On a Zen Buddhist bulletin board, I posed the question: Had anyone seen any depiction of Gautama Buddha (the one most frequently referred to as the "Buddha" in "Buddhism") as an old man ... any art work or statuary? And, based on the responses so far, such a depiction does not seem to exist.
From this, if true, I infer that spiritual endeavor is a young (wo)man's sport, an effort reserved to the determined and energetic and hopeful. If you're going to advertise a car, you don't take pictures in the junkyard.
Everyone, young or old, is always young within and so young and old are equally welcome in the spiritual endeavor arena, but when it comes to Buddhist advertising, the smooth, serene and somewhat-hermaphroditic visage of Gautama is more encouraging, I guess.
I don't begrudge any of this or want to make a federal case out of it, but I find it interesting in a spiritual endeavor that, more than most perhaps, bases itself in the factuality of the life anyone might lead. The junkyard is unavoidable, but the car that may inform our travels is forever as pristine as lake water to the eye.
Jesus died at 33, so there is some reason to understand why he was and remains depicted as a younger person. Mohammad -- well, in Islam I think there is a prohibition against making pictures of any sort. Gautama died at 80. And (not to elevate or adore him by comparison) my teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa Roshi, declined to have his picture taken the last time I saw him: "I am getting old," he said.
It's all a small matter ... but informative, I think. Old age was one of the four 'sights' that the young prince Siddhartha Gautama saw when riding out from behind his palace walls. The four sights -- sickness, old age, death, and a monk -- put the fire in his belly to understand and clarify his own uncertainties in life. And who would not like to be at peace with their own uncertainties?
But, assuming as many Buddhists do that Gautama in fact came to a place of peace-with-the-facts, suddenly those facts are not something to embrace too brazenly. Yes, everyone gets old, but to press the point, to rub anyone's nose in it with pictures or statuary, might be to deter the willingness to make the effort necessary in making peace with the facts.
All this dovetails nicely with my own feeling that we all tell and are deeply informed by lies in pursuit of some compelling and important truths. And it reminds me of the tale of Gautama extending a closed fist to a weeping child -- pretending there was gold within in order to still the tears. And the tears do stop ... and all the time, the fist is merely empty. When seeking the truth, it really is not enough to tell the truth. A well-contrived lie is probably far more effective.
Those who seek to strip away such fabrications -- to duck and cover or to become outraged by a less-than-complete picture or to point righteously to the Buddhist proscription against lying, to suggest that meeting facts head-on is the best course -- are missing the point, for my money.
The point is the weeping child in all of us.
To stanch those tears requires a willingness on the part of the one weeping -- a willingness to make some effort, a willingness to step out from behind their own palace walls, a willingness to reflect ... a comfort zone. Comfort zones are invariably fictitious, but fictions can be extremely useful -- perhaps imperative -- when investigating the facts and actualizing any peace to be found within them.
Comfort zones and fictions ....
Consider Buddhism for example.
Consider Buddhism and do not scoff or wax profound.
It is the weeping that is important.
Old man Gautama did not miss the point.