Tuesday, December 3, 2013

AGING, SICKNESS AND DEATH...

I woke yesterday feeling halfway human for the first time, really, since returning from Europe.  I woke this morning feeling almost, if not yet quite fully human.  It has been a long siege of poor health, accompanied by an almost total lack of energy and motivation.  If I return to The Buddha Diaries today, it's after a morning meditation in which I was reminded that a good part of my purpose, in sitting, is to learn to address precisely the challenges of aging, sickness, and death.

In all this, I have done little reading.  I have hardly even cracked the newspaper.  Before leaving for Europe, though, I received my review copy of Ken McLeod's new book, Reflections on Silver River, and set it aside to read on my return (publication date is January 2014).  The book has been on my mind a great deal since then, with some feelings of guilt for not having had the gumption to give it my full attention; but I have  peeked into it from time to time, and have invariably lighted on some passage of peculiar relevance to my situation.  The book is McLeod's translation of, and commentary on "Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisatva," the verse teachings of the early fourteenth century Tibetan monk, Tokme Zongpo.  Here's the quotation that opens the author's Introduction:
If it is better for me to be ill,
Give me the energy to be ill.
If it is better for me to recover,
Give me the energy to recover.
If it is better for me to die,
Give me the energy to die.
Stunningly simple, profoundly disturbing, and clear as the ring of a meditation bell, these words struck me in my illness with the blinding brilliance of a lightning bolt.  They have been echoing in my mind ever since, though I have understood the "Give me" more in the construction, "May I have...", or "May I find", because, to my way of thinking, who is to give?

No matter that quibble, I love the poetry of the passage as much as, or rather in the same way as its resonance of meanings.  The last two lines, when you get to them, are particularly daunting, because death, as always, is the ultimate.  It's the ultimate challenge, the ultimate outcome of illness, and the experience of illness inevitably raises its specter.  I am happy to be recovering, as I seem to be today.  But I would be remiss to ignore the teaching of what I have experienced in the past few weeks--a lesson conveyed succinctly and with lyrical intensity in that handful of very beautiful and unavoidably truthful lines.

I'll be writing more about this book as I continue to read.  I'm not sure whether it can be pre-ordered, but I'll keep you posted.

4 comments:

robin andrea said...

I am so sorry to read that you have been so sick. I had wondered what happened, as the blog had grown so quiet. Glad to know you are recovering. The poem is quite lovely, simple and moving. I like your "May I have, or May I find..." construction. The distinction is profound.

PeterAtLarge said...

Good to hear from you, Robin, and thank you for the good thoughts. I trust all is well with both, and with the family. I haven't followed your blog, I'm afraid, for quite some time, but will return to normal soon, I hope, now that the travels are done and the health continues to improve. Best wishes for this (l-o-o-o-n-g!) holiday season.

Jean said...

Very good to see you back here, Peter. Warmest wishes.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thank you, Jean. I hope you're keeping well, and send warm wishes in return!