Trickster Buddhism: Dawn of the Hahayana
Tumbling Down The Thousandfold Path
A couple of years ago, I had a dream in which I saw “the face of the buddha”.
It looked like this:
A white cartoon bunny with pink ears, grinning wildly with his tongue hanging out.
He had one eye closed and one eye open…
All I knew after having that dream was: something deep and profound is going on here… something wild and wacky at the heart of things. And it’s taken a while to reveal itself more fully.
I had this dream just a few days after learning that in Hindu and Buddhist symbology, Gods and Buddhas are often depicted with their eyes half-open, half-closed, to indicate their state of perfect balance and harmony between the inner and outer worlds (between emptiness and form).
They are immanently in the world, but are not at all bound by it, having also realised transcendence. Just look at Krishna and Radha’s dreamy gazes:
The dream-bunny-buddha’s eyes seem to be a play on this ancient symbology: he is fully in the world, seeing and relating to everything, and he is fully removed and non-attached, unaffected by any worldly happening or appearance.
It is as if he passionately loves engaging with the world and playing with all its myriad forms and beings, and yet his inner freedom remains unshakeable. Nothing in the world can sway him from his utter bliss and serene joy, which are borne of wisdom: meditative insight into the magical emptiness — or openness — of everything.
He knows that in ultimate reality, nothing at all appears or disappears. That’s the wisdom of the closed eye. Yet neither does anything not appear or disappear: by another way of seeing (the open eye), the entire world of form appears and disappears.
His joyous love is so ferocious that he radiates a crazy, high-vibration energy-bliss-wave through the entire mental continuum of all living beings, inviting them to break through all limitations and relax into their natural state of total unbounded freedom.
This is said to be the perception of a buddha: one who is able to know emptiness completely, and still perceive a world of divine, empty, imaginal appearances (Rob Burbea).
Basically, ultimate reality — and our true nature — resists all final attempts at description or conceptualisation. There are only provisional descriptions; ways of seeing that we can pick up and put down as we please. Each way of seeing gives rise to a different reality; there is no reality independent from a way of seeing (in other words, independent from the mind). This total relativity preserves the total openness of everything — and thus the total freedom of the unlimited buddha-mind, our true nature.
As a result, the dream-bunny-buddha knows that he doesn’t really exist — yet nor does he not-exist. He is simply beyond all possible ultimate conception cognition, definition or categorisation. He sees and enjoys a divine imaginal world (which includes himself), but he isn’t imprisoned by any mode of conceiving of it as real, fixed, or independent; he knows it is all ultimately empty (of independent existence) and revels in that total openness as if he were flying through the sky.
This leaves him free to conceive and define himself as he please, yet never to take these conceptions as fixed, final, true or real. They are all relative, unfixed, and open. So he may choose to appear as a bunny, a friend, a human, a sun, a beetle, a clown, a blue sky morning, or an infinite expanse of pure nothingness… or none of the above.
He is free to appear and disappear, and to revel in the infinite unbounded in-between, where he (and everything else) is unlimited by such concepts as “existence” and “non-existence”, “birth” and “death”. He is able to go totally beyond the wheel of cyclic samsaric existence — yet he can drop back into it at any time. He has mastered his capacity for conscious, voluntary and intentional death — and rebirth!
He thus dwells in the creative freedom of infinite (re-)incarnation. He incarnates in order to PLAY, CREATE and DISCOVER. That play is the very expression of freedom and love that liberates innumerable living beings from their slumber in the nightmare of samsara, where things are taken to be real, fixed and independent of a way of seeing (and delusive tendencies give rise to the feeling of a real, fixed and independent self, the imaginary reference point around which suffering — or negative karma — accumulates).
What’s more: he’s a bunny, which is a classic motif of a magic trick: the rabbit pulled out of a magician’s hat.
