Revisiting the House-Builder

Kenneth Leong
2 min readFeb 6, 2024

Several days ago, I posted a quote from the TV show, True Detective. It says:

To realize that all your life… you know, all your love, all your hate, all your memory, all your pain, it was all the same thing. It was all the same dream. A dream that you had inside a locked room. A dream about being a person. And like a lot of dreams there’s a monster at the end of it.

— Rust Cohle, True Detective, True Detective Season 1: The Locked Room

A Buddhist friend responded to that post and said, “May I ask, what is the Buddhist teaching in the quote from a fictional character?”

That is a good question. Yes, Rust Cohle is a fictional character. But that doesn’t mean that he would not have something interesting or enlightening to say.

The meaning of this quote should be obvious to anyone who understands Buddha’s teaching of Anatta. Buddha taught that the self is an illusion. Rust Cohle makes reference to “a dream about being a person.” That is exactly what we do everyday.

What would waking up from that dream be like? We can find the answer from the Dhammapada:

Through many a birth in samsara have I wandered in vain, seeking the builder of this house (of life). Repeated birth is indeed suffering!

O house-builder, you are seen…



Kenneth Leong

Author, Zen teacher, scientific mystic, professor, photographer, philosopher, social commentator, socially engaged human