In pop culture, I often hear people say “it’s complicated” to indicate their relationship status. Usage has expanded to cover just about any aspect of life. Everything, after all, is complicated in the sense that there are a million moving parts and facets acting upon each moment.
Yet, many also contend it is simple. Either you love someone or you don’t. Either you want something or you don’t. It’s all very black and white.
Humans seem to like reducing things to a simple and/or formula, perhaps because it gives a sense of control to feel as if we know. It takes very little contemplation to realize things are not so black and white, whatever you substitute for it. Yet, everything still contains a core of simplicity.
I’ve been trying to get my mind around the Buddhist teaching that we/things/everything exist and don’t exist, are everything and nothing. How do these things hold true simultaneously? Do I love my husband or don’t I? Do I want to eat ice cream tonight or not?
Do the answers to these questions really matter? I think they don’t. Definitions/words/emotions/concepts/etc. are slippery. There is danger in applying too much meaning there. Perhaps all the philosophy on this subject is simply a way to keep us humble. A simple acknowledgment of the limitations of human understanding of all that is, while also a complex challenge to hold an image of the possibility of all you do not understand.
In the way life has of creating synchronicities, I finally got around to reading my weekly email quote from Pema Chödrön after I scribbled the bones of this blog post in my journal. Here is what it said:
Trungpa Rinpoche once said that the dharma [or teachings] has to be experienced because when the real quality of our lives, including the obstacles and problems and experiences that cause us to start questioning, becomes intense, any mere philosophical belief isn’t going to hold a candle to the reality of what we are experiencing.
What you will discover as you continue to study the dharma and to practice meditation is that nothing that you have ever heard is separate from your life. Dharma is the study of what is, and the only way you can find out what is true is through studying yourself. The Zen master Dogen said, ‘To know yourself or study yourself is to forget yourself, and if you forget yourself then you become enlightened by all things.'”
There are no answers in philosophical beliefs. The best we get is through our lived experiences and an examination of those experiences. Not just Buddhism teaches this. All great religions or philosophies are both complicated and extremely simple. Why would I expect any definitive answer?