Thursday, May 6, 2010

When I Was Seven

"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


  1. You've given me plenty to think about as I travel my own path today. I am especially intrigued by the Ages of Man, as I have entered the sacred path and I need to begin shedding my skin as I walk through this forest.

    When I was seven, the whole world was open and new. Remember that sense of wonder?

  2. Exactly that, Karen. I needed to be my own critter in some of the mornings of those days. I needed to have certain times when I did not share with anyone and it was just me with the sun up but no other human around to distract me. I had no fear.

  3. I'm excited to think that new paths and ways of living and seeing are in front of me. I'm 40 soon, although I do think that perhaps I am both further along than my number, while holding fast still to my childhood 7, as well. I do not play linear. I am excited to think that I am not done, that my mind will change, that my heart will open even more. I am excited to know that change is not an indictment, but rather a path itself, and that life begs us along it. Mostly, today, I am excited.

    "Loving you, and arguing with Him, that's my ticket." This seems to be an apt synopsis. I laugh. I am encouraged.


  4. Wow, you were brave at seven. Have you managed to keep that bravery? I think a lot of mine has given way to caution.

  5. I don't think I was all that brave. It was more that I had no idea I should worry. I don't think that kind of absence is really bravery. I think bravery takes place in the face of fear, not in its absence.

    I will say of my young self that the dominant emotion was a kind of bewilderment, like my insides had certain expectations of things that quite often did not work out even close. The outcomes were not opposites or even sideways but like from some other place than what I carried entirely.

    I learned of course, but what happened was so odd that I lagged far behind my age group, not in my basic learning capacity because I was really bright, but because I could not grasp what was different between my insides and the outsides of my life.

    I never have really got it. That's another reason I hesitate to share opinions about too much on the planet. I doubt that my opinions are all that universal and useful. I stick to what I know, the inner life and the spiritual walk, recovery from alcoholism. I think most people fit in on the planet better than I do and so my advice on that topic might be too personally formed.

  6. Erin, at age forty you are age appropriate to feel the way you do. Your sap has fully risen. Not only that, you really are less than half way done. I am twenty four years further down the path. I will share this opinion even though it is proabably only mine...

    Americans are death avoidant people. I think many of the people around me are immature in relation to death and dying. I think the rest of us keep fairly quiet about our attitudes because we get such strong and inappropriate reactions if we say anything. We often hurt each other as we lack grace when we are confronted with death overtly. Many of us pay way too much on funerals.

    I just don't think my personal death is that big a deal. Death is ordinary and mundane. Killing, overt killing is big. Stealing life in any way it can be stolen is big. Dying itself is not bigger than any other bio process except in certain spiritual senses.

    Just my opinion.

    In the spiritual walk however, death, birth, orgasm, and the direct encounter with the divine are all gateway experiences, the quaternity which is the backdrop of the cross wherever it is found in spiritual symbols.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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