A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Saturday, 28 February 2009

A Fading, Fleeting Rose

Comments on 'change' after yesterday's post prompted me to search out Steve Hagen's excellent book Buddhism: Plain And Simple and see what he had to say on the matter (I've quoted before from this book here and here).

Pick up a flower - a beautiful, living, fresh rose. It smells wonderful. It reveals a lovely rhythm in the swirl of its petals, a rich yet dazzling color, a soft velvety texture. It moves and delights us. The problem with the rose is that it dies. Its petals fall; it shrivels up; it turns brown and returns to the earth.

One solution to this problem is to ignore the real rose and substitute a plastic one, one that never dies (and never lives). But is a plastic rose what we want? No, of course not. We want the real rose. We want the one that dies. We want it because it dies, because it's fleeting, because it fades. It's this very quality that makes it precious. This is what we want, what each of us is: a living thing that dies.

Your very own body and mind are also precious, because they're just as fleeting. They're changing - always, in every moment. In fact, you are nothing but change itself.

Let's examine this closely for a moment. It's easy to see that you don't have the body you had when you were a small child. Nor do you have the same mind. If you look carefully, you will notice that you don't even have the same body and mind you had when you turned to this page a few moments ago. In those few seconds, many cells in your body died and many others were created. Countless chemical changes took place in different organs. Your thoughts changed in response to the words on this page and the circumstances around you. Thousands of synapses in your brain fired thousands of times. In each and every moment, you changed.

Like the rose, our bodies and minds are fleeting. In fact, everything in our experience - our bodies, our minds, our thoughts, our wants and needs, our relationships - is fleeting. Changing. Subject to death. We die in each moment and again, in each moment, we are born. The process of birth and death goes on endlessly, moment after moment, right before our eyes. Everything we look at, including ourselves and every aspect of our lives, is nothing but change.

Vitality consists of this very birth and death. This impermanence, this constant arising and fading away, are the very things that make our lives vibrant, wonderful, and alive. Yet we usually want to keep things from changing. We want to preserve things, to hold onto them. As we shall see, this desire to hold on, to somehow stop change in its tracks, is the greatest source of woe and horror and trouble in our lives.

As Hagen says, change is a process which is happening to us continually; it's an inescapable feature of our own and of the world's chemistry and biology. I like this perception - it accords nicely with both Science and Buddhism. (After all, Buddhism is a philosophy - in essence not a religion, I think, like other world religions, which posit a God 'out there'; buddhas and boddhisattvas are human beings, albeit enlightened ones - yes, Buddhism is a philosophy which encourages and teaches one to comprehend Reality, to see things as they really are.)

Change is something over which we have little control. We are born. We live by the hazards of chance and destiny. We experience desire. We experience suffering. We die. Our loved ones die. As Anita Brookner says in her new novel Strangers, reviewed in today's Guardian, Fate is rarely kind, and nature never. So, if change is inevitable, we might as well welcome it. Embrace it even. Defiantly. Acceptingly. And I truly believe this attitude can be exhilarating. And liberating.


Rachel Fox said...

One of my favourite words....defiantly!

Good post. Things we should know but often don't...

forest wisdom said...

"We want the one that dies."

So true. Wow. That's a short little statement. but powerful, and there's all kinds of stuff that can be unpacked from it regarding life, love, death, desire....

Good 'ol Steve Hagen, a fellow Minneapolitan. I drive past his Dharma Field Zen Center every day on my way to work.

This post puts me in mind of the Buddha's "Five Remembrances." If I may quote them.... There are a few different translations, but the one I have learned from my teacher goes roughly like this:

1. I am of the nature to get sick. I have not gone beyond sickness.

2. I am of the nature to grow old. I have not gone beyond aging.

3. I am of the nature to die. I have not gone beyond aging.

4. All that I love and is dear to me will one day be taken from me. I have not gone beyond loss.

5. I am the owner of and heir to my actions.

Peace to you, SW

Jay said...

When we had our beloved dogs cremated, each one came back in a wooden casket, which we expected, but also with a plastic red rose.

These roses offended me, somewhere in my soul. I understood that they were given with kindness and with good intent, and maybe as a symbol of the eternal nature of the soul, but ... we want the one that dies. Yes, we do.

And in this instance, it would actually be more appropriate. To be given a fresh rose with the ashes of my loved ones (animal or human) would mean more. As I watched the rose wither and die, I could perhaps resign myself to the loss a little more, and begin to be able to let go as I threw it away.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, defiant is definitely a word I associate (in a positive and good way) with you, Rachel. And feisty too, for some reason :)

Thanks for this, FW. Wow, what an amazing coincidence re Hagen!

Jay, that was so beautifully and movingly expressed. I am touched.

forest wisdom said...

PS The last word in #3 should have read "dying" not "aging."

I should proofread...


Val said...

Exquisite post.

And so, so true.

Bella said...

