Archive for September, 2017

Post 11: Illusion

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world: A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream; a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream. The Buddha, The Diamond Sutra[i]

The Buddha teaches that our world is fleeting and illusory. In addition to the words from the Diamond Sutra quoted above, the Buddha says in the Lotus Sutra that, “Nothing in this world is lasting or firm, but all is like bubbles, foam, heat shimmer.”[ii]

When they say that worldly phenomena are like a bubble, a phantom, or a dream, the Buddha and his followers are not saying that phenomena don’t exist at all. They are saying that the phenomena we experience are not ultimately real. This is the case because all phenomena lack three qualities that we associate with reality: they lack permanence; they lack singularity; and they lack independence. Everything is impermanent and changes, everything is multiple and made up of parts, and everything is dependent on causes and conditions.

The Buddhist understanding that all phenomena lack permanence, singularity, and independence is expressed, point for point, in Measure for Measure. The Duke of Vienna, disguised as a friar, visits a prison to comfort the condemned man, Claudio, who is unprepared to die. The Duke advises Claudio to give up hope of a reprieve and reminds him that the bodily existence he fears to lose is illusory because ––

It is impermanent:

Merely, thou art death’s fool;
For him thou labour’st by thy flight to shun
And yet runn’st toward him still.  (III.i.11-13)

It is multiple:

Thou art not thyself;
For thou exist’st on many a thousand grains
That issue out of dust. (III.1.20-22)

And it is dependent on causes and conditions:

A breath thou art,
Servile to all the skyey influences,
That dost this habitation, where thou keep’st,
Hourly afflict. (III.i.8-11)

Our bodies and the objects and beings that make up our world do manifest, however, making it is easy to forget that they are impermanent, multiple, and interdependent. Such ignorance gives rise to attachment and aversion and the suffering that follows. To overcome ignorance and prevent suffering the Buddha and his followers have over the centuries given many teachings on the absence of inherent existence in all phenomena. The Thirteenth Century Tibetan master, Longchenpa, lists eight similes of illusion. Phenomena are: like a dream; like a magic illusion; like a hallucination; like a mirage; like an echo; like a city of gandharvas (ephemeral beings); like a reflection; and like an apparition.[iii]

Though not a Buddhist teacher, Shakespeare was a master of illusion. We might say that illusion was his stock in trade. These lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be read as a declaration his craft.

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
                                                                                                                                Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name. (V.i.15-18)

With his pen Shakespeare gives shape to all manner of illusions, only to dissolve them and show that the phenomena onto which we grasp are not what we take them to be.

In The Tempest Prospero conjures a masque of spirits to celebrate the marriage of his daughter, dissolves it, and then delivers these lines on the illusory nature of experience:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. (IV.i.165-175)

Prospero tells us that everything we consider to be real: the towers, palaces, temples, the earth, and all the future generations who will inherit the earth, have no more enduring reality than a magical display.

Beyond speeches on the dreamlike nature of phenomena, we find illusion in the very fabric of Shakespeare’s plays. Little is what it appears to be. Twins are mistaken for each other (The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night). Women disguise themselves as men (Two Gentlemen of Verona, As You Like It, Twelfth, The Merchant of Venice, and Cymbeline). Men disguise themselves as women (The Taming of the Shrew and The Merry Wives of Windsor). Rulers disguise themselves as subjects (Henry V and Measure for Measure). Characters thought to be dead frequently turn out to be alive (Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, All’s Well that Ends Well, and Pericles). Men who think that they are sleeping with an object of their illicit lust are instead consummating marriage with a rightful spouse (All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure). However things appear, they usually turns out to be something else. Shakespeare rarely lets us forget that we lose ourselves in one illusion after another and that most of us live our lives under a multitude of false impressions.

The Buddha and Shakespeare have different ways of teaching about the illusory nature of phenomena. The Buddha points to actual phenomena and teaches that they are illusory in that they have no ultimate reality. With his pen Shakespeare creates illusions out of “airy nothing,” and then uses them to demonstrate that the phenomena we encounter are fleeting and are rarely what we take them to be.

The lessons we learn from Shakespeare about the illusory nature of our world are usually forgotten after the play is finished. Back in the “real world” we would do well to remember that that the phenomena we find outside the theatre are ultimately as illusory as the phenomena that appear on the stage. If we can manage to do that, then we might say that Shakespeare has played a part in teaching the dharma.

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[i] Kornfield, Jack with Fronsdal, Gil Ed. Teachings of the Buddha (Boston: Shambhala, 1993),143.

