Humming in my UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 12/17/2006
Years ago, my friend, the singer and activist Leah Navarro, told me that she only discovered at the late age of 14 that there was no Santa Claus. She recalls being crushed and totally beside herself. It was innocence betrayed. At the time she told me the story, she was already in her 20s and was actually quite amused with herself while narrating it.
Ala, my second daughter, surmised at age eight that Santa must have gotten the gift she received one Christmas at Shoppersville, our neighborhood supermarket, since she noticed it was so similar to the one she had seen there. It didn’t take her long after that to realize that Santa was really her Mom.
Before age 10, my older daughter Erica discovered where all her lost baby teeth (and those of her brother and sister) were stored. They were not in some faraway place inhabited by the Tooth Fairy but inside her mother’s jewelry box. And that put an end to the myth of the Tooth Fairy.
As adults, we enjoy pulling the wool over our children’s eyes with mythical stories and fairy tales about Santa, the Tooth Fairy and others. We even feel it is necessary for them to go through this stage, because it gives them so much fun and heightens their sense of wonder and mystery.
But there’s also a sadness that comes with the shattering of one’s innocence. For some, it is a trauma that they easily recover from and can even laugh at later. But for others, it can be a very tragic experience as one is jarred by the stark truth that one’s strongly held beliefs are nothing but a charming but outright yarn.
Just the same, the death of innocence is a necessary step in growing up, and when properly understood, it can be liberating. Everyone must necessarily be thrown out of Eden. And it does not end when we leave childhood; it is an ongoing process. There are many more Santas and Tooth Fairies to whom we will be giving the boot along the way to adulthood. And by the way, adulthood is not a fixed destination, which means we will probably continue killing myths for the rest of our lives.
The list of Santas and Tooth Fairies in our midst is long and varied. There are the institutions and beliefs we have held dearly to at one time in our lives that have let us down. There are the people we admired – teachers, mentors, parents, personal heroes – before whom we have knelt in adoration in our pantheon of role models whom have disappointed us in one way or another.
The process is usually something like this: you put institutions and people on a pedestal, and you are devastated when you discover things that show them to be less than what you believed. You can feel like a big fool and will probably go through the predictable range of reactions – disappointment, anger, heartbreak and even disgust at yourself for believing in them in the first place. Or maybe your reactions could be directed at the world in general for being such an imperfect place.
Such is the way of life. Our idols are routinely reduced to irrelevance, or a size closer to being mere mortals, or at times, even lower. And we feel betrayed and lost, until the next idol comes along.
Please note that this is not a cynical statement but one that honors the dynamism of everything around us.
There is a Zen saying which goes, “When you meet the Buddha, you must kill him.” Reading this statement initially made my head turn 180 degrees around. I was actually shocked and intrigued. It seemed so irreverent, so mind-boggling. It was only when I reminded myself that the saying was not meant to be a literal fatwa against the Buddha that I began to take a step towards understanding it.
The saying is a koan – a puzzle of sorts, a device meant to stump the Zen practitioner into getting out of intellectualizing enlightenment. It is something that a Zen teacher says to a student to test how much enlightenment he has experienced. There is, of course, no one definitive “interpretation” or answer the teacher is looking for, but there is a territory of understanding and experience that a student must be familiar with (gained through years of practice, not just reading) before he can attempt to convey a valid understanding of any koan.
In my limited understanding, this “killing of the Buddha” business has something to do with extinguishing the illusions we live by. We are constantly enamored by “the next big thing” in fashion, technology, books, music, trends, philosophies, passions, etc., only to find that they are fleeting and capricious. It also has something to do with outgrowing some of our “truths,” and yes, even the idols and ideals we meet along the way.
For example, there are the parents whom we idolized for their solid characters, their great knowledge and wisdom only to discover when we became adults that they had their moments when they were quite the opposite – weak and full of contradictions. Or there is the religion we wholeheartedly accepted in full innocence and trust as literally true when we were young and naive, only to find out that many things taught to us were only mythical and not factual. Or there could be the mentor, from whom we learned everything, suddenly becoming outdated, irrelevant, small in vision and annoyingly pedantic.
We find to our sadness that they seem to have stopped growing, or at least have not done so at the pace we have. With what we have experienced, we have grown bigger and have, in fact, outgrown our mentors. We have killed the Buddha, so to speak, and we have become him.
While I love my parents and teachers and am grateful that they have taught me many things, I have stopped automatically embracing many of the things they passed on to me as true, since I have now have come to my own conclusions based on my own experiences. But I do so with deep humility and gratitude at the private, if unwilling, passing of the torch from them to me. I am now responsible for my own life, not they. And I know my own children and the students I have touched will do the same, if I have taught them anything at all.
I paid homage to this life truth in my song Batang-bata Ka Pa where the father castigates his son and tells him to take his word on things, and the son replies that he must discover things for himself. The greatest tribute we can give our parents, mentors and teachers is to outgrow them as we come into our own.
Killing the Buddha is not an easy, bloodless matter. It is hard to detach one’s self from the truths we have attached ourselves to, but which now have reached their expiration date. When we begin to doubt them, or when they become irrelevant to ourselves, what are we to do? Do we stonewall the new truths presenting themselves or are we open enough, brave and truthful enough, to embrace them and arrive at a new understanding? Is the Buddha ready to kill himself so that a better version of the Buddha emerges?
As always, the slaughter of innocents and illusions is a messy affair, but to take charge of one’s life is to do exactly that as honestly and courageously as we can.
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