The Finality of Infinity

lots and lots of flowers.... how many before there are an infinite amount?! hahaha.

lots and lots of flowers…. how many before there are an infinite amount?! hahaha.

I think about whether the Universe is infinite quite a bit. It really fascinates me. One path of thinking my brain takes me shows that it is beyond ludicrous for it to be infinite… there would be an infinite amount of totally insane things occurring that my mind simply can’t accept. However, another path of thinking my brain takes me along shows me that it has to be infinite. There simply cannot be an end.

This is a paradox. This is my own koan, if you will.

So, I begin to think about what the word ‘infinite’ actually means. Does the word even make sense?

Now, in Buddhism, there is no beginning, there is ‘co-dependant origination’… the beginning-less beginning.  Nothing is born without being held up by all other things. So… it seems to follow that there is no end… the endless ending.

What is it that cannot even begin yet also can never end?

Fifty feet below Pluto’s surface, a golden Buddha is buried, fluorescing throughout the ice. A demon flies in Saturn’s rings and a pine tree on Earth makes its cones.

Rain patters a metal roof as coffee warms up dry bones.

Effort

Calmly bursting

Calmly bursting

Nature in Spring…. lots of energy transformations, lots of action….All of this busy work..it happens without effort.. yet it takes all the effort of the Universe.

What is ‘effort’? We can say our blood flows without effort… we do not have to put any effort into that.. it just flows and flows…

But what about carrying a heavy rock up a hill? That takes effort! What about the rutting animals? That takes effort!

‘Effort’ can almost be defined as an action that goes against the ‘easy path’. Now, in nature, matter seeks to be in the ‘easiest’ energy states and energy always works this way. Nothing wrong with ‘easy’! lol.

Now… back to carrying that heavy rock….. it would be ‘easier’ to not carry the rock up the hill, so we need to exert some ‘effort’ to go against this easier option of leaving the rock behind…. but we make the effort anyhow and pick up that rock and carry it up the hill anyhow! Why? Well, i don’t know, i just made this example up! haha… but lets say it is to be used in building a well or a wall or a house..whatever…. We have this concept, this idea, that the effort will pay dividends in the long run… We might have a dry, safe place to live after the house is built, for example… and this will save potential future effort of keeping dry, warm and fighting off bears!

Can we exert that effort of carrying that rock with exerting any effort? Is that possible? Does the beaver who drags huge heavy logs to the river and builds a dam think they are exerting effort? Well, they may feel exhausted and may need to rest up after dam building but I do not think the beaver is thinking they are going against the ‘easy path’.. If they did think about it, they would probably wouldn’t think there was any other choice, so ‘effort’ doesn’t have any meaning. They need to build a dam, so they build a dam.

Now, we as humans can learn a lot from our animal relatives. It could be argued that they are ‘enlightened’ as they do not attach to a concept of ‘self’. Yet, it could be argued that they are not enlightened as well. I will not go into the Mu koan (Does a dog have buddha nature? No!) here…. but it is a great koan for trying to understand what is happening… what makes humans different, if at all, from other animals and other beings and things such as plants and rocks.

Did it take the Buddha effort to sit under the Bodhi tree and witness Venus on the horizon? (i.e. his enlightenment)

Did it take the Buddha effort to get to the point of getting to sit under that tree? (ie. his seeking)

In Buddhism, one of the 8 folds in the 8 fold path is having ‘right effort’. Let us think deeply about what this means.

My Buddhism

There is no other shore, just let our hearts open and flow.

There is no other shore, just let our hearts open and flow.

I recently saw an article about how Buddhism needs to come of age, so to speak… that the ancient teachings that the Truth of the Dharma, of Buddha nature, being beyond the realm of human comprehension, should be abandoned…. so that Buddhism can become more accessible… more understandable.. more real and less airy-fairy….

I remember seeing the Dali Lama speak, and he talked about how some Buddhist cosmology should be updated if science indicates Truth is otherwise. This made me think of Buddhist stories I read about how certain humans could live over 200 years old and how some humans can perform supernatural feats such as flying and making rivers flow backwards with merely their thoughts.

Some Buddhists believe these stories, some don’t. Some learn from them, some are hindered.

Now, one needs to understand that Buddhism didn’t have any Sutras, scriptures, until many centuries after the Buddha died. It was an unwritten religion, for many hundreds of years. Of course, over that span of time, many legends and embellishments occurred. Yet, it is remarkable how much of the core of Truth could not be distorted.

The Truth is truly indescribable. It does Buddhism no injustice to continue to express the utter complete beauty of the Buddha’s enlightenment. It was, it is, magical, transformative, the stuff of legends, the origin of legends contained within a legend itself. It should never be discounted in an attempt to be more accessible. If it was… what is it that one makes more accessible? It is weak, incomplete and, it will never survive. It is like adding super charged fertilizer to a plant, which may shoot up in record growth, but it is poisoned, and has but only one outcome. Death.

Now, all things end in death, this is true. But the Dharma cannot die.. How can this be if all things end in death? The is part of the magic. All things change, all things are in flux and will fade away… so how can something remain among that? This is why the Way, Buddha nature, enlightenment, are described as indescribable.

