Quantum Blues and the Lotus Sutra
Quantum Blues and the Lotus Sutra
In the late ‘60s I heard about the Buddhist Lotus Sutra from the chanting nam-myoho-renge-kyo folks plying their proselytizing on Sunset Strip. The sutra was obliquely referenced in their pitch adding a patina of mystique and legitimacy to a straight ahead motivational message. Tough sell in those days on the streets of Hollywood, bumping doctrinal shoulders with Scientologists, heaven-gazing Hare Krishnas, and Tony Alamo’s Jesus Bus to a free meal and a weekend in the high desert. But after a few months of hyper-enthusiastic meetings, lots of chanting and reciting a bit of the Lotus Sutra, I was browsing in a metaphysical used bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard when into my hands fell a 1963 printing of an 1884 translation of The Lotus of the True Law.
The sound track of the world I lived in was changing. The musical spheres of the great ‘60s rock & blues that buoyed my sensibilities were becoming funkified in the ‘70s. George Clinton’s MotherShip was just a few years from landing. Always in the background was the rata-tat-tat of war all the time on the news and the pulse of police presence, primary colors white, blue and red. As primordial choruses of ancient Buddhist chants blurred the boundaries of my mind, jazz was fusing and rocking the beat. Mercifully, I would sidestep the white-boy-angst of heavy metal hair bands while the Lotus Sutra set some new grooves, and there was nary a 4/4 beat to be found.
A MYSTICAL GATHERING
The Lotus Sutra is the chronicle of a mystical gathering which, once you get used to the fantastical language, has the immediacy of memory. Sakyamuni Buddha calls together all bodhisattvas, disciples, arhats (whatever those are), demons, dragons, goddesses and spirits to hear his ultimate final teaching at a great Ceremony in the Air on Vulture Peak. There are two parts to this show; first the juryo or provisional teaching, and then the honmon or ultimate teaching. This reflects the structure of Middle Way Buddhism whereby reality is composed of two truths; the illusory, relative, non-substantial truth of how we live in and perceive the world, a world shaped by our desires; and the ultimate truth of the actual nature of the world, sublime emptiness. To contemplate both extremes simultaneously is not compromise or averaging, but a direct experience of the totality of the one reality; a third mode of being.
This Middle Way architecture is immanently applicable to comprehending the kaleidoscope of belief systems (or non-belief systems) we encounter in daily life; the mystical/pragmatic dynamics of Buddhism itself (you’d be surprised at how many improve-your-life books are inherently Buddhistic), the material metaphysics and hard-nose relativity of science, and in a broader sense, all the contingencies of life on the planet. With this two-truths mode of contemplation we can begin to discern the actual truth of the natural world, and simultaneously the way we are perceiving the world. Sounds overly conceptual, but Middle Way is as sensuous as life on the street and mysterious as consciousness. The tension or vector of force in the interplay between the two extremes is what concretizes into actuality. This presents us with the ability to change our way of thinking at the turning point; a quantum state of transformation, in-the-bones blues as sacred text of redemption. This mode resolves the harsh confusion of dualism by collapsing choice into improv dance of the mind and body, and adopts a holistic world view naturally. The Lotus Sutra Middle Way also proposes an uncompromising acknowledgement of radical direct experience, a way that allows us to dramatically change our world view and reveal our ageless identity.
What Sakyamuni lays out in great detail contradicts, but does not refute the previous forty or fifty years of his teaching life and is wildly counter-intuitive on its face. Unlike just about all other sutras, the Lotus is nearly devoid of actual instruction regarding how to live one’s life or conduct one’s affairs; there is no recourse to a great moral dogma by which one may accrue virtue leading to enlightenment. And that is exactly the point; in part two of the presentation, enlightenment or Buddhahood is portrayed as awakening to one’s true identity instantaneously within current circumstance, not as a result of the gradual accumulation of merit. Nor is awakening hindered by deeds most foul and sinful, only by delusional thinking including refusing to recognize the value of this true teaching. Even then, an attitude of willful ignorance merely delays direct experience of awakening to our true identity as being equal to Sakyamuni himself. That was too extreme for many in the audience at the Ceremony in the Air. There was a big walk-out halfway through act one.
In quantum mechanics a photon (quantum) of light energy spontaneously bursts from a wave with no apparent causal factor. An electron may suddenly leap from its orbit into another orbit, sometimes backward in time so as to be briefly in two orbits simultaneously, yet have no substantial effect on the material of which it is part. The material as a whole, however, may incur a changed relationship with other, apparently unconnected, material. The implication is that a wave of probability underlies these ongoing events; the probability is not whether a particle exists, but that we will observe it where we look for it. Waveness, walking reality blues, abides until we engage with it, then something of the real bursts forth. The great teacher Sakyamuni points out in the Lotus Sutra that amidst the swirling illusory world the probability of our awakening to pulsing non-substantial Buddhahood is assured. Though this awakening happens in an instant, we need to show up for the routines and complications of all the rest, the day to day troubles and pleasures of the world. Practicing mundane integrity and attentiveness prepares us to recognize the flash of brilliance, otherwise you may not remember in the morning.
