John Lennon would have been 70 tomorrow, October 9th. If his life had not been ended by some wacko who thankfully is still behind bars.

“Imagine” is one of Lennon’s most famous songs. I didn’t care for it that much when it first came out. It was a moper. You know what a moper is, don’t you? A song that just kind of mopes along, never really going anywhere. The Beatles (or more precisely Paul McCartney) wrote a few of them, the classic being “The Long and Moping Song” which some people know as “The Long and Winding Road.”

It really wasn’t until after Lennon died, when I was fully engaged with the teachings of Buddhism, that I began to appreciate the song, and really not until much later when I began to study the teachings of Nagarjuna, that I understood the genius behind the simple lyrics.

Lennon was lights years ahead of many of us in the late sixties  when he composed “Imagine.” When he and Yoko started their piece campaign with the slogan “War is Over (If you want it)” they were calling not only for freedom from war, but also freedom from conceptual thinking. War is just a concept, and if we abandoned the kind of thinking that causes us to believe that war is a way to settle anything, then it would be over. It’s actually very simple.

Shortly before he died, Lennon gave an interview to Playboy magazine in which he said,

It’s not a new message: ‘Give Peace a Chance’ — we’re not being unreasonable. Just saying ‘give it a chance.’ With ‘Imagine’ we’re asking, ‘can you imagine a world without countries or religions?’ It’s the same message over and over. And it’s positive.

It’s a more positive take on the same message as the Heart Sutra: imagine there is no beginning and no ending . . . imagine no seeing, no hearing, no smelling, no tasting, no touching, and no thinking . . . imagine no suffering and no beginning and no ending of suffering, no path; no wisdom and no attainment with nothing to attain . . .

Ultimate realities are empty of all dualities created by conceptual thinking. Nagarjuna’s teachings on sunyata, or emptiness, not only point to the inadequacy of conceptual thinking in terms of language as way to express the ultimate, but also to the way this mode of thought keeps us imprisoned. “Imagine” is a call for us let go of the approach to thinking in which we are usually stuck, to free our minds and experience reality as it truly is. It is a call to develop a new kind of wisdom, which Nagarjuna describes as

The dharma that is called transcendent wisdom (prajna-paramita) is the most profound, difficult to comprehend. In their real nature which is the same as transcendent wisdom, all things are completely devoid of all determinate natures, therefore transcendent wisdom, the real nature of things, is most profound. In it, all thought and all activities of mind come to an end, therefore it is difficult to see, in it there is not the clinging ever to transcendent wisdom and therefore it is said to be difficult to comprehend, in it all the three kinds of poison and all kinds of conceptual elaborations (prapanca) come to an end and therefore it is called Peace.

Even though you may have heard it thousands of times, listen to this song again. Read the lyrics again. Lay down all thoughts. Surrender to the void. Imagine:

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

John Lennon photo: Lennon Archives (c) Yoko Ono


4 thoughts on “Imagine

  1. Thanks for this. “War is Over (If you want it)” was one of those lines that I never really understood until later in life, and now it makes so, so much sense. I have to wonder what the world would be like if John Lennon was still alive today. I honestly believe it would be a much different place.

    FYI – this didn’t hit my google reader until 10:30am today.

    1. Hey, you’re welcome. I was wondering the same thing earlier today. I saw a photo I hadn’t seen in a long time, of Lennon signing an autograph with Mark David Chapman looking on and I was filled with so much anger towards the guy. I don’t recall feeling that way at the time, or since. I mean, of course I was pissed, but the guy was crazy and besides what good does hating anyone do. Anyway, it was strange to have that emotion crop up after all this time. I think I suddenly felt deprived of something precious . . .

      Yeah, I didn’t post this until around that time. I am out of rhythm – do they still use that expression in the Gakkai?

      1. Ha! Ya know, I was convinced that yesterday was the 9th, that’s why I was letting you know that it showed up so late (or so I thought).

        Out of rythym – no, haven’t heard that one lately, though my my in-laws have used it frequently. Must be old school…. 😉

        1. For some reason I thought yesterday was the 9th as well and that’s why I published it a day early. Must be something goin’ round.

          Your in-laws are members? is your wife a so-called “fortune child”?

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