Monday, October 22, 2012

your own truth

Nagging like some parrot on a celluloid pirate's shoulder, the line returns today:

Better your own Dharma [Truth], however weak,
Than the Dharma [Truth] of another, however noble.
Let's just call it "the truth." "Dharma" takes us down the highways and byways of Buddhism or something similar and there are enough confusions without adding to them. The "truth" may be an inexact science, but it's easier on the mind's ear, whatever the disagreements.

Better your own truth, however weak,
Than the truth of another, however noble.
The line is attributed to Gautama (the man who gave "Buddhism" its initial jump start) in "The Dhammapada," a very popular Buddhist text. How many people have read the line? Lots, I imagine. And each has found a different meaning, I'd guess.

Perhaps their journeys were something like my own.

When I first ran into the line, I was delighted. My suspicions about the authorities of life were as bright as any teenager's when wrestling with the fact that everyone seemed to be telling him what to do. Parents, school, religion, coaches, drill sergeants ... everyone and everything seemed determined to squeeze me into one kind of lock-step or another ... their lock-step. And a part of me rebelled: Fuck that! I'm not them! Fuck 'em all!" And here was a pretty heavy-hitting authority -- "the Buddha" no less -- telling me precisely what I wanted to hear: Sail your own ship even if you pile up on some rocky shoal. There was a kind of nyaah-nyaah delight that the words aroused. Here was a bright shield with which to defend against all invaders, foreign or domestic ... all of the authorities that seemed to seek to manipulate and subdue and convince me of their causes. Better you OWN truth ... ahhhh!

And then, of course, time passed. I practiced the Zen Buddhism I seemed to have chosen and ... time passed.

Time passed and the authorities seemed to lose their savor. It might be delightful to pin my sense of constriction and manipulation and elevation on others, but, well, it was a poor man's game. Authorities were only as authoritative as I made them. Holy, unholy, good or evil, manipulative or altruistic ... whose problem was this? And without the enemies, without the dark lords ... where was the light? Relying on others, whether friend or foe, to provide the light ... well, it simply didn't work very well.

And it was in this reshaped arena that "your own truth" became a truly daunting challenge. Your own truth -- what the hell did that mean and by what means might I discover its meaning? Christ, what a burden! Better to be Sisyphus endlessly pushing a rock up a hill! How I longed for my former delighted self, fending off authoritative entities and enemies with one well-sharpened bit of wisdom. How I longed for something as easy as an enemy.

Your own truth ...

What, precisely, was the matter with a single earring resting on a bureau top? What was the matter with a single kernel of pig corn that had fallen to the dirt floor of some barn? What was the matter with a kind word or a cruel one? What was the matter with fluffy clouds passing against the blue, blue sky? What was the matter with the summer sweats or the shivers of winter? What was the matter with laughing when getting tickled? What was the matter with holding hands or wondering in the dark? And finally ...

What was the matter ... with me?

The tingling and sassy delight of "your own truth" had somehow morphed into a weight and challenge I could hardly confront, let alone lift or decipher. Heavy, heavy, heavy ... and yet there was no going back, no un-thinking the purple cow. "Your own truth" was not for sissies.

This morning, when I went onto the porch for a smoke, a small bird had flown in the open door and was fluttering from one perch to another amid the collected stuff that lives out there. The bird did not seem especially afraid. It did not flutter in panic against one of the windows, seeking an impossible exit. It just flew and landed, now on a box, now on a small book shelf.

Like some doddering fool, I talked to it, encouraging it to go back outdoors, back to its wide-open and unenclosed environment. The authorities of the porch were not its natural setting. "Go on outside," I counseled aloud as if perhaps the bird might hear me. It was authoritative counsel that the bird did not heed and after a bit I realized that my presence was contributing to the problem rather than any 'benevolent' solution.

And having realized that I was the problem, I finished my smoke, took a swig of coffee and returned indoors to my seat in front of the computer screen. The bird would have to find its own way out the open door.

And when I went back, it had done just that.

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