(Notes from Dan Simmons – The Rise of Endymion)
Speculative fiction, in the hands of a master, can blow your mind.
For me, Dan Simmons is such a master. Woven into his 1997 novel, The Rise of Endymion, are some nuggets of Buddhist wisdom that purport to answer some of humanity’s biggest and oldest questions, such as what is the human soul, does it survive death, and why (most) humans fall short of attaining their true potential.
Here, extracted from the fiction for your contemplation, is a selection of the insights. I don’t pretend to understand them all, but I know they make me think, and that, in my estimation, is the highest complement you can pay to a piece of speculative fiction.
Contemplate the following, and say goodbye to your mind as you know it…
On Life after Death
A Zen koan:
A monk said to Tozan: “A monk has died; where has he gone?”
Tozan answered: “After the fire, a sprout of grass.”
It means: the monk is dead as a doornail. But it also means that the monk has gone nowhere; life has gone nowhere–it continues on in a different form. Nothing has been removed from the balance of life in the universe. Where is the dead monk? It is like ice becoming water or even better, water returning to water.
No individual is reborn; all things are subject to anicca, the law of mutability.
Anatta (no-self): Buddha denies there is any such thing as a personal entity known as a soul – therefore, there is no immortality of the soul.
On the Nature of God
God is another name for the conscious “we-know-not-what” (i.e., God, Love, Force, etc.) It is an aspect of the universe, but unbound by time or space. It is both created by consciousness (not only human) and itself creates consciousness. It is stitched of quantum stuff, woven with Planck space and Planck time, lying under and around space-time. It is neither mystical nor metaphysical; it flows from and responds to the physical laws of the universe. It is structured from thought and feeling. It is an artifact of the universe’s consciousness of itself. It is a composite of a hundred thousand sentient races across billions of years of time.
Satori: a total and intuitive insight into the fact that love is a real and equal force in the universe, as real as electromagnetism, weak nuclear force, gravity. Love is a binding force of the “we-know-not-what”. Human beings are only recently evolved from our primate cousins and have not yet gained the sensory capacity to see clearly or enter the “we-know-not-what”. Some humans with an open heart and mind have caught rare and powerful glimpses of it. The something is touched by all of us who have wept with happiness, bidden a lover goodbye, been exalted with orgasm, stood over the grave of a loved one, or watched their baby open its eyes for the first time.
The Something is under and above the surface of our thoughts and senses, invisible but present, like the breathing of our beloved next to us in the night. It is actual but inaccessible, which is why our species invents myths and religions, extrasensory powers, telepathy and precognition, demons and demigods, resurrection and reincarnation, ghosts and messiahs… this is all almost-but-not-quite-satisfying bullshit.
The Inadequacy of Scripture, and What True Satori Looks Like
The four statements of the Zen Sect (Bodhi dharma 6th c AD) are the perfect way to find the Something:
- No dependence on words and letters
Words are light and sound, the Something is to be found in the deepest secrets and silences of things–in the place where childhood dwells.
- A special transmission outside the scriptures.
Artists recognize other artists as soon as the pencil begins to move. Musicians can tell other musicians apart from the millions as soon as they begin to play. Poets glean poets in a few syllables. When you burn away the words and images you are left with the gold of deeper things: the dark flame that burns in all things. You must see them with the belly, not with the eye; with the bowels of compassion.
All scripture lies. The Bible lies, the Koran lies, the Talmud and Torah lie, the New Testament lies, the Sutta Pitaka, the Nikayas, the Itivuttaka, the Dhammapada lie, the Bodhisattva and the Amitabha lie, the Book of the Dead lies, the Tipitaka lies. All scripture lies, not from intention or failure of expression, but because they are reduced to words, because they use words in the place of perception of the Something. All the images, precepts, laws, canons, quotations, parables commandments, koans, zazen and sermons in these beautiful books ultimately fail by adding more words between the human being who is seeking and the perception of the Something.
- Direct pointing to the soul of man.
Zen is the closest to understanding the Something because it clarifies its absence. When you meditate on pointing without a finger, or creating art with no medium, or hearing a powerful sound in a vacuum of silence, you are on the Path.
- Seeing into one’s nature and the attainment of Buddhahood.
You do not need decades of zazen, or baptism or pondering the Koran to do this. The Buddha nature is the essence of being human. Flowers all attain flowerhood, a wild dog or a zygote each attain their doghood or zygotehood. Any place is granted its placehood. Only humankind struggles and fails in becoming what it is. The problem is that we are self-aware. How well would the eye work if it could see itself?
The Buddha understood that we can sense the Something by silencing the din of the everyday. Satori is a great and satisfying silence after listening to an inescapable noise for months on end. But silence is only the beginning of hearing. Learning the language of the dead is the first task of those who enter into the Something medium.
Jesus of Nazareth entered it. His voice is the clearest of those who speak in the language of the dead. He stayed long enough to move to the second level of responsibility and effort: not just hearing but learning the language of the dead. He learned it well enough to hear the music of the spheres. He was able to ride the surging probability waves far enough to see his own death and was brave enough not to avoid it when he could. We know that while he was dying on the cross, he learned to move through space and time and appear to his friends and disciples in the future.
Liberated from the restrictions of time by glimpsing into timelessness, Jesus realized that he was the key–not his teachings, not scriptures based on his ideas, not adulation of him, or not changing the way people thought of God. Just HIM. Jesus, a human man whose cells carried the decryption code to unlock the portal. Jesus knew that his ability to open the door was not in his mind or soul, but in his DNA.
During the last supper Jesus asked his followers to drink of his blood and eat of his body. He was not speaking in parable or asking people to symbolically reenact it for centuries to come. He was literally trying to share his DNA with his followers so that they would be able to perceive the power of the Something. And some of them did. But confronted with perceptions and impressions far beyond their power to absorb and unable to turn the language of the dead to the language of the living, these disciples turned to dogma, reducing the inexpressible to sermons, tight rules and fiery rhetoric. The vision paled, then failed. The portal closed.