Buddhism 110: Looking for Nirvana, not R & R, r.i.p. Kurt C…

Most religions—except Christianity—discourage music and most other forms of entertainment, Islam most famously, but Buddhism also, at least for monks and priests. So I was somewhat surprised when my temple’s head priest here in northern Thailand decided to put on a CD of American ‘Greatest Hits’ while driving, “for you, Hardie.” Heretofore I’d only heard slow sappy Thai stuff, so this would be interesting, however lame. The hardest part for me as monk will be to leave behind pop music, at least the hard stuff…

The first song was “Everybody’s Talking” by Nilsson—cool. Then came “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash—awesome. “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson? I can dig that. And “Music to Watch Girls By”, Andy Williams’ lyrics version–meh. But “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana? Whoa, I’d almost forgotten them, after our brief but torrid love affair some twenty-plus years ago. And what irony! For mine is a quest for Buddhist Nirvana, but nothing like Seattle’s Nirvana, in which Kurt Cobain apparently died for our sins, for lack of better options. He blew his brains out, so we don’t have to…

But Celine solutions won’t work for me, intravenous injections, metal on flesh, too salty too bitter, mort a credit, death on the installment plan, and the misdiagnoses of doctors too concerned with their stock options to care, all that rap all that metal all that grungy gravel stuck in the craw, no travel just a two-by-four jail cell for life no appeal no parole no word of encouragement from an invisible friend well-hidden, no path no exit nor window above flashing blue light and greener pastures outside in another dimension, beyond the boundaries of self-imposed servitude…

Still Kurt was right: with the lights out, it IS less dangerous. I can see that now, and that’s what Buddhism teaches, though in a much milder way. Midnight moonlit meditation walks are quite popular in some Buddhist quarters. And here we are now, but there’s no more need to entertain us. I don’t feel so stupid any more, either, and far less contagious. So rest in peace, Kurt Cobain, because I won’t be able to listen to you again, most likely, but I’ll always appreciate the moments we had together, in the pain and existential angst of passion and suffering, no guns allowed—memoria, memoria…

Could Buddhism have helped Kurt? It’s helped me. I’m sure of that. He must have at least dallied with it, hence the name ‘nirvana’. And who was his imaginary friend ‘Boddah’? Sounds a lot like ‘Buddha’ to me. But then there’s the heroin problem. If every moment of meditation is a little bit of heaven, then isn’t every dose of H a little suicide? It’s hard to argue with pain, and it comes in many flavors…

Pain is like an entity, with a mind of its own, like a half-mixed agenda, thrown in a blender and turned on high speed and left to sit and spin, unforgotten and unforgiving, the personification of evil all rolled up into a ball and ready to strike at any given moment. For many diseases pain IS the disease and must be treated accordingly—first treat the pain and then worry about the causes and effects, hence H…

Like someone not-so-famous said before: Buddhism is what you do instead of heroin, suicide, capitalism, violence, kicking your dog or your neighbor just to make a point, when you’ve run the good race and fought the good fight, and still can’t make heads or tails out of the reasons and rhymes of humans and their charges, seems too late for a light through the dark, too early for a stiff one with lime and salt rimming the edge of the glass, too late for the girl next door who moved away long ago and took her Siamese cat with her, now it’s just you, all alone, naked and unafraid…”

So, did Buddhism fail Kurt? Maybe, but nobody wins here, by definition. Anything else is superstition, and the capitalist rites of optimism at all costs, with growth our mantra. Our cures are our symptoms and our disease, our restlessness, our chronic dissatisfaction over the details of life and our false expectations. What would it take to make me feel better, maybe a new car or a new house, or a new wife or a new life, or all of the above, sweet nothings and little turtle doves? Or none of the above, out of luck and out of love?

Who knows? But I’ll try to curb my pop music tendencies, at least the hard stuff, and the sappy stuff, not because of any priestly prohibitions, but because the tunes get stuck in there, and ironically rated ‘hits’ on that basis, which is a real impediment to meditation, especially, and clear creative thinking in general, too bad. So I’ll try to gravitate toward the international spectrum of world music, yes, and all that jazz, a five-step withdrawal program, oh yeah, the rest is silence

p.s. I have my own theory about Kurt’s death, but it has nothing to do with conspiracies, or murder, or Courtney, but it does have to do with his heroin habit. I suspect he was depressed not only over his inability to quit H, but over the likelihood that his talent would suffer in the process. I know I rue the day that words become a bathroom chore, in which less is more. Nothing worries an artist more than ‘losing his edge’, but such is life, and the fact of growing older, and growing up…

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