Synopsis: About Reality: learning to be in the present moment, in the real, is key to waking up and living a full life
Reality, and its avoidance
I’ve been reading Brad Warner’s books on Zen for decades, and also subscribe to his blog. He isn’t writing blog posts as much these days, but this week he wrote an article titled “The Age of Reality.”
Here’s a quote:
Nishijima Roshi: If Buddhism pervades throughout the world, religions will vanish. That is my idea. Religion is a kind of belief, but Buddhism is believing in the fact in front of us. So the attitude is different. I think human history is going to enter into the age of reality.
Q: And the age of reality means the age of looking at what’s in front of us?
Nishijima Roshi: Yes, based on the fact at the present moment. And in that situation religious thoughts cannot exist.
It’s key Buddhist principle that what is right in front of you is all that there is. Which is a hard thing to swallow, given our desire for things like permanence, security, and specialness. All of these things require something “other” than reality.
Religion is Belief, not Reality-based
Religions develop, typically, after the death of the guy who started things off. Back in my Seminary days, I studied the chronology of the New Testament writings. Paul’s letters came way before the writing of the Gospels, and it was clear Paul hadn’t a clue about the historical Jesus–he didn’t really quote him, and never knew him.
Paul was interested in building a religion, but he had a problem: he had to deal with a dead guy, or a resurrected but no longer around guy.
So, almost immediately, he started writing, and we presume, preaching, that Jesus was going to return, and bring justice, otherwise known as crushing Rome. In Paul’s earliest letters, he promises this “immediately”; then, a bit later, in his lifetime. Years later, at the end of his life, having looked and looked and not seen any such thing, it became “soon.”
It’s now 2000 years later, and soon is not here yet.
I’m not disparaging Christianity. I’m just saying that the nuts and bolts of “day-to-day living as Jesus instructed” pales, for most Christians, when compared with avenging Gods and a home in heaven. All that “do unto others” stuff is hard to stomach when “others” are judged to be inferior, especially if they are a different race or religion or gender.
So, better to focus on heaven.
You get this in Islam, too, when you see stuff about 72 virgins and paradise, and this becomes the justification or reward for attacking “infidels.”
Buddhism, as a philosophy, or life-focus, skirts away from this “other-worldly” focus. Sure, some strains of Buddhism have added in reincarnation, but that’s arguably not really Buddhist. In fact, the Buddha was pretty cool about other-worldly things:
“I do not care to know your various theories about God. What is the use of discussing all the subtle doctrines about the soul? Do good and be good. And this will take you to freedom and to whatever truth there is.…”
I like this… and it’s my point. There’s nothing wrong with believing in God, or heaven, or whatever. But simply recognize that what you believe about anything that isn’t right in front of you is what you believe, and is therefore imaginary. Period.
Reality, on the other hand, is pretty obvious, as it’s right here, right now. It’s what you see and hear. It’s also the feelings that arise in you, but not necessarily the thoughts.
By that I mean that the stories, fantasies, dreams, etc. that go on in my head are not reality. They’re constructs. Just because you can imagine a giraffe with the head of Donald Trump, doesn’t mean such a thing exists.
What exists, what is real, is all that is of importance.
We therefore encourage everyone to get real and to be real. To stop with all of the “I’m sure my stories are real,” or “Here’s what going to happen” stuff, and to simply act in this moment.
Not for any pressing, future-based reason, but because this situation, right now, will be addressed by me like this, right now.
We resist all of this because reality can be messy, bloody, nasty… and having some magic story about it all seems the better option. Or praying about it seems like a good choice. Or griping and complaining. And as we play all of these games in our little heads, reality is still… reality.
A friend down here was, over coffee, regaling us with tales of a couple of crimes here in Samara… this is something we don’t hear much about. One story was about break-ins, the other about a guy who “committed suicide” while locked up at the local police station.
I could feel my head hurting… trying to make sense of it, or to play another game, that goes, “It’s not safe anywhere… you should build a bunker.” Instead, I started breathing, and incorporating.
As I did, my experience with what she was telling me expanded. First of all, at face value, bad stuff happens here, too. Second, I now have more information. What I didn’t need to do was to escape reality and awfulize what I was hearing.
Then, our friend said, “Of course, stuff like this happens in Canada, too.”
And the drama goes away, and we’re back to the reality of life. And the next question: given this information, do I need to do anything?
In this case, no. So, the drama can be dropped in favour of enjoying the walk home.
Reality… that which is right in front of us, waiting to be seen, heard and responded to.
The Age of Reality. The place we really live.