Is it too late, I wonder, to learn to dance?
OK, so I must warn you straight away: this is not a post about OT Rinpoche or Sogyal Rinpoche or the drupchen or anything remotely to do with Buddhadharma. Please come back later in the week if you want to read any more about all that stuff.
Today is another Miriam day. Why I even navigated to youtube at 10am on a Monday morning is a mystery to me. Perhaps it’s another symptom of middle-age? Or one of the countless unconcious maneuvres I employ to delay the start of the working day (which is itself pitifully short)? I really don’t know. But there I was, looking up Rupert Everett on youtube (I’m reading his memoirs), when suddenly there she was with Graham Norton in a clip I haven’t seen before. I adore her (as I’ve mentioned once or twice before). The precision of her diction, her exquisite comic timing and her wicked sense of humour all cheer me up enormously, and samsara being what it is, the extreme mirth she inspires has left my cheeks wet with tears. May she live for a very, very long time.
As I brooded about my many limitations, mental and physical, on a very grey Friday morning in Berlin, it occurred to me that many of the potholes in the the modern world’s version of the Buddhist path have opened up because too many educated modern people expect their spiritual path to ‘fit into’ (as Khyentse Rinpoche might say) and accomodate fully their personal limitations. So, if a new, evangelical buddhist in America can’t fathom the idea of reincarnation, he or she will do everything in their power to persuade as many people as possible that reincarnation is part of an old corrupt version of Buddhism that has virtually no place in the modern world—ignoring the laws of cause and effect entirely. Similarly, if a recognized authentic Buddhist master doesn’t conform to someone’s idea of saintliness, that master will be lampooned and derided for being a fake or unethical, and the person whose spiritual ideal has been disappointed will then do their best to bring the master down. This is how samsara operates, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the spiritual teachings or a spiritual outlook.
Baz Luhrman’s Strictly Ballroom illustrated this kind of mentality beautifully, albeit in reverse. It’s still the best of his movies by far, and tells the story of a young Australian ballroom dancer who longs to include innovative new dance steps in his routine, but faces implacable opposition from Australia’s ballroom dancing officialdom. Their view is, if you can’t dance a step you can’t teach it, therefore anything that’s beyond the ability of the established teaching body must be stamped out. In the case of Buddhism, the new, self-styled Buddhist teachers are the ones denying the full scope of Buddha’s teachings because they can’t understand it, can’t teach it, therefore denounce what they don’t get.
What will happen to Buddhadharma if new students accept that Buddha’s profound, limitless teachings should be quickly and easily assimilated into their own narrow minds? Rather than dwelling on such horrors, I think I’ll take Sogyal Rinpoche’s excellent advice and distract my mind with a clip (the climactic end bit) from that wonderfully OTT movie. Or maybe I’ll just take the rest of the morning off and watch the whole deliciously flouncy confection…
Funny business, this ‘blogging.’ I’m not much of a ‘blogger,’ actually. I couldn’t care less about stats (the number of ‘followers’, I am told, is the true mark of a successful blogger, and increases the ‘value’ of the blog; mine, according to a website that specializes in assessing such things, is worth US$654… imagine!) and for the most part write to please myself, to exercise my memory and to polish my craft. If anyone reads what I write, it’s a bonus—and to the handful of friends who regularly tune in, I offer my heartfelt thanks.
Every so often, though, ten or twenty times as many visitors than usual are logged on the ‘stats’ page as having visited this site, and always for no obvious reason. This summer, for example, I didn’t post for a few weeks, yet one day right in the middle of my blogging desert, Oiling a Rusty Mind hosted hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of visitors. Perhaps one of the Rinpoche’s casually mentioned this page to someone and started the avalanche? I’ll probably never know.
Today, as I’ve written myself to a standstill these past few days, I’m having a holiday. It’s reunification day here in Germany, and I’m celebrating by doing the whole of Penny Smith’s Yoga video instead of agonizing over verbs and modifiers. So, for all those for whom the photos are the main draw, here’s another of Emily Crow’s portraits of Khyentse Rinpoche.
I found myself wading through acre upon acre of deadly newspaper/internet articles yesterday, as I endeavoured to gather material for a new project. In the process, I came across an article on Ariana Huffington’s wildly popular news blog, the Huffington Post, which, we are told, gets more ‘unique’ hits per month than the New York Times (but less than the Daily Mail). She’s not a woman I admire. I first brushed up against her tireless and truly ruthless self-promotion when I read the gossiped-centred biography of Maria Callas she wrote, way back when. I’ve since done my best to avoid her.
