This morning I went to funeral for a woman who died at 103-years-old. It took place in a little, old Episcopal church in a bucolic, horse-country part of Westchester this morning, and the service for her was dignifed but brief and spare. There were no personal stories, and only reading beside the classic offerings, psalm 23, St. Paul, the Gospel. This strikingly impersonal quality had the effect of giving the service a universal quality. Everything that was said could have applied to any one of us. As I watched people I’ve known for a long time mingling on the lawn afterwards, I thought about time passing and I thought about something in that one reading that stayed with me. It had to do with conscience, a special, even sacred kind of intelligence or inner voice that knows the true value of things. To paraphrase it down to what I took to be the essence, it said that conscience requires an ability to hold or suffer opposing things, desire and nondesire, what the body naturally wants and an awareness of the whole of life, of the suffering inherent in creation.
There is a moment in the drama of the Buddha that I think about often. He was near death from being such an extreme ascetic, all his efforts to find liberation now dust and ashes. Split off from his fellow ascetics, he lay near a river, remembering a very special moment from early childhood. His father the chieftan of the Sakyan tribe took him to a planting festival, leaving him under a tree in the care of nannies. It was a fine spring day just like today, and as the baby Buddha pretended to sleep the nannies went a little way off to watch the men plow, leaving little Siddhartha to experience well-being in solitude. He sat up (and spontaneously assumed a meditation posture according to legend). He felt very well. The day was beautiful, the air soft and sweet. Just at this physcially blissful moment, however, he looked at tilled soil and noticed that insects were being destroyed by the plowing, their homes and eggs destroyed. Bliss and the reality of suffering and impermanence could be experienced at the same time, he realized. Serenity and compassion could co-exist. Just as the Buddha had this crucial memory, a young woman came along and spontaneously offered rice porridge, and the Buddha ate. Restored, he sat up under a tree again as he had when he was a little boy, and this time he sat until he reached full enlightenment. Nourished by that impression of another possibility, he sat the chains of desire were broken, the pole beam of selfing little self snapped in two.
I have thought so often of the little Buddha, feeling sublimely alone and self-sufficient and then opening his heart and mind to the world beyond him, realizing the truth of our interconnection. We do influence one another, and we are influenced in turn–and not just by other people but by all kinds of beings and events known and unknown. Yet as often as I’ve thought about of the little Buddha experiencing this attention that could be inside and outside at the same time, I’ve never before connected this with the old-fashioned word “conscience.” In Shakespeare’s day “conscience” meant “consciousness.” ( “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,” said Hamlet, meaning that out consciousness of the unknown nature of death keeps us living).
What would it be like to fully inhabit two worlds at once, to be human yet to be aligned with a greater world, not driven by myriad desires related to our own comfort and wellbeing? So many great teachers have spoken of the value of what I’ve heard described as a “voluntary passivity,” allowing everything to be, being so alive in conscience/consciousness that we no longer seek to change the world for our own sake. Buddha faced all the armies and temptations of Mara, the Devil, without moving so much as an eye lash. And since it’s Easter Week, I’ll risk this: when Jesus was on the cross I believe he was taunted to save himself, to use his great powers to come down, to reveal who he really was.
Who or what would that have served?
7 thoughts on “The First Easter Week Musing”
Tracy, Thank you for sharing.
Thanks – a very elegant reading of the simultaneous lessons of the Gospels and the Buddha. Well said.
very good reading
Hi Tracy and Everyone,
I’m late responding to this post, but it is lovely writing as always.
Today is Maunday Thursday, tomorrow Good Friday, Saturday night the Great Vigil of Easter, and Sunday morning of course Easter; for Christians this indeed a special celebration. Indeed, by the time Easter Monday arrives we will all be physically exhausted, but spiritually renewed and ready to return to our normal lives.
