29 03 2010


“There are two big forces at work, external and internal. We have very little control over external forces such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, disasters, illness and pain. What really matters is the internal force. How do I respond to those disasters? Over that I have complete control.”
— Dr. Leo Buscaglia

Yeah, right!

“How I respond to those disasters” has got to mean, at least in part, what emotions I have in response to them. How many people do you know who have “complete control” of even their mild everyday emotions? Lots of people may seem to be calm on the surface. Still, I think it’s widely understood that everyone has hard-to-deal-with emotions frequently, and that in harsh situations like “tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, disasters, illness and pain” everyone has particularly intense and unpleasant emotions, most notably fear, perhaps even TERROR — possibly followed later by GRIEF over loved ones (or parts or functions of one’s own body, for God’s sake!) lost in the disaster.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t see myself ever having “complete control” over terror or grief. Perhaps Dr. Buscaglia would care to explain to me how this little trick can be accomplished.

The only thing I’ve ever heard of that seriously claims to allow people to deal effectively with emotions like terror, fury, sorrow, intense pain, or even the continual undifferentiated physical misery that poverty can bring, is Buddhism. I recently read  a wonderful book called The Three Pillars of Zen.

It describes in detail the intense training and sometimes wrenching struggle that aspirants to Buddhist enlightenment go through in order to meditate their way to to the point where Dr. Buscaglia would have us just blithely one day decide to be.

After long, uncomfortable, and single-minded meditation, many of those aspirants to enlightenment do seem eventually to reach a certain understanding about the nature of the world….No, that’s too abstract. The aspirants eventually have a direct experience of the true nature of themselves and the world that allows them to go on to face the uncertainties and occasional horrors of this world calmly.

I believe the arduous path of Buddhism works. For one thing, it’s 2500 years old and still going strong. For another, I can never forget how, for a while during the Vietnamese War, Buddhist monks in Vietnam would occasionally burn themselves alive to protest the war.

Being a suicide bomber for Allah? OK, pretty amazing!

But going to the gas station to buy the gasoline, filling a nice big can with it, lugging it down to the public square and pouring it all over yourself, and then finally lighting yourself and proceeding to experience the most intense agony that humans can know for several minutes, until you finally die — now THAT’S “control.”

Except it’s not “control” at all. It’s the fruit of an arduously-won radical union of the self and the world. Through that deeply-felt union, one, precisely, renounces the effort to “control” anything, internal or external, and so wins a peace that is unbreakable.

Care to shut the fuck up now, Dr. Leo?