Monday, June 04, 2018

Now we rise and we are everywhere


After his enlightenment the Buddha walked 150 miles from Bodh Gaya to to deliver his first sermon in the Deer Park at Isipathana outside Varanasi in India. Today Isipathana is called Sarnath and my photo was taken recently at one of the numerous Buddhist shrines that dot the former Deer Park. Before his death the Buddha identified Sarnath as one of the four places Buddhist should visit with feelings of faith and reverence*. His sermon in the Deer Park was titled Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta which translates as Wheel of Universal Truths and provides my visual cue. In it the Buddha introduced the concepts of the Middle Path to liberation and the Four Noble Truths.

On the short Air India flight from Khurajo to Varanasi I listened to Nick Drake's valedictory Pink Moon. Its relevance went beyond the album's conveniently brief 28 minutes. In his essay for the invaluable anthology Nick Drake: Remembered For A While Ian MacDonald explains it is known that among the few books in the bedroom in which Nick died in 1974 aged 26 was one about Buddhism. The title is unknown; but Ian MacDonald speculates that it was either the then influential Christmas Humphrey's Buddhism or Alan Watts' The Way of Zen. MacDonald is admirably cautious about allocating a Buddhist sub-text to Nick Drake's music. But he points out that the key themes of Nick's songs, scepticism about the phenomenal world, compassion for others, awareness of falsity and the ephemerality of happiness, are also the key tenets of Buddhism.

There is another tenuous but beguiling link with the subcontinent: as recounted in my 2015 post Beats of India Nick Drake wrote to his parents about his exposure to Indian Music at the Cambridge University Asian Music Circle. In a different essay in Remembered For A While Robin Frederick speculates that the offspring of Indian rhythms populate Nick's music. My headline 'Now we rise and we are everywhere' comes from the final track of Pink Moon, and it is inscribed on Nick's headstone at Tanworth-in-Arden.

* The other pilgrimage destinations identified by the Buddha are his birthplace at Lumbini, the site of his enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, and the place of his death at Kusinara.

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1 comment:

Philip Amos said...

I am pleased you provided that particular link to Mr. Christmas Humphreys. I would urge followers to read it, especially if they have a penchant for intriguing characters, which he surely was. Of particular interest to me was his way of reconciling his deep knowledge of and adherence to Mahayana Buddhism with much of his work as an eminent barrister and judge. It rests very much on the concept of karma, yet I've never been quite able not to see something of an abyss between his Buddhism and his prosecution in the cases of Ruth Ellis, Timothy Evans, and Craig and Bentley. And then there was his frequently, though not conistently, astonishingly lenient sentencing from the Bench. I met him at a dinner party on Harrow Hill in, I think, 1978. As our host was an eminent Shakespearean and Mr. Humphreys an eminent proponent of the Oxfordian school re the authorship of Shakespeare's works, the conversation was much focused on that rather than Buddhism, which I had to regret. He was most erudite and gentle man. That he lived on Marlborough Place in St. John's Wood at once brought to my mind that he was thus one street from Solomon's house, another fascinating and deeply good man. Wrap the mind, if you can, around the fact that 49-year old Shura Cherkassky visited Solomon regularly over 18 months because he wanted Solomon to impart to him how he created his famous long lines, especially in works of the Classical period. That's a combination and a scenario I find hard to imagine and I smile at the thought. I visited Stephen Spender nearby and talked most about Clifford Curzon and Isaiah Berlin. Such fascinating people. And the only person I can think of offhand who lives in St. John's Wood now is Norman Lebrecht, as transparent and unintriguing as a pane of glass. Le plus ca change le plus ce n'est pas la meme chose.