The recent discovery of the Higgs Boson within the predicted parameters of a narrow mass/energy window, set the capstone that completed the Standard Model of physics. The preliminary efforts; honing the theory mathematically, building the LH Collider, staffing the facility, designing the experiment; were all within the realm of material cause and effect linkage in order to satisfy the probability of correctly observing the particle. All these preparations, following the provisional truth of scientific method, led to the true identity of the infinitesimally small Higgs Boson, a particle which could very well have not been where the biggest most expensive machine ever made was looking. A blip on a monitor screen evidenced the existence of a boson in a Higgs Field for a ten-sextillionth of a second. This brought rooms full of PHDs around the world roaring to their feet. The implications of this discovery are immense and expand the periphery of scientific knowledge, the threshold of material mystery. And life goes on.
According to the Lotus Sutra the true nature of cause and effect is simultaneous with no time factor and no sequential linkage; they are in mutual possession or coextensive with one another. Awakening is both cause and effect. One’s true identity is both cause and effect. Illusory identities change according to circumstance, the worldly chain of cause and effect, according to what role is required of a person in the moment. The awakening event, free of time and location, is experienced contingent upon sweeping away the debris of delusional thinking, however tenacious those delusions are and whatever your life condition. An important distinction must be made here; delusion is qualitatively different from illusion. Delusion is a mental disorder characterized by lying to yourself, while illusions are a matter of perception, correct or not, focused or misdirected, selective or holistic. The stuff of daily life on the planet.
“Illusion is not falsity, it is the active side of reality” Deng Ming Dao
To look for a subatomic particle, utilizing the full integrity of quantum theory and the scientific method, is to find it. In Buddhism, as in quantum experimentation, one cannot merely observe phenomena as an impartial outsider detached from the proceedings. If a band is really good, when they swing into the chorus as the soloist slides out of improvisation, the whole house participates, swaying with the big sound, engaged emotionally. As a person awakens in true identity (which is our inherent buddha nature) that true identity is recognized as pervasive, an ongoing wave event rather than a destination or goal. You’re still in the same club, just feeling a lot different. A photon of light is wave-like everywhere until you look for it and then it is a particle located where you look. And so it is with awakening; rich or poor, wise or foolish, healthy-wealthy or not, even evil persons, man or woman; it is everywhere but accessed within our hearts and minds by seeking it, by participating in direct experience of transformation.
Transformation is demonstrated in the transition from the first half of the Lotus Sutra to the second. Upon acknowledging all the alms and devotion heaped upon him by the multitude, Sakyamuni praises each type of bodhisattva, ascetic, and wise being for their selfless acts and sacrifices. Lovely white flower petals descend from heaven. They have learned to live exemplary lives; no smoking, cursing or drinking, always peaceful thoughts and compassion, never close friendships with low-lifes like actors and wrestlers, loose women and musicians, fortune-tellers, sweaty laborers, money handlers, gamblers, butchers and politicians; you know the types. All the earnest and pure of heart devoted so sincerely to Sakyamuni are guaranteed Buddhahood, (and here he plays the first interval of a bluesy progression) IN THIS LIFETIME.
Whaaaat did the Buddha just say? This makes no sense and contradicts everything he’s said before. Then he hits the diminished chord; the child who offered a mud pie is just as guaranteed as Sharihotsu, the wisest and most accomplished of disciples (resolved). Like many in the audience at Beethoven’s live gigs, their ears are not ready for this and they grow faint with confusion. The crowd recovers and calls back. “Tell us more Sakyamuni, we believe and trust you, but we’ve never heard anything like this in all your teachings. You’ve never hit a false note before and we want to be the ones to bring this true teaching to countless generations of devotees in the future. Please tell us we are the chosen ones.”
KEEPING IT REAL
Many scholars, ancient and modern, Buddhist and non-Buddhist have thought Sakyamuni had gone completely mad with the Lotus Sutra, or that it was a forgery or apocryphal document, even calling him the “great prevaricator”. But, Sakyamuni has an even bigger shock in store. The most important thing is keeping it real, and he’s been holding back the real teaching his whole life waiting for this very moment.
Sakyamuni revealed his true identity; simultaneously a 60 year old sage and a mythic timeless figure. He also invited everyone to recognize this reality of their own life. Nothing proposed refuted the classical views, but the roof beam was about to be blown off into the sky. A second Buddha appears in the emptiness, serene and fully composed, while Sakyamuni tells numerous parables about why and how he assumed the identity of the man who woke up enlightened under a tree some fifty years before. “The time and place of my original enlightenment are inconceivably long ago and far away, but this enlightened transformation is also occurring in this lifetime, right now, right here.”
