Friday, June 30, 2006

Relections on the Contingency of Life

Fragility nó Leochaileacht

Sean Ó Ríordáin, the great Irish poet of the twentieth century, alluded to things of this world being fragile or, in that beautiful Irish term for this, “leochaile.”  Yes the world is “fragile” (Fr), “fràgil” (Sp) or “fragile” (it).  Not much difference in the Romance Languages with respect to this term.  There ends my linguistic prowess.  However, it is startlingly true that things are impermanent.  The impermanence of things is a central tenet of the philosophy of Buddhism.  Nothing lasts forever, and things are constantly in a state of flux.  I am reminded of  Heracleitus’ famous dictum that you cannot step into the same river twice.  I am further reminded of a Buddhist sage’s retort to a question from a Western professor of philosophy, who was trying to catch him out, that “we cannot step into the same river even once,” such is its state of constant change.  Things pass away, fall away, are washed away, burn down or out and new and different things come in their place.  The laws of physics are irrefutable, – they state somewhere that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, but rather changed from one form into another.  The cells of our poor bodies will decay and pass back into the chemicals whence they were formed.  Such is our lot.

Buddha and his followers remind us that the single greatest cause of suffering is our dependence on things, our dependence and, of course co-dependence on other human beings, our sense of clinging onto things in the desperate hope that we will somehow hold on to them.  Alas how stupid we are.  What can we really hold onto in this world of appearances and shapes?  I’m constantly reminded of my father’s wise saying: “There are no pockets in a habit (=shroud).”  How true!  Nothing lasts forever.  Everything has a built-in life span, in the genes as it were.  After all, ageing is a code in the DNA of every organism.  But, of course, every organism belongs to a cycle, which continues ever onward, unless that particular organism had no offspring.

I am also reminded tonight of those few words from Virgil: “Sunt lacrimae rerum” – all things partake of tears .  Or as the famous Economist Keynes put it: “What does it matter – in the end we are all dead anyway!”  Or as a famous serial murderer on Death Row (named “The Animal”, by both guards and inmates) in Huntsville Prison, Tennessee put it so succinctly “The bottom line is that none of us get out of this life alive!”

Anyway, there I was this evening meditating and the tears came to my eyes as I meditated in the light of a candle looking at the clouds gently passing the window of my attic.  I was suffused in a sense of the fragility of things, of “leochaileacht na beatha”, of my ageing and demented mother, of her childlike ways, of her short term memory approaching nil or zero.  Is not the death of personality real death anyway?  Are dementia and Alzheimer’s not living deaths in actuality?  What remains of my mother?  What remains of me?

And what a wonderful planet we have – the blue planet, so alive, so wonderful, supporting life in its millions of biological forms.  And yet seemingly it’s the only one of its kind in the entire universe.  Or is that really so?  Is there other life out there?  Are there other forms of life out there apart from life as we know it?”  Big questions for a small mind.  Big questions for a small people, but we need such questions to keep us going.  The unexamined life is not worth living and the unlived life not worth examining to conflate Socrates’ famous saying.
The above is a picture of some delicate buttercups I took at Newbridge House two weeks ago.

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