Aging, sickness and death are inevitable and all our attempts to avoid this reality are temporary expedients that will themselves age, decay and fail. All our projects come to an end. Should we not be depressed? Should we not despair? Are our happy smiles not merely a cosmetic façade?

Yet, at the same time, we have intuitions of permanence, immortality, unconditional love, infinity, freedom. We worship beauty, truth and love. We make art and science. We strive towards well-being at many levels: sensual well-being, mental well-being, spiritual well-being, even beyond that.

This is all so: both aspects. The experience of life is deep ambivalence. Love and hate are unquenchable, endlessly protean, appearing this way, that way…

Is it possible to have a Buddhism that embraces this reality rather than one that goes on and on idealising? But is not such a Buddhism in fact what Buddha saw? But, of course, he then realised that almost nobody else would comprehend it. To embrace such a Buddhism is to keep alive the transcendent intuition while sincerely facing the fragile reality of life, of hurt, of envy, of sadness, of joy, of ambition, hope, disappointment, anger, revulsion, lethargy, worry, pride, grief, all of that. Together with the spasmodic episodes of elation, happiness and even peace, that all succeed one another like a flotilla of paper boots on a rushing stream.

It’s because of reflections like this that I’m inclined to reject many of the comfortable ideas like “Buddha Nature”, “Interdependence”, “Self-Compassion”, “Present-Momentism” that are all rife in contemporary Buddhism, but which seem only designed to sooth one into the dull self-complacency where all is well with the world, really; and, along with this, I tend to turn away from philosophies of self-perfectibility, utopian ideas of levelling society, attempts to fix the system so that everything will automatically be well. It won’t! Such efforts are self-defeating.

So, is Buddhism about obliterating greed, hate and delusion? Or is it about living with them in a more mature manner? Is it about being secular and utilitarian or is it about keeping the ideal vision alive whilst facing the realities – realities that differ from it as greatly as fish from fowl?

Taking the path of deeply admitting one’s bombu nature, both in its often discommodating superficial manifestations and also in its bottomless Stygian complexities, is certainly not a soft option, but is there anything else truly worthy? There is greed, there is hate, there is delusion. I have all of them. The path is not about becoming free from, it’s about delving into. Delving down into the haunts of the Naga serpent. As it says in the sutra: Revere the Naga serpent. Do not harm the Naga serpent. This is a watchword well worth keeping at hand. And as you do so: Namo Amida Bu.

Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much


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