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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band


You know how when you listen to the Beatles extraordinary Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band you suddenly realise that you could hear it coming in the two previous albums, Rubber Soul and Revolver …. well it is exactly the same with Buddhist Mahayana philosophy.

Today I have been reading about two groups called the Vaibhasikas and the Sautrantikas, together they represent two schools that act as a bridge between Early Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism …. just like Rubber Soul and Revolver. We could call the Vaibhasikas, the ‘Engineers’ because they take things apart and work out how they are made and the Sautrantikas, the ‘Psychologists’ because they look very carefully at what happens in our mind.

Without getting too bogged down, the Engineers saw our reality as being made up of sequences of psycho-physical moments that rapidly flit in and out of existence - rather like the frames of a film. These moments were the building blocks of reality, like atoms, the smallest unit it could be reduced to. It is these that are ultimately real, and returning to the film metaphor, not the the illusion of reality that the rapidly changing frames create. So why is this important? It is important when it comes to how I am with myself. When I feel I am a real concrete person who truly exists I tend to tense up around this feeling and get all defensive and scared. I’m believing in the Movie called, “All About Me”. However, if I can relax a bit and see that so much of me is coming and going all of the time, then my ideas about me become less precious. It all gets looser, more generous, less paranoid. More fun.

The Psychologists went at this from a different angle. They had noticed that there were two essentially different ways of knowing things. The first was the direct experience through the senses that gave immediate and specific knowledge of what was being perceived and the second was the abstract generality that was conjured in the mind when we think of something. Try this now. Look at your computer - this is your specific computer, it is the make you chose, covered in your finger marks (or those of your children) and is probably surrounded by your bits and pieces. Now close your eyes and say the word ‘computer’ - the chances are the image in your mind will be a generic computer, its details not immediately apparent unless you intentionally search for them - an abstraction. And the point of this? Quite simply we continuously muddle these two together - cloaking the immediacy of our naked experience in pre-formed concepts. This of course is not all bad. We need thoughts and abstractions to navigate our world but there are times when this just gets in the way. Fresh, vibrancy smothered in projections based in the past.

So familiar stuff. Yes of course. The Engineers get taken apart by the Madhyamaka of Nagarjuna who says their micro-moment basic bricks can’t really exist and the brothers Asanga and Vasubhandu work up seeing the present through the eyes of the past in their masterly Yogacara. Sgt. Peppers springs forth in its full Mahayana magic!

NW. 28.12.21



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