Yesterday, though, it was on her site that I came across a somewhat touchy-feely article from about a year go, entitled “Rumi and the Way of the Spiritual Lover”, which, I must admit, I didn’t really read at all. However my eye alighted on the author’s own translation of one of Rumi’s poems, which includes the line, “Intellectuals plan their repose; lovers are ashamed to rest.” I can’t say I’m much moved by the quality of Kabir Helminski’s English translation, but that particular line stopped me in my tracks. It’s so painful to recognize yourself in negative poetic examples.
Anyway, here’s the whole poem, which is quite thought-provoking in spite of its rather lumpy language—and my profound sympathies to fellow pseudo-intellectuals out there who recognize themselves in its imaginings. Plus a photo of the quintessential spiritual lover who also, miraculously, manages to embody all the most useful and brilliant qualities of an intellectual.
The intellectual is always showing off;
the lover is always getting lost.
The intellectual runs away, afraid of drowning;
the whole business of love is to drown in the sea.
Intellectuals plan their repose;
lovers are ashamed to rest.
The lover is always alone,
even surrounded with people;
like water and oil, he remains apart.
The man who goes to the trouble
of giving advice to a lover
get’s nothing. He’s mocked by passion.
Love is like musk. It attracts attention.
Love is a tree, and lovers are its shade.
Miriam was a guest on Graham Norton’s BBC show again this week, thank all that is good. The English press seem determined to misunderstand her—she doesn’t conform to their banal stereotypes I suppose—and have made rather feeble attempts at derision by affixing all kinds of negative epithets to her glorious being, but I’m sure none of you will be swayed by their hoary platitudes. Instead, feast your eyes and ears on this clip, the middle 15 minutes of the show (the other two parts are already on youtube and equally delicious, but Andreas advised I shouldn’t overdo it by posting all three—especially as I’ve been so silent this June) and pray that this exquisite being remains in world for a very, very long time. By the way, Will.i.am didn’t do too badly either…
The phone rings. I answer, quite chirpily for 6pm, “Hello darling.”
“Hello, I can’t find the yoghurt.”
“Yes you can, it’s just above the milk.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Are you standing in front of the milk fridge?”
“What’s on the shelf directly above the milk.”
“Yoghurt, but not the live stuff you want!”
“Yes, it is.”
“It can’t be! What colour should the pot be?”
“Green and white.”
“Well, there is one that’s green and white, but it’s that Ander… what’s-it stuff we always have.”
“Yes, that’s it.”
“But it’s 1.8% fat… you hate low fat…”
“Usually, yes, but this is the only active yoghurt you can get at Karstadt, so beggars can’t be choosers…”
“But it’s not active.”
“It has ‘active’ written on the pot.”
“But that doesn’t mean it’s active yoghurt.”
“Yes it does.”
“No it doesn’t.”
“Yes it does.”
“No it…” Andreas pauses, I guess he’s reading the label. “Oh, it’s got L+ in the small print. That means it’s…”
“OK! Found it!”
“Let me guess, you were looking at it all along?”
Click… brrrrr… sigh…
I love Miriam Margolyes, but I’m not a lesbian. I love her because she is wholly herself, devoid of any artifice or pretention, and her timing is exquisite. To illustrate her enviable ‘selfness’, here she is on the Graham Norton show last year.
Spiritual people, whichever tradition they follow, tend to be quite emotional types. I’ve always felt a certain kinship with some of early Christian writers. The authors of the Psalms, for example, whoever they may be. Here’s the beginning of Psalm 69, which seems to me to describe remarkably accurately, how it feels to flail around on a spiritual path.
Ofcourse, I’m not waiting for God. As a follower of the Buddhadharma I don’t believe that the will of an independent, external deity rules my life. But substitute ‘enlightenment’ for ‘God’, or even ‘realization’, and the verse becomes surprisingly relevant. For me, at least.
Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.
A memory of this verse popped into my mind as I was making my breakfast this morning. Banana porridge. And as a result, I burnt it. Perhaps I should convert to Christianity. A quarter of a century of Buddhist practice doesn’t seem to have brought me one ounce of mindfulness.
I’m not in the mood to write this morning. Or more accurately, I wasn’t in the mood, until I scanned the BBC news website and read about some studies done in the 60s that have recently been reevaluated. A select band of scientists is now suggesting that LSD may be the most effective temporary ‘cure’ for alcoholism we currently have available. Now, isn’t that the starting point for a wonderful series of character comedy sketches.
