Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Please don't be long, or I may be asleep

Now if you ask of psychology just how and why aims that were peripheral become at a certain moment central, psychology has to reply that she is unable to account accurately for all the single forces at work.

--William James, Varieties of Religious Experience

I have always tried to be honest when it comes to spiritually-based matters. Even when it makes me look crazed or stupid. This time, however, has been especially difficult.

It seems I don't have the right words, the proper references, the easy approach. On some level, I find Westerners who claim Eastern religions to be pretentious and silly; tourists of the soul. And yet... I wrote about my beloved George Harrison for a reason. I made the case for him and people like him.

Of course, I realized I was also talking about myself. I knew this could all apply to me at some later date.

The date and time arrived, without any preparation, rather like an old rusty sundial that nobody pays much attention to. Time's up. The clock struck the hour, and as the book of Matthew tells us, no man knows the day or the hour, not even the angels in heaven.

I hesitate to call it a conversion. But I am stuck with Western words--words with their roots in Christianity. As I said in the George Harrison post: they don't do it like that, we do it like that. But then, I am talking about ME, right?

I do it like that.


My study of Buddhism has grown extensive. And just like those numerous TV detectives (or Greg House), I was in the middle of something else entirely when it happened. In a series of realizations, everything coalesced, made sense, lined up. I tried to fight it, because I knew what it meant. (I briefly wrote about that here.) I am frankly terrified at the idea of "leaving" the Church, even psychologically. (Physically, I have no trouble staying away for months at a time.) A creator God is an idea I can't overcome and can't shake; an idea that seems etched somewhere on my cerebellum. In addition, my deep love for the saints and the Blessed Mother is a palpable and real phenomena in my life. I don't want to change, I protested inwardly, I don't want to.

Then why are you reading all of this stuff? Why have you steadily prayed for compassion?

It was the graveyard. I asked the spirits of the dead to speak to me, and tell me what they know.


I decided to take photos of the German graveyard in Fredericksburg, Texas. These immigrants are the people my grandchildren descend from, my son-in-law's family. They came thousands and thousands of miles, to these hills that must have seemed so hot, so inhospitable, so strange. They left the "old country" and arrived in the land of coyotes and cactus. I thought of what it was like, never hugging one's parents again, crossing a huge ocean and knowing that you will never again see the place you came from, the land that nurtured you and formed your imagination.

I saw the gravestones, some of them the graves of babies. The whooping cough, polio and other diseases these babies likely died from, have been largely eradicated in the West. And yet, our pain, our suffering, does not diminish. We have all kinds of modern conveniences that these Germans would have found incredible, the answer to any number of daily problems; even a telephone would have been an amazing innovation in their very primitive, pioneer way of life. But what does the modern proliferation of phones bring us? I thought of the woman seated behind me on the plane, arguing on her cell phone in controlled tones... arguing with who? I tried to figure it out and could not: Husband? Boyfriend? Best friend?

I thought of the juxtaposition of the arguing passenger, and the German immigrant (lying here in this cemetery?) of the last century, who would have been so overjoyed to hear that her husband was merely late, not hurt or harmed on his long, muddy trek home by horse-drawn wagon. Telephones were once used only in similar emergencies, to notify Atticus Finch there was a rabid dog outside, and other scary stuff like that. But now we all carry one, like talismans to ward off the problems of modern life that materialize seemingly out of nowhere. And as a result, omnipresent telephones have also helped to multiply our distress.

I thought about my newborn grandson, my nearly-five-year-old granddaughter, and the pain I have experienced, not being able to see them as often as I want to. I know they will not die of these old diseases, causing me great pain, but I do feel the intense pain of separation, the same crushing pain these German immigrants felt. In that sense, nothing has changed. Our common humanity is the same, and we feel the same, even after the passing of a hundred years.

We have improved our lot, we are living longer, I thought, but we are still sad.

And tellingly, graveyards have not changed. We have not changed the fact of death, the end of our earthly existence.


I entered that area of the cemetery in which the names have worn off the stones. Who are these people?--I thought. Please talk to me. There were gothic-appearing cages surrounding the oldest stones, some very rusty. To keep the grave-robbers out? Frightening. (One might also say, to keep the dead people from escaping, if one were sufficiently spookable.)

I could always get through the first two Noble Truths pretty easily. I mean, come on, who can argue?

The Nature of Suffering (or Dukkha):
"This is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering."

Suffering's Origin (Dukkha Samudaya):
"This is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination."
I would even agree with the third one, but I just wasn't sure it was for an amateur like me:
Suffering's Cessation (Dukkha Nirodha):
"This is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it."
And finally, the fourth, the stumbling block. Aye, this is the rub.
The Path (Dukkha Nirodha Gamini Patipada Magga) Leading to the Cessation of Suffering:
"This is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is the Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration."
Yes, it folded in on me, very simply and honestly.

This is The Truth, and I have found it, after much seeking. I am now ready to accept it.

And there it was, one of the most intense moments of my life, strikingly similar to my two other conversion experiences, which have brought me to this point. (I love trinities; these kindsa things should happen in threes.) I then saw the gravestone that said "Our darling" (photo at left)--and that was it. I started to cry, right there in the old German graveyard, for the suffering of all beings. And I wanted so much, with every fiber of my being, to end it.

