Space-time. Buddhism. Why not?
We can easily take the Three Marks (Suffering, impermanence, not-self) and adapt them to that model. Whenever we view something as separate from space-time, there’s suffering. When we view things as isolated from space-time, we make them into something very small and fragile. A person is tiny and short-lived. But space-time is neither tiny nor short-lived. It’s vast, immeasurable, and shared.
We’re inseparable from time. If an object exists, it exists in time. Time is impermanence. Time is pretty much God; it gives us everything—including ourselves—and then takes it all away, passing it along.
And it doesn’t just do it once. Each moment time is giving and taking, and what it gives and takes doesn’t pop in and out of existence. It wanders. Floats.
When we perceive things as inseparable from time, that frees them from stagnation as well as their own short spans. You can trace everything you are back through billions of years, and that’ll keep going for billions more.
Space. There’s no such thing as a word. These words aren’t the only thing you’re seeing right now. You’re seeing the space between them, the screen, maybe the frames of your glasses, the computer monitor or cellphone, light, and parts of the room around you. This is not-self, or dependent arising. Without all of those other things, you wouldn’t see these words. These words aren’t separate from everything else you’re seeing right now, they depend on them just as much as they depend on the alphabet.
Anything we perceive is like this, there’s no such thing as, “Just one thing,” the same way that there’s no such thing as an object in space that has height but no width; it’s always both. It has to have width, even if it’s just a nanometer, and vice versa.
When we perceive things as independent from each other, that’s like perceiving something with height but no width or depth. The Buddha said we suffer because we cling and crave a world that doesn’t exist.
In tranquil abiding (samatha) practice, we’re asked to prove that wrong by focusing on, “Just one thing.” But, when we do—when we tune everything else out except for the meditation object—the object disappears as well, because it doesn’t exist as, “Just one thing,” and if something doesn’t exist in reality or in imagination, it can’t be perceived.
When we perceive things as inseparable from space, we free them from isolation. There’s no such thing as a banana that comes and goes. There’s the banana-on-the-counter-in-the-house-on-the-earth-in-the-universe. When you pick it up and eat it, only one part of what it is is eaten. You’re not eating the counter it was on. Well, I hope not, I don’t know what you’re into.
When I die someday, it’s only the tiniest part of “me” that’s dead. The time I lived on, the space I lived in, remains. These things are just as much “us” as our minds and bodies because without them we wouldn’t exist. Only the senses and instinctual self-centeredness make it seem otherwise.
The Bodhisattva Path comes in because when we experience things as not separate from space-time, we’re freeing them from our own confusion. The moment we stop viewing them as separate from the whole of time and space, we free them from birth, from death, from stagnancy and isolation. Then the task is just showing them the way we see them, that fundamental freedom.
The instant we save ourselves, we save everyone. The Bodhisattva Vows are immediately fulfilled. That’s why the Bodhisattva can help others without thinking of it as helping.
This is important. It shows that not only is it our responsibility to liberate all beings by changing the way we perceive them, but that it’s our confused perception that forces them into birth, death, stagnancy, and isolation in the first place. We are responsible for everything that happens because we perceive it as happening, it’s not happening anywhere else but within our awareness and perception.
Avalokitesvara, “Hears the Cries of the World,” because she’s the one making the world cry. Aware of that, she vowed to correct her perceptions, and—in the meantime—help anyway she could. There’s no isolation or interdependence, no permanence or impermanence, no understanding or misunderstanding, no suffering or end to suffering, no space or time without the mind.