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Playing Music on the Net

I don’t mean the Internet, I’m referring to a Hindu image called Indra’s Net in which each of us are a jewel at the intersection of strands of the net - and each jewel reflects every other jewel in the net. What a beautiful image for interconnection. I, however, like to expand this image in two ways.

First, I expand the net into four dimensions since we are connected to others not only now but through time as well. We are affected by those who came before us as well as our own actions in the past. We also affect those with whom we interact both now and in the future, and conceivably we affect how they interact with yet others into their future. This is the web of causality, or dependent origination. This is the truth of karma; actions - or movements on the net - affect us all. And this becomes the second expansion of the image for me.

Every action plucks stands of the net and causes them to vibrate - for good or ill. In this way we can see Indra’s Net as the ultimate musical instrument, and we, as players, are responsible for playing the song. Our goal as we play the tune of our life is to play it in harmony with greater tune being orchestrated by the Universe. Focusing only on our own notes leads to disharmony and discord. Does this mean we must all have our song subsumed by the songs of those around us?

Of course not, sometimes discordance can lead to a richer harmony overall. Look at the music of Stravinsky. When looking at a single chord or single measure all you might see is dissonance, but when you hear the entire piece you encounter a rich and varied whole. Even with Bach himself within his canons produces dissonance in a single measure but beauty beyond compare in the whole composition. I don’t want to strain the metaphor, but to lead the entire work into a greater perfection it may be necessary to cause a little discord. Yet, how can we tell whether the discord arises from our selfish desires or an altruistic focus directed toward the entire symphony?

As in so many things in life and in Pragmatic Buddhism the answer is reflecting our intent in the mirror of rigorous self-honesty. In this case the intent must be toward the fulfillment of the greater work - the title of which is Compassion. In a previous post I talked about how compassion is the only action that will free us from dukkha, about how it arises from and gives rise to relationship. This is what Indra’s Net is all about. We are not one standing alone, we are one in relationship with all. We cannot be the player out of tune, but must be the player at home in compassion; then, even when we’re for a moment playing a discordant note we contribute to the beauty of the whole.

Yet we do not create the song - OK I guess I am straining the metaphor a bit. When you act, believing it to be in compassion, from your own desires - whether for glory or praise or Enlightenment or Salvation - you are no longer playing the Great Composition but playing alone. When you sit still in relationship you’ll be able to hear the notes that need to be played and play them with virtuosity. This is the teaching of Zazen, to sit still and be. Sit still and listen. Sit still and see. Sit still without judgement but with true compassion and the music you leave at the end of your life will ring throughout all the dimensions of Indra’s Net and fill the Universe with beauty.

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