Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pooh's path to Enlightenment

Often times enough I'll save an interesting quote either in my little .txt file or in the notebook I've made a habit of carrying around with me.  Sometimes I'll go months without remembering it until I decide to quickly glance over my archives and find it pop out at me.  This time it was a Winnie the Pooh quote that caught my eye.  I find I work best if I leave an idea to ferment for a little while, and then come back to it every now and then to see if it's ready to be bottled.  I never realized how much wisdom there was in these old Pooh stories, or perhaps the wisdom I discovered was relegated to my childhood, not to be unearthed again until my thirst for pearls of insight caused me to dig in forgotten locations.  

"Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known." -Winnie the Pooh

Wow, did Milne read Hesse or something?  Or did he glean the same knowledge from the Buddha that Hesse did, and he decided to use the same symbolism?

"Rivers know this: there is no hurry.  We shall get there someday."  -the Pooh

I recently re-read one of my favorite books the other day.  My beloved copy of Siddhartha died a quiet death in my former car during one of its monsoon seasons.  The dashboard gutter would often get clogged (thanks to that foolproof German engineering) and the rainwater would collect and overflow in the passenger seat well, right where I neatly kept my copy.  With the old copy waterlogged, I bought a new one after perusing a bookstore while doing some holiday shopping.  Reading it again refreshed my memory of one of the more profound paragraphs contained within:

"It may be a thought, but I must confess, my friend, that I do not differentiate very much between thoughts and words.  Quite frankly, I do not attach great importance to thoughts either.  I attach more importance to things.  For example, there was a man at this ferry who was my predecessor and teacher.  He was a holy man who for many years believed only in the river and nothing else.  He noticed that the river's voice spoke to him.  He learned from it; it educated and taught him.  The river seemed like a god to him and for many years he did not know that every wind, every cloud, every bird, every beetle is equally divine and knows and can teach just as well as the esteemed river.  But when this holy man went off into the woods, he knew everything; he knew more than you and I, without teachers, without books, just because he believed in the river."

It's interesting that one of my favorite passages in the novel is seemingly in contradiction with some of my close-held beliefs.  How can I agree with anything that states that things have more importance than words?  I'll be one of the first to say that empty materialism is a problem in today's world has always been a problem.  But Hesse's insight explains his statement:  

"If they are illusion, then I also am illusion, and so they are always of the same nature as myself.  It is that which makes them so lovable and venerable.  That is why I can love them.  And here is a doctrine at which you will laugh.  It seems to me, Govinda, that love is the most important thing in the world.  It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it.  But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect."

Talk about an easy lesson to agree with, but a difficult one to take to heart.  It's something that I, that eternal pessimist, need to remember every now and then.  With a little thought, it's too easy to see how bad everything is; to point out how hopeless our situation is and how nothing has ever changed.  I still insist that it is foolish to ignore all that and to pretend that everything is hunky dory, but to transcend the world one must embrace it and look past it.  Hesse wasn't able to finish Siddhartha until he himself had discovered what Siddhartha was to discover in his life's journey.  I can't say I know much about A. A. Milne, but he has to have had some interesting life experiences himself to have come up with the choice bits of wisdom that he conveyed through his famous yet humble characters.  

Hesse simply uses the river as an allegory for the flow and cycle of life--an allegory Siddhartha discovers while staying with the ferryman.  However, just as he iterated in the quoted paragraph, anything can be used as an allegory, or as a teacher in its stead, if you look closely enough.  I'm fortunate to have made it to the river, but I still have yet to discover all the lessons it has in store for me.  Anyway, after so much writing, I may as well leave you with a bit of wisdom from another Milne character I'm often compared to.

"This writing business. Pencils and what-not. Over-rated, if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it." -Eeyore