Saturday, 14 November 2015

Not-Special, Not-Unique

We live in an era where everyone thinks of themselves as unique, everyone thinks of themselves as special. And perhaps it's always been that way, and that's what the Buddha pointed to as the source of dukkha, the struggle we go through because we have such difficulty dealing with the nature of human life containing this struggle. We have to deal with sickness, old age and death, the impermanence of this physical body, what's sometimes referred to as this “meat-bag” by the sages. The sages have also said, “The cup is already broken.”

So it's a given that this body will at one time or another cease to function as it has, sometimes well, sometimes not so well. But while that's the nature of the physical body, it is not the True Nature Bodhidharma refers to, it's not the “One Mind” of Huangbo Xiyun. It's not Mazu's “that which asks the question is Buddha.” Our True Nature is our Buddha Nature, and that's something we all share; even the ones we don't particularly like. The bodhisattva saves all beings, not just the ones who look like us, or even act like we do.

The Four Immeasurables are Lovingkindness (for all beings), Compassion (for all beings), Sympathetic Joy (in the joy of all beings--even when we play no part in it), and Equanimity (imperturbability in the face of all circumstances, good and bad). We save all beings because we are all beings. We save ourselves in doing so.

All beings believing in their “uniqueness,” the separation between themselves and all other beings (the Universe + 1 syndrome), that each being thinks of him/herself as special imposes boundaries where there are, in reality, none. If everyone is special and unique, doesn't that negate the specialness and uniqueness? Doesn't that provide a level playing field, where no one is actually special if everyone is special? Is the supposed uniqueness any different from the water molecules that comprise the ocean or the river? Are beings somehow so egotistical that we can see the unity of all things...except among ourselves?

In the Metta Sutta, the Lovingkindness Sutra, the Buddha says “May all beings be happy, safe and secure.” That doesn't mean that just the people who believe like us or look like us should be happy, safe, and secure. It means all beings. Lovingkindness is not manifested by lopping of an arm because we don't like it. Compassion doesn't include harming others. When an unacceptable act is performed, that is harming all beings, not just the ones who are physically harmed.

It's difficult enough being human, having to deal with the dissatisfaction of this space between life and death. There is no Lovingkindness shown in hastening that journey to death along; it will happen just fine on its own. There is only Love, there is only Mind, there is only Buddha. The violence perpetrated upon the people of Paris today is the height of greed, anger, and delusion. There is no understanding such violence; if we feel pain, it is because a part of us has also been injured and killed. It is difficult, maybe damn near impossible to have any compassion for the killers in Paris.

But there is only Love, there is only Mind, there is only Buddha. It might do well for us to think of that before we sink to the level of the greedy, the angry, the delusional. It may take some time to realize how to act, think, and speak. It will mostly take quite some time to figure out the skillful means needed to show Lovingkindness and Compassion. But our shared humanity requires us to do so, even to those whom we don't like, don't look like us, and don't act like us. It is not our Buddha Nature to take revenge against ourselves.

Admittedly, it is not easy to write this, and I'm not sure that even though I wrote it, that I feel like it's possible to believe it and act accordingly. But I must try, we all must try, at least to do no harm. May all beings be happy. May All beings be happy. May ALL beings be happy.

Peace and compassion for those who are suffering in Paris tonight, and to all beings who suffer everywhere, all the time. That is us, in our shared humanity.


  1. Each person IS unique. You can distinguish one person from another. People, in their lives, learn that they have interests and quirks and habits and vulnerabilities etc. As an amalgamation of characteristics, we seem very much to be unique. And, of course, the older we get, the more aspects about us accumulate. We are evermore off doing our own thing, in are own unique manner.

    Water molecules can't make that claim.

    1. My thought is that since everybody is unique, that pretty well levels the field. You can't be more unique than anyone else, and given that, the "specialness" largely becomes moot. Every molecule/person is a part of an interdependent whole. The whole is dependent upon all the constituent parts, and as such, the entitlement of "feeling special" is just delusion. This feeling "special," "superior," etc. is the root of the erroneously perceived us/them, better/worse duality that leads to events such as Paris, Beirut, Nigeria, Tel Aviv, and a number of other places that I'm sure I haven't even heard about.

    2. It is hard for me not to think of Einstein as special. He was an amazing scientist and used 'thought experiments' to make breakthroughs in understanding physics. There are authors and movie stars that I think are special because their talent appeals to me. There is sort of an us-&-them thing going on between us (me and the rest of the hoi polloi) and them (authors like Fitzgerald and stars like Marilyn Monroe), but I wouldn't want "them" not to be special, far from it.

      It seems to me that there is a continuum of better-to-worse (even, best-to-worst) and I wouldn't want for there not to be. People are, in a sense, part of an interdependent whole, with some psychopaths making for excellent Marines (in the manner that we now use the military) and some homeless people being subjects to inspire rich people to falsely believe they are compassionate by writing checks to homeless-services charities.

      Our interdependence helps us to better understand what is important and superior in a two-steps-forward and one-step-backwards sort of process.

      I'm not totally sure I agree with what I'm writing. I'm reading what I'm writing as I go along and having a hard time keeping up.

  2. Today I discovered a bird in my bedroom.. It had been there a while so I moved forward to try to catch it and to my surprise it flew onto the bed and came towards me. I reached out and held it in my hands. I tried to find some food and water together with a box to put it in. As I placed it in the box, the bird died. I have felt absolute anger and sadness all day. I have meditated for a long time now every day for about an hour and still I am lost in anger and sadness. After all the this time one would think I could be detached, but strong emotions win every time. It seems that we would need to sit in a cave alone and meditate for a lifetime or more to stop our emotional responses. What will it take to end suffering?