Buddhism Beyond Buddhism: Reimagining Tibetan Buddhism as Virtual Praxis for the Networked Age
In my last post, I described how various ideas from the Buddhist tradition, such as emptiness, have often been understood in a very limited sense by western Buddhists, hampering the possible impact of Buddhist teachings. In this post, I want to explain some of the radical potentials of Tibetan Buddhism, hinted at in the last post, and historicized in the post to come after this.
Most of what follows is a paraphrase of the worldpicture put forth in the text Shakyamuni Buddha Through Tibetan Eyes, by Tse Chokling Yongdzin Yeshe Gyaltsen (1713-1973), translated by Robert Thurman in his anthology Essential Tibetan Buddhism, pp. 62-93. The translation of the worldview that follows attempts to remove what is particular to the Tibetan context, and replace it with its analogues in the Euro-American context. In doing so, it doesn’t take reincarnation as that of lives beyond the human. But as will be seen, there’s no need for this, nor any otherworldly belief. What is described is simply another way of looking at what is right in front of us. A radically liberating view.
There are many strong similarities between what will be presented here, and the networkological view I articulate in my own texts. And I have no doubt that what follows is a networkologically tinged rereading. But for reasons that will become clear, the fact that I’m translating this into my own terms, and in a way that I hope can speak to others that may view things similarly, is also a good thing.
What’s fascinating to me about all this is how immanent this all is. Buddhism is a practice of freedom, of learning how to dream better dreams to make a better reality. But rather than require belief in an afterlife or gods or magic, Buddhism is agnostic to these things. One can believe in them, but one doesn’t have to.
In fact, much of Buddhism doesn’t require belief or lack thereof. But simply imagining, trying. Meditation is simply practice on this. But to see why this is, let’s move on to this very imaginative translation, one which ends, we’ll see, in the language of networks. In the process, we’ll slowly move from Buddhism to something like, but also unlike, historical Buddhism. An emanation of the principle behind the Buddha, perhaps, fit for the needs of our networked age.
Let us describe a dream, a fantasy. Suspend disbelief, for a moment. Entertain this fantasy. See what there is to see. And then see if the vision of the world allows you to imagine a different world. If so, then perhaps some bit of this speaks to you. And if so, take some of it with you. That’s all there is to it, really.
Imagine this fantasy. Let’s paint a picture. Imagine we live in a Buddhaverse, which is to say, a universe in which there has been a Buddha. There are potentially infinite Buddhaverses, but ours is the one in which the first manifestation of a Buddha, or enlightened one, was in the form of the man who is called Siddhartha, Gautama, Shakyamuni, or simply the Buddha. And yet, this one only one of his emanations, the true Buddha is more of a principle, the principle of the potential for enlightenment, that which pulls all the world towards it and away from pain and suffering.
The true Buddha is beyond space, time, embodiment, or specific forms, but rather, emanates forms out of his perfection, and it is these forms which allow us to get a glimpse of the hope for enlightenment. The Buddha has three bodies, the first being perfect and formless, his dharmakaya (dharma-body, dharma being teaching or path). The second is his body of bliss, or shambobakaya, his identification with a representation of a principle that will lead towards his emanation body, or nirmanakaya, which is the manner in which the principle he needs to represent manifests in a form we can see. The historical Buddha was precisely this third form. But all of us have a Buddhanature within us, even if we cannot see this clearly. The Buddha, however, can, for he is the only one who can see the world as it really is, beyond illusion. He is the one who sees this universe as Buddhaverse, and it is this sight which makes it a Buddhaverse, or the universe as the Buddha sees it.
And in this seeing, he sees out suffering. For the Buddha is able to see the universe in and beyond specific forms, which is to say, in the mode of emptiness. Emptiness is not nothingness or void. Rather, it is the manner in which any specific form which anything takes is connected to that of everything else. Any particular thing is constituted only by its relation to that which is around it, beyond it, which formed it, to which it tends. Emptiness is the notion that nothing is simply itself, but inextricably intertwined with its contexts, such that they are many sides of the same.
