Once upon a time, some years ago, I started a webcomic and then I stopped. There was many reasons, but chief amongst them was that I was not happy with the artistic direction as well as the rather broad nature and strange humour.
I realized now, that the funniest things to me are stuff about my own life and beliefs, the stuff I write about on facebook or joke about with friends in Whatsapp or Discord.
That’s where my humour shines.
So it’s perhaps time to restart. To once again, give webcomics a try. After all, I have lot to say, lots has been happening in my life, and my abilities have never been sharper. And if not now, when? Lockdown, Covid-19— all these things keeping me indoors and in front of a computer. When else would I have the chance to really just focus on pumping out some consistent work?
It might even give me content for my Youtube Channel. Maybe.
There’s another reason though. I am getting fairly serious about studying anatomy to improve my figure drawing. That’s not for webcomics or anything like that, but I recognize the need to express myself in alternative ways, ways that has nothing to do with my attempts to learn how to draw realistic anatomy.
If you grew up like me, you hear all kinds of wild claims.
But after you actually studied basic philosophy, religion and history (originally because I wanted to defend these claims), you start to realize religious and institutional mythology aren’t always literally true; nor are they even compatible with each other and that’s not a problem, as long as one accepts religious diversity. Unfortunately, this is not always acceptable. Instead, there’s the tendency for cheap syncreticism, which is just sloppy and lazy. If you don’t know, just accept the mystery of it. Mystery is okay. But materialists always want to be certain.
What kind of claims do I find problematic? Many.
I am sorry, I am supposed to believe that this sutra’s claims are true, whilst also simultaneously accepting that this sutra’s AUTHOR is not a member of the true faith? That doesn’t even make any sense.
I am supposed to accept this children’s educational material from 17th century China is an infallible reflection of the teachings of Confucius? That this commentary on the Mahayana Sutras is infallible? That this frankly fictional hagiography is literally true, word for word? Don’t make me laugh.
I am suppose to accept that these foreign religious figures, whose teachings were conveniently propagated to China are somehow true, but that hundreds of other religious figures and their teachings, whose teachings were coincidentally not propagated to China at that time (or was historically destroyed), is therefore not true?
I am suppose to ignore the taint of ethno-nationalism and colonializing tendencies in religion? I really hate nationalism.
How about to so grossly misread and misinterpret Paul (not that he’s someone you should read as infallible either, since he was just a normal man too). My God. I couldn’t translate any of this with a straight face. Fortunately, it’s labeled as commentary. Thankfully. I would have huge problems if anyone claimed this was true.
How can I claim to have true faith if I ignore all of these heresies and lapse of discernment?
Don’t get me started on having to accept some heretical American Evangelical revisionism of Jesus and biblical history, just because that’s the only form of Christianity you have ever been exposed to. But you know, it’s okay. All of that I can accept, it doesn’t make a religion not true or unworthy of practice.
The hard part is getting the religious fanatics to leave you alone. They seem very invested in forcing you to be a literalist, or forcing you to accept infallibility (contrary to the teachings clearly making it clear infallibility is possible) but that doesn’t jive with their mistaken assumption about what they think religion is, nor what spiritual cultivation is. Fortunately, these days, I have divest myself of the influence of severely misguided people, and keep to myself.
This is for the best, engaging with people like that only makes me unfairly hate religion. It’s the people that are the problem.
I have little faith, but I am deeply invested in keeping that little faith as true as possible. 99% of “faith” is actually just constructs you can toss out if necessary. But that 1% that is true is worth cultivating.
The horrific realization you were actually influenced by borderline fundamentalists while growing up is truly terrifying (and I have this tendency to take their words seriously or with obedience, and that has lead to very dark times in my life), but the saving grace was that actual teachings are the opposite of fundamentalism (that’s the case for any religion, really).
That has saved me, along with close friends who have encouraged me to keep faith— ironically, none of them are members of my faith, or even religious. The people my religious communities would claim are “inferior” or sinful, are the ones who helped me, but I can’t even voice my own doubts to my so-called peers because literalists are incapable of critical thinking, and tends to react with smug condescension or outright hostility (especially because they believe they are more elderly, they are magically wiser. A typical Chinese fallacy). How funny is that.
