His mind is restless
after many flowers,
before he can have them
death is upon him.
-- The Dhammapada; Tr. P. Lal
"The Dhammapada" is one of the go-to books in Buddhism. It consists of observations allegedly made by Shakyamuni Buddha, the "buddha" people are referring to when they want to indicate who gave something called "Buddhism" its initial liftoff. The book is more or less flowery depending on the translation from the original Pali. Its flowery/poetic quality allows the reader to keep a comforting distance from the subject matter ... subject matter s/he may honestly seek answers or resolution to in life. In this, "The Dhammapada" is like any spiritual printed matter... distant whispers about intimate concerns.
The above lines came to mind this morning and aroused two trains of thought. In reverse order, they were:
1. Has there ever been a spiritual persuasion or endeavor that did not address the matter of death and, in many if not all cases, leverage that matter to its own organizational advantage? I doubt it. Some leverage is more childish than others (heaven, hell, virgins with grapes, etc.), but no matter what the format, still the matter of death -- what it is, what it means, what happens afterwards, etc. -- is an honest human heart-throb capable of inclining people to join up or join in some organizational effort. Looking down on this capacity is about as useful or useless as looking up to it. It seems to be what happens ... nuff said.
2. Anyone who has consented to make spiritual endeavor a serious matter in their lives is bound to come up against it -- the restlessness of a mind that can travel faster than light from one garden to the next, one longing to the next, one sorrow to the next, one joy to the next. If it's not one attachment, it's another, and serious investigation can point this out with rapier-like precision and an accompanying sense of dismay: How the hell is anyone supposed to find a reliable peace when facing this wily and powerful and skillful army?! In the initial steps of spiritual endeavor, this restlessness is an implacable foe, an enemy to be defeated and the premise (often in more flowery language) is: How the hell can I shut this restless son-of-a-bitch up and find a little peace?
Books and philosophies may offer endless counsel, but up-close-and-personal, someone else's counsel amounts to piss in a snowbank ... a good, temporary relief, perhaps, but not very satisfying over the long haul. Who wants to spend their lives endlessly pissing into snowbanks over and over and over again? Who wouldn't prefer to put a period on that sentence -- find an Answer and be quits with this endless, endless, endless restlessness? It is with an eye to relief that the spiritual warrior goes to war.
But relief doesn't cut it. Relief is temporary. There's always one more piss to take. Relief is frustrating and perhaps enraging in its will-o'-the-wisp antics: Advance on it and it retreats; flee from it and it follows. It's enough to make a strong (wo)man weep, or, as comedian George Carlin summed things up more succinctly, "shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits!"
There is nothing philosophical or religious about the light-speed restlessness of this mind. Sit down quietly on the couch for a mere five minutes and you'll see what I mean. Never mind what gurus and philosophers and blog mavens say ... isn't it just the truth? Nothing fancy, just the truth? Trying to shut this restlessness down, endlessly seeking for release and relief ... well, "before he can have them, death is upon him."
The depredations of this restlessness are arrayed in mighty battalions before the serious spiritual seeker. Likewise the delights and joys spread beyond the horizon. The results of restlessness may pierce the heart or lift the heart to the heavens, all at faster than light-speed. There is no escape from that which envisions some escape.
Bit by bit and day by day and week by week and year by year, so-called spiritual practice (and I simply cannot think of a better tool than meditation practice) suffers the wounds and inhales the victories of a restless mind. But war doesn't work and comforting philosophies don't work and spiritual camouflage doesn't work and imagined peace treaties don't work and ... well, if nothing works, what the hell does work?
Restlessness is inescapable, and it has some very fine uses, but there is no point in getting tricked by it. Flowers are wonderful, factual, inescapable. Is there any point in being tricked? Death is wonderful, factual, inescapable. Is there any point in being tricked? Trickery is wonderful, factual, inescapable. Is there any point in being tricked? Pissing in snow banks is wonderful, factual, inescapable. Is there any point in being tricked?
Restlessness is tricky.
Trickiness is tricky.
But getting tricked?
Whose business is that?