“And in the case of superior things like stars, we discover a kind of unity in separation. The higher we rise on the scale of being, the easier it is to discern a connection even among things separated by vast distances.”
― Marcus Aurelius,
Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone--
Now hear the word of the Lord.
We read the quote and the song, both about connections, and then we went outside for a thought experiment, which was
Sit as long as you need outside, noticing how things are connected. You may write as you look or you may look and then write.
I listened to a dharma talk last week about emptiness by Norman Fisher: Prajna Paramita. He spoke about how we and the objects around us are empty of an essence. We can call a chair a chair all we want, but all that it is, for the time being, is some apparent collection of impermanent objects that will support us, should we want to sit on it. And what is an object, either from a Buddhist or modern physics perspective? Is there really anything there?
He said that “we only exist in relation.” So my face exists only as a conceptual relationship of its elements (nose, eyes, skin, etc.). And my body exists as a name for an another assortment of elements. We exist in our minds as we relate to one another.
There is something there in the way we are connected. I wondered, when I went outside and looked around, how I had not noticed that "everything is connected" is not a theory, but rather an observation. The sidewalk is connected to the ground that is connected to the bamboo that rises up into the sky, touching the clouds that are touching the moon. So how many things are there if they are all interconnected? And is the past, present, and future connected in the same way?
We do not create this connection in our minds. Rather, these things that surround us are touching each other. We touch each other, either on a friendly day or a mean day. We don't like all our connections. But, like it or not, they are connections which are special and very real.
I didn't like the role I was playing in my dreams. Who makes up these dreams? I asked. And why am I the same person in my dreams? How am I connected to that stranger who lurks in my consciousness?
My grandson, age four, has been telling his mom his dreams. In the dreams where his mom has a role, he asks his mom in the morning how the dream was for her, believing wholeheartedly that his mom must have had the same dream as he, since she was a participant.
I had an art teacher who would tell us that all space was variation of densities. This really challenges the idea of separate objects. Another art teacher would tell us that there are no lines, only edges. The way our language structures reality, for things to be connected, they need to be separate. We don’t say that an apple is connected to itself. But it is connected to its stem, as it is to the hand that holds it. We look at our fingers. Yes, we have ten little Indians... But where do they stop and our palms start? Are they separate?
Giving seems pretty goofy sometimes. We give as if we are separate. But if we truly separate, we would have no need for one another. We get satisfied when our friends have their wishes fulfilled. We get disappointed when our friends are lacking in what they need. But in the sense they are our friends, like our fingers, we are, in the end, one and the same. And some believe that the divine permeates it all.
This morning I would like to talk about prajna paramita. The perfect wisdom the Buddha opened up to on this morning. As we were saying, wisdom means the wisdom of emptiness. Completely seeing and truly knowing that all dharmas are empty. So let’s see if we can investigate a little what this actually means. So when you hear the word empty it might give you a sinking feeling. Maybe the word sounds a little bit chilling. Maybe it gives you this creepy feeling that nothing actually exists. That everything is an illusion. Could that really be what emptiness means? Well, yes, sort of. Everything is an illusion. Nothing exists in the way we think it does. As a fixed entity with its own being. And when you study the emptiness teachings, that is exactly what they say. What are things empty of? They are empty of any own being. So nothing has its own being. Everything depends on everything else for its being. You depend on everyone and everything for your being. Without other beings, clearly, you are not here. Your parents for a start… And everyone else who feeds you and takes care of you every single day. The sun, the earth, the air. You completely are dependent on everything. All by yourself there is no you. And you have no being of your own. None at all. You only exist in relation. What happens when you really understand this point. You feel grateful. Of course you do. Gratefulness is the feeling of emptiness. Every minute. Thank you, thank you for this life. So this is what emptiness is. There is no you alone, only you in relation. It means if you look for yourself closely you will not find yourself. The more you look the more you’ll find there is nothing there. And this is definitely the case. If you look for your face you will not find your face. You’ll find nose, eyes, cheeks, eyebrows, skin, and so on, but no face. It turns out the face is empty of anything other than the word face, a concept upon which we put some feeling. And it is empty of anything of the various parts that we put a word on and say face. But then if you look for the nose and the eyes the same thing happens. It turns out that words such as nose and eyes are just concepts.
A Conversation About Dreams
The talk turns to dreams.
Kim says his grandson dreamed his mother
was walking with him.
When the boy woke, he asked her,
Did you see the mouse? What did you think?
We are so alone in dreams, says Sarah L.
My children sleep and they cry out.
I don't know what trouble they are facing
and I can't go in and help them.
Yes, I think, for the child in the dream,
the running is real.
A chasm opens in front of her
as monkey creatures scrabble at her legs.
A monster steps heavy through the night,
his breath closer and closer.
Maybe a friend is there in the dream,
standing beside her, or a mother,
but the child is the one who decides.
She must run away—and she does,
thrashing in her sheets.
She must lift the sword heavy in her hand.
We learn to be heroes this way,
turning, lifting the sword.
part of each other:
—the left shoelace is the same lace as the right shoelace
—branches slant and twist, each in its own way, all of it oak
reaching each other:
—the walkway flows into the sidewalk, which flows into the street, which flows into the cross street east, which flows to Lamar and on to the world of roads
—water splashes down into stones
the same as each other:
—leaves scatter over limestone and cactus and gravel
—our minds know the night garden
in a pattern with each other:
—twigs fork from the branches, branches from the oak
—stones in the pavement, large and small
—our bodies and our pens
—rotting leaf and dirt and cactus root and the little animals of the mulch
—porch lights and streetlights and car lights, lights on the oak, on the Buddha, Christmas lights
—left hand and right hand press each other in gassho
—we read each other what we have written and laugh
coming out of the same underlying force:
—all of us, all of everything
—the ache in my heart says, apart, apart, one and apart
The Water That Connects
Metal bowl setting on a bed of rocks.
No, they're connected by flowing water.
They are a fountain of metal and stone.
The pump that drives the connection
is connected to the city power grid,
that's connected to the wind generators out west
driven by the subtropical jet stream
coming off the Pacific.
The stone Buddha watching over the fountain's
connected to the historical Buddha
2500 years ago, half way round
the world. It's all connected,
the farther you go, the farther ago.
The 2 million light-year away
Andromeda galaxy is showing
its 2 million years younger self
in our night sky.