13 September 2012

Une Sorte de Folie

I sometimes wonder at the patience of the Buddha, how it must have been to be entirely awake in a world of sleepers and semi-sleepers.  The canon recounts that he smiled a lot, and I have to believe that all those smiles were just so many expressions of patient bemusement.  He knew – he certainly knew – that all those sleepers and semi-sleepers were already fully awake.  In time (kalpas, maybe, but still...), they too would realize it for themselves.  He could smile knowing there was nothing to fix, nothing to change, and he had all the time in the universe to watch it unfold.

In his summary of the Abbé de St-Pierre's "Plan for Perpetual Peace" Jean-Jacques Rousseau pointed out that if the plan hadn't met with widespread acclaim and resolve to put it into action, it was not because the plan itself wasn't noble or praiseworthy; rather, it was because the political leaders responsible for putting it into action were themselves neither noble nor praiseworthy.  Still, even though the Abbé was above reproach, Rousseau went on to note that "it's a kind of craziness to be wise in the midst of fools" (c'est une sorte de folie d'être sage au milieu des fous), thereby suggesting that the good Abbé should have spared himself the trouble all the same.

We know the Buddha had similar reservations, since he was not at all inclined to speak of what he had come to know with his Awakening.  "How could they possibly understand?" he asked himself.  As the story goes, it took the heavyweights, Indra and Brahma, to get him off his keister and to start turning the Wheel, so understandably strong is the reluctance to roll up ones sleeves and say and do what needs saying and doing among those who don't understand, couldn't care less – or worse.  Buddha lived to a ripe old age; other persons of fortitude and resolve weren't quite so fortunate.

It certainly is a kind of craziness to enter the fray, all right, but it's a needed kind of craziness.  Without that craziness, the world remains in darkness longer than it might, longer than it has to.

In truth, however, it is really only a kind of craziness from the perspective of the small self: "They won't like me" or "I'll look like the bad guy" or "Someone's feelings might get hurt, and I don't want to be responsible for that."  I'd be tempted to say that even the Buddha's Enlightenment was not a done deal until he got up and sought out his former companions, for only then could he show he was not afraid of what might happen.  Shy of that, he may have had true and certain insight, but it was legless and therefore fruitless.

And who needs any of that?

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