the four thoughts. the last thought, I promise.

ahhh. whatever other life forms there may be in this universe or in other universes, I hope they are able to experience something as unambiguously and uncomplicatedly Good as cool sparkling water.

someone somewhere probably thinks the same thing about boiling ammonia.

Because this is another post on the same topic but I want to keep them all cross-referenceable here is the name of the book that inspired this verbal onslaught: The Buddha at War: Peaceful Heart, Courageous Action in Troubled Times, by one Robert Sachs, formerly unknown to me. The topic is The Four Thoughts that Revolutionize the Mind and in a minute I will stop writing as though I were reading into a tape recorder or making podcasts.

Somebody needs to do “Krapp’s Last Tape” where Krapp is fumbling with podcasts using an ancient version of iTunes.

OK maybe not. Bad idea. Nevermind.

The Fourth Thought, which isn’t articulated in an easy-to-encapsulate form, is really a restatement of the other three in a more succinct phrase or two, or a conclusion to the argument they present, or perhaps both. Sachs’ section heading reads “Thought 4: No time to waste and nowhere to run,” and then a little further along he refers to Pema Chödrön’s book, The Wisdom of No Escape (50-51). Between these two headings seems to lie the sense of the Fourth Thought, although he doesn’t make it clear exactly what the Fourth Thought states in so many words, or that is it is this many words that state it but I don’t know what a direct translation of it would be.

(For that matter I’m not sure where in the Buddhist canon these Four Thoughts come from. He doesn’t really say, beyond stating that “these four notions are called by different names.” I’m not yet familiar enough with either the written or oral tradition of Buddhism to be able to say who might be doing the calling. He does include a bibliography, which is very unlike the Zen Buddhist texts I’ve mostly read. Funny thing about Buddhism: the origins of its precepts are often obscure. I’d read some significance into this but there isn’t time.)

For some reason this Thought reminds me of Giorgio Agamben’s statement in The Coming Community that the world is forever both contingently necessary and necessarily contingent. Sorry I can’t tell you what page number that occurs on but it is early on in what is a very short book anyway. Right now I cannot seem to locate it in the proliferation of stacks behind stacks behind stacks of books in my general vicinity. But without going too deeply into the Western philosophical notions of contingency and necessity, which in classical thought are opposed and therefore mutually exclusive, I’ll just observe that here they are combined as modifiers of each other when usually they occur as a dichotomy and I think that Agamben does this quite knowingly and deliberately. Briefly, what this statement means is that the universe is pulled together completely by random chance and yet it is determined through and through by those chance-determined relations. For Nietzsche, this is the divine dice throw: the opening gamble that is our world, and we in it, “thrown” here–if one doesn’t mind Heidegger too much to use that word once and never again mention him–completely beyond our own agency and against inestimable odds, and yet we are caught in the matrix of forces and actions that have unfolded ever since the very first thing went “right,” in a way that is both deterministic and unpredictable.

I guess these three and a half thoughts are related to each other in that they describe our “irreparable” condition of being caught in an infinite web that we cannot untangle and yet for which we are responsible insofar as whatever we do will send waves through this web and will change it just as irreparably as we are changed by the waves that roll through us. Between these thoughts and the thought of impermanence, it seems as though we are short on both time and space in a certain way, those metaphysical dimensions so dear to Western existence: the moment is all we have to act in, and we are so tightly bound to other beings that, not only is our absolute distinctness from them questionable (trust me on this one for now), but whatever we do will have an effect on everything else, forever. In a way that we cannot predict.

There are lots of questions about free will begging to be asked here but I’m not going to ask them for now, as I think the distinction between free will and the lack thereof is another dichotomy whose paradoxical dimensions have not been thoroughly explored by anyone I’ve yet met. And although I do have thoughts on the subject, ultimately they are tangential to what we’ve been looking at. But perhaps I should say this much: I think it is entirely possible that we can believe we have free will even while suspecting that we don’t, really. And I think that it is possible that the notion of free will is one that arose according to certain necessities. That’s as much as I think I can quickly say on the subject without stopping to interrogate this dichotomy as to its absoluteness. So. If you want to do this I’d love to read it.

But you do see how this Fourth Thought gathers the first Three together. Or perhaps the First Thought is the one we have to go back and read after we’ve read the Fourth: to love this life, to love the place in which we are caught, to love that we are caught, responsible yet entirely without our own consent, in a space where nothing is certain, few things are predictable, and every moment is crucial. And to love it with the “peaceful heart” in the title of this particular book. But I haven’t quite gotten that far yet, so I can’t say for certain what this peace consists of, but I think it might have something to do with a conversation I had earlier today in which it was offered that growing older yet becoming less and less sure is itself a way of becoming comfortable with our existence, jammed up as we are against the unknown and the unknowable. So much so that we are on intimate terms with what we cannot know. For psychoanalysis, what we cannot know is sometimes the unconscious and sometimes death; for Buddhism, what we cannot know is, among other things, the source of compassion.

If you would like, think about that for a little while.

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