Scepticism is a great tool of self-understanding, it is no wonder that the Buddha preached it so much. Unfortunately for fundamentalists, skepticism and insight destroys blind faith and malpractice; and they would react with hostility or try to gas-light you.
The Theology of Toy Story 4 is a fascinating one, and easily more mature than the previous entries. I will wrote an entire article about all four films at some point.
Minor spoilers ahead!
My hot take that will require more refinement: I can immediately see how your typical monotheistic exclusivist types might have trouble reconciling the theology depicted in this 4th entry with the rest, and indeed, I read an essay just now by a religious person who feels that the 4th film compromised the foundation of the previous films’ themes.
It seems the exclusivist monotheists feel that Toy Story 4 renounces God! Ha! Well, they’re not wrong, Toy Story 4 does renounce God. But this is not a problem.
The first 3 films shows Woody’s evolution from blind faith to eventual true faith, this 4th film show his evolution into a greater spirituality that dissolves the need for an “image” of a Kid (of a single religion and all the psychosomatic accessories— the mythology— that implies) altogether.
The theology makes sense to me, more than that, it is exactly how I see the natural evolution of religiosity and spirituality. It shows a dawning insight into the nature of the relationship between Toys and the World that defies the simple mythology of a Creator and Creation, or any other metaphors we can choose to base our life on.
Far from a metaphor for atheism, it destroys both theism and atheism as the anthropological constructs that they both rightly are. Realizing religion and all doctrines as construct is a cornerstone moment of true faith.
Woody’s embarkment upon the transcendental path of a saviour instead of merely another toy that needed to be loved by a kid, is the logical conclusion of his tendencies to save others shown in the previous films.
A Toy does not need to be loved by a Kid construct in order to have faith. A Toy does not even need a Kid construct in order to have faith.
A Toy with Faith serves the same moral purpose that Kids exist for; a Toy’s purpose is NOT “to make a kid happy” as the first 3 Toy Story films would have us believe.
The Toys have evolved spiritually, though not all viewers will appreciate their abandonment of religious construct.
Toy Story 4 is the esoteric path, however, just like the Toys required a hierarchal construct as a foundation to their cultivation, so do we. You can’t just jump into the path of a “Lost Toy” without any grounding, or you will truly be lost.
“[Magic is] a category of exclusion, used to define an unacceptable way of thinking as either the opposite of religion or of science”. — Karen Louise Jolly
Justin in 2019: Magic is mostly nonsense, but if it existed, it’s because some people have woo powers beyond my understanding.
Justin in 2020-2021: I am forced to accept that the phenomenological and experiential reality of magic is true, even if this doesn’t prove its objective existence.
The reason I am forced to accept this is because I reject that an objective existence is possible at all, therefore, all subjective experiences takes priority as the primary reality.
Since all modern magic deals with enacting experiential change (ie, of the mind in a world which is mind only), magic is therefore a real phenomena experienced by some peoples.
If Ontological Idealism is true, then the implications are more profound.
Magic is difficult to prove, because it is not a standardized experience, but is an experience everyone experiences for themselves as unique and true, even if other people cannot experience it.
It is much like a religious experience, or even a scientific one. Suppose you don’t take a mathematical equation on faith, not everyone have the ability to go and verify its veracity (to experience it for themselves), but if they did, they would be utterly convinced it really is true (despite the fact that math as a discipline is of course, a construct, and could be very wrong on several axioms).
Likewise, someone who has personally talked to Jesus would be unlikely to consider another cause for why they had (to them) an authentic theophanic experience.
The Buddhists of early-modern to modern times, in Japan and Thailand, had difficulty accepting that the world was round. They were astonished at the Western claims of a round Earth, because it contradicted their interpretation of scripture. One Buddhist in Japan built an elaborate 3D model of a Small-World system to “prove” to the Westerners that a Flat Earth was true, and that the Devas of Trayamstrimsa lived on the Sun.
Ironically, a Buddhist in Tibet in the 1930’s argued that it was foolish to believed that the Earth was flat just because the Buddha seemed to have said so, he argued that because global scholarship accepted that the Earth was round, Tibetans should do so as well.
The Indians of the Buddha’s time had models of a spherical Earth (though one where the Earth was at the centre of the Universe— a geocentric model), however this contradicts the Buddha’s own cosmological model, which instead lay out the Universe in flat tiers of realities, which also organized them into systems great and small. In this schema, the Earth, and the human realm in general, is a small part of a larger cosmic system, not the centre of anything.