Beyond all time and space, beyond any particular aspect of the world, there is simply the Buddhaverse in which forms arise and disappear. We are one of those. We are the product of our environments, and all of our parts, including thoughts, feelings, actions, bodies, etc., are products of theirs in turn. Everything arises and falls. And all desiring entities try to not only maintain themselves as they are, but to go towards what is pleasurable, and away from what is painful.
Beyond Grasping, Or, Difference Beyond Repetition
The problem is that each only has a limited perspective on what is. Unlike the Buddha, they are not beyond time, space, embodiment, and perspective. They cannot see the whole. And they have constricted views on the world because of this. Each aspect of the world has a tendency, which is what it desires, and it gives body to that desire in the way it incarnates in the world as action. These actions determine, at least in part, how the world appears to it, for they carve aspects out of the world by means of action. We see what we want to see in the world, and this is determined by what we were made to see by that which made us according to its desires. And so, we desire what we were made to desire, and our horizons are limited thereby. This perpetuates, with little deviation, except for those moments when we get a glimpse of something bigger than what we normally see with out constricted, limited worldviews.
This view of the whole is what the Buddha sees. Everywhere and nowhere, and yet, what everyone desires, what everything tends towards, the Buddha is like a focal point of energy, a refracting gem within the folds of light which compose the cosmos.
The hint of that pleasure beyond pleasure experienced by the Buddha is the lure that draws us all forward in this world, and yet, it gets distorted, and in our small worldivews, we grasp at whatever is right in front of us, only to realize that is not what we truly seek. We seek true pleasure, but we only get momentary, fleeting pleasure, and this produces disappointment, which leads to anger, fear, guilt, and a variety other emotions that lead us to build series of defenses against a world that seems to against us. We build boundaries, fortify our defenses, fear losing the little we have, and repeat, repeat, repeat. We cycle around the same fleeting pleasures we know, only to have the cycle continue. There is not lasting happiness. We ride the rollercoaster of pleasure and pain, with no end in sight.
But occasionally, we get a glimpse. We realize that paradoxically, it is the very grasping that makes us desire the wrong things. If we learned how to desire well, we would learn to desire without grasping. We would desire the higher desire. We would desire englightenment, which is freedom from grasping, identifying with the Buddha, and learning to free ourselves from the pleasure that flees, and going instead towards that mixture of emptiness and bliss, presence and absence, which is a pleasure beyond pleasure, a pleasure that does not fail. This is the goal, this is the Buddha, it is that to which we strive, even if we don’t know this, can’t see this. It is potential within each one of us, for each of us is Buddhanature, but alienated against itself, not able to see its true nature. And so we live in prisons of our own making, which were in turn made by prisons of those before us. We are trapped in the same cycle, and don’t see the potential for radical freedom to be Buddha that is within each one of us.
And so, though Buddha always was, he manifested, when the world was ready. The Buddha lives in all times and none, for he is beyond time, and in fact, is not merely a he, but a he and a she, for he can emanate in any of these forms, though none can capture his true essence, which is to have no essence, and all essences. Likewise, all enlightened beings in history are emanations of the Buddha, giving a different teaching to a different audience at a different time and place, telling beings what they need to hear to bring them one step closer to realizing their full Buddhanature.
And in fact, we are all emanations of the Buddha, even if we have yet to realize this, which is to say, to be able to see that we are Buddha. And this is what keeps us from being Buddha. For we grasp at what is not Buddha, and we do this because we only see what we are made to see, which leads to the reproduction of the same structures, the same ways of being, and the same tendencies, which reproduce the same types of bodies which lead to the same ways of seeing. The cycle perpetuates. And yet, there are cracks, between the seams, sometimes we see a glimpse of something beyond. The call of the Buddha. The lure of his compassion.
