Thursday, September 29, 2011

Suicide: What a Chuckle

Suicide: What a Chuckle
by Scott Bradley


I heard a program on NPR the other day about suicide. I honestly don't know if, in relating it here, I can make it apropos to philosophical Taoism or not, but we'll see.

The program began with an account by a former Christian missionary in the jungles of the Amazon. He was there to learn, alphabetize, and translate the Bible into a tribal language. And to bring them to Jesus, of course. In the pursuit of this latter, he was telling a large group of these 'primary people' about how the suicide of a relative so saddened him that he came to Jesus. When he had finished, they all broke out in laughter.

Imagine. Someone killing themself. What a laugh! For these people, nothing could be stranger or funnier. They did not do it. Life was too good and full. In fact, this missionary became so challenged by the happiness of these people — more than he had ever seen among Christians — that he abandoned his faith altogether.

It is not that these people were somehow dancing painlessly through life. Infant mortality was something like thirty-percent. And I'm sure all those wonderful tropical diseases were a part of their adventure. Indeed, Hobbes might have rightly pointed at them and proclaimed that "life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." But Thoreau would have had to keep his "lives of quiet desperation" to himself.

I am not one for romanticizing the lives of primary peoples, those indigenous peoples who still live in a close, symbiotic relationship with their environment. But surely, they have much to teach us. If nothing else, the immediacy of their lives, and their acceptance of themselves as but part of the great cycle of life and death at work all around them, would seem to suggest another possibility for ourselves.

We live in a world full of alienation, dread, despair, angst, and a bunch of other cool words which describe our fundamental discontent. There are far too many of us to don leaves and descend upon the few remaining wilds, and we'd only bring all those aforementioned ailments with us. But perhaps there is a way we could discover a renewed primacy, be re-integrated with what is primary within us.

That is essentially what all this Zen- and Tao-talk is about. Or so it seems to me.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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