Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Nirvana, and the Universal View

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”   -John Donne
If someone mentions ""Nirvana", it sounds like a funny word.  Like Jesus's Kingdom of Heaven, or Muhammad's Paradise, these things sound like fantasy.  Buddhists sometimes point to their master and say "he has entered nirvana", and religious people talk about "Heaven" and "Paradise" as some mystical realm, where you go if you make "God" happy enough.

But these ideas are misconceptions.  Rather, all of these notions describe what mankind could be, hete, in this life, and how all people could share the fruits of this world happily, and in peace.

This is the point of a true spiritual endeavor.  Nirvana, or the Kingdom, is a promise given to all of us.

Moreover, it is a responsibility shared by each of us.

This is actually the whole point -- how compassion can bring about such a transformation, in this world.

It was never just about "your" insight, or the end of "your" suffering. All modern teachers make it sound this way, and some of the old suttas do too.  But it's not the point. 

Rather, the true sages had the universal view.  They were addressing the problems of mankind.  They saw exactly where the problem lies, and they addressed it, directly, in a perfectly rational manner.

So, if you want to understand some of the strange sounding things that sages have said in the past, there is a simple way to do it.  Just substitute "everyone" for whoever they are talking to, and you will get a better idea of what they meant, or what it was that they considered important.

So if a famous guy way back near the year zero says, to a rich man "you have to give away all your money", he really isn't talking only to the guy.  The famous guy saw the universal problem:  The manner by which mankind divides, and how such division brings suffering in the world.

Love of money is just the most widespread expression of the problem.  It is a desire for relative measure, an invasive idea that leads mankind, as a whole, away from rational, sensible action.

A space alien who looks down on the earth, studying man, and witnesses children starving would be curious as to why humans address the problem by talking about someone's, or some government's scarcity or abundance of little pieces of paper.  The alien wouldn't understand this way of thinking.  He would see children starving, and he would see plenty of food, and he would see adult humans acting as though starvation is unavoidable, as they point to piles of  small pieces of paper, and count the numbers of pieces of paper therein, and behave as though this is an important consideration.

The space alien, just like the man from year zero, would consider this insane.

He has the universal view. Better if people stop looking at the pieces of paper, so they can approach problems rationally, together.

It doesn't matter that we think "Oh no way.  That's ridiculous.  That will never happen.  Rich people will never give away all their money.  Fat chance."

It is the problem that the guy from the year zero is addressinghow we limit our hearts by collective worship of (what amounts to) make-believe things, how we self-identify by them, and how this leads to suffering in the world.

It is a universal message.  With a singular, universal solution.

Buddha's solution:  Clear your hearts out of the things you are attached to, and the ideas by which we identify ourselves.  Make this little sacrifice.  Yeah, it hurts.  It really is a sacrifice.

Yeah, it seems like a stupid thing to do, from an individual point of view.  "You" don't get anything out of it, after all, at least by any worldly measure.

But actually, it is better.  For everyone, it is better.  This is love.  For mankind as a whole, it is a very, very good thing. 

Imagine a bunch of hungry children, playing, for hours, in a room.  They are dressed in all sorts of costumes and they carry all sorts of toys.  The father walks in the door and says that the table is served, but you have to take off your costumes, and you can't bring your toys.

Why? Asks one child, and the father says "Because we are not cowboys and Indians.  We are a family."

So the children drop their toys and costumes, and, together, they run to the table.

That is the way it should work. 

Sadly, so far, grown-ups don't see things the same way.

John Donne is actually addressing the same problem, really, in his little writing a the top of this post.  He is addressing how we come to see in terms of separation, and how neatly and coldly it limits our hearts. 

If we get some news about a guy with a beard half a world a way, we think "Hmmm.  Well.  They attacked us first.  It's a mad world!" and we put it out of mind.

Mr. Donne is saying:  That is the failure.   Not the war.  Not the guns.  Not even anyone's act of shooting.  And nobody has the right to say it is a failure of the guy in the beard, or a soldier, or his platoon, or  the arms merchant. 

Instead, it is everyone's failure, in every moment, because this is how we have all come to see.  "Us and them", or "I'm lucky because I'm rich and too bad he's poor" or "American" and "Japanese",  "my family", "my tribe", "my religion", "my tradition",  "my sect",  and so on.

"Us and Them"

And this was the problem that all true sages were addressing, way back when.  It exists in everyone, and the only real hope for mankind is for each of us to make the great effort to eliminate it.

And you can't say "No way!  Look at what they are doing!  They hate us!" or "No way!  I need money for when I'm old!"

Because these are expressions, themselves, of the universal mistake, and their power is the lock that keeps mankind out of the Kingdom.

