It all seems so stupid,
it makes me want to give up…
– Shame: First half of chorus
The classic 1987 Depeche Mode concert anthem, ‘Never Let Me Down Again‘, is about a debatable ‘best friend’, who is taking the singer for a ‘ride’, to ‘where’ he wants to be – be it a physically high place with a view, and/or a drug-induced high. There is hope mixed with some apprehension, thus the title repeated in the chorus. In the middle, there is ‘flying high’, watching the world passing by, while not wishing to come down again. There is a warning of sorts though, that safety is promised, only as long who in charge is remembered.
Of course, a truly worthy best friend will never let one down in the first place, what more possibly again. Of what ultimate use are unsustainable high experiences, as escapist trips, if continually forced to come back down? Also, these trips are dangerous, with the illusion of full control. After all, almost all who died from getting too high perished due to accidents. Thus, the Buddhist teachings rule all intoxicants that numb mindfulness and impair health to be avoided, be it an alcoholic drink, or any one of the many new habit-forming drugs today.
The lyrics can be seen to be singing about ‘taking refuge’, which can only be in one or more of the trio – of people, experiences and/or things (人事物). On people, even human best friends, as imperfect people, not yet being Buddhas, are likely to let us down once a while. Thus, do Buddhists take the ultimate refuge in Buddhas, who not only can do us no wrong, but will only guide us to what is right, leading towards total purity. On experiences, even a trip with the highest high will be grounded too soon. Transcendence via spiritual awakening will be lasting though.
The Dharma in recorded forms are the ultimate ‘things’ for refuge, leading to the True Happiness of liberation when diligently learnt for practice; what any addictive yet damaging drug cocktail cannot do. Buddhists also go for refuge in the noble (Ārya) Saṅgha, the community of realised practitioners. An immeasurably large community of them can be met in Amitābha Buddha’s (阿弥陀佛; Āmítuófó) Pure Land. All these beings of superior goodness (诸上善人), along with Āmítuófó, are our true best friends! Thus is there complete Threefold Refuge in the Triple Gem.
Āmítuófó and company are our best spiritual friends as they will definitely be able to most swiftly guide us to Buddhahood, so that we too can be other beings’ spiritual best friends, to swiftly guide them to the same goal. What more, those sincerely mindful of Āmítuófó to reach his Pure Land will be personally received and guided by him. With the safest refuge promised by him, is this not the ultimate fearless ‘ride’ with a best friend, to where best aspired to be, to transcend the world, so as to be able to see all, and help all, most objectively and skilfully?
The song fades to end with this consoling outro, ‘See the stars, they’re shining bright, everything’s alright tonight.’ This is so as clusters of stars give us a feeling of hope, as if for refuge, as represented by their seemingly ‘steady’ lights. Yet, upon closer look, they do flicker. They are impermanent, burning suns after all, with unstable light illuminating the darkness limitedly. Āmítuófó’s immeasurable golden light of blessings, however, shines in all directions all the time, always waiting for us to connect to him and to it with our sincere practice. Námó Āmítuófó!
… but why should I give up,
when it all seems so stupid?
– Shame: Second half of chorus
What ‘Nuggets’ Are You Hooked On?