That’s why he’s so joyous: he knows he isn’t real. He is a ‘magical incarnation’, to use a phrase of Shakyamuni Buddha. As a result, nothing can harm him! He is utterly free!
He is protected from nihilism because he knows he isn’t totally unreal, either — he isn’t a total meaningless nothingness. His very appearance is a divine miracle, and he perceives himself thus: as a sacred being among sacred beings, all invited to partake in the infinite play of the divine imagination.
There is nothing high or lofty about this divine play (this imaginal life we live). It is all completely extraordinary, and yet completely natural, too.
You see, the dream-bunny-buddha is lucid in the dream of waking life. Living in conscious compassionate relationship to all beings, he participates in every the arising of every form — yet he does not become trapped in believing that any form is ultimately real, or that any way of seeing is finally and ultimately true. He knows it’s all empty, and he knows that this emptiness is what allows it all to appear and disappear. It’s what allows him to see that nothing really appears. It only appears to appear, just like a magic trick!
The symbolism of the magic trick reveals something else very important about the nature of suffering: that it is our conceptions about things, more than things (appearances) themselves, that cause us to suffer.
Geshe Gyatso gives the following analogy:
Suppose a magician conjures up an illusion of a tiger in front of an audience. The tiger appears to both the audience and the magician, but whereas the audience believe that the tiger actually exists, and consequently become afraid, the magician does not assent to the appearance of the tiger and so remains calm.
The problem for the audience is not so much that a tiger appears to them, as their conception that the tiger actually exists. It is this conception rather than the mere appearance of the tiger that causes them to experience fear. If like the magician they had no conception that the tiger existed, then even though they still had an appearance of a tiger they would not be afraid.
In the same way, even though things appear to us as ordinary [as really, independently existing], if we do not conceptually grasp them as ordinary this will not be so harmful.
In order to honour and better understand the cutting-edge of Buddhism today, let’s trace the tradition from its source.
Since Sakyamuni Buddha’s awakening in Northern India around 2600 BC, the wheel of the dharma has been ceaselessly turning, ushering many thousands of humans into the freedom of buddhahood.
This epic and infinite movement has now seen several great phases, or great turnings, upon the Earth. These are:
- Hinayana (“Lesser Vehicle”) — also known as Theravada Buddhism. This stage spans roughly the first 500 years after Gautama Buddha’s parinirvana (not death!), and is still followed in many countries such as Thailand, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. All worldly life and perception is taught to be suffering, so the goal of the path is ESCAPE SAMSARA (conditioned reality), GET TO NIRVANA (the unconditioned). It is essentially a vehicle of self-development, proceeding via willful cultivation of positive and perfect qualities: one pursues the eightfold path in order to attain Nirvana and become an Arahant, free from clinging and thus liberated from the samsaric cycle of involuntary death and rebirth.
- Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”), also known as the Bodhisattvayana. This begins around 100 BC onwards, spanning another 500-odd years before Vajrayana developments. This was all catalysed by the titanic philosopher-sage Nagarjuna, who recognised that the duality and separation between samsara and nirvana was totally false. Realising that the conditioned and un-conditioned fundamentally depend on one another, they cannot be said to be separate in any way: they are non-dual. Not two, not one. This culminates in that jewel of Mahayana wisdom: “Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form”. As a result, the Buddhist devotee no longer has to reject Samsara and let go of everything in order to attain Nirvana: instead she sees that Nirvana is everywhere, in everything and every being. Thus Nagarjuna said that “the nature of all things is essentially peace” — is liberation, is Nirvana. The cosmic buddhas and bodhisattvas are immanent in all forms (all conditioned reality) — as is one’s own buddha-nature — while still preserving their/our transcendent (unconditioned) nature. True buddha-nature is thus beyond the duality of conditioned/unconditioned phenomena — again, it is totally inexpressible and inconceivable and must be “known” directly. The Mahayana sees the dawn of the Bodhisattva ideal: the one who aspires to awaken and realise their freedom for the benefit of all living beings. Heroically, they vow to forego personal realisation of Nirvana in order to stay with conditioned beings, suffering through the apparently endless task of serving and helping innumerable beings to realise their own liberated buddha-nature.
