Buddhism ME 6909: Renunciation is a transitive verb–sometimes…

img_0953There’s nothing cuter in Thailand than a picture of a young child bowing in obeisance, before a statue of the Buddha, grahping and saddhuing with the best of them, prostrate to unknown gods, long before his little prostate gland would even know the difference, that which supplies the raw materials for reproduction, but to a young infertile mind that yet has no clue to such things…

Now I firmly encourage respect and reverence to monks and priests and the qualities they represent, but joining the monkhood at an early age, or even growing up at the temple, and, in effect, never knowing any other life, is another thing. I mean: is that really so impressive—and wise? Doesn’t renunciation really only have its true meaning when something is actually renounced? Now, when a millionaire gives up his millions to join the sangha—that’s impressive…

Yet children are dropped off there all the time, just like that, like so many unwanted dogs and cats, in a country with no dog ‘pounds’ or impoundments, by parents either unable or unwilling to take care of them, so thus left to the whims of fate, and the good auspices of some conscientious monks, and for them to become life-long monks are among their better options. Monasteries and temples seldom serve as schools for the impoverished as they once did, but still, we’re talking about a life narrowly lived…

Locked Down in Lock-up

I am a bit claustrophobic, to be sure, but all it takes is a little bit of sunshine, one tiny little ray, or even just a hint of blue, implied if not actually intended, to make that cheapo room in the upper baboon multicolored forty acres, just pleasant enough to tolerate, where the same room with absolutely no window would be absolutely intolerable, not to mention the standard zoning requirements of access and egress necessary for proper protection from fire and other random emergencies…

Now the only countries that I know to allow rooms with absolutely no windows are few—Mexico, Malaysia and Philippines for starters—but there are surely more, and what a country allows and what actually occurs are not always the same thing in Third World regions where what governments say and what people do are seldom synonymous, seems it’s part of a more random pattern of neglect—psychological neglect—in places where that is not uncommon and rarely protested…

Prison is the business model for monasteries, apparently, or the military, or simple poverty, and solitary confinement the worst of possible punishments. But even solitary confinement—no human contact except occasional visits by prison guards—typically has windows! So if you really want to punish someone, make it windowless confinement!

I’ve already decided that if any room I’ve booked in my traveling future happens to have no windows, I’ll simply refuse it, even at the risk of losing my deposit. But the metaphor—life without a window—applies to many other situations, and almost seems made to order for Buddhism. After all, isn’t meditation a form of solitary confinement, i.e. sensory deprivation? Of course it is, and biological life can be the quintessential prison, sometimes…

Preparing for the Worst

Some monasteries probably even take the model farther than prisons themselves, shutting the doors to the outside world tightly, by choice, if not convention, to the point that the Taiwanese government, for one, has begged some of them to open up more. But the paradigm goes deeper, into the internal psyche, such that a well-trained monk should be able to—symbolically—open a window to the outside, all by himself, all within himself…

That is to say: he should be able to mitigate the negative effects of confinement and sensory deprivation, given the training acquired in meditation. He might even like it! Even though I’m far from that point of being such a skillful meditator, it IS a wonder to behold a monk lost in the midst of it for hours at the time, and unflinching. I’m just not sure that that in itself constitutes a life—UNLESS the monk in question has already done that, and is in a phase of renunciation, a transitive verb, let’s not forget…

But Buddhist monks may be the quintessential survivors in any apocalypse scenario, in which it may no longer be safe to go outdoors, if there even IS an outdoors, they who are trained to exist, and even thrive, in this prison cell of a phenomenon that we call biological life, once described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” by Thomas Hobbes in his 1651 book ‘The Leviathan’, so a bit before the self-described ‘Enlightenment’ and a bit after the much-heralded ‘Renaissance’ of Europe….

But that day hasn’t come yet, the End of Days hasn’t, and while I heartily recommend the training, of the ability to survive, and even thrive, on little or no sensory input, I can’t see it, for myself at least, as a way to live life. For that indeed would seem to be ‘life-denying’, which is a major criticism that Christians level at Buddhists, and of course is possible only if others are there to help sustain you, so there’s the catch…

Until then, or until my time has come to fully renounce, I’ll continue my explorations, both of the psychic world and of the physical world, poking around the edges of human endeavor to see what is clever and see what is new, to see what is possible and see what is true, in their pronouncements about life and the way it is lived, all the while practicing the arts of meditation and motivation sans frontieres. Only if they are no doors do I become desperate for a way out. It doesn’t even matter if all those doors are closed…