The Buddha knows that it is grasping itself that is the cause of suffering. Limiting the world to one thing rather than another, one time or place rather than another. Lack of freedom. The Buddha grasps all without grasping, and hence, has the freedom to grasp anything. But how is this possible? Why is this anything more than meaningless poetry?
Emptiness as the Path to Fullness: The Pull of Freedom
The Buddha teaches the path of emptiness (shunyata). This teaching, dharma, liberates us. But it is a path, one with stages. First, we learn that objects are empty, which is to say, that they are nothing but the result of the contexts which produced them. They are refractions of their contexts. When we grasp an entity as distinct, we distort it. I hold an apple in my hand, and I cut it off from the world that allows it to be this way, that sustains it, from what produced it. I eat it and it is gone. My desire carves it out of the world when I pluck the apple from a tree, because I desire to eat it. It is an object of desire. But when I eat it, its pleasure is fleeting. My desire floats off elsewhere. I need to repeat, because it did not satisfy.
And yet, a tree can produce many apples. I dig up the tree from the ground, and this ability is gone. And yet it in turn is the product of the earth, air, water, sky, it’s environment which produces a tree from its seed. I can follow the chain and network of causes infinitely, until I realize, it took the entire development of the universe to give rise to a planet like earth, which gave rise to something like our weather, which gave rise to something like a tree, which gave rise to something like an apple that I can hold in my hand.
When I eat the apple, it is gone. But if I have a tree, I have a more sustained pleasure than any apple can provide. If I have the ability to farm and tend apple trees, I have a lifetime of apples. This is less disappointing than a single apple, which I eat and then is gone. But I only learn this lesson when I see that the apple is empty, which is to say, the result of its causes, nothing but its causes. It is also empty of the ability to provide me happiness without pain, for as soon as I eat the apple, I realize the pleasure it provides me is fleeting. Where can I find more sustained pleasure? In the apple tree, the apple grove, in learning to farm the apple grove, in understanding the weather, in learning about the causes of all things.
When I understand the fundamental interdependence of all things, I stop seeing individual things as being so isolated, reified, self-sufficient, separated off. I begin to see networks, processes, intertwinings. And I begin to see that just as it is silly to take any object as sealed off from the world, or able to provide me with dependable pleasure, so it is with myself. I treat myself like an object, like an apple, and try to squeeze pleasure from myself, and I continually disappoint myself. Like any other object in the world, I am always too much or too little.
But as with the apple, I may slowly come to realize that I too am empty, just like the apple. I am the result of the contexts in which I was produced. And yet, I am freer than an apple. For I am the apple, and the orchard, and myself as well. I am everything I experience, they are all refractions of my experience. Even the experience that others have of me, when they tell me they experience my body, is a refraction of my experience, and hence, in a sense, is also me.
And so I am the world, and the world is me, even if it seems each of us has such a world and a me. For each of us, within our bodies, we are worlds and selves, and these are two sides of the same, like sides of a sheet of paper. But unlike the individual things in my world, I am all of them. An apple is just an apple, but I am the apple and the tree and the orchard and the wind, for all of these are part of my experience, which is my world, which is to say, me, viewed inside out. And what’s more, I can imagine an apple even when it is not there, I can fantasize, remember, and dream.
In this sense, while I am all of these separate things in my world, I am also none of them. So it is with the Buddha in the Buddhaverse. I can travel in time in my mind between spaces and times by remembering, or imagining the future. This is freedom, at least in my mind.
And yet, how do I distinguish my mind from the world? For all I experience of sensory experience, of the outside world as perceived by my body, is through my mind. And even my body only manifests to me through my experience, which is to say, by means of my mind.
Learning to Dream: Tantric Meditation as Virtual Reality
What is the difference, then, between my mind and the so-called real world? Not much. In fact, it is all my mind. Only some of it seems more fixed than other aspects. These fixed aspects we call the physical world. These are harder to change than other parts of my world, like my fantasies that I can call up at will, or my memories of the past. If the physical world is the most fixed aspect of my world, my memories of the past are less fixed, and my fantasies are the least fixed, and hence, the most free.
