I first encountered “The Jewel Net of Indra” in a class on Chinese Religions. My understanding is that it came from the Mahayana sect, and it’s attributed to a Buddhist named Tu-Shun (557-640bce). The Avatamsaka Sutra explores the idea through a question-and-answer format between the teacher and the student. I like sparkly things, so it was easy for me to fall in love with the image. That net is so constantly on my mind I’m thinking of weaving it and pinning it to the ceiling, much the way others would put a cross on the wall.
Picture, affixed to the sky, a vast net. At each juncture of the strings, there’s a little dangly jewel. As this jewel dangles, twisting in the breeze, it reflects and re-reflects off every other jewel. It is constantly changing as a response to its environment. So too, its motion appears on the surface of all the other jewels. Each jewel creates, and is co-created by every other jewel by virtue of these reflections.
This is the the Buddhist concept if intercausality. We simultaneously cause each other to come into being through our words, our actions, our nonverbal communication, all of it. As we exist, we change each other.
On board so far?
One more time: The jewel is mutable and intimately connected to all the other jewels. A change in one gem affects all the others.
Storytelling is much the same way. It is a livelihood. It is a lifestyle. It’s a vocation and a career. The stories we tell will survive longer than our laws. Story is the most honest way we can communicate who we are as a people across 4,000 years, and 4,000 miles. It is life.
And yet, story is also Futurama. It is a Wikipedia entry on the early life of Kim Kardashian. It is a jaunty adventure to entertain and delight. It is The Oatmeal and XKCD. It is a dirty joke, an empty boast, an erroneous Facebook meme, and a one-shot tabletop RPG session over pizza.
Story is everything, and it is nothing.
In light of this, I understand why people are upset about the Hugos; but I fail to see why broadening the field presents a threat to anyone’s livelihood. I agree that there are problems with representation and narrow worldviews within the genre. I agree we must do the work to address this; but I don’t agree that we should feel threatened, afraid, or guilty as a default mindset. Awards, like story, are both everything and nothing.
There’s a difference between honoring someone’s state of fear, and taking that fear on yourself. That isn’t the kind of light I want to cast on the people around me. You can do the work without stealing someone else’s thunder (or tissues).
We have always fought. Diverse voices have always been there. As new and old stories are brought to light, we will be changed. As we acknowledge the existence of those beyond our echo chamber, we will be changed. We will lose nothing but ignorance… and that’s perfectly fine.
“Yeah, so I don’t necessarily see me or any one artist standing on top of a pedestal and changing the world from the soapbox, but we are pulling together, and I think it does pull consciousness towards something more enlightened.”
— Peter Kunshik Chung (Jeong Geon-Sik), creator of Aeon Flux and co-designer of Rugrats