Existential Chats In ‘Café Society’

In ‘Café Society’ is discussion of some interesting existential issues. Bobby exclaims, ‘[W]hen the end’s near, you need something… I have to know that all this just doesn’t end… I need to believe that a part of me keeps going. We all got [to have] a soul.’ What expressed was the fear of death, which is understandable for those unaware of what happens when dying and beyond. It is also understandable that many cling to the idea of a soul that endures from life to life.

However, the Buddha realised that there is no unchanging (physical or) mental entity that perpetuates, as even one’s consciousness changes from moment to moment, when living, dying and being reborn. The part that ‘keeps going’ is our karmic tendencies, though they too ‘keep going’ in a morphing way. This is the ‘Middle Path’ between eternalism (which believes that one endures without change) and nihilism (which believes that nothing endures at all). The good news is that our Buddha-nature, which is our potential for Buddhahood, that transcends mind and body is always present.

Marty remarks, ‘[M]y whole life, I pray and I pray and there’s never an answer!’ His Mother replies, ‘No answer, is also an answer.‘ Well, a lot depends on who he was praying to, and what he was praying for. If the entity prayed to does not exist, or does, but is not as powerful as imagined, there will be no expected answer. And if that prayed to an existing entity who is powerful enough is unreasonable, there will be no expected answer too.

Thus does Buddhism advocate the importance of taking right refuge in not just a true subject of refuge, but the highest available. The highest of refuge should also be able to teach on what are realistic prayers, with teachings for growing our wisdom to know what is realistic. True faith is thus established upon true wisdom, just as true wisdom fortifies true faith.        

Evelyn writes in a letter – ‘It’s raining here today. Very pretty, but a little melancholic. Leonard says: “It’s the poignancy of life, and not only do we have to embrace its meaninglessness, and celebrate life, because it has no meaning.” It’s too deep for me, but Mom always boils it down to: “Live every day like it’s your last. And someday you will be right.“‘ Unenlightened life is bittersweet indeed, with ‘bitter’ literally longer than ‘sweet’.

Such is as taught by the Buddha too, with the prevalence of physical and mental suffering being the First Noble Truth to be recognised – so as to urge us to transcend it. If much suffering is meaningless, what should be done is to transcend it indeed. Only after transcending the cycle of life and death though, is there true cause for celebration. Though we are trapped in the rounds of rebirth, it is still a race against time to figure out a way to break free of it in this life. The easiest and surest way is via the Pure Land path of practice! It is good advice to live this day as if it is our last, though also wise to be prepared that it might not be!

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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