Monday, July 13, 2009

Refuge Without Borders, Revisited


So, the vehicle moves, yet I still sit in one place.

You all remember that old thing about the flag. The teacher points to the flag and asks, "What moves? The flag or the wind?" The answer, of course, is neither one: what moves is your mind.

I sit in the front seat and the terrain swims around me: the cars, the roadside, the flatlands, the mountains... a road trip from this desert, to that desert, to some other desert. I sit in 2007 (and now, in the blink of an eye, 2009) and the ages swim around me: this civilization, that civilization... an academic stretch from one hypothetical time, to another hypothetical time, to some other hypothetical time. I sit in front of someone I love and the alternatives swim around me: I exchange one memory for another memory, re-coding the emotions, replacing learned responses with the spontaneous presence of actual being.

Now, I think it is an auspicious opportunity for everyone to recover from his or her malaise. Just take the magic we have raised on the fortunate winds and run with it to the top of your highest hill. These things that arise as obstacles are perfect in their own ways; maybe they don't need prevention, correction, or management. Maybe they don't need acceptance or rejection. Maybe they rise and fall of their own weight. Maybe they are just footprints in the snow.

Someday, the helicopter that comes won't fly us out the other side with a story to tell. Someday, the helicopter won't come at all. Someday, we'll just be a whisper or a choked-back sob, and if by chance a helicopter flies overhead nobody will even notice. Nobody will care. Someday, all of the memories will fade and the miles will belong to other wanderers. When that day comes, who will sail this ocean of tears? Who will take up this palette of misery, worry, doubt, and despair? These things others seem to do to us; these things we seem to do to others. What will become of these things we do to ourselves?

All compounded things are impermanent, and how we feel about these things--or more precisely, the emotional connection we imagine we have with these compounded things--brings us what can certainly be described as a kind of ever-present suffering. Then, too, is the very real proposition that these deserts, civilizations, memories, miles, tears, and wanderers simply don't exist apart from what we feel about them. They are, quite simply, empty in the way echoes are empty.

So, fundamentally, it seems we are suffering for no good reason. While that in itself should bring us a certain comfort and joy, we often distort even this happy news to bring ourselves still more suffering. We start thinking about something we call "enlightenment," or "nirvana," or "heaven." We bring all the suitcases that we live from on our suffering vacation and come up with this notion of a not-suffering permanence.... and then we try to move in, as it were. We try to set up housekeeping in a house with no walls.

The historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, was certainly enlightened but he still had a rotten relative and he still died from something like food poisoning. Milarepa was no slouch, but he still had an envious jerk with a bad, bad mouth to contend with, and he still drank poison from the hand of a serving girl who said she loved him.

Refuge is only a border in the presence of a dialectic.

Actually, refuge is identical with space.

So, we become refuge when refuge is no longer required.

Just like travelers who move, yet still sit in one place.

(Originally posted on 22 November 2007, 13:17 hrs -- but moved here to show you that life is fleeting.)

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