Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Buddha's parable of the burning house - Brecht

This is a  good time to read Brecht. Here’s a translation of my own of Brecht’s Buddha’s parable of the burning house - Def plaguetime reading

Gotama, the Buddha, taught
the doctrine of the wheel of lust, on which we are broken
and advised the undoing of desire
and going wishless into Nothing, which he called Nirvana.
One day a pupil asked him,
What is this Nothing, Master? We all wish
throw off all desire, as  you advice, but tell us
If this Nothing in which we will enter
Is something like being one with all creation when one lies in water, floating, in the afternoon,
Almost without thought, at ease in the water, or like
Falling asleep, hardly knowing one has
Tossed away the blanket, quickly sinking –
Whether this nothing is joyful, a good nothing,
Or whether this nothing of yours is only simply nothing,
cold, empty and meaningless.
The Buddha was silent  for a long while then he said
There is no answer to your question.
towards evening when that crowd all went away
The Buddha sat under the fig tree and told the others
Who had not asked a question the following parable:
Recently, I saw a house burning. The flames licked the roof.
I saw
that there were people still inside it.  I stood at the door
called them, that it would be best to act quickly and get out because
There was a fire under the roof.  But the people seemed to be in no hurry.
One asked me, while the heat was already singeing his eyebrows,
it was like outside, for instance, was it raining or windy?
Was there some other house to go to?
Without answering, I went away.
These, I thought, have to burn before they stop asking questions.
In truth, my friends, to those whom the floor is not so hot
That they would rather exchange it for any other than remain there, to those
I have nothing to say.  
Thus spake Gotama the Buddha.
However, even we ourselves, who are
Not concerned with the art of enduring all things,
But are concerned with the art of not-enduring them
Of offering all kinds of earthly suggestions and teaching people
cast off human pain -we too think that
In the face of those who, seeing the bomber squads flying over the capital cities
Are still asking questions like, what do you think, and how are you conceiving this
And what will become of their savings accounts and best clothes
If everything is thrown upside down
We have nothing to say.

Pictures, trophies, America by Karen Chamisso

Description won’t save you Marianne
Playing possum in a still life
“in tolerably good light” drawing what I can
every Popeye with an Olive Oyl wife

is the dollhouse dream. I dream it too
though my skin and bones were built on killing
not on visits to the zoo
or Audubon’s bird book whilst I’m chilling

out in bed after seeing the doctor.
Audubon hired a boy to search out nests and
 “assist in skinning birds” – wh/ wouldn’t have shocked her
haunter of antique shops and

flea markets and amateur of all the freaks
 – I recognize myself, a skinned thing
as freak as any carved out of teak
trailing a disease from my wings

or: “a small spotted bird, standing a little pigeon-toed
with a waiting expression…”
Waking, I find the taxidermist has sewed
my mouth shut, like the last passenger pigeon.


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