We can find the dharma in unlikely places. This shouldn’t be surprising because everything is dharma — the sacred and the profane; in pigs and the most sublime thing you can imagine. As the commenter on my blog entry from Monday suggested, we apply limiting mindsets to everything. Consider the possibility that there is no separation — everything we say, do, or experience provides the opportunity for awakening.
Another unlikely place to find the core of the Buddha’s teachings was a statement by the deranged villain The Joker in the film the Dark Knight. When the Joker is captured and imprisoned, Batman enters the interrogation room where the Joker is being held. Batman beats up on him and as he does so the Joker laughs and issues forth this dharmic gem, “You have nothing, nothing to threaten me, nothing to do with all your strength.”
Let me make this clear, this is not an endorsement for the Joker or what he represented in that movie. The point is that the Joker does not care what happens to him; he is not attached to physical pain, to things going his way, or even his life. He is, therefore, radically free. He turns this freedom into mayhem, Buddhas turn this freedom into goodness, generosity, and care for others.
A word on the term dharma. Dharma can mean various things. Sometimes it is translated as “truth” or the “Way” or “universal law.” It can also be seen as the teachings of the Buddha. I think of dharma as the way things are — the lawful unfolding of experience. And this lawfulness is more physics than civics. If I think and do this, I (and others around me) will feel thus.
When I was in college I coined this aphorism, “Freedom is nothing more than telling shame and death to go #@*! themselves.” If we are not beholden to fear or shame then we are free, free to be ourselves. Unlike Freud, I think that freedom tends to move us in the direction of goodness; that a grounding in the dharma helps us to transcend the violent impulses of the id rather than act them out. More on this again soon.