By Olujide Adebayo-Begun
Many thanks for your article “Descent of the Merkavah!” I recently attended a ten-day Vipassana retreat, organized by the Vipassana International Association (SN Goenka school), held at the Emrich Center, Brighton, Michigan; a 26-acre retreat center with very beautiful lawns and wooded area. The course duration was ten days, excluding the days of arrival and departure. The daily routine was ten to twelve hours of meditation, interspersed with hour-long breaks in order to get meals (which were very delicious vegetarian fares), shower or rest. And for the ten days there was a law of noble silence, which meant meditators could not communicate with themselves through any form or gesture. The experience was a powerful one, but also left me with a certain feeling of ambivalence, and with reservations which, at first, I could not quite bring into focus. Your article hits straight at the heart of my apprehension about the Goenka method, and gives me permission to articulate my dissent. Prior to the ten-day retreat, I knew very little about Buddhism, and this retreat served as an introduction of some sort.
The thrust of the method to the extent of its revelation in the ten-day program is that since everything in existence is a sensation that rises and passes away, it’s pointless having either craving or aversion to anything. Unfortunately most of us humans have failed to realize this, hence there’s misery. Every craving and aversion generates impressions known as samskaras which manifest as bodily sensations and perpetuate human misery. Vipassana technique entails observing bodily sensations- samskaras- with equanimity. By merely observing with equanimity, the human being would cease generating new samskaras and old samskaras will be forced to come out to the surface and be dealt with. And not only that, the person would transcend both body and mind, achieve nibbanic peace, and find true happiness, love and compassion. I find the technique to be simple and very effective in exploring the body-mind connection. The silence, over the ten-day period, dramatically concentrated my mind, and practically forced me on an inner ride. However my grouse is the definition of the human condition implied in the vipassana technique.
Over the course of the program I heard so much about life being misery and my mind kept asking: why is it so? If all is nothing but passing sensations, I ask: what is the method to the madness of the anitya? Why did they ever arise to pass away?
And while at it, I thought about some of your ideas and realized quite clearly that I am a happy pagan- not afraid of death, not afraid of misery: you once said something about the need to “respond with orgiastic laughter to a dare.” This paganistic, ecstastic hubris sustains the wheels of the universe, creates joyous illusion, distributes ashe, occasions a pleroma of tragic beauty whose alternative is nothingness and dearth. We’ll pass away. So what? My understanding of human existence was never really so turgid as to create anxiety over our passing away. That which arises to pass away is also the thing that exists beyond mind and matter. We have always been a wish-fantasy of the chthonic realm. We are a trick of frozen light. An offshoot of a cosmic prank, a love note from nothing to nothing. The real miracle, I think, is not enlightenment. The real miracle is the illusion of separation, of movement, of the head that thinks and the legs that walk, the real, magical feat is the creation of pain and pleasure. If the difference between the world of particulars and world of forms is only illusory, then perhaps what is needed is a widening of horizon, we must counter misery with a sensitive and yet robust felicity, a felicity that is keen on equanimity, and sophisticated enough to see misery as the other side of the coin to joy, both being temporal, and both being indispensable to the human condition.
Your article not only implicitly assumes this, it makes a powerful yet subtle prognostication of the way forward (I use way forward lightly) which is “repair the rip in the structure of the cosmos.” As you said- the peace on earth is not ours, we must travel on the wings of paradox to our true home. We are not the meek to whom the inheritance of the earth has been promised. We must see our true face! And your writing nails it, kills it. After it, there’s nothing to say, nothing to add: I cannot overstate how much of pleasure and understanding I derive from reading your works! One day I had to burst out to my colleagues in the MFA world about your work-forget your fatuous obsession with plot and publishability, come and see writing and bow!
You write so well about these things that comments are almost superfluous lol. Your writing has anticipated it all. The ultimate challenge is a paradox, a paradox which the reading of your works, over the course of several months, has illuminated quite clearly for me: how do we make Ashe dance after we have repaired the rip in the structure of the cosmos? You make two suggestions- we have to master the art of bi-location, to be the shadow and the substance at the same time, to equip our hardware with a factory-fitted fully developed Eshu and then some. But the second suggestion is more tantalizing, which hints at the "end of all descent... geometrically encoded in its origin": “He is superior to the Universals in his privation and unknowability. For he is not perfect but he is another thing that is superior...He is not corporeal. He is not incorporeal. He is not a number. He is not a creature. Nor is he something that exists...And he is much higher in beauty than all those that are good, and he is thus unknowable to all of them in every respect. And through them all he is in them all, not only as the occult knowledge that is proper to him. And he is united with the ignorance that sees him.” Achieving this will be the ultimate triumph of Ashe. We would have flown into that which cannot be named!