As a favor to some relatives of whom I am very fond, I am reading a book I would not otherwise notice. It is called Day Breaks Over Dharamsala, by Janet Thomas. It’s a personal journey kind of book, and Ms. Thomas has been through the mill of sexual abuse of the most grotesque sort involving cults and, sadly, her own parents. Her life has been one of memory recovery and a search for meaning.
Perhaps the most moving line in the book, for me, was when she had decided to move forward by ceasing contact with all her family members, writing a letter to each explaining her reasons and asking for understanding.
“It was a shock to find out that I didn’t matter.”
Part of growing up, for all of us I suppose, is to realize how insignificant we are outside our own small spheres. I matter very much to my wife, and my kids, though emancipated, now have a place for me in their complicated lives, though not of high importance. Their peers took over prime importance in adolescence, and now they have their own special partners. Our lives are small.
I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t need to matter to them. I need my wife, that one close person. Beyond that, with my parents and siblings gone, I’m happy having a few friends and acquaintances. It is all we are allotted.
Of course, for Ms. Thomas, with trauma and horror in her background, suppressed memories and dissociated personalities, life is a different quest. Her trip to Dharamsala is a search for that lost self, taken from her by others who should burn in hell if such a place exists. I wish her success. However, for people so victimized as her, the quest is for something that will always be just beyond reach.
Dharamsala is a small town in the lower elevations of the Himalayas, the place in India as close as possible to Tibet without going over the border. It is where the Dalai Lama chose to set up camp after the (CIA-backed) conflict with the Communist regime in China in the late 1950’s. I don’t feel the injustice that others do with that episode. I don’t see any need for Tibet to be separated from China, as I realize that there are geopolitical considerations in the matter. Few are honest about it. Countries worry about borders, guard them with high vigilance, and with a CIA in this world behind just about every separatist movement, China has good reason to clamp down on Tibet and keep it in the fold.
I do not feel their pain on that matter. People in Tibet are not much different from those in Nepal. All were abused by the British and have suffered their own forms of bad government since those monsters left.
The Dalai Lama is a curious character. He’ll be their first to tell his followers “Don’t follow! Use your own brains!” But as demonstrated so well in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, once a Messiah is spotted, he cannot lose that mark. So Buddhists and others analyze his every word looking for deep meaning. And he does drop pearls of wisdom.
This is from a Facebook post yesterday:
An aging master grew tired of his apprentice’s complaints. One morning, he sent him to get some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master told him to mix a handful of salt in a glass of water and then drink it.
“How does it taste?” the master asked.
“Bitter,” said the apprentice.
The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”
As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?”
“Fresh,” remarked the apprentice.
“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.
“No,” said the young man. At this the master sat beside this serious young man, and explained softly,
“The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains exactly the same. However, the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things. Stop being a glass. Become a lake.”
My response, “I thought since the kid was being a pain the aging master was going to take him down to the lake and drown him. Perhaps I misunderstand the teachings of Buddhism? Have not paid close attention,” was not appreciated. But there is no wisdom in Buddhism that will not be found in Catholicism or Stoicism or in the works of J.K. Rowling.
I sense that people who are deep into Buddhism are searching inside themselves for an answer to pain. I do not think that there is an answer. Pain, like joy and contentment or humor and depression, are simply side effects of our other behaviors during the journey. It’s best not to focus on them. Answers lie elsewhere.