Jerry Earl Johnston: Shake off things that will end up combusting

Published: Saturday, Jan. 12 2008 12:29 a.m. MST

This past week, my reading took me through a few books by Buddhist authors. I've been reading some of the religion's heavy hitters and puzzling over some of the poems. There's no way to capsulize a religion in a paragraph, of course, but — with apologies to the Dalai Lama — it seems to me Buddhism basically teaches that everything is temporary. Attaching yourself to temporary things is a surefire way to end up suffering. So, the best way to avoid suffering is to see through the changing nature of the universe and tap into the eternal and its storehouse of wisdom and compassion.

I'm especially intrigued by the idea that "attachment leads to suffering." Everything fades away.

Atheists, evangelicals, humanists and Mormons may not agree on a lot, but I think one thing they have in common is a belief that someday the world will get toasted like a marshmallow.

Scientists say the sun will explode in a great supernova, turning the planets into a bag of charcoal briquettes.

Bible-based religions hold to similar notions about the end of things.

"Some say the world will end in fire," wrote Robert Frost. "Some say in ice."

It's fire, Bob. Trust me. By consensus, everything — from the Mona Lisa to the town of Mona — will be just more fodder for the fire.

So get emotionally attached to the world at your own risk.

It's all going up in flames.

That said, of course, finding something cheery to say is a task. But let me offer this: Since everything material is combustible, start looking for things that aren't. Attach to wisdom, compassion and other principles. And since the flames are going to consume everything else, why not get a head start? Start today by chucking some things into the fire that keep us in bondage.

The old photo of your high school boyfriend or girlfriend? Twirl into the hearth. That's where it's going to end up anyway.

Hate to burn reading material? It's all going to be ash. Take a match to that new Neiman Marcus catalog, that new copy of TV Guide or the latest Sports Illustrated.

Go through your wallet. That extra credit card you don't need, that movie rental card, that little paper where you wrote down the license plate number of the jerk who cut you off on I-15? Ignite them all. Watch how they shrivel and shrink in the flames. Take it from the University of Utah physics professors, the Utah State University astronomy professors and the Brigham Young University religion professors — you'll be watching a little preview of the world itself.

As we go through life, we're often like little magnets being dragged through a box of tacks. Everything sticks to us. Or, as Pablo Neruda has it, we're all white velvet swans navigating a lake of ashes.

Thankfully, it will all get scraped off of us sooner or later.

Why not make it sooner?

At least, from my Buddhist reading, that's what a billion people on the other side of the world have been trying to tell us for a very long time now.


E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com

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