Monday, April 15, 2013

Bernard the Buddhist

April 13, 2013, 12:00 PM
Omg Virginia Woolf wrote the waves about me. I want to coat this book in gold and wear it around my neck.
I sent this text message to my boyfriend when I was about 50 pages into The Waves but honestly I really could have sent that text message after the first paragraph. I don't even know how to express my sheer--omg I don't even know--fondness? no that sounds too tame; adoration? amazement? astonishment????? for this novel. I thought my entire world was shaken the second (no not the first) time I read Mrs. Dalloway?!?!?!?!!! If I could just drop out of school and devote my life to copying each line by hand like the monks used to do before the printing press I would do it! I've underlined just about every line in the book so far, each time shouting in my head "yes! yes! yes!!!!!!"

But I'll stop myself there. And I'll stop the "I" there also. Because this book is not about me, and yet it is. While reading about Bernard traveling to London to meet with Jinny, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, and Louis, I was very interested in Bernard's attempt to obliterate his identity or the "I". He felt on the train as though all the passengers, including himself, became some sort of community, a single being with "only one desire--to arrive at the station" (Woolf 80). Because the desire was shared by all, all became one. But this unity lasted only as long as the train ride for, when the train stopped, "hate and rivalry...resumed their sway" as the desires of the passengers (who were no longer passengers but pedestrians) split in multiple directions, all directions solitary. Bernard, however, does not want "to assume the burden of individual life" (Woolf 81) and longs to instead " the street, taking no part, watching the omnibuses, without desire; without envy." It was at this moment I was reminded of the small amount of knowledge I had gained from one of my mandatory theology classes (look that core was good for something!) about Buddhism. From what I remember, the goal of Buddhism was to revoke the "I" with the realization that the self does not exist. According to Buddhism, the root of suffering forms from our desires and passions. We suffer because we do not have; we suffer because we want but we cannot achieve. Especially for the Western world, our desires and passions constitute our identities. For example, I desire to be a writer. But this desire to become a writer, constitutes my identity and causes me pain. I have not published; I have been rejected from literary magazines; and I suffer. If I were to let go of my desires, if I were to realize that there is no self, that I am only temporary and that soon I will return to where I originated as a part of a greater whole, I would no longer suffer--according to Buddhism. As Bernard glides through London thinking of "mammoths" (Woolf 82) and the pedestrians staring in windows "ignoring their doom", it is as though he is accepting one of The Three Marks of Existence: he realizes that things are not permanent. Just as the mammoths have died out, so will humanity: everyone reading this blog post and everyone on this earth without the honor of reading this blog post too. But Bernard does not succeed in reaching complete enlightenment. Though he tries to live for the moment without desire or envy, the emotions still sneak in as he envisions his daughters and sons (82) continuing humanity and life. He also goes back to the beloved "I".

I do not know if Woolf had any knowledge of Buddhism yet the connection seems strong and evident. I had a really hard time with this concept in class (why live without my passions?!) and yet Bernard's contemplation of desires and the self is truly moving.

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