- Vajrayana (“Diamond Way””) — also called the Tantrayana or Mantrayana. Unable to bear the suffering of the beings that they love and depend on, the yogi attempts the audacious task of attaining the full liberation of buddhahood within this very lifetime. This entails “bringing everything to the path”: using powerful Tantric practices (such as visualisation mantras) to unlock deep unconscious energies (such as desire, anger, fear and bliss), yoking them all to the task of realising total liberation through the perception of the (divine and empty) buddha body. This enables a practitioner to rapidly realise the union of wisdom and compassion that is the awakened heart-mind: knowing the emptiness of everything, yet still able to perceive a self and world of divine appearances. The entire cosmos is seen and related to as utterly divine and mystical: a sacred mandala in which all beings (including oneself) are perceived as buddhas and deities. “All phenomena are the mandalas of the buddhas”.
More recently, Ken Wilber has presented his own case for a fourth turning of Buddhism, based on the profound discoveries and revelations of Western science and collective inquiry. While undoubtedly valuable… it’s all got a bit serious, now, hasn’t it?
Where’s the fun, Ken?!
Where is the play? The humour? The laughter?
The ecstatic joie de vivre?
How is possible that Ken Wilber writes a (admittedly, freaking amazing) 700-page book called the “Religion of Tomorrow” without cracking a single joke, or intentionally making me giggle even just a little bit? Is awakening really that serious an affair? As Frank Zappa asked Does Humour Belong in Music?, I invite you to ask: Does Humour Belong in Religion and Spirituality? If so, why? If not, why not?
Perhaps we’re cautious of humour in this area because it begs that we come up with an answer to the question: how are we to reconnect with the pure and holy joy of childhood when we live under the shadow of the nihilistic principle that “it’s all a joke, nothing is real, and nothing matters”?
How can we instead embody the paradox that “yes it’s all a joke, it’s all totally absurd and yes — everything matters! I really do care about lots of things and I will not give up on them, even if I’ve been told that they are utterly meaningless!”?
What we essentially asking here is: what would a Buddhism look like that has passed through the critical deconstruction of postmodernism?
Conceive, if you can, of a Buddhism — and of Buddhists — that are fully aware that Buddhism does not provide us with any ultimate truth or final word about the nature of reality. Rather, it teaches us that — sorry modernists — there is no ultimate truth or final word about reality. By expounding the thorough emptiness of everything, Buddhism deconstructs itself and reveals itself to be pure poetry, metaphor, myth. And instead of this deconstruction making everything meaningless, it is what enables us to sincerely embark — sorry postmodernists — on a journey of infinite scope: the reconstruction of the entire cosmos as a sacred mandala… the idealistic co-creation of a universe in which all beings are free, liberated to their original state of uninhibited creative self-expression. From there, the path is soulmaking, is artmaking, is lovemaking. It is skilful and ecstatic weaving of divine imaginal forms from the inexhaustible womb of formlessness (Prajnaparamita, mother of all buddhas, the fertile void). It is communion with the sacred mystery as incarnated in and through every single being — including oneself.
A Buddhism that knows its own emptiness, its own absurdity and its metaphorical, symbolic, poetic nature… leaving it free to assume and play with any form that invites communion through divine inspiration-imagination. Leaving us free to imbue any perception, any event, and any being with a sense of meaning, a sense of awe, and a sense of sacredness.