Except, as soon as my imagination started flying off into LSD-fueled comedy, I realized that most of the characters I wanted to rely on for the comic bottom-line probably don’t exist in this 21th century world. For example, I’m sure there are loads of rich, bored housewives, but are there any who are so prim and proper that they would go to any length to conceal their weaknesses? I think not. It’s a badge of honour to be an addict of some kind there days. Celebrities own up to it all the time. They chalk up addictions on national telly at an alarming rate, and often don’t appear to have a problem at all—please consider Daniel Radcliffe before you dismiss my claim as the ramblings of a grumpy old woman. LSD itself is deeply unfashionable, isn’t it? Most druggies prefer Coke or Ecstasy or Crack or whatever (I’m sure I’m dating myself by not knowing what the latest drug of choice should be), don’t they?
With Oprah and daytime telly encouraging full disclosure at every opportunity, bored housewives don’t try to conceal their problems at all any more. In fact, nobody does. Which I’m sure is a good thing from many points of view, but the present day propensity for public gut spilling doesn’t make for quite such amusing comic characters. Think of our old friend Basil Fawlty. Would you want him to own up to his hang-ups? If he were a real human being, perhaps, but in the context of comedy, it would be deadly. On the other hand, Basil Fawlty on LSD is an interesting premise for a comedy sketch—but not a long one. I wonder if I’ve finally put my finger on why I no longer even think of watching situation comedy on the telly any more.
And what does all this say about my mind? I recently realized that my view of the world is peopled with caricatures of the TV personalities I grew up with. Sad, but true. I am the product of an education that was built on the somewhat dubious foundations of regular doses of Benny Hill, University Challenge (with Bamber Gascoigne), Randal and Hopkirk (diseased), the Black and White Minstrel Show, the Avengers, The Lightning Tree, Batman (POW! SPLAT!), the Magic Roundabout, Doctor Finlay’s Casebook, Opportunity Knocks (with Hughie Green), Morecome and Wise, The Saint, Doctor in the House and Thunderbirds. So, are you surprised by the result? No wonder I’m both confused and stuck with skewed perceptions. Buddha was right, purifying perception is the only way to go. Hmmnn, perhaps I’m the one who should take a trip to see Lucy…?
Languages are a mystery to me. My own native language, English, remains as mysterious to me today as it was when I first chanted A, B, C in nursery school. Then came French, which I loved the idea of, but hated its finiky reality (and still do.) So why I then took German as my third language I will never know. I have never really learnt a language thoroughly. I just grab at the odd verb and noun and repeat them loudly until someone asks, “Would you rather speak English?” Hard to believe, I know, but after more than eighteen years living in Germany, my German is only slightly more advanced than that of an 18 month old native baby. Sad, no?
All of which made my foray into the world of Tibetan-English translation such an un-get-overable shock. Throughout my career as a Buddhist student, I never once considered learning Tibetan. I can barely bring to mind the most basic terms that have been repeated to me ad nauseam for more than a quarter of a century, and the idea of having to string them together inspires cold sweats and palpitations! Nevertheless, a frisky demon with a highly developed sense of the ridiculous entered the minds of the great and the good who assign me projects, and, for better or for worse, I am now connected with a couple of accomplished Buddhist scholars whose priorities include the translation of Tibetan texts into contemporary English. And it was through them that I came across the rhino.
I mean, what would you have done with a rough translation of the sentence, “I have now experienced sensual pleasures more than a rhino?”
My first thought—although as it turned out, not my best—was that it was a comment on the sex life of a rhinoceros. (A bit obvious, though.) But given that the context was the nam tar of a beloved Tibetan teacher who lived in Kham and who would have been hard pressed to distinguish a rhino from a yak, it seemed unlikely. No other thoughts followed that first stab, so instead of wracking my already throbbing brains, I requested clarification.
The first thing I learnt was that rhinos are not Tibetan natives—which I’d sort fo guessed. That a rhino has never, and probably will never set foot on the plateau did not surprize me in any way. Yet, somewhere back in the mists of time, a Tibetan translator came across a description of a beast with a single horn, and now, god knows how many centuries later, the most recent English equivalent of the metaphor he originated seems to be ‘rhino’. Why not a unicorn, I wondered? Or a narwhal? Then I pulled myself up quite sharply and vowed to stop thinking. Thinking really isn’t much help in the Tibetan Buddhist world.