The Buddha is the principle of freedom. And hence, if we are to tap into the potential for radical freedom within the world, it is with fantasy that we need to start. We need to see the Buddha, the potential for radical freedom, everywhere. We need to disturb the fixity of what is. But how to do this?
We can start with another human being. Humans are, after all, freer than animals, which seem slaves to instinct, and they are freer than plants, which are freer than rocks, etc. So we fantasize, we imagine the principle of freedom itself, the Buddha, as present in another person that seems freer than us. This person doesn’t need to be perfect. But they just have to be a mentor, a guide, someone that can help us on the path.
In Tibetan Buddhism, this should be someone who is further along the path. But it could be any teacher in which we see the Buddhanature clearly. It could be a therapist or professor, a parent or a friend. We imagine the Buddha shining through them. And we desire to be more like them. This identification is not a desire to be a fixed entity, or to “have” them. But to be more like the freedom which they seem to have more than we do. They become an ever moving target. And to the extent that they help us become more free, is to the extent that this mentor helps us.
A Tibetan Buddhist mentor, however, also has their mentor in turn, and this provides an entire intersubjective relational matrix that keeps everyone pulling each other by means of the desire for freedom. Therapists have therapists, teachers have teachers. But Tibetan Buddhist mentors can teach us how to dream, how to use virtual reality to bring ourselves closer to freedom.
We imagine a space, a clear space, beyond this world, we take refuge here from the unstable pleasures and the painful sufferings of the world. This space, called a refuge space, is where we can envision a new reality, one of freedom, of emanations. We fill it with visions of all the teachers we have ever had in life. We see these examples, and we imagine them in perfected form. They are lures to greater freedom. They teach us to see the world with fewer constraints, for each of these is in turn an emanation of the Buddha in our imaginations. We mediate upon this, we imagine ourselves as full of the power to change reality, by means of the principles of freedom these figures provide us as semi-concrete images.
Nivrana is Samsara: Returning to the World
We then return to the world from our meditation. We see the world full of fixed, obdurate, static entities. So unfree. We feel pain about this. A stone damned to simply be a stone, when it could also dream and be a dog. Or a dog, damned to chase urine all day, rather than write a novel. Or a human, who chases fixed objects all day, instead of imagining a better world, and then working to bring it into being.
But while we can dream, how does this change anything? The more real our dreams become, the more they start to infuse our daily lives. The more silly it seems to be constrained. This doesn’t make us retreat from life, and desire to live only in our dreams. Rather, it makes the real world seem so arbitrary, so fixed, so limiting. And yet, we live in it. Yet we realize that deeper pleasures come from dreaming. And yet, we don’t flee this world. For we see the suffering of this world, in others, and in ourselves. We desire liberation. How can we give this world liberation, to give it some of the freedom of our dreams?
If we truly understand emptiness, we begin to see the self as yet one more limitation. Not the self as world, but the self as contained entity. The image of myself. The self that should do this or that, that can’t be this or that, that can only be happy if this or that happens. We realize that as soon as we limit ourselves to a particular image of ourselves, a particular story of ourselves, we limit what we can be. Emptiness is best translated into western thought by means of the notion of being free from essence. I don’t have to express a premade essence.
I am free to be whatever I can find a way to make myself be. It starts by dreaming. Dreaming detaches us from the necessity of the world being a certain way. But then we need to find a way to change the world. But how?
Beyond the Self: Learning to be the World, Differently
Once we realize that grasping our selves like an apple, rather than a world, is to limit what we can be, we realize that the entire world is ourselves, just turned inside out. And so, the suffering of any part of our world is our suffering. When I deny this, I feel guilty, even subconsciously. When I do nothing about the pain of others, I make myself an island, I harden myself, I put up defenses.
