Buddhism, Life and Death: Welcome to Prison…

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Shan ‘Tai Yai’ temple…

Welcome to prison. Welcome to the farm. Welcome to this life, 3-D, biological, in which you will live an average of seventy-plus years, maybe more maybe less, with time off for good behavior, if lucky, subject to local conditions, and just a few rules. So these bodies will be our home, and this life will be our penitentiary, life at the speed of sound, dreaming of light, and avoiding gravity…

That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it, though, just that knowing our limits and avoiding extremes is usually the better bargain than seeking them out, by my understanding of Buddhist insight. And yet we do seek them out, don’t we, especially we Americans, with our extreme sports and our extreme prejudices, and our passions and our pride, that usually goeth before a fall?

We seek out big rocks to climb and many rivers to cross, at ever-increasing speeds with ever-changing technologies, all for the sake of the experience, the thrill, the rush of sensation. But none of us will get out of here alive, and so to tempt fate seems to be almost a genetic predisposition of the white American race, a birth defect in our DNA, the same thing that got us over here from Europe, or wherever, now threatening to destroy us and destroy the planet. The main threat to our planet and our species now is we ourselves…

So there are just a few rules to make life better for us all here:

Rule #1: Do not poop in the park. It can be a nice home, this prison, if you take care of it. It can even be beautiful, if you care to make it that way. It all depends on you. Before enlightenment, chop wood. After enlightenment, carry water…

Rule #2: You can (almost) never leave. You can poke around the edges, and push the envelope, so to speak, but that’s (usually) all. So:

Rule #3: Make the best of it. That requires dedication, devotion, and discipline…

Whenever you read an account of someone who spent a large amount of time in prison, and somehow managed to make the best of it, and improve himself, and set an example for others, an important part of their secret for this accomplishment is a disciplined workout, every day, without fail, not the guy who managed to find drugs or learn new dirty tricks, or even the guy who escaped, and almost always got caught. No, this life this world this prison requires discipline…

Young people like to fantasize upon the beauty of this world—and it has its moments, to be sure—but young people are mostly in love with themselves, and their beauty, and their youth itself, which is beautiful. And so we reproduce while young, as it’s all part of the mythology we’ve created to subsidize this lower world we inhabit, and ensure its continuation…

But the temptations to escape are numerous, mostly through mind-altering substances, all of which will lead to a false escape, or an early death, or most likely: disappointment. The one thing that won’t lead to disappointment is discipline upon the path—any path. But discipline is a hard commodity to sell, especially in this world of easy fixes and ready-mixes. We all want the pill, not the eight-step program. That’s too hard…

Islam excels at discipline, but some of the goals of that discipline are questionable, if understandable. Discipline is something best instilled at childhood, and much harder to learn at a later date, or in later life. Good habits are learned early. Yet learn it we must, or perish for the lack of it. For eons, our only challenge was to conquer Nature, and claim a piece of her spread…

Now our only challenge is to conquer ourselves, and reclaim our place in this world as homo sapiens, “wise man.” Yeah, right; good luck with that. Fortunately Buddhism can help. That is its specialty, in fact, controlling the mind and refreshing one’s view of the world. Islam controls the body. Buddhism controls the mind. There is only one catch—it takes discipline. But just like exercise: doesn’t it always feel better after you do it? Of course it does. Aahhh…

And not only that, but these limits can be a beautiful thing in themselves, this definition, this clarity, this certainty! The idea that the sky is the limit, that nothing is impossible, or that anyone can be President, will drive you crazy! That narrative is good, but dated, and probably not the best idea for our current times of trial, awaiting judgment and sentence, and hopefully a new chapter. The trick is not to fall into self-defeatist passive surrender. Both extremes are unhealthy. Balance is good. It helps you sleep at night…

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