A Buddhism that appreciates the irony in worshipping ikons of a person who effectively said “don’t worship ikons of me” — and yet also appreciates our apparent need for sincere devotion to a symbolic reflection of our highest potential for love and freedom, as captured in images and statues of buddhas and bodhisattvas. These forms are all empty, yes, but our love and devotion makes them sacred and brings them to life. Our love and devotion fills them up — and allows us to filled up by those fellow beings of ours who have realised themselves to be utterly empty and utterly divine, utterly selfless and utterly self-loving. Our devotion makes the entire universe sacred again, bringing us to life — thereby bringing the entire universe to life, because we are the entire universe, every one of us! And, hallelujah, we’re saved from the oppressive religious fervour that makes most modern people allergic to the very words ‘worship’ and ‘praise’ — because we know we haven’t revealed any ultimate truth that now guides our actions and gives us superiority over anyone else — because we are still just improvising, winging it, never arriving at the fixed and final realisation, in it together with everyone. We aren’t special. Just another monkey with an anus, looking at the stars and sensing mystical love, before going inside to make beans on toast and watching a comedy show.
The Hahayana demands that we fully honour both the tragic and comic dimensions of our current selves, society, and world. It’s all infinitely heartbreaking and infinitely loveable, at the same time. We are invited to come into full contact with the utter absurdity and depravity of the modern world, as well as the utter comedy, beauty, a miraculous divinity of all of it.
What’s happening on the World Stage right now is undoubtedly one of the Greatest Shows ever seen — and, far from the passive spectators that we’ve been oppressed into being by consumerist propaganda (and also by Western, mindfulness-focussed Buddhism) — we are all fundamentally participating actors in this infinitely open, ever-unfolding, co-created play. We enter into that participation ever-more consciously as we digest Shakyamuni Buddha’s statement that “everything rests on the tip of intention”.
We begin to feel, viscerally, that all beings depend on us, and we depend on all beings.
To harm oneself is to harm all beings. To harm another is to harm oneself.
To love oneself is to love all beings. To love another is to love oneself.
But how on earth do we actually live by those statements in the schizophrenic complexity of the postmodern world?
In this degenerate golden age everyone is both a clown and a prisoner in a death camp. Everyone is an artist, a work of art, a meaningless germ and a flash in a dream. Every action is absurd, every action is heroic, every word is meaningless, every voice is sacred, every being is empty, every being is free!
Within this, the dawning of the Hahayana — this swirling, post-postmodern, post-existentialist, magical realist co-created surreality — there appears to arise, much like a rabbit from a hat (grinning madly with one eye open, one eye closed), a cosmic band of trickster bodhisattvas intent on the full liberation of all magical beings into perfect absurdity, perfect freedom, perfect ha! Perfect realisation of their utter emptiness and utter fullness in the infinite om-bliss-void of divine unfathomable love.
These mystic minstrels, imaginative heroes of a rapidly unfolding global suicide attempt, are ambassadors and co-conspirators in a vast plot of unimaginable scale, sometimes known as the ‘Universal Love Movement’, spanning all conceivable time and space — a plot to jam spanners in the deepest gears of mental cognition, to halt the grinding torture wheel of samsaric perception and to let all the infinite beings caught in that wheel to fall out, panting like singed and sorry-looking hamsters spun from a burning nuclear centrifuge out onto the glowing green grass glistening with morning dew and the glinting sparkling light of the rising morning sun that bids them:
“Welcome home, young buddha rodents, children of the Hahayana, friends of the bunny buddha, blessed mammalian residents of the one we call Gaia… ye are free now… freed by compassion, freed by love, freed by fearless ferocious devotion to the incomparable ideal of universal liberation. Ere on this ground, ye will sing and dance again!”
The wheels of samsara shall run again, but this time voluntarily, and their song will be soft and beautiful, like the songs of a millwheel spun by a crystal stream of water, radiating prayers outwards to the furthest corners of the universe, and beyond that still on into the infinite infernal fertile voids awaiting imaginative impregnation by none but we, the divine artisans of funk and rage, the free and easy cosmic buddhas of the most delicately delicious dharma, fruit of awakening, the utterly empty dharma of perfect wisdom catalysing innumerable utterly imperfect attempts at artistic embodied incarnation each awaiting their invitation into infinite improvisational evolution the moment we drop the script and siiiiiing!
