Of all the spectacularly confounding quotes that have sprung from the Buddhist traditions, by far my favorite comes from the Surangama Sutra: “Things are not what they appear to be; nor are they otherwise." Give it a minute. Let it really sink in. Yeah, it scrambles my brain too.
I feel as though I'm constantly in this peculiar predicament of juxtaposing the apparent “realness" of being a human within this earthly, consensual reality and the perplexing nature of eternal, beginningless time. How do I simultaneously hold, honor, and work with this fragile and temporal body, planet, and universe while acknowledging the vast and timeless nature that is the essence of all?
“Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.”
~ Sir Arthur Eddington
This line of questioning inevitably arrives at nothing. Quite literally, nothing, or Shunyata, the Buddhist term for nothingness, emptiness, or voidness. The philosophy behind this type of nothingness has been debated over for the last 2500 years. How had I interpreted this idea during the last 15 years of study? I took it to mean that I had an extremely handy excuse to just play all the time and made no commitments to working toward helping the world and its inhabitants. Because hey, it’s all empty anyway, might as well have fun, right?
Fear of action and fear of responsibility would continuously stop me from engaging deeper in this reality. I liked to use the excuse of my “infinite buddha nature” for my inaction, but it was all a farce. I was just scared. I was afraid of making things more “real.” It felt as though the more responsibility I would take on, the more “real" things would become, and I like to play it pretty loose when it comes to this whole reality thing.
Between my Master’s degree in philosophy, cosmology and consciousness, this general understanding of existence, and my complete distain for authority; I was wholly unemployable. That over-qualified, under-challenged, and liked to run the show kind of unemployable. Not the multiple felon, socially inept, or compulsive masturbater type…just to be clear. No matter how hard I wished it to manifest, my understanding of emptiness was not putting food in my cupboards. So I did what over-achieving bossy types have always done, opened and operated businesses. Side note: research has shown that I may have my father and his father before him to credit for some of this type of unemployability. There may be an entrepreneurial gene. According to this article: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/205860 Scott Shane, a professor of entrepreneurship at Case Western Reserve University and author of the book Born Entrepreneurs, Born Leaders: How Your Genes Affect Your Work Life, says “We expected there would be a genetic component to entrepreneurship, we were surprised to find that the magnitude of that genetic component was pretty sizable.” Gotta love abdicating responsibility! Anyway, these businesses ranged from six figure successes to epic failures, but they were all just for fun; something engaging to do that could keep food in my belly, my butt in a plane seat and my head in the clouds. They never really addressed the pressing issues of life.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
~ Marianne Williamson
A couple years ago, after my last business venture, which was an exquisite example of how to make terrible decisions and fail majestically, I knew something had to change. There was a new voice inside of my head, one that I was unfamiliar with. (Don’t judge. Don’t pretend like you don’t have lots of different voices in your head as well.) This voice called me to work, really called to really work. I was not accustomed to this aggressively mandatory call. Floating from experience to experience had always provided so well in the past. What ever “my work" was, it wouldn't show up until sometime in the future, so I could just go on playing. Not anymore. The future had arrived. I ran out of excuses. I knew what my work was and there was no way I could have denied this “reality.”
“Form does not differ from Emptiness
And Emptiness does not differ from Form.
Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.”
~ The Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra
All things, seen and unseen, felt and unfelt, known and unknown exist only because of an infinitely complex web of interconnectivity. This concept is known as interdependent co-arising; nothing has inherent value, in and of itself, its value is entirely dependent on a beginningless stream of causes and effects. Most simplistically speaking, it means that things only exist because of the existence of other things. This concept, central to both Buddhist philosophy and modern physics, can make one feel fairly tiny and insignificant. “If I have no inherent value, then what’s the point?” But that’s exactly the point! My value is entirely dependent on you and yours on mine. And not just you and me, the squirrel scurrying up the oak tree, the earthworm burying itself in the mud, the salmon swimming through the stream, the car parked on the asphalt, the humming florescent bulb above the cubical…all of it. My very existence affects EVERYTHING! Which also means that your existence affects EVERYTHING! Wow. I mean, WOW!!! How can I not spend the rest of this life doing everything I can to spread love, joy and wisdom? Worst case scenario, none of this matters in the long run and all the critters and humans I interact with temporarily feel a bit more gratitude, a bit more happiness, or a bit more connected. Best case scenario, everything matters and all that compassionate loving kindness eternally accumulates compound interest. I may be totally wrong, but that sounds like either way we all win.
This is the work I'll probably do the rest of my life or at least as long as I'm still trying to grow and inspire growth in others (which, barring some completely unforeseen psycho-spiritual or scientific discovery, better be the rest of my life). Maybe when I'm 97 I'll be able to sit back and say to myself “Damn son, you totally rocked that being human thing! Kick them feet up, grab that sweetie at your side and enjoy that view. It's all rainbows, unicorns, puppies and smiles till that ol' ticker stops." That would be nice. Until then, we’ve got work to do folks!