Dharma Spaceship

In many apocalyptic movies, the B plot is that everyone is trying to leave earth, but there’s a limited number of seats on the evacuation spaceships. Inevitably, the wealthy and well-connected and powerful are given these seats, causing a rightfully violent reaction among the excluded and doomed.

When I’m meditating regularly, I feel the guilt and disconnect of boarding the Dharma Spaceship.

The world is, for many, a painful place. We suffer in a largely-shared delusion where it is vital that we suffer, an experience of psychic equivalence that merges the map and the territory.

What happens when you take a step back from that?

You still suffer, in the sense of the first noble truth. But you no longer inflict pain upon yourself. And in ceasing to do so, your total suffering drops to a tenth of what it used to be. You cultivate equanimity. Worldy pain and pleasure both become less intense, unless you choose to modulate them up.

Some people are able to believe in their hearts that the “enlightened” world is more real, in an important way, than the samsaric world. I have never been able to do this. To me, they’re both, in some sense, delusions. The enlightened delusion is much more peaceful, but it contains fewer of your loved ones.

Your friends notice, on some level, that you are more present with them. You ask more questions. You fully absorb what they say. You clearly care more about them than you used to. But something is different. The standard solidarity is gone. Because you’re in space, looking back at an earth on fire.

In his short story “Null-O”, Philip K Dick describes a shadowy organization that seeks to reduce the world (first a city, and eventually the universe) to an undifferentiated state via increasingly large and fantastical atomic bombs. To create a sludge of perfectly high entropy. A heat death, as they say.

This, too, is how it feels sometimes.

I don’t want to be part of the the shadowy organization. I want to be with my loved ones. I want to be happy in a way that doesn’t mean leaving everyone behind.

And the Buddhist interpretation, of course, is that by not being able to be present with others, it’s like we’re on the same planet as one another but we’re all trying to communicate underwater. And even if you are the only person you know who has climbed the first rung on the enlightenment staircase, you will be closer to others than you ever have before, as a result. It’s like talking to someone down the hall using morse code, versus talking to someone on the other side of the world with perfect lagless video and audio. The Buddhist interpretation is that you are deeply in the real world, connected and present. If only other people joined you, then the amount of connection and beauty and grounded-in-reality-ness would be immeasurable.

But still, even if you buy this (which I have not), it’s hard to shake the feeling of abandoning others. Of losing solidarity. Of feeling like you are looking at your loved ones through a screen. Like you’re visiting them in prison, and you both put your hand against the plexiglass divider. Almost touching.