“Understanding How We Interact With the World”
Reverend Matt Hamasaki, Resident Minister

Minister's Blog

June 2021

One of the interesting things that I learned in my high school physics class that I still remember today for some reason, is that in physics, there is no such thing as “cold.”

What we understand as “heat” is the kinetic energy being given off by any particular thing. Things that we think are “cold” have much less kinetic energy and therefore lack “heat.” An example of this would be if you put ice cubes in a warm drink, the “cold” in the ice doesn’t transfer, making the drink cold; rather the “heat” in the drink transfers to the ice cubes to warm them up.

It seems like a trivial matter, but when looking at things as a physicist with the understanding of the world as full of energy, it is an important distinction. I think the reason this stuck with me is because it really challenged my view on the world in that the way I thought the world operated on the atomic scale was actually quite different.

Of course, day to day this didn’t really affect me since I still use the word “cold” and put jackets on and so forth. But this notion that there aren’t two opposites that exist but rather just one thing that is either there or lacking carried over into my studies in Buddhism and perhaps made it a bit easier to comprehend.

An example of this would be pleasure and pain. I think probably most people would agree that these are two very distinct things that are diametrically opposed. Thus, as humans, we are drawn to that which will bring us pleasure and try to avoid that which will bring us pain.

There is the presence of the two within Abhidharma Buddhism when talking about our fleeting sensory experiences. However, this is different than ultimate reality, which is permanent. And perhaps, if I may, it might be better for us to get closer to that reality by understanding our experiences as simply painful and painless.

I offer this explanation as recognizing that our idea of “pleasurable” things comes from our ego and selfishness to have that which is pleasing to us. When we remove self-attachment and selfishness from it, we see that there are simply things that cause us pain and those which do not.

To go back to the original example of heat and cold, if we touch ice on our face on a cold day, it doesn’t feel good. But if we touch the same ice on our faces on a hot day, it feels fantastic. There is no difference in the ice; the difference is what we want at the time.

When we remove our attachment to how much we want to feel a certain way, we can say it in another way: that we no longer have the craving for pleasure. And thus, our experiences are just about pain and painlessness.

In the greater scope of life and of Buddhism, it cuts to the core of the teaching of lessening the suffering of all beings. I hope that changing our view and understanding of how we interact with the world may help us suffer less. Inevitable as it may be for us to suffer, the Dharma helps us see that relinquishing our selfishness is what we need to ease it.