One story retold from the life of the Buddha concerns a mother who loses her child. Distraught, the woman wanders aimlessly, clutching her dead infant to her breast. When she hears that the great sage Shakyamuni is expounding the dharma nearby, she goes to him and asks, “Why has this happened to me?”
In response, the Buddha sends her on a mission: to collect one mustard seed from each household in the village that has never known death. Only when the woman returns empty-handed, does she begin to find solace.
Two thousand and five hundred years after this legendary event, the information superhighway (see this issue’s special section) is being heralded as the great revolution of our age, an unparalleled breakthrough that will generate radical changes in our daily lives. Nothing, however, suggests that these changes will have any effect on a mother who loses a child.
Everything from our own behavior to that of our dharma friends, to Tibetan monks fighting over the new Karmapa (see“In the News”) to Bosnia and Rwanda seems to suggest that greed, anger, and ignorance are inevitable. While Kate Wheeler’s account of misbehaving monks in this issue is offset by humor, Rudolph Wurlitzer’s pilgrimage takes us through parts of Buddhist Asia that have been savaged by corrupt leadership. If the longevity of Buddhist teachings attests to their efficacy, their relevance for today’s world attests as well to the human ego’s fixation on its own needs.
Virtual reality and other dimensions of cyberspace have the potential to help humanity recognize the illusory nature of those boundaries which create false separations and hold us in bondage to our own smallmindedness. The new technology may afford opportunities to experiment with dislocations of relative spatial dimensions, to “virtually” transform our human shapes into birds, or to extend our participation in network communities. But still we are subject to old age, sickness, and death. Perhaps, however, we are not doomed to forever ask “Why is this happening to me?”
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