23 April 2008

Letter 1.17

From the Wilderness: Peace

Having received your letter (on my birthday: a welcome stiff); having flow- the coop the following day; having tramped along an erratic dotted line (on the edge of a 150 mile-long box of Ritz Crackers); having, after many unrefreshing pauses in as many empty shrines, perched myself atop Karmagala (a shrineless emptiness), the only nameworth hill within a day's walk of here, I can now look down onto the sporadic dull green of the dry jungle, whose leaves lay about like forgotten dandruff, broken by a rare farmhouse and irregular fields where farmers tend scant paddy. Before me, a thin line beneath the sky: the sea, sharp and bright; behind me, a thin line above the land: the Upcountry peaks, vague and dark; both far away. Closer, suddener, birds dart about, catching the incessant wind in arrowed wings, disappearing like sparks; chimpanzees stare moodily, greedily, hoping for the remains of the rice I collect daily at the nearest village, a 40 minute trek away.

I live in a large cave - a gap, actually, formed by the imperfect juncture of two gargantuan boulders one atop the other. The entrance is puckered up, as if to kiss me, or perhaps devour me. The roof (which is 15 feet of solid rock) bears faint traces of an ancient artist: a hand is visible; other lines define nothing at all, for every rock, every tree, every day, every cloud, every thought, frog and accident occurs the same as every other. Repetition is important, and must be understood, Nevertheless, because, atop the peak of Karmagala I can see too the peak of Kataragama, I think this; because it is December 31st, I write this.

Your letter was very poetic, very human, thoughtful, sane, and - essentially - mystical. This is fine for a writer, for a mystic. I must be now as usual mundane and dull enough to point out a mere fact. I hope this will not affect you, or even that you will find some way of transforming it into something better than the base metal of mere factuality.

So loko so attá: thus the Pali says, time and time again: 'This, the world, is this, the self.' And so you, too, write: 'I am the universe.' The difference being as follows: the Pali ascribes the view to the asutvá puthujjana, the untaught commoner, who has not grasped the Dhamma. Then, invariably, the text goes on to record the attitude held by the sutvá ariyasavako, the instructed disciple of the Noble One, which is: 'This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.'

This is a fundamental tenet of the Pali teachings (and the experience of the sutvá ariyasavako) and is a phrase which occurs hundreds of times in the texts. You will note that it is the exact opposite of your views, which is the view, by and large, of the Mahayanists. Therefore one cannot-except by a prodigious effort of doublethink - hold to both the Pali and the Mahayana texts. I do not suggest you do so, but rather that you have been either uninformed or misinformed as to the nature of the Pali texts.

Beginning with the basic idea that we are, each of us, individuals, units, one, while our universe is infinite (the end is not to be found). The Mahayanist takes the basic dilemma of the equation 1= (which is the human condition) and tries to resolve it by squaring it, 1²=∞². But this only raises the dilemma to a higher power. The Tantricist tries to multiply both sides by zero - a very illegitimate procedure - to prove, like some Hindus, that nothing really exists.

The Buddha does not alter either the 'one' or the 'infinity': His discovery was that the fault of the equation is not amenable to tinkering: it is the equal sign itself that is the mistake; it's the relationship which is false. Tantric merely denies our humanity (which all too obviously does exist); Mahayana tries to raise it to a higher power; the Pali shows us how to give up this too-cherished delusion. The aims are different; the means are different; the conceptions are different: the deception is the same: 1=00, The equal sign means 'is', part of 'to be', and so the Pali defines nibbána, the 3rd Noble Truth, as bhavanirodha, cessation of being (being that delusion). Is that the same as what you tell me Nirvana is?

The following is from Kafka (a dialogue between two of his various selves`:
'I've had some experience and I don't mean it as a joke when I tell you it like being seasick on dry land. It is a condition in which you can't remember the real names of things and so in a great hurry you fling temporary names at them. A poplar tree in the field, which you called 'the tower of Babel', since you either didn't know or wouldn't know, that it was a poplar, stands wavering anonymously, again, and so you have to call it 'Noah in his cups'.'

Neither pain nor joy in themselves, can produce anything beyond themselves; but the two combined form the teaching experience; and the intensity of the pain (in a jungular vein), combined with the vast minuteness of the individual moments when a ray of light bounced right have taught me much - too much for the remaining sixth of this page, not enough for even a sentence. It is, I have learned from Jerry in The Zoo Story, necessary to go a long distance out of your way in order to come back a short distance correctly. There is an inherent honesty in the jungle - an honesty which is much more sudden than that of the desert - which is the only justification for its occasional luxuriance. Concommitant with our refusal to recognize this honesty is the attempt to relate ourselves to it. This is what is meant by the Parable of the Raft.

Tomorrow I shall leave here-traveling to a place two dozen miles off to the East, and shall post this on my way. Shall, surely, return to the island soon enough. I find that now I can live there: I can live anywhere.

Like the light shining through a hurricane lamp, we have to escape from within the structure: we have to get rid of what we think of as freedom in order to see the deception and to see that, for every existing individual, there is a way out…

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