[ii] Buddha Shakyamuni. The Lotus Sutra, Translated by Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 249.

[iii] Longchenpa. Eight Similes of Illusion. Rigpa Wiki. 16 Mar 2011. (26 May 2016) http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Eight_similes_of_illusion

 

Post 10. Mortality

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Did you never see in the world the corpse of a man, or a woman, one or two or three days after death. . . And did the thought never come to you that you also are subject to death, that you cannot escape it. Buddha, from the Majjhima Nikaya[i]

In considering impermanence we have already been considering death. Death is impermanence as it affects the temporal existence of living beings. According to the Buddha:

This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds.
To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the
movement of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky.
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain[ii]

And in the words of Hamlet:

And man’s life’s no more than to say ‘one.’ (V.ii.74)

The reality of death was more immediate to the contemporaries of the Buddha and of Shakespeare than it is to most of us in the modern world. In Shakespeare’s England the average life expectancy was 35. Outbreaks of the bubonic plague swept London four times during Shakespeare’s lifetime. For those who escaped the plague there were epidemics of smallpox, typhus, and malaria.[iii] And then there were the gruesome public executions and the decomposing heads of “traitors” displayed on London Bridge. Londoners confronted death and the horror of death on a daily basis.

It wasn’t any better for Shakespeare’s characters. In the course of the plays no fewer than 74 characters die onstage. Thirty are stabbed, five are beheaded, seven are poisoned, and 32 die by other means.[iv] Another 81 die offstage.[v]

Shakespeare vividly describes the reality of death and the fears that attend it. In Measure for Measure, Claudio, who has gotten a young woman with child, is sentenced to die for adultery. He is not ready for death and expresses his terror:

Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison’d in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling: ’tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death. (III.i.116-131)

Claudio’s speech brings to mind the hell realms encountered in both Christian and Buddhist traditions.

Horrors of the kind described by Claudio can be converted to spiritual use. By remembering that we must die (memento mori) the mind is turned away from worldly thoughts.  Memento Mori was a basic tenet of the Stoic philosophy in Roman times. Adopted by the Roman Catholic Church in the middle ages, it was still practiced in Shakespeare’s day, when skeletons adorned the margins of the Elizabethan Book of Common prayer.

Such reminders turned the minds of some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries toward Christian spiritual practice. Buddhist teachings perform a similar function, reminding us that death is certain, that the time of death is uncertain, and that there is no time to lose in preparing the mind through spiritual practice. At the time of his own death the Buddha said:

Of all footprints
That of the elephant is supreme;
Of all mindfulness meditations
That on death is supreme, (Mahaparinirvana Sutra)[vi]

Death is the most powerful motivation for spiritual practice, and meditation on death is the supreme meditation. Perhaps no one exemplifies these truths better than Tibet’s great yogi and poet, Milarepa, who writes:

In horror of death, I took to the mountains, Again and again I meditated on the uncertainty of the hour of death, Capturing the fortress of the deathless unending nature of mind. Now all fear of death is over and done.[vii]

There are no Milarepas in Shakespeare. Although many of Shakespeare’s major characters confront death, they do not do so as hermits and probably not in ways that lead to full spiritual realization. But some of his characters do progress spiritually as they come to terms with death.

Such a character is Hamlet. Hamlet returns from school for his father’s funeral only to find that his uncle, Claudius, has already seized the throne and married his mother, Gertrude. His father’s ghost then appears to tell Hamlet that Claudius murdered him and that Hamlet must exact revenge. Claudius refuses to allow Hamlet to leave the court to return to school, and then Claudius and Polonius use Hamlet’s girlfriend, Ophelia, in a plot to spy on him. Little wonder that Hamlet considers suicide in the opening lines of his famous soliloquy:

To be, or not to be? That is the question—
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them?  (III.i.56-60)

These lines occasioned the following teaching from the Vietnamese monk and Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh:

The Buddha has taught that when conditions are sufficient things manifest, but to label that manifestation as being is wrong. Also when conditions are not sufficient, things do not manifest, but to label that as non-being is also wrong. Reality is beyond being and non-being, we need to overcome those notions. Hamlet said: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” We can see that he was caught by these notions. But according to this teaching, “to be or not to be,” is not the question. Because reality is beyond the notion of being or non-being, birth or death, coming or going … But if we understand suchness then we know that we don’t come from anywhere and we don’t go anywhere.[viii]

Thich Nhat Hanh is considering Hamlet’s speech from the standpoint of ultimate truth, which transcends dualities such as being and non-being, birth and death, here and there. Of course these dualities do manifest, but only on the relative level. Ultimate reality is beyond being and non-being. Thich Nhat Hanh sees that Hamlet is trapped in a dualistic mindset that does not accord with ultimate reality. We approach that reality when we are fully alive to “suchness.” We might say that “suchness” is the miracle of the way things are in this instant, out of time and beyond dualities.