“But, how can he be both a wave and a particle? This does not compute.” Just as there was no turning back after Planck and Einstein, (no one could regard time, light, and matter in the same way as before), now the Buddha is irreversibly breaking precedent. The audience rises into the air in amazement. Electrons leap around disregarding spacetime. The mysterious silent Buddha, Taho, seated in splendid shimmering sacred space, rises representing ultimate reality. Sakyamuni rises, representing all the wisdom of the world, and joins Taho. Wisdom and reality together are the architecture revealing Middle Way to be pervasive in all aspects of life and death. Wave and particle are coextensive, embracing un-manifest and manifest phenomena.
“THANKYOUVERYMUCH, I BROUGHT MY OWN BAND.”
Suddenly the barriers surrounding Vulture Peak come crashing down and a multitude emerges from the crags and crevasses of the earth, from between the rocks and out of the swamps, leaping from the seas and lakes and rivers, from the mud and the murk and the dark. Sakyamuni introduces the Earth Bodhisattvas, his crew who’ve been with him from the beginning, the explosive big band chorus, rocking the house, dancers busting moves never seen before. Having awakened to their true identities in time-free, space-free entanglement with the Buddha, they didn’t need to show up for the opening of the ceremony where the esteemed devotees had given the Buddha his props and received their own reassurances. This un-restrainable multitude knew the teaching already in the deepest recesses of hearts and minds, and were well prepared to demonstrate their true identities as votaries of the Lotus Sutra participating in waking up multitudes at some time in the near future.
Sakyamuni introduced the four element Bodhisattvas who would manifest when the time was right and the people ripe for the great teaching; Jogyo fire, Jyogyo water, Mushengyo wind, and Anryugyo earth. Just as these are the elements of Vedic creation medicine, they will be combined in a hollow vessel (the 5th element) and become medicine. That hollow vessel is the empty-stage theater of the people of the future yearning for this Mystic Law. Jogyo sprang forth with great joy, embodying the power of superior practice in transmitting the teaching to the people. Standing strong on his two feet, he boldly revealed the True Self. With this stance he was a coextensive quantum wave permeating everywhere as an ever present function. James Brown at the Apollo. In Kamakura Era (13th century) Japan, the Fire in the Lotus, Nichiren, tendentious monk of Tendai Buddhism, would again wake up to this true identity as Jogyo in human form and rock the world with his reading of the Lotus Sutra.
Wait, Sakyamuni has a special Mystery Guest from an extra-terrestrial Buddha Realm so far away it will make your head spin; precisely the desired effect of attempting to comprehend this distance. The gathering becomes surrounded with “eighty-four hundred thousand myriad of kotis of lotuses on gold stalks with silver leaves and with cups of the hue of rosy lotuses and Butea Frondosa”. That last one is a tree with beautiful fiery orange medicinal blossoms which augment memory and cognition, acts as a rejuvenator of the system, and a stress reliever (a Vedic Diazepam).
Enter stage left (east) Bodhisattva Gadgadasvara (King of the Drum Sounds of the Clouds) and hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of Jazz Cats with their instruments wailing. This is the Big Band of Myo Ho. Seems that all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions are entangled in the cosmic quantum wave space of the Mystic Law. When Sakyamuni was about to preach the real deal that is the Lotus Sutra, a ripple in the force was detected by all of them instantaneously. Gadgadasvara beseeched the Tathagata (Ultimate Buddha) of his Buddha-field world so distant from planet earth to let him check it out in person.
The Ceremony in the Air of the Lotus Sutra is a mythic event, so it can be considered as a quantum state of Buddhism, a cosmic wave function, the compelling rhythm of the Mystic Law. Thus every aspect of it is everywhere, much like photon waveness, until it is perceived or experienced and blossoms in daily life. Also, it must conform to the Buddhist principle of dependent origin; all phenomena appear in relation to other phenomena, dependent on conditions. Experiencing the Ceremony in 2nd century BCE south India may have an ancient raga sound to it, but in 21st century America, for me it’s got to be rock & roll and blues with a jazz sensibility.
The Lotus Ceremony is the full throated roar of the authentic rising with the chanting of the Sutra’s name. Namu MyoHo Renge Kyo. Cries and moans of centuries of pain and suffering, satisfaction and joy tremble and shake, call and response in a rolling Blues voice. There is transformation in this process. Expressions of whole, full-catastrophe humanness are imbedded in mythic chord progressions pulsing in every heart.
There is no separation among
singers, dancers and musicians,
between intent and realization.
every step and every emotion
laying down a tide of compassion
on the rocky coast of sorrow.
The Blues is what is.
The Lotus Sutra, all of waking reality.
Curtis McCosco, 2015