Freedom is realizing that it is all me. And that I need to relieve the suffering of all this to relieve my own suffering. And it starts by dreaming. Detaching from the way I was taught the world must be. And then I begin to see the emptiness of everything, the fact that it doesn’t have to be this way, and yet, it is. If only the world could learn to dream differently.
And yet it can, if only it can learn to dream. If we all dreamed the same dream, we could change the world. Religious thinkers dreamed dreams, and changed the world. Marx dreamed a dream, Freud dreamed a dream, all philosophers, theorists, prophets, artists, they dreamed and found a way to show their dreams to others. And as a result, others saw their dreams as desirable, and this lead them to act differently. As a result, the world changed.
And so, to relieve our own suffering is to relieve that of the world, which starts by showing the world that it’s possible to dream differently, and from there, to act based on those dreams. And yet, how can we teach this? It’s impossible to force anyone to do or think anything, and even if it were, to treat someone like an object would be to force them to do what they don’t want. Force and grasping are the problem, not the solution. So how to show others it is possible to dream?
By dreaming. By providing an example. And presenting one’s dreams in a form others can try on for themselves. The example of our lives shows the benefits, and the imaginings can show others new possible worlds.
How Dreaming Can Alter Reality
Change starts slow. And it easier to change the inside than outside. But that’s how change begins. Change the dream, and the world follows. Mathematics, after all, is nothing but a set of dreams, otherwordly entities known as numbers, that have allowed us to imagine the world differently. And with this, we have learned to change the physical world. But this would’ve never been possible had we not left the physical world, and learned to dream numerically. Our dreams are never irrelevant, pure fantasy. For they are always made of the stuff of the world.
But when we dream, if we dream beyond the limits of the present, towards increasing freedom, and then return to the world as is, this interplay of desire and hope, matter and mind, self and world, has within it the potential for radical change. A this-worldly transcendence. Using virtual reality to change the physical real. For what is language, but virtual reality? What is literature, fiction, film, philosophy, all these are virtual realities.
So it is with Tibetan Buddhist meditation. But the goal here isn’t technology, the mere manipulation of the physical world. Rather, there is only one goal. Relief of suffering. And ultimately, this is what we all want, we desire security, the lack of fear, the loss of the worry that we will want and want more. All our loves and projects, these are all an attempt to gain a pleasure beyond pain, and yet, if we pursue this short sightedly, we end up going after short-term gain, and end up suffering. We need to see the long term, the big picture.
The Buddha is that big picture. Or rather, he is the dream of that big picture. He is the potential for that within us. Outside of time, space, and perspective, and yet, appearing to us in our very limited terms, teaching us what we need to take ourselves one step further to freedom. All we need to do is hear the call of this possibility. The Buddhas dreams emit signs, just as ours do, which then take form in the world the more we attach to them, make them part of our reality, just as we read the signs of the dreams of others. Reality is the dream shared by all the dreamers, from the quarks to other humans to the Buddha. The Buddha is the call within the dreams we share within our private dreams, a call to maximum freedom. The body of the Buddha is simply a sign, the Buddha is really a principle, the principle of freedom that brought the world about, and that helps it to evolve yet further to come to understand itself and its own freedoms. And this principle takes infinite potential forms, the form we need to see to pull us just a bit further towards freedom, as this call refracts through space and time, content in its own freedom, the famed Buddhist bliss (ananda), a pleasure more stable than fleeting pleasure or pangs of pain, a freedom, one which starts inside, and then works its way out, as one’s dreams begin to change one’s world.
All our actions are remberings or forgetings of this freedom, and the question is whether or not we can learn to dream freely, and with others, to lucidly alter the world with our dreams given flesh by our actions. And we need to do this by stepping into the future. Visualizing ourselves as always already having been free, calling to ourselves to be freer, calling to those around us, and in the process, reviewing our past and present through the future, sending out rippling waves of freedom to all around us in the process.
