Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Dies Irae

I am returning to D. H. Lawrence today, with an excerpt from his pansie “Dies Irae”

and we know not how to live wordless
we live an a vast house
full of activities,
and the noise, and the stench, and the dreariness,
  and lack of meaning
madden us, but we don’t know what to do.”

Lawrence might have enjoyed an MBSR course or a vipassana retreat. In 1929, these were scarcely available in the West. He would have needed to travel to India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, or Ceylon to find such teachings. In fact, Lawrence did travel to Ceylon and spent six weeks there in 1922. Curiously this trip to one of the repositories of Theravadan Buddhism turned him off to Buddhism. He eschewed the opportunity to study and go within himself while there, deciding that it was a bogus inwardness. The Buddha frustrated him and he was known to say upon seeing a seated Buddha statue “Oh I wish he would stand up!” While Buddhism was not his cup of tea, the tantric practices of Hinduism apparently were. I think Lawrence might have enjoyed and connected with vipassana, if he had gotten past his biases. Of course, this is a presumption on my part. Reading the Path to Mindfulness, by Bhante Gunaratana (or Bhante G), reveals the day-to-day monastic life of Buddhists in Ceylon. As is the case currently in Japan with Zen, institutional Buddhism looks very different from the contemplative practice of vipassana. Buddhists in Ceylon go to temple to ask for blessings and to perform rituals. The monks were often engaged in small-mindedness, harsh treatments, and petty power struggles. They do not go to meditate. In fact, Bhante G. had very little meditation practice early in his monastic training. So, the Buddhism D. H. Lawrence was exposed to, was likely this exterior form, which bears little resemblance to what the Buddha actually did himself.

No comments: