The Parable of Parabolas, Sutra of Sutures, and the boy who liked spicy noodles…

Buddhist ruins at Ayutthaya in Thailand

Parables and sutras (or sutta if you’re an adept of Theravada Buddhism) are really the same thing, the former most popularized by Jesus and the latter by the Buddha, though neither is exclusive to either, and neither excludes the other. For I don’t know that any sutra has ever been attributed to Jesus, but I do know that the Buddha has his parables.

But in reality they’re the same thing, small stories intended to convey some small meaning, but one that might be considered significant, if only one cared to pay some attention to it. For we crave meaning every bit as much as we crave language itself, and the vowels and consonants quickly become subordinate to the verbs and nouns, predicates and subjects that define it. And we love happy endings, so that we can go about our lives with a spring in our step and a smile on our faces, so as to make our lives less miserable.

Parable is cognate with parabola, of course, and the point of connection might best be described as an arc, a parabolic arc, of course, and not dissimilar to a narrative arc, for all of you with pretensions to literature, and some a great deal more than that, I hope. Because I never actually took classes in English composition, but I’ve certainly picked up some of the jargon in the course of submissions to literary agents in the hopes of climbing that stairway to literary heaven.

But the etymology of the word ‘sutra’ follows an even more circuitous route, all the way to the modern sutures that hold our bodies together as we lie in wait to find out whether we will survive the pandemic or not. So instead of an arc, we have a joining device, to keep things together, for purposes utilitarian, at least, and maybe aspirational, if not inspirational. But I like the path it took it modern standard Thai, in which the word is simplified to simply soot, and the meaning is simply ‘recipe.’

We know how Thais love to eat, hahaha, and the best recipes usually produce the best flavors. And that brings me to my own little story, fully factual, and which has always found meaning for me. For I watched my young friend add spice to his noodles, simply because he likes them that way, up to a certain extent, of course. For the uninitiated, most Thai people don’t usually drink the broth that the noodles swim in, so that is part of the story. But the level of spice that once sufficed is quickly too little for even the bravest heart in the face of culinary challenges based on capsaicin.

So he adds more. And more. And more. Each time he’s readjusting his standard of spiciness to conform to his new level of tolerance, of course, and so quickly each time it’s just not enough, as long as he doesn’t drink the broth, which might likely cause him severe gastrointestinal distress, before it’s all over. So what’s the big deal? Why is this story worth the words it’s made of? Because people die this way, that’s why. Why do you think that someone overdoses on dangerous drugs?

Because they want to experience that ‘high’ again, that’s why. And that threshold is a sliding scale of familiarity and contempt, but most of all exhilaration, that feeling of flying, in an earthbound body incapable of such, that out-of-body experience in a body defined as physical. And so it is with love. We confuse it with being in love, for which a fresh new dose is always desired, like a novel virus consuming its host. But this is obviously an erroneous proposition, for which an adjustment to the recipe will usually suffice. Moral of the story: drink the broth, for that is the world we swim in.