Om Ah Ho!
Om Ho Ho!
Om Hee Hee Ha Hee Hee Ho!
With a Namo Tassa Bhagavato, Arahato Sammbuddhasa! (this line to the tune of nik-nak-paddy-wack give-a-dog-a-bone)
The Hahayana is an era when the Buddhadharma as vehicle for liberation of beings — that is, for the realisation of perfect freedom, perfect emptiness, and the divinity of everything — collides, explosively and ecstatically, with the cultural currents of absurdism, tragicomic theatre, clownery, non-realism, magical realism, depth psychology, queer liberation, afrofuturism, guerilla ontology, participatory democracy, indigenous wisdom, deep ecology, artistic co-creation, spontaneous improvisation, psychedelic awakening, surrealism, metamodernism, divine madness, and Burning-Man-style collective participation… to name but a few!
Whew, that was a long list. Sorry about that. But I wanted to give a taste of all the wide-ranging places where the freedoms to be found by Buddhist practice and philosophy might bring ever-greater richness, creativity and humour — if only we let them. ..
Just as in the previous yanas, we still aspire to live for the liberation of all beings, but the means and methods of that liberation now expand to embrace and energise all forms of resistance to oppression, cultural reality-bending, artmaking, and compassionate creative tricksterous consciousness-raising.
The Hahayana is therefore the era of the trickster bodhisattva, who freely traverses between any and all reference frames (reality tunnels, ways of looking, ways of being, realms of perception) in order to creatively and compassionately spread, teach and fulfil the buddha’s gospel of universal liberation.
In myths from around the world, the Trickster is a very often a shapeshifter, and is often genderfluid, too. These capacities reflects the compassionate bodhisattva’s ability to freely and creatively assume any form / body/ incarnation: whatever appearance is best suited for the consciousness expansion, heart opening and ultimate liberation of those beings they are inseparably connected to.
Buddhism is the only great tradition with enough insight, expansiveness — and frankly, enough guts — to admit that it is only a story. But, far from making it worthless and “make-believe”, it is a story of radical empowerment — a story that tells us that stories are all we have — and all we are. Truly, it is a story fit for the children of God; a story of ongoing reincarnation as we tend towards the collective awakening and liberation of all living beings…
Seeing itself as utterly empty and fabricated, Buddhism possesses the unique ability to utterly melt and dissolve itself by thorough and total insight into the emptiness of everything — including the buddha, the dharma, the path, the sangha, suffering, liberation… everything.
Nothing truly exists. Yet no thing is a nothingness — unless we choose to view it that way. The very nature of things is ultimate inconceivability. Far from negating things, this view leaves them — and all the meanings and significances wrapped up in them — inexpressibly and unfathomably open. Because they can be re-conceived, re-imagined, re-enchanted without limit. The only apparent limits are those set and defined by the mind — which, being mentally created, can then be expanded, again without limit.
Everything that exists only appears to exist… only appears to appear (and disappear). From the infinite openness of possible views that one might call “ultimate reality”, nothing is every truly born or produced — including oneself — so… RELAX!
EMBRACE this infinite creative exploration of the limitless divine mind, your mind, the mind of all beings… the buddha-nature of all things… the boundless empty heart full and overflowing with beauty like a summer garden in victorious bloom!
In this indescribable sky of freedom there is a resounding
Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ho!
Through all the infinite universes one can hear it (the moment one imagines it): the booming laugh of ultimate universal liberation!
The trickster bodhisattva dwells in inconceivable liberation, knowing their utter emptiness and non-reality — inseparable from the emptiness and non-reality of the entire world, which is no other than the great gatherings of innumerable beings, co-arising as one and many at once.