Wonderful post!
I feel I boldly embrace some changes - I love watching my hair colour change and noting the formation of new wrinkles and creases. I'm fascinated by watching age change the way I perceive the world and how I engage in the world. I'm fascinated by how gradually and slowly the face in the mirror changes to look more like my mother and how I start to do more things like my mother. I'm always surprised by the new limits put on my body that I never knew existed. I'm always confused by people who choose to hide these magnificent natural processes of change through colouring hair, plastic surgery etc. I love watching the same changes in nature...the colour changes and the dropping of leaves. I'm never disturbed by the falling of leaves and never need to quickly rake the leaves to hide the show of nature's cycle of life and death. But having to change because others tell me I should or societal constraints force me to live a certain way...oh, these are the changes I cannot deal with...is it change or is it resignation of "what is" rather than "what could be". I'm reminded of the quote "the reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in adapting the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man" George Bernard Shaw. The changes that make being unreasonable more and more difficult to maintain - these changes are hard to accept.

I'm rambling now ...

Thanks for a thought provoking post...

Val said...

Wow. Really.


I've seen your comments here and on Forest Wisdom's and Grizzled's sites...

When are you going to start a little blog of your own? You've got a lot of wisdom to share.

Loren said...

I actually bought Hagen's book on your earlier recommendation and have that remarkable passage marked, sw. Great reminder.

So much to read, and so little time.

Bella said...

Val you are very sweet and thank you! I would want to practice writing alot more before I had a blog - the syntax and grammatical errors I make in my comments couldn't exist if I had a blog and I would probably spend far too much time with it. Then there is the weirdness of writing your thoughts in cyberspace etc. Even writing comments sometimes feels weird.

Now it looks like I'm using SW comments page as my own blog :)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Change is everywhere, all the time; we are creatures of change surrounded by change. Some changes we choose, other changes are forced upon us; still other changes are simply a part of the constant process, as Hagen points out. Both living and dead change; both animate and inanimate. A man changes and so does a rock, or the sky, or a rose.

Defiance is a good attitude regarding change…sometimes; contrarily, acceptance is equally valuable. The trick is to know when to adopt one or the other. I’ve always been defiant though seldom rebellious; never a herd animal but never a predator, either. A gregarious loner, comfortable in groups, but never wanting to be part of a group. I’ve always been drawn to the individualists, the “characters” whom others shun or can’t understand. And this stance has both strengths and weakness—as I suspect do most “stances.” I must confess Anita Brookner’s statement—“Fate is rarely kind, and nature never.”—strikes me as wrong. Nature is neither kind nor unkind, but simply “is.” Further, if you embrace the evolutionary notion that man is simple another animal, a bit more clever than, say, a toad, then everything is nature, mountains and cities, anthills and parking lots. Nothing exists outside nature; there is no fate, no kindness, no love nor hate; just an ever-changing environment in which we are equally ever-changing.

I don’t believe this—but it would seem the logical progression of such thinking. I do like Bella’s attitude of giving change its due—of watching, considering, and studying the process before necessarily becoming defiant simply because it is change. The older I get, the more I find the truth and wisdom in the Ecclesiastical principal, “To everything there is a season…”

Bella said...

"to everything there is a season" - can I put my request for the version sung by Nina Simone! :)

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I don't 'want' the real rose because it dies, but because it lives.

Neither do I want to 'own' the rose - I want it in the sense of seeing it, knowing it and loving it. This being so it does not die, but continues, in a sense, in me. And in the interconnectedness of all things.

Change is inevitable and we cannot stop it. But that is not to say we passively accept. Actively choose to accept - or reject and fight against. Or initiate change - defiantly sometimes. (I love that word!)

I hope this doesn't sound pompous - it's very much from the heart and years of changing the way I think.

The Solitary Walker said...

Val - glad you enjoyed the post.

Ramble on, Bella. No worries! They say that Down Under, don't they - or is it only on 'Neighbours' and 'Home & Away?'

Pleased you enjoyed the book, Loren.

Bella - cyberwriting is a bit strange at first, but you soon get used to it and become quicker at it. It's such fun. But, be warned, addictive too.

Grizzled - wonderful comment as usual!

Nina Simone - yes please (The Byrds version also good).

Raph - loved your comment and was intrigued especially by your suggestion that over years you've changed the way you think. Would like to know more about the hows and whys of this!

Bella said...

"No worries mate... Bob's your uncle .." Probably more used within certain groups but like all lingo that is easy and rhyming it gets picked up by migrants - so you could just as easily hear it from a turban-wearing kaftan clad African taxi-driver.

Now, can't think of a comparable saying from East Enders.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

That would probably take years to explain, SW ...

In a nutshell, it was a bit like taking apart a home I had inherited, brick by brick, and rebuilding it again to my specifications. Constantly pushing through limitations, real or mostly imagined. Hard work but well worth it!

The Solitary Walker said...

How about: 'Wotcher, guv, nah would you Adam and Eve it, he'd only had a Ruby Murray washed down with 12 pints of bitter, and he fall raaaht down the Apples and Pears! Lord Lovaduck!' (See a dictionary of Cockney rhyming slang)

Or perhaps, well, 'No worries, mate...'

The Solitary Walker said...

Taking control of one's own life, and pushing the boundaries while doing so, is an admirable thing, RGN.

Bella said...

You got me laughing, you did, Henry Higgins! Lord lovaduck...cor blimey ....I will need a dictionary!

I like Raph's description of deconstructing his brain hardware "brick by brick.. and re-building again to his specifications".

Now back to Spain and the plains and the rain! :)

The Solitary Walker said...

I think you mean 'Enry 'Iggins there, Bella...