I reached out and touched the words: Our darling. I felt the keening, the tears, of the mother who asked for those words on the gravestone. I am so sorry, I sobbed, I am so sorry.


I promise not to turn this into a Buddhist blog. I wouldn't know how to begin, in any case. I am merely reporting the incident and the shift in my sensibility. My sense of peace and new sense of mission, has not abated in the slightest, and has only increased. I know this means I have to go further. It will be my task to correlate my old beliefs with the new ones, and to figure out what I need to do to fulfill these new convictions in my everyday life. This is called dharma, a word I don't use easily. As I said, the feeling that I am some kind of religious tourist, or worse, a cultural imperialist, is overwhelming, probably fallout from too much leftism. Still, I hope this feeling will keep me honest. And as I seek out a path for myself, I hope my spiritual reticence will prevent me from bloviating nonsense!

In the short run, the change in my life has been enormous. The truth shall set you free!

As always: Stay tuned, sports fans. :)



:: I loved Kloncke's recent posts as Feministe, and highly recommend her blog.

:: And as we speak so honestly of suffering: While I was gone, a sometime blog-reader and good friend passed away. He was one of those very generous, sweet-tempered Christians who embody the Word, and would gladly give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. Rest in Peace, generous and loving soul, Gregg James Farrier 1947-2010. The fierce and beautiful kindnesses you left on the earth, stay behind to remind of us of what we are capable of becoming, if we try.

:: Non-Beatles fans might wonder: blog post title is from George Harrison's Blue Jay Way.

After all of these years, I finally understood the phrase.


JoJo said...

What an interesting and thoughtful blog post. My husband has studied Buddhism intently and I'm sure he would LOVE to email with you about your studies. He loves to talk about it. I, unfortunately, just don't have the personality for Buddhism. AT ALL. In fact, I would welcome an email discussion w/ you on this issue as I find it very, very interesting, and I learned a lot from Brian. He used to go to the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, which was near our house.

I wonder though if that is the right path for you. Buddhists do not believe in god or Jesus as savior. Would you be able to give up that belief?

I love old graveyards too. I had no idea your ancestors were from Germany and then Texas! Those child gravestones are sad, aren't they? I've been in old graveyards and seen stones that bear the same date of death for half the family, or multiple people, most of them small children. Can't help but wonder what illness swept through the town to take so many on the same day or w/in the same month.

sheila said...

Welcome to that path that we're all walking at some point of our earthly lives! :o)

I LOVE the buddhist beliefs. I also love all Eastern religions! I consider myself a religious mutt so to speak. It's very VERy hard when you are brought up in a western faith, to see anything but....but when you do it's very amazing and liberating.

:o) Big smiles Daisy...loved this post. And, as a genealogist? Loved it in an entirely different way. Beautiful! said...

This post gave me chills -- thank you so much for sharing your experience, Daisy. And thank you for your courage and compassion for all beings. :)

Have you looked at any books or works that explore the overlap between Christianity and Buddhism? I've never read Thich Nhat Hanh's "Living Buddha, Living Christ," but many people I know have loved it. I would love to hear some of your perspectives on the resonances -- especially the ways they manifest in your own life as an earthbound feminist with deep spiritual affinities.

Thanks very much for the link love -- I'm so glad you were feelin the stuff on Feministe.

Take care, and thanks again,


John Powers said...

A friend of mine is studying Buddhist Economics. She says she wants to take the Buddhism out of Buddhist Economics. By that I think she means that she would like the ideas to be more generally accessible.

You know that I can never get to the point. In one of my meandering blog posts on Buddhist Economics I got a drive-by comment that I misconstrued E.F. Schumacher. If I understand the comment right "Buddhism" was a metaphor for Christianity for Schumacher.

I don't buy that. But I do note that Schumacher was a late convert to Catholicism. Spirituality is a creative and nuanced affair--messy--I think.

You may have discovered it already, if not you might explore Takeshi Umehara Heidegger and Budhism. And perhaps Joan Stambaugh.

Looking at some of the writing about Buddhist Economics may be satisfying as it is a way to seek congruence without opposition to cherished ways of thinking.

Blue Heron said...

Interesting turn in space and welcome back. Although not a practicing buddhist, I was initiated into mahayana by Kalu Rimpoche in about 1975 or 6.

One of my favorite books on buddhist practice is the Myth of Freedom by Chogyam Trungpa. His Cutting through Spiritual Materialism gets all the play but this book was mighty helpful.

Lisa said...

I love this post. I'm just learning tiny bits of Buddhism via my associations with online friends, mostly, but it's fascinating.

chaos said...

Daisy- I just finished a meditation class and have been reading lots about the mind and life institutes conferences with the Dalai Lama. That dude is hard to understand but those books that come out of the mind and life institute rock. I am devouring them. I'm feeling a little like a traitor, yet at the same time it seems just like more information that is helpful.

Dave Dubya said...

Thank God the Creator does not belong exclusively to any single religion! We are pilgrims no matter what the faith, or even none at all. It is human nature to seek:
"Inspiration, move me brightly
Light the song with sense of color
Hold away despair
More than this I will not ask
Faced with mysteries dark and vast
Statements just seem vain at last
Some rise, some fall, some climb..."

And of course no matter what beliefs are held,"All you need is Love" and, "Without love in the dream it'll never come true".

Guess who I've been listening to lately.

Amber Rhea said...

Not much to add, just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this post!