This excerpt from "What Makes You not a Buddhist" by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse articulate so well the essence of dharma in simple language and is full of wisdom. Got to buy the book!
OUR LIMITED LOGIC
Siddhartha was right to think that teaching would be no easy task. In a world that is driven by greed, pride, and materialism, even teaching basic principles such as love, compassion, and philanthropy is very difficult, let alone the ultimate truth of emptiness.
We are stuck with our short-term thinking and bound by practicality. For us, something must be tangible and immediately useful in order to be worth our investment of time and energy.
By those criteria, emptiness as defined by Buddha seems completely useless. We might think, What is the benefit of contemplating the impermanence and emptiness of the phenomenal world? How can emptiness be profitable?
With our limited rationale, we have a set definition of what makes sense and what is meaningful — and emptiness goes beyond that limit. It is as if the idea of “emptiness” cannot fit inside our heads.
This is because the human mind operates on one inadequate system of logic even though there are countless other systems of logic available to us.
We operate as if thousands of years of history have preceded this moment, and if someone were to tell us that the entirety of human evolution took place in the duration of a sip of coffee going down the throat, we would not be able to comprehend.
Similarly, when we read in Buddhist teachings that one day in hell is equal to five hundred years, we think that these religious figures are just trying to frighten us into submission. But imagine a week’s holiday with your best beloved — it goes like the snap of the fingers. On the other hand, one night in prison with a rowdy rapist seems to last forever. Perceived in this way, our concept of time might start to seem not so stable.
Some of us may permit a little bit of the unknown into our system of thinking, allowing some space for the possibilities of clairvoyance, intuition, ghosts, soul mates, and so on, but for the most part we rely on black-and-white, scientifically based logic.
A small handful of so-called gifted people might have the courage or the skill to go beyond convention, and as long as their view isn’t too outrageous, they might be able to pass themselves off as artists such as Salvador Dalí.
There are also a few celebrated yogis who deliberately go just a little bit beyond what’s conventionally accepted and are venerated as “divine madmen.” But if you really go too far beyond the accepted boundary, if you completely buy into emptiness, people may well think that you are abnormal, crazy, and irrational.
But Siddhartha was not irrational. He was merely asserting that conventional, rational thinking is limited. We cannot, or will not, comprehend that which is beyond our own comfort zone. It is much more functional to work with the linear concept of “yesterday, today, and tomorrow” than to say “time is relative.”
We are not programmed to think, I can fit into that yak horn without changing my size or shape. We cannot break our concepts of “small” and “big.” Instead we continuously confine ourselves with our safe and narrow perspectives that have been handed down for generations.
When these perspectives are examined, however, they don’t hold up. For example, the concept of linear time upon which this world relies so heavily does not account for the fact that time has no real beginning and no end.
Using this rationale, which is imprecise at best, we measure or label things as “truly existing.” Function, continuity, and consensus play a major part in our process of validation. We think that if something has a function — for example, your hand seems to function by holding this book — then it must exist in a permanent, ultimate, valid sense. A picture of a hand doesn’t function in the same way, so we know it isn’t really a hand. Similarly, if something seems to have a continuous quality — for example if we saw a mountain yesterday and it is there today — we feel confident that it is “real” and will be there tomorrow and the next day. And when other people confirm that they see the same things we see, we are even more certain that these things are truly existing.
Of course, we don’t walk around consciously rationalizing, confirming, and labeling the true existence of things — this is a truly existing book in my truly existing hands — but subconsciously we operate in the confidence that the world solidly exists, and this affects how we think and feel every moment of the day.
Only on rare occasions, when we look in the mirror or at a mirage, do we appreciate that some things are mere appearances. There is no flesh and blood in the mirror, there is no water in the mirage. We “know” that these mirror images are not real, that they are empty of inherently existing nature. This kind of understanding can take us much further, but we only go as far as our rational mind allows.
When presented with the concept of a man fitting inside of a yak’s horn without a change in size, we have a few choices: We can be “rational” and refute the story by saying that it is simply not possible. Or we can apply some kind of mystic belief in sorcery or blind devotion and say, Oh yes, Milarepa was such a great yogi, of course he could do this and even more.
Either way our view is distorted, because denying is a form of underestimating, and blind faith is a form of overestimating.
What Makes You Not a Buddhist -
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse -
Shambhala Publications, Inc.