Given all the crazy things that spring up in western people's minds when they hear the name "Jesus", or the things that pop up in eastern people's mind when they hear the name "Buddha, it is easy to forget the simplest, most basic message, delivered by both men:  to practice compassion, to love one another, to give to others, and to share all that this world offers.

If you think about it for awhile, you realize there really is no other solution.  I know that sounds crazy.  But think about it.  There area  million other ideas floating around, but really, nothing is going to work. 

Marx's "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" sounds wonderful, but unless all of our hearts are indeed pure, the system will become corrupted, advantageous for a few, oppressive for the rest.

Locke's "right to life, liberty, and property" also sounds nice, but unless the hearts are pure, the system will become corrupted,  advantageous for some, oppressive for the rest.

Buddhism, Judaeism, or Catholicism, or Islam won't help.  There is no belief that will help. Following anyone or any doctrine won't help.  All these divisions have blood on their hands.  They are all institutions given power by those who  have not seen, and they are all mechanisms of separation, both within them, and between them.

And if they weren't here, something else would show up.

Doing what  the sages did is the only thing that will help mankind as a whole.  Looking into our hearts and destroying the ideas that divide is truly the only sensible path for mankind.  With less selfishness in the world, all the problems are solved.

That is "non discriminating mind', "no subject/object", "no secular no sacred", "no intention", and "do nothing".  All of these mean placing no weight on another, accepting others, and viewing them as you view yourself.  They all mean seeing from your deepest heart, which itself harbors none -- absolutely none -- of the dividing ideas.

As an individual, it sounds hopeless.  It seems as though it's a stupid thing to do, given (what seems like) the "reality" of the way the world is.

But those thoughts are not true.  They are thoughts born of fear.

I know I sound critical of the Zen masters, and leaders  of religions, but it is only because of this.

There is no universal view, right now, in Zen.  There are only appeals to, what amounts to, selfishness.

If you Google "meditation" or if you Google your "master", you will find speech after speech of all the benefits of meditation.

These are valid benefits.  It is more or less true, what the teachers say.

But they are personal benefits.  If someone shows up to a Zendo wishing for more calm in his life, that is what he will get.  If someone shows up wishing for more "sex power", then this is what he will be practicing, and it will pretty much work out for him or her.

This holds true for everyone, in every monastery, in every practice.

Go ahead and google it.  Google your master and read carefully.  When addressing  students, it is very rare that the teachers speak of anything but personal benefit.  The whole "spiritual" industry now revolves around how calm you can be, how much "insight" you get, how much less stress you can have,  how confident you can be, or how fewer hangups you can have, in your life.

Go ahead and look.

Don't just say "Oh they don't mean it.  They say it but they don't mean it". 

Ask yourself:  Would it not be the case that a clinical psychopath, if one happened to be sprung from the ward for the criminally insane, might do very well in such a practice? 

You have to say it's true.  A complete lack of empathy would free one of many hang ups, and liberate one to behave in any manner one wished, with no troubling conscience to hold him back.

Many "masters" take this view into the stratosphere.  Very many do this.  Pema Chodon gives long talks about embracing your anger, and how such violent thoughts help create your personality, which is beautiful and powerful and gives us strength!

For Buddha, this sort of thinking was never even part of the equation. 

Can nobody see this? 

If this were the point, if Buddha were wishing for less stress in his life, or to love the fact that he sometimes wished to smack the local spice dealer, and so on, he would have remained on his silk cushions, inviting great Hindu masters into his palace for visits.  He would have had his servants continue to bring in grapes and figs during the discussions.

This was not what he did, because his personal benefit, in any manner whatsoever, was never the point.  He was interested in suffering, but it wasn't his suffering he was interested in.

He was interested in the suffering of mankind.

And how could that possibly end?  

Is there a way to end it?


But only if we all do something. 

That is the ONLY way, from the universal perspective.

Think about it, at least.

The point, the only point, was to examine your life, find the things that limit the heart -- they are the things that divide the world.  Look at them and see the suffering they bring to the world.  The benefits they bring you are relative, illusory.   Destroy them, and stand in reality.

That's all.  Just bring your heart to destroy them.

Why?  Because whenever a man dies, or a child starves, the bell tolls for all of us.  It is a mistake to think any other way.  That is the heart of Buddha, and his only wish was for others to see the same way, so the world could become the wonderful promise that has been given, and still is given, to all of us.

Buddha's "I am not Prince", "I am not a 'noble'".  Was a man, in rare empathy, throwing down the things that cause pain for those who are not "prince" and are not "noble caste".

It is saying "I am not a creature of division among man".

Muhammad said "mankind was once one community".

