Tuesday, August 8, 2017

My Significant Other is the Kosmos: Return of the Aesthetic Jedi, Part 5 - Demise of the Oopsters

Oops.  Quite a concept to arrive at given the rather stunning scientific revelations vis a vis evolution and the Big Bang.  Next time you take a look at some of those aforementioned Hubble Telescope images say to yourself  "oops" and see how that holds up as an explanation.

Curiously, even the Buddha, some 2500 years ago, knew better then to say oops.  I ran into that insight recently when I decided to actually get some basic understanding of Buddhism by reading a book on the subject ("Essentials of Buddhism - Basic Terminology and Concepts of Buddhist Philosophy and Practice" by Kogen Mizuno, a contemporary Buddhist scholar.  Highly recommended, clear and concisely written).  It seems there is a fundamental concept in Buddhist thought known as "The Doctrine of Dependent Origination".  To quote Mizuno, "Phenomena are impermanent, constantly undergoing change.  This change is not arbitrary; given the requisite conditions, each cause produces an inevitable effect.  This principle of change is called dependent origination".  In other words,cause and effect, without exception.  Things don't happen out of a vacuum, they are caused, and each cause is itself the result of a cause.  To quote Mizuno again, "this change is not arbitrary." (italics mine).  So much for oops, at least according to Buddhism.

In general terms this statement is self-evident; hit a billiard ball with a cue stick, it hits another ball at a certain angle and sends the second ball to another destination - cause and effect.  Nothing special there, even an elementary school student can figure that one out.  So why is dependent origination a fundamental concept in Buddhism?  It's because Buddhism's primary religious concern is not with billiard balls, but with the alleviation of suffering.  The Buddha's very first proclamation after returning from his awakening experience and period of meditation on that experience was what he called "The Four Noble Truths".  The very first of these noble truths (noble because they were beyond the mundane and everyday) is the truth of suffering.  Yes, that was the very first utterance of his teachings, the truth of suffering.  The second noble truth is that suffering has a cause; and there you have dependent origination.  Suffering doesn't just happen, it is caused.

At this point you might be thinking that Buddhism is an awfully pessimistic religion, and in fact many have criticized it for just this emphasis on suffering.  But hold off on that criticism!  The third noble truth is.....suffering can be alleviated.  It can be alleviated because it has a cause, and by eliminating that cause you eliminate suffering.  And then, you get the fourth noble truth - the way to eliminate suffering, known as the eight-fold path.  So there!

I won't go into detail about the eight-fold path, or what is known as the chain of dependent origination, both of which are worthy of exploration in another context.  However, it's interesting to extend the concept of dependent origination out to the entire universe and stumble upon the truth that everything is dependent on everything!  Now extend it back in time to the big bang and you realize that dependence goes all the way back in known history.  To put it another way, it's all one ginormous process!!  (If you have a picture of me right now with a tiny angel on each shoulder strumming a guitar and singing in my ear "All is one, one is all, kumbaya my lord, kumbaya" I can't say I blame you.  But I do request that you delete that image immediately, and while you're at it empty the trash bin.)

There's that word again, process.  And of course, process always involves time.  Dependent origination involves time - cause followed by effect.  Development involves time.  Aesthetics involves time.  Kundalini activation involves time.  Evolution involves time.  And, a process over time is going somewhere.  If you're a Buddhist you might say that somewhere is either nirvana or samsara, liberation or rebirth into the world of suffering. A Buddhist might also say if you're aware that you're in a process of dependent origination you have an opportunity, through understanding the causes, to effect where you're going, suffering or liberation from suffering.  But first you have to understand that you are in a process to begin with.  We are not just stumbling around aimlessly, making the best of it until we die.

We are, in fact, always in a process, and I would suggest that that process is moving toward... value, pulled by value attractors - the good, the true, the beautiful in so many words.  That's why aesthetics is so importance, because it engages a process of movement toward value through dependent origination - cause and effect. Because I feel the value attraction of great literature I hear a radio program reading part of War and Peace, causing me to read War and Peace, causing me to reorient myself in a creative direction, setting in a chain of causes through dependent origination that culminates (for the time being) in the words coming out on this very page.  And some completely different chain of dependent origination, possibly going back many years, culminated in you reading these words.

 I think we're going somewhere.

To be continued...


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