Having established that ultimate reality transcends “to be or not to be,” we might go on to look at other passages from the soliloquy:

To die, to sleep—
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. (III.i.72-76)

Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of? (III.i.84-90)

In these passages Hamlet reconsiders what he has just said about “To be or not to be.” He thinks better of the proposition that he can by the act of suicide flip the switch from being to non-being. Hamlet abandons thoughts of suicide, but only because he fears that death would only bring another and scarier form of being. He has yet to transcend notions of being and non-being altogether.

The “To be or not to be” soliloquy does not contain Hamlet’s last words on the subject of death, however. As the play nears its end, Hamlet and Horatio visit a graveyard and enter into a contest of wit with a joking gravedigger. Hamlet seems at home among the bones as he holds up the skull of Yorick, a jester well known to him from childhood, and addresses it thus:

                               Now get you to my
lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch
thick, to this favor she must come. Make her laugh
at that. (V.i.199-202)

From contemplating the transience of physical beauty he turns to the transience of worldly power:

Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
O, that that earth which kept the world in awe
Should patch a wall t’ expel the winter’s flaw! (V.1.220-223)

Hamlet’s contemplations at the bone-strewn graveside bring to mind those Buddhist practitioners who seek out charnel grounds as places for meditation on death. Involved as he has been in a web of court intrigue, Hamlet is probably not devoting much time to spiritual practice, but his mind has somehow grown spacious enough to look upon death and life with an even mind.

In the next scene Hamlet prepares for a “friendly” fencing match with Laertes before the court. Suspecting, rightly, that there is a plot against Hamlet’s life, Horatio says, “If your mind dislike anything obey it,” and offers to cancel the match on Hamlet’s behalf. Hamlet replies:

Not a whit. We defy augury. There is
special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be
now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The
readiness is all. Since no man knows aught of what he leaves
what is it to leave betimes? Let be. (V.ii.233-238)

In this passage Hamlet appears to come closer to Thich Nhat Hanh’s understanding that phenomena lack intrinsic being or non-being and will manifest or not as conditions determine. In a similar way Hamlet’s sparrow has no enduring existence and will live or die as conditions determine. Has Hamlet glimpsed a reality beyond being and non-being, birth and death? Such an insight would explain the extraordinary perspective that Hamlet expresses. The timing of the fall of a sparrow and the timing of his own death have no importance for him. “The readiness is all” is the readiness for death, his own death. “Let be” expresses a complete surrender of attachment and aversion. Hamlet seems at peace with death and prepared to let things manifest as they will.

Of Shakespeare’s characters, Hamlet exhibits the most spacious mind. He may not completely realize its infinite potential, but over the course of the play he travels the long distance from “to be or not to be” to “let be.” From thoughts of suicide followed by fears “of something after death,” he grows into readiness for death. When he says, “let be,” he expresses an acceptance that Buddhists and followers of other spiritual traditions practice for years to attain.

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[i] Kornfield, Jack with Fronsdal, Gil Ed. Teachings of the Buddha. (Boston: Shambhala, 1993). 32

[ii]Buddha Shakyamuni. Lalitavistara Sutra. Rigpa Shedra, 19 Nov. 2011 (22 Aug. 2016) http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Four_thoughts#cite_note-1

[iii] Mabillard, Amanda. Worst Diseases in Shakespeare’s LondonShakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (05 May 2016) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/londondisease.html >.

[iv] Jones, Josh, 74 Ways Characters Die in Shakespeare’s Plays. Open Culture 01 Jan 2016 (26 May 2016) http://www.openculture.com/2016/01/74-ways-characters-die-in-shakespeares-plays-shown-in-a-handy-infographic.html

[v] Minton, Eric, The Dead and Dying Make for Live! Theatre. Shakespeareances.com. 22 Jan 2016 (26 May 2015) http://www.shakespeareances.com/willpower/onstage/Deaths-01-BSF16.html

[vi] Blackman, Sushila, Graceful Exits: How Great Beings Die (Boston: Shambhala, 2005), 21.