Did the Buddha believed in a flat earth though? Why would the Buddha not have been aware of the spherical Earth theory, when the Indians at the time already knew this?
But none of the Dharmic religions (Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism) ever explained a spherical Earth even though it should have been obvious to their astronomers and mathematicians that the Earth was round.Because religion is not specifically about the sciences (though in many time periods, they were the same), and it is not necessarily explaining phenomena in a context we would consider scientific today.
If religion was about science, why bother having religion? If the Buddha wanted to teach science, why did he become a monk, he could have a full time tenure Nalanda University instead (incidentally, he did teach a term there).
Even if the Buddha was aware the world was round, and bothered teaching about a round earth, who would have listened? No doubt to the masses of the Indian sub-continent, almost everyone believed in a flat Earth— it is intuitive to believe so after all. It would have been a meaningless distraction to the main thrust of his philosophy.
That’s a big if, of course. It’s entirely possible that the Buddha was himself a flat-earther. This would be no fault of his really, since the vast population of the world all believed fervently that the Earth was flat (it’s funny though, the model of the Universe today is usually portrayed as a flat shape, so if one were to believe that there was no true division between Earth and the cosmos, a flat world model isn’t even entirely unreasonable, even though the planet Earth is certainly spherical in the context of the sciences).
My point is, scripture is not about objective reality, and it is foolish to waste time conflating scientific disciplines with religion and vice versa. They are different kinds of philosophical schemas, dealing with different kinds of problems.
However, historical and scientific claims that are related to religion need to be historically and scientifically accurate. This is not a matter of faith, but of extraordinary claims.
We know that Noah was a mythological figure, even if there was a possibility that his story was inspired by one or more ancient Iranian whose farm animals was saved on a coracle, and later adopted by the Israelites in exile in Babylon.
We know that Moses was a legendary figure, and was likely a Levite Chieftain from Egypt. We know that creationism is obviously untrue for myriad reasons. This is true enough from critical studies of the Bible.
We know that there was no Dragons who gave Nargajuna sutras, we know that Maitreya likely never revealed anything to Asanga— since we know all of their philosophies developed over time and was contextualized to the Buddhist philosophical development of the day.
Development and evolution of doctrines and stories are not attributes of divine revelation; if it was truly divinely revealed out of nowhere, then it would be a completed whole, and wouldn’t have such obvious human elements and histories in the text. Related to this is of course my view that the Qur’an could have been divinely inspired, but limited by Muhammad’s personal scope of knowledge (which are limited to the languages and religions he could have known only in the vicinity of Arabia).
Popular stories and claims are about spiritual matters (and sometimes political or folkloric matters, in the events where religious stories are tied to founding mythologies of certain countries and peoples and their customs), but the moment a believer claim these are objectively true events, we must deny them and use the proper tools to analyze this claim.
Although the so-called Hell-worlds irrevocably exist as a natural result of the cosmic ecosystems’ bodily permutations (re-becoming, or punabbhava), as a Bodhisattva aspirant, acknowledging the Hells is a betrayal of our fundamental compassion.
Our mind cannot be pure if we believe in Hells, or that anyone could enter them. It is impossible. Consider that there is no abiding self (anatman), for we are all one ecosystem— how can any part of this ecosystem be allowed to transform into the realm of pain? How can this separation be possible so long as any one of us clings to the path of liberation?
Worlds are clusters of sentient beings, they are not space-times of their own. They do not really exist, just as sentient beings do not really exist. They abide in nowhere, within the sphere of experience of a single veridical awareness (a Buddha).
As such, categorically, the Hellworlds cannot exist for me. It hasn’t, for a long time. And all beings who die in my sphere of experience (which is itself, the sphere of experience of the Dharmakaya), I often imagine and visualize that I keep them aloft in a Pure Realm. I have a hazy, barely cognizant and unspoken vow, that our Buddha-field (for I cannot do it alone) will prevent all beings in my sphere of experience from ever transforming into Hell-worlds. And that the very concept of Hell should be abolished from our minds. For the Hells should be as valid an existence and as happy as the rest of the innumerable worlds. That from my point of view, that my awareness of the cosmos is luminous from world to world.
