Minecraft and Materialism Part 4

With the construction of the Mandala about to begin it is important that I gain an understanding of the Buddhist teachings and philosophies that serve as an inspiration for the project. How can I fully grasp what it is that I am doing unless I know the reasons why Mandalas are created and then destroyed in the first place? Brief overviews of the philosophy seem to be everywhere. If you want to get into the specifics, however, information becomes much more scarce–unsurprising, as Tibetan Buddhism is a largely oral culture.

From what I have gathered, this Mandala, for me, deals strongly with three Buddhist teachings. These are the negative emotion of attachment, the negative emotion of fear, and the cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Attachment is a negative emotion? The answer is yes and no. The negative aspect of attachment can be described as the exact opposite of aversion or the exaggerated sense of not wanting to be removed or detached from something or someone. Of all the many many negative emotions attachment is one of the most destructive. On the surface it doesn’t seem as destructive as anger and hatred, but it is the main emotion that holds man prisoner.

It is this principle of desire and attachment that the people of India prey upon when attempting to catch monkeys. In a way, they let the monkeys catch themselves. The trap is of utmost simplicity. Take a coconut, punch a small hole in it and attach the coconut to a tree. Then place some sort of bait in the coconut, typically a sweet food. The monkey will stick their hand into the coconut and grab the bait, but they soon find that they can’t get their hand out. But the monkey desires the sweet so much he is held prisoner by it, and will not think to let it go. If the monkey stopped and thought what it was that was keeping it captive and simply let go… it could be free.

Now let’s consider my Mandala. I am devoting a great deal of time and effort into creating it. When it is done I will hopefully be quite proud of my achievement. For me to try and preserve it, however, is a sign of attachment. In the words of the Buddha:

Let me tell you about the middle path…You should lose your involvement with yourself and then eat and drink naturally, according to the needs of your body. Attachment to your appetites – whether you deprive or indulge them – can lead to slavery, but satisfying the needs of daily life is not wrong. Indeed, to keep a body in good health is a duty, for otherwise the mind will not stay strong and clear.”

Nonetheless I can easily see myself bragging about my project and showing it off, creating pride. That pride can cause me to start to look down on others achievements. To preserve the evidence of my superiority I become overly protective of it. In the end I become trapped by my own creation. It wasn’t enough for me to build, reflect and enjoy it. I must learn to be happy about my work but not let my work control my actions. When we grasp at attachment and pleasures, one of two things which happens are either the thing you are grasping at disappears, or you yourself disappear. It is only a matter of which occurs first.

From a Buddhist point of view, this is what all sentient beings do. We hold ourselves prisoner with our attachment to temporary pleasures. And by putting our time and effort into obtaining these temporary pleasures, like pride when it comes to my project, simply creates many more problems. A good Buddhist would take a pleasure into mind and ask themselves the following questions.

1. How far is this “pleasure” simply an escape or a temporary forgetting of daily problems?

2. How nice would it be if I kept doing this without interruption for a few days?

3. How fulfilled do I feel by this experience after 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days?

4. To achieve the same great feeling as the first time, do I need more of the same the next time?

With attachment comes suffering and misery, and the goal of Buddhism is to eliminate suffering from all living beings. And one of the key emotions of suffering is fear. Fear allows us to be aware and alert in potentially dangerous situations and is a very healthy emotion that should not be ignored. However, dwelling upon it only creates suffering. Fear should be there warn you, not own you.

We can be afraid to fall, but once we are falling, we are afraid to hit the ground, once we hit the ground, we may fear we have a bad injury, once we know we have a bad injury, we may fear the pain and the consequences of not being able to work for some time or become disabled etc.

There have been a couple of instances while building the Mandala’s frame where storm blew in. At first, I didn’t think much of the storm, but then lightning struck nearby. What if lightning strikes my wool once I place it? Will the entire project burn down? I am afraid of losing the material possessions that don’t even own yet! The Dalai Lama says …if you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry. So whether I can prevent my Mandala from burning down or or not I need to stop projecting my fears.

We do not like to be afraid, but knowing and recognizing fear is very important. The fear of death is the single strongest driving force behind human action, and when fear becomes mixed with paranoia, attachment, craving, and hatred, war soon follows. And where there is war, there is death.

Tibetan Buddhism has much to say on the subject of life, death, and rebirth/reincarnation. I will save the talks on those for another time, but I do want to touch upon the idea of death and impermanence. In the Buddhist context we lack a realization of impermanence. We may rationally understand the concept but that doesn’t change the way we live. True change only comes when we realize and make them a key part of our thought processes. Much like the western saying Live like you are going to die the teachings of Buddha asks us to do the same.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have been working happily and peacefully and a creeper ambushes me. Or I have fallen off of scaffolding to my death. Even if you see death coming, the moment is always sudden. And once you are dead your possessions are scattered. More times than I can count I have died lost in a deep cave, or in a pool of lava, guaranteeing the loss of all of my possessions, my attachments.

After I lose my items the inevitable thoughts come flooding in. Why didn’t I put those in a chest? Argh I knew I shouldn’t have done that. But hindsight is 20/20. I wasn’t realizing my impermanence, instead gambling against my own life. Nah I want to get this done first, then I will take care of putting these in a chest. If I could remember my impermanence then I could minimize my suffering.

With all of this in mind maybe I can use this Mandala to improve myself and ease my own suffering. During the generous minimum of 26 hours of construction maybe I can use the time to think about my fears–like my fear of needles–and maybe come to terms with it. When the project is completed, perhaps I can destroy both the Mandala and my attachment to it at once.

My goal when starting this project was to learn something about myself while completing something on a grand scale. So far this project has helped me to identify a few things that I could do to improve upon personally. I don’t expect to become enlightened by the end of it but I do hope to master myself a little more.

Part 3

Part 5


  1. Chris Sommer

    This is turning into quite the epic undertaking, look forward to the construction phase.

  2. Pingback: Minecraft and Materialism Part 5 | Nightmare Mode