His wish was the same.  Talk about "paradise" with  virgins feeding you figs sounds ridiculous.  But it's not "somewhere else".  When you make your heart pure, you make your eyes pure, and all you see is pure.

There are no divisions that help.  Everyone thinks their particular coat is the way to go.  Everyone has the answer.  "The American way" is the answer, to an "American".  People who are not "American" sometimes die as a result of this idea.  Buddhists say they have the answer.  Christians say they have the answer.  People die over these ideas, and people die over the defense of these ideas.

But the only answer is for everyone to remove the coats, through love for one another, and a resulting sacrifice, or giving up, of ideas of personal benefit.

If is really the only path, for the world.

People have to see that.

I'll illustrate:

People point to Hitler as a bad guy.

But the only reason Hitler was Hitler was because of a couple of million people, each counting their pennies, concerned only with their individual lives.  "Power" is only an illusion, riding atop hearts sealed by collective disinterest.

People are disgusted with the power of the Mafia, or with the corruption that has gone on in the banking industry, but how do these groups have power?  What gives them power? 

The love of money, within the hearts of each of us.  Without that, they would just be men holding stacks of paper, behaving absurdly, while the rest of the world cooperated, and shared the world in rational compassion for one all.

That is actually what they are, right now.  They are men holding many billions of little stacks of paper, behaving absurdly.

So, without the heart's destruction of the coats we wear, and without the resulting destruction of the ideas that divide, mankind, as a whole, ensures itself further suffering.   Each and every one of us plays a role.

And this holds true no matter how pretty the divisions appear, or how "good" they seem.  They are still egoic division, no matter how comfortable they may be, or how much status they may afford one.

And they will cause harm.

The universal view is a rare one, requiring rare empathy, or a wish to develop it, through compassionate, and selfless acts, in one's life. 

But you can find the message everywhere.

You see it in the greatest love story of all time, how the heart can heal the world by destroying the things we assume ourselves to be.  And it is a story about how this is the process that will bring the world together, and save it from the path it has taken.

Two families at war for as long as history can remember, and then the lovers:

  Jul.  ’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part        45
Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes        50
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
  Rom.        I take thee at thy word.
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptiz’d;

A destruction of the things we think we are.  And end to "I am Montegue".  An end to "I am Prince".

Romantic love, but it is still love.

A destruction of the things that divide.  We are not Americans, or Japanese, or Jews, or Buddhists, or rich, or poor.   It is a mistake to allow these ideas to pollute our hearts.  It is a mistake to identify by them.

If you remember, the two families got together after this, in the play.  Saddened by the loss of their glowing children, who both sides called crazy all their lives, they finally made peace. 

A sorrowful redemption, then, led by those crazy children and their pure, clear eyes.

Better for everyone.  Better for all.

Two sides become one.  A terrible sacrifice, an image of eternal love, and a scream against what is wrong in the world.

That is what I have to say about the universal view.

But I learned something thinking about it.

This play was originally from an Italian poet, Matteo Bandello, actually.

This is a fact that delights my girlfriend, here in Italy, where I am typing this. 

"Si certo! Vero!" she says.

Shakespeare got it from another guy, who got it from Matteo Bandello.

I read this again  some years back, and thought I would look into Shakespeare.  But I couldn't find anything I was looking for, and the other stories, even the supposedly "metaphysical" ones, like The Tempest, never seemed very interesting, to me, in the same way, aside from a line or two.  They were good reads, but not in the same way, for me.

So I looked into the guy he got the play from.

Still, I couldn't find anything.

I gave up.

Then a year or so later I thought "no way,  it must be.." and looked again, and found Matteo Bandello as the original source.

And I found what I was looking for.  It turns out he was in and out of monasteries, parts of his life, "Christian" ones, by name, as if it mattered.  That was just what was around out here, I guess, at the time.

That explains the little jabs he was taking at the Church, and Romeo's seemingly flippant, but actually not flippant, redefinition of baptism, and other things that you find here and there in this play.

Wikipedia says Matteo Bandello, though spending much time in the monasteries,  "does not seem to have been very interested in theology."

Yes, that makes sense.  Of course not. 

This funny thing, this coming and going, and the discomfort with religious and traditional form, describes a lot of particularly interesting people, to me, from the past.  

They were all just up to something else.

The love of mankind, and the universal view.


  1. Just read that John Donne, whose quote is up there at the top of this page, was one of these guys, too.

    He was sometimes asked about joining the clergy, but he had little interest.

    Finding the heart of things necessarily means you will have no interest in belief, following, devotion, or form.

  2. Just read that John Donne, whose quote is up there at the top of this page, was one of these guys, too.

    He was sometimes asked about joining the clergy, but he had little interest.

    Finding the heart of things necessarily means you will have no interest in belief, following, devotion, or form.