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Siddhartha, who became the Buddha, made his final breakthrough to enlightenment after many days and nights sitting under the Bodhi tree, rooted there in determination to reach the end of his quest.

His final obstacle was a confrontation with Mara, the demon of desire. After he faced down Mara, invoking the earth as his witness, he achieved enlightenment and became the Buddha.

What is most interesting about this story is not the wrong objects of desire that were paraded before Siddhartha in this final "temptation" but the fact that the story casts desire itself in the central role of tempter.

The notion that desire, the very "act" of wanting something or somebody, is at the heart of the problem is a new one to me, until I think about what has been happening on the frontiers of biological research into the brain. Then it makes sense.

Neurobiological research is doing a lot to make clear the psychobiology of desire. This work suggests that desire is a universally addictive response. The same circuitry seems to be involved with cocaine, sex, chocolate, flowers........anything that gives us pleasure. The brain circuits involved do a very effective job of creating an anticipation of pleasure which itself becomes a drive that is hard to resist.

This seems to be a neurobiological definition of desire.

If it is the desire itself that we have to manage then we have some clue about what might be the answer. I mean, how do we manage this desire? I think the answer is patience.

Whatever the desire is, whether it be money, or sex, or chocolate, or paper clips, it is the uncontrolled compulsion to satisfy that desire that will destroy us.

If this is true we do not need to make an analysis of whether sex is more important than paper clips. If the need to have paper clips NOW causes us to act heedless of our other commitments and obligations and needs, we will destroy ourselves and others.

What we need is time to understand how the need for those paper clips fits in with everything else and how we might stay alive, keep others alive, and get some paper clips too.

Surely patience is needed.

Returning to Siddhartha, he emerged from his stay under the Bodhi Tree with great insight into the nature of the universe and everything in it. He developed a set of moral precepts to guide anyone else seeking this path. I understand them to be a simple way of turning something not good into something good.

where there is greed, let me be generous.

where there is ignorance, let me be wise.

where there is anger, let me have compassion. these, I would add.

where there is desire, let me be patient.

(credits: the story of Siddhartha is drawn from a WGBH production on the life of the Buddha; the summary of neurobiological research comes from a recent Charley Rose production on the brain; the answer came from across the ocean.)


My Bodhi Tree

Sometimes we all have to pull back and look inside of ourselves in order to be true to anyone and to everyone. We all know this, and we all know how hard it is to do. So when someone takes that decisive step, it is clear that we must support them and it is also clear that we must thank them. Only when someone is not there does it become more clear how wonderful it is when they are.

This is an image and a message of thanks but it is not in fact dedicated to anyone, it is dedicated to everyone. It is dedicated to everyone because this need to withdraw and seek ourselves is a universal need, and it is dedicated to everyone because everyone and everything is connected.

This is my cedar tree on Patuisset. Of course it is not my tree, it is everyone's tree. it is the tree of all those wonderful people in this little paradise and it is connected to trees everywhere. It is connected to my grandfather's cedar a few miles north; it is connected to a cypress tree in Crespellano; it is connected to a Bodhi tree in India. it is connected to countless trees that I do not know.

I personally discovered that here, at this tree, I could touch the ground and ask it to bear witness to my own quest, and with Sile's help I found the technique to both touch the ground and reach for the sky in one image.

I put this tree here as a sign of thanks and as a return to the universe that bore it and me. The file is there. Anyone anywhere is welcome to do anything with it.

I, personally, will be here, touching the ground and asking it to bear witness to what is good, and searching the sky for dreams to dream.

Thank you.



Girl with Mangoes, 1971

It is not a fun theme to explore, but it seems to me that suffering can produce great art. Without making any larger claims for this image, I know that I like it, and I know that on the day I took this picture, I was suffering greatly.

Here are a few more images that are connected to times of great pain, uncertainty or disorientation, where it seems clear to me that the act of making the image was part of a process of seeking a solution, of expression, or even of healing.

Bicycle at Rest, Florence, 1978

Knotting a Persian Rug, Khorasan, 1978

The Caregiver, Quissett, 2010