Notes & Ideas
RESOURCES AND SUGGESTIONS
This section contains various Notes and Ideas which came up during the creation of this project
Many people have tried to express their thoughts about Siddhartha's life and influence.
Here are a few I particularly enjoyed:
There is more detail below.
Songs and Story Links
Some of the links between the songs and the life of Siddhartha are far from obvious. Here are some points about some of the less obvious ones.
I've stripped off illusions
This song is written as if it is sung in a rather sleazy, disreputable nightclub. The singer is a raunchy diva.
Siddhartha's ventured into the big city. In more recent years a young man exploring a big city would come across intriguing places such as steamy nightclubs.
He had interesting relationships with the Courtesan, Amrapali. There are some parallels with Jesus' friendship with Mary Magdalene. The status or role of the Courtesan in Siddhartha's day was not really like any modern equivalent.
The title of the song is an ironic twist on the idea that many religious moments of enlightenment are described as "stripping off illusions".
Siddhartha will have thought about: "What is man?" and about the complex relationships between women and men which have been explored in songs and dramas of every kind .
Siddhartha lived at a time of fierce conflict between neighbouring groups. The monarchies around the Shakya homeland were expanding and ready to fight. In our time there are of course very many examples of hostile neighbours. At times, as with Hutu and Tutsi, hostility can explode into war or genocide.
One example from our own experience is the Troubles in Northern Ireland which descended into a series of tit for tat killings. The song illustrates the dark side of sectarian allegiances.
Set the Night on Fire
Siddhartha experienced plenty of entertainment in his adolescence.
In our time we experience the delights of music, dance in many ways. I remember enjoying simple rock and roll and 12 bar blues.
This song goes through nine build up phases. It would be good to try it as a Flashmob.
READING AND RESEARCH
There are, of course, very many books about Siddhartha and Buddhism. I did some unsystematic reading to try to build up my understanding. Here are some of the links and references to books which helped. A google search gives you their books and YouTube contributions but here are some specifics.
SUGGESTIONS: LINKS AND REFERENCES
Alan Watts – The Way of Zen and numerous talks on YouTube
Guy Claxton – The Heart of Buddhism and The Wayward Mind
David Brazier – Zen Therapy, The Feeling Buddha and The Dark Side of the Mirror
Anodea Judith – Wheels of life, Eastern Body Western Mind
Thich Nhat Hanh – The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching
Aldous Huxley – Island
Hermann Hesse - Siddhartha
Trevor Ling – The Buddha
Pankaj Mishra – An End to Suffering
Fritjof Capra – The Tao of Physics
The Dalai Lama – Beyond Religion
Norman O Brown – Love’s Body
Harari - Sapiens a Homo Deus
Eckhart Tolle - The Power of Now
Jonathan Haidt - The Righteous Mind
Liam and I previously wrote a musical about the life and death of Oscar Romero, another courageously spirited person, and his words inspire some of the songs.
There are countless ways in which to tell the life story. The true facts of Siddhartha’s life are not known for certain but there is enough consensus to build up a reasonably coherent and honest account.
I apologise for any misunderstandings on my part. There are many versions and many legends. We decided to tell the story in a way that is part children’s bedtime story, part history and part gospel.
I felt that we could all benefit from a better knowledge of this man and his teaching. There are many schools of thought within the spectrum of people inspired by Buddhism. The Narration is intended to give an interesting introduction to way of life that Siddhartha proposed.
I met David at a week-end seminar in Brittany on whether or not Zen therapy had anything to add to Western Psychotherapy. He is known as Dharmavidya and is the leader of the Amida Order. I have found meeting members of this Order very enjoyable and enlightening.
ZEN AND NOW
It was clear that Siddhartha’s life story has much in common with all of us today. He was not a god but a human being. He made mistakes and failed in many ways. The title shows that we were looking for bridges and constructive connections between the past and the present.
WHO ARE YOU?
At a group session we were asked to answer this question. Whatever answer we gave we were asked again. Where does anyone begin and end? If you see yourself not as a separate being but as playing your part in an astonishing unfolding cosmos, your experience of life changes.
Words words words
Most of us use words for practical purposes without thinking too much of how they work. If you want to say something fresh and new, words can be a challenge. Siddhartha did not even know if his experience was communicable in any language. He was aware that words inevitably define, restrict, narrow, bend and distort the reality they describe. The grammar of our language uses nouns to separate the world into relatively static things and, when aware of the inter-related flow of all energy, these nouns appear to divide the world misleadingly. Furthermore, everyone hears the words differently. As Wittgenstein said in describing the traps and pitfalls of language: every sentence only has meaning because of the rules of the language game being played. Siddhartha’s language was Pali. This is a richly poetic, multi-layered language often working through paradoxes, double negatives and irony. Anyone who studies Zen will know the saying that “those who know do not teach and those who teach do not know”. Zen exponents like Alan Watts show that words will often fail to communicate new thought - just as the knife cannot cut itself or the eye see itself. If 42 is the answer, what is the question? Words would always be a problem.
