Search
Close this search box.
x

FEATURES

Seeding Peace in the Cloud

The third-century Avatamsaka Sutra unfurls a bedazzling, poetic vision of Shakyamuni Buddha’s perceptions on awakening to true awareness beneath the Bodhi tree. Reflecting the diamond-like clarity of enlightenment, the world reveals itself to the Buddha as an interpenetrating matrix of shimmering phenomena expanding through the infinity of inner and outer space. Here the legendary metaphor of Indra’s great cosmic net is presented as a vast, spider-like web stretching across the cosmos:

A single glittering jewel hangs in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number . . . if we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring. (Cook, 1977)

For Mahayana Buddhism, in particular the influential Huayan (Flower Garland) school, which developed in seventh- and eighth-century China, Indra’s net is celebrated as a potent allegory for the fractal nature of interdependent reality (Skt: pratityasamutpada) and the core principle of emptiness (Skt: sunyata) as the net connects all yet has no center. 

Created by the author with BingAI

Of the myriad practitioners inspired by this sutra’s celestial illustration of interbeing, Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh brings the concept eloquently down to earth. Guiding the reader’s attention back into the present, Thay’s well known Clouds in Each Paper simile reads: 

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So, we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.

Ephemeral yet imminent, clouds also play a foundational role in the activities of our life online. As Thay himself might have expressed it:

If you are a poet, you will also clearly see the clouds floating in this computer screen. For without clouds, the reservoirs would be empty; without reservoirs, data centers could not be cooled; and without data centers, we could not weave the nets of information through which this webpage arises. If clouds did not animate our atmosphere, virtual clouds could not animate our digi-sphere. So, we can say that clouds and the cloud inter-are.

Looking deeper into this virtual cloud, we may similarly glimpse a swirling meshwork of other beings reflected and refracted such that the glowing black mirror before us reveals our own participation as a polished “eye/I” on the spiraling net. 

Just as complex interactions between vapor particles continually transform the structure of clouds, so too our digital cumuli continue to rise and morph under newly mechanized pressure systems of human attention and activity. Violent storms in this airy digital domain are also becoming increasingly common, with low-lying fog often completely obscuring the light of truth. As the inertia of our time continues to energize virtual modes of being, Thay’s sage words take on fresh meaning. 

Image courtesy of the author

But the Venerable was not just a contemplative poet, he was also an admired peace activist galvanized by the intense suffering wrought on his homeland during the Vietnam War. With the heart-mind of a bodhisattva, Thay recognized the need to engage his Buddhist practice with the carpeting devastation raining down from the war machine in the clouds. In 1964, he founded the School of Youth for Social Service—a grassroots relief organization of 10,000 volunteers—mobilizing youth as agents of social change by teaching an activism grounded in the ethical framework of non-violence and compassionate action.

Powerfully articulated as “Engaged Buddhism” in his 1967 classic Lotus in a Sea of Fire, a robust movement of Dharma-inspired activism was seeded and further evolved by Thay’s contemporaries into a holistic practice of personal, social, and cultural transformation. From fearlessly addressing gender-based violence and catastrophic ecological collapse to a skillful coordination of self-reliance initiatives in tens of thousands of rural villages across Sri Lanka, engaged Buddhist practitioners have creatively applied Dharmic principles to the alchemic transformation of suffering into empowerment and liberation for many decades. 

It is on the shoulders of these giants that we will stand in forthcoming articles for this column, turning the Eye of Engaged Dharma toward the pockmarked digital landscape, strewn as it is with tangible craters left by a new kind of war machine in the cloud. Anchoring our exploration in a socially engaged view of the Four Nobel Truths, we will come to see how this foundational Buddhist teaching opens us to a deeper awareness of the serious alarms and sincere hopes vibrating in virtual space. 

Far from an exhaustive exercise, these writings are intended to seed peace in the cloud by precipitating the analysis and ideation of a Middle Way between doomscrolling dystopia and digital denial. In an effort to cultivate a wiser framework for engagement with the immense power at our fingertips, we may now embark on the journey of Cloud Practice.

Image courtesy of the author

References

Cook, Francis H. 1977. Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra. University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press

“Hua-yen Buddhism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Archive. (Accessed on 1 July 2024): https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2019/entries/buddhism-huayan/

Hanh, Thich Nhat. “Clouds in Each Paper.” AWAKIN.ORG. (Accessed on 1 July 2024): https://www.awakin.org/v2/read/view.php?tid=222

See more

Digital Bodhisattva (Facebook)
Digital Bodhisattva (Clubhouse)
Digital Bodhisattva Initiative (Linktree)
International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB)
INEB (Twitter)

Related features from BDG

A Wet Blanket Mantra for Modernity: In Conversation with Gregory Pettys
Spatial Samsara: The Apple in the Garden
Praise for a Hopepunk Psalm

Related videos from BDG

Digital Bodhisattva Podcast

BDG Special Issue

Digital Dharma – Buddhism in a Changing World

More from Digital Bodhisattva by Dexter Cohen Bohn

Related features from Buddhistdoor Global

Related news from Buddhistdoor Global

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments