Saturday, March 18, 2006
And now, a story
If You See The Buddha on the TV, Should You Switch it Off?
by Carl Schroeder, copyright 2006, all rights reserved
Tad was awakened by explosions on the television. This annoyed him, but not, he noted, so much because the war was still going on - because unfortunately this was to be expected - but more due to the loss of control that it represented, that he should fall asleep on the couch again with the TV still on.
As Tad lay watching silently, for a moment he was not even sure which war this was, or even whether it was real. Could it still be the nightly news? Perhaps this was a war drama, a fiction made to evince some set of emotions that some distressed audience would find satisfying beyond Tad's comprehension. Tad didn't care for war dramas. Or maybe this was a history channel documentary, pawning footage from old trenches called true or re-enacted, overlain with the scratches and bubbles characteristic of distressed antique celluloid. To disambiguate, Tad might have asked himself whether the images were in color or black and white, limited in point of view or highly edited, stationary in camera placement or bouncing from and for that hand-held cinema verite effect. But Tad didn't ask himself such things, because Tad couldn't bring himself to care. War was war, and wasn't there always a war going on somewhere. Even this was not a question but a statement, since if people thought that war could bring a lasting peace, wouldn't that have happened long ago?
So instead, Tad asked himself where was that darn remote control. And though it lay within his view and reach, curiously he could not move to grasp it.
Rather than panic at his unexpected paralysis, Tad remained sanguine. Perhaps it was the guilt that held him motionless, at thinking (wishing) he could just turn off the war, any war, whatever war it was, along with the TV, all by the power of his own remote control. And why not? Couldn't, shouldn't, the people of a conflict be once and for all forced to find another way to settle their differences? Tad had no doubt that those who preferred a fight would seek another channel for their aggressions. His hope was for the evolution toward a form of dueling that might not involve the innocent. Be gentlemanly, if you cannot be genteel. Virtual reality arenas perhaps, complete with electrocution for the losers. Everyone else would get to plant gardens, go to work, raise kids and animals, stuff like that.
But the television remained on, with its explosions of a war, and neither the remote control nor Tad budged one bit.
Come to me, my sweet remote control, Tad thought outwardly. I am your god, and you shall have no other gods before me. I have the credit card receipts to prove it. Did I not give you shelter from the crowd at the jealous shopping mall, did I not attune you to my set and mine alone, have I not fed you the batteries that you require of me to be contented and functional? Fly into my ready palm, fit as you are for it, and bid me stroke your ready buttons to have that effect which we both so desire!
When the remote control remained miffed and motionless, Tad tried another tack. He thought not of the physical component to exercising his will upon the television program still carrying on, but rather the metaphysical. Is there not a place and time to which I have travelled so oft before, Tad asked himself, where I have switched the TV on or off as I deemed appropriate, and known the resultant satisfactions? Let this be a timeless moment now, and let that place of controlled remoteness come to me. Visit me, dilate the time-segregated worlds to overspill into one here and now, follow that which I could do again in body but now only need recall. Is this not the dream of humanity, to close the gap between desire and expectation, until we might live in the realm of the well-conceived alone? What was that remote control for anyway, but to train the mind to dare to expect, that its option could and should be invisibly attended to by ever more efficient tricks of manifestation. Who knows what's in a remote control or TV anymore, just a bunch of black boxes built on black box principles. No one really knows wherefrom the principles of physics come or go, they're just made the use of ever more efficiently. The effect can precede the cause, evolve the cause, and even, for those who dare, obviate the cause.
Or so Tad convinced himself, and it turned out that convincing was enough. The TV turned itself off, and Tad revelled in the silent dark, nestled in his cushy couch.
There, he said. I now reside in the primordial night, from which all things are possible. I have only to think it to make it so. There, that is the end to all war. There, that is the end to all disease and misfortune. And though Tad remained curiously paralyzed, he knew that if he were to look out the window of his apartment, for as long as he might look, he would never see another war, or disease, or misfortune again.