Like Zen koans, paradoxes …

A very famous one is ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’. The question doesn’t make sense. But it has an answer. How can an answer make sense if the question doesn’t?

Now, the Buddha taught through expedient means, upaya. So, it could be argued that he only taught to the level at which a person was receptive…so he was always watering down his understanding!

But he never said Buddha nature was less than it was.

Enlightenment occurs in an instant. Yes, we can help prepare our minds, our hearts, through practice, to unfold ourselves to Buddha nature..which can be seen to be a long gradual way…. Yet, no matter how far we travel, the other shore is never reached until the boat crashes the bank and we fall onto the ground. Sometimes, our boats crash without trying, though, in truth, this is unlikely. Most people do not win the lottery, lol! Sometimes we reach the other shore but fail to dock and the current pulls us back.

These are just words, and they fail. Our hearts are already there. They never left…. melting away the scars, the bars, the things that bind it tight…this can only happen in a flash, and oh, the outpouring of Love… it can not be stopped. The whole Universe flows out. It can be no other way.

Our mind…. they almost always can not believe this. It is like a fairy tale… it is irrational blind faith they tell us…. and we cannot outplay their defence with words. Words will make us look stupid to our minds.

Love looks weak so often. Love has no words so its mute. It has no arms, so it never fights back. It takes a beating and doesn’t talk back. Of course it’s weak! So it may seem.

Let us not be fooled by Love. Melt our hearts, see what comes out… is that weak? When the Universe, the entire cosmos flows with us, can there be anything stronger?

Did the Buddha fear death? How could he after his Enlightenment? He was a human, a man who had a wife and child. He had lots of power and money. He gave it all up and melted his heart fully and the whole Universe smiled. He lived until he was 80 or so and simply taught of this Love. No fairy tale, no airy-fairy…Just a person… and what a person he was!

Rebirth

Pumpkin with my cat.

Pumpkin with my cat.

It is Halloween, a day when the veil between this observable world and the vast depth that is not visible becomes its thinnest. Spirits and ancestors may come to us, come to others and share their worlds with ours.

In Buddhism, there is a belief in reincarnation. Well, not really reincarnation but rather the belief in rebirth. At first glance it may seem ‘semantical’, but there lies an important distinction between the two, reincarnation and rebirth. In the concept of reincarnation, when we die, we will be born again, in a new body. Well, in Buddhism there is no unchanging self, we are always a different person than we ever were before or will be. This is called anatta in Buddhism, which has been translated, rather negatively, as the concept of no-soul. Sounds pretty harsh! lol. But it is important. We all may feel we have a soul, a presence inside us that remains our ‘core’, never-changing. What else could we be, in fact, we may think to ourselves?

So in Buddhism there is no reincarnation, as we have no unchanging part of ourselves to be born into a new body. So, this brings us to rebirth. How is this different to reincarnation? Well, simply put, we can use an example. We remember what we did when we were a child, perhaps we played ice hockey on a frozen pond and used jackets as goal posts, or we went to the circus. We recall this as ‘ourselves’, we certainly aren’t remembering someone else doing those things! I have photographic proof it was ‘me’! lol. So, just as this was ourselves, so it is like this when we are reborn, or rebirthed.

Do I believe in rebirth? I am Buddhist, but that doesn’t mean I do. I keep an open mind about it. I have evidence both for and against it and I will ‘keep it under review’, as they say. lol.

So in Zen, we may use ko-ans, which, simply put, are paradoxical riddles, which are intended to exhaust the rational mind to see clearly beyond it. That may be too blunt a description, but there you go. One koan is: What was your face before you were born? Of course, our faces were created in our mothers womb, by millions upon millions of cells dividing, growing and moving into position. That is the scientific answer, so lets exhaust that and move on. Does the question want us to think who we were in a previous life? No, probably not very useful… interesting? hell yes, but probably not very useful in realising our true nature. Hey I used to be King Arthur! lol. I think lots of people used to be King Arthur! lol. But seriously, it is more an asking : Who the hell am I? If I was born, I must have been born out of something, what was that something? I must have always been existing, somehow, in some way, however disparate my atoms were, my consciousnesses were… what was going on? What IS going on? When our face is striped, what lies beneath? And I don’t mean cheek bones and blood! lol.

The questioning goes on and on, and can become relentless. This is good. It almost becomes an attack, like we are attacking our very core. Is there even a core there? When we end up in a state where we have given our brains a bad headache, we may then, out of exhaustion, let it go, drop it and give up. This is where our hearts perk up and look around. Our heart-minds think in a way that is beyond thought, well, beyond cognitive thought anyhow. It is wisdom thought. This is where wisdom is born and resides. And our hearts are born of love and compassion. When we hold ourselves with such love and tenderness, feeling sympathy for our own selves, true love, our hearts burst open and wisdom flows. Some of the stupidest people in the world are some of the wisest. Have you ever noticed that? Some of the smartest people in the world are not so wise at all.

So, I have rambled here, without any sort of goal or intent, to see where my words would end up. So, tonight, on Halloween, I think about that thin veil, and wonder and reflect on life, death, rebirth and what it all means. I have more to say about rebirth and I will talk about this next time, or so the plan goes!