Dhammapada, a collection of verses of Shakyamuni Buddha
Standing Buddha, 591 Northeast India or Nepal - Gupta/Licchavi period - Cleveland Museum of Art
The Mind: 41
All too soon, this body will lie on the ground cast off, bereft of consciousness, like a useless scrap of wood.
People have wondered about our human bonbuness - our tendency to behave like humans instead of gods - for a long time. The two masks, “Thalia and Melpomene,” the Greek muses of inspiration for the arts, evolved around 2,500 years ago. One mask was for ‘tragedy’ and one for ‘comedy.’ Today we think of them as themes for entertainment - either sadness or funny - but it wasn’t always like that.
Aristotle, in 335 BCE thought about them from a literary perspective and wrote down rules in his Poetics
for what makes for a good tragedy or comedy. Literature, in order to endure, reflects our human condition, both masks. Aristotle wrote the rules and the Shakespeare plays, about 1,900 years later, followed these rules writing plays we still attend today.
What are the rules? In part, the rule for tragedy requires the hero, the protagonist, to be an important person but have a human character flaw like excessive love, ambition, pride, etc. (sound familiar?). This hero’s high position is compromised because of this tragic flaw, not because of an accident or causes and conditions, but because of the hero’s own choices. The hero, once in a high and important position has fallen, all is lost. We feel sorry for this person, we feel pity, and we feel many things including fear that we too have flaws and may end up in the same boat, a boat with a hole in the hull.
The rule for comedy is simple: no one dies.
The tragic flaw is the literary term for imperfections in us, imperfections that lead to our own downfall. Bonbu
is real world term that describes us. We individually unique bonbus stumble over our flaws or imperfections every day by the choices we make.
Do we consciously choose to put aside compassion, wisdom and gratitude and select an “easier” or more ego oriented path? Do we prefer “my way or the highway” path that leads us deeper into our own ego centric world? I know I do, maybe not as often, but when I do, I know it leads to dukkha/dissatisfaction/suffering, a path away from awakening to the reality of this world.
It may sound an odd way of putting this, but I think of Amida Buddha’s calling out to us as a way leading us away from the tragic. When I listen, hear and entrust the call, I can let go of at least some of my ego. When I do that and entrust the call, it begins to turn dukkha/tragedy toward the other mask, liberation away from dukkha.
This is just a thought to think about the next time our bonbuness gets in the way. The next time we become miserable over not getting what we want or, getting what we want and realizing it isn’t what we wanted after all. Then, we may hear Amida Buddha calling us, just as we are, and, become a bit wiser, a bit more compassionate, and a bit more grateful. We let go of our ego attachment, our tragedy.
Excerpts of Buddhist voices across teachings, across continents, across time.
Breathing by Thich Nhat Hanh
Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. I am the freshness of a dewdrop. Breathing out, my eyes have become flowers. Please look at me. I am looking with the eyes of love.
Breathing in, I am a mountain, imperturbable, still, alive, vigorous. Breathing out, I feel solid. The waves of emotion can never carry me away.
Breathing in, I am still water. I reflect the sky faithfully. Look, I have a full moon within my heart, the refreshing moon of the bodhisattva. Breathing out, I offer the perfect reflection of my mirror-mind.
Breathing in, I have become space without boundaries. I have no plans left. I have no luggage. Breathing out, I am the moon that is sailing through the sky of utmost emptiness. I am freedom.