[vii] Milarepa, In horror of death. Rigpa Wiki. 27 December, 2015. (09 August, 2016) http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Quotations:_Milarepa,_In_horror_of_death..

[viii] Thich Nhat Hanh, Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on December 4, 1997 in Plum Village. (26 May 2016) http://www.buddhist-canon.com/PLAIN/TNHSUTTA/1997%20Dec%204%20%20Diamond%20Sutra%20(part%201).htm

 

Post 9: Impermanence

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Everything arises and passes away. When you see this you are above sorrow. This is the shining way. The Buddha, Dhammapada[i]

For Buddhists impermanence (anicca) is another of the basic facts of existence. Everything in our universe, at every level, is in a continual state of change. Some things change in gross or readily observable ways, like clouds in the sky or living beings that age and die. Others, like rocks and buildings, appear permanent to us but are in continual change at the atomic level and will gradually disintegrate over time if they are not destroyed first. Shakespeare takes the universal human experience of impermanence and transforms it into poetry.

In the seven ages of man soliloquy from As You Like It, we have impermanence as it manifests in the aging body, which progresses all too quickly from the “Infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms,” to:

. . . second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. (II.vii.172-173)

In Antony and Cleopatra, Antony meditates on the impermanence of shape-shifting clouds as he prepares for death:

Sometimes we see a cloud that’s dragonish;
A vapour sometime like a bear or lion,
A tower’d citadel, a pendent rock, (IV.xiv.4-6)

That which was a horse, even with a thought
The rack dislimns and makes it indistinct
As water is in water. (IV.xiv.12-14)

Even such a body: here I am Antony:
Yet cannot hold this visible shape… (IV.xiv.18-19)

In the above examples the speakers tell us about impermanence as they envision it. In Troilus and Cressida, Cressida tells us more about impermanence than she intends when she vows to be true to Troilus:

If I be false or swerve a hair from truth,
When time is old and hath forgot itself,
When water drops have worn the stones of Troy
And blind oblivion swallowed cities up,
And mighty states characterless are grated
To dusty nothing, yet let memory,
From false to false, among false maids in love,
Upbraid my falsehood! (III.iii.187-193)

In vowing constancy Cressida envisions a Troy that will last for eons into the future, until water drops have worn away its stones. Her vow notwithstanding, Cressida soon transfers her affections to the Greek, Diomedes, after she is forced to join her father in the Greek camp. Audiences hearing Cressida’s speech would perceive three kinds of impermanence. In her words they would find the slow-acting impermanence in which water drops wear away stones. Knowing that Cressida will prove false, they would think of the impermanence of human affections. And knowing the story of the Trojan War, they would think of the destruction that will come to Troy far sooner than Cressida expects. Cressida unwittingly reminds the audience that even as we acknowledge impermanence, things are far more impermanent than we imagine.

Many of Shakespeare’s sonnets are in one way or another about impermanence. In Sonnet 64 he describes the ways in which our seemingly solid world is subject to change:

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Towers are disassembled and objects of brass are melted down. Such examples of impermanence would have been widely evident in Shakespeare’s day, when the recently dissolved monastic establishments were torn down or quarried for their stone, and brass images and other objects associated with the Roman Catholic faith were destroyed. Even the earth proves to be impermanent as the ocean washes it away and rearranges it. Seeing change and decay all around him, the speaker sadly reflects that if time can take away such solid-seeming phenomena, then it will surely take away his love as well. He can only “weep to have that which [he] fears to lose.”

In Sonnet 73 the speaker turns his attention to the impermanence of his own body. He makes us simultaneously feel the sweetness of life and the certainty of its passing:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

In the opening line the speaker identifies himself with life at its lowest ebb, and at its most precious. The tone is elegiac, and the images of decline are also images of beauty: yellow leaves, bare ruined choirs, twilight fading into night, and the glow of a dying fire. The final couplet drives home the point that imminent loss makes love more strong and that our response should be to love well.

This is in contrast to the final couplet of Sonnet 64, where the only response is to weep. In Sonnet 64 impermanence leads only to pain, but in Sonnet 73 impermanence leads to love. We can love well by embracing love and impermanence in the same instant, recognizing that they are inseparable and that impermanence is a source of joy as well as sorrow. It will take our love away, but it brought our love to us in the first place. Without impermanence nothing could change, grow, or live. As the Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki, explains, “When you realize the fact that everything changes and find your composure in it, there you find yourself in nirvana.”[iii]

It is easy to fall into the habit of grasping onto things as though they were permanent, even when we know better. Shakespeare continually reminds us of impermanence in all its manifestations and gives us a glimpse of the reconciliation to be found in acceptance of change.

