The Buddha walks into an apocalypse. We talk.
Updated: Aug 4, 2019
by Susan Szpakowski
Inspired by our Women of Wisdom conversation about social action.
Let’s just say the Buddha walks through a membrane into this time and place. Not the Indian or Tibetan or Japanese or even American Buddha. He’s just fresh out of the dharmakaya, where he always resides. Not even a he. This Buddha looks around and shakes his head.
I say, It seems we’re on the edge of an apocalypse. I guess you always knew we were wired for trouble. Wired to ignore reality as it really is, wired to survive and expand at all costs. Look where it’s gotten us.
He says, It’s so frustrating. Humans have this precious gift. They can experience the dharmakaya, this great background of consciousness, in an animal body, a sentient life. So incredible. Instead they use this gift to become more clever and powerful apes. And so they suffer. And now they are about to suffer terribly.
I ask, Is this too all an illusion? The storms and fires, the starvation and migrations, the terrible wars?
He conjures the Wheel of Life. He says, Do you remember this? Humans in their willful ignorance have been circling through the realms since they first appeared on this earth. For eons they lived like the animals they were. Then they wanted more and could never have enough. They fought with their neighbours to gain more power and territory. Some escaped into the god realm. Some fell into the hells. But here, he says, pointing to one section of the wheel, here is the only way back to remembering. We call it the human realm, the realm of desire. There is a crack of possibility there, when the intense heat, the fighting and struggle subside, when there is just enough food and shelter, a gap can open, through love or delight, questioning or stillness. Through dignity and virtue. Then it is possible to hear the truth, to make the crack wider, to step in and remember. The veils of illusion can then be seen for what they are, as shadows of wisdom, as colours of a consciousness that always remains pure and simple.
I say, It seems that this is a time of hell on earth. Fear and depression are sweeping away all hope. What can we do?
He responds, Remember the middle way. By ignoring impermanence and chasing after the impulses of an illusory ego, much of humanity has fallen into eternalism, and now we see the result. It would be easy to now swing in the other direction and drown in nihilism. Yes, this is all an illusion. And yes, it is hopeless. There is no easy way out. But don’t lose your bodhichitta, cultivate your awakened heart of compassion. This is the time for bodhisattva-warriors to walk the path of no promise and possibly much grief.
I ask, So should we just practice the dharma, just meditate? It seems too late to make a difference. I used to think we could turn things around. There seemed to be a rising tide of people making the right choices, having the right intentions. But then we discovered there was another tide underneath, which is now rising up and consuming everything. We didn’t see it coming, maybe because we were mostly talking to ourselves, in our own bubble.
The Buddha says, This isn’t a problem to solve. It’s a path to walk. The old labels and distinctions don’t apply. Before there were Indians, Tibetans, Canadians, Africans. There were different schools of Buddhism all proving they were better than the other, speaking in ways that most people couldn’t even understand. Now it is just about humans waking up, seeing the consequences of being fooled by false promises, making a different choice, coming together, remembering love and dignity.
We could be losing the human realm, the doorway.
Well, I think you had a teacher who pointed you in an interesting direction. Sometimes a bubble isn’t such a bad thing, if it’s the right kind of bubble.
You think we should be creating refuges, islands of sanity?
The Buddha smiles. His body of light dissolves into the sky until there is only a smile, a Cheshire cat kind of smile hovering in space. Finally the smile dissolves into a luminous sphere, and that dissolves into my heart.