headless buddha

I’m here to be a mirror, reflecting your own beauty and ugliness, giving back whatever I get. I value justice because I know there’s no such thing. We created it, so no one else is going to uphold it for us. Buddha would approve of me being kind to the kind, but he’d criticize me for being cruel to the cruel. I could argue that I serve karma, but that’s a rationalization.


By Jack Varden


What do you think of when you hear the word, Bodhi? 

You probably think of someone meditating. Maybe it’s Buddha. Maybe it’s you or someone you know—sitting there, in quiet repose, with a slight smile gracing their face. When I hear peace, I think of storms and cemeteries. I see derelict houses and cities blanketed by moss. I hear war drums thumpity thump thumping. 

My heaven is most people’s hell. I am irrevocably damaged and no longer afraid. My Bodhi Tree is burning, a mirror image of this flaming world. My Buddha is Mara, and I’ve given up all efforts to change my face. My ugliness is unmasked, and I’m without pride or shame. 

Buddhism is full of amazing teachings that will bring us to a serene unburdening if we pour our hearts into them. I promise you that it is what it claims to be. 

After 10 years of fanatical practice, I also know that it’s not for me. I value the virtues that Buddha taught, but I’m unwilling to sacrifice myself for that cause. I was able to work with—and temporarily get over—my longing and self-loathing. I’ve even experienced bouts of self-acceptance and forgiveness, but the poison was poured deep. 

I find myself unable to take the high road, or any road at all. I’m built for rough, wild terrain where I can be myself. I can also avoid the people who sell bottled Bodhi from booths along the path. 

I’m a monster, or at least that’s how I see myself (literally, I have bodily dysmorphia). I grew up in a war zone, and I was banished and brutalized by my peers. The horrors continued. Death came like a trickle; then a brook. Eventually it was a river carrying everyone back out to sea. Old age. Illnesses. Suicides. Overdoses. Murders.

The river cuts through a lush, and mysterious land, but there’s violence burning the forest red. I had to learn how to breathe smoke and eat ashes, all while being beaten into the dream: everything’s fine. It was silly of me to think that I could let that go, but I tried like hell and pretended that the savagery didn’t get into me. I denied it, suppressed it, accepted it, and transformed it. 

For a little while… 

It all depended on tremendous effort. The problem is that I was never completely invested in the outcome. I didn’t want to be peaceful. I wanted conflict because winning feels enriching. Problem solving is validating. 

I didn’t want enlightenment. I wanted empowerment, and not the kind a guru can give you. You have to take it from them. 

What’s more valuable: a stone you found on the shore, or the one you stole from the skipper? Neither. They’re just rocks. Earth’s dandruff. Value (and values) are empty and make believe. However, one of those actions is still going to enhance your moment more than the other. 

Stealing the stone makes me feel alive. It’s like grabbing a streak of lightning, plunging it into yourself, transcending servile humanity for animal godliness. I loathe this about me. I wanted to be good, through and through. I wanted to be unconditionally kind and understanding. 

I fought this ugliness tooth and nail, and it made me despise myself even more because then I hyperfixated on my savagery and failures for decades. 


Sinking into sorrow and loneliness, I fought for air, unable to catch my breath. At the ledge again, I finally decided that I wasn’t gonna wage war on myself anymore. How could I win? I’m 37. It’s time to move on. Each episode feels like a finale. “Wow. I made it through. It’s done,” even though it never was. Something feels different this time. It’s like I did an about face. 

Suicide was at the core of it. I don’t just want to die, I want to die horribly. I want to be drawn and quartered, decapitated and displayed as a warning for egomaniacal dreamers. 

I chose to live.

I’ve chosen it each day for 20 years. I lived for friends and family, and the little joys that breeze by. There’s tremendous power in that choice. To be capable of ending one’s life, and yet choosing to live, makes you a monarch. Having that power at all times means that nothing else—apart from physics—has any real authority over you. 

“You have to do X.” 

“I don’t have to do anything.” The suicide survivor has traded agony for sovereignty. It was wrong of me to think lightly of that choice. I continued seeing myself as a victim instead of a victor worthy of the spoils. 

With that in mind, I finally let myself do the unthinkable: blame others for myself. 

I was determined to take full responsibility for my suffering, but that didn’t help to ease it. Exhausted, I sneered at all of creation, “You did this to me.” The ‘you’ is the material universe. Evolution. Nature. Civilization. “I shouldn’t have existed, but you insisted. Then I wanted to love and be loved, and instead you taught me to hate myself. I hate you.” 

That rage moved me deeper than loving-kindness ever could. It lit me up and seemed to push everything outside of myself until I felt… individuated. 

Instead of seeing through or overcoming my ego, I freed it from the superego and watched in wonder as it embraced the id—that orphaned child. I turned toward all of my cultural conditioning, all of the traits that make up “the good,” and I sunk my teeth into it, ripping it apart until I stood triumphantly over my own remains.

I wept happy tears. It was a rebirth of sorts. That ocean of sorrow I always carried around turned into a sea of overwhelming relief. Your purpose is clear when you choose it. 

I’m here to be a mirror, reflecting your own beauty and ugliness, giving back whatever I get. I value justice because I know there’s no such thing. We created it, so no one else is going to uphold it for us. Buddha would approve of me being kind to the kind, but he’d criticize me for being cruel to the cruel. I could argue that I serve karma, but that’s a rationalization. 

So, I have to ditch Buddhism, since I’m not giving this up. I finally feel like myself, so I will defend my ego at all costs and spit out everything that doesn’t harmonize with my nature. 

I could never feel at peace or fulfilled by being compassionate to fanatics and assholes. I can’t let go of my savagery and go on living in ennui. I can’t see through myself and feel good about myself at the same time. My monster needs an outlet for me to feel alive, so that outlet might as well be other monsters. “That’s how monsters are made,” you might say, and you’d be right. But I’m talking about adults here, not kids. Kids are innocent and should be protected and educated well. 

It’s the adults that I have problems with. The Glop (General Population) is a panicky, prejudiced, psychotic hoard of secret sadists who don’t care about anything but order. They maintain order by beating and banishing the disordered. 

Fuck them all. I’m out of carrots. This means war. I want our whole culture to topple so that it can’t abuse anyone else. Then we can start fresh. 

My hate is fierce, and so is my love. I’d do anything for my little tribe of friends and family. I’ve lived them. Now, for the first time, I’m living for me too. I’m no longer neutral. I’m actual, Pinocchio in the flesh. Though I can’t be a good person, I can serve good people. I’m not a psychopath; I’m something worse. 

I’m human. 


Jack Varden is a writer, poet, musician, misanthrope, activist and philosopher from rural Illinois. He’s also in the depths of poverty and unfit for society, so please donate. donate.




Photo: source

Editor: Dana Gornall


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