By Brian George
The brow of the universe bears no eclipse
You wrote, “Did I detect an inclination towards a Richard Bach's attitude (Jonathan Livingston Seagull): Existence is either a school or for entertainment...? This is a simplistic assumption, against which I would propose a hardcore Gnostic option: If the universe/cosmos is 'error', there's nothing to learn or enjoy except finding an end to ignorance (of reality), i.e. finding 'gnosis'…Which leads me to the next step; how do we find 'gnosis'/ realization/ knowledge? You make it seem easy by assuming Samsara equals Nirvana (and later returning to this by stating that there's a hair-thin line between 'error' and truth)…”
And a bit later on in your post, “'Everything is OK' is a highly debatable point, not centering on the inconvenience of terminating the 'ego' or even fear of death, but on the existence of suffering…When my cat takes a mouse, the mouse suffers in a direct and very un-academic way.”
I do not believe that I said specifically that “Samsara equals Nirvana,” but, if I did, I was not the first to make this correlation, which is anything but a recent New Age nostrum. Perhaps the most succinct statement of this idea can be found in the “Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra,” more commonly referred to as the “Heart Sutra,” which announces, “Emptiness is form and form is emptiness.” This is not an elitist statement, since it virtually eliminates the difference between “self” and “other.” It is also one of the key concepts upon which the elaborate superstructure of Mahayana Buddhism is balanced. As you probably know, monks in Mahayana Buddhism take a vow that they will not cross over fully into Enlightenment until they can take all past and future beings along with them.
“All life is suffering” is the first of the four “noble truths” propounded by the Buddha. This is followed by “The origin of suffering is attachment”—i.e. “attachment’ to any “dualistic” point of view. If there is no difference between the “self” and the “other,” then empathy for the sufferings of others is not a question of personal virtue or of adherence to any external system of morality; it is instead a matter of the clear perception of reality—one cannot help but feel, and to then “help” in whatever way is most in keeping with one’s nature. For a parent, this might involve the working of two jobs to make ends meet, the changing of diapers, the telepathic knowledge that one’s child has been hurt, and the dropping of all else to be on the scene. For an activist, this might mean the reclamation of a public space, which, at some point during the Kali Yuga, had been taken over by the agents of unconsciousness. For a monk, this might involve the whacking of a meditating student with a stick, or, for a writer, the whacking of a drowsy reader with a metaphor.
So: space is more real than whatever else might happen to exist within it. There are no free-standing objects, and the line between self and other is mercurial.
I wrote, “A hair’s breadth of a difference separates discovery from destruction.” This is, as you have noted, a “poetic” statement, and thus is open to any number of interpretations.
One way to read it is in the context of the second “noble truth”; as we move “outward” into the world of society and nature, which I will refer to here as the “horizontal axis,” or upwards and downwards on the “vertical axis” that connects the various “worlds”, we have only a limited control over the phenomena that occur. Things happen—both good and terrible. What we can control is our own interpretation of the event.
Each experience can be viewed as either an “obstacle” or a “door.” It is up to us to figure out how these apparently contradictory viewpoints fit together. The challenge is an alchemical one, which involves a radical transmutation of all elements. We must exit one world, in order to step into another, and yet, paradoxically, they are one and the same world. The person who exits is not the same one who enters, nor is either of these the creature that returns, his eyes as wide as zeros, and unblinking. I do believe that the relationship of the “little mind” and the “big mind” can best be understood as a “koan.” The “koan” presents us with an almost opaque ultimatum—with a question that is meant to torture us, and which can only be answered by a sudden jump between levels. The challenge is not to “create one’s own reality,” but rather to return to the primordial depth of consciousness from which all later versions of “reality” arise.
It is in our simultaneous awareness of all apparent oppositions—up and down, good and bad, obstacle and door, life and death—that the “hair’s breadth of a difference” can be found.
It is here, too, that the writer is able to act out the role of “catalyst,” whatever his personal flaws or limitations. It is generally assumed that the job of the writer is to inform, and this is certainly true, but, once having lulled the reader into a false sense of security, it is also the job of the writer to subvert. As with a stone thrown in a pool, a writer will throw out an almost but not quite incomprehensible statement, which, perhaps, then immediately sinks; rings ripple from the point of impact, from the local to the non-local mind. Years later, the reader may suddenly feel the impact of the stone, as, gasping, he then stops to rub his head. There was no way, at first, to determine that the stone had struck, or that it would, eventually, begin to function as a lamp.
(Illustration: Hakuin Ekaku, Monk)