Do You Win When You Lose?
In ‘Timbuktu’ by Paul Auster (illustrated by Julia Goschke for an abridged graphic novel), the author explores human homelessness via the vision of a vagrant dog. Ostracised by society, as Mr. Bones the dog put it, ’He would have to keep on moving, even if he had nowhere to go.’ There is no true lasting refuge in this dissatisfactory world. On being chased – ‘He had no idea where he was going, but he knew that he couldn’t stop, that he had to keep on running until his legs gave out on him or his heart exploded in his chest.’ Even a temporal refuge can be hard to find. Such are the existential agonies of being a stray. But they might as well be the pains of humans with neither a physical nor spiritual refuge. What do you take refuge in? I take refuge in the Buddhadharma – that steady isle in the fickle sea of Samsara.
The so-called ‘man’s best friend’ is more often not befriended by humans. But as his late master Willy poignantly advised, ‘Don’t give up on men, Bonesey. You’ve some hard knocks, but you’ve got to tough it out and give it another try.’ It might as well be advice to any other human let down by other fellow humans. Don’t give up on humanity. There is bound to be some humanity somewhere. There is Buddha-nature within both man and beast. If we cannot find refuge without, may we seek refuge in our Buddha-nature via learning, practising and realising the Dharma.
The life of wanderlust, despite its hardships, had its charms. ‘Travel was what he did with Willy. And in all the years they had spent on the road together, he couldn’t remember a single instance in which the word “vacation” had crossed his master’s lips. Time had flowed without interruption for them, and with no need to break down the calendar into work periods and rest periods, no particular call to observe national holidays, anniversaries, or religious feast days, they had lived in a world apart, free of the clock-watching and hour-counting that took up so much of everyone’s else’s time.’ But even if so, time was always running out. Willy expires and Mr. Bones is left to his own devices to roam Samsara for refuge. Will Mr. Bones find true refuge in time?
Mr. Bones chooses to play a dangerous game to inject the rush back into his otherwise domesticated life. ‘It was called dodge-the-car, and it was a venerable, time-honored sport that allowed every old-timer to recapture the glories of his youth. It was fun. It was invigorating. It was a challenge to every dog’s athletic skills. Just run across the road and see if you could avoid being hit. The more times you were able to do it, the greater the champion you were. Sooner or later, of course, the odds were bound to catch up with you, and few dogs had ever played dodge-the-car without losing on their last turn. But that was the beauty of this particular game. The moment you lost, you won.’ Overly romanticised indeed. Death in the fast lane is no expressway to glory, freedom (from suffering) or True Happiness. The moment you lose your life, whether you really win depends on how much merits and wisdom you had won in the life that just transpired. May Mr. Bones and Willy have good rebirths – in which they truly find home!
Are You a Stray in Samsara?