Sunday, May 23, 2010

the fires

When the crisis is upon us -- physical, psychological, whatever -- there is a usefulness to stepping back, to finding the voice of reason that assesses and points and has an unflustered approach.

Yes, attachment won't do.

Yes, your responsibilities are not someone or something else's responsibilities.

Yes, there is a time to stop crying and do the best, most sensible thing you can think of.

And sometimes that cool and calm arbiter of crisis seeps over into less stressful times until, perhaps, it becomes a habit of cool distance ... a believable technique with which to address all of life's unforeseen incidents ... a way to assure your own happiness and ease, a way to fend off despair.

Only of course wisdom is only as wise as the one in need of it. And sometimes the wiser course is to simply despair.

Lately, it seems, I have been peppered with wise opinions about human conditions that are frightening and perhaps frightful ... the wisdom of Buddhism brought to bear in thimble-sized sentences that reek of wisdom and parry all fear.

A shrink friend of mine once told me that his dog had died and his children and even he was very sad. I asked him if he planned to get another dog. "Not just now," he said gently. "First we need to grieve."

In Buddhism, the bodhisattva Jizo enters into the fires of hell to save all sentient beings ... beings in torment, beings riven with ignorance, beings captured and overwhelmed by despair. Such is the wisdom of the bodhisattva Jizo and such deserves to be the wisdom of any serious Buddhist.

Thimble-sized sentences of wisdom when the fires of uncertainty and despair leap up on every front ... this is not Jizo. Jizo enters into the very flames of ignorance and sorrow and despair to be among those he as vowed-without-vowing to save. And so too must Buddhists enter the flames and feel the heat and see their own skin blister and boil. It is their strength and their fervent promise ... to shy from nothing, to extend their wisdom that does not fit into thimbles or holy texts ... to be there ... to be here ... here where the fires are hottest, to go where "wisdom" does not reach, to forsake everything -- everything -- for THIS.

If you cannot give it all away, at a moment's notice, how can what you strove for be worth the effort?

None of this is some goal or Boy Scout badge -- some pie-in-the-sky, top-lofty virtue. That's just encouraging bullshit. It's just that there is no other option ... literally, no other option. It has nothing to do with kindness or compassion or freedom ... it is just like breathing ... a sine qua non ... free and compelling and having nothing to do with any second thought.

Ignorance and uncertainty are our very home ... and we would be well-advised to be at home and stop worrying wisely about whether the dining room should be blue or mauve, whether the arbiters of tasteful wisdom will be pleased or displeased, or whether some omnipotent god will hit us on the nose with a rolled up newspaper.

Go where the fires burn brightest.

Go home.

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