Buddhist Dilemma #2: If Now-ness = Here-ness, Does Mindfulness = No Travel?

img_1661Baba Ram Dass’s famous period piece, and start of his career as motivational and spiritual guru, was ‘Be Here Now’, of course, but these days most people concentrate on the Now-ness, and forget about the ‘Here-ness’. That was hardly his Big Idea, anyway, the idea batted around in Buddhism since time immemorial, reiterated by Hinduism, and immortalized by Christian existentialist theologian Paul Tillich as ‘The Eternal Now’ long before Ram Dass’s book hit the shelves (author’s note: back then books sat on shelves)…

Back in the Abhidharma days of Buddhism, one ‘school’, Sarvastivadins I believe, or maybe ‘Vaibhasikas’, not sure, even came up with an atomistic conception of time, in which time, indeed, was composed of unique units, and supposedly capable of measurement, which gives some historical support to the concept of precise present moment(s). And this concept of ‘thought-moments’ lives on in some traditions of Buddhism…

And with Einstein’s relativity of space-time, and quantum mechanics’ particle-wave units of ‘matter’, this would again seem to strengthen the case. But for some reason, dreamy New Agers seem to want to focus on quantum units of time, while scientists want to concentrate more on spatial displacement, or lack thereof, happy to let time exist on a line. Both approaches violate common-sense reality, but that is neither here nor there, now nor then…

BTW Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle says that you can’t measure both momentum and position at same time, nothing more nothing less, and certainly nothing about the intrinsic uncertainty of reality and/or existence. Many commentators take this principle to conclusions entirely uncalled-for and unsupported by evidence…

Ironically the Ancients pretty much left this notion far behind, in favor of something almost the exact opposite, ‘cyclic existence’, in which time is not only linear, but circular—that line connects with itself on the return! Of course there is no science to back this up, but there really is almost no science to back up much of any religion or philosophy, anyway, the main problem with ‘cyclic existence’ being the conundrum that it is supposed to inspire moral action while undermining the free will that moral action requires…

But the irony is that many of the same people that like the concept of ‘rebirth’ also like the concept of ‘nowness’, which does not really seem possible, since the two would seem to be mutually exclusive. Personally I don’t particularly ‘believe’ in either concept, simply because there is no science there, and no clarity, either, and a belief based solely on the narrative quality of the re-telling, is simply doomed to failure, later if not sooner, even if it takes thousands of years…

But in fact ‘nowness’ is the perfect analogy to compare and contrast the past and present, for how could any Buddhist-similar feel-good philosophy or pep-talk motivational psychology openly diss or dismiss ever-popular ‘nowness’ these days and expect to gather and hold any followers? It simply is not a wise and prudent approach to take, better to hem and haw a bit and find a convenient corner for it to reside than to dismiss it outright, just to keep the followers and friends happy…

And I suspect that such was much the same case in the final mid-millennium BCE regarding reincarnation, etc. in old India, even if Buddhism’s bedrock doctrine of ‘no-soul’, anatta, implicitly contradicts it. We’ll figure out how to finesse that later. For now we need dues-paying members, so please sign here, right on the dotted line, no need for further chats with Mahavira’s people. And don’t forget to like us on Pudgala Purusha! Follow us, too…

And so religions are built, membership sometimes more important than the details of doctrine. Sometimes it even seems like they choose us, rather than vice-versa, lovey-dovey Christianity choosing us white people because of all our hatred, prohibitionist Islam choosing certain of its adherents because of their need for discipline, and Buddhism offering a ‘no-face’ non-attachment approach to those who need it most. Or maybe I’m full of **it (but note that I only directly disparaged my own heritage)…

But back to the title: does here-ness, if applied, imply that I cannot travel? Ouch. Okay, so it’s true that I reject the primacy of the monastery experience as the paradigm for proper Buddhism. That’s too Hinayana for me. But such a take does not mean that I’m a bad Buddhist. A lingering link to certain defilements—thinking, for instance—means that I’m a bad Buddhist, I guess…

But is there anything more renunciative, and spiritual, than travel? I don’t mean touring: travel. Just imagine waves of travelers, roaming the globe, forsaking the comforts of home, and embarking on a quest for something better, and more meaningful. Doesn’t that sound more spiritual than being cloistered in a monastery with no contacts with the outside world? Just saying…

So by my own reckoning there is no such thing as a ‘present moment’, though that would seem to be the goal of meditation, and largely elusive, even if ultimately attainable. Like the uncertainty principle, we can’t know a moment and verify its nowness simultaneously, for once we know it, then it is past…

The present is a continuum, it seems, while the past exists only in moments, snapshots, no video or film-like memories even possible, in direct relation to the distance from the source, or so it would seem to me, just that and verbal narrative. So we can only know the past, but we can only experience the present. And the future is pure mathematical probability…