Yet, knowing their divine, magical, non-real selves to be utterly interdepndent with all other divine magical, non-real, selves (or beings), such a bodhisattva does not abandon these beings but works tirelessly, naturally and spontaneously for their liberation. That work is so natural, so spontaneous, so unburdened by delusion and clinging, that it is indeed no other than play.
And what is play but the free and natural unfolding of creative love?
Creative Love Mode
Triratna founder Sangharaksita helpfully delineated four primary modes of being:
- Power Mode vs. Love Mode
- Reactive Mode vs. Creative Mode
Most beings on Earth today are trapped in both power mode and reactive mode. But the trickster bodhisattva abides in Creative Love Mode, and this is what enables them to overcome the trappings of the other modes. He can use power, subordinate to love, and he can use creativity to transmute reactive energies into ecstatic self-expression.
They thus set about inviting Buddhism — and all other great wisdom traditions — to admit their own absurdity and cultural relativity (that is, to submit to postmodern deconstruction), blasting all involved out of their tight and rigid cultural and institutional trappings (which are no other than self-imposed mental limitations, subtle ways they are stuck in power mode and reactive mode) and out into the open field of the infinite ecstatic creative cosmic jam…
To say “this is the way things are” — which very many Buddhist are likely to do — is a power mode statement. It is a rejection of all other possibilities due to a delusional adherence to the dogma of realism. It is an epistemicide — an outright murder of alternative ways of knowing.
The whole mindfulness movement is trapped in this reality tunnel; trapped in a conception that mindfulness reveals “the way things are”. But there is no way things are!
And the only way a being can truly enter creative love mode is to just admit it: “there is no ultimate way things are”. Far from imprisoning them in a meanginless void, this admission frees them up to determine for themselves, creatively and actively, the way things are. It is an acceptance and an embrace of one’s fundamental participation in the life of things, one’s responsibility towards all living beings, and one’s miraculous and divine ability to manifest entire universes of imaginal perception.
A non-realist bodhisattva, who has seen thoroughly the emptiness of everything without exception, knows that their own being, their own journey, and their own calling to awaken for the benefit of all beings is utterly absurd… yet this insight is precisely what frees them to take up the task of awakening for the benefit of all living beings!
It is both deadly serious and a complete and utter joke — just like this whole Hahayana affair!
With this liberated attitude of ironic sincerity, the metamodern bodhisattva charges forth, giggling in delight at the divine beauty of empty emptiness and in solidarity with all suffering beings on whom they intimately, inseparably depend.
To keep this post shorter, I branched daughter piece about this attitude called Glimpses of a Metamodern Buddhism: Ironic Sincerity and the Fertile Void which you can read here.
In my view, the metamodern Hahayana phase of Buddhism began in the late 1960’s when sincere efforts at universal liberation combined with absurdist creative tricksterism (such as 70,000 people attempting to levitate the Pentagon).
This decade really did seem to be the birth of the Hahayana attitude. Clearly people were finding immense inner freedom and love, and the natural expression of that was the compassionate creative subversion of consensus reality via art and activism, very often undertaken with an utterly absurdist, anarchic and humourous attitude. As a result you get incredible and truly bold creativity in phenomena like the Social Theatre, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Yippies, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Woodstock, the Festival of Life, and a cultural wave of happenings, love-ins, and be-ins. (I did my best to document some of the key events of this era in Notes on Counterculture.)
And, after all, yana means vehicle — and what better haha-vehicle could one imagine than Further, the infamous hand-painted school bus that carried Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters on their epic psychedelic romp across America handing out LSD to raise the consciousness of their entire country.
Within Buddhism itself, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche expounded the dharma of ‘crazy wisdom’: “an innocent state of mind that has the quality of early morning-fresh, sparkling, and completely awake”.
