17 March 2015

Good to meditate on impermanence

This is the twenty fourth in a series of articles on rebels and rebellion written for the FREE section of 'The Nation'. Scroll to the end for other articles in this series.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness.

We know stuff but one ‘stuff’ we know but don’t often admit even to ourselves is that we don’t know ‘all the stuff’.  Twenty two years ago, there was a young boy who didn’t know much.  He knew so little that when things got really bad he thought things were far worse than they actually were. 

He was part of a group of about 15 young people engaged in a lively political discussion in a temple.  The leader had recommended that they begin by meditating on compassion.  This was around 5 am.  Seven hours later, they adjourned for lunch.  Before the next sessions began, there was a light discussion about ‘old times’.  The leader of the group was asked how it was when he had been arrested a few years previously.  The following is the gist of what he said.

‘I was in a room with someone from the Jathika Kamkaru Satan Madyasthanaya (National Workers’ Action Center, the ‘labor arm’ of the JVP).  He had been badly assaulted.  His body was covered with wound that had not been treated.  There were maggots in some of them.  He had by that time lost his mind.  He was talking about his three year old daughter.  He would say “chooti doo, thaththata jo tikak denna” (little girl, give your father some water).  He died in that cell.’

The young man asked, ‘what did you do?’

‘I found that I was thinking a lot about my mother.  But knowing what happened to my cell mate I realized that I would lose my mind if I continued to do so.’

The question was repeated, ‘so what did you do?’

‘I meditated on impermanence.’

Two minutes later a group of policeman in civvies crashed into the room brandishing pistols.  They abused the group, tied them up and bundled them into a couple of vans.  They were questioned by various officers.  They were fed food that looked like it had come from a toilet and not a kitchen. 

The young boy fell asleep in one of the cells.  Around midnight he was woken up by the sound of screams.  He was sharing the cell with a young bikkhu.

‘Our friends are being beaten up, right?’

‘Hmmm,’ the bikkhu replied.

‘Will they kill us?’

‘No.  Are you scared?’

He was, but didn’t admit it.  The bikkhu knew the boy was scared.

‘Don’t worry.  Two punches and your body goes numb.  You won’t feel a thing after that.’

It didn’t console him.  What consoled him were the words of the leader, spoken a few hours before.  So he thought.

‘I’ve lived 26 years.  I might live another 30, 40 or maybe 50 years.  In the long span of history, it’s like a fraction of a second.  To die now, won’t be so bad.’

And he meditated on impermanence.  Eventually, the Officer in Charge came up to the cell.  The boy was pulled out.  He was not killed.  He was beaten though.  Two punches and he didn’t feel a thing thereafter. 

It is good to meditate on impermanence.  Not just to deal with fear of assault and disappointment.  It gives perspective.  It shows up things in their true(r) dimensions, let’s say.  And when you obtain reality in that way you get a measure of what is and what could be.  You can then think of strategy.  If not anything it gives courage to endure.  It keeps disappointment away.  Useful.  

Other articles in this series