I am no scholar and frankly admit that my long years of immersion in Eastern Philosophy were driven solely by an obsession to destroy my own darkness. In my teens, I dived into esoteric teachings in an attempt to understand my angst, and while much I learned took me a little further down the road to peace, it was a Buddhist Geshe I met in Manhattan many years ago who finally helped me sort out the confusion I felt about the nature of reality; it was through him that I came upon the luminous Indian scholar Nāgārjuna, considered second only to Gautama Siddhartha in the context of his critical contributions to eastern thought.
Nagarjuna’s life is a bit of a mystery to us moderns since surviving accounts of his life were written, in Chinese and Tibetan, centuries after his death. Most likely he was born into a Brahmin family in South India and later became a Buddhist. Some say he was an advisor to Yajna Sri Satakarni, a king of the Satavahana dynasty who ruled between 167 and 196 CE, which places him around 150–250 CE. Nagarjuna is considered the founder of the Madhyamaka School; due to his efforts, the concept of ‘emptiness’ (shunyata)—which he focused on in order to refute the metaphysics of some of his contemporaries—became the central ontological concept in Mahayana Buddhism.
This brilliant scholar/guru also developed the Doctrine of the Two Truths which claims there are two levels of truth: ultimate truth and conventional/relative or superficial truth. (Here’s a post I wrote on my own journey into this potent teaching: (https://miraprabhu.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/two-great-truths-absolute-and-relative-reality-real-and-unreal/). Nagarjuna explained the idea of relativity in clear and simple terms—shortness, for instance, exists only in relation to the idea of length; light exists on account of, and in relation, to darkness; ‘good’ exists due to our perception of ‘bad; and the element of space exists solely on account of form. In addition to his philosophical work, it is believed that Nagarjuna also made vital contributions to the ancient medical science of Ayurveda.
But what fascinated me most was Nagarjuna’s stress on what my guru referred to as ‘the Killer Time Gap.’ Now Eastern philosophy rests on the twin concepts of karma and reincarnation; since volumes have been written on these concepts, I will simply say here that karma is defined as the movement of the mind (thought) and what it produces in terms of speech and action; the consequences are inevitable and come later—whether a second later, lifetimes down the road, or anywhere in-between. According to Nagarjuna, it is this lethal time gap between our thought, speech and action (karma/doing) and the ensuing results of those actions that is responsible for all the suffering of humanity.
Take the act of killing for instance: If, as I lowered my foot to crush a bug, my own ribs started to break, I’d likely be too terrified of my own well-being to ever kill again, right? Or if, just after I’d stolen ten bucks from you, someone stole a thousand out of my wallet, I might put the action and the consequence together (since they came so close on the heels of each other) and the fear of being punished so quickly and severely might urge me to never ever steal again, right?
Only a few of us are born virtuous; the rest of us are a mix of darkness and light and therefore prey to all the temptations of the world. And yet, unless we are criminally insane or prone to masochism, we would all be perfectly moral if there was no gap between our actions and the consequences of those actions.
Right now (I am writing this post in October 2016) the US Presidential Debate rages on and all sorts of filth relating to the actions of both major candidates is rising up in a tidal wave to hurt not just them, but their families, associates, their respective parties, and all those peripherally involved in this major drama. Now, had either of these two candidates known (at the time they did what they did) that their past sins would rise up to bite them in the butt—too too right in the thick of their fight for a powerful office—would they have blithely gone ahead and done what they did? I think not—it was that killer time gap that allowed both to believe they would ever have to pay the karmic piper—and how wrong they both were.
What we do about this time gap in our own lives? I can only speak for myself. First I forged for myself a strong foundation of reality (known as the “view). In doing so, I digested the meaning of karma so well that in time I became convinced that nothing but nothing goes unrecorded in the vast reservoir of consciousness. This perennial awareness of how reality works now makes me careful in how I think, speak and act; if I make mistakes, as I often do, then I am quick to make amends—to offer an apology or do whatever is necessary to compensate for the hurt or trouble I have caused—for it is said that an amend performed minus the ego is said to wipe out the original bad act. Gradually, as this wisdom seeps into our consciousness, we become organically beautiful people and our happiness and peace quotient rises into the heavens. The beauty of living in such a way is that the whole cosmos benefits.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to destroys all that blocks us from the realization that we are in essence nothing but blazing light!