Monday, October 22, 2007

Der Tod in Hong Kong

I promise you we'll get back to the society of Akhldanns. Today, however, I want to just write about some impressions I'm having here in Hong Kong.

Those of you familiar with Thomas Mann will no doubt recognize the title reference to the famous short story "Death in Venice" (Der Tod in Venedig.).

About a year ago, the husband of a very old friend who did sourcing over here was on a business trip, when he suddenly dropped stone dead of a heart attack. He was young- in his 40's.

Now I can't help thinking of John every time I come over here.

Yesterday, walking along the waterfront, I watched a cat stalking birds in the underbrush around the HK art museum. Death- or the inference of it- was there, lurking in the midst of all the money, commerce, and architecture.

I got into the museum, and lo and behold, the big event was a display of "treasures" from the british museum. Among them, a complete, perfectly preserved mummy from Egypt.

Death again, ...on public display for every gawking gawker. I wondered to myself how the woman wrapped in shroud would have felt while she was alive, had she been told her body would be on public display on the other side of the world two thousand years later. ...Is this simply pornography, renamed "science?"

In the midst of this egocentric frenzy we call "life," we all forget- completely- how absolutely temporary life is. Caught up in our pursuit of personal aims and goals- all the "desires" that religions warn us against- we don't see that we need to be preparing ourselves to face death. And no matter who we are, we're all absolutely equal in the eyes of death.

Perhaps Dogen understood just how immanent death is for every single one of us. Why else would he have advised us to "practice as though extinguishing flames from around our head?" And of course we have Gurdjieff's Beelzebub remarking that the only remaining factor that might yet serve to spur man to a real spiritual effort in his life would be to develop an irrevocable, organic sense of his own mortality.

The absolute paradigm for this level of existence is the organism. The lessons we are here to learn can't be learned without it. And one of those lessons-perhaps the greatest one of all- is death.

Where is our humility in the midst of our mortality? Can we touch that, even if just for a moment?

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