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August 13, 2019


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In regard to the mind-only doctrine, what I see most commonly is an attempt to force Buddhism to conform to a materialist world view.

Just as a typical sentient lost in samsara identifies the manifestation of sensory consciousness – indeed the very phenomena of “beings” in general – as an identity (whereas Buddha taught people to give up this notion), it is the most common assumption in our age that whatever the Buddha has to say about the nature of existence was limited by his faulty knowledge of science. And because the Buddha didn’t have the benefit of our vast knowledge of the universe, therefore we in our modern age should rely on modern science to “truly” explain the nature of existence, while picking and choosing through the Buddhist teachings for those things that stack up alongside a materialist worldview – even though the Buddha and realized masters throughout time have warned such a position is based in ignorance and leads to suffering.

Accordingly there is a kind of retrofitting going on in Buddhism today where some people might still intuitively understand that the wisdom of the Tathagata is superior to any worldly wisdom, but are unable to accept that their own view of the world, built on the foundations of materialism, is what must change to be in conformity with Buddhism (and not the other way around). In other words, most people who approach Buddhism today do so from a position of tremendous arrogance and far from being able to take up the renunciative and introspective path of Buddhist inquiry, simply carry along their baggage in hopes that by doing so they will obtain the best of both worlds – a happy, convenient existence as an objective being in an objective world with a little millennial wisdom on the side to chit-chat about on Reddit or after yoga class.

Anyone who takes a good look at this world will be forced to realize that far from being better off today (oh sure, we have more conveniences and comforts, but at what cost?), our world is spiritually confused. I have even heard it said that we should not as Buddhists concern ourselves with the general category of “spirituality” at all since it is misleading. There is a rising tide of “secular Buddhism” casting many adrift. Others claim there is an eternal identity they call a soul because this is what is taught in Abrahamic teachings, and hope to make Buddhism confirm with this assumptions. Still others attempt to cobble together a personal spiritual system borrowing from superstition and utter nonsense like “the law of attraction” or new age psychobabble.

These are all expressions of spiritual confusion. And it is precisely this confusion which leads to global climate change, mass extinction of species (possibly including our own), the continued threat of nuclear annihilation, highly distorted economic systems, political corruption, mass shootings, famine, disease, and calamity of every imaginable variety including, I might point out, deep nihilistic despair. A despair, I add, that touches almost every aspect of modern life from its constant pursuit of things and wealth, preserving youth and beauty and physical perfection, seeking every kind of carnal or emotional pleasure, moral degradation and evil conduct in every form, and frantically searching around for answers that somehow cannot seem to be found in science nor religion nor philosophy nor any diversion money can buy or mother nature can offer. I could go on and on about this but it is quite clear our world is getting worse, and it will continue to degrade because of ignorance.

To escape from this trap requires an entire reversal in one's way of thinking. A complete and gestalt revision of how we understand reality. It might even be said a renunciation of the known – at least in so far as we recognize what exactly are the limits of what is known, and beyond this, what is even knowable. Can we know everything? This is not an idle question. Can everything be known? The Tathagata seems to say yes, but what kind of knowing is this? It is certainly not the kind of knowing one finds in a library or college classroom, or found on some computer database. Clearly it is not a special conceptual position or some kind of formula. This level of wisdom is transcendent and does not depend on the things in the world or appearances of phenomena, places and beings.

It is neither separate nor the same, and once the Buddha principle is recognized as one’s very own mind, no longer is it necessary to thirst after answers in ancient texts nor chase after false delights. All the unanswered questions dissolve of their own, and with them the tight bonds of attachment to this world, with all its obvious suffering, loosen and are relieved. Phenomena lose the power to deceive, and can be seen as mere ephemeral apparitions without their own substance. It does not require any scientific knowledge whatsoever to recognize it but is immediately and entirely clear to those with the wisdom to see it, without the slightest thought on the matter and completely independent of how the material world appears to operate.

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