Monday, July 22, 2013

gilding your lily

Somehow, I tripped over a Zen Buddhist web site yesterday and found myself reading a lot of Zen-speak I haven't heard in a while. Très Mumonkan. Très Blue Cliff Record. Little shards of conversation between one person and another, each encouraging the other with words that didn't make much ordinary sense, but pointed to a profound wisdom or understanding or something like that.

As someone who was brought up, so to speak, in these environs, I sniffed the site with the vague interest a dog might bring to a fire hydrant s/he had previously pissed on.

The Master [Lin-chi] went to see Feng-lin. On the way, he met an old woman.
"Off somewhere?" she asked.
"Off to Feng-lin," the Master said.
"I think you'll find that Feng-lin isn't in right now," the old woman said.
"Off somewhere?" said the Master.
The old woman walked away.
The Master called after her. She turned her head, whereupon the Master walked away.
 It made me think of two things:

1. Gautama, the man widely cited as the springboard for something called "Buddhism," is frequently quoted as saying, "I teach only suffering and the end of suffering." Not Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, or Islam ... just suffering. And not not-Buddhism, not-Christianity, not-Hinduism, not-Judaism or not-Islam either ... just suffering. First the cake, then your favorite icing. Imagining that anyone might escape a format ("I'm spiritual but not religious") is pretty much the same as shouldering that format: Knock yourself out... but don't lose sight of what precedes the format ... the unsatisfactoriness, the not-quite-peaceful, the raging sorrow, the ... whatever it is. Does anyone need Gautama to know that things might be less freighted? Does anyone not-need him? Isn't Gautama a bit like sitting down to a fried egg and being handed a pipe wrench with which to eat it? Just don't lose sight of honest nourishment.

2. And then, having plotted and practiced a course of action, whatever it may be, doesn't there come a time when the question needs to be asked: What makes anyone think that the much-sought wisdom that might alleviate and ease will be any less cumbersome and confusing and foolhardy than the delusion and ignorance that preceded it?

Sometimes there is laughter. Sometimes there are tears. It may take enormous courage and blinding effort, but the only possibility I can imagine is:

Don't gild the lily.

1 comment:

  1. Here or there, not gilding fresh and beautiful lilies seems like such sound advice to follow. But take a quick look at a Gilded Lily, it's not THAT bad. Is it? Still a thing of beauty, a gilded lily lasts a while longer, and for some reason gilded lilies piss off the head nodders (which is a good to do from time to time.)