“Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image.” — Alan Watts
In my new book, Half Asleep in the Buddha Hall, I tell the story of Indra’s Net. You can read all about it when the new book becomes available. Today, I want to have a look at an aspect of the story—to look at our propensity to “jewel gaze”—to see what we expect to see.
Here’s the basic version of Indra’s Net: The idea is that there is a 3‑dimensional net or web, thrown into the universe, and extending infinitely in all directions. At each juncture of the web, where the strands cross, is a jewel. This jewel perfectly reflects all of the other jewels, as well as the strands, so each jewel contains an image of the web, stretching infinitely.
Infinite strands, infinite jewels, containing infinite reflections, stretching infinitely.
The typical use of the story of Indra’s Net is to remind us of the interconnectivity of everything. I am you and you are I, and we all contain and reflect everything in the universe (which pretty much matches quantum theory to a “T.”) This version of the story punches holes in the idea of a personal ego, a separate self, and individual experience, is very Zen, and actually is “so.” We might consider this the “essential” view of our lives.
The existential view is the one we actually experience, and it’s a wholly different one. It’s the norm.
In this inaccurate view, I am separate, we are in competition, and what and how I believe is right, good, and true. I believe there is right and wrong, good and bad, and that I might be flawed, but am “working on myself.” I judge myself harshly, but believe I am nowhere near as bad as others are.
In this Normal view, my judgements, complaints, and blaming are endless and deep.
In my forthcoming book, I talk about this side of the equation, and describe it as “staring into your jewel,” or “jewel gazing.” This process is ego-centric—
- you think that your world view is correct,
- that all other views are wrong, and
- you think that what you are staring at is the one and only accurate representation of the universe.
Now remember, each jewel reflects the infinite net, as well as all of the jewels. If you’ll allow me some liberty with the story, you might imagine that, at each jewel, is another person, and that all 6.5 billion of us are staring into our jewel with the same thought:
I am right, my view is the only view. And, the people I see in my jewel are the real “rest of the universe of people.”
I am thus so fixated on my ego, my story, and my perspective that I totally miss what’s actually going on. Everything I see in the jewel right in front of me, is a reflection of reality, not reality itself!
the girl in the mirror is not the girl looking into the mirror
If you look into a mirror, you know the things you see in there are not real, right?
It’s the same with your view of reality!
Repeat after me: my life and my perspective is just the story I’m telling myself. It has nothing to do with anything. It’s all a figment of my imagination.
You can see the truth of this easily, if you look. Imagine that a friend is visiting, and tells you about an experience he had. You listen, and then you say, “Well, here’s what’s going on.”
Surely it is obvious that you have no clue what is “going on” for your friend. You would be better off saying, “So, as you tell me your story, here is what I am imaging, based upon my life and experience. Take it for what it’s worth.”
But it’s even weirder.
Your friend also has no clue! He is seeing the story he is telling himself through his experience, and is choosing what he sees, how he acts, and how he describes things. It has nothing to do with the other people in the story—it has everything to do with him and his life.
Indra’s Net is a great illustration for how life is,
but only if you see the net.
In other words, you have to break your fixation with your story, your view, your jewel. If you can make yourself turn your head to the side, away from the jewel you continually stare at, you start to see “the real thing.” It’s like Neo waking up in The Matrix—everything he believed to be so dissolved right in front of his face. It was all an illusion.
I was talking with a friend today, commenting on her fixation with finding fault. I noted that she seemed to slip out of that when she brought herself into her body and became present. She told me of an experience like that, and immediately started grinning and being chargy and present. I said, “Yeah. That. That’s being present and in the moment, and alive.” For purposes of this article, she pried her eyes away from her “jewel of judgement and complaint,” and saw through the illusion.
She sighed, and said, “I want more of this, but let me tell you what my husband did this week!” And she shifted back to jewel gazing.
She has much invested in being right, in detecting others’ flaws, and in pointing these flaws out. Because of this, her “jewel gazing ego” only sees flaws and wrongs. These things are obvious to her (they’re right there, in her face!) and her game is to endlessly be drawn to them. She breaks from this by looking away from the game, by seeing the wider picture, or what I’m calling the reality of Indra’s Net.
The others that surround her are mostly staring away at their own jewel, into their own stories, and are trying desperately to get her to agree that their view is accurate. “Here! Stare into my jewel! It’s the real one!”
Religions are famous for this. Fighting over who has the real, correct, accurate view, while pointing to a reflection or shadow of reality.
If you look, you see the staring, the fixation, and you say, “Hmm. Everyone caught, staring. Maybe all I can do is look away, know nothing for sure, drop trying to convince others, and simply see.” Maybe.
Maybe you could just let all of the dualistic, judging, forceful foot-stomping go, and simply engage in living life without judging it.
Maybe you might choose to act because that’s what you choose to do, without seeking approval and without trying to force other people to do as you tell them.
Maybe you could notice when the sparkle of your jewel becomes enticing and begins to draw you back into isolation and victimhood.
You can let go of clinging to your world-view,
and there will be no harm, no foul.
You can see the interconnections and the energy that is all around you, and you can choose to be present with all of it. You can find other playmates—just look up and away from your jewel, and you’ll notice others who are also looking away, taking a step back and working on seeing the whole thing, as opposed to a tiny fragment.
You can, in short, get the joke, and live within the laughter, never taking a moment of it seriously, while fully engaging with bringing peace, comfort, and clarity to a jewel gazing world.