Sunday, August 21, 2011

What Happens When You Cut Up an Elephant?

Cut this elephant in four pieces? Ouch!
Today I woke early from a troubling dream.  The images came from seeing elephant imagery in Buddhist art, and the 'trouble' from a timeless summer conversation on the porch of a meditation studio with my Buddhist teacher, Brian Arnell, and a friend.

I said that there could be no higher motivation in life than to aspire to be a loving person. Brian answered that while on a daily-life basis this is true, pure Buddhism would say that to make "loving" the highest goal is limiting because it only has meaning in reference to its opposite its opposite--hatred, or "not-loving."  He added that there is something "beyond" those competing values.

So, as I struggle to understand it, "love" is conceptually tied to a dualism that is conditioned on some kind of conceptual, conditional battle (good vs. evil). In Buddhism, there's a higher goal than anything dualistic, something called Nibbana, something that my familiar world of love, pain, and stories does not comprehend.  I felt threatened when Brian talked about something that touched on emptiness--I felt I could be annihilated in a bland, cosmic cream soup.  Do I really WANT enlightenment?

At the same time, it was a lovely moment. I wanted our gauzy summer talk to go on all night.We dipped in and out of topics; the moon was overhead. I lost track of time. (Thanks to Anne Arian for the lovely "gauzy summer" description.)

In the dream I had afterwards, someone was telling me about elephants: "If you cut an elephant into four pieces, it won't walk again, but there is a high rate of survival."  I don't know what says about quality of life!  Imagine trying to wash yourself with a trunk sliced down the middle.  The dream filled me with horror.  Did the "high survival rate" mean that the quartered parts would exist in a helpless, monster state, like living specimens in some veterinary equivalent of the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia?
Used by permission of  the (very cool) publisher, www.blastbooks.com

In other words, it means that I find the whole Buddhist thing a little scary.  If I follow this path, is it the end of "me"?  Well, that's okay. I found Christianity scary, too, but not for the fundamentalist qualities that (say) The Simpsons and other pop culture icons lampoon so accurately.  Small minded literalism is actually pretty easy to dispense with.  But any spiritual practice that truly touches on The Divine will tug at the seams of one's patched-together sense of reality. (In the Bible, people who encounter angels tend to wet their pants.  Only in the Hallmark store are angels pretty beings who hang out on coffee mugs.)

Have you had "elephant dreams" that touched on fears about your spiritual life?
Ooh, scary.  Souls sucked up in a divine vacuum cleaner in Dante's Inferno.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very nice narrative about Buddhism and feelings the practice opens up. and beautifully described. To steal a thought from G. Stein, awareness is awareness is awareness.
george

Robert F Thompson said...

You are forever, it’s only the identification with thought forms that we lose, and that’s a very wonderful thing, though the ego tells us otherwise. Dreams, both the sleeping and waking ones, are teachers too, plus, it’s all for fun so smile along the way.

Patty said...

Well, it was a fear of my spirituality in peril. I was having problems in my work place that I was finding harrowing. There had been a change in management, and until then, my co-workers and I had been good friends, and for the most part we trusted each other. New management felt threatened by that, and they set to work pitting us against each other. I saw people who had been trustworthy and loyal assuming the behavior of management. One thing management would prod people to do was to watch what co-workers do, and if we saw them doing anything out of line, management wanted us to make a note of the time, date, and location, and report back to them. I wouldn't do it, but some did. While this was going on, I had recurring nightmares of coming upon a co-worker I'd known for years, and I'd approach them. Their face would fall to the side, and under their face was a terrifying creature, a monster, and it would come after me. I would flee from it, terrified. I wasn't afraid that it would hurt me physically, even though it had very long, sharp teeth. I was terrified that it would take my mind and my soul from me, and I would become like my co-workers who had changed and become like management. I would wake up shaking.

HelenQP said...

Dear Anonymous George, Gertrude Stein never made so much sense. Thank you!

Robert,
I like the emphasis on fun! Sometimes the dreams are a bit like being in a haunted house, though...but when you approach with ego lowered, they reveal treasures.

Patty,
This experience sounds terrible. I really feel for you. But it's touching how you express the value of the soul-- it's worth fighting for & facing the dehumanization represented by the fangs/managers. I hope things worked out at that job or that you were able to find a more congenial workplace!