Walang Forever (buti na lang)

It’s become fashionable for young people these days to ask ‘if there is Forever.’ Invariably the question is romantic in nature, inspired by the recent ABS CBN Teleserye Forevermore.

The popularity of the question, and how seriously many ask it, is intriguing. The physical attractiveness of Enrique Gil and Liza Soberano (the stars of Forevermore) seem to have touched the romantic nerve of the Filipino in the original sense of the word ‘romantic’ – that is, a deep, overwhelming realization of realities greater than the mundane lives we all live.

Owing to its origin, the question ‘meron bang Forever?’ is more substantially, ‘May forever kaya para sa maganda?’ and by ‘maganda’ is meant all that is beautiful, sacred, pleasurable.

To the wide reader of course, both Western and Eastern traditions of thought have had the same answer: ‘walang Forever.’

In the Romantic English poet Percy Shelley’s (ironically) now immortal poem ‘Ozymