we don't need to change how we do conservation, we need to change why we do it

Young Buddha Meets Old Buddha, Part-3: Do Buddha’s have Bodies with Dreamscapes to Fill?

A short selection from Essay Forty-seven in Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice.

When you see forms or hear sounds fully engaging body-and-mind, you intuit dharmas intimately. Unlike things and their reflections in the mirror, and unlike the moon and its reflection in the water, when one side is illuminated, the other side is dark. —Dogen [1]

It was the third brother … who received the hand of the princess. He lived the marriage of form and spirit, and did absolutely nothing to deserve it. —from Rumi’s Mathnawi [2]

Any good teacher will tell you that intellectual work is necessary to the extent that it is useful. And that an unforgiving victory over illusion, an enlightenment that feels superior to science, is no victory at all. So the real question for critical minds is: “Do buddhas have bodies with dreamscapes to fill?” [3] Here is a koan that’s hard to resolve with a meditator’s complete dispassion; and it’s why, in a book for both practitioners and non-practitioners, I’ve been so bold as to imagine it might help the most sceptical among us — those who share with me the stubborn compulsion of William James’ philosopher to “think things through” — if Dharma spoke Darwinian.

If thought and act are seen to cyclically arise, flow, and ebb on their own, like the seeds and creatures in an evolving ecosystem, then there need no more be a ‘thinker’ than there need be a ‘god of evolution’. And even if we insist on imagining such a god — it may be Pan, Mother Nature, Gaia, or even Old Buddha — ‘he’ or ‘she’ has no need for a name, no need to be set a-part in this Reality of endlessly deep and ever changing ‘context’, because, as we have learned from the Mother Tree, immortals don’t need to set seed. [4] Or consider even this purely physical analogy: if the force of a thought or an act is within its nature, then the detached but mindful follow through (in Buddhist terms, ‘right effort’) doesn’t depend on an independent agent, but only on a presence as each succeeding moment unfolds. Either way it’s the quality of our presence — whether we respond intimately, like Maxwell’s ‘fictional’ Demon, or just react to the calculated statistics, like a ‘realistic’ philosopher — that determines the creative quality, the magic, in the outcome.


At the very least, when we do find ourselves stuck, our training allows us to step right out of our model space, for as long as we like; and here, seeing deeply into how “the affections color and infect the understanding”, we can find our true course again, for it’s only by attending to this makeshift barrier between overt body and covert mind that Sir Francis’ mandate is fulfilled. [5] This is what gadget lovers want to hear before they come into the zendo.

This might be a good time to return to the concept of ‘method philosophy’ introduced in https://www.extremophilechoice.com/2022/05/17/two-buddhas-part-6-what-is-it-like-to-know/, for now we can see how only a transformative method can point beyond our philosophic ‘conclusions’. If this term meant only that all philosophy and science is to be treated as a means to some particular end, then it would simply be another excuse for restricting our imaginations. But method philosophy doesn’t assume an end at all; it invites a moment-to-moment beginning. In fact, the marriage of form and spirit that it invites would be just the same as mindful sitting, or mindful laundry, except that, because we’re problem solving, we must for the moment allow our presence to be partly lost in re-presentation: one hand tinkering with what works, the other reaching for what matters. Our inner scientist is no longer oppressed by a “meaningless” world view then, and our inner poet no longer fears his “dark side”. As a gadget-loving designer, I no longer lose heart every time a philistine client seems to “waste my effort”, because my overriding effort is to reveal his better nature. The ‘method of silence’ reveals our natural goodwill, to ourselves; and only then do all our methods of philosophic and scientific tinkering put our full humanity at the service of a larger awakening, for the ‘agent’ is goodwill itself.


1. Dogen zenji, Eihei. 2011 in Nishiari Bokusan, Shohaku Okamura, Shunryu Suzuki, Kosho Uchiyama, Sojun Mel Weitsman, Kazuaki Tanahashi, Dairyu Michael Wenger, trans. and commentaries, Dogen’s Genjo Koan: Three Commentaries. Berkeley: Counterpoint, p. 24.

2. Rumi. 1996 in Coleman Barks, trans. With John Moyne, The Essential Rumi. New York: HarperCollins, p. 237 (from “The Three Brothers and the Chinese Princess”).

3. Some of the quotes in Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice refer back to a poem called The Last Niche written much earlier. It can be found, with commentary, here: https://www.extremophilechoice.com/2021/03/18/the-journey-part-8-science-infected-by-love-of-nature-the-unstoppable-contagion/

4. Ibid

5. “The human understanding is no dry light, but receives infusion from the will and affections; whence proceed sciences which may be called “sciences as one would.” For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections color and infect the understanding.” —Sir Francis Bacon

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