It’s been about a year now, I think, since I gave up my television set, and so far I haven’t suffered any adverse effects. There weren’t any big moral reasons behind my decision to leave ‘fantasy land’ behind. Rather, there was no good reason to keep that monstrosity of techno-furniture; it was taking up valuable real estate in my living room – room that was better occupied by… well… nothing, actually. And that’s just the point, really. A cup or a bowl, after all, is only useful because of its emptiness, what it can contain. The mind needs space too, to expand and to grow, to rest and to quiesce.
Friends tell me there are some very good things on TV and I have no reason to disbelieve them. Lest you think I’m a Luddite or a technophobe, let me tell you that I would have a difficult time being separated from my computer and the Internet or my Smart phone. And I have nothing against entertainment. I enjoy movies and music and drama. On the other hand, I also enjoy reading and quiet contemplation. Television is too all-pervasive I think and it doesn’t leave much room for the individual. It’s a passive medium and really doesn’t require anything of the recipient (we talk about the proverbial ‘couch potato’ who ‘vegges out’ in front of the tube). I remember growing up in an era where we went from no TV to where the television became the focal point of our household. The family gathered around the TV where we were bewitched and bedazzled (or “Whiplashed” or “Leave it to Beavered”), but I don’t remember a lot of interaction around the electronic hearthside. (Where there was discussion and interaction was around the family dinner table). My foster- mother spent most of her time planted in front of the TV. She was a shut-in and for her it was her connection to the world, her constant company (She loved the oul’ wrestling). It may have been her refuge, her safe haven, but it was not a peaceful place. It was a world driven by excess, by the constant clamour of the pitchman, by the trivial, by false gods and false prophets. Television promised much, but delivered very little. Even at its best, television represents a poor reflection of the human condition.
The Buddha describes Nirvana (Pali, “Nibbana”), not so much by its substance, as much as by its absence. It is not a place, but a state – a state of complete joy and peace, free from suffering, free from attachment, free from hatred, free from illusion. I think most of us come to Buddhism looking for peace, looking for refuge, looking for freedom from desire. The word Nirvana, in Sanskrit, means, “to blow out” or “extinguish” and refers to the elimination of ignorance, the alleviation of suffering. The Buddha said that Nirvana was ineffable, that it could not be described, but could only be experienced. It was the state of ‘being awake’. And how do you describe that awakened state, except to say that you are no longer asleep.
Like the empty bowl and the empty cup, there is no room for Nirvana in a space that is perpetually filled.
There is the story of the professor who went to see the Zen master. The Master poured tea. He kept pouring tea until the exasperated visitor could stand it no more and exclaimed, “Stop! The cup is full! No more can go in.” “Like this cup”, the Master said, “You are filled with your own ideas and opinions.” “How can you learn Zen, unless your cup is empty?”
It is important for us to create spaces in our lives, whether in our homes, outside our homes (in the wilderness and green spaces), in the mind, through meditation or contemplation or mindfulness… The absence of the television is only a metaphor for emptiness and the need for space and the desire for peace to inhabit our everyday lives.
Are we ready to accept this space? Are we able to tolerate emptiness? Can we allow this peace to enter our lives? Twelve months down the televisionless road, I can say with confidence that I have no need for the multi-channel universe to re-enter my life. The best kind of mirror we can bring into our lives is one that gathers no dust.
Miles Murphy works in the field of learning and professional development. An independent scholar, he has a wide range of interests including the humanities of East and West. He is a devotee of Buddhism and a t’ai chi ch’uan enthusiast. His poetry and other writings endeavour to poke about in the rich soil and empty sky of the human condition. Miles can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article cannot be re-published without permission.