Yes, it’s a Buddhist joke about how to order your hot dog on a bun, but deeper still, it’s a proclamation of unity on a fundamental level: that what feels broken is whole.
As individuals it’s very easy to feel as if we’re separated from each other, broken from the world, and the entire cosmos. Each living organism is itself comprised of a unity of individual cells, each cell performing its function in support of the whole. An individual cell (see image above of its interior) can even be removed from the body and grown in number in a nutritive medium; its willful mission continues despite being separated from the body to which it once belonged. That each individual cell is joined to others in the cooperative community that is a living body remains a mystery; while the hows of chemical and physical mechanisms are increasingly understood, the whys remain unanswered.
As Nobel Laureate Sir Charles Sherrington notes in Man on His Nature, each of us begins as a single, fertilized egg cell. That cell divides in two, the resulting cells then doubling in number again with each division. After the doubling process happens 45 times, approximately 26 billion individual cells comprise a human child at birth. From an individual egg to an individual person; out of many, one – E Pluribus Unum – a unity of billions.
In some spooky way these billions of cells together form a chorus of quantum voices singing to each other, entangled in ways we can only imagine. This entanglement may reach to the very stars themselves, engaging the entire universe in a unified quantum dialogue about states of change, an all-pervasive feedback mechanism about becoming that ties all and everything together.
In realms quantum to cosmic, entangled feedback appears to be universal, the very fabric of existence. Matter is energy bound into physical form, form that contains information about its atomic structure and organization. Accordingly, astronomers observing energy waves can spectrographically determine the chemical composition of celestial objects millions of light years away – stars, planets, clouds of dust. Energy itself is information.
We too are energy and information, neither of which are ever lost or broken, simply transformed. In light of this, Buddhists speak of birth and death as “looks like coming, looks like going,” an acknowledgement of the great perfection of fundamental unity, despite appearances otherwise.
People spend a great deal of time and effort trying to overcome discomfort with birth and death. Such discomfort has been the source of major religions, cultural superstition, magical thinking, and persistent belief in the supernatural. The idea of nothingness terrifies; reportedly, the use of zero in math calculations was barred for centuries by the Catholic Church. None of this denies our human reality of gain or loss, love and attachment, fear and uncertainty; all these are perfectly natural to us. And even if the ultimate truth of oneness is real, it remains either conceptual belief or intellectual knowledge until at the moment of transformation, life’s final act, our individual selves confront the truth.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes his daily practice as preparing for death, his transformation. I’m not suggesting anyone do the same. Personally, I find comfort contemplating being energy and information. The idea that my current manifestation is just one of an endless number of transformations in an eternal universe of transformation calms my suffering, that and a steamy Nathan’s all beef hotdog – mustard and a little sauerkraut only, please.