Sunday, 1 November 2009

Collective Karma

Letter to the editor of The Times from 'Disgusted' of Tunbridge Wells

Dear Sir,
I am writing to your newspaper to express my disgust at the failure of the authorities to take firm action to stop the nightly torrent of sex, violence, crudity and obscene language which I am forced to experience.

Surely the time has come to impose some degree of censorship on this stream of depravity?

Scarcely an evening goes by without lurid portrayals of the vilest sexual perversions, vicious acts of sadism, gratuitous aggression and crude and suggestive language.

And now I find that the nine o'clock watershed is no longer sacrosanct!  Even if I take a nap at 8 o'clock I am still revolted by these pornographic and violent images.
I have become utterly disgusted by this flood of filth which assails me from falling asleep to getting up.

As a long-suffering British taxpayer I shall be writing to my MP to demand that the government takes robust and immediate action to clean up my dreams, and I would urge anyone suffering from the same problem to do likewise.

Yours faithfully

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells

Hmm ... we don't often read letters like that. I suppose most of us realise that although we don't have any control over our dreams, we are still in some strange way responsible for them and their content. We are simultaneously the victims and the perpetrators of our dreams. Although we are consciously the principal actor, we are also subconsciously the scriptwriter, stage manager and director who makes us play our part.

In Under Milk Wood, no pleas or complaints to the Educational Authority could save Mrs Willy Nilly from being spanked for being late for school every night of her married life. No Child Protection Agency operated in the virtual Llareggub she inhabited in her conjugal bed. Nor could middle-aged Mrs Willy Nilly appeal to memory or reason to offer an escape route from the recurring spanking nightmare. There was no memory or frame of reference other than of being a schoolgirl.

Sometimes dreams can be nested within dreams. Often when troubled with problems we dream that we are dreaming. Typically we dream that our problems have taken a nasty turn for the worse. Then we wake up and realise that our problems don't exist - they were just a dream. Then we really wake up and are confronted with our problems again.

So there are dreams within dreams. Maybe several levels deep.

We often abide in dreams unaware of their logical contradictions, but if we do become aware, our mind usually does a 'pinch me' and forces us to wake up (unless we are skilled in lucid dreaming and can manipulate the storyline and dive back in to the dream after the 'pinch').

Multiple levels of awakening
Reflecting on dreaming, and dreaming about dreaming, inevitably begs the questions:

Are we still dreaming right now?

Can we wake up to a higher level than our daytime experience?

The awakened ones
Buddhists claim there are higher levels of consciousness than our everday life . The word 'Buddha' literally means 'Awakened One'.

Most non-Buddhists are familiar with 'The Buddha', who is more correctly known as 'Buddha Shakyamuni'. But they may not be as familiar with a buddha as a generic concept. There are, and have been many buddhas, and according to Buddhist beliefs all sentient beings have the potential to 'wake up' and thereby wake others up.

In this view of reality, a dream is an individual's deluded state, whereas the chaotic 'waking' Samsaric world we see about us is also a kind of dream (or a nightmare), though a collective rather than an individual dream/nightmare.

Just as an individual's dream experience is the unconscious projection of unresolved individual issues which she must visit and revisit, so the Samsaric experience is the unconscious projection of unresolved interpersonal conflicts which the participants must visit and revisit.

Or to put it in more traditional Buddhist terminology: This world is the effect of the group or collective karma created by the beings who inhabit it.

Samsara is a collective dream. Buddhahood is awakening.

If you knew your child - so sweetly sleeping - was experiencing a nightmare, you would awaken him. That's what the Bodhisatvas are for. They are transpersonal lucid dreamers. They know they're in a dream, they know what other people are dreaming, they know how to manipulate the dream, and they know how to show them the path to awakening.

The endless series of rebirths is an endless series of dreams driven by karma. A few dreams are pleasant, most are unsatisfactory or just plain boring, and some are nightmarish. Ultimately the dreams aren't fixable from within. The only way out of this series of unpleasant experiences is to wake up.

The participatory universe
The idea that the universe is participatory, that it is a product of the minds of its inhabitants, may at first sight seem totally at odds with the scientific account of the physical world. But careful reflection shows this that isn't the case. Consider that:
  • The Big Bang was not an 'event' in the normal sense. It was a singularity out of which time, space, matter and the laws of physics emerged. The singularity contained the potential for all possible universes to evolve.
  • The fact that our universe takes its present form was, according to the Participatory Anthropic Principle, due to an act or acts of observation that collapsed all the myriad possibilities into one actuality.
  • Why are 'emergent phenomena' - such as the appearance of functioning systems - psychological rather than physical? We all know the old cliche that 'the system is more than the sum of its parts', but can we define what makes it 'more' in terms of physical matter? What makes a chariot 'more' than a heap of firewood?

'Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep'

Shakespeare - The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158

'We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.

Preceded by perception are mental states.
For them is perception supreme.
From perception have they sprung.

All mental phenomena are preceded by mind,
Mind is their master,
they are produced by mind.'

The Buddha - Dhammapada

- Sean Robsville


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