BUDDHA IN REVERSE

Artwork from restaurant Life Alive, Salem, MABUDDHA IN REVERSE

What if Siddhartha had been a coward
And instead of sitting under the tree
When he set out of his palace
Utterly shocked by misery
Poverty, disease and old age,
had picked up his robes
or his loincloth
And run away back to his leafy courtyard
to sip mint tea while watching the birds?

Then we would have had fewer temples
Cool Buddha statues in the shade of Bodhi leaves
And more prickly crucifixes above our beds
Those bleeding tender feet crushed like doves
As useful reminders
that life is suffering.

But think, if Jesus himself had
At the last moment, gathered his robes
Or his loincloth for speed,
And run away like the gingerbread man?

*

I was surfing the web the other day, looking for visions of France my memory had idealized: glorious Provence, fields of thyme or lavender, shady café terraces. And there appeared, oops, pictures of low-income housing developments, rabbit hutches for human beings, cheap white walls hiding misery, stench and violence. Needless to say it burst my bubble. I just wanted to erase this from my screen and my mind.
My biggest fears are poverty, misery, ugliness. People crowded in hutches who end up killing each other. What could I do to help? What would I do if I won billions? build schools, day nurseries, less miserable lodgings? I would like a dictatorship of beauty. Wisdom and self-control at birth. From the start. Would it help to give young people dignity, possibilities, dreams? And what about mental illnesses? And what about human nature? I cannot prevent despair and violence in human nature. Just myself.

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