"When understood, the Buddha’s universe..is anything but alien and inhibiting. It is a world full of hope, where everything we need to do can be done and everything that matters is within human reach. It is a world where kindness, unselfishness, non-violence, and compassion achieve what self-interest and arrogance cannot. It is a world where any human can be happy in goodness and the fullness of giving." ❦ Eknath Easwara

January 28, 2013

A Meditation on the Joy of Learning

The great naturalist Loren Eiseley once wrote:

"The journey is difficult, immense. We will travel as far as we can, but we cannot in one lifetime see all that we would like to see or to learn all that we hunger to know."

Of the many aches of life, and knowing (to the degree one has really looked into it) one's own mortality, and that of loved ones, and indeed, the mortality of all fabricated, conditional, material things, right down to protons and neutrons, I think this realization is one of the hardest for me to accept.

Perhaps my greatest joy in life is learning about things—about people, about nature, about science, about art, about music—and while even this could be argued, from some Buddhist standpoints, as a source of suffering, I have never found it so.  The hunger?  Yes, that can be suffering, if it comes from grasping, clinging, and some sense of incompleteness and dualism of self and other.

But the learning itself?  In that, in getting to know "myself" and "the other," I have always found a joy that outweighs all else, indeed a joy that in its very nature, it seems to me, has no suffering.  While, yes, that joy comes and goes, flames and then fades, which could be argued as evidence that learning, getting to know, is finally conditional and a fabrication that is of the nature of anicca, impermanence, the learning itself, the process, seems to me to be unconditional in its nature.  It seems to me a glimpse, perhaps of something that does not partake of the three characteristic of suffering, maybe even something deathless.

Be that as it may, some day, I will die, you will die, we all die, and in whatever lifetime we may have had, when that day comes, there will still be so much more we might like to see or learn and know. Some, again, will argue, that this longing to know more is what perpetuates the wheel of suffering and rebirth, if one believes in that, and others will just see that unfulfilled longing as the great sorrow of being a finite being who comes and goes in an instant of cosmic time.

Whatever may, or may not be, about there being something more than death, or "after" death, I am sure of this, at least:  that this life is so very, very precious and dear and it is the greatest of gifts to be alive, to be conscious, to get to know, and to get to love, and be loved.  And if in fact, this short time is "it," then cherishing the learning, embracing the knowing and getting to know, is the most quintessentially deep and human thing we can do.  Each day is a great gift.  Each day is a miracle.

So, what are we going to learn, you and I, on this most precious day in the history of the universe?  What new horizon and opening up awaits us, today, and tomorrow?  The most mundane thing can be a window into wonder, and even joy, if we are truly awakening and paying attention to what is, what arises, and what passes away.


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