March 18, 2007

Flashing Neon Sign

Nowadays it's unwise to write on fundamental matters without hanging up a flashing neon sign that says, "Enlightenment Sold Here." You could do it, but it would produce no impact. And a human being wants what he does to have impact. The sages tell us to leave no traces, but if not for the traces they left we would not know who they were or what they taught.

A funny ambition, to leave no trace: impossible to strive for sincerely, but in the end impossible not to fulfill.

I’m wondering about that word “nowadays,” though. Was it really any different long ago? Buddha hit the lecture circuit for forty-five years, charmingly holding up a flower to wild applause. Jesus and Moses did magic tricks to get the crowd’s attention.

Even Diogenes, famously looking for an honest man, parading naked around Athens with a barrel around his middle, peering with a lantern in broad daylight: talk abut a publicity-hound! Did he know that the man he was looking for wasn’t himself?

Who are the ones who didn’t advertise themselves? Their names are lost to history.

I spur my horse past ruins;
ruins move a traveler's heart.

But what I lament are the common bones
unnamed in the records of immortals.

-- Han Shan, Poem 18

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