Was T.S Eliot a Buddhist?

tibetan buddhist mandala

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot – Four Quartets

Several years ago I taught a Buddhist class on the profound subject of emptiness, and I used this quote to illustrate what I felt was our true goal in life  – to consciously return home.

Not home in the sense of an external place, but as an internal place of perfect inner peace and connectedness – a state which Buddhists enticingly call the union of bliss and emptiness.

Bliss refers to our most subtle and clear-seeing level of mind, an intoxicating place existing deep down beneath the turbulence of our conceptions.

Emptiness is a little trickier. Essentially it is the theory of how things don’t exist – that is, they are empty of existing independently, either from all other phenomena, or from the minds that perceive them. Which is not the same as saying that things do not exist at all! Just that they do not exist in the way they appear to.

Of course this may sound rather strange – our world certainly appears to be a very solid and independent place, doesn’t it? It feels very much as if it’s existing ‘out there’, quite separate from our mind, which exists ‘in here’.

But as Buddha, and now quantum physicists have discovered, appearances are nearly always deceptive, and our reality is far from ‘real’. Like a dream, a mirage, a magician’s illusion… while things do exist, it is only just, and not in the solid way they appear to.

With our mind we make the world

 Buddha said, and while this in itself is not a problem (in fact in the end it is the key to the solution) failing to understanding the world’s illusory nature is.

For when we fail to recognize the intimate connection between mind and its projections, we find ourselves searching through all  the world’s places for the answer to our problems.  Not understanding the true internal origination of our pleasure and pain, we expect more from life than it can realistically deliver, and are left constantly, heartbreakingly wanting…

Spiritual paths (of all descriptions) take us in the opposite direction. Buddhist means ‘inner being’ and its practises take you on an internal journey, returning you to your very source, your own true nature, emptiness.

As we meditate we delve deeper and deeper inside our own minds, exploring down through ever more subtle levels and challenging ourselves to redefine who we think we are.

We try to bring our conscious awareness to this process, even during times of sleep and death, for it is at these times of least external distraction that we have the greatest opportunity to access the most clear seeing level of mind – the clear light of  bliss.

When this blissful state is manifest our mind is naturally unclouded by the stories it habitually creates about our world, ourselves and others. During these moments we have a powerful opportunity to understand our own true nature and to reunite with our true ‘home’. Tragically, for most, this opportunity is missed.

Like a tourist lulled into unconsciousness on a train, we sleep through what  passes by outside the window of our perceptions, never fully aware, and therefore never fully able to experience it. Night after night, life after life, our internal explorations naturally take us ‘home’, but time and again we fail to recognize it clearly – for what it is, or for who we are.

Hoodwinked by the dream of our own projections, we grasp instead onto what is not (was never) really there, except in our own minds making…

As Albert Einstein said,

Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.

Our search for happiness (or satisfaction, peace, home, enlightenment) in all its myriad expressions (as urgings for love, sex, drugs, shoes, money, success) is really all about this divine drive for union with our true selves.

As Eliot pointed out in the Four Quartets, this is our real job, our highest purpose – to return to that primordial union of bliss and emptiness (or God, he would call it) and to consciously know that state for the first time.  To recognize ourselves as we really are – free of race, gender, job, social status, ego; what’s left after all these are gone is what there is.

But this is at least a lifetimes work, perhaps many lifetimes…

Was T. S. Eliot a Buddhist?  Being a Christian, I’m sure he would not have said so.  And yet, unsurprisingly, it seems our shared purpose is the same.

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An Uneasy Equilibrium

The Devil Tarot card from the 1910 Rider-Smith-Waite Tarot Deck.

The Devil Tarot Card depicts control, enslavement and loss of spiritual purpose

When you are here I want you gone, and when you are gone I want you here – we only just hang together, you and I.  The push-pull energy between us is an uneasy equilibrium, always ready to explode, or implode.

Without you I can expand into the day, read outside in the late afternoon sun, have toast and tea for dinner, find time to play.  I can be free of the force of your anxiety that keeps pulling us, and pushing us, through our day –

Hurtling towards what? I ask you
Rest, you grumble.
Death, I say.

(Careful, don’t be in too much of a hurry…)

Tonight you thunder-storm into our warm little kitchen and my heart pales grey because I can see  that you are upset and need to fight.  So I slow my breath, and calm my voice, and try harder to love, and say,

– You’ve come in a bit grumpy.   Why don’t you just try to relax?

But you don’t want to relax. You need to throw off your uncomfortable feelings, and the best way you know how is to push them into me.

– Relax? you say, how can I relax, when I’ve been running around all day?

