Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Talk Thursday: A Proclamation To The World

Gee, that's nice and subtle. But, that's the topic and I'm stuck with it, so I might as well roll with it, as my old Great-Aunt Maude used to say. Everybody ought to have a proclamation to the world, and here's mine:

In all seriousness, though, if one were to take all the Sutras and the commentaries and the koans and the writings of Confucius (just for variety) and the poetry of Li Po and throw it in a blender, and if one were to pour the resulting great big philosophical mess into a pot and try to boil all of Buddhism down to its most basic essence, this is about what you'd be left with. Buddhism teaches that the quickest way to make yourself completely miserable is to get attached--to things, people, theories, ideas, concepts. Why? Because everything -- things, people, theories, ideas, concepts -- is temporary. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same.

If you're hanging on for dear life to, say, a girlfriend who's trying very hard to be nice about breaking up with you (and I've been on both sides of this equation, so I know of what I speak), the best thing that can possibly happen is that you're going to make both people miserable for a longer period of time. The worst thing that can possibly happen is that you get arrested for stalking, which can be very embarrassing to explain to potential future employers (and potential future girlfriends.) But that's a very real risk if you can't just get over it, already, and let go. Same story if you cling to an object that you simply must have that, by the time you can afford it, no longer makes any sense in the context of your life. I see a lot of men, for example, who are by God going to own an open-top Ford Mustang even though what they really need, what with the wife and three kids, is a nice mini-van or SUV. I see women do the same thing with certain pieces of jewelry and pricey outfits.

And ideas--good God, don't get me started. I have an aunt and uncle who almost literally had to hold their noses to vote for John McCain in the 2008 election, but they had voted Republican their entire lives and they were not going to vote any other way no matter how bad they thought their candidate was. (Not voting at all apparently wasn't an option, either.) And I'm not saying they were right or wrong to vote the way they did, but the very idea that they couldn't not vote for the guy, however much they disliked him -- that's attachment, all right.

Now, this can be taken too far the other way. I've run into Buddhists who like to play "more unattached than thou" (kind of a variant on Christianity's "holier than thou," I guess). These guys (and they are mostly guys, for some reason) do strange things like chop their little fingers off to prove how unattached they are to their bodies, or walk 200 miles to a monastery (living off the kindness of strangers, and whatever they find along the way) to meditate for a year, hoping there will be room for them when they arrive because phoning ahead for a reservation is playing hell with the fickle finger of fate. Yeah, I agree; that's a bit weird. To push something away is the opposite of clinging to it, but either way you're still controlled by that thing.

So the Buddha, being a pretty sharp guy, came up with a little thing he called The Middle Way. The idea, if I understand it correctly, is to neither cling to things, nor push them away, but just let them be what they are. It's kind of like standing in a stream. You don't try to hang on to any particular water molecule; you just sort of let them all flow around you.

Take people, for example. They will come and go like the tide. Enjoy them while they are around. Don't chase after them when they're gone. They'll either come back or they won't. Things are sometimes harder; everybody has a thing they prize above other things, and it's hard to cope with the reality that the thing will fall apart someday and be worthless. (Take my BlackBerry. Please.) But ideas are probably the hardest of all. Trying not to get attached to ideas, just letting thoughts flow through your brain and not pouncing on them and carrying them off like a cat with a feather toy, is sort of the mental equivalent of standing on one foot on a peaked roof during a thunderstorm and yelling algebra equations at the sky.

Fortunately, there's this thing called "meditation." Do it every day for forty or fifty years, and supposedly, you too can just let thoughts flow through your brain. Or so they tell me. I'm not yet attached enough to the idea to become convinced. But then, I've only been at it for four or five years at this point. I'm still a youngster. Would I speed things up if I trekked overland 200 miles or so to a monastery and checked in for a year? Maybe, but I'm unattached to that idea. Seriously. Frickin'. Unattached.

To wrap this up, the world would be a lot more peaceful if we could all become a little more unattached from the things that drive us the most crazy. Like, say, traffic. And politics. And maybe money. And look, America could use a Buddhist president. Next time out of the box, we ought to give that some serious thought.

In the meantime, get over it, already. Yes, you know who you are.

Quick Book o' the Decade plug here for The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It's been a very long time since a book made me cry. I'm halfway through the second book in the series, Catching Fire, and it just keeps getting better. Check it out. And don't get too attached to any of the characters. I'm just sayin'.


Cele said...

I have always been anti keeping up with the Jones - what a waste of time, talent, energy, money, and friendships. I always seem to get things after my sister in law, hey she gets kewl things, but it's not that I have to have them, I keep trying to have less, someday someones going to have to clean it all out and that's just wrong. What do I need it for? Americans need to go back to minimalist existence... starting with the number of TV shows we have to watch each week.

Oh, drats, I need a twelve step plan for junk and tv.

Jen said...

Or junk TV maybe? :)
No, I know exactly what you mean. Growing up, I got a job at 15, saved up money to buy a computer - my parents bought my sister one. Saved up money to buy a car - my parents gave my sister a used one. Threw myself a wedding -- you know the drill. It was/is kind of a joke between us (my parents are millionaires). I think that she & I got through that and are still good friends is pretty amazing. But we are both okay, mostly, and that's even more important.