Reality: Part One

There’s something daunting about investigating the true nature of reality. It means being willing to embrace seemingly insane and ridiculous concepts while being prepared to shed lifelong assumptions in order to achieve higher truth. It also involves a ruthless self-analysis while simultaneously considering the idea that there may be no such thing as a “self.” Where to start?

Buddhism is as much of a scientific system or philosophical approach to life as it is a religion, maybe even more so. I hate “Buddhist” as a label because I’ve seen it used many times in order for individuals to identify themselves as something “other than” rather than being content to put Buddhist practices, which tend to be extremely pragmatic, to work in their daily lives. Even the historical Buddha warned about becoming too attached to any one thing, even (and sometimes especially) Buddhism. He likened it to a raft used to cross a river. You wouldn’t pick up the raft and carry it once you reached the other side. And so it is that I find the core principles of Buddhism to be the most practical way to investigate reality.

I don’t say this to seem enlightened or exotic. I have spent the past 13 years or so practicing these principles and have found them to be quite useful. I have come to a place in my life where I am ready to intensify my work in this area and embrace the nature of impermanence and transience that permeates everything around us. The truth is that nothing is permanent and that we suffer because we want permanent things to which we can attach ourselves. Stability is, in itself, an illusion. You are not the same entity that you were when you woke up this morning. Every cell present in your body seven years ago has been replaced, rendering you a completely renewed physical being.

I tend to think of people (and all living things) as being akin to tumbleweeds. We are an amalgam of conditions, rolling through the universe collecting and attracting elements that are then incorporated into whatever it is that we are. Our actions determine what we will become, even what we will be ten seconds into the future. We are never, from one second to the next, the same. Though our actions may seem to be the exact same from day to day, they cannot possibly be because of the fact that we are different from moment to moment.

The concept of impermanence is frightening as it implies that there is no such thing as an eternal, individual soul, a concept to which we have become so attached that we will rebel against any belief system that embraces the idea that we will not carry our unique personalities into a never-ending afterlife. The fact that what we conceive of as “I” will be erased following death is, to some, more terrifying than the belief that we may end up someplace unpleasant, but with our identities intact.

I don’t proclaim to be enlightened by any stretch of the imagination, or to have a monopoly on a “correct” system of investigation into reality, but open-mindedness and willingness to consider alternative perspectives are qualities I wish to cultivate, even if they are uncomfortable. Until next time.