Impermanence & the Buddha Placebo

All the world’s adrift, like an empty boat on an endless sea.

And not just the world. Galaxies. Universes. Cells. Even black holes. All that moves in time and space. It’s not a wild drift. It turns like a clock face, perpetuating an uninterrupted cycle of rise, stabilize, decline, dissolve and re-arising.

Inside and out are the same. Our thoughts, feelings, perceptions, attention, and identities drift as well, with each mental movement being a reflection of the same laws at work behind the rise and fall of the stars, planets, and early morning coffee. So, it doesn’t matter where we look, we see the same thing, the same forces at work.

The Buddha said that ignorance of all this is what causes suffering because ignorance lures us into grasping onto things that can only become something other than themselves.

One day, my body will be soil, and my last exhalation will be part of an apple tree. Just like how the apple my mom ate while she was pregnant with me was used to build my body, and how my first inhalation was taken from that tree as well.

The water in me will evaporate and then fall as rain back into the oceans and streams. Just as the water that’s in me now came from those same oceans and streams. The heat will disperse into the air, and it was taken from the energy of others. And consciousness will, well, no one knows.

Everything I own will be given away or sold and all of it will one day find itself in the ground as well, the flannel I’m wearing will be soil just like me. And all of it came from the ground to begin with.

Everything I’ve written, the pictures and videos I’ve taken, the songs I’ve recorded, they’ll find themselves resting unused on some forgotten hard drive that will eventually burn out, or in a cloud server that’ll eventually be shut down. Three generations down the line, no one will know.

And when I turn the view outward, it’s the same. This is why grasping causes suffering. The Path makes us feel at ease enough to let go without fear. The looser the grip, the happier we are. The more at ease we are, the easier it is to see, understand, and accept these truths. Like how it’s easier to wait in line at the DMV when you’re in a good mood.

When there’s no longer a single particle of ignorance left in our minds, then we’re Buddhas. All beings can become Buddhas, all beings can be free of suffering. Buddha-nature means that we all naturally gravitate toward the Path, we just look for it in all the wrong places. We get turned around, and think that we’ll find nirvana in driftwood even though we’re drifting ourselves.

We can’t find peace by playing samsara’s game. We have to break the rules. The rule of samsara is: keep moving. So, we stop moving. Samsara says, “Keep spinning and searching,” so we fix our gaze and settle into the moment. Samsara is about self-preservation and gratification, so we ask, “What self?” as an open-ended question that shakes the foundations of the world.

Buddhism is the highest form of insubordination. It’s a sit-in, a boycott, a protest against our own genes and conditioning. It’s taking a knee on a field of awareness to speak out against our own tyrannical egos and distorted views, and speaking for our own oppressed enlightened nature. It’s the primal cry for freedom. And freedom now, not in some distant lifetime. Right now.

One aspect of that freedom is realizing that we’re already fundamentally free. The same way that clouds, sky-flowers, illusions and mirages are free. Imagine the joy a cloud would feel if it realized that it was a passing expression of the ever present sky.

Because the Four Noble Truths aren’t absolute; they’re all skillful means, not ends. The teachings and methods are a placebo treating an imaginary illness. You’re not really sick, so how can you be cured?

Nirvana is a sugar pill given to hypochondriacs.

In reality, letting go is just as samsaric as holding on because letting go is a movement, and that’s all that samsara is: movement. Enlightenment is like space: unmoving, universal, timeless, and complete. This is our true nature.

If you can see that directly right now, if it immediately wakes you up into complete enlightenment, then you can stop taking the pill if you want. If it doesn’t, then you need the placebo. Knowing that a placebo is a placebo doesn’t make it any less effective, it just helps us cling to it a little less.

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