Then I twigged that it isn’t the rhino that’s the big deal here, it’s his horn (do ‘her’ rhinos also have horns, I wonder?) The single horn. Of course, my clever-dick mind immediately conjured any number of videos and photos of I’ve seen of rhinos and told me, in no uncertain terms, that many rhinos have two horns. But that’s an irrelevant detail from the Tibetan point of view. As far as they are concerned, the rhino has just one horn, and therefore is the perfect candidate to represent the number ‘one.’ A conclusion I don’t think any other nationality would have reached, but which makes perfect sense to a Tibetan mind. Let’s move on…
My next question was, does ‘sensual pleasures’ refer to sex? And again, my modern mind was in entirely the wrong arena. Here ‘sensual pleasures’ means ‘life.’ And as the writer was a great master who had developed absolute renunciation for samsara and nirvana, ‘life’ doesn’t refer to sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and all our modern ideas about living life to the full, but his spiritual life. Which makes the whole phrase mean something like, “I have lived a full life.” One might even extrapolate ‘satisfying.’
So that’s the rhino sorted. On one level at least. There are, as always, outer, inner and secret meanings to be considered, and so if the final draft doesn’t convey any of the above, don’t be surprised. Or I might have misunderstood everything I’ve been told and find I have to start again. Again.
I think these towels must belong to one of the more up-market hotels on the Ganga, because after they were washed in the waters of the river, they were then hung rather than spread out to dry. I wish I could like this method for washing clothes. After all, it provides work for launderers who are able to spend their days in the open air (for one whose work ties her to a computer, this is a definite plus), doesn’t use electricity or any kind of technology other than the human body, and provides a vital service. But I can’t. I love my washing machine.
I remember a close friend telling me, at a time when my own finances were teetering perilous close to the abyss of destitution, that she would not hesitate to extend her own sizable debt to buy a new washing machine if hers broke down. I was horrified, but then, I’d never owned a washing machine and instead relied on regular visits to the Launderette around the corner. As far as I remember, in those days I spent most of my money on alcohol and books. The whole business of owning a washing machine seemed to me to be a symbol of settling into a comfortably bourgeois form of slavery, and from my materially unfettered (but debt-ridden) perspective, represented selling out. But I get it now.
What this means is, age has most definitely withered me and with it, my love of physical ease and comfort has wiped out any hint of ‘infinite variety.’ Who would have thought I would come to such a pass? Bugger it!
… by the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. (Although scholars these days have their doubts, the King Solomon who lives in my imagination was definitely the author.) There is no particular connection between this text (the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, as you know) and the goddess I found on one of the main burning ghats, just that they both entered my mind at the same time.
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.
I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.
And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.
I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.
I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.
And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
The best bit of the concert we went to yesterday was that it took place in the beautiful Konzerthaus in Berlin (see photo). Not the greatest concert ever, I’m afraid. As we talked over the experience on our way to supper with friends, we came to the conclusion that the organist was at least half-cut and probably sight-reading.
Dinner was fun, but brought home to me just how middle-aged I really am. Although I was violently left-wing in my youth, even volunteering at CND for a while (in the parliamentary department where I learned all about lobbying—or should I say the ‘information-for-sex’ trade), as we ate I expressed affection for Prince Philip and Enoch Powell. It was immediately pointed out to me (very sweetly) that both of them are considered to be rabid ‘racists’ these days (by the press, at least). And it occurred to me that if I were true to left-wing politics, their names should probably never have even passed my lips. So another self-affixed label has now hit the dust!
The truth is that I have a tremendous fondness for all individuals who refuse to toe the line, party-political, spiritual, or whatever. And neither the Prince nor the great parliamentarian (who was also an accomplished classicist) ever do, or did.
Sadly I’m too lazy to write about it properly today. But Enoch Powell also wrote poetry, once saying that when a poem came to him he had no choice but to write it down, however inconvenient the inspiration proved to be. So as a way of celebrating his sense of personal honour, regardless of the consequences, I have typed in one of his pieces for you to read. He may not have been a great poet, or even a good one, but I love the fact that he couldn’t resist the urge to paint a picture of his inner world in words.
(I should add that even in my dotage, I perceive not one redeeming feature in Margaret Thatcher, who was nothing more than a rapacious bully and devoid of any human feeling, let alone poetry. It was her pogrom of deregulation that laid the foundations of today’s financial crisis, so please don’t be taken in by the glamor Meryl Streep currently lends her.)
Strange, that neither wound nor sight
Nor least perception of our plight
Passes to the world without,
Though earth and we are whirled about
Into darkness crashing down,
Unrescuable there to drown.
All the air between is crying
And the walls vibrate with sighing
And our cheeks are drenched in tears –
But no one sees and no one hears.
Gott im Himmel, poxy Christmas. I can do without all the glitter and rich puddings these days, but the one thing I really miss about the Christmases I was brought up on is the Eric and Ernie Christmas Show and their silly, light-hearted humour.