Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Wisdom’

Om mani padme hum

In Life, Religion, Travel, Wisdom on June 11, 2012 at 6:00 am

om mani padme hum (in Tibetan)

A friend from many years ago recently saw a current photograph of me and noticed my tattoo. It’s easy to notice, would be impossible to not notice, being large and wrapping my left forearm. She asked what it meant.

A few years ago I got a hankering for a tattoo. It was likely one of those mid-life things, a harmless urge, as mid-life urges go. I’d been traveling a good bit and thought a tattoo might make for a nice souvenir. I remember walking down an alley in Gibraltar to a tattoo parlor. As the alley grew darker and dirtier my courage faltered then faded. Another time, in South America, the mood again struck. Again, I grew hesitent. Carole asked, “Why would you get a tattoo in a place where you can’t drink the water?” A wisely framed question, indeed.

I got the tattoo at home, in Portland.

It was Tibet, in 2004, where I first heard the mantra, om mani padme hum. Subsequent trips to the region, including Bhutan, a return to Tibet, trips to China, India and Nepal, underscored that initial experience. The best travel should afford the traveler an element of the transformational. You finish a different person than the person who set out. (Therein lies the difference between traveler and tourist.) Such was my response to Tibet that I wanted to honor it, and in doing so, found my tattoo.

Om mani padme hum is held to be the summary of the forty thousand teachings of the Buddha. It defies a straight interpretation but most scholars agree that the “heart jewel of the lotus” is a strict interpretation of the middle syllables. It is, as noted, open to interpretation and most practitioners of the mantra are simply repeating the sounds.

Personally, when asked, I prefer a layman’s interpretation. Specifically, the correspondence of the six syllables to what Buddhists call the six perfections. They are, in corresponding order to the mantra syllables:

  • om ~ generousity
  • man ~ self-discipline
  • i ~ patience
  • pad ~ virtue
  • me ~ mindfulness
  • hum ~ wisdom

I’m not keen on soft ideas and squishy notions. I’m a man who needs a philosophy that works. I lean toward the pragmatic. Of these attributes, all I can say is that they are the heart jewels of our humanity. They are tools by which a better self is molded from hard clay. Not a day passes that life does not present me an opportunity to study the ink on my arm.

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Post script: A reader asked if I could put up a photo of the tattoo. Here’s the image that sparked my friend’s question:

Tattoo

I don’t think I gave her the credit she was due.

In Family, Life, Memoir on May 13, 2012 at 8:00 am

I’m traveling. This is a repost. I hope you have a nice mother’s day.

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It’s mother’s day and I regret not being a better son. I wasn’t a bad son, but something held me back from being a really good, home-run good, son to my mom. I can’t explain it any other way, other than I was reserved and didn’t give her everything she probably wanted from her only child.

I’ve been thinking about this since I found a journal entry from thirty years ago, when my mother was a couple of years younger than I am now. I made a note then of a conversation we, my mother and I, had. In a rare moment of candor between mother and son she told me that, sadly, life had passed her by and that she regretted letting it happen. But she had no idea how she would have lived in any other manner or what to do about it going forward. I don’t recall the conversation, which bothers me. I just have the record of it, and that is part of the problem. Why don’t I remember such a confession?

I think I should remember a loved one being so upset and forthcoming. But I don’t. She didn’t do it often, open up like that–too much mid-western stoicism in her veins. I think she was asking something of me and I’m not sure what precisely. Nor did I try to find out. I suspect I was comforting, but I can’t be sure. I let her revelation slip away, receding behind us, and neither of us ever brought it up again. That was that.

I don’t think I gave her the credit she was due, all the attention she likely thirsted after. I don’t know exactly that to be the case, but I suspect it. I fear she wanted more and in telling me of her disappointments she thought I might somehow help. But I had a family to raise and distractions and it was my shortcoming to do nothing.

I fear wrestling with my shortcomings too late in life to do anything about them. But more, I fear missing another opportunity to be present when my presence is needed by someone I care about. It is said we cannot escape the sins of our fathers. Perhaps, conversely, we inherit the lessons of our mothers.

“What I really wanted was every kind of life…”

In Life, Literature, Photography, The infinity of ideas, Thinkers, Wisdom, Writing on April 7, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Susan Sontag first thought she was going to be something other than what she became. When she was about six she read a biography of Madame Curie, written by her daughter Eve Curie. “…at first I thought I was going to be a chemist. Then for a long time, most of my childhood, I wanted to be a physician. But literature swamped me. What I really wanted was every kind of life, and the writer’s life seemed the most inclusive.”

I find this interesting, particularly in light of a book I’m reading, Wisdom, Philosophy to Neuroscience, by Stephen Hall. I’ll save my thoughts about the book for later, but want to pass along one idea specifically. In a chapter titled, Dealing with uncertainty, Hall writes of a scientific paper, which in essence, he says, is “about balance.” He continues: “It describes how people neurologically weigh the relative merit of sticking with a behavioral strategy or changing” in a non-stationary environment. It all boils down simply to this: “At a party, in a marriage, at a job, in a stock fund, the question is always the same: Should I stay or should I go?”

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit. It is a simple idea: A theory of decision-making which asks, Do I stay or do I go? (It’s tied deeply to the evolutionary notion of fight or flee, obviously.) Sontag understood early to move on, answering the question do I go? (In her case go from scientist to writer.) For most of us, however, Should I stay or should I go, is never so obvious or so amplified. That makes it all the trickier.

I keep getting drawn back to this question of how to live a life. I can’t think of an example of a decision which cannot be answered by asking Should I stay or should I go? I’m sure it’s out there, but I can’t put my finger on one right this minute. The point is, this challenge–stay or go?–is a road map. And living a life, I think, should have one–a road map, that is. Funny thing, though, there is no one pointing out the destination. What good is a map if you don’t know where you’re headed? (“Parts unknown,” to nod in Twain’s direction, is even a destination, no?)

I’ve had some help with this business recently, the road map destination thing. My friend Thatcher Cook, whom I’ve mentioned previously, is a strong advocate of the credo, in his case the credo of a photographer. He put me onto this notion and it set me off in a number of directions I did not anticipate.  “Include footnotes,” he admonished. In other words, be serious, dig deep, follow the thread wherever it takes you. (Press on and demand of yourself some answers, for god’s sake. This is important stuff.) Though Thatcher’s credo, a working document, is oriented to his discipline of photography, the concept is broadening. (Its a credo, not a manifesto, so it’s private, sort of…)

If you have a destination, you can answer the question, Should I go or should I stay?  If you don’t you can’t. Simple. (Montaigne: “The soul that has no fixed goal loses itself; for, as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.”) If you can’t answer you cannot make a decision. Simple again. Sontag was “swamped by literature.” Most of us will never be swamped by anything. We may get drenched, or even rained on, but swamped, whereby the destination is clear, is a very rare thing. It appeals to me to seek the rare thing, yearn for the difficult. The common is just that, common.