Friday, January 14, 2011

"Like a Skinned Cow"

I was looking at this photo just now, which I took last month during a blizzard. It got me thinking about how our impressions about life get pressed into us, or we press them into ourselves, until they are all that we can see.

Consider this, from a commentary on the sutra of The Four Nutriments of Life.

Simile: A skinned cow, wherever she stands, will be ceaselessly attacked by the insects and other creatures living in the vicinity.

Like a skinned cow, man is helplessly exposed to the constant excitation and irritation of the sense-impressions, crowding upon him from all sides, through all six senses.

Living in a place like Minnesota in the winter, exposure to the cold, to bitter wind, to physical dis-ease is nearly impossible to avoid. Avoiding it would require placing extreme limits on your life, and/or great amounts of energy and cleverness expended.

The same seems true with impressions, whether it be a thought, feeling, etc. Certainly, we can place ourselves in more wholesome contexts, and sit with, burn through, and drop off unwholesome thoughts and views. And certainly, we can work with others to do the same.

But in the end, there's no way to escape the bitter winter winds. You can tighten your arms around your coat and try to turn away, or you can face them head on, with your coat wide open.

Sometimes I fear being frozen to death by it all (not literally of course). But that assumes there is an "I" that can be destroyed by all the pain and suffering and noise and unpleasantness that is present in the world.


David Ashton said...

I was watching The Fifth Estate ( while reading your blog. The show was about the Minnesota fellow who pretended to be a young nurse and convinced several young people online to commit suicide. The victims must have been particularly vulnerable to the sense impressions crowding in from all sides.

If they had a way to deal with the cold bitter wind, they were steered away from it by the villain who had their trust.

They arrested the villain, but doubtless there are more villains who do this, and many more young skinned cows looking for meaning. We can only hope that being online, they will meet up with the blooming e-sangha.

I think I share what many others must experience - a driving need to relieve suffering, and great impatience and some frustration that I'm not having much effect (that I can see) so far. Practice, practice, practice, connect, stay awake and when doors open, step through them. That's my plan anyway.

Oh, and about being frozen to death, I don't imagine that knowing that one is none other than the bitter winter winds will prevent them from freezing one's ass off...

Thanks for posting.

Nathan said...

Hey David,

"and great impatience and some frustration that I'm not having much effect (that I can see) so far." I know this one. I think the "can't see" of it is important, because often we never really see many of the fruits of our efforts.

They made a show about that guy? I still can't comprehend what would compel someone to sit online and talk people into executing their suicide thoughts. It's just so screwed up.