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In which I utterly fail to achieve enlightenment

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Sometimes, research takes me in odd directions. Just lately, I found myself reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. (This should not be confused with the famous and ancient Tibetan Book of the Dead, which I am strictly informed I may not understand unless I am steeped in Buddhist practice; it is much too complicated and subtle.)

In tremendous arrogance, I thought I knew a little bit about Buddhism. Instinctively, I liked the fact that it had no gods, but believed that everyone, with effort and practice, could achieve enlightenment. That felt nicely democratic to me. I knew a bit about mindfulness, and the thing of stilling the unquiet mind, often through meditation and concentration on the breath.

I knew, obviously, about reincarnation. Someone once asked me if I believed in reincarnation. I said, in my empirical way, that I had trouble with it because the numbers do not add up. If we are all descended from one mitochondrial Eve, then in order to get to the six billion souls that now exist, then an awful lot of splitting would have to go on. (I admit, I may be being too literal about the concept, or to have misunderstood it.)

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