Itsy & The Infinite Web 1: Seeing The Elephant

1: Seeing the Elephant

Several times upon a time, upon a time, upon another, not this time here, or the time you’re probably thinking of, but the other time, two times over, where everything interesting is, Itsy B. Spider lived on a web between things, much like the times.  To the untrained independent observer, Itsy slid through the air on invisible connections between between each and all of the very visible things.  Sometimes she was between good and great, and other times she was between a rock and a hard place, but most of the time she was between these two and other interesting ends.  Because everything is similar to but different from every-other-thing in endless ways, Itsy could go anywhere and meet anybody, which she often did for little to no reason at all.

As it happened, Itsy was between bored and tears when she came across an enormous elephant, larger than some but perhaps not the largest, who was floating in space without any apparent support.  Itsy slid slowly up to the elephant’s giant silent eye and said, “Hi”.

The eye slowly opened, and found Itsy.

“Hey there, tiny spider!” bellowed the elephant with a voice that shook the empty space surrounding them.  “It’s good to see you, or anybody really, as I’ve been floating here by myself for awhile and could really use someone’s support.  Someone, I can’t recall who, said that elephants never forget.  I don’t remember you, so I can safely conclude we’ve never met before, but I wonder if you would assist me in something.  Would you, a complete and perfect stranger, assist me in something?”

“I’m far from complete, and nowhere near perfect, but what seems to be the problem?” inquired Itsy.  “I’ve got all kinds of this time.”

“I have an itch, but I can’t seem to reach it.  It feels a lot like apes, which I’ve had before and never forgot.  Did I mention to you that elephants never forget?  I’m not sure if elephants can get apes more than once!  You are teeny, tiny and small, so you can get places I can’t, places that are mine even.  Would you kindly check out this place on my back that I can’t quite reach?” asked the elephant, stretching his trunk over his head and as far up his back as he could.

“Sure!” said Itsy.  “I’ll have a look or two.  I’ve been almost everywhere and seen almost everything, except Antarctica.  I’ll analyze your problem rationally and logically, then synthesize it irrationally and illogically, and then come to a conclusion somewhere in between.”

“Whatever works,” yawned the elephant.  “Whatever sails your ship and saves it from sinking.”

Itsy slid down and down a strand of her web along the ever-widening elephant’s back until she could no longer see the elephant at all.  As she approached the vast surface beneath her, the clouds thickened and the air became hot and humid.  After a long, declining and dampening slide, Itsy broke through the cloud cover to find a vast jungle spread out before her.

“There’s a whole world down here”, said Itsy silently to herself as we sometimes do before saying the same things to others.

The welcoming jungle did not respond, but it certainly awaited.



The Long Buddha Shortened: The Supreme Net

This is the first in a series of my distillations of the Long Discourses of the Buddha (the Digha Nikaya), the Buddha’s original teachings shortened for easy reading.

In the first of the Long Discourses, the Brahmajala Sutta (The Supreme Net), the Buddha is traveling with 500 monks from town to town, and unwittingly followed by Suppiya, a teacher who criticizes the Buddha, and Brahmadatta, Suppiya’s student who praises the Buddha.  It seems that positive and negative opinions and arguments about the Buddha follow him and his followers wherever they go.  They all stop for a night at a park with shade and water provided by royalty and guarded with  a wall for travelers to rest along their way.  In the morning, followers of the Buddha were talking about how wonderful it is for the Buddha to be aware of the varied opinions that follow him.

The Buddha hears them and says that they should not be angry with anyone who criticizes him, his teachings or his followers, as this will hold them back and prevent them from seeing if the criticism is right or wrong.  Rather, they should explain what is wrong with the criticism.  Similarly, they should not be pleased by those who give praise, as that will also hold them back.  Rather, they should explain what is right with the praise.  The Buddha says that only foolish, worldly people praise him for abandoning violence, sex, lies, entertainment, luxury, property, and servants, for doing the right thing and saying the right thing at the right time and to the right extent.  Only foolish, worldly people criticize his opponents, such as the Hindu Brahmins, for acting in ways that lead to addiction and destruction, speaking about useless things, claiming to know what others do not in debate, running errands for those in power or misleading others with expert advice and fortune telling.  

Rather, there are other things that are hard to see and beyond ordinary thought that the wise can know that do deserve praise.  Neither discipline nor reason can reveal these things.  The particular knowledge that these practices reveal leads to further birth and death, but being unattached to this itself is to know true peace and freedom.  Each time the world is reborn, God (Brahma) becomes lonely and creates the other gods and beings.  Later, those who seek wisdom beyond the home discover that things are impermanent, pleasure is addictive and logical reasoning gives stability to the ideas of the mind, and they split into those who believe that the self and world are permanent and those who do not (“Eternalists and Non-Eternalists”, also the “Infinitists and Finitists”).

Some argue that things are permanent, others that things are impermanent, others that things are both permanent one way but impermanent another, and others that things are neither in any particular way.  (These are the Catuskoti of Nagarjuna.)  Similarly there are those who debate whether we know what is good or bad, those who debate whether or not there is life after death in another world beyond this one, those who debate whether things happen by chance or necessity, and those who debate whether enlightenment and freedom are here now or somewhere else.

These “wriggly eels” on each side evade questions in debate that they can’t answer.  Those who take one side against the other do not see the fear and chaos that makes them and the other cling to one side, nor do they see that clinging to one side will not bring them peace or safety, but merely trap them in a vast, intricate net, like a fish too large to swim between the knots.  When anyone sees what is beyond all these sides, they see what only the wise can see, the supreme net of all possibly viewpoints and the superior victory over all battles.

Ponderous Walrus Ponders: Hitler Did Nothing Right

Some silly people have put forward the ridiculous and sarcastic idea, “Hitler did nothing wrong.”  Perhaps the equally ludicrous and indefensible counter-position could be advanced (in humor) that Hitler, in fact, did nothing right, as he consistently and methodically made basic mistakes in arithmetic and did on occasion point to an apple and baselessly state, “ZAT iz ein TANGERINE!

Confucius said that perfection is impossible, but goodness is always at hand.  If it is impossible for Confucius to do no wrong, but also impossible for Hitler himself to do nothing right, does that make everyone right and wrong, either or neither?

It is good to keep this idea firmly in mind:  Every day you play the kazoo, you are a little bit less and less like Hitler.  Clearly, playing the kazoo is somewhere close to perfection.

(Disclosure & Disclaimer: The author is unconditionally opposed to the idea that Hitler was anything other than terrible.)