24 November 2008

Letter 4.30

Tell you what, if I die before you then you can have my body, give you all the opportunity to see me again that you could ask for. Sure, I'd love to see you too, and not only you but a whole trainload of people I've enjoyed in my own way, but also every morning I wake up and see my robes and almsbowl and give a cheery wave and say 'Hi there, friend', and I just couldn't face the prospect of parting from my dearly beloved (not to mention loving my dearly departed). Of course, you'd always be welcome to hop out here and join me -- if your brotherly twinge can ever find its way outside those big black parentheses, that is -- and I'd even be willing to arrange for some robes, a bowl, and a stump in the woods. But maybe your nearly departed, the ever-departing HMV[1], might object as vociferously to your departure as my nearly parted robes (oy, have they got patches -- but the rains-retreat ends in a few weeks and next month I get a new one, wot cheer) object silently to the thought of mine. So here I sits.

You'd like some local color for what disappeared down my black hole? Mauve, magenta, burgandy, chartreuse? We got 'em all. But which one fits into a book you ain't writ yet I couldn't say. So instead of sending you a lot of paint buckets which you might not even be able to use at all, would it not, pray, be better if you sent your quasi-historical rag to me and then let me suggest where specific touches of specific shades might go well? I'll be a sort of interior decorator. (I've always fancied starting a firm called Sky Ghost Writing Services.) Send me your novels, your poems, your essays and potboilers, I'll turn them into spiffy scenes you'd be proud to have your friends in for dinner parties. Meanwhile, back at the typer, I think your idea of a novel about the famine in Ethiopia has to be a sure-fire winner provided that you write it as a well-ordered garden rather than as a dense, impenetrable jungle. Publishers just are not handy with machetes or pruning shears, and tend to fear meeting up with a libelous lion who has become a publisher-eater.

I'm not the sort to attack dying people, even though we're all dying, where the devil else you think we're heading, particularly when they're as busy dying as old HMV seems to be these last years, but he seems to have latched on to the peculiar notion that somewhere or somehow the Buddha teaches the Truth, and he seem to have the further notion that there ain't no such thing. Well, if that's his truth... But actually, I'm not aware of anyplace in the Pali Suttas where the Buddha makes any such suggestion (though all sorts of people, starting probably with Nagasena, make that claim on his behalf). He claims to teach something quite different from Truth, or so I read it, so the question of how messy the universe is actually misses the point. The point is that man is perpetually unhappy with the, as he sees it, mess, and is always trying to neaten it up, which as HMV says is poetry. But what the Buddha says is that all this ordering of the universe to be other than it is, poetic as it may be, is just dukkha;. To give up dukkha you have to see that to give up dukkha you have to give up poetry. I'd like to see you nuke that one rhyme. Whatever ol' buddy HMV sees in the Buddha is all in the eye of the beholder. It's not a question of how much can be or cannot be known, but of how much can be or cannot be groan. Like nearly everyone, HMV seems to be doing his best to miss the point. But since HMV thinks the Buddha is finally poetry (or the poetry of no poetry), then I'm very pleased to know he's not a Buddhist. I'm not either (as Stan Laurel once remarked).

Ven. Dukkha [1]


[1] In Worthy Bones, HMV was the representative of the English 'collector', Sir Makepeace Gravenhenge (SMG), who, perhaps, 'more than represented him' and hired Mohel to pinch the Buddha's bones; he was also the author of the novel and now and then in his dotage dashes off notes of bone—dry humor to former agents and godknows who else.

[2] In Worthy Bones, Ven. Dukkha (Pali: un-satisfaction) was the Buddhist Patriarch of the island of Samadhi and possessor of the relics. In the original draft he was called Ven. Tanha (Pali; desire, craving).

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