The TV remained turned off, but the room began to glow with the contentment and peace that no longer went beyond all understanding, for Tad was its receiver now. This was not the sickly bluish glow of the cathode ray tube that Tad would allow so many others to continue to fill their living rooms with, night after night, as the inexplicable lack of war and disease and misfortune was fated to cause anxious newsmen and broadcasters around the world to rerun the old footage of nostalgic apocalypses that were never now to be. No, Tad's light was the light of God. Slightly golden, all suffusing, supremely comforting. For Tad knew that he did not have all the answers, but that someone always would and could and should, for him to continue to exist. And that someone, lo, he deigned to be a light, The Light, to whom he could eternally address his every need or wish, in the full knowledge that he would receive the ever ready, bountiful, munificent, and ever more instantaneous, reply.
Tad registered the light's contenting properties, drank them in, and became in full awareness brimming with the light as well. Tad was now more content than he had ever imagined possible, and after spending an eternity lavishing in that contentment, he returned to the problem at hand, of the one silent and dark television set staring back at him.
What was a television for?
And the answer came, to the one who travelled between the worlds at the speed of thought, from the One who accompanies us all. The television is the retina of the outer mind, the visionary device of the physical age, the monocular panopticon. With it you can see what others are experiencing apart from you, and thereby see into yourself from all occluded sides. It is the legacy of the theatre, the drama, the catharsis, the dark night of the soul. Turn it on if you dare.
If I dare? Is there a danger here?
If you dare. There is a danger in every scrim upon the land.
And Tad remembered the scenes of war, from an eternity ago and just a little while, from when the TV set was lighted. And he puzzled upon the nature of war, and this he was wont to do alone, for he felt it a shameful and private thing. The golden glow of the supreme light flickered down in him now, as the TV began to warm its electronics for a return to more customary passions.
War, reasoned Tad. The imposing of a will by force, often accompanying fantasies of extermination of the No. But there is no No, there is only Yes; Tad knew this to be so even in the fading of the Light. Such a sad illusion this illusion was, illusory even by illusions' standards. Some might call it the regrettable choice between domination and dominion, where domination seeks to crush the opponent who, by a perversity of their gift of free will, is refusing to go along with what is right and should be done. Dominion as the once and future dream, the land faraway where everyone agrees, caricaturized by peaceful animals lowing in the peaceable kingdom, and happy serfs tilling ancient royal fields.
The problem is that no one sees, this tragedy of believing in domination's efficacy. War for peace, it never happens. Forcing your will upon another, it never happens. There is only dominion, even when you must make yourself ignorant of the fact. Others ignorant as you become conjured, transmigrated to the passion play, and everyone agrees to disagree. Oh the folly, the senselessness of it all. Underneath the surface of the calls for peace by war, lay the calls for war by peace. Eternal pointless conflict, reinvented constantly. The elephant has so many parts, the blind men simply cannot see, and the war goes on so long as war itself is believed.
Perhaps it was a vanity, or perhaps it was selfless heroism (of the Biblical sacrificial sort), but Tad now flung himself into that world, headlong to save it from itself. I am immune he thought, I am the boddhisatva construct, I will reflect a mind above the fray and give another witness to the fact. You needed that, he thought at the television set, still paralyzed, the TV tube warming up to its own glow.
And the war came on, as it always was, complete with its relentless exploding of the every cause. That place of delusion, of self-deception, beyond even God's own staying hand. Tad's eyes could not shut now, for his heart was open by choice, and he cried himself to sleep.
When Tad jolted next awake, he cursed himself for drifting off again with the TV on, still showing its tragedies of war. Of the war beyond all light and dark, of the war that never was and never ceased to be. Tad's body lurched instinctively for the remote control, his finger dutifully flicked off the program, and Tad got up to look in the refrigerator for something else to eat.