In classical music all things must pass

'It happens to everything eventually, it all must be trampled underfoot. Whether it is Tibetan culture being destroyed by the red cadres of the Cultural Revolution, British institutions being demolished by Margaret Thatcher’s handbag, or Buddhism being wiped from India by the Turkish invasions of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Kali in her many manifestations will take them all. The good things just seem to last longer, but they have to go, their goodness corrupted from within; sometimes they can be like old trees – still outwardly impressive but with rotting centres, waiting to fall with the next storm. The Buddha said that although his teachings would last for five thousand years, they too would eventually disappear.'

That is Nick Scott writing in Rude Awakenings, the chronicle of his pilgrimage with Ajahn Succito to sacred Buddhist sites in India. My photographs taken at a butterfly farm on L’Isle de Noumourtier graphically remind us of how impermanent good things are: in the wild a butterfly’s lifespan is between one and nine months. Nick Scott’s reference to Margaret Thatcher’s handbag locates the writing in the 1980s, but the sentiments apply equally today. In classical music we see an outwardly impressive art form hiding a rotting centre corrupted from within, with the rot currently particularly virulent in certain music blogs and Minneapolis. The Buddhist viewpoint that all things must pass is not nihilistic. Impermanence, a concept which classical music adopted from Buddhism via John Cage, teaches that, although the good things are eventually trampled underfoot and disappear, they are in turn replaced by other good things. The message is quite clear: we should accept the inevitability of impermanence, disassociate ourselves from the rotting centre of classical music and channel our energy into making the next storm the perfect one. That way all the old trees will fall, clearing the ground for a new generation of good things.

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Unknown said…
The beauty and evanescence of the butterfly is not in question, but they live (according to on average for a month and for up to 9 months. Hasn't Pliable, as a UK resident, found peacock and tortoiseshell butterflies over-wintering in his house? Sometimes you can hear their wings creaking as they wake up in the spring.
billoo said…
'The message is quite clear: we should accept the inevitability of impermanence..'

But, but, pli, if there was no will to permanence, no dream of the 'Garden', no idea of a north north of the future, would we even have classical music in the first place? (or art, or stories).

Even if there is the inevitability you speak of, surely there is another: the inevitability that men and women will resist the flow of time...'offence must cometh, but woe unto him...'

Pliable said…
William, thanks for that correction. I took my information on the lifespan of the butterfly from the farm on on L’Isle de Noumourtier, and I fear something was lost in translation. Now corrected....
Elaine Fine said…
As long as people have access to things of beauty (nature, which can be "preserved" in a butterfly preserve, music, which countless people discover for the first time every day, literature, which, it it's worth its salt remains relevant, and art, which springs from every culture) we don't need to to fear. People are obsessed with the finality of life, though. Everybody's life is finite. Expression is infinite.

And cats have nine lives.

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