The Buddhist community, and in Tibet, the Buddhist state, is an attempt to help everyone release their full potential to maximum liberation. The whole state is designed to provide support for those looking to englighten self and world by learning to dream differently, and trying to bring that dream into reality. It is only the community that can do this, for only the community can weave their dreams and the physical world together in ways that can lead to changes in the reproduction of people. Which is to say, only by changing the world, the way we relate to it, and the way we raise children in it, and educate each other as adults, that we can change the cycle of wants and desires.
And so, we have to leap into the future. We need to have faith, which is the belief that the dreams we project into the future can alter our reading of our pasts to engender a different present. We imagine a uptopian dream. And then we find others, and try to bring our dreams into sync, so we can build that world.
What is that world? A world beyond grasping. A world in which it’s possible to imagine pleasure that is more stable, and hence, more dependable. And this is what Buddhists call bliss. Bliss is what happens when the emptiness of the Buddhist perspective meets the fullness of the world, and what it gives rise to is freedom, whose side effect is bliss. Bliss is not the painful joy we get from fleeting sense pleasure, that we know will fade quickly, and which we therefore hang on to until it fades underneath us, leading to suffering.
No, bliss is that constant pleasure that comes from not needing that. Bliss is the stable pleasure of not being in bondage to external circumstances. But rather, deriving pleasure, true pleasure, from the dream liberating reality via the community in action, from sharing the power of the dream, from living the dream beyond the limitations of the world, by both being free of the world and in the world. Freedom is neither this nor that, for it is both this and that, it is the potential. And yet, potential is only potential potential, it is only truly free when it comes into the world.
That is what the Buddha is. The Buddha is the dream of complete freedom. Freedom from space, time, body, perspective, all limitation. And the Buddha is present in everything, as the potential to learn to dream in a way that can bring about a new reality. The Buddha is that which spurs evolution in the physical world, that which gives rise to further evolution in the biological world, and leads humans to evolve culturally to be less paranoid, more curious, to learn to liberate themselves by the dream we call culture.
The Buddha is all these things, or rather, is the dream of this that we project to pull ourselves up from where we are. We project this dream into our physical world, as a way to imagine the potential within it. And this dream becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we imagine ourselves as completely free, we will find a way to reframe limitations as pathways, obstacles as that which can teach us, all graspings as opportunities to learn freedom. We will see the very teaching we promulgate about this as a dream that we hold out for ourselves, to pull ourselves into a better world. Tibetan Buddhism teaches us to dream about dreaming so as to transform reality.
But doesn’t that mean we need to give up everything? It does, because if we give up everything in the world, we are free of needing it. But paradoxically, when we stop needing things, we learn to actually enjoy them. Rather than seeing things as able to make us whole, we see them more realistically. We realize that this desire for fullness can only come from within, and by learning to move beyond the desire for fullness. Life is never completely full, or completely empty, for we are desiring beings. The dream of being beyond desire is what makes desire work, but it is also that which makes desire fail us. But if we move beyond the fantasy of imagining that particular things will give us infinite fullness, we will stop being disappointed. We will see all pleasure as a blessing, but not be bound to it. And in fact, our bliss increases as our need for pleasure decreases.
Identifying with Freedom, Or, Learning How to Be Reborn
These paradoxes are at the heart of Buddhist insight. The best way to be selfish is to live to make others happy, for this deconstructs the self-other binary, and we end up living beyond selves. The best way to have pleasure is to move beyond the need for pleasure, and then everything becomes more pleasurable, and even pain becomes an opportunity for us to learn how to enjoy life better, and hence, we can even learn to convert this to pleasure in its way. Buddhism means identifying with emptiness, which isn’t nothingness, but essencelessness, which is to say, freedom. When we identify with freedom, we don’t want to be constrained by anything. We learn how to dream. And we see specific pleasures, needs, desires, fears, anxieties, guilts, as traps.