This saw the beginning of a time when dharma practice began to empower, enable and encourage people — that is, psychologically oppressed and imprisoned “good citizens” — to bust out of the hard shackles of consensus reality and into the utter freedom of the awakened heart-mind where one is free to entertain an infinite range of ways of seeing, ways of knowing, ways of being, knowing all to be utterly empty, unfathomable and divine.
That freedom enables one to see the suffering inherent in so many of modern society’s reference frames, and to freely engage in those reference frames out of compassionate love —
This freedom consciously transforms culture as much as it transforms self. And that’s no coincidence — because what is culture but the collective expression of many selves in relationship?
See how Frank Zappa describes the ‘60’s phenomenon of ‘freaking out’:
“a process whereby an individual casts off outmoded and restricting standards of thinking, dress and social etiquette in order to express creatively his/her relationship to his/her immediate environment and the social structure as a whole”.
My dear friend AmayaMomo calls it The Freakfold Path.
By following our deep longing for cultural, social and creative freedom we emerge together, blinking and awestruck, into a cosmos that is so clearly the imaginal co-creation of innumerable divine beings and buddhas… unlimited, open, empty… an ever-unfolding vision driven by passionate soul desire for Divine Beauty, a desire that whips up unapologetically idealistic utopian social experiments faster than you can say Hahayana!
You see, the Hahayana recognises the deep suffering inherent in modern society’s inequalities, industrial systems, intersectional oppressions and the spiritually desolate corporate-consumerist wasteland… a barren desert of imagination devoid of all meaning in which all one can do is chase sensory pleasure by earning money, money, money. And it asks: how can a Buddhism that does not turn towards such structural and systemic suffering be relevant or meaningful in today’s world?
If serious business is the defining attitude of the system, then humour is the heart-attitude of the Hahayana path to liberation. Humour is the spontaneous and natural expression of creative love that liberates us from the serious business of reactive power mode.
Revolution for the hell of it, as Abbie Hoffman put it. For the sheer joy of it. And yet, too, for the liberation of all suffering beings.
The humour of the Hahayana is characterised by a gleeful revelry in paradox and illogic. Knowing that no conceptualistion or logical statement will ever capture, describe or express the inconceivable, inexpressible, inconceivable nature of ultimate reality, we are freed to entertain all statements, all stances, all views, all possibilities, and none of them, and to move in the in-betweens. This freedom gives us a tolerance and understanding of all other perspectives, allowing us to live in solidarity with all beings everywhere, no matter what stage of development they are.
While the ungraspable nature of all phenomena is a cause of frustration to those beings still caught into reality tunnel of reductive rationalist materialism, to the emptiness-seeing non-realist bodhisattvas it is the cause (and effect) of the greatest rejoicing, the heartiest laughter, the most eye-twinkling smiles you’ve ever seen or imagined.
And from that viewpoint, the only way to relate to the beings trapped in reality tunnels is a sincere, compassionate longing to help them out of their mental anguish.
Only when you know you’re utterly empty, and so is everything else, does the utterly impossible task of saving all infinite living beings from suffering becomes manifestly possible! Only then can one consciously embark on that creative compassionate journey with an attitude-that-liberates, a peaceful loving attitude of unshakeable lover and humour.
Of course, pursuing enlightenment or buddhahood is an utterly absurd activity. Becoming that which you are and always have been is a blatantly ridiculous paradox — to the extent that it cannot be called a practice — rather a performance!
However: pursuit of enlightenment in full awareness of the absurdity and impossibility of both the path and the goal, of the non-reality of oneself and all beings… to do so anyway is the very mad and wild action that liberates oneself-as-all-beings from the torturous grip of all non-creativity, non-imagination, non-freedom… all that serious business of the clinging ego-mind (clung to nothing but itself, the holy fool!).
