’t be trying to help us of course), but also not to buy into it so that we are forever stuck. Only our delusions deserve the name “enemy” for they deceive us grievously into thinking that what we see is what we get, that we live in a concrete and impure world independent of our mind: Enter Stage Left! Suffer a Bit or a Lot. Exit Stage Right! We don’t though. And as Geshe Kelsang has often said, “Anything can appear to mind.”
When my teacher Geshe Kelsang gave a course in London back in the early nineties, he invited the students and teachers of the new London and Bath centres for tea.
I am sitting next to Geshe-la on his left, all of us in a circle daintily sipping tea. Geshe-la suddenly asks out of the blue: “Why is London so important?” He looks at me for the answer and I think, “Well, that’s an easy one!”, and reply “Because it is the capital of England, Geshe-la.” Not the answer he wants at all. So I try again, a bit more tentatively: “Because it is one of the financial centres of the world?” Again, he shakes his head. Me, more desperately: “Because it has so many people?” Now he is looking almost disappointed. Pause. Then Geshe-la says something that I don’t think anyone was expecting:
“London is important because it was emanated for the Queen.”
“Ah” we all nod knowingly. Another pause. What?!!
“The Queen is not an ordinary woman” he continues and, casting his eyes heavenward, “She comes from higher realms.”
I’ll leave you to ponder the levels of meaning Geshe-la was trying to teach us in that moment. I will just say that it was no ordinary tea party.
What do you think about all this? Is all the hype best ignored? Or is it possible to transform even a royal wedding into the spiritual path?!