How It Would Feel

Tonight I took on a question that left me feeling more at ease with the idea of reincarnation than I’ve ever been.

I asked myself, if I had been Buddha in a previous life, how would I feel upon suddenly remembering that?

And my first thought was that if Buddha reincarnated at all, then he failed, miserably.  After all, his stated goal was to escape from suffering by acknowledging one’s true nature and escaping after death into a state of complete singularity with the universe.  To be reincarnated again and again for what would have to be thousands of years by now, would be the exact opposite of what he sought to do.

My second thought was that another chance to see the matter from a new perspective is always a good thing, and that, though even Buddha could be wrong, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

We have been sages before and forgotten ourselves; even a most sublime son among philosophers could do the same.  And that is what makes us all equal and grand and full of un-tapped potential; we don’t know the strength of our own souls.  A Buddha one day, an ox-herder the next.  Back up through the Ten Bulls again, to rebuild the house one level at a time.  But there is beauty even in that because what we build the next time is even greater than what we built the first time.

Then I had this incredible flash: perhaps enlightenment is not a fixed point but an ever-extending thread of Gnosis back, by and by, to the true nature of things.  Perhaps Buddha’s insights were only a way station onto something deeper, and that Buddha could reincarnate having still succeeded in advancing the human spirit.

Say for example that the early observation by Hermes Trismegistos that “that which is above is that which is below” was merely an early breakthrough.  When this truth became apparent to those who heard it and meditated upon it, they were ready for greater revelations.  So too with every other point about the universe that has been understood to be true.  As the human spirit accepts new ideas, it develops a tolerance for newer, bolder ideas and is forever forging into previously-inaccessible reaches of Gnosis.

I must stress that I do not believe and am not seriously suggesting that I was Buddha and failed to achieve ultimate enlightenment; only that I feel that I have reached a point where I’m so accustomed to weirdness that it just wouldn’t bother me if I was.  There’d be fuck all I could do about it, except smile, laugh, and say “Well, the joke really was on me” before simply trying in earnest to live mindfully and compassionately.  The wheel turns as always, and all is well.

 

My One Gripe About the Story of Buddha

I admit, there is one gripe I have about the story of Buddha.

As much as they may have been a distraction and an obstacle to his goals, once he had married and had a child, wouldn’t Siddhartha be morally obligated to be there for them?  Also, calling your child “ball and chain” and then leaving them in the night is not the behavior of a wise or compassionate person.

Granted, I know that part of the story has him essentially locked in a sort of velvet prison, free to do anything so long as he is protected from pain, need, and suffering by his doting family.  And I imagine part of the point of the story is that he was literally not allowed to leave on his own, so a “jail break” of sorts makes sense.  But why take it out on the child?  Why call them “ball and chain,” of all things?  That’s not the child’s fault and I think it should be considered a negative example of how to frame your thoughts when involved in a similar situation.

I suppose a cynic would be able to use that to bolster their case that the whole story is somehow unwholesome to cling to and rife with human failings.  But in all likelihood, it’s the fault of the scribes and scholars who recorded these stories, not a gross failing of the subject of their story nor of the ideas attributed to him.  And one of the more generous traits of Buddhism is its broad acceptance of allegory and its injunction to take only what you know to be wise from the texts.  Dharma is not what is written, but what you learn from what is written, and negative examples of conduct are just as valid as positive ones provided you have the basic wisdom to know which is which.

I would add that I feel that the idea of leaving one’s family to become an ascetic is generally not a practice to be encouraged.  One who marries and has a child has expressed one commitment explicitly in their marriage vows, and one commitment implicitly in the act of conception.  I remember wanting to become a monk toward the end of my life as William Longespee, but the abbot at Ile de Re (I believe Claude was his name) wouldn’t have it; I had promised Ela to return, after all.

Also, one of my greatest regrets if I was Phil was the way I went through wives and proved to be anything but a model father for three children.  My memories of them are vague and have not been confirmed, but in truth I feel bad for them and I wish I could remember more about them, or that I could tell them that if I was their father I’m incredibly sorry for putting all of them through bitter divorces and leaving them without a father.

Keep your promises and do not neglect those who need you.  Treat your commitments seriously unless they do more harm than good.  This I firmly believe.

Thoughts on the Life of the Buddha

I had a thought on the traditional narrative of the life of the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama.

Perhaps the vision that Siddhartha’s mother had was a vision of her son’s former life: that of a venerated animal, a white elephant descending from heaven.

Perhaps young Siddhartha, the prince who knew no suffering, was not in the same body as the austere Yogi, or the enlightened teacher.

Perhaps the horse on which the prince left in the night was death, to be born again elsewhere and become a Yogi.

Perhaps the Yogi died there beneath the Bodhi tree, and his bones were forgotten.

Perhaps he was reborn then, and many years later found his bones or a grave beneath the Bodhi tree, and by the sight of the bones before him achieved anamnesis, the first step to enlightenment.  He remembered the life of the Yogi who died beneath that tree, and thereafter recalled every life before.

A story like this, from so long ago, can be read so many ways; Siddhartha as he once was is gone now, no matter how you slice it, and we cannot ask him which way is the correct one but perhaps the correct reading is less important than the useful meaning.

This idea came to me when I started thinking about John’s grave beneath that willow tree in France.  I do not think I am enlightened because I am still too angry and fearful to be enlightened; but then, I don’t know what enlightenment actually is.

I think whatever it is, it takes more than one lifetime, perhaps many to reach enlightenment in the sort of incidental way described in the stories of Buddha’s life.  It is said in many Buddhist texts- among them the Wild Fox Koan which bore similarities to some of my memories- that the enlightened soul can fall from enlightenment.  This further complicates the issue of how long it might take to reach enlightenment by incidental means.

Still, I cannot take the word of Buddhist texts as my only source if I wish to understand Buddhism.  If a serious understanding of Buddhist teachings were possible simply by reading a great deal, you would have a lot of autodidactic Boddhisatvas running around; I don’t see many of those.  Rather, I’ve come to understand that the teachings of the Buddha can be understood in one sentence: “Let me tell you how the universe works… but don’t take my word for it.”  Don’t take mine either; I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.

Anyhow, I thought I’d get these rambling, semi-coherent thoughts down so I can remember them.  I don’t know how seriously this can be taken.  At this point I’m just rolling with it and putting these insights down even if they go nowhere.