A puzzling problem…
Having a day largely to myself I decide to walk downtown with the object of taking in the city, its streets, its sights and sounds, and the countless individuals I might encounter who on this marginally overcast day are more or less involved in making their way through it and their lives.
After an hour or so’s stroll I say to myself ‘why not spend some time in the central library?’
Outside the main doors a young man is lying on his back and is being helped to his unsteady feet by another, while a dozen or so others, unfortunately all aboriginals, stand around in two huddled groups smoking an acrid smelling weed.
As I pass by a post or episode on communities in crisis, including a bit on Black Elk Speaks, comes to mind.
Anyway, with an issue of the Shambhala Sun, a book on photography and something called Proust’s Overcoat I head up to the fourth floor in search of a quiet corner.
Libraries—especially downtown ones such as this—being what they are in this day in age, quiet corners are not always easy to find. Coincidentally, as I write these words a strident voiced and heavily tatted up would-be napper is being escorted from the premises. Last time here I witnessed the noisy taking down and handcuffing of a hapless semi-deranged fella I first took note of as he was entering the women’s washroom after a suspicious looking glance around. Obviously others beside myself were aware of his odd behaviour.
No matter. All is forgiveness, wonder, and beauty.
So I’m sitting there reading the Shambhala Sun and of course in full agreement with the notion of a general unbalance we’ve fashioned for ourselves.
The only thing is, I’m no Buddhist and I can never get over the sense that all this burgeoning self-awareness is confined within a self-referential circle and what’s more largely self-serving in spite of all its good intentions.
“Have you ever seen yourself in a mirror that distorts the image? Your face is long, your eyes are huge, and your legs are really short. Don’t be like that mirror. It is better to be like the still water on the mountain lake.”—Writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, from Shumbhala Sun, September 2015
He wraps up his little homily:
“Stillness is the foundation of understanding and insight. Stillness and strength.”
Beautiful words to puzzle over and go on retreats in order to plumb.
But the problem here is there’s too much focus on ‘self’ and not enough on ‘Life!’
For example, later, in another article, Thich’s at it again. (He’s definitely one of the stars of the Buddhist show these days.) He describes three fundamental tenets of Buddhism as: impermanence (things are always changing), no self (nothing has a solid core or soul), and nirvana (peace is freedom from fixed concepts).
But all three fixate on self, and slip into a negative sort of circular syllogism as a result. It’s great for the New Age self-awareness industry, but is it truly getting us anywhere? Perhaps, maybe, individually, here and there.
However, take the focus away from ‘self’ and turn it upon the animating, Flowing Life beneath it and everything changes: the impermanence of things changing transforms itself into the permanence of the Life Flow coursing beneath the surface; the ‘nothing has a solid core or soul’ of no self changes also to self as not merely ‘no self’ but self as a temporary and yet unique expression of said animating, Flowing Life; and nirvana as yes a freedom from fixed concepts, but what’s more a return or atonement with again the ever-ongoing Flow of Life!
The point being, without Life Buddhism can never truly lift us collectively out of the impasse we find ourselves in today.
Retreat and puzzle over that one….
Life is ALL there is!