Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Consolation of Buddhism

Another sunny morning, though not as pretty a blue.  I woke up slowly in a dark room, then sun coming through the pinholes on the blinds.  All around my ribs and back was hurting lying there, where the shingles wraps around my torso, and moving made it hurt more, so the first thing I did was take some oxycontin.  It's 9:30.  Church is at 11:00, means we leave at 10:30.  I thought, maybe we should just go for lunch.  Meet our friends, be out in the air, be around some people.  Tom isn't up yet.
 As I made my coffee I thought, the primary consolation of Buddhism is that this is how things are supposed to be.  You are supposed to decay, fall apart, wear down, and at some point the life force will leave you altogether.

Now, that is a very gray proposition.  I thought of a metaphor to grasp it a little better. 

Suppose you came to life as a painting, a beautiful masterpiece of color and texture and line that was the product of thousands of hands.  You are unveiled, born.  You are perfect, and the world loves you just as you are.

At first you just enjoy being, experiencing your own self and your capabilities.  But before you have mastered living as this creation, you begin to be harmed, scarred and wounded, to have one failure after another.  In art terms, the world has turned to something else, and isn't interested in you anymore. 

You go to your creators about this, and they tell you, Yes, you're supposed to get scarred and wounded.  And you have an allotted lifetime anyway.  Maybe it will be 80 years, maybe one more minute, we're not in charge of that and neither are you.  Then you'll be gone.

If the building doesn't burn down and the sprinkler system doesn't ruin you, you'll get your full allotment of years.  But you will slowly be degrading all that time, coming apart.  Paint dries and flakes off.   A careless mover lets the canvas get ripped on a sharp corner.  It is fixed, but not very well.  The whole thing darkens with age, and people are not interested in it any more, there is no novelty to it, so it is moved to a far gallery where it often stands alone. 

I know what you have to say about that: It isn't right.  Right meaning you don't like it that way.  Right meaning if you were a designer god, you'd have done much better than that.  Maybe.  I'm working on it myself - how to have a living creature that is not organic, not based on carbon atoms.  If I want to keep it two-dimensional, as in the metaphor, maybe I should paint in titanium.  Or silver coated with gold, an older technique.  Gold does not decay, that's why we value it so.  But I don't know how to breathe life into something so that it will be self-animating from then on - perpetual energy - people have been reaching for that one for a long time.

Or I could make it a story.  Design a story that somehow shows the world as it is, but better, a story with a satisfying ending.  Here she began, here she ended just doesn't sound like a very appealing jacket blurb, does it?  So I think I'll wander away from my initial statement that the truth about aging and death is the chief consolation of Buddhism.  No, it's probably the chief wisdom.  For consolation you're going to have to find another writer.  It's easier to fix a picture than a story.  Sometimes soft focus helps.  See?


  1. I figure if I die kicking and screaming won't be pretty, so I will try total acceptance of whatever happens next. I just figured you get two different options, the sudden heart attack, or the gradual falling apart of everything that used to work, much like a car. It wasn't too long ago when I got my first scratch, and now what isn't scratched up?