I've finally found a group of people more obsessed with death than me.
Siddartha Gautama, the prince who ultimately became the historical Buddha*(term explained below) was so traumatized by suffering - by birth, illness, old age, and death - he left his family and life of power and priveledge behind to find a way to alleviate suffering, especially that of others.
I don't think I dislike suffering that much. I don't seek it out but it's part of the life I love, it's part of love, and I would rather have the pain of attachments than no attachments.
(I need to throw in a disclaimer here: Please remember the title of this blog. I am writing about my reactions to what I'm learning, to my very shallow but, I hope, slowly growing understanding of each faith. It is inevitable that I will look back at some of what I thought and wrote and be aghast at my misinterpretation of what I was taught but I know of no way to avoid that and tell the truth of this journey. I beg anyone who has a deeper understanding of the faith I'm writing about to please comment. That way others who read this won't be left with just the information I convey...)
Intensity is what I live for and, though I hate it, I can palpably feel my life when I suffer. I think I'm very very lucky when I love enough to suffer. I still ache about the loss of my grandmother and Kevin's father, in particular, after long slow declines but my experience of illness is that it's been an opportunity for the expression of real love in action, a chance for true intimacy. And the funerals - at least the ones I've attended - reveal how meaningless petty squabbles really are.
My meaning has come from throwing myself as fully into life as I possibly can, muck and all. Suffering? Bring it on. If it's here, I'm going to feel it, know it, benefit from it, and, I hope, learn from it. So I'm a little confused about "alleviating" suffering. Does it mean I need to care less? Love less? Live a dull gray life? If I don't have suffering, will I have a life worth living?
About my outward focus...
Yes. I get it. I am too outwardly focused. More precisely, my attention is often on others, hoping that by watching them, I'll know how to act and live. Is this what gossip is about? A way of groups communicating how one "should" behave? Of holding up the behavior of others to see how we measure up?
My self-concept comes, more often than it should, by what I see reflected back to me from the people in my life. I'm flying when I get love and approval, in the dirt when I don't. But there's more to this than that. I love moving through the world hyper-aware of what's going on around me: light through a train window on a fingernail; a woman at a table staring at the table top, the other chair pushed crooked away from the table; the smell of a thunderstorm; my sons giggling together in the back seat; Matt driving me for the very first time; that first look from Luke when they put him on my belly and he turned to look up at me. Perhaps these moments of hyper-awareness have been my primary "religion" up until now. Is doing this an illusion? A delusion? I guess if I only feel alive when reacted to then Buddhism would say that is a problem. Well, ignorance, at least.
But the emphasis on not being able to look around at the Hsi Lai Short-term Monastic Retreat? I felt like I was missing a lot. I can't tell you what others were doing, thinking, or feeling - which is a lot more fun to notice than what I'm thinking and feeling. (As if I could tell from watching them, from what I could see on their faces....
I guess thats the point. I believe my scrutiny of the world around me and the people in it is helpful to me and others. Buddhism tells me (I think) that that it's a waste of my time and energy. First, it means I see myself as separate and apart from others, from the world, not interdependent and interrelated. Second, I'm not actually present for my own life. And, third, I use my observations of the "outside world" to make up theories about how to hold on to the "good" people and events or to prevent the "bad" ones from coming into my life ever again. Even I can see some of the problem with this: so many events I thought were "bad" at the time, turned out not to be. And how many grasping "successes" have I had that weren't that at all?
15 July 2007
*When people say "historical Buddha" they're differentiating between the actual person who began what is now known as Buddhism and all Buddhas, because there are countless Buddhas. Buddhism does not consider Gautama Buddha the first, the last or the only Buddha. In fact, each of us has Buddha-nature and the practice of Buddhism is designed to help us realize that.