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Original Essays | April 30, 2013 1 comment
Note: Rachel Roellke Coddington and Jolby will present their book at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing on Wednesday, May 15, at 7:00 p.m.... Continue »
Reality as Bliss: Visualize and Then Experienceby Robert Thurman
Don't just "believe" the infinite life perspective. Go to work on the issue. Look at your culturally common belief that "My life only began when I was born and it ends when I die. So my responsibility to the universe is limited and even my responsibility to myself is limited. Nothing really matters because I'll just be nothing in the end." Free yourself from that trap, that imprisoning way of thinking. Choose meaningfulness, embrace boundlessness, and take responsibility for your experience.
Religions tell people, "You have an immortal soul!" The materialist scientists tell them, "You don't have any soul at all! That's only a religious superstition! You die, you're gone, full stop!" The Buddhist, or "Inner Scientist," disagrees with both. She says that you don't have some fixed inner essence that can be disconnected from your total you, that stays unchanged immortally! And she also says that there is no full stopping of anything; it's nonsense to say something can become nothing, and your consciousness is a something, just like your body! The whole "you" as a continuity is immortal! It lives and dies, changes and feels. The question is not really whether or not you continue, but rather are you going to enjoy it?
Why is it so difficult for us to accept the continuation of our personal existence, beginningless and endless? Due to familiarity with the theory of biological evolution, we easily embrace the evolution of life forms. We accept that we all came out of a primordial stew and now we're these incredibly complex beings with brains, eyes, and fingers who have created communities, cultures, languages. If we can believe that ongoing physical and mental evolution is possible, then why must it be impersonal and random, a haphazard progression of material forms? Why not acknowledge a mental evolutionary continuum interwoven with the material one? If there are material genes, why can't there be "spiritual genes"?
Long before Darwin, the Buddha had already "discovered evolution." He clearly saw that the life-form of the human being was neither random nor the creation of some implausible "God," but was evolutionarily connected with all other life forms. Buddha went even further. He made evolution a personal matter; seeing that it involves the subjective agencies of beings, intentions, and minds. It is not merely an impersonal biological process of atoms and molecules and cells. Beings evolved in more than a coarse physical sense, also on the subtle level of mind. We also personally and intentionally evolve towards higher states of awareness and happiness, or deteriorate towards lesser awareness and more wretched embodiments. We do so over billions of lives, just as it takes billions of lives' genes to mutate monkeys into humans.
Why should mind the most subtle energy be the one element that is arbitrarily deemed more non-existent than gross matter? Of course, mind cannot be found under mechanical scientific analysis. But atoms have not withstood analysis either quantum physicists have demolished them all! No thing has ever been found to be ultimately indivisible as an irreducible thing in itself. All things, material as well as mental, have only relational, ascribed reality. It is sheer unscientific dogmatism to insist that matter does exist but mind does not. An evolutionary biology that excludes the agency and continuity of beings' minds is unscientific, philosophically naïve, and pragmatically inaccurate.
The vista of infinite future lives is terrifying. If we will live on, will it be good or bad? Pleasant or unpleasant? Will we be human or divine, insect-like or something worse? Due to our unconscious fear of future pain, we are desperate to believe we'll be nothing after death. There is a clear relief, when things get tough, in thinking that your life will just plain end some day. We just want to escape.
But don't be fooled by the false promise of security in oblivion. The denial defense against an uncertain and boundless future traps you in a stagnant present. Instead, see your fear as the problem. Feel a new kind of strength surge forth from the fullness of your sense of continuing, forever changing, but forever, taking responsibility for seeing that it's forever good!
The way to bolster our courage is to cultivate mindfulness of the present here and now. Or habitual experience of the present is torn and stressed by our failure to appreciate the deepest level of reality, seen by the enlightened mind, the nature of which is pure bliss. Imprisoned within our egocentric perspective, we only see a tiny corner of it, and it seems remote and alien, oppressive and vast, overwhelming. If we use mindfulness, learning, analysis, and meditation to reduce our enclosure in our habitual alienated perspective, we begin to relax into our true nature. This is best accomplished under the wish-fulfilling Jewel Tree of the vast and timeless host of all enlightened divine and compassionate beings which was brought from India and rose up to give refuge to the remarkable people of Tibet. When we can't right away realize experientially the blissful nature of the buddhaworld that the Buddha revealed in his Third Noble Truth, the realm of Nirvana, we can imaginatively realize it by meditating on the artistic revelation given us by the enlightened Tibetan Mentors. Then within that field of positive energy and imminent potential, we can intensify our practice to critically see through our habitual delusions, calm our imprisoning anxieties, and break through into our natural happiness, human kindliness, and heroic compassion.