Saturday, January 24, 2015

This too shall pass--this material life, that is

After days of getting things together for a long and tiring India trip, as I finally head to the airport, I tell myself that it would not matter if I have forgotten anything as long as I have my passport, my wallet, my cellphone, and my travel computer.

During the long plane ride, I often amuse myself thinking how much that list is a metaphor for life itself--most of what we worry about is, well, excess baggage that is not going to affect us, and yet it is on that baggage that we spend our time, money, energy, and emotions.  What if we asked ourselves every morning when we wake up, "what is most important to me in life and how do I want to spend my time, money, energy, and emotions?"

What is even more amazing and amusing to me is how invested--in many ways--we are in all things material.  Our homes. Cars. Computers. Phones. Clothes. Shoes. Even our hair!  When all those are transitory.  Heck, even we are nothing but transients in this universe and we worry about our balding heads?  Imagine, if every morning we were to, instead, draw up a list equivalent to my travel essentials of passport, wallet, cellphone, and computer.  Will my balding head feature on that list?  Not a chance.

The older I get, the more irrelevant many things in life are becoming.  I suppose the experiences in life are like series of filters that continuously remove the unwanted and irrelevant, and help me get to what might be the equivalent of passport, wallet, cellphone, and computer.

Somewhere into the remaining third of my life, the computer will be be off that list.  Gone will be the phone. The wallet will become thinner and thinner as the extraneous stuff gets tossed out.

So, what might be the important things into my future?

I wonder if people ask themselves that question.  I worry that people do not ask themselves that question.  I am concerned that there is not enough attention being paid to that question.

If only all of us got to thinking about this, even via the sand mandalas.  I love how the Buddhist monks remind us about the transitory nature of the material life.  The lamas work for days and weeks and create beautiful and colorful elaborate pieces of art, only to methodically erase them away.

So, what might be the things that I might take along for that ultimate travel of all?

"When you are lying nearing your death, you cannot take your car or house or clothes.  You have only your memories with you when dying" said my accidental travel partner during that day trip in Costa Rica.  And then even those memories are gone.

Yet, we are invested in our homes. Cars. Computers. Phones. Clothes. Shoes. Even our balding heads!

I suppose to struggle through all that crap is what life is all about.  We will be smarter if we understood that all we are doing is constructing our own sand mandalas. And, whether we like it or not, whether we are prepared or not, all that investment over one's life will be gone, like the lamas brushing away the sand.

Nothing really matters at all.

Life is but a fleeting illusion.



Ramesh said...

Well, the purpose of life is one of the great philosophical quandaries. Who knows ?

But I wouldn't dismiss something because its fleeting or momentary. Material possessions do have a place in life. Exclusive focus on it is of course inappropriate as would complete detachment, I believe. They are to be enjoyed when they ought to be.

The Indian scriptures had a concept (which you wouldn't relate to, I know). The four phases of life - Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sanyasa (renunciation). Each ought to be done at the appropriate time. As I haven't reached the age of Sanyasa, I shall not dwell more on such existential questions :):)

Sriram Khé said...

I don't believe that it is a one or the other, as in enjoying materials versus complete detachment. In my interpretation, that is the very point that the Buddha made--he gave up the life of luxury as a prince and swung to the other extreme of extreme abnegation and detachment from everyday existence, and then concluded that the middle way of the here and the now is the path towards enlightenment. We live attached to people, yet realizing that people die. We cherish the phones and art and everything else, yet understanding that these are mere things ...

That old stages of life concept is screwed up--any formula like that is bound to be screwed up. That is a mere guideline that says learning (studenthood) is how the process begins. To wait until sanyasa is like people working like crazy all the while saying that once they retire, they will then have all the time and money to travel--and then they find out that they are too old and frail to travel, and all the money they have doesn't do any damn thing.

Anne in Salem said...

"Nothing really matters." I do not entirely agree. If we deconstruct to "No thing really matters," I would agree. You do not mention relationships. Things help to advance relationships - homes in which to host our friends, cars in which to take adventures, etc. Perhaps things are mere tools, useful for achieving appreciation of the here and now, but not to be valued in themselves.

Ramesh, as one ignorant in Indian scripture, I am curious about the stages. Can they not overlap? Can't one be a student all one's life? I would hope so, as I learn more as I get older and meet new people and have more experiences - and particularly as I realize how little I actually know!

Sriram Khé said...

"Perhaps things are mere tools, useful for achieving appreciation of the here and now, but not to be valued in themselves."
Yes, that is no different from what I believe in, and what I have attempted to get across in the post as well.

"Nothing really matters" as in at the end of it all, well, nothing really matters. Perhaps the strong statement easily appeals to this atheist, and might not convince believers of any faith. By writing that life is a fleeting illusion, I was consciously channeling the Hindu vedanta of "Maya," which too I have always found to be appealing--especially when I hear string theory folks spin those stories (without all the math) about the universe.

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