29 November 2008

Lost Teachings of the Buddha

Bernard had been drinking. His eyes were watery and his grin sloppy. He was recovering from Thanksgiving with family. I was his designated driver. When he is drunk, Bernard seems to be in one of two states - giddy or quiet. He'd been quiet long enough that I thought I'd risk giddy. As it turns out, no topic is sober enough to counter a drunken Bernard.

"Have you noticed one thing that Socrates, the Buddha, and Jesus have in common?" I asked.
Bernard began to chortle. "No! But I do know what John the Baptist and Winnie the Pooh have in common," and then he dissolved into laughter.
"What," I groaned patiently.
"Same middle name!" he doubled up in laughter, nearly hitting his head on the table.
I was trying to feign tolerance but in fact I had to laugh. "No," I shook my head. "Although I guess this is true of Winnie and John as well. Have you ever noticed that Socrates, Buddha and Jesus never wrote anything?"
"No," Bernard confessed.
"At least, as far as we know. They just wandered around and taught people. And yet look at how long their teachings have lasted," I said. "Look at how much impact they have had on people's thinking for thousands of years."
"Oh, Ron," Bernard giggled, "did you hear about Buddha's lost teachings?"
"No," I replied.
"Everyone knows that the Buddha taught that want is at the root of unhappiness," and Bernard began to giggle some more. "Did you know what he taught is at the root of happiness?"
"No," I repeated.
"Wanton!" And Bernard giggled at his wit. "Want makes you unhappy, and wanton makes you happy! Get it?" And again he laughed. Bernard is, to his credit, a cheery drunk.

"Very witty, Bernard. But seriously, doesn't this call into question the whole model of writing as a way to change people's thinking. I mean, doesn't this seem to you like some kind of indictment of writing?"
"Maybe," Bernard bobbed his head while wrinkling up his bottom lip. "Or maybe it just proves that you can't focus on getting published and changing the world at the same time." And again he laughed.

"I guess," I said, actually considering the possibility that he was serious in spite of his giddiness.
"Or it might just prove that if you write things down you make your message harder for future generations to co-opt and call their own. Precision makes popularity less probable," he said with amazing precision for one so bleary eyed. "If you want to be happy, be wanton with your words Wonald," he laughed again. "And if you want to have an impact, don't write anything down. Leave other people creative freedom to change your words so that lots of people take ownership of them."

"Too late," I said shaking my head. "I've written hundreds of blog postings."
"Ha!" Bernard snorted. "You call that writing?." And then Bernard tilted his head back and laughed loudly.


Anonymous said...

Some day a thousand years from now, in a country that doesn't even exist today, someone is going to launch a war based on something they read in the First Book of Ron. And you'll be looking down from heaven (hopefully), or up from below (probably), and thinking, "I never said that. Where are they getting this stuff?"

The problem is that even if you *do* write it down, once it's been translated from English to Japanese, from Japanese to Russian, from Russian to German, and from German back into English, who knows what it's going to say?

cce said...

Those of us putting it down on paper (or sending it out into the blogospher) as product do have to pay the piper for having opinions. Perhaps that's the beauty of Bernard, a beautiful fiction all piss and vinegar and full of conviction.

Ron Davison said...

I should be hurt but for some odd reason I had to chuckle.

Bernard gets to say with conviction what I find intriguing but am, at best, ambivalent about. And Bernard says thank you for the beautiful comment and pshaw about the fictional label. He says that us non-fictional characters are just jealous because our life expectancies dont' so readily lend themselves to centuries.

Life Hiker said...

Add Mohammed to your list of teachers who never wrote. He was illiterate. However, others listened to what he said and wrote it down rather contemporanously.

Ron Davison said...

Good addition. He has, indeed, seemed to have influenced the minds of a few billion people since he began talking.