Thursday, December 19, 2013


Re-reading "Reflections on Silver River" in accordance with my promise to myself, (the link is to my review,) I have worked through the Invocation, the Homage and the Intention, and have arrived at Verse I, where I meet a daunting challenge.

I'll paraphrase the predicament  briefly, and far less eloquently than the author.

I am standing at the end of a pier, looking out over the dark ocean.  A well-provisioned boat  is tied up at my feet, ready to carry me out on the great adventure into the unknown, the realm of total freedom and, perhaps, eventually, enlightenment.  Behind me lie all the enticements of the life I have built for myself, all the things I like to think I own, all the experiences I treasure, the identities by which I have made myself known, my pleasures, my relationships, my addictions...

What will it take to step into the boat and cast off, on a voyage with no return?

(Is this, I wonder, Rimbaud's Drunken Boat?)

I think I'm honest in saying that there's not much I could not give up at this stage of my life.  I have come to understand that the "possessions" are all temporary anyway, not truly "mine."  I am fortunate indeed in having acquired so much in the way of material comforts along the way and they are not unappreciated.  But I think it's true to say that it is not these that prevent me from stepping into the boat.  I could let them all go.

The same with pleasures.  In meditating on this challenge, I could think of nothing in the way of all the worldly pleasures that I would not be ready to sacrifice for the adventure of complete, unfettered freedom.  I pondered long and hard about my most valued identity, the one I cling to most obstinately, the writer, and concluded that I have reached a point where even this is something that I'm able to release.

What, then, would it take to step into that boat?  What's the attachment that still holds me back?  It was clear to me, as I reflected on the image of the boat and the great ocean out ahead, that the one thing I am not yet ready or able to surrender is the attachment to family and friends, those closest to me.  It's the love I have for them, and the sense of obligation that I feel I owe them still that I can't let go.

I returned, in meditation this morning, to the understanding that death will come along to resolve this issue for me--and that, in view of the accumulation of years to date, it will not be overlong in coming!  Still, in the meantime, while not yet ready to step into that boat, I am happy to have been challenged to find the clarity in this, and I take it that the point of the exercise was to work toward that clarity rather than step headlong into the boat.  The more I am clear about the attachments that keep me on the shore, the more I'll be ready for the inevitable voyage when it's no longer an invitation, but an imperative.

Reminding myself of the subtitle of Reflections, "Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva"--the title of the original 14th century text that it translates, I harbor no illusions about achieving that eminence myself.  The true bodhisattva would have no hesitations about the sacrifices his dedication requires of him--sacrifices that the Buddha himself made in setting out on his own journey, leaving family along with everything else behind.  At least I have the clarity of knowing what I find myself unable to give up. 

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