The last rejoinder and provocation of the 59 hallowed Tibetan Lojong slogans, a set of teachings designed to train the mind into the wisdom of compassion is one of the most famous: “Don’t expect applause.”
The Buddha himself, as he died admonished his followers: “All compounded things are subject to decay. Strive diligently for your own liberation.” Mary Oliver (in her “The Buddha’s Last Instruction”) would have us believe that as the Buddha uttered these last words, and his followers heard these words and looked into his eyes, their eyes widened in terror. An odd take. Had the Buddha’s followers been true, they would have known and lived the truth of his words all along. They would have been absorbing the meaning of his words during his 35 years of teachings. As disciples, they would be living and breathing the sutras that used the contemplation of death as stern reminder to employ diligence in practice, continuously. They would have known that even the Buddha would arrive at his own end unable to give or offer audience to them as they became “A light unto themselves.”
Maybe Oliver was only speaking of the casual looky-loos that were peering into a flash mob happening, hoping for magic or myth. Coming around to see if such as the Buddha would really die. Maybe, they thought, he might hide behind a tomb rock for three days, then take a rocket to heaven after that. No such luck. The only magic in Buddhism is to be finally free of needing an audience. With all due respect, I still think Mary Oliver sold the Buddha short by saying he did not teach his followers well enough to sustain themselves after his death. I’ll bet on the Buddha before Mary Oliver. My guess is the devoted practitioners looked on with more love and wonder more than terror. Ourselves, will we really be terrorized by those we love when their beautiful last words pass from their lips as a final gift?
I had a dream last night. I was saying goodbye to my audience. After all, it only follows that all audiences are subject to decay. In the dream, I hired Frank Sinatra to sing “New York New York.” As if to say “Sinatra, you seedy icon of American glitter, bye bye.” An oblique way of saying goodbye, but that’s me, like a crab, I walk sideways.
I think the dream was in synch. I am trying to say goodbye to you, my audiences, all my glittering New Yorks. All of you whose praise I craved. All of you whom I have granted so many magical powers.
It’s not simple of course, there are so many of you, and there are so many sub-tendrils of power-ship I have extended down into the roots of the Other.
Whatever it is that I don’t have must be you. What you have must be “It.” The It Girl and It Boy of every moment. I thought this way, deeply, unconsciously, for so long. But that’s the rub: Every “It” only has one moment before you need a new hit of a new “It.”
I still love you all. I will sing to you all the songs you have given to me, with gusto, warmth and affection. You have given me something to love, when the moral strictures of my youth gave me so many binding tangles of limits around loving myself. But now when I sing, I will love my voice, my heart, my humor, and my affection for affection, even more than I love you.
As we become more centered, we can let more and more of the audiences go. What a relief. We need not posture in a performance environment, we can simply live.
I am waiting for more dreams. Another recent one informs me that the mental developments I struggled with, and then sorted out clearly in college are as worthy, reliable, and strong as my physical body. What this means will reveal itself in more exploration, but only to a point. The whole point of dreams is to accept the message. But the deeper point is always to accept the mystery in the relationship of the unconscious and the conscious. They are working at things our gross apprehensions are not delicate enough to know. Wait. Nibble. Don’t grasp. There’s no tangible gain here, no one who will approve more, or approve less.
Applause is a distraction really that we can, and must, barely tolerate if we are devoted to our own creativity practice and spiritual liberation. It is irrelevant, in the end. Especially the end. Ask the Buddha.