Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Are sun, moon, or stars by law forbidden
To smile where they list, or lend away their light?

I wonder where Donne really comes down? He loved to tease, of course, and I suppose his real conviction was that the whole game of love was a house of worldly cards. This poem, like others, is a reductio ad absurdum. Take love seriously, and it leads you to conclusions like these: therefore love is not to be taken seriously.

Donne himself indulged regularly in that bizarre 17th Century habit of alternating (at least in poetry) between attempting to seduce women, and vilifying their inconstancy. But he could at least see that the two projects made nonsense of each other.

I think of myself these days as only vaguely Buddhist. Not apostate, but certainly careless. But I am brought up short by a Facebook friend, scorning merciful thoughts towards Osama bin Laden, and expressing the wish that his corpse should be hanged from the Statue of Liberty till he rots, and then that his bones should be scattered in the gutters for passing New Yorkers to piss on.

I deliberately did not notice Osama's death: I do not choose to regard him as an important man. I'm not shocked on his account. The karma of his life and death is as obvious as karma ever gets. Osama's great misfortune is that he found people to take him seriously: I won't add to his troubles by joining the crowd.

No, I'm shocked on my friend's account. He has no habit of introspection, no religious tradition to help him, and he has no idea what he's doing to his mind by cultivating this hatred, what marks that kind of thinking leaves, what impotence it causes. And there's no way even to begin to tell him. It would be like trying to explain calculus to someone with no algebra or trigonometry: the conceptual building blocks are just not there. So again, I come to silence.

But I also come to realizing that, impatient of ritual and skeptical of authority as I may be -- dismissive of such fundamental doctrines of reincarnation and enlightenment -- I am a Buddhist now down to the bones, and will be till I die. I would not sink my hands in a tub of human shit and then walk around all day without washing them: with precisely the same urgency, and for precisely the same reasons, if I found my mind sunk in thoughts like these, I would clean up immediately with meditation and prayer. It's ordinary hygiene: I'd do it for my friends and family as much as for myself.


Anne said...

I don't need any religion at all to find the things your friend advocated utterly odious. Actually, that kind of stuff is often advocated by people who call themselves religious.

Pronoia said...


Dale said...

Oh, no, Anne, I didn't mean you needed religion to find that odious, or that religious people be more likely to avoid it. Just that it's from religious traditions, usually, that you get the cogent reasons for avoiding it, and nuts-and-bolts procedures for cleaning up when you haven't been able to. I would certainly have been just as distressed by my friend's response back when I was a card-carrying atheist.

Pro, hi! I haven't seen you for a long time! xoxo

Zhoen said...

I call it taoism (small t, mind) that caught me, or perhaps uncovered the truth of my soul once I'd read through the tao de ching (spell it how you like.)

As you say, he was not important, and got to where his life was leading him. No need to wrap oneself up in that, nor wish him more harm.

Jayne said...

I have a friend like that, Dale. And a very religious guy, at that (Catholic). I tend to ignore the passionate remarks, as he is otherwise a very nice person. But the vitriol harkens the same sort of fanaticism as from where OBL came. Kinda scary.

Dick said...

I got involved in a brief but intense flameout with an American FB contact, a poet who maintains a blog canted very much towards the spiritual. He wanted OBL's body to be put on display so that it could be seen that he was dead and so that he, the FB-er, could find (and here my lips pucker in citrus distaste) 'closure'. I pointed out that DNA comparisons would be the closest proof that might be offered, but he was insistent on his need for the exposure of the corpse. I found this revolting.

I share your need to avoid that tub of shit, but I lack the spiritual infrastructure (however indisciplined) to be able to 'come to silence' so I joined battle. Then I chopped the link with him so I guess silence now prevails!

Dale said...

A very close friend of mine was murdered when I was in my twenties, and there was a real, primal sense of relief when her murderer was executed. It wasn't any emotion I recognized as vengeance: it just felt very wrong for the this man to be still alive. I don't think seeing his body would have done anything for me, but I don't know. Basically I think it's superstition, to think anything gets put right by killing a killer, but it's a pretty deep-seated one. What's repaired, if anything, is the hearts of the people who have lost loved ones -- certainly not the universe. But you do need to feel that other people participate in your sense out outrage, your sense that this person has done something that puts him utterly outside the usual laws and restraints of humanity.

But basically, nothing really helps that much, nothing but time. Some things, nothing puts right, and the sooner we admit it the better.