I am the Vine and You are the Branches

I have been continually frustrated by the classically inaccurate translations of Buddhism into English. Indeed, I am continually frustrated by words in general, but the most irritating word, actually phrase, that I know: “Everyone wants to be happy.”

Indeed? That is not my goal, so the statement is not true, because in spite of the second most frustrating word (emptiness) I am somebody. So with these two English words that are (apparently) used to represent the very roots of Tibetan Buddhism, I stop listening. I’m a scientist. When someone makes a dogmatic statement that obviously can’t be true, I don’t believe it. Instead, I ask for a definition. In the case of happiness and emptiness, I don’t get an answer, but only the words themselves, repeated, as though saying the same word over would endow it with meaning; but I already knew that all words are empty of meaning outside of their context. I knew this because I am a good scientist.

So what am I to believe? Certainly not in a path that is clearly not true. Or is it the words that are not true? What these words mean to a Tibetan, I do not know. I’m pretty sure that every Tibetan also is not striving for happiness, but let’s stick with the only exception I know for sure, which is me.

Why is it that I do not want to be “happy?” Because happiness is a fake state of mind. It’s a hyped up phoney effort to pretend that we humans can control reality. Happiness is here today and if we want to be happy again tomorrow then we have to hype ourselves up again, and if that doesn’t work we pop a pill. The word brings to my mind a picture of a bunch of adolescent potheads in some kind of orgy, or maybe a child who is so sheltered that he believes the whole world is made for him; if he runs out in traffic the caars will all magically stop. Or a college freshman who believes he can do whatever feels good and still get A’s in his classes. He gets mad if that doesn’t happen, and then he’s not happy so he has to pop a pill and falls asleep and misses another class.

No. I am not in the least interested in happiness as long-term goal, though it is nice in moderation. Probably the closest thing to what I do want is contentment, or peace of mind, or a restful mind, but certainly not happiness, even though that word pops out of every page of Buddhist doctrine written in English. So what are we going to believe, a well established concept or an empty word to which we cling as though our lives depended upon it, even though it doesn’t make any sense? (Or neither?) As Buddhism is about 2500 years old, and the Tibetan was translated into English I think about 50 or 60 years ago; I have to suspect a mis-translation of some Tibetan word or context.

Words are empty sounds. They have no intrinsic meaning. Their meaning arises from their context and our experience in life. I already knew that before I tried to understand Buddhism, and I keep emphasizing that I knew it precisely because I am a good scientist. I emphasize this because I believe when high disciplines are in conceptual agreement, then there is a strong probability that they are both accurately describing the essence of the concept. Or to make plain – we are both (all) right. And what do we both (all) agree is the essence? Phenomena, like words, are empty of meaning outside of their context. I already knew that, too. Not so much because I am a good scientist, but because I am a good evolutionary ecologist. “It” is what it is. Not whatever we think we can make it be.

So what’s the problem here? Why do we seem to be afraid to define our terms and beliefs and use them in their common context to benefit all sentient beings? Why do you try so hard to teach me things that I already know? Why not listen to my words, as I listen to yours – listen to me, what I know, instead of trying to prove that I don’t. Is this a need to be a class above other beings? Classism? Religionism? No, that’s not the word I want. It’s not even a word. Empty superiority?

If we would get our act together, and get to work on our responsibilities. Of course we have responsibilities to each other. Of course we do – we are the context. We and the ecosystem. Actually the ecosystem is the root of our physical welfare, but we can respond positively or negatively to that reality, and if we were to respond positively and forget about superiority — which is in any case empty. Maybe we could make it work.

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