Here we see the importance of vissapana meditation. If Tibet’s addition to Buddhist practice is the use of the dream to change reality in the manner described above, which is a form of tantra, the contribution of more traditional Buddhist practice is emptiness meditation, which we can reconcieve as freedom meditation. When any thought or feeling comes up, we let it pass. “I am that too, but I am not only that.” We let it arise, and then let it pass. No matter how pleasurable or painful, we detach. We are more than just that. We don’t have to give it our full attention. For if we do, we strengthen it, we give it energy, and then it binds us more. Freedom meditation helps us practice letting go. This is often the precondition of dreaming meditation, tantric meditation. To detach from the calls of the world is often needed before we can learn to dream a new world.
Whenever we feel the painful call, “I must do that,” or “I must be that,” we detach. It is painful at first. But tantric meditation allows us to replace musts and shoulds with a dream of limitless potential. This dream we then work on bringing into the world. But first we must give up the world to gain it. We learn that chasing after money, fame, anything that fades, will inevitably disappoint.
The Buddha is the faith that if we hope to not need these, we can dream ourselves into not needing them. And then, we can have them, but not be bound to them. We can be happy even when they vanish. Because everything will eventually vanish. We will all die.
And this is why the Tibetans have made understanding death the most important aspect of life. Tibetans are famous for their book of the inbetween states, the Bardo states. And yet few understand that this is a book of learning how to die in order to live a fuller life.
For death is what happens whenever we detach. Our attachment to various aspects of our world dies each time we meditate. And the more we practice dying, the more we can control the process. The more we can imagine new ways to be reborn. For what we expect in the world at least partly determines what we see, which at least partly determines how we act, which at least partly determines what we become, and the sum total of all these determines what we all become.
And so, if we are to liberate ourselves from attachment, we need to practice detachment, which is to say, dying, so as to get better at dreaming which can change the world, which is to say, rebirth.
How do we do this? Each time we feel an attachment, an image or story of what we must be, we instead focus on the power of the dream. We hear the call of the Buddha, who is, after all, only a personification of this force within all that is. And we identify with the pure essenceless freedom at the core of all that is, of which the universe is simply an expression. We identify with this virtuality, this potential. And we try to hold this, so as to detach from what is trying to fix us into a particular relation to the world. We open up the space of the dream, which is simply a reconfiguring of the aspects of what we know, inflected with what could be. And then we feel the pull of the world again. We sense another thought, emotion, perception, whatever it is, pulling us out of pure detachment, pure freedom. But we try to inflect what pulls us with a little bit of this dream, this freedom. It is a tiny bit less constricting each time. And in the process, we practice liberation. Practicing losing the world helps us to gain it, to gain it in liberated form.
The Quantum Buddhaverse, or Crystalline Evolution
This is dying and being reborn. And we do this constantly. All aspects of our world are nothing but dances of forces, each of which dissolves at one minute and incarnates again anew. We know this from quantum physics. And the similarities between the quantum worldpicture and that of Tibetan Buddhism is astounding. The entire conception of the Buddha, proposed hundreds of years ago by Tibetan lamas, is quantum. For the Buddha can be in many times at once, and yet is beyond them all. The Buddha is a developmental pull within what is, and yet this is only the way he appears at a given spacetime junction, as a particular sign which manifests the way a force incarnates at this particular event. Scientists have even argued that it is possible that all the light in the universe is one single photon, refracting back and forth in spacetime, even as each of these refractions is always moving, tending in a particular direction. Is this not the Tibetan vision of the Buddha?
Quantum entities are the freest entities in our universe, they smear spacetime, they explore multiple paths in virtual spacetime before they choose one. And yet, they lack the solidity of the physical world, that which is able to take up one particular perspective on all that is, rather than all. In this sense, it is as if the quantum had to leave it’s virtual freedom to achieve actual freedom, by giving rise to the evolution towards increasing freedom in the physical world.
