By now you’ve probably seen the recent video of an Australian news anchor who is interviewing the Dalai Lama and tries to tell him the joke about the Dalai Lama walking into a pizza parlor and asking, “Can you make me one with everything?” The Dalai Lama, of course, doesn’t get it, and at one point even starts to give him a serious reply. If you have not seen this thing, go here. It’s a hoot. Although you do have to wonder about the wisdom of telling a joke to the person who’s the subject of the joke.
The idea of becoming one with everything has become a cliché, a laugh, and yet, the realization of oneness is an essential step in the path.
Yesterday, I quoted Joko Beck as saying, “Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something.” This absence is called emptiness. Near the beginning of the Heart Sutra, it says Avalokitesvara saw that the aggregates are sunyata-svabhava or empty of self-being. This is what Joko Beck meant, even if she wasn’t thinking in exactly those terms. Self-being is the independent, unconditioned being – the self that is pure imagination, a fantasy that pushes us “forward after something, pursing some goal”. Emptiness is the absence of self-being. All things are empty of self-being. Nagarjuna considered sunyata-svabhava to synonymous with the ultimate reality.
Self-being is the cause for the illusion that we are independent, separate from others. Perhaps it is because of our basic tendency is to cling to this sense of separateness, that many people in experience an overwhelming sense of isolation. Especially in these times when our society is so fragmented and contentious, where so many are standing against others. Conservatives vs. liberals, straights vs. gays, one religion vs. another religion. Even in Buddhism, there is a great deal of separation and opposition. Gen Y doesn’t like the way Boomers present dharma. Modernists denounce traditionalists and vice versa. East vs. west. And so on.
As far as Buddha-dharma is concerned, I feel that some of these issues are really non-issues, yet there’s no denying that numerous divisive elements exist both within Buddhism and our larger society.
Buddhism says that fundamentally, we actually are all one. It’s written that beneath the Bodhi tree, the Buddha awakened to the truth that all living beings are linked together in a chain of causes and conditions. From modern physics, we have learned much the same thing.
Some scientists feel that each element of the universe contains all the information present in the whole cosmos. This is similar to the concept T’ien-t’ai master Chih-i put forth some 15 centuries ago, i-nien san-ch’ien or “Three Thousand Worlds in One Thought” (Jp. ichinen sanzen), in which “life at each moment permeates the universe and is revealed in all phenomena.”
So then, the oneness of all things is neither a cliché nor a joke. It’s a reality, indeed, it is reality.
However, this oneness shouldn’t be construed as saying that all things become merged or fused and there are no differences. Difference is not necessarily separateness. Difference is a recognition that the whole is made up of multiple parts which are not exactly the same. Buddhism teaches that the universe consists of a multiplicity of different elements united through their relationships with each other and then combined into a unified whole.
As we use the word “universe” here, it doesn’t mean just the clusters of galaxies of stars, rather it refers to the whole of reality. In Buddhism, it’s known as Dharmakaya, which in this sense means “Realm of Dharmas (Things).”
Mahayana Buddhism, especially in the Chinese branch with its Taoist influences, presents us with the ideal of each individual functioning as a harmonious component within the larger universe. One thing we take away from the practice of meditation should be a sense of the interrelatedness of the whole of our life in each present moment to the whole of reality.
We may not realize it, but oneness is a basic human aspiration, as D.T. Suzuki pointed out in Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism:
The ever-increasing tendency of humanity to widen and facilitate communication in every possible way is a phenomenon illustrative of the intrinsic oneness of human souls. Isolation kills, for it is another name for death. Every soul that lives and grows desires to embrace others, to be in communion with them, to be supplemented by them, and to expand infinitely so that all individual souls are brought together and united in the one soul.
Suzuki wrote this over 100 years ago, and he uses the word “soul” which most Buddhist writers today would eschew in favor of some other word. When he mentions the “one soul”, though, he means Dharmakaya. In Dharmakaya all things are interrelated and mutually inclusive. They are in perfect harmony.
Suzuki also noted:
The veil of Maya, i. e., subjective ignorance may temporally throw an obstacle to our perceiving the universal light of Dharmakaya, in which we are all one. But when our Bodhi or intellect which is by the way a reflection of the Dharmakaya in the human mind, is so fully enlightened, we no more build the artificial barrier of egoism before our spiritual eye; the distinction between the meum [mine] and teum [yours] is obliterated, no dualism throws the nets of entanglement over us; I recognise myself in you and you recognise yourself in me.”
Well, in light of all this, there’s only thing to say: “Make me one with everything.”