Absurdist Aspirations

I’ve been reading Shantideva‘s Bodhicharyavatara, and various commentaries on it. I even made it through part of a weekend program on it. I came across this little fable in Kunzang Pelden’s commentary on it, called The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech:

Once upon a time, when the son of Vallabha… was setting off on a sea voyage, his mother wept and caught hold of the hem of his clothes. “Your tears,” he cried, “will bring me bad luck on the journey.” And with that, he kicked his mother in the head. In the course of his voyage, [he] was shipwrecked, but holding fast to a spar, he was washed ashore on an island. …he had to undergo the unbearable pain produced by an iron wheel spinning on his head. But then he thought to himself, “May the pain of other beings who are suffering for having kicked their mothers in the head ripen upon me. May they not experience it.” At that very moment, his torture ceased…

This morning, after waking up around 5:00 with an ear mysteriously filled with liquid, doing my best to dry it out and pack it with cotton, and then lying back down to try to sleep, it came to mind. Something had obviously gone quite wrong with my ear, and I had no idea what it was. The ear didn’t hurt, and the liquid was clear and of the approximate density and viscosity of water, so it didn’t seem like the symptoms of an infection, but I couldn’t figure out what else it could be. And so I lay there considering what suffering I could aspire to have ripen upon me. Finally, I decided that I would seek to take on the suffering of all of those who were as frightened as I was for reasons they couldn’t entirely explain. I don’t know how much it helped, but I was able to keep myself functionally calm until I got to the doctor’s office.

He looked in my left ear, and saw just a little spot of blood on the tissue that hadn’t quite healed yet. But everything looked basically okay. There was no infection, and the tissue was still covering all of the bone. Then he looked in my right ear, and it was a mess. It was full of sloughing skin, irritated, and on the verge of an infection. It seems that I’m having an episode of eczema in both ears, and that it wasn’t as bad in the left ear because I’ve been putting the powder in it every other day. Now I’ll be putting the powder in both ears every day for the rest of this week, and hoping that this bout of eczema passes. Walking through the lobby of the doctor’s building on the way back to work, I almost collapsed in tears, and I’m not entirely sure why, except that I was tired and I’m just about completely wrung out by this process. And still I must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

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