A Realization

John Cowan


Do you know that Einstein realized the truth of the theory of relativity before he proved it? Realization came first. Math came second.

I am struggling to realize something. The Stoics, I recently read, pursued two states. The first was “Inward Collectedness.” Have your depths known and in good order would be my translation. Have your arms around you. And the second was an orientation to the outer world, called “Indifference.” Realize that the outer world has no effect on you. If it does, that is your own doing.

Thousands of words by hundreds of famous people have been written to explain such as that when your son dies it is really not a big deal. I mean everybody dies, get used to it.

The Buddha had a really good buddy on his executive team that everybody liked, let us call him “Sam.” And another, we shall call “Ralph,“ who was smart as a whip. Ralph enjoyed putting Sam down as the stupid, ignorant stub that he was.

There was a woman, not on the team of course, who we shall call “Mary,” who listened to this junk until she could no longer stomach it, and then she read Ralph the riot act. “Heartless clod etc.” He responded, “Hey, it is just the truth you know.”

So she went to Sam and said, “Why do you take this crap?” And he said, “Well it is just the truth you know.”

And of course it was just the truth. Mary left the gang three weeks later. The guys never knew why. My guess is that she did not know why either, she just realized that this situation was deeply wrong. In her gut so to speak, or maybe better, in her womb. (This is recorded in the Pali Canon, the Discourses of the Buddha from about 500 BC Factually reported without comment. I bet the authors of the canon had no idea what this woman’s problem was.)

Spirituality is not about thinking. It is about realizing. Sometimes thinking can offer a window through which to peek. But nothing happens until in your gut somewhere, (the scriptures says “bowels” a lot,) you realize the truth. Since my bowels do not respond with realization to “indifference” I am considering what I shall mean instead of it. I realize that despite my wishing otherwise the Stoics have something wrong here. I am now working on the math.

And the math says: If you are trying to become impervious to the outside world you are creating an arid monster. However, if you plan on becoming accepting of your reactions including your pain and not adding to the pain by cursing the fact that such things happen, you are creating a mature human being. In the first case you must become insensitive. In the second you remain emotional, capable of joy and sorrow.

The third option is that you allow your emotions to kick you around with no capacity to see them for what they are. From that O lord, deliver me. I think that is what the Stoics were trying to avoid but they avoided it at a terrible price, as do many Buddhists and some Christians.

But not all Buddhists. There is a story of a Zen master of the centuries of mastery who was found weeping on his bed. When asked why he wept, he said, “My son died.” His disciples reminded him that he had taught that everything passes and clinging to what will pass will provoke suffering. He said, “I understand that.” So they asked, “Why then are you weeping?” He responded, “Because my son died.”

My reading of that is that he knows the deep truth that clinging creates suffering but right now he is doing the human thing of clinging to an absent son and he will suffer. Perhaps later he will cling less. The knowledge of the Noble Truth that clinging is the cause of suffering is helpful, but does not stop him choosing to be human.

I am a Christian given to seeing the worth of other religions, and religious people. However my hero died on a cross. A suffering that could have been avoided. Most likely if his love for others had not driven him and he had not preached the Good News in Jerusalem where Rome was alert to the slightest hint of sedition, and the religious leaders were looking for any excuse to drag him down, he would have lived at least to an older age. There is a price tag on love, and it is called suffering.

If I see the picture of a little boy from the other side of the world washed up on a beach, I plan to suffer. How am I so certain of that? It and things like it happen all the time. I have seen such often. My heart breaks. That hurts.

But who would I be if it did not.