Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Narcissus and the Buddha

-evening in my meditation garden- 

In my reading yesterday I came across a fascinating article in which the mythical Narcissus was portrayed sitting next to the Buddha. I loved this depiction because it provided a "snapshot" of the fundamental basic choices we all make in this life. In essence we fundamentally choose to walk  the way of Narcissus or follow the path of the Buddha.

Both Narcissus and the Buddha begin at the same starting point by asking the question "who am I?" However, the two of them arrive at answers to that question which are diametrically opposed to one another, taking their lives in opposite directions. 

Narcissus sees his reflection in the pond and believes that the reflection is "real," and he falls in love with the delusion. His love with himself sets the course for his life.

The Buddha sits under a Bodhi tree and vows to stay there until he finds enlightenment. The Buddha begins at the same starting point as Narcissus by asking the question "who am I?" But unlike Narcissus, he doesn't fall prey to a delusion.  He "wakes up" and realizes that there really is no separated, isolated individual ego.  He realizes that his "self" is a unity of interdependent relationship with all beings. 

I love the depiction of Buddha enlightenment in Herman Hesse's well-read novel, "Siddhartha."  The character of Siddhartha is on a mission of self discovery: "who am I ?"  Like Narcissus, Siddhartha also gazes into the waters of a stream, only instead of seeing the reflection of his own image,  and believing the delusion,  Siddhartha gazes into the waters and sees an image of all created beings flowing in a unity of perfection in the steam of life. At that moment he "wakes up" and understands who he is: he "is" the flow.

From that hour Siddhartha ceased to fight against his destiny. There shone in his face the serenity of knowledge, of one who is no longer confronted with conflict of desires, who has found salvation, who is in harmony with the stream of events, with the stream of life,  full of sympathy and compassion, surrendering himself to the stream, belonging to the unity of all things.

As I think about the snapshot of those two icons of Narcissus and the Buddha set against one another, I am struck by how many people today choose to cling to that delusional image of "self" discovered by Narcissus.  In fact, many social commentators today argue that narcissism is a growing epidemic in our culture.

In some sense we all have a bit of the narcissist in us and, to some extent, a dose of narcissism can be a good thing.  A clear and balanced understanding of ourselves is a necessary ingredient for healthy interaction.

But I know plenty of people who have crossed over from having a healthy dose of narcissism to following the path of Narcissus. They have fallen in love with themselves. They believe that their own individual ego exists - cut off from and isolated from others, and they live their lives to perpetually feed that bloated ego even though it is nothing more than a delusion- a reflection in the pond. The path of Narcissus is always heartbreakingly lonely and inevitably leads to a dead end. 

As I see Narcissus and the Buddha sitting side by side, I set my life-gaze on the path of the Buddha- the Jesus' Way -the spiritual path. When I see Narcissus next to the Buddha, I can see ever more clearly that the Buddha path is a way that leads to deep peace. It is a path that does not follow a delusion. It is a path that provides an awakened, enlightened and truthful answer to the question: "who am I?"

I am the flow.  

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