This is the rightful Bodhisattva mentality. This is the only mentality that is correct. For we can acknowledge that Hell is a real phenomena, but we refuse to entertain the notion that anyone “deserves” or “has entered” such a state; for in YOUR mind, the deceased are kept safe and rises together with you through Anumodana (the sympathetic joy of spectators witnessing the holy qualities practiced by you, thus attaining for themselves the same holy quality).
I have not yet uttered this vow, because it is too vast for me to do so. But the desire grows stronger day by day.
My thesis: The Kingdom of Heaven is the extrinsic manifestation of the intrinsic Resurrection. For we are sown “a natural body” and we are “raised a spiritual body.” For the Kingdom is a mustard seed, small and invisible, and grows into a mighty tree that birds come and perch in its branches. The Kingdom and the Resurrection are one. We will not enter the Kingdom until we die. For what you sow does not come to life until it dies. If a child becomes a man, that child is dead. If a seed becomes a tree, that seed has died. If you have become a spiritual body, the natural body has died. If the Kingdom has come, this world is dead.
The Kingdom is not a place, but a Nation. And a Nation is it’s people. A resurrected people. This is why they are the same.
Now, please note I do not take a stance here on whether the resurrection is bodily or not (that’s an ontological problem in my opinion. What does being alive even mean?).
Supporting argument 1: He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32 NIV)
Supporting argument 2: But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. (1 Corinthians 15: 35-37 NIV)
Supporting argument 3: It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man (1 Corinthians 15:44-49 NIV)
Conclusion: Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NIV)
Note: Yes, this is, I realized later, similar to Orthodox theology, and also to the positions of preterism. Though I was initially inspired by Buddhist theology.
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. If I practice experiencing the world as intrinsically pure, I have saved myself. If others experience the world as intrinsically pure, we will have saved the world.Philosophy, precepts, and creed are just expedient means (like gestures, wireframes, and blueprints). They don’t mean anything by themselves, and can’t help people see intrinsic purity.
Gestures, wireframes, and blueprints* are not a means unto themselves, we have to see beyond and acknowledge that they are merely the fundamentals to establishing the Pure Mind. When we practice the fundamentals, we see that there is no such thing as “practice makes perfect”. Rather, “perfect practice makes perfect” is the mentality we should have. Which is why, that those who establish the Pure Mind have established it, and that those who don’t never will no matter how hard they work**.
It is a matter of self-will, and our cognizance of it; the awareness of what it is that we seek to transform in ourselves (which is everything we experience).What causes change is in turn changed. If we see them purely, they learn to see themselves purely. And when they see us purely, we see ourselves purely too***.
Our awareness of purity itself makes us pure. And thus by mutual arising, peace is established in the minds of mankind, and thus the world.
*I’ve been doing a lot of art lately, it colours my analogies.
**Not because they never could, just that only at the moment of establishing a pure mind is it established, and wrong practice is that which doesn’t lead to it (which is almost all practice, because it lacks a clear direction; a clear cognizance of the essence of mind. Without implicit faith in the Buddha-nature within oneself and the Intrinsic purity of the world, you cannot realize it).
***I think I was also hinting at Agape here, which is a tripartite codependent love; that of the love of God towards Man, Man towards God, and Man towards Man.
When I was a child I wanted to write silly fantasy novels exploring cool ideas based on theologies and mythologies, but I had also realize I could never bring myself to actually do it because I was too attached to the so-called “correct” theologies (just like I am attached to correct science, correct law, correct everything).
“I wish I had enough doubt to contemplate such interesting things” was something I would say to myself, comforted by the knowledge I already knew the right answers, backed by the assurances of my elders (who definitely did not know better).
Well, for years now, I have all of those doubts I thought was beyond me, and it was wonderful to experience. Truly wonderful. Blessed are he who believes, without seeing. But Doubly blessed are he who sees the difficult-to-reconcile and unknowable facets of life, and still believes without denying reality.
Now I am older, and I am not really interested in literature for its ideational escapism. I am however, interested in religion, very much so, and its infinity of themes that can explain the human condition. The irony here, is that I realize what I thought was the “correct” theologies was all wrong (as was my realization that the scientific method cannot answer every type of question, and legal laws are constructs).