How did Siddhartha view his listeners? These were many and various. Some of them were the philosophers and seekers with whom he shared a common frame of reference. He could debate with them in their own terms. There were also the ordinary people of the countryside and the town, the householders. Siddhartha’s description of these sound like most of us, the ordinary person of today - like Homer Simpson - “Homo Simpsoniensis”. That sounds like most us. We are “bombu”. People of Springfield. Homer Simpson is a good example of bombu. Lovable and fallible. As are all the characters in Springfield and all of us. The world is not divided into “the enlightened” and the rest. We are all on the spectrum, all in the same boat. Some have a little dust in their eyes: others a lot. Siddhartha was well aware of his own and all of our capacity for living in delusion: for short-sightedness and narrow-mindedness. He visualised Amida, the personification of Infinite Compassion, as a kind spectator watching and enjoying our life stories unfold just as we enjoy the spontaneous behaviour of children and animals. However, Siddhatha thought our experience of life could be much improved with deeper understanding and knowledge of the truth about how our minds worked. Clearly any words he used would need to be simple and direct and open to everyone, a bridge not a barrier.
The main insight was so fundamental and so basic that it is hard to describe. There is an illusion so close and so powerful that it affects our experience of life every moment of every day. We know that each of us is an organism living in the environment of the whole universe. We are enmeshed in a vast matrix of forces: our skin, bones, organs, senses and thoughts are all constantly affected by these forces. We may think of objects and ourselves as separate but that is always an illusion. This feeling of separation is our primary problem. It makes us try to preserve and cling onto something which is ever-changing. We are partly released from identifying with our individual selves when we love something outside ourselves: our family; our local community, our football team; our country; our religion. But all of these are also ever-changing. Only when we identify with the whole infinite cosmos can we finally relate in a way which is ever-lasting. It helps if we accept that we are part of the cosmic everlasting dance, the continuous music of the universe. All is energy in the process of transformation, including all the trillions of cells within my body at any time. Like many of the world’s mystics he had felt the intense inter-connectedness of all things. This had dissolved all sorts of artificial conventional separateness. Every sub-atomic wavicle interacts with the rest of the universe in a multi-trillion matrix. Every breath you take, every move you make alters the universe. All moments of everyday are fully suffused with significance and meaning.
The key lay in his experience in deep meditation that there is ultimately no such entity as a separate isolated self. The tiny pronoun “I” can lead to disaster. There is one loving interwoven cosmic reality. We suffer from the illusion of that each of us is separate and isolated. Life lived in compassionate awareness of this is deeply unified satisfying. It’s not all about you. You are not in control of the universe. You can relax. If you identify yourself with anything less than the whole, you are identifying yourself with a transitory fragment which will break up and die. To lose this illusion created a deep sense of delight and freedom. In one sense this must have felt like discovering the internet of the spirit where everything could inter-connect and communicate. Or discovering E = MC squared. Perhaps Enlightenment equals Meditation multiplied by Compassion shared. As he explained his new-found understanding some of them agreed with him. Siddhartha began to build up a community of people who shared his vision, the Sangha.
From then on, he would encounter many people at a wholly different level.
Some Pali vocabulary may be helpful when reading about Siddhartha: sukkha dukka karma trishna nirvana mockhsha.
Sukkha is sweetness the pure joy of much of life
Dukkha has many meanings – sometimes translated as “suffering” it can also mean every experience of life from birth to death , it can mean stimulus, opportunity, or moment of danger
Karma includes the idea that every thought and action has consequences: everything we think or do sets in motion a chain reaction of results for better or worse
Trishna means craving, clinging or grasping - hanging on tightly to something
Nirvana means the cool peaceful bliss at the end of a burning fever; the moment when the fire is harnessed and comes under control
Mocksha means the experience of freedom; the lightness of heart; the total clarity of mind
Maga means the way - the path.
We went for a pattern of two nines and eighteen chapters partly because of the idea of working through the full spectrum of light. If you add infra-red and ultra-violet to the traditional seven colour spectrum you get nine.
The meditation practice of thinking through the full spectrum helps you look at life as a whole. You can build associations with each part of the spectrum.