Some time ago the Dalai Lama travelled to New York City. As happens to any NYC visitor, the Dalai Lama came upon a hot dog cart. The vendor took one look at the flowing robes, the beatific countenance, and recognized his customer immediately. “Your Holiness! What can I do for you?” The Dalai Lama smiled and said, “Make me one with everything…
I know – it’s an old joke. I know – the Dalai Lama is a vegan. But it still works.
The Jewish mystics throughout history have been a diverse assortment of people who seek to find God. It is a pursuit not unlike astrophysics. For some scientists the question is, how close can we get to the beginning of the Universe? For other scientists the question is, how close can we get to see the end of Universe? And perhaps for another subset of scientists the question is, how are those two questions actually the same?
One group of Jewish mystics are set on finding God through the lens of duality. The question is, in a world of good and evil, light and darkness, mortality and eternity, how do we come to know and serve God best? How might we hack through the jungle of disorder to find peace? For these mystics, it’s about moving from the outside to the inside.
For another group of mystics, it all begins with the assertion that there is no duality. God, they say, is One. And if God is One, then everything in the Universe is ultimately One. There is no outside, no inside; just now. Like the Dalai Lama’s hot dog order…
There is, they say, a transcendent reality attainable through seeing past the illusions of fracture to a greater truth of wholeness. BB King once sang “There must a better world somewhere.” To which the mystics of Oneness would say, “No BB. The better world is right where you’re standing. You just have to train yourself to see it.”
For dualists, there is a better world: the Olam Haba – the World to Come, a place of perfection and wholeness and peace. But in this world? It’s all about gathering broken pieces, restoring that which has been shattered, knowing that it cannot, and by definition, will not, be perfect. And we do live in this world only.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about unity and perfection, from Washington, D.C. of all places! Our new president and vice president are leaning heavily into oneness. As a confirmed dualist, I’m not so sure just how unified the Universe – or America – can ever be. The forces of divergence, the way opposite poles repel, are deeply rooted in the human experience. Unity seems so far away from reality. The likelihood that those who believe the election was fair and legal and true democracy can unify with those who would declare the election null and void by virtue of a conspiracy, an ideology that triggered an insurrection, is farfetched.
Can we find a common desire to pick up the broken pieces of our nation? Can we, from opposite ends, agree to get more people vaccinated more quickly? Can we acknowledge a common desire for clean water and air? I doubt it; but I’m a dualist.
All a person can do is aspire to do better, to choose a path that leads towards peace and not war. Who wants to care for more people, look out for the disenfranchised and powerless, and keep the freedom of democracy alive? Who wants an end to racism and antisemitism? The answer is that everyone is invited to try. Everyone is invited to cooperate.
The work is not about creating a more perfect union. The phrase “more perfect” carries a little too much hubris. How about creating a good enough alliance of Americans, an adequate confederation of people willing to recognize the centrality of ethics and enact change in light of those ethical dimensions of our society? That’s what we need: not perfect, just better.
Part 2 of the Dalai Lama joke came a few years later. The hot dog vendor passes the Dalai Lama his order. The Dalai Lama’s assistant takes the hot dog while the Dalai Lama reaches in his robe and hands the vendor a $20 bill. The vendor takes it and says thank you. The Dalai Lama looks up at the price list on the cart which states that the hot dog with everything is $7.50. “Excuse me,” the Dalai Lama says, “What about my change?” To which the vendor responds, with a smile: “Your Holiness, change comes from within.”
It’s time for the change. I’m ready.