The Engine and the Fuel

This is sangsara.

I had a new experience in the middle of the night, a few hours after I was certain that the result of the election would not change if I looked at it longer. I went to sleep, and had a panic attack in my dreams. I woke up, but the panic did not follow me. I’ve had real-life panic attacks sparked by dreams I’ve had, but I’d never had a real one in a dream. And it hadn’t continued in wakefulness.

My city was thick with smoke the day after, from wildfires in North Carolina (literal, not figurative). The previous week, I had written a screed in rage. It’s a part of me that I feed at times like these. Often enough that those posts have their own tag.

Only four years and then we can get rid of him. Only two years and Congress can shift. 

Wait eight years and Obama’s gone. Wait eight years and Bush is gone. Wait eight years and Clinton’s gone. Wait twelve years and we’re out of Reagan’s shadow. One more supreme Court justice and we’ll finally be safe. Two more justices and then we’ll finally get to shape our world. Three more justices and we’ll be set virtually forever. 

Lose ten more pounds and then I’ll be who I want to be. When I get this promotion, then I’ll be secure. When that person at work retires, then things will improve. When this person changes this habit then we will get along.

Sangsara (samsara) was always some abstract vocabulary word to me as I thought about Buddhist concepts. The endless cycle of birth and death. Think this, do that, sit under a tree, then magic happens. Then you stop being reborn, you break that mystical cycle of sangsara and reach nibbana (nirvana). But what if sangsara isn’t a vocabulary word, taken out of context for some pointless middle school history test?

For a moment I think I saw it for what it really is: every cycle of “becoming.” Sangsara is the engine of craving, which itself is the fuel of suffering.


(Thumbnail from Popular Science Monthly, 1881)