Apr 7, 2008

Arc of a diver

“Arc of a diver, effortlessly[1]

Old age, said General de Gaulle, had nothing good to be said about it. The catalogue of disasters and humiliations waiting for you at the end of your rainbow arc across the light is even more detailed in the Bible: "When you are young you will gird your loins and go wherever you want, but when you are old another shall gird your loins and take you where you would not go." "Praise therefore your creator in the days of your youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh when you will say 'I have no pleasure in them.'"

(Pretty grim, huh? What advice can we offer? Only that in the Ballad of John and Yoko, "Last night the wife said Oh boy when you're dead You don't take nothing with you but your soul." Keep your soul in good shape, all else is shadows, and it's the only thing to go with you when you go, like a suitcase packed and ready.)

Not only do the old revert to being like babies in many ways, they also return to the animal nature and outlook of young babies. They become more sensitive to weather, to air currents, to temperature, to other living beings in the largely unknown jungle around them. The whole process might be described as a multi colored rainbow over the light of the fire[2] as we come out of the darkness, fly a short time across the light, and then plunge back into the darkness, with the first ten per cent and the last ten per cent of the rainbow being mirror images in reverse of each other.

The immediate question that arises in contemplating this spectacle of human existence is "Is there any point, any reason, any logic, any purpose, to this process? What's the point of the whole thing?"

You were born, says the Lotus Sutra, "To enjoy yourself at ease." Well, those like Buddhists who think the purpose of your existence is exactly that the trials and tribulations and battles of this life are the purpose of your existence, they are what build your character, making you what you are, leading you on the path of Buddhahood, say "Enjoy it!"

“In the "Ongi Kuden" (Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings), the Daishonin says, "One should regard meeting obstacles as true peace and comfort" (Gosho Zenshu, p. 750). You may wonder how encountering obstacles could be a source of peace and comfort. But the truth of the matter is that through struggling against and overcoming difficulties, we can transform our destiny and attain Buddhahood. Confronting adversity, therefore, represents peace and comfort.” (President Ikeda's Guidance for Aug 14.)

Indeed Buddhists tend to be much happier confronting adversity. (For those who think of Buddhists as wimpy tree huggers, remember that all the martial arts were invented by Buddhist monks forbidden to carry weapons by the local warlords. The martial arts remain. The warlords are long forgotten. So it goes.)

“The German author Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) writes that the more one matures, the younger one grows. And certainly there are many people who, as they age, become increasingly vigorous and energetic, more broad-minded and tolerant, living with a greater sense of freedom and assurance. It is important to remember that aging and growing old are not necessarily the same thing.” (President Ikeda’s Guidance.)

So when the body is shoveled back into the waiting arms of Mother Earth, the corpse of the enlightened one is somehow better quality cardboard than other corpses? Pretty much, yeah. ("Heads of the characters hammer through daisies, And Death shall have no dominion." Dylan Thomas.) The Buddhist would consider this a triviality compared to what you got done, whether you dust your hands and say “Well, that was an interesting life,” at the end of it.

What do you want? We come and we go. Do your best while you’re here.

The author of the words to "Amazing Grace" is established, but the melody was written by a guy who was the master of a slave ship to the Americas, and the source of the tune, the melody, is just stated to be "Unknown." The chances that he actually used the tunes from the Africans in the hold become overwhelming if you watch a really good black singer (think Harry Belafonte, Paul Robeson, Muddy Waters,) performing the song to sixty thousand black men of the Promise Keepers in a stadium and the entire audience humming and moaning the melody with the singer.

So the only question, the only area where any one has any choice, is what you do with this body for the short time you’re driving it? Correct. Try to do stuff that’s beneficial to your soul, and build up your psychic bank account.

The reference to the Bible in the first paragraph signaled “Christian.” The Koran would have signaled “Moslem.” Buddhists don’t really have a “Holy Book,” just scads of writings, and are more concerned with the people who are Buddhists, and what they achieve, than in holy books.

Some Buddhists, usually gurus, or teachers, rather than ordinary folks, preserve, literally embalm, the living body, by switching slowly to a diet consisting entirely of the bark of a certain tree, and their mummified bodies, usually in caves, are still being found and put on National Geographic TV documentaries. For what? I dunno. Sort of a memorial for the local people, a free privately donated municipal monument, to remind them of the teachings, and maybe reassure them that there are beneficent beings around, and they’re still looking after them?

“Life is the fool of hope, till one last morning
Sweeps all our schemes away, without a warning.”

“The soul of the dead man comes next to the realm of the wrathful deities. If he fears them they will attack him and he must seek for rebirth. But if he knows the wrathful deities as coming from himself, they cannot harm him, and he may proceed peacefully on his way.”

Bardo of Rebirth,
Tibetan Book of the Dead

[1] Jim Capaldi
[2] The image comes from the account by the Venerable Bede of the first Christian missionaries to reach the British Isles, also known as the Western Isles and the Islands of the Blessed. The missionaries were taken to the hall of the local chieftain, a sort of large barn with benches and tables along the sides and a hole in the roof to let out the smoke of the fire. A sparrow got into the hall and after blundering around for a bit flew out the door at the other end of the hall. "The life of man" said the chieftain "is like the flight of the sparrow across the light of the fire. We come out of the darkness and for a short time we fly across the light and then we return to the darkness, and none of us knows where we come from, or where we are going. If you know anything about these things, please, have a seat and tell us!"

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