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[i] Byrom, Thomas. The Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha (Boston: Shambhala, 1993), 74.

[ii] To efface.

[iii] Kornfield, Jack. The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology. (New York: Bantam Dell, 2008), 327.

Post 8. Equanimity

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

To cultivate equanimity we practice catching ourselves when we feel attraction or aversion, before it hardens into grasping or negativity.[i] Pema Chödrön

Buddhist equanimity has two aspects. The first involves freedom from attachment to gain, praise, fame, and pleasure, and freedom from aversion to loss, blame, disrepute, and pain. Taken together these are known as the eight worldly concerns.

The Buddha praises:

A mind unshaken when touched by the worldly states, sorrowless, stainless, and secure, this is the blessing supreme. Mangala Sutta[ii]

Freedom from the eight worldly concerns is what Hamlet commends when he addresses these words to his friend, Horatio:

                         . . . thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
A man that fortune’s buffets and rewards
Hast ta’en with equal thanks: and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled,
That they are not a pipe for fortune’s finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee. (III.ii.64-74)

Horatio would seem to be a model of equanimity. His is “a mind unshaken when touched by the worldly states.”

We find similar freedom from attachment in Shakespeare’s Roman plays, including Julius Caesar. When Brutus learns of the death of his wife, Portia, he takes the news calmly, saying:

With meditating that she must die once,
I have the patience to endure it now. (IV.iii.217-218)

The freedom from attachment that we find in Hamlet and Julius Caesar is a Roman virtue and reflects the Stoic philosophy that was well known to Shakespeare from his reading of Plutarch and Seneca. But while Roman equanimity involves calm acceptance of one’s own fate, it is less concerned about others. It lacks the second aspect of Buddhist equanimity, which regards all beings with an equal mind.

As one of the four immeasurables equanimity is related to loving-kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy and is practiced with an all-embracing spirit. We wish for all beings to be free from the eight worldly concerns and we wish for them to regard others with an equal mind. According to the Buddha a mind that regards all beings with equanimity is far from cold or indifferent; it is “abundant, exalted, immeasurable.” Buddhist equanimity has an open heart as well as an untroubled mind.[iii]

In Shakespeare’s plays we find characters, like Horatio, who exemplify freedom from the eight worldly concerns. What we do not find are characters who exemplify the second aspect of equanimity. They do not, as far as I can tell, make a practice of regarding all beings – friends, enemies, and everyone in between – with an equal mind.

Nor do we as audience members look upon all of Shakespeare’s characters with an equal mind. It is in the nature of drama to elicit attachment for some and aversion for others, which would seem to be the opposite of what the Buddha teaches.

But if we do not respond to Shakespeare’s characters with an equal mind, we do respond with empathy. This is the case because his characters embody human nature so convincingly that we easily identify with them. In Shakespeare’s characters we see ourselves, or who we would like to be, or who we fear we might become, or who we could have become under different circumstances.

When we experience Hamlet we know what it is like to be Hamlet, we know what it is like to be Ophelia, we know what it is like to be Gertrude, and we may even know what it is like to be Claudius. Shakespeare’s characters, with a few notable exceptions,[iv] appear to possess sparks of the same inner goodness that we perceive in ourselves. From a Buddhist perspective we would say that they have buddha nature, however obscured. That doesn’t mean we have to like their behavior, but we see them as human beings, like us, trying however misguidedly to be happy and to avoid suffering, and in this respect they are the same as us, or seem to be. So while some characters may provoke feelings of aversion, those feelings are usually tempered by empathy.

Genuine equanimity, in the face of the eight worldly concerns and in our attitude toward other beings, must be based on genuine insight. Insight comes about as we deepen our appreciation of impermanence and death, the illusory nature of phenomena, the inescapable connection of actions and consequences, and the egolessness of self. As we will see in future posts, Shakespeare has something to tell us about all of these subjects.

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[i] Chödrön, Pema. The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times (Boston & London: Shambhala Classics, 2002), 70.

[ii] Kornfield, Jack with Fronsdal, Gil Ed. Teachings of the Buddha. (Boston: Shambhala, 1993). 14-15.

[iii] Fronsdal, Gil. Equanimity. Insight Meditation Center. 29 Apr 2004 (26 May 2016). http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/equanimity/

[iv] Richard III, Iago in Othello, and Edmund, Goneril, and Regan in King Lear are among the characters in whom sparks of goodness are either lacking or almost completely obscured.