What happened then, is that the ceiling was blown wide open. It’s not that there was no right answers— but we have to understand that there are a great many diversities of right answers. I am now free to explore all kinds of theological themes and ask many uncomfortable questions. It is no longer so transgressive to write and think and do so-called “wrong” things, because they are not in fact, wrong at all. They are real. More than that, I am asking those difficult questions everyday. Far from being fiction or thought experiments, it is now clearly just plain old reality.
Likewise, unexpectedly, my ancient lamentation that I will never understand “normal peoples’ troubles” is cast into an abyss, because I do in fact, understand their troubles now. I may be slightly exotic (culturally speaking) due to my self-imposed spiritual discipline, but in all that matters, I experience the exact same problems. Because I am very normal, you see. I was normal all along.
I am in fact, merely human; and God is in fact, unknowable, and it only took 26 years for me to let go enough of my attachments to realize this simple truth.
And my faith in God has grown stronger as a result of this. More importantly, I have greater love and respect for my fellow lifeforms, who are, every one of them, my equal in all ways that truly matters. It is easy to say you love all beings, or that you understand them— I never truly loved anything, nor understood them at all. Because I have to start with genuine friendship. You cannot understand anyone if you are lofty, and you cannot be a lover, if you set yourself above your fellows.
Faith must always match what you know to be true (and that is always subject to change). To retain my faith, it was necessary to ask the hard questions and find the hard answers. This is only possible, if you let down your pride and embrace true humility. Fear will turn you away from the truth, but we cannot blind ourselves to truth. And things do not get easier, and never will— and I would not wish for it to be easier. Of doubt and contradictions, they are innumerable, but well worth exploring. To be able to never know for sure…is that not a blessing? Knowing the world is without limit, and that Man can never truly overcome Nature, and that God is never truly knowable— such will renew your faith like nothing before as you gasp in awe at the vastness beyond you, or it will destroy you.
This is all dream, a dream body, a dream life, a dream world. A dream that can bring you great pleasure and great pain, all self wrought, all self-inflicted, all self-deserved. But the good news, the best news, is that no matter how lost you are or how confused or deep the nightmare you wander, no matter how much joy you derive from these dreams…one day, you will wake up. And the real world is infinitely better, infinitely more alive, more real. It requires only real eyes to see it and a real heart to comprehend it.
I made a slide-deck primer on Prajna Paramita, which I share with only a small number of people. By popular demand, and because it’s unfeasible to keep sharing a slide-deck, I write out that particular presentation into a full Article.
If you look deeply into the person you love, you’ll be able to understand her suffering, her difficulties, and also her deepest aspirations. And out of that understanding, real love will be possible. When someone is able to understand us, we feel very happy. If we can offer understanding to someone, that is true love. The one who receives our understanding will bloom like a flower, and we will be rewarded at the same time. Understanding is the fruit of the practice. Looking deeply means to be there, to be mindful, to be concentrated. Looking deeply into any object, understanding will flower. The teaching of the Buddha is to help us understand reality deeply.
— Thich Nhat Hanh on Prajna Paramita, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings
What is Prajna?
Prajna is said to be the Mother of Buddhas, because all Buddhas arise due to the practice of Prajna Paramita.
Prajna is the Container of the Six Paramitas, because the perfection of understanding enriches all the other Paramitas (although all Paramitas are in all other Paramitas; when we practice one deeply, we practice all of them).
Prajna is Right Understanding.
The Root of Prajna is looking into One’s Mind.
What is Prajna, really? Prajna Paramita is the practice of RIGHT UNDERSTANDING, and refers to the Direct Insight into:
The Four Noble Truths.
The Three Marks of Existence, anicca (impermanence), anattā (non-self), dukkha (dissatisfaction or suffering).
And Sunyata (Emptiness); which is synonymous with Co-Dependent Origination.
The Four Noble Truths
Exisence is marked by Dukkha (dissatisfaction/suffering
The cause of Dukkha is primarily “Craving” (Taṇhā).
Dukkha can be ended by the cessation of Craving (and other causes).
The path to the cessation of Dukkha is the Noble Eightfold Paths.
Method of Practice
SILA (Ethical Compass of Virtues)
Five Precepts (with the correct motivation, not a blind obligation to appearances and bodily morality).
SAMADHI (Correct Meditation)
6.Right Effort (Diligence)
Meditative practices such as Mindfulness (samatha), and Concentration (samadhi).
