"Samsara literally means "wandering-on." Many people think of it as the Buddhist name for the place where we currently live. But in the early Buddhist texts, it's the answer, not to the question, "Where are we?" but to the question, "What are we doing?" Instead of a place, it's a process: the tendency to keep creating worlds and then moving into them. As one world falls apart, you create another one and go there. At the same time, you bump into other people who are creating their own worlds, too.
The process can sometimes be enjoyable. In fact, it would be perfectly innocuous if it didn't entail so much suffering. The worlds we create keep caving in and killing us. Moving into a new world requires effort: not only the pains and risks of taking birth, but also the hard knocks - mental and physical - that come from going through childhood into adulthood, over and over again."
- Geoffrey DeGraff
What an intriguing vision, that we repeat the passage through childhood into adulthood over and over again, that this is the stuff of life's passage, only to have it dissolve and that forces us to do it again. I can hardly argue whether this is a symbolic statement within a single lifetime, or it is the larger statement of life after life. This is the stuff of my life but described in terms I might not myself actually use without Geoffrey's prompt. When it goes well there seems to be a certain joy in it. When it does not go well then there is much pain. The Buddhist comment about it is twofold, an ancient observation.
First, that even the pleasure parts will eventually turn out unpleasant, either because the natural drift of the experience is into pain or because if pleasure is repeated enough it cloys and clots and becomes ultimately painful. Second, there is a procedure and a path that eventually escapes this longer round of seeking pleasure and ultimately finding suffering. The Buddhist way out is considered to be a short cut but it is not often the case that any one of us gets free in this lifetime even if we could choose the full blown effort of striving.
For myself, while I do not doubt the basic Buddhist vision of the human predicament, I am not sure that the shortcut is the right path for me. I am also sure that the longer passage also leads to the same place. To me this sounds from the outside looking at Buddhism as the Buddhist version of if you don't do it this way you won't get there, in that sense not dissimilar to the Christian assertion that we cannot find salvation without accepting the sacrifice that Christ made to atone for us. Both of these feel suspect to me, because they are exclusionary, when I sense that the real divine deal is inclusionary. I do not mean to demand anything or criticize anyone. I am just saying. I am also saying that I have cast my fate on refusing to follow paths as they are presented to me if I sense this kind of exclusion in them.
I feel the sacred work itself is a sifter, that I can yearn for and even work for a universal inclusion that permits a wide variety of parallel journeys. Not many will follow anyway, not at this time. That's what all the masters have always said. The road is ultimately quite narrow. When Mahayana Buddhism came up with the Bodhisattva ideal a way to see all this was offered the world: I refuse my way out until you can come and want to and I work for that, not by insisting that you do anything but by myself refusing to separate until it works out. If it takes forever, so be it. I understand that if you take the shortcut then you may hover nearby in sacred space and also do this work, perhaps with even more power and precision. I assume this may have happened already, many times. It is not my path. Not in this lifetime.
In the meantime, there is this argument with God that is my appropriate mantle. This is the cloak I wore coming in and it would be an impolite form of littering at the least to discard it here. I shall carry it with me as I go. Loving you, and arguing with Him, that's my ticket.
Seven is the Catholic age of reason and marks the age (I believe) that you can take communion. It marks something, anyway. Seven years is also a lunar quarter moon in the Ages of Man in the astrological cycle of an ideal day for a year. The 28 day cycle repeats three times and completes a human life at 84 years, which is the Saturn ideal transit cycle also and marks one complete revolution of Uranus almost perfectly. These numbers are also Hindu life stage numbers. From 56 years to 84 years are the sacred path years. In them, one retreats to the forest, releases all worldly goods and takes up the begging bowl. From 28 to 56 are the years of social engagement. The first 28 years are the years of maturation.
When I Was Seven
I remember that
way of waking into new
worlds alone, sneaking
out to see what's what
before anyone else is
awake, then going
places I am not
supposed to, knowing if I
get back fast I will
not get in trouble,
and the glory I have seen
belongs just to me.
May 15, 2009 9:04 AM