To achieve the freedom of the virtual quantum, yet within the actual. Such, it seems, is the dream which quantum entities are having, and we are their dreams. When will we learn to take over our evolution, to evolve ourselves towards better dreams, liberating dreams?
In order to do this, we need to embrace paradox. But why? Isn’t this to embrace the irrational? If so, it is a peculiar form of irrationality, one which deconstructs the distinction between rational and irrational. We need to identify with freedom, that which can give rise to any form, but which is constrained by none. Language, for example, gave rise to all the words, it is all and yet none, and language is simply a product of humans. Can we become like language, in this sense? All the words, yet none, by learning to be like the potential for meaning which is within each word, and yet beyond them all?
This is identifying with freedom. The freedom to be everything, but also anything. And this is what the quantum world lacks. Pure quantum freedom is the freedom to be everything, everywhere, but it cannot be one place or time, at least not without limiting itself. There is a loss of freedom. And this is why the Buddha didn’t desert us. The Buddha had to forget himself, just like the virtual freedom of the quantum needed to fall into the actual. For in the process, it is possible to learn to be free in the actual, by being specific things. The Buddha frees itself more deeply by freeing us, because we are all Buddha, we just don’t know it.
And this is why the Buddha is infinite compassion. He is saving himself, in saving us, just as we save our own worlds by saving ourselves. For our world is us, it just doesn’t know it, just as we have forgotten that we aren’t the whole world. When we realize this, we begin on the path. And the path is that towards enlightenment, which is the balance of bliss and emptiness which is freedom.
Buddha beyond Buddhism: The Network
What is the Buddha, then? The dream of freedom, a dream which shows up differently in each culture. It may be the proletariat, or the hope of freedom in therapy. It might be the dream called communism beyond it’s twentieth century failures, or the dream of democracy. It is the pull towards utopian possibility that shows up in the world in many forms. It is what is often called love, at least, so long as we don’t think of this as some sort of greeting-card like image that limits what it can be. It’s the pull towards evolution to the better, a potential that seems, in one form or another, to be within everything. It’s a potential that will increase the more we all take it as the dream which can make the world a better place.
It doesn’t need to be called Buddha, or take a Tibetan form. It doesn’t need to be Buddhist. Buddhism is just one manifestation of this radical potential for freedom within everything and anything. It has gone under many names. Deleuze called it the virtual, Hegel called it Spirit, and yet each in their own way limited what it could be. Likewise the Buddhists, such as the Tibetans. They see reincarnation as necessarily something beyond this life. Perhaps it is, but perhaps not. But the fundamental insight is larger than any particular form in which is arises. A similar set of notions arises in Ancient Greco-Roman philosophy, particularly in the attempt to synthesize the insights of the ancient world of the Stoics and Epicureans that we see, if imperfectly, in Neo-Platonism. We see a similar worldview expressed in so many Islamic philosophies, and Sufism in particular, and variation of this take root in Maimonides, and are reconfigured by Spinoza and Leibniz in their own way.
My particular form of this set of insights I’m calling networkological relationalism. It too views grasping as the source of pain, paranoia, frustration, disappointment, distortion. It also views this as a necessary part of the path to freedom. The networkological project is not the same as any of these. But it is a dream with much in common with these crucial forebears. It seeks to go beyond the limitations of the logic of the node. It is s dream of leaping into the future to change our way of understanding how our pasts determine our present. It is a dream of a better world.
The Buddha is a metaphor. But are the ethical insights here radically different from that espoused by Spinoza, or Plotinus, or Mulla Sadra, or Deleuze? All these can be seen as so many incarnations of relationalist insights. We need a new relationalism. We need a new dream, or learning to move beyond grasping, not by eliminating it, but by going through it.
And if networks are the future, if we live in a networked age, if the network is our image today of relation, might there not be a Buddha of the network? So long as we can dream of a Buddha beyond Buddhism, then perhaps this could be.