Posts Tagged ‘sanity’

Ricard, finis

October 8, 2009

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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