Saturday, July 05, 2008


Writing, Heavy-Handedness, and The Buddha

[Raphæl's Home]
My friend R, recently home visiting, had offloaded the majority of his e-book collection. Now, my friend here is quite remarkable: his collection of (print) titles number more than a thousand of the finest, books that take weeks or months to read (one of the simplest being, by his own admission, Alasdair Gray's Lanark—a copy of which he has gifted me since). He is quite a remarkable fellow. (Now, as he reads these lines, true to form, he would frown; his broad forehead literally crumpling with...indignation. He must feel sufficiently betrayed. He's modest to the point of humility. And this...exposé would be a a ninja-bolt to him. And I don't blame him, it's just the way he is.) Which brings me to the recollection of my first (and so far the only) visit to his home.

And to think of the way he tarried and bit his nails before he plucked the guts to actually invite me home to his new place: Guinevere comes to mind. So, like Lancelot, I trolled about the big double-bed girded by two bookshelves: one a David, the other a Goliath. They stood askance, one admiring, the other buckling under its own. And all the while, for the better part of 36 hours, his wonderfully adept Mom kept filling us with juice and marmalade (and stuffing us with poultry, fish, cereal, kindly words, and love).

And I? Poor me! Dumbstruck is too simple a word. After all, a word can't describe the totally undone feeling I experienced over two or three hours; I had to literally pick myself up from the bits. I was shattered like a crystal dropped from a height. I was like a tree rooted to the spot struck by lightning turning in a trice into a chalcedonic lump of dead thought. No; no flowery simile could ever express the genuine shock I felt then. After all, I had seen some books in my time and read quite a few; I was utterly conviced that no assembly of books would ever surprise me in any way. But I was blasted out of my sense of security: looking at me was an immense stonehenge of concentrated thought, glued together by countless hours of rummaging through second-hand bookshops, streets, and pavements. It was ranged like in a museum, the fitting mausoleum hardly betraying the pain and grit that went into its assembly. It was an incredible thing to do: collecting each book painstakingly after hours of walk and toil and turmoil—that was the superhuman thing. Only a supremely gifted talent blessed with an abundance of wretchedness could do it. At that instant of revelation, I felt as if he had rendered the whole of his life meaningful. It was a big thing to feel, because I don't consider words or literature to be in any way special or privileged or godly. (He does, of course.) I did not see thousand or so books. I saw months, years of solitary walks, missing lunch and taking more walks, all to save up for that...prized book. And one prized book followed another like an endless train rotoscoped horses.

But I knew: I was there when he pulled the hair from his head (yes, there was a time when he could do that). But did I know what he was packing? Frankly, no. I knew he was collecting books. But I never realized then (it was 12 years ago) what it would all shape up to. To confront more than a thousand (1200 in my estimation, though he swears it is less than a thousand) of the best books is intimidating. It is like forests of thought looking upon you and saying: 'Well, now that you've got me here, what are you going to do about it?' Indeed, neither he nor I would read it all in our lifetimes; reading is always more than the act.

To each, his private madness. A provate madness is a senseless pursuit that somehow keeps us from getting mad: it keeps us drugged, it is the carrot we donkeys choose to dangle up before us. Before we start on it, and occasionally when we sit down and take a rest after following the carrot we've fixed to our own foreheads, we are fully aware that we're pursuing a phantom. It is not even a dream, because we're living it and are fully absorbed in practising it. The friend in question would elucidate this with clear, academic terminology—he said something about projective representation today, which bested a hollow in my head and completely vanished out of it—so I'd rather not speak about something which he does better. It's an insane drive to keep ourselves occupied: lecturers and professors do the same thing, so do the helmsmen of our government, and so too does anybody who is absorbed in work and 'work satisfaction.' All of it is merely an attempt to catch a glimpse of ourselves. But when we practice that other life—the dream—we're absorbed, and we're thus saved from damaging others.

The best prison he could ever have in his life, but alas—he seems destined to spend his time otherwise, not in his library. Little does he realise that the most precious thing in his life is so close to him, yet he is so far from it. Just as he completes his tryst with destiny (which is a group of academics at an esteemed educational institution), he would become a part of that destiny himself, and thus be deprived of a childhood forever. My heartfelt condolences. I'm being sadistic, but it's the least I can do.