Knowing the Four Noble Truths, the Three Marks of Existence, and understanding Codependent Origination. And having correct intentions for why you practice.
Anicca (Impermanence) All phenomenon (what is observed— such as objects, feelings, and the world), whether perceived as so-called physical or mental, is a formation (Saṅkhāra), it has a co-dependent origination (Pratītyasamutpāda) and is impermanent.
Any given phenomenon arises in conjunction with other phenomena (codependency), undergoes changes and disappears.
When we see a Mountain, we feel that it has a real existence, because the process of its existence seems so much longer than our own, and seems to have always been there. But at a microcosmic level, it is undergoing trillions of changes as things move, things transform, and things decay and disappear. Thus a Mountain is actually dynamic flashes of energy, like a shadow, a lightning bolt, a raindrop, just as we are, just as all things are. It arise and dies every moment.
Anatta (Non-Self) Because everything is Anicca (impermanent), the phenomena that codependently forms the sense of ownership and the sense of self, are also impermanent, and will dissolve and transform into other phenomena. Thus, the Self dies every moment, and re-originates as a similar but different self.
So when we grasp deeply onto a sense of Self (I am Justin, I am a skilled designer, I love this sense-object, and I dislike this sense-object. This is feeling is mine. This sensation is mine. This organ is mine. This history is mine), we will suffer when those objects & stories we are attached to inevitably dissolves or prove themselves not ours to own.
“This not mine, this is not me, this is not myself.”
— Shakyamuni Buddha
Dukkha (Dissatisfaction/Suffering) Because things are Anicca (Impermanent), and we are Anatta (Non-Self), when we grasp and become attached to these transitory phenomena, we are distressed when they dissolve.
When we want something, and cannot have it, we become distressed.
When we have something, and cannot keep it, we become distressed.
When we despise something, and we have it, we become distressed.When we do not have what we despise, but cannot keep it from becoming ours, we become distressed.
Co-Dependent Origination All phenomena are not static, but are processes of Becoming. This exists, so that exists, if this ceases to exists, that also ceases to exist. Ie, Because Eye and Light have contact, and there is a consciousness to perceive that contact, there is colour. When Eye and Light do not have contact, and no consciousness to perceive it, there is no colour. In truth, Colours don’t exist independently. Neither do eyes. Neither do Light. Neither do consciousness.
Things do not have substantive existence (there is no substance). What appears to be substantive (Justin is alive) are dynamic processes in homeostasis (equilibrium of processes) that last until it stops. There are no things, only processes. Ie, When I am feeling unwell, I become paranoid, when people interact with me, I take it as a slight, I then feed my paranoia by making up stories about why people are trying to hurt me, which feeds my anger. This is a process (with causes), but in ignorance, I think “that person is making me angry!” (when in reality, I made me angry— and anger doesn’t really exist as something substantive, only as processes). Or take evolution for example. We call a cat a cat, but a cat is a process of biological evolution that is ongoing. That cat was once a different cat, and was once a fish. Even the idea of a cat or a fish are not substantive, they are ideas we construct. No alien would recognize a cat or a fish, and might not even perceive that a cat or a fish are different in any meaningful way.
Things are codependent, no matter how reductive. That is to say, everything is made of something, caused by something, conditioned by something, allowed by something, brought forth by something. There is not a single thing you can demonstrate that isn’t in some way or form, evolved from an earlier set of codependent aggregates of phenomena.
Some words of wisdom from the Sixth Zen Patriarch.
Good and Wise Friends, the capacity of the mind is great and far-reaching; it encompasses the dharma realm. When functioning, it is clear and distinct, discerning and responsive. It knows all. All is the one [the mind]; and the one [mind] is all. Things naturally come and go, but the essence of the mind is unimpeded. That is prajna [wisdom].
Good and Wise Friends, prajna wisdom comes from one’s own essential nature: it does not come from outside. Do not make the mistake of using will and intellect. It is called “The natural workings of the true nature.” When the self-nature is true, everything else is true.
The mind has the capacity for great things; it is not meant to behave in petty ways. Do not talk about emptiness all day long, but fail to cultivate it in your minds. That would be like a commoner proclaiming himself the king of the country. How absurd; this could never be! Such people are not my disciples.