In the light of this celebration, I would like to offer the following poem as a response, one that calls out to Julia Esquivel’s poetic work, They Have Threatened Us With Resurrection. Here is the final portion of her poem first:
There is something here within us
Which doesn’t let us sleep, which doesn’t let us rest,
Which doesn’t stop pounding deep inside,
It is the silent, warm weeping of Indian women without their husbands,
It is the sad gaze of the children
Fixed there beyond memory,
In the very pupil of our eyes
Which during sleep, though closed, keep watch
With each contraction of the heart
In every wakening…
What keeps us from sleeping
Is that they have threatened us with resurrection!
Because at each nightfall,
Though exhausted from the endless inventory
Of killings since 1954,
Yet we continue to love life,
And do not accept their death!
…Because in this marathon of Hope,
there are always others to relieve us
in bearing the courage necessary
to arrive at the goal which lies beyond death…
Accompany us then on this vigil
And you will know what it is to dream!
You will then know how marvelous it is
To live threatened with resurrection!
To dream awake,
To keep watch asleep
To live while dying
And to already know oneself resurrected!
Here is my response.
I think what you have said is that you can see the connection of the Buddha to Jesus. Jesus most cetainly hung on the cross as “voluntary passivity” in the highest sense of the phrase.
And yes, we do influence one another. That is part of the reason that the celebration of Easter is so important to Christians.
Thank you for your meditation on Easter and bringing together a bridge lighting the truth of Buddha and Jesus.
I find your thoughts help me to deepen mine!
Peace and attention!
Fiona Macleod wrote in “From Iona”
“The joy of life vibrates everywhere. Yet the Weaver doth not sleep, but only dreams. He loves the sun-drowned shadows. They are invisible thus, but they are there, in the sunlight itself. Sure, they may be heard: as, an hour ago, when on my way hither by the Stairway of the Kings–for so sometimes they call here the ancient stones of the mouldered princes of long ago–I heard a mother moaning because of the son that had had to go over-sea and leave her in her old age; and heard also a child sobbing, because of the sorrow of childhood–that sorrow so mysterious, so unfathomable, so for ever incommunicable.
To the little one I spoke. But all she would say, looking up through dark, tear-wet eyes already filled with the shadow of the burden of woman, was: “Ha mee duvachus.”
“Tha mi Dubhachas!–I have the gloom.”
Ah, that saying! How often I have heard it in the remote Isles! “The Gloom.” It is not grief, nor any common sorrow, nor that deep despondency of weariness that comes of accomplished things, too soon, too literally fulfilled. But it is akin to each of these, and involves each. It is, rather, the unconscious knowledge of the lamentation of a race, the unknowing surety of an inheritance of woe.”
I feel the same in relation to Christianity. It has been sacrificed to Christendom and only kept alive, hidden from society,,”The Great Beast,” in secret. I read:
What keeps us from sleeping
Is that they have threatened us with resurrection!
“Let there be a death to our egos and selfishness,”
What is the goal of these concepts for our egotism in contrast with objective human meaning and purpose?
There can be no glorification of death in the Christian perspective without appreciation of the Resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15 KJV
35But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
36Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:
37And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:
38But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
39All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
40There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
42So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
43It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
44It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
45And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
Simone Weil understood the Resurrection from the Christian perspective:
“The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.” — Simone Weil
The Christ on the Cross invites the greatest use of suffering; voluntarily inviting the conscious experience of our personal Armageddon for the sake of becoming the “New Man.” He invited the culmination of the Ninth Wave to manifest at the Ninth Hour and use itrs energy to transcend it rather than being crushed by it. A life for a life. He opened a path for others to follow if capable of the conscious experience of their own personal Armageddon.
But the power of imagination that is furthered through technology and wonderfulness has become too strong, except for a few, for society as a whole be open to the reality of the human condition tht keeps Man within Plato;s Cave or the “Burning House” as expressed in Buddhism. The question IMO is if there is enough of a minority to appreciate the human condition in the light of the truth of Christianity to keep a conscious connection with the above alive rather than it beeing sacrificed to fantasy? Will there be enough people to invite the conscious experience of their own personal Armageddon to create the New man? I don’t know but when the Little One said: “Tha mi Dubhachas!–I have the gloom,” she may have been on to something veyond the Celtic traditions and concerning humanity as a whole.