Once upon a time, when my true love and I were newly enraptured with each other's charms, and for quite a surprising length of time afterward, my true love got it into his head that I was a bodhisattva. When I found out what that was and stopped laughing, I strenuously denied it, of course, and for better or worse, over the course of our long relationship I do believe my love's thinking on this topic has been quite thoroughly corrected..
Bodhisattva, indeed. I cannot even practice Buddhism. I cannot even be relied upon to read Buddhist texts without stamping my foot impatiently and arguing with the writer(s). In the company of friends and my true love, I once attended a seminar featuring Thich Nhat Hanh at the Hynes Convention Center. It was my idea, and I paid over $20 per ticket. Yet within twenty minutes I had grown so irritated that I had to leave the hall and pace outside 'til the first break, when we all left together.*
Though several concepts of which many Buddhists write quite beautifully fascinate and resonate within me, the fatal flaw for me in this religion is the teaching of detachment.
Yesterday sucked. Today sucks slightly less only because it is not yesterday, and it is not the day before yesterday when I still had yesterday to look forward to. Yesterday sucked and today sucks, too, and tomorrow stands a very good chance of sucking just about as much as today, though I won't know 'til I get there, all because I attached myself wholeheartedly to someone mortal, and I chose to be the agent of his mortality in order to end what had quickly turned into his overwhelming suffering, thereby accelerating my own.** The only thing I would have done differently, if I could, would have been to love him more.
For me, if you go through your whole life without attaching yourself wholeheartedly to something, someone, to anything and everything wonderful you are given -- every bird while it sings, every flower while it blooms -- then what has been the point? Life hurts. It hurts for everyone. It's supposed to hurt. It doesn't have to hurt as much as it does for some people, and no one should be the agent of that. But everyone has to go through some fire, some beautiful horrible fire, one way or another, or else it's not life.
Detachment is for death. Sooner or later, and really it's going to be a lot sooner than anyone ever thinks, we will each detach from each other, from every unspeakable beauty and every searing pain, permanently. And if you're lucky, if you've lived a rich and meaningful life, even if it's a very small life, it won't be a gentle detachment but a terrible rending away that hurts, that hurts you and hurts whom you leave behind almost unsurvivably (even though it will be, must be survived), because the love that has been yours has been roots deep, fiercely protected and tenderly cultivated by everyone who has allowed himself to be bound up in it, even knowing it must end, badly.
I do not understand. I understand that pain hurts, and I would never go looking for it just for its own sake. But it's what life costs. I can't imagine not really getting in there and living, and loving, and yes, attaching just because it will end badly, always, always, and it will always hurt, always to some magnitude that feels unbearable but is always borne.
I get mindfulness. I get compassion and living in the moment. I fully see and experience their value.
I do not get detachment. I do not see the point.
Maybe I sound like an idiot or just terribly ignorant. Maybe some bodhisattva somewhere can explain it to me.
*I still don't know why I experienced this nearly allergic reaction. It may have had to do with the stage being filled with kneeling, bell-ringing, incense-burning acolytes surrounding the great teacher, the (to me) horrifyingly ritualistic presentation of what I thought was only going to be a simple lecture by a guy smarter than I am. It may have had to do with the aggressive marketing of TNH swag (mostly books, to be fair) in the lobby. It may have been the size of the venue and the shockingly poor acoustics.
Or it may have been that I couldn't hear the man speak because every time he opened his mouth I started arguing with him in my head. I was raised Jewish, and though I've never practiced it as an adult, arguing and questioning are part of my culture.
Too bad for me in any event, because TNH really does seem to be a smart and wonderful guy whose 14 precepts alone, which you can find on the bottom third or so of this page, are something I personally find very worthwhile -- even though I would argue specific points on some of them.
**Rereading this sentence, it occurs to me that there are two ways to read it, the way I meant, which is to describe what happened to my cat, or the way I didn't mean, which could potentially land me in jail. Rest assured, no crimes were committed.