And so it goes…and as the poison flows I see that words won’t help, and finally I snap –

(Who is that crazy lady screaming, me?)

It’s a conscious decision – most of the time – and it seems to work better than patience (I know that’s a lie).  But by your own admission you’re a scorpion who can’t help but sting, and I know you won’t back off until I make you.

(Oh why do I have to make you?  Why can’t you see that  I’m not angry with you, I’m not scared of you, I’m not fighting with you –  I’m just trying to figure out how to make you stop!  Why won’t you stop?)

Perhaps it’s because it feels too good to stop…

Now we circle each other like two fighting dogs with our minds, teeth bared, hair bristling, both of us eyeing the jugular.

How I wish it could be different.  How I long to arch my pale white neck and place the sharp blade in your trustworthy hands – I think I could do it, if you would; you wish you could, but can’t.  In the end, vulnerability is ill-advised with you.

It used to be more of a game, an explosive break-up and make-up.  Now the problem is that if we go down, we take our little ones with us.  And their eyes go so scarily wide when you scream, and even wider when I lose it.  Their innocence keeps us honest and, at the edge of the cliff, just sane enough not to step off –

I grab your face and search your eyes, trying to draw out the good person I know suffers in there.  A moment of clarity flashes between us and in its painful glare we glimpse our love lying shredded at our feet.  We realize we are naked, that we have stripped each other bare, and are ashamed.

This is such a dangerous dance.

I take your hand and we carefully back away –

Water water everywhere…

 The The Ace of Cups Tarot Card from the 1910 Rider-Smith-Waite Tarot Deck.

The Ace of Cups Tarot Card expresses emotional connection and spiritual fulfilment

No water and a vomity child – there’s the rub! The street is full of trucks and noise and men in orange vests all trying to fix the problem. The house is full of dirty bowls and towels and unwashed hands, and no way to clean them.

Inside we sit, my little girl and I; she cries and cries and only wants to cuddle, nothing else – as if I had the power to fix her problems.

I hold her while I look around in mild desperation at the uncleared breakfast, uncooked dinner, ever mounting mound of unwashed clothes…

I try to disentangle and then stop – her face is liverish blotchy and her eyes are wide with belladonna –  she needs me and she trusts me and I cannot let her down.

I sigh and settle back into the couch. A mother’s life is thus, so simultaneously mundane and sacred it stretches and explodes your heart like a dream death every second.  And just before you’re sure you cannot stand it any longer your love, like life, so bittersweet it nearly kills you, is breathtakingly born anew –

Unbelievably, ridiculously, stronger for its testing.

What to do?

My body is stiff from so much sitting. We walk to the window searching for diversion. The cacophony of men and trucks is gradually quietening and clearing. Already, the winter day is darkening. I try the tap and relief gushes out in a thick brown muddy stream.

Blessings rain down into me and I am full.

Manifesto To Myself

 The Magician Tarot Card from the 1910 Rider -Smith -Waite Deck.

The Magician Tarot Card represents manifesting possibilities and beginning new projects.

So, the dust must lie and the dishes sit, now is the time to write.

I clear the house of children and husband and draw myself back to this – a pen, some paper and an internally inquiring mind (for that is how I still write, with much crossing out and scrawling and room for mental movement in all directions).

Your money follows your priorities a very straight forward lady once told me and, observing throughout my life, I tend to agree.  Ever mindful of its finite nature, we’re so carefull of how we spend our money, but what about how we spend our time, a more precious commodity?

We fritter it away as if it will flow on forever, as if there were an unending stream of it in which to live how we wish, to love how we wish, to become who we wish…

As if we had all the slow-moving time in the world to attend to important things – later.

I say we, but I mean me – I have  been guilty of this.  I’ve let life tug me, like a weed in the wind, far away from where I know I should be –

When I was a girl I wanted three things – ten children (I got three); to be a nun (Catholic, I didn’t know of any other, now I think of it as a longing to merge with God, although I don’t believe in God); and to write.  An unusual child!

I would run through the bush whispering prayers to the trees to reveal themselves to me. I would cry out –  to I didn’t know who – to come and commune with me. I felt the strange and the sacred pumping like blood in my veins, everywhere, and wanted to channel it through me (and now onto this page).

But like a child in a fairytale who forgets what they set out for, somehow, I was waylaid. By family and friends and houses and jobs and life’s lures and responsibilities. Lulled into forgetfulness, I hardly remembered how I used to be…

The sacred in the mundane stopped appearing to me.

I put down my pen and paper and attended to grown up things –

But enough.

Now is not the time to dust or wash or vacuum!  Let the dust lie and the dishes sit.

Now is the time to write.