Ricard, finis

MRicardA good place to finish, with Matthieu Ricard: “Remember that there are two kinds of lunatics: those who don’t know that they must die, and those who have forgotten that they’re alive.”

“Lunatic” sounds harsh. Being innocent and forgetful isn’t the same as being a loony, crazed, eccentric, unpredictable, pegged to the phases of the moon, obsessive with names and pets. Is it?

Can be.

Or it could just be the distracted condition of the average media-swilling consumer in our entertainment-besotted pop culture, amusing ourselves to death while booing Simon and snubbing Dave and fretting about who the judges will favor in the “reality” competition.

“Accepting death as a part of life serves as a spur to diligence and saves us from wasting our time on vain distractions.” Front the fact, hear the rattle in your throat, crank up the realometer. But I’m not so sure most of us still crave reality in the raw, the way Thoreau said he did. He seemed sane enough, though plenty eccentric too. I don’t think he named his critter-friends at Walden “Eric,” though he did claim the solitude-easing company of the stars and the raindrops and the “sweet and beneficent society of Nature.”

Ricard endorses Epicurus’s glibly-dismissive attitude towards death: it is “nothing to us, since when we exist death is not yet present, and when it is present, then we do not exist.” Seneca’s smarter to advise treating the end as something, not nothing, and to realize that living in utter denial of death is not really living at all. But neither is an unrelenting, morbid fixation on mortality. As  Jennifer Hecht will soon tell us, we must acknowledge death and look it square in the eyes. Then, if we’re wise, we’ll turn our backs on the eternal dark and get on with living in the light. Of course that includes celebrating the lives of precious departed loved ones.

But I’m afraid I find Ricard again given to soaring over-statement when he says “life has been slipping away day after day, and if we have not learned to find meaning in its every passing moment, all it has meant to us is wasted time.” Every passing moment? That would be some batting average. Appreciating every moment indiscriminately is not wise, it’s goofy.

Just a final comment, though it would be fun to go back a few chapters and think some more about longevity, “gross national happiness,” brain plasticity, and the experience-defining essence of attentiveness (Ricard again invokes William James on this). This is a richly-suggestive book that I’m sure I’ll  continue to speak with, although I still don’t know how to make my mind as wide as the sky. I’m trying.

My last thought on the Buddhist “path” is a question, trivial perhaps, but a definitive answer might be of the greatest practical utility to me. I just want to know why it’s supposed to be better to sit when you meditate.

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4 Responses to “Ricard, finis”

  1. Irene Teesdale Says:

    Although there are many answers to your question, “Why it’s supposed to be better to sit when you meditate?” the simplest response is if you lay down you will probably fall asleep, and sitting is more comfortable and takes less effort than standing up for a period of time. Hope this helped. =-)


  2. Bob Teesdale Says:

    Maybe it is rather a good place to begin. One of the points Ricard makes is that happiness is to be experienced directly, not just intellectually understood. Maybe his tendency to overstate and romantic style comes from his French roots. Exception can always be taken to the choice of words, but in doing so we may lose the spirit of the idea presented. We obviously would have little to gain by recalling every single moment of our existence. Still there is much to be gained from savoring the little moments along the way, and in particular the one’s that made you happy. In fact, it’s the particular ones you tend to recall most that have such an influence on your general happiness level. There are many activities beside sitting that qualify as meditative. For me, playing the piano is meditative, as is walking in the woods, or walking on the beach.
    But since the point of meditation is to simply clarify the mind, its a good idea to begin by reducing outside stimulus to a minimum, and by sitting in a comfortable position, one can focus on the mind rather than on putting one foot ahead of the other and maintaining balance while walking. But as always, “different strokes…”

  3. Irene Teesdale Says:

    I agree, if we were to focus on every moment of our lives, well… our lives would be but one moment. However it is possible to be aware of and have an appreciation for each moment as they are, when they are. Not to dwell on them, just be conscious of them.

  4. David Klasovsky Says:

    “Meditation is possible in the seated posture,” runs the aphorism.
    Vertical alignment of the chakras, and the locking of physical reflexes that results from a correct natural posture- with subtle movement leading to breath, but not to substantial reorientation of the body- these are the principle reasons sitting is recommended. The steady posture, unchanging view, and the regularity of breath all act as co-mantras, calming the “citta vrittis”. Alertness is still possible, while interaction with the environment is minimized. The body focuses on itself, the mind is able then to focus on mind.
    Other postures are parts of series, and indeed moving meditation is possible; sitting gives a better understanding of the process and generally can be maintained longer. The breathing patterns can vary “spiritually” rather than mechanically. And that’s an important point- we use meditation to clear samskaras- which are hidden traumas governing emotions. Samskaras have specific breathing patterns which may be masked in motion based meditation. Legs get tired standing, balance is harder to maintain and movement is a more pressing temptation- like sleep is if you are laying down trying to meditate.

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