Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thoughts on "this fleeting world"

I woke up this morning and checked my e-mail before heading out to work. The headline on Yahoo read "Farrah Fawcett dead at 62." Now, I barely follow anything about celebrities, and didn't quite place her as one of Charle's Angels,but I seemed to have some vague recollection of her. Then, arriving at work, I was told that the 6 year old son of a student had drowned in a lake last night. Again, I never met the boy, and the student was not in my class - but there was a lot of sadness at work today regardless. And questions. Where were the teachers? How could he have been underwater 20 minutes without anyone noticing? It's sometimes hard to fathom a little boy dying, even though it's not all that uncommon in a lot of places around the world. And finally, late this afternoon, my sister called to tell me that her favorite singer as a child - Michael Jackson - had died. I still remember the on-fire hair from that Pepsi commercial, and can't tell you how often I tried to do the moonwalk. Sure, Michael had some "issues" in later years, but he was 50 years old, barely past the mid-point for some people.

No matter what, this precious life is going to go by quickly. There is no way of knowing when the end will be for each of us. And even though we speak of there really being no birth and no death in Buddhism, there's still this body and this mind which will go at some point, not to return in the same form again.

The Diamond Sutra reminds us that it's not only the "great death" of your body and mind, but also that every moment is its own death. Nothing is standing still, and everything in its own way is fleeting. Even rivers. Even mountains. I'm reminded that Lake Superior and everything around it, was completely frozen less than 20,000 years ago. Less than 200 years ago, vast parts of my home state of Minnesota were covered with thick forests of pine and deciduous trees. And I remember the summer twenty five years ago when nearly every tree along my grandparent's block in St. Paul was chopped down, victims of dutch elm disease.

At the end of the Diamond Sutra are these words, which I have posted on my wall to keep me in check on day when I'm obsessing over some little problem, or generally being cranky and ridiculous.

"So you should view this fleeting world
a star at dawn
a bubble in a stream
a flash of lightning in a summer cloud
a flickering lamp
a phantom
and a dream."

That flash of lightning always gets me. What I find ironic about it though is that the line in the sutra, a thought about a flash of lightning, and an actual flash of
lightning all seem to cause me to slow down and pay closer attention. The world is fleeting, but if you rush, trying to keep up or trying to "do" everything, you miss it all.

So, peace and blessings to all who have died today, and all those who cared about them. May we all awaken, and stop missing out on own precious lives.


Anonymous said...

Lovely post. Thank you Nathan.

And may all be in a place of peace and happiness.

Algernon said...

Ah, because the flash of lightning is also a bit of ice melting down the side of a stove. One seems fast, one seems slow. With no perception, what is it?

Beautiful post!

Barry said...

Beautiful post. Thank you.