MR: How can this revolution happen on a scale equal to our mass delusion?
RT: Now imagine if the dharma were taught on network television...
MR: What would that look like?
RT: It would look like The Matrix with less shooting.
MR: Teachers giving talks?
RT: No, not necessarily. There might be some PBS-style pedagogy, perhaps, but generally that’s not going to go network because that’s not going to be that interesting to people. How did Buddhism spread popularly in Asia? The Jataka tales, biographies of the Buddha, the lives of the saints, you know, dramas, Buddhist plays.
The network dharma will just look like better TV. It will look like better movies, teaching better messages and showing greater beauty rather than some commercial garbage; it will make people feel more contented and less greedy afterwards so they won’t necessarily go out and buy a new face or something, because there will be films about the beauty of ordinary faces, and the beauty of ordinary lives and the beauty of nature.
MR: But do you think it’s a good idea for people to watch TV?
RT: TV is a kind of meditation, you know. It’s everybody meditating.
MR: I don’t feel like I’m meditating when I watch TV.
RT: You don’t, because you have a certain concept of meditating. You have a concept of meditating as escaping all narratives. You’re looking at a transcendent thing, trying to break paths, and see the deeper nature. Zen is taught that way.
MR: Maybe. All I know is I feel more invigorated after meditation, but when I watch TV, I feel completely exhausted.
RT: But that’s because TV is a negative meditation. The commercials are meditations on dissatisfaction: you can’t get along without a new car, you can’t get along without this drug, or without this or that. They’re meditations to create dependency; they’re addiction-creating meditations. These are meditations on the Three Poisons [greed, anger and ignorance] and they are very powerful.
If the Enlightenment Party would run and win, we wouldn’t cancel television and have people go back to homespun; no, we would use these media. Imagine a billion minds linked up—like the Lotus Sutra or the Avatamsaka Sutra. In the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Buddha gives a teaching and beings come from many galaxies and universes in a sort of three-dimensional checkerboard in giant towers made of flower petals woven together of hundreds of stories and balconies.
Remember Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? That’s a dharma teaching. Remember he keeps repeating the same day? Finally he starts being a bodhisattva through that day and then he gets out of that day, otherwise he doesn’t. That’s a dharma teaching. But no mention of Buddhism. It doesn’t need to mention Buddhism because there is no word for Buddhism in Buddhism originally. Buddha didn’t say I want you to be Buddhist. He said, “I want you to become enlightened. I want you to become free of your addictions. I want you to be happy, because I’m happy, because I’ve discovered what our true nature is here and now and it’s nirvana.” That’s what Buddha announced: this is nirvana. Not, it’s always going to be samsara. He said, “This is nirvana and everyone is going to notice.” Don’t externalize your thing; change yourself. You could live in a bad situation, and you’ll be so happy you won’t care. Once you get better, then of course change the situation. Change the samsara. A bodhisattva doesn’t simply accept other people’s samsara.