“We receive our life, we borrow this life, and an infinite number of organisms support us in living. Once we notice this embeddedness we feel compelled to act and face the world from a place of gratitude and responsibility—to work and study deeply, to practice in every moment, to smile, to own our own anger and jealousy, to not waste time.” -Gesshin
So much of what we do is driven by craving for pleasure. If we don’t feel an immediate sense of sensual pleasure we feel we must be doing something wrong, that things should be different, that we’re losing, we’re missing out.It’s because we conflate happiness with pleasure.
But so often what we must do, the wise thing, the right thing, is not obviously pleasurable. Tending to children, cleaning a toilet, writing a blog post: quite often the necessary action is boring, or noisome, or frustrating.
Even then, even now, I feel myself stretching for pleasure: to see that the difficult task is somehow pleasurable in a different way, in a wiser way.
What would your life be like if you could leave aside this ceaseless craving? If you could be with what is, instead of aching for what is not?
What would your life be like if your happiness didn’t depend on pleasure?
Would you like that?
For me sitting is almost like training in success. Almost? Always! I succeed every time I sit down. I succeed when I notice my attention has wandered from the breath. I succeed when I realize I have lost equanimity, I succeed when I notice my craving to achieve the first jhana, I succeed in seeing the path to enlightenment. Every time!
And even now as I write this, I can feel the urge to turn this success into failure – to somehow say: “Do you really think it’s like this, living? Success, over and over again?” Although I don’t fully believe that this is what “living” is but, rather, “This is what it’s like to be me.”
And this is what it’s like!
There is a breath of joy in it, and that breath is my breath. I open my heart to receive it.
A Roman execution began with a scourging of the naked prisoner. Using a short whip made of braided leather embedded with sharpened stones, Roman soldiers would flog the man’s back, buttocks, and legs. “The lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.” The prisoner’s arms would then be tied around a hundred-pound crossbar, and he would be forced to carry it to a site where a post was embedded in the ground. The man would be thrown onto his shredded back and nailed through the wrists to the crossbar. (Contrary to the familiar depictions, the flesh of the palms cannot support the weight of a man.) The victim was hoisted onto the post and his feet were nailed to it, usually without a supporting block. The man’s rib cage was distended by the weight of his body pulling on his arms, making it difficult to exhale unless he pulled his arms or pushed his legs against the nails. Death from asphyxiation and loss of blood would come after an ordeal ranging from three or four hours to three or four days. The executioners would prolong the torture by resting the man’s weight on a seat, or hasten death by breaking his legs with a club.
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature
I come from Catholics, and until I was 12 and discovered punk rock I bought the whole Jesus trip: I was a bit of a fanatic. I remember watching Jesus Christ Superstar (which fuckin’ blew my mind! It was Jesus times but there were tanks! Nobody talked, they sang the whole thing! Judas was black!) and pressing a kitchen knife into my palms during the crucifixion scene to get some sense of the pain Jesus felt as iron nails ran in. I gave up on all that, as one must, because it’s retarded – but later I came back to it, gingerly, as one should, because the story of Christ is of an awesome power and beauty.
I leave aside any argument about the church, any kind of church, most especially the Catholic Church. I don’t give a shit, I hardly think about it any more. I tried to go back about ten years ago but I couldn’t hack it: I couldn’t say the Creed because I don’t believe it, and I wouldn’t take Communion because I couldn’t say the Creed. Plus the priest was kind of a prick and seemed to be pushing reactionary old school Catholicism, perhaps to counter what he saw as a wishy-washy 21st century version. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, I don’t give a shit about that.
What matters is this: that the story is God came to earth as a man, a boy who became a man, a human like us. And that man was at once God and God’s son. Just forget how retarded it is: think of “God” as “the Universe,” or “Nature,” whatever you can get your head around. Because we are part of that: we’re not unnatural, we’re not from elsewhere. We’re from here, of this Universe. So, for the sake of the story (remember it was written by people who didn’t know shit about science. They were like children. It’s childish – but look at it as their best effort. There’s poetry in it.) accept there’s a God and he can do shit like that.
So this God sees that his people are miserable. They keep fucking up, they can’t get their shit together. And he wants to help, but he can’t just wave a magic wand. He wants to help them, but they have to do it themselves. (You’ll understand this if you have children: you can’t do everything for them.) So he sends his son – and his son is Him, because everything is Him – there’s nothing outside. (And that’s how it is, do you see? That’s how it actually is. We’re all of us intertwined, we’re all born from the Universe, from Being. There’s nothing outside of it.)
And this Jesus must suffer and die because we must suffer and die. Because this is the way it is. God has not abandoned us – he is just like us. He is us.
Even God suffers and dies.
But then comes the Resurrection.
Do you see? It’s like us. Because we’re constantly changing. We’re never the same, from moment to moment. We die from moment to moment. And are resurrected. There is new life, always, from moment to moment. Do you see? That’s what it means, this story of death and resurrection. It’s nothing so petty as your little ego coming back in a fairy land. It’s here, now, every day. Every moment. Your life begins anew every moment.
So of course, yes. It’s a bullshit story. It couldn’t have happened that way. But it’s so beautiful. And we made it up. We can tell such beautiful stories. And we’re not being crucified. Not right now. Not at this moment.
Right at this moment we’re being reborn.
I really liked this post by Brad Warner over at Hardcore Zen. He’s responding to a (quite old!) article by Sam Harris about what Harris sees as the necessity of leaving behind the religious trappings of Buddhism (and perhaps the word Buddhism itself!)
I remember Harris’s article – I believe it’s called Killing the Buddha and it’s a good one. I strongly recommend checking out both these articles, and Warner’s blog in general. And Harris’s too! I run hot and cold on Sam, but I give him a huge amount of credit for bringing a thoughtful take on serious moral and spiritual issues to a popular audience.
It’s wanting something to happen but not wanting something to happen.
It’s wanting not to want anything.
That’s really true.
So, in that case, accept that you want what you want and move on.