The Text of the Month No 10

By Jos Slabbert

Do you understand?

How can we realize ourselves
By virtuous deeds or by seeking the Buddha?
Release your hold on earth, water, fire, wind;
Drink and eat as you wish in eternal serenity.

(Shodoka)

Explanation and comment

This passage asks a profound question. Theologians and philosophers have argued endlessly about this. Many would argue that fulfilment comes through virtuous deeds, through active compassion. Others would argue that one should isolate oneself from the realities of samsara - this endless wheel of suffering which is life - and concentrate on finding Buddha, God, whatever name one gives to the summum bonum or the absolute.

The answer given by the author here comes as a bit of a shock, doesn’t it? It sounds quite banal. You should give up "your hold" on everything that constitutes life and existence, and you should - and this sounds paradoxical at first - "drink and eat as you wish". Releasing your hold on things sounds like a call to asceticism, to controlling your instincts and desires, doesn’t it? And yet, the very next sentence tells you to live according to your natural instincts, and even more: "as you wish". It is a call to total freedom. Most people will at first find this quite perplexing, for we have learnt that control is essential to spiritual development. We are given all these commandments, rules and laws governing our behaviour, and are told we would transgress them at our peril.

The author, without hesitation, brings a state of mind where desire does not play a role - where you have released your hold on things - into harmony with the ability to live in total freedom, where you "eat and drink as you wish."

His answer is a breathtakingly simple and profound one: once you have stopped clinging to life and have stopped living according to your desires, you will acquire the freedom to live a life of total freedom where you can actually enjoy life. Isn’t it true? Clinging to things spoils the fun, doesn’t it? If you love someone, it is wonderful. The moment you cling to your beloved, the love turns sour quickly. Clinging to life stifles and suffocates life itself.

If you cling to things, you will eat and drink not in serenity, but in anxiety, afraid that you might lose what you have. If you have ceased holding on to things, you will "Drink and eat as you wish in total serenity." Serenity only comes when you have conquered desire and ceased holding on to things. Only then will virtuous deeds and searching for the Buddha make sense, and will eating and drinking become truly enjoyable.

Giving up life is gaining life.
Clinging to life is losing life.