Just by linking Carl Sagan’s eloquent little Pale Blue Dot to the teachings of Gautama Buddha, James Ure’s Buddhist Blog brings out the buddhism inherent both in Sagan’s words and in the imagery of the Earth from space. That imagery (as I’ve discussed before here and here) is multivalent, but Sagan’s spin on it — the pale blue dot as “the aggregate of our joy and suffering” on which “everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives” — deepens its ability to carry useful meaning. That ability will one day exhaust itself, if not turn into its opposite, but for now I don’t think it has. “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled [. . .] the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner [. . .] Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.”


In claiming there’s an “inherent buddhism” in the image, here’s what I mean: By “buddhism,” uncapitalized and thus not specific to a “religion” (such as big-B Buddhism), I mean the recognition of interconnected and codependent origination of all things — i.e. the recognition that what’s primary is not subjectness (“me,” “you,” et al.) or objectness (this thing or that thing) with any inherent self-existence of their own, but rather the process by which subjects and objects arise and emerge, a process persistent in its creativity (emergence into novelty), its desiring-production (Deleuze/Guattari’s term), its forward motion. This recognition comes accompanied by a feeling of sharedness, giving rise to compassion for all those entities that arise and perish alongside us.

And by “inherent” I mean something like what Deleuze means by the “virtual” and Whitehead means by the “extensive continuum,” a field of potential out of which emerge the occasions of becoming, or bits of experience, that make up the world. (Whitehead’s worldview is panexperientialist, a view of the world made up of “experience all the way down.”) This buddhism, as I’m calling it — though I could also refer to it as a process ecotheology (Whitehead was a Christian) or a paganism (in the sense used by many neo-Pagans today) or a process-relational, liberationist social ontology, or something like that — is there as a distinct possibility that can be made actual or real when drawn out in that direction.

Capturing the sense of forward motion and affective solidarity of this kind of panexperientialist metaphysic, Whitehead writes: “The creativity of the world is the throbbing emotion of the past hurling itself into a new transcendent fact. It is the flying dart of which Lucretius speaks, hurled beyond the bounds of the world.” Incidentally, it’s Whitehead who is largely responsible for the use of the word “creativity” in the way we now take for granted. (Thanks to Steven Meyer for pointing this out and for highlighting this particular quote in his introduction to the special issue of Configurations on “Whitehead Now.”)

For background on the buddhism (capitalized or not) and on the means, or one set of means — and perhaps the best we have available — for internalizing that recognition, I highly recommend Lutz, Dunne, and Davidson’s state-of-the-art overview of Meditation and the neuroscience of consciousness from the Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness.

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