By J.L. Pendall
I’m in ruins. The only thing I know how to do is breathe.
It’s dark out here, at the furthest edges of being human. Who I am, what I want, what I think, it all seems so small. Even love, the most beautiful and precious of things, is nothing from this far out.
I wish I could delete myself from everyone’s memories and start over again as a man who never speaks, never reaches out or grasps at fleeting intimacy. Because, in truth, it’s all bad. Birth is bad, sickness, old are, death and loss are bad. Being a being who desires anything in this world is bad. That’s basically the First Noble Truth.
Sitting and weeping, my most joyous memories flashed before me, and I wept because they all led to this pain. Taking a breath, seeing that this is—conventionally speaking—hell. We’re all in hell, every living being.
Realizing that, I was able to breathe and find a little peace.
There’s a freedom here, at the still point among the flames. It’s the freedom of the condemned, sure, but freedom nonetheless. While being marched to the gallows, beyond hope, the condemned person is beyond fear too. Beyond stress, misery and flights of fancy. There’s nothing left to do but walk up the steps and wait.
In those last moments, each face stands out in the crowd. The blue sky is electric, and each blade of grass is a cosmos unto itself. One last breath of fresh air, and…
Hell isn’t the problem. It’s my desire for it to be heaven that causes issues.
I must be vigilantly mindful of how things are: fleeting. Mindfulness breaks the spell we toil under, and meditation offers a glimpse of a paradise that has nothing to do with anything contingent and external. Perhaps, if I’m quiet enough, the hangman will think that I’m already dead. Then I could walk from the gallows and find a sunlit spot in a green pasture, a place to rest.
Maybe you could come too. Maybe everyone can.
That brings us to the Fourth Noble Truth: the Path. Here’s where the B-Man and I politely part ways. The Noble Eightfold Path basically says, “Drop it all and be a monk.” It’s even impossible to walk a feasible layperson’s version of these days when all of the things we consume were basically stolen from Third World Countries. The food we eat is heavily processed, mistreated and often made by people who make baring living wages.
Then there’s all of the waste produced by making it, shipping it, and cooking it.
It is impossible to follow the ethical aspects of the Path in the modern world. “I just do the best I can.” That’s not good enough. If following the Path makes you feel better, then that means you’re turning a blind eye to what’s actually going on in the world. So, it’s a selfish Path now, and—in Buddhism—selfishness is bad, it perpetuates suffering.
Even Folds like Right Speech are irresponsible to follow in contemporary society. Speaking kind, gently, and abstaining from views and arguments does nothing to help the world at large. The world needs strong voices; reasonable, but passionate voices that are willing to call out the bullshit.
Right Livelihood is impossible unless you have a completely self-sufficient business. I personally work at a retail giant, stocking shelves made in Chinese sweatshops. With each item we sell, we endorse their pain.
I can’t ignore this, and I couldn’t call myself a Buddhist if I said I followed the Path because, in the West, we could only follow a laughable version of it at best.
So what’s left? There’s no-path.
Letting everything unfold as it does, letting everything change and doing things that make the world a bit brighter. Even if that means pointing out the dark stuff from time to time.
Really, the idea of a path is part of the problem; the idea that if I cross this T, dot this i and jump these hoops, I’ll be good to go. That’s never been the case in all human history. If you start on a path of any kind, you’ve gotta walk it until you die for it to serve its purpose.
Maybe simply being mindful of the other Three Truths is enough. That and doing anything that is directly related to one’s nature. Doing what we love and sharing that love.
It’s all shifting sands here, there’s nothing for me to hold onto. But my, look at all these things that sand can do!
Editor: Dana Gornall
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