Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ibsit Invidia

Once upon a time, there was a king who sought to banish all pain, sickness, and death from his kingdom. Now this story, though old, is not alien. It defines the consciousness of all ages, a very human quest for an impossible utopia. This story illuminates, like few others, the importance and inevitability of all that Pandora let loose on the mortal world.

I do not remember the first time I read this story; as long as I can remember, I could rattle it by rote. So this story is not new to me. Yet every time I have been brought before it, it has affected me. It is an ancient tale, the definition of happiness very superficial, yet amazingly, it resonates with undiluted power. Our mythologies have sharpened and shaped our fears, our pain in so many forms, some sacred, some obscene, yet others that are neither. Systems of belief insist on logical connections between the profane and the ills our flesh is heir to, even provide methodologies to keep ailment at bay.

The Gita points out that what causes fear is the imagination of a circumstance rather than the circumstance itself, and so what needs to be addressed is one's imagination, not avoidance of a circumstance. The Ramayana counsels to embrace all circumstances with equanimity, presenting as role model a prince who accepts crown and banishment with the same smile. However, I find it impossible to live up to these very simple, very wise ideas. I find it impossible to react in the same way to the birth of my daughter and the loss of my son; the only similarity in those reactions is the intensity of almost exactly opposite feelings. My nightmares abound with imagined horrors that I am unable to control.

I suppose this is the reason why the old story speaks so clearly. This morning episode of Buddha addressed this part of the story. I had never thought what it would mean to banish all suffering from a city. It was a horrifying picture. Old age, sickness, pain are woven in the fabric of life, along with youth and good health. Ripping the two apart would loosen unimaginable hells, rob all that makes sense in organized civilizations. Children would languish for grandmothers' tales; sons and daughters would worry about their infirm parents; families would not be allowed to care for sick loved ones; young children, missing grandparents, could be reunited with them only if they were diseased enough. Flourishing households, torn apart, would wither away, like a city of insects deprived of their shade of a felled tree. The episode ended with the image of the infant prince weeping helplessly in his sleep at this heavy loss to his land.

 I find myself blaming the king for his short sightedness. However, upon reflection, I am guilty of something similar: I too have wanted to banish all suffering from my child's life. In fact, I count my failures in terms of horrors, disappointments, heartaches, and illnesses I have been unable to keep away from her. Today, I ask if I have done her any favors by trying to protect her; I, too, want her to be a feared and respected conqueror of lands, rather than a wise ascetic her peers jeer at.

This post goes out as a prayer to the universe, for strength to accept (if not welcome) whatever awaits. I am counting on old stories to hold my hand and light my household when evening insists on advancing, when night seems unending. I pray for eyes enough to discern the twilight of dawn from dusk and remember the importance of both in a fully lived day.

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