Good and Wise Friends, what is prajna? In our language [Chinese], prajna means wisdom. In every place and in every moment, in thought after thought, never becoming muddled and constantly acting wisely—just this is practicing prajna.
With one deluded thought, prajna is cut off. With one wise thought, prajna springs to life. Ordinary people, muddled and confused, fail to recognize prajna. Their mouths talk about prajna, but their minds remain confused. They are forever saying, “I cultivate prajna!,” and though they talk on and on about emptiness, they have no idea of its true meaning. Prajna has no shape or form; it is only the mind of wisdom. If you understand it in this way, just this is prajna wisdom.
— Huineng, The Platform Sutra
Further quotes, from the Fourth Zen Patriarch.
One should maintain an awareness of one’s own body as without substance; as purely an experience like a shadow, which can be seen but not grasped. Wisdom-awareness appears within this shadow. Ultimately without location, wisdom is unmoving, yet responds to all things, forever transforming. It produces the six senses and their realms of perception – all insubstantial, like dreams or illusions.
…To “maintain the One without wavering” is to focus on remaining with this single awareness with the eye of non-grasping purity, and to be committed to this practice at all times without wandering off. When the mind tries to run away, bring it back quickly.
…When the eye sees something, there is actually no outside “thing” that enters the eye. Like a mirror reflecting a face – although perfectly clear, there is no “thing” within the mirror. A person’s face doesn’t enter into the mirror; the mirror doesn’t reach out to a person’s face…If the mind becomes aware of some sensory stimuli and perceives it as coming from outside oneself, then return to a view of that sense object as not ultimately substantive (or independent).
The conditionally generated experiences of the mind do not come from anywhere within the ten directions, nor do they go anywhere. When you can regularly observe thinking, discrimination, deluded views, feelings, random thoughts, and confusion as not individually substantive mental events, then your practice is becoming basically stable. If you can settle the mind and remain free of entanglement with this continual conditioned thinking, you will be serene and fully aware, and discover an end to your afflictions. This is called liberation.
If on observing the mind’s subtle afflictions, and it’s agonizing confusions, and even its deepest introspections, you can, in a single moment, let go of them all and return to gentle stability, your mind has naturally become peaceful and pure. Only you must be courageous.
— Commentary from Dayi Daoxin, The Essentials of Entering the Way and Pacifying the Mind
The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. — 1 Corinthians 15:46 (NIV)
The prevalence of the belief in immortal souls or some sort of taken for granted eternal existence seems to colour most of our assumptions regarding the nature of Souls and Spirits.
I believe that Souls are abstractions for living body-minds (both mind and body together are souls). And Spirit is instead something that you develop (or is poured into you, so to speak).
Traditional Hebrew understandings of soul was that it was the same as the body, but the spirit was something else (Nephesh or soul, and Ruach, or spirit). Islam likewise distinguishes between Soul and Spirit (the Naf, or psychic organs, and the Ruh, or God-given Spirit).
Folk religions and non Abrahamic ones have similar ideas. Germanic Religion had four to five souls (Hamr or skin, Hugr or thought, Fylgja or astral familiar born into the world with a child, Hamingja or name/luck, and maybe Alf— literally elves or psychic organs).Chinese religion had at least two souls (Hun— the ethereal soul, and Po— the animal soul), though nowadays, there’s at least 10 souls in Chinese folk religion.
And we know all about the Egyptian varieties.
This brings me to Buddhism. There are five aggregates— form/rupa, sensations/vedana, perceptions/ samjna), mental formations/sankhara, and consciousness/vijanna — which functions in the same manner as as these orthodox understandings of soul as physio-psychic organs.
However, through spiritual cultivation, you can develop your Buddha Embryo (an abstraction for the potential of enlightenment inherent in all sentient beings, if not all phenonmena) into a Buddha-dhatu (Buddha-Nature).
What this is really saying, once you strip away the fancy terms, is that none of us have an immortal soul, but all of us have the potential to DEVELOP a Spirit.
Where do this Spirit come from? According to some, the Holy Spirit is God’s divine energy, pervading all phenomena that we are trying to open ourselves to. In Buddhism, the same concept is there— to become a Buddha is to realize Dharmadhatu (the pervading whole; or Dharma-Nature) and develop a Dharmakaya (The Truth Body). To transform this ordinary phenomena that we are made of into something more.