Saturday, March 28, 2009

he did not become indifferent . . .

image courtesy tanya ruka

if i lived my life full in the knowledge that each moment might be my last, how different would i appear? to others - to myself.

i was brought to that thought after reading al purdy's poem "lu yu (ad 1125-1209)". reading it brought to mind the parable from the mahabharata relating the plight of the man who has fallen into a pit.

al's poem reads . . . .

on the day of lu yu's last sickness
a thin coffin was ready,
and two quilts to cover him,
and the gravediggers paid
their work done.
then he started to write another poem
a short time before death,
about drinking wine again in the village -
he was working on the poem when they buried him,
so that half a line protruded from the earth
in wind and weather's hearing -
with sunlight touching the first young syllables,
the last ones flowering from a dark coffin:
"marketplace the in/drink more one"
the first three words above ground
the last ones wine in the red dust.
near the village of shanyang
in chekiang province…

the man in the wilderness - a parable from mahabharata from stree parva (the book of women). from the translation by kisari mohan ganguli

vidura said:

"a certain brahmana, living in the great world found himself on one occasion in a large inaccessible forest teaming with beasts of prey. it abounded on every side with lions and other animals looking like elephants, all of which were engaged in roaring aloud. such was the aspect of that forest that yama himself would take fright at it.

beholding the forest, the heart of the brahmana became exceedingly agitated. his hair stood on end, and other signs of fear manifested themselves, o scorcher of foes! entering it, he began to run hither and thither, casting his eyes on every point of the compass for finding out somebody whose shelter he might seek. wishing to avoid those terrible creatures, he ran in fright. he could not succeed, however, in distancing them or freeing himself from their presence.

he then saw that the terrible forest was surrounded by a net, and that a frightful woman stood there stretching her arms. that large forest was also encompassed by many five-headed snakes of dreadful forms, tall as cliffs and touching the very heavens.

within it was a pit whose mouth was covered with many hard and unyielding creepers and herbs. the brahmana, in course of his wanderings fell into that invisible pit. he became entangled in those clusters of creepers that were interwoven with one another, like the large fruit of a jack tree hanging by its stalk. he continued to hang there, feet upwards and head downwards while he was in that posture, diverse other calamities overtook him.

he beheld a large and mighty snake within the pit. he also saw a gigantic elephant near its mouth. that elephant, dark in complexion, had six faces and twelve feet. and the animal gradually approached that pit covered with creepers and trees.

about the twigs of the tree (that stood at the mouth of the pit), rowed many bees of frightful forms, employed from before in drinking the honey gathered in their comb about which they swarmed in large numbers. repeatedly they desired, o bull of the bharatha's race, to taste that honey which though sweet to all creatures, however attracts children only. the honey (collected in the comb) fell in many jets below. the person who was hanging in the pit continually drank those jets. employed, in such a distressful situation, in drinking that honey, his thirst, however, could not be appeased.

o king, he did not become indifferent to life. even there, the man continued to hope for existence.

a number of black and white rats were eating away the roots of that tree. there was fear from the beasts of prey, from that fierce woman on the outskirts of the forest, from that snake at the bottom of the well, from that elephant near its tip, from the fall of the tree through the action of the rats and lastly from the bees flying about for tasting the honey. In that plight he continued to dwell, deprived of his senses, in that wilderness, never losing at any time the hope of prolonging his life.

if i lived my life full in the knowledge that each moment might be my last, how different would i appear? to others - to myself. how would the quality of my life change? how would the quality of the lives of those around me change? how could i live my life that way and not live without consideration for myself and others?

it all seems so obvious. it all seems so distant.