Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

Cthulhu vs. Buddha

I had a realization this morning that the Cthulhu Mythos and Buddhism contain an opposite view of the cosmos from each other. Now, one can argue that the mythos is a literary (ahem) creation while Buddhism is a religion or philosophy deriving from a historical figure and his followers but that doesn’t affect their respective views of the universe.

In the mythos world, the universe is fundamentally an unfriendly or hostile place. Humans are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Other races of beings similar to people have lived on the Earth previously and will again after humanity is gone in the future. The true powers of the universe are actively hostile to humanity on the rare instances when they become aware of people at all. To top it off, the few people that gain any measure of true gnosis about the nature of reality or the entities that populate it, go completely bonkers from this knowledge. For example, Azathoth is a creator being described as “the monstrous nuclear chaos beyond angled space” and the central place of the cosmos is described as “the spiral black vortices of that ultimate void of Chaos wherein reigns the mindless daemon-sultan Azathoth.”

In contrast to this viewpoint is the one within Buddhism, especially Mahayana Buddhism. In this view, the fundamental basis of the universe is shunyata, which is emptiness. To quote the wikipedia article on it:

"Śūnyatā signifies that everything one encounters in life is empty of absolute identity, permanence, or 'self'. This is because everything is inter-related and mutually dependent - never wholly self-sufficient or independent. All things are in a state of constant flux where energy and information are forever flowing throughout the natural world giving rise to and themselves undergoing major transformations with the passage of time. "

One of the points of this teaching is that there is nothing fixed in the world and everything, everything, is in a constant state of change. Misunderstanding this and clinging to a fixed ground that is not there are some of the causes of suffering. This emptiness or voidness is not hostile and not lacking of content as we normally give thought to it. It gives rise to the phenomenal world but all things that rise from it will pass away and change. I heard Robert Thurman speak recently through his podcast and he mentions a quote from Nagarjuna that I had heard before (in his The Jewel Tree of Tibet that “Voidness is the womb of compassion.” In Sanskrit, this is “shunyata karuna garbham.” Shunyata is the womb that gives rise to all things.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the universe is filled not with beings indifferent to humanity but ones which desire to help, the Bodhisattvas, and do so at the expense of their own liberation. The point is generally made that the Bodhisattvas will not liberate you but they offer aid to your own realization and liberation from the illusions of the world which give rise to suffering for individuals. This suffering is a fundamental part of human existence but it is not because the universe is a cold, dark, or evil place. It is because of our interactions with the world and the views that we carry with us. Enlightenment is already here, in this very body, some say, if you only come to the realization, the gnosis, that allows you to see the universe how it truly is and act from that knowledge. This true apprehension of the world does not drive you insane (though it can give rise to some odd behavior) but liberates you into sanity.

Thus, as I have noted, the Cthulhu Mythos, which I love, is fundamentally at odds with a Buddhist view of the universe. Fortunately, I doubt if Cthulhu is truly going to rise from his slumber. Perhaps I can though…