By J.L Pendall
Buddhism isn’t really concerned with authenticity—being genuine is a modernist school of thought.
In modern times, the timeless quest for truth and freedom are informed just as much by science as they are firsthand experiences. 5,000 years ago, people might have experienced awe and sublimity when looking at the stars, but they didn’t know what they were seeing or the vast depths those twinkling lights were passing through to reach their eyes.
We now know, or at least we’ve got a better idea. I remember being mind-blown as I stared at Deneb, knowing that it was 3,000 light years away. The light I was seeing was belched out of that giant ball of gas before Jesus was even born. There I was looking at it, a fleeting ball of gas myself—more gas and less ball as I get older.
Science has the amazing ability to rip all the romantic overtones from life, leaving us with nothing but nothingness.
We all react to that differently. Some people just let it go over their heads; others go seeking the opposite, an egocentric cosmos where the Earth is flat and vaccines are part of some nefarious grand design.
Others, like yours truly, sink into despair. We fixate on the nothingness until we can understand it. The quest to understand is a quest for control. We might be little specks living little speck lives, but if we can understand that, then we’ve transcended it. We’ve one-upped the indifferent universe. “Ha! Fucker!”
The truth is that whether we “get it” or not doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t really give us any control over things, and it certainly doesn’t make us or anything we do anymore meaningful and immortal. It’s another coping mechanism, another bedtime story designed to help us sleep at night.
We can’t get it. We’re human—the universe isn’t. Isn’t that a little settling? The cosmos, or nature, isn’t human. How can we ever truly understand something inhuman when we’re forever limited by human senses and reasoning?
Life according to my cat is probably a lot different than life according to me. We sense and reasoning through things differently. It doesn’t mean one of us is right and the other wrong—it just means we’re different. You and I are different for the same reason. If we sensed and understood things in the same way, then we’d be the same person, occupying the same space.
So, we’re not just experiencing an inhuman nature from a human one, but from our own version of humanness, and even that changes over time as our senses and memories change.
Mahayana gives us an image of oneness, and a shared nature that’s fundamentally the same in all of us.
But that oneness is just the cosmic washing machine, moving particles through their cycles. Our shared nature is one of confusion, suffering, learning, and letting go.
That’s where authenticity comes in.
We recognize our pain and confusion, face the indifference that nature meets us with, and then let go of all the illusions that keep us distracted and dissociated from ourselves.
We might not be able to understand nature, but we can understand human-nature, and our own nature. Who are you beneath all the labels, oppression and repression? What do you want? Why are you here?
Unlike religion, where some old book or dude in robes gives you the answers, modern philosophy asks us to figure it out for ourselves. Philosophers teach you how to walk, but no where to go. It’s bad form to tell someone what their destination is.
Odds are, there are a lot of layers covering up your genuine self. It takes time, and the right situations, to peel them off. You might love some of the layers, and you might despise or be scared shitless of others. Either way, we keep going deeper, until we can just sit and have a cup of tea in peace.
You might find that there are things about yourself that you can and should change. You’ll also find that there are things you can’t change; they’re just part of your makeup, bequeathed by nature. You might not like some of those parts either, but that’s just tough. They’ll keep you caged until you accept them.
I, for instance, am a power-hungry, thrill seeking, control freak with delusions of grandeur and little consideration of others. I got that from my dad. I’m also warm, easily satisfied, and loathe tyranny and abuse—I got that from my mom.
Who are we, when we let go of all the masks, but a reflection of our parents? Even if you never met them, you could get to know them that way.
It’s a waste of time trying to deny and fight against our heritage. We were born to be ourselves, born to take these selves out into the world to create and/or care for other selves. It’s dumb, but it’s beautiful too—just like the stars.
Keep in mind, there might not be any peace for you down this path, but there is truth. Sometimes, ya can’t have both.
Photo: Dana Gornall