[The Buddha]
The prince sat down weary from his rushed disappearance from the castle. He had made up his mind. He had lived in all the imaginable comforts, yet it brought him remorse, despair. His beautiful body, adorned by jewelry, draped in the finest silk, waited upon by the smartest charioteer, escorted and indulged by the prettiest: his beautifuly body would grow frail, freckled, and finally, grow limp. All his teachers had never told him about death. He had never seen death. He never even suspected that one day he too would die. He was terrified: the beloved prince, dear to all the subjects, powerless before death? Powerless before the most hated of all things, powerless, a mere mortal. That was what the charioteer said: death was natural, and Death would come to him one day. He did not know if it was true; it was likely to be true. Nevertheless, he would do something about it.

The prince surveyed the things he had brought: he had switched his clothes for those of his charioteer. He felt the clothes more suited for living in the forest. It was not a deep forest; there were clearings, light was plentiful, lots of open spaces. Yet there were no people, and only the crickets chirped to announce the arrival of night. He did not feel lonely; he was there to find out. If death was certain, it was only proper and logical to prepare for it by shedding one's possessions, one by one. In that way, death would enevr catch you by surprise. Living close to death, in constant anticipation of it, without belongings, living free: thus would you conquer death. Not by huddling together or hoarding or clasping tightly. When death comes and asks for you, you walk away with Death. You don't turn around to put something right. You make no excuses, you simply go, as if your lover had beconed you and said, 'Come!'

Three days of fasting: but it did not help. The mind falters when the body is hungry. No; certainly it's impossible. A hungry ascetic's meditation will hover around the act of abstinence, abstinence from food, from air, and finally from thought itself. How is this of any use to me? I am not trying to close out my thoughts; on the contrary. How can I defeat death by not thinking about it at all? No, definitely that's not what I'm here to do. Death is living inside me, it is making me lose my sleep. Death is that living dread which makes me afraid, which makes me doubt myself and my actions and all that I have ever done. I have to fight Death in this life. It is a thought, it is alive. Death brought me here. In the palace, in the luxury, Death dared not come into my thoughts at all. Or was he simply hiding away, waiting to paralyze me with this morbid fear of nothingness? In my mind I am already dead, or dying. I must resuscitate myself; I must show the others how life should be lived. Death...has brought me here so it could teach me what it means to live in the shadow of death. Death is showing me the meaning of my life. I have to live a life, the remainder of my life, in a meaningful way that will reveal to me if it is worthwhile to live; it must tell me if it is possible to find a salvation in this life.

Is salvation possible? But it is an absurd question; almost like asking if there is a God. There is a God, otherwise I would be staying at the palace, contented, wallowing in filth. There is a God, and there must be a salvation. The teachers taught me that salvation is possible through right thought and right action. Obviously so; but if one is to act rightly, one must think. ut if one should think one must be wise. But should everyone think about these questions? If that were the cae, then each would follow his own path. No, definitely not! There must only be one path to salvation, something everyone could attain. And this path God will reveal to me if I am true and my mind pure. Here, there are no people, no one to talk to. I must constantly talk to myself, and love the trees and the animals that live here with me. I must live like they do, because their lives are pure. I must live right. I must free my mind from all unnatural thoughts. If a salvation is at all possible, it must be possible to all: children, animals, plants, everything, every living thing. Thinking is not require here; here I can live freely, here I can be free. I am free of everything. This freedom from bondage I should aim to reproduce in the life of the harried city-dweller as well. This, then, is my task. I have to find a way to get this feeling into the people.

The seasons wore on and the prince became more and more single-minded in his efforts; the way was becoming clearer to him, as for one who journeys home from his wanderings. Flashes of insight thrilled him at times; but these became frequent, and he realised that it was only nature answering his ardent efforts to belong. He could identify divine grace in the life and the stillness and the simple cruelty around him. There were things he still had not understood, but he was contented; he had all the answers for the men and women he'd left behind, and a way to teach them.

As the day for meeting with the people approached, he grew more and more determined. He felt sure that one day would significantly alter his attitude: he knew that nothing substantially different would happen in his life, but that his whole aspect would change, something would happen and arm him with the strength to meet with any number of people in any imaginable state of mind. He would, by means of his few words and by means of his silence, bring about a change and make those who trusted in him to believe and see what he saw. He would be able to give meaning in the life they lived. He would put the love of God in their hearts. He would make them men and women again, not conquerors or animals.

On an auspicious day, by his own choice, with the realisation that life assumes priority over thinking or anything else, the prince became the Buddha—the enlightened one. He knew the truth and was entrusted with the task of disseminating the knowledge and teaching the right way. He proposed in endearing terms the doctrine of renunciation as a way to conquer death—the only way to conquer the conqueror is to give willingly. (Negation of life as the answer to death.)

He had let fly the arrow of salvation, and his task was done.

2163; 120'; 5 edits)

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