All 'N All

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-07-23 12:00:00 No comments

The next couple of weeks are likely to be slow on my end, as I'm getting mighty close to finishing the first draft of Shunga-Satori, and also doing some other things (travel for fun, work related stuff, etc.). Don't expect much bloggo de blog from me until further notice, but I'll try to drop a few things in when a moment strikes. For now, though, a little Buddhism-inspired discussion.

One of the books I've been re-reading lately is about Hua-yen (or Huayan) Buddhism, a strain of Chinese Buddhism that delved deeply into the idea that everything is a reflection of everything else. This is bigger than the idea that all things partake of their opposites; all ideas of opposites are just that, ideas. The best expression of the whole conceit came by way of a line that went like this: it's not that all things in the universe have Buddha-nature, but that all things are Buddha-nature; all things are enlightenment. Everything we do is an expression of that, if we can only see it. We ourselves are the embodiments of enlightenment, and we owe it to ourselves and the universe around us to live up to that birthright.

It's going to take me a lot more reading (and no small amount of personal work) to fully get my mind around the implications of this idea, but even my first encounter with it has been pretty jolting. In truth, it's just a lot of what I've already encountered in Buddhism and Zen, just writ in the largest possible typeface. Still, a few things come to mind.

I've wrestled before with the idea that whatever it is we're all looking for, we already have it — we just have to notice it, and most of the way we're trained to go through our lives works against that. My earlier rejection of this idea mainly revolved around things like the argument that we can't know how to build a bridge without first studying engineering. That's true, but it isn't really what's being discussed here, which is personal insight of the kind you can't get from technical or worldly knowledge. Whatever it is we're trying to find to complete ourselves, the most it can do is point the way back into whatever we already have. Another way I could put this: All the really big spiritual movements that happen inside us revolve around things close to home — things that become momentous for us because they're so familiar, or even trivial. No idea, no matter how lofty, does anything for you unless you can personalize it.

What I find most appealing about this line of thinking is how it encourages us to see the world as something to accept exactly as it is. Not in the sense that we shouldn't strive to improve conditions for fellow men, but that we cannot do that unless we are clear-eyed about what kind of world we live in to begin with. Hua-yen doesn't promote what I guess could be called "utopian spiritual thinking", the idea that everything is better Somewhere Else, and that we need to either go there or make this place into an emulation of that other place. We can only live in the world we are born into, and the more thoroughly we do that, the better equipped we are to do anything constructive with it.

As crass as it may be for me to say this, an idea this all-encompassing seems like it could be fuel for a story. I often find when I have a story that seems not entirely there, a big insight like this serves as the fuel needed to help it achieve full liftoff. No telling where this particular one will turn up, but (as my dad likes to say), we-shall-see, we-shall-see.

Tags: Buddhism Zen