Not Driven by Purpose
Q: If we are all one, and I truly believe we are (no separation; form is emptiness), then what is the reason for the existence of individuality? I mean, is the predominant state of human perception really just a useless delusion or is there a purpose even for the delusion?
I've heard it said that sentient life is the universe's way of knowing itself. Sometimes I wonder if maybe there really is a time and a purpose for everything, even samsara. If the cycle of delusion exists, which it clearly does... and if the cycle of delusion has an ending (enlightenment), then the cycle of delusion must have had some sort of beginning, and if it began it might have a purpose.
So the first question becomes: How did it begin? Then why, and for what reason? Why does samsara exist at all? Does it have a purpose? I have been told that suffering and the cycle are caused by our failings, but can we be held cosmically liable for an innate part of our nature?
If human consciousness evolved in stages just like humans themselves did, then maybe wisdom must evolve over time, too.
A: Individuality exists because of our habitual insistence that it does, and I'm speaking of individuality in the sense of the kind of individuality that insists that this is the only state of existence that matters, the "exclusivist" view of individuality: I am what I am and that's that! You note that "form is emptiness" but remember also that "emptiness is form." Form and emptiness are so thoroughly expressed in each other that which is which makes no difference at all to those who are awake to it.
The majority of human perception is colored by the delusion of self, but as you know from your study of the Buddha-Dharma we are able to transform this delusion into Awakening itself. This, as I'm sure you know, is the symbolism of the Lotus Flower: the flower (Awakening) is fed by the scummy, dirty matter at the bottom of the pond (delusion).
Everything has a function; this is the nature of samsaric phenomena. Our task is simply to see those functions as they are and to act accordingly and egolessly, with compassion and wisdom. Samsaric existence points the way to liberation if we are astute enough to see it. This is why we do our best to develop wisdom through meditative practice.
We must remember, however, that what we call delusion comes from the beginingless past and that enlightenment is both beginningless and endless. This makes it pointless to speculate as to where beginnings or endings are. Our task is, rather, to transcend the bonds of ignorance right now. There's no need to tie life's so-called "purpose" to whether or not begnnings or endings exist. Life is its own purpose, thoroughly and completely! How did it begin? Beside the point. Why? Not important. What's important is ending our suffering, which is infinitely more useful than engaging in metaphysical speculation.
The way the samsaric universe operates, what we call cause-and-effect, makes us liable because all causes create effects. We shouldn't think of karma created by delusion as being an "innate part of our nature" because it is Enlightenment that is our True Nature, our innate nature. Delusion (ego) tries to con us into believing that it is innate; this is how it sinks its hooks into us. What people tend to forget about karma is that it is not fixed, nor is it permanent......it just seems that way sometimes. This means that through wisdom and skillful means we are able to prevent, neutralize and even eliminate our karma.
Remember that everything which is samsaric changes and evolves, but Wisdom itself has no need to evolve, as it is the ultimate ground of being. What we must do is, in a sense, evolve from deluded beings into the enlightened beings we really are and have always been. From the relative standpoint we may call this evolving, but from the standpoint of Transcendent Wisdom it is simply going home.