It’s worth saying that the Hahayana is in no way superior to the other yanas — rather it is complementary. It’s actually not even real, I just made it up. Or rather, I put a name to the phenomenon of Trickster Buddhism which no doubt has a long and rich global history. If I had to summarise it, I’d say that it is an attitude and practice of creative expressive tricksterousness that allows the energies and liberations of the Buddhisms of other yanas to more freely flow towards the broken hearts of countless suffering beings imprisoned in oppressive cultural, social and psychological structures — knowing full well that Buddhism itself can be responsible for upholding and propagating such structures. Perhaps it’s guiding light is to kindle the spark of the divine creative imagination in people, thereby allowing them to freely express, create and break out of their mental shackles. Actually the Hahayana should support our engagement with the other yanas and act as a vehicle for translating their insights and liberations into creative compassionate culture-jamming action fit for the metamodern maelstrom currently unfolding on the world stage.
By my view, Buddhism is already the best tradition in the world at negating and deconstructing its own teachings, knowing that the nature of reality — and liberation — is ultimately incomprehensible, inconceivable and inexpressible. What it is not so good at (and neither is any world religion, really), is deconstructing itself at a collective and cultural level. Far from making it a dead and worthless institution — just another oppressive power-structure — this would actually free Buddhism to flow into any and all areas of life, embracing and energising our communities, our arti. I believe that Buddhism longs to do that. But the only way it can is if it passes through the thorough deconstruction and relativisation of postmodern criticism… and the only way it can resurrect itself following that deconstruction is to develop an attitude that ironic-yet-sincere, absurd-yet-devoted, humorous-yet-utterly-earnest.
This attitude is what frees the trickisattva up to engage with postmodern culture and, despite all that spitefulness and vitriol, to preach their truth, bare their soul, open their heart and sing their song to the world. You can’t sling irony at them, because they’ve already done it to themselves. Through their vulnerability and honesty they have already admitted that they are pathetic, hungry, confused, power-obsessed and attention-grabbing — but that they are also so in love with the world that they cannot help but try and help. Criticise that!
“The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All other wars are subsumed in it.” — Diane di Prima
To quote poet Allen Ginsberg, “The warfare’s psychic now. Whoever controls the language, the images, controls the race.” The trickster bodhisattva responds to this situation by artmaking: presenting and performing new ways of expressing language, image and symbol, in order to reclaim the power of creative spirit and give it back to the oppressed masses. What’s more, they expand the notion of art to embrace all and everything, through their insight that all perception is fundamentally creative; thus the trickster bodhisattva is a freedom artist par excellence. She knows that artmaking is soulmaking — and that soulmaking is what the creative living cosmos is longing for.
Paul Levy makes the role of the artist clearer than I ever could:
“Artists are “called” by a power beyond themselves. A slayer of mythic dragons, the artist must symbolically kill the father, who, mythically speaking, represents the dominant values, the old rules, laws and “shoulds.”
The creative artist becomes a hero who must deconstruct the old in order to make possible the dawning of the new. In making and living their own laws, the creative artist transforms, dethrones and overthrows the conventional, soulless world of the traditional canon filled with its life-killing routines to seek and follow an unknown directive, a higher authority, what Jung would call the Self, the wholeness and guiding force of the deeper personality.
Rather than passively letting our perceptions be managed and manipulated by the powers-that-be’s propaganda organs (such as the mainstream media), we as sovereign creative beings, can connect with our own perceptions and create our own unique and authentic experience of the world. We change ourselves, and the world, in the process.”
You see, the trickisattvas are able to enter into the slog and suffering of changing themselves — and the world — because they have undying faith in the Buddha’s gospel of universal liberation. They know that, actually, this isn’t about any one individual waking up — not me, not you, not Gautama the Buddha.
It’s about entering into active creative participation in the Great Universal Co-Awakening. The co-dependent origination and co-liberation of all beings everywhere. The co-creative evolution of the Divine Buddha Mind, driven on to infinite horizons by the Diamond (Vajra) Passion: that inexhaustible loving desire for ever-greater, deeper, and more sublime beauty, soulfulness, and sacredness.
What’s next, doc?