“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake” – Fightclub, 1999
What do you believe? I’m asked that question often about my spirituality, especially since I live in a very Christian part of the country. My beliefs and I are not easily labeled or explained – we defy a simple categorization. Often, though, I don’t want to get into a protracted dialog with some mooncalf about my very personal theories and convictions. Consequently, I began classifying myself as “essentially subscribing to the Buddhist theory, although not a practicing Buddhist”. I agreed with general Buddhist ideas and believed this was as overarching theory that would encompass a good portion of my beliefs – simply put; it was an easy answer to a difficult question.
Recently, I began studying Buddhism more ardently and realized that I cannot continue to proclaim that I subscribe to Buddhist thought. Buddhism possesses some powerful, truthful tenets – and I still have a high respect for Buddhism and Buddhist thought, but the ideas of reincarnation, non-dualism, non-suffering and non-attachment do not settle well with me (You’re probably wondering at this point what’s left).
Nondualism, in particular, has caused me much consternation. My understanding of nondualism (My beloved Buddhists out there – please correct me if I’m wrong) is that it can be viewed as the understanding or belief that dualism is illusory. Some examples of dualisms include self/other, mind/body, male/female, good/evil, active/passive. Most of these items on this list can be viewed as “two sides of the same coin” or two extremes on one continuum. Mind and body are absolutely the same. We cannot have good without evil. I practice a blend of activity and passivity every time I step on my yoga mat. However, I have difficulty accepting there is no difference between “self” and “other”. Are we interconnected? Absolutely! Is there an interconnectedness between all energy in the universe? Yes! Does that mean that “self” and “other” are the same? I don’t think so. Why would we be created and blossom so differently if no individuality really exists? It doesn’t make sense to be given this very human, individualistic body and mind if our goal is to transcend it. What other creation in nature is as individual as a human being? Snowflakes. A snowflake is part of the snow, but does a snowflake try to become like every other snowflake? Try to hide its particular pattern? No. A snowflake is a completely distinctive, not-another-like-it-in-the-world expression of the snow. Both are real – both have value. A snowflake is not the snow. We too, as humans, should be our own individual expression of humanity and the pulse of life. I don’t taste, smell, see or experience the world like anyone else. I believe we should value, express and exalt our uniqueness – not suppress it.
Let me have a whack at this, for as far as I understand it…
“However, I have difficulty accepting there is no difference between “self” and “other”. Are we interconnected? Absolutely! Is there an interconnectedness between all energy in the universe? Yes! Does that mean that “self” and “other” are the same? I don’t think so.”
You are a different collection of cells than me. Yes. We are both collections of cells. If I melted down into a puddle and you melted down into a puddle, how would we be different? How could anyone differentiate between what is your puddle of cells, and my puddle of cells? There would really be no difference, but there would still be a difference in name, in the discriminative mind of others seeing, or walking through our puddles. Oooops! I’m walking through Phoren now, Ooops I’m walking through Doug now. The difference is in the mind of those perceiving the experience. Really, it’s just one, not-yet-a puddle of cells in a bag of water, walking through another puddle of cells.
What we ‘are’ at any given moment is not in any of the skandhas, but in our interactions in those skandhas, and with other bags of water who think, in a series of discriminative moments that go by so fast we don’t perceive them.
“Why would we be created and blossom so differently if no individuality really exists?”
Karma – whatever causes and actions bring us to this moment and propel us to the next. You have an entirely different set of causes and conditions, genetics and environment, brain wiring, from everyone else.
“It doesn’t make sense to be given this very human, individualistic body and mind if our goal is to transcend it.”
You see, we are not given anything. We are not different from our body or personality that we should be given it to inhabit. We are not there to be given to. And the ‘goal’, well, there is no goal except, I guess, to abandon ‘goal’, and abandon ‘transcend’. Rather inhabit fully. End discriminating between desire (goal) and process (transcend) and what you are in this moment. Where are *you* in this moment? Ooops. It’s gone. here comes another one.
Thank you for your comments. Your explanation and my consternation seem not to be that far off from one another – but what you are saying and what I’m reading/hearing of Buddhist teaching isn’t the same (and that may be my misunderstanding). I agree that we begin from the same matter/energy and we end as the same matter/energy (snowflakes, rain and clouds are really all the same). My concern is more about the bag-o-water we are now – today – however fleeting. Today, I am conscious. I have an ego. I have a strong sense of self within a belief of interconnectedness – and I cannot agree that this is an illusion. You said, “we” are “not different from our body or personality” and “You have an entirely different set of causes and conditions, genetics and environment, brain wiring, from everyone else”. I agree that we cannot separate “self” from our mind or body – I’m not stating that “self” continues after our bodies are gone. However, right now, in these human packages (our bags of water), we have a sense of self and we should embrace it. What I’m reading/hearing in the Buddhist teaching is not that we change from one thing to another throughout time so “self” doesn’t essentially exist (or at least for not that long), but that we should “kill the self” or “transcend the ego” now – in our current state of humanness. I don’t think that it’s possible or desirable. It seems to me that part of being human is having a sense of “self”. So, should we, for the fleeting time that we are in this body, embrace all parts of being human? The snowflake doesn’t say, “I am not frozen” because I wasn’t frozen in the cloud and will not be frozen once I melt.
Part of being human is having a sense of self. For the most part having a sense of self gets in the way of being. Wanting a drink of water won’t go away whether you have a sense of self, or are that self wanting the water. This is dukkha, this is being human, this continual becoming based on desires. It is being attached to this continual becoming that gets in the way of being.
The snowflake exists only when it is frozen water in a particular crystal formation. When does it become, and when does it end being a snowflake? Where and when and how is it a ‘self’?
It is a discrimination we make. Same with self.
Should we kill the ego? What happens then? Do ‘you’ go away? No. you’re still here experiencing things. You don’t go away. But there is nothing between you and the experiencing. You are the experiencing, and you don’t need to be there filtering and thinking and deciding. There is when the ego, the self is killed – before you decide what things are, whether it’s red or square or tree. That’s ego working., actually separating you from your current state of humanness.
As I said somewhere else, as to Illusion:
Our brain and mind give us our picture of the world, that world does exist, but it is not external to us.
Buddhism doesn’t say that the external world doesn’t exist.
It says that our senses, perceptions, preconditions and predilections blind us to seeing it as it really is, not that the world is an illusion, but that the world we see is an illusion.
“Our brain and mind give us our picture of the world, that world does exist, but it is not external to us.”