Lately, I have been running my fingers along the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. I have been struggling to bring them to my lips, to kiss them and allow them to change my soul. Something within resists it, a reflex of the soul or mind that says, “No. No. I must grow. This goes against everything my culture teaches me. I must conquer the world.”
When I was much younger, a child perhaps – some dim memory tells me I was a child – I was crouching over a book, hiding what I was looking at for fear I would be questioned on it. “You’re not becoming a Buddhist, are you?” as if this were a curse. That was the first time I saw the Four in print.
In context, you must know that I was always a… precocious child, the one who would use his hall pass not to go to the loo but to hide in the library for ten or fifteen minutes, poring over the mystical images of Jainism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Greek Orthodox – anything foreign and religious and ancient. There were times when teachers would, in whispered voices, warn my parents. “We caught him studying (whisper, whisper) and know you’re good Christians…” trailing off and allowing my parents to guilty infer their meaning. In my parents defense, they always firmly supported me. “We let Scott choose his own reading material. He likes to learn. We support that. And we’re not afraid of him converting because we believe God is Truth” or something like that. And yet I was periodically afraid that I would be found and questioned like a criminal, made fun of on the playground. Look at Scott, the Buddhistor Look at little Jew-boy.It was on such an occasion, fear above me like a small ever-present cloud, that I came across the Four Noble Truths in fifth grade, tucked into the small religious section of my school library.
It would take years to revisit those pages, to even remember them, but when I did I found them waiting for me, like all ancient things buried in sandy, dusty halls of mystery.
The Four Noble Truths, in summary, state:
- This is the noble truth of dukkha (“suffering”): birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are dukkha; union with what is displeasing is dukkha; separation from what is pleasing is dukkha; not to get what one wants is dukkha; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are dukkha.
- This is the noble truth of the origin of dukkha (“suffering”): it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving forsensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.
- This is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha (“suffering”): it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it.
- This is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of dukkha (“suffering”): it is the Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, rightmindfulness and right concentration.
- All of life is suffering.
- Wanting anything is the origin of suffering.
- Never want anything.
- The only way to stop suffering is to distract yourself with/through discipline.
Perhaps these heavy pieces were a shock to my system (I can’t think this, but perhaps), explaining why they stuck with me. But then I saw them again this morning when I woke to continue my “library cleaning.” There they were, staring back at me from one of my literary treasure hunts, scrawled out in my slanted handwriting. I have been tossing out books slowly for a while now, the last weeks becoming more rigorous and including notes of mine from over the years. I must get rid of “stuff” – the clutter scattered across the states. I do not want to “fill space” in the lives of my friends and family; I must diminish all that I am, all the I own and possess. In short, I must not only cease from wanting (to have possessions) but cease to exist.
The compulsion to do this always comes when I am depressed. A setback comes and my fragile heart, instead of defending itself or explaining, revenges the pain against the host – me. Or the image of “me,” for whatever that means.
What does that mean – It means that anytime I feel sad or someone hurts me (I am very fragile, you know, despite this hard shell I wear) I will politely apologize and retire into myself and “kill” whatever is at hand. My soul. My books. Any “thing” to which my anger can turn. It is unhealthy, I know, and so I excuse this behavior by saying that I am “cleaning” my life.
Last night, I continued my efforts in one of six zip codes that house pieces of me. I started and once I started, couldn’t stop until the pain went away. Exhausted, I sat on the bed “just for a minute” and woke up this morning, needing to continue the effort to divest of something, anything that could be attached to Randall Scott Frederick, Jr.
I regularly think about the Four Noble Truths, but continue to be uncertain about whether I want to adopt them.
Perhaps I am undisciplined.
Perhaps I am simply human.
I am torn between wanting to die and cease from suffering, or to live and enjoy – yes, even long for – things, people, relationships. I long to overcome the world that I see around me, to “conquer” it and enjoy what I find here. I long to see what is over the next mountain, just around the river bend, to be human and feel the joy together with the disappointed longing so that I may know them both in full measure.
And yet… I want to die. I long to meet Death as an old friend. I long to survive that next adventure, dying, and tell the tale.
Two years ago, you would have thought me a pirate… or sailor at least. Tossing overboard everything unnecessary. Memories. Pictures. Furniture. All of the encumbrances of Life and Love and Acquisition. But two years later, it is still not enough and I wonder where/ when it will ever be enough.
Perhaps I am melancholy and that is all. The desire to teleport overwhelms me sometimes, to be here as much as there – to not be anywhere at all and yet be everywhere at once.