Thursday, October 4, 2012

Brewed, Poured, But Not Savored

I finished reading Hiroyuki Itsuki's Tariki: Embracing Despair, Discovering Peace, earlier this week and have been mulling it over since. The book is due back at the library today so i guess i have to take it back and let it go.

I'm not sure i've so completely disagreed with a book before, except maybe Thomas Hobbs, which i read long, long ago. I'll have to write more, but a few quick points before walking down to the library to give it back.

"I believe it is necessary for us to completely overturn our view of life and begin from the recognition that life is a process of uninterrupted sufffering. Just as one lives more vigorously after contemplating the closeness of death, cultivating a bleak view of human existence will bring one closest to rapture at the wonder life has to offer."

I do agree that one can live more vigorously by contemplating the certainty and unpredictability of our deaths. It will happen. When? You have no idea. If you accept and understand that down to the bone and marrow level, you stop taking life for granted and find yourself in a position to marvel at the beauty that being can be.

But to suggest that "life is a process of uninterrupted suffering" is completely impossible for me to digest. What i see here is a misunderstanding of the difference between pain and suffering. For all but the most enlightened individuals, life is full of pain — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Some of it is trivial and passed with a shrug of the shoulder. Some of it can be crippling, cutting us down as if chopping off the bottom of both legs.

But, none of this must, necessarily, automatically translate into suffering. A few extreme examples: the guy who, while out hiking, got his arm stuck in a crack between two rocks. The only way to survive was to cut his arm off with his pocket knife, deal with it, and walk out to find help. The girl who was recently attacked by that flesh eating disease. She told the doctors to cut off what they needed to cut off and move on to rehab. She accepted it, dealt with it, and is now boasting that she is in great shape and can do 300 sit-ups at a time.

It's not always easy to get past the pain; some cases can take days, weeks, years, and decades to get past. But just because you encounter it, that doesn't mean you have to accept that life is full of suffering.

"Some may deride this view as negative and pessimistic, but this was the starting point for the Buddha. Emerging from a life of privilege and shelter, he looked directly at the reality of human existence and saw birth, old age, sickenss, and death as its essence. This view of human existence as defined by birth, old age, sickness, and death is the ultimate expression of negative thinking."

Yes, i deride it as negative and pessimistic. I also do not believe or accept that the Buddha would have agreed with it. When he was exposed to the truths of old age, sickness, and death, he took the opposite approach to dealing with them. For the Buddha, these were not signs that life was full of suffering and that there was nothing we could do about it, he said suffering can occur but there must be a way to put an end to it. And off he went to the forest and the bodhi tree. This is the ultimate expression of positive thinking. Yes, i see a problem, but i will find a solution.

"When one is accustomed to kindness, one naturally loses the feeling of gratitude. That's why it's so important not to become accustomed to it. One must continually return to the spiritual starting point of no expectations.

"Husbands should not expect anything from their wives, or wives from their husbands. ...

"Although a person may serve his country, he should expect nothing from the nation or the government. Of course no one should expect anything from a bank, a business, oor an employer. Nor should one entrust one's soul to a temple or a church. One must not look to a thinker or a philosopher to be a guide to life.

"Students shouldn't expect anything of their teachers, nor should teachers from students. ..."

No, no, no, no, no, and no. No. And no again.

No. Anyone, at anytime, anywhere, can learn to be grateful for all life offers with very little practice. A constant watch, a never ending willingness to notice, and anyone can see that the good vastly outweighs the bad in this world. And once you become accustomed to seeing the world through these eyes, you will never be the same.

No again.

"To speak honestly, honesty usually does not pay. And effort is hardly ever rewarded."

I can't even begin to explain how vehemently i disagree with this statement....

"I regard Amida Buddha as a characterization of the infinite life force and the light of truth, created to make these ideas accessible to the masses. Once put into this narrative form, the invisible force of the universe takes on a life and power that can reach and communicate to us.

"Honen, founder of the Pure Land sect, enthusiastically taught the nembutsu as a means to experience the invisible power of the universe and illuminate the darkness of our world."

Finally something i can accept. If you want to see Buddha in this manner, i could agree with it. That invisible force of the universe? The infinite life force. If the nembutsu is a call to that concept, a refuge in the potentiality of all that is, then i could adopt it into my practice.

More later. It's starting to sprinkle and i have a mile to walk to get to the library and then the shop where my car's getting repaired.

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