Zen: The Net of Jewels


Zen: The Net of Jewels

“Thence it appears that the entire sense of subjective isolation, of being the one who was “given” a mind and to whom experience happens, is an illusion of bad semantics–the hypnotic suggestion of repeated wrong thinking. For there is no “myself” apart from the mind-body which gives structure to my experience. It is likewise ridiculous to talk of this mind-body as something which was passively and involuntarily “given” a certain structure. It is that structure, and before the structure arose there was no mind-body.

Our problem is that the power of thought enables us to construct symbols of things apart from the things themselves. This includes the ability to make a symbol, an idea of ourselves apart from ourselves. Because the idea is so much more comprehensible than the reality, the symbol so much more stable than the fact, we learn to identify ourselves with our idea of ourselves.

Hence the subjective feeling of a “self” which “has” a mind, of an inwardly isolated subject to whom experiences involuntarily happen. With its characteristic emphasis on the concrete, Zen points out that our characteristic emphasis on the concrete, Zen points out that our precious “self” is just an idea, useful and legitimate enough if seen for what it is, but disastrous if identified with our real nature.

The unnatural awkwardness of a certain type of self-consciousness comes into being when we are aware of conflict or contrast between the idea of ourselves, on the one hand, and the immediate, concrete feeling of ourselves, on the other. When we are no longer identified with the idea of ourselves, the entire relationship between subject and object, knower and known, undergoes a sudden and revolutionary change. It becomes a real relationship, a mutuality in which the subject creates the object just as much as the object creates the subject. The knower no longer feels himself to be independent of the known; the experiencer no longer feels himself to stand apart from the experience. Consequently the whole notion of getting something “out” of life, of seeking something “from” experience, becomes absurd.

To put it in another way, it becomes vividly clear that in concrete fact I have no other self than the totality of things of which I am aware. This is the Hua-yen (Kegon) doctrine of the net of jewels, of shih shih wu ai (Japanese, ji ji mu ge), in which every jewel contains the reflection of all the others.”

Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, pp.116-17

Francis Harold Cook describes the metaphor of Indra’s net from the perspective of the Huayan school in the book Hua-Yen Buddhism:

The Jewel Net of Indra

“Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering “like” stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. 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.” Wikipedia


“Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image.” – Alan Watts

English: Indra's Net: This image was designed ...

Indra’s Net: This image was designed by Stress Engineering Services in Cincinnati, OH to illustrate the need for an integrated, holistic approach to design that can anticipate the enormous and interconnected repercussions of change in a complex system. It depicts a sea of infinitely faceted jewels reflecting each other – change one jewel and its reflection is repeated in every other jewel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3 thoughts on “Zen: The Net of Jewels

  1. Pingback: Zen: Voluntary and Involuntary Events | heartflow2013

  2. This is fascinating, Tomas! I love, love, love this!!!! The last few paragraphs describe a phenomenon I was unaware of. So, you taught me something today. 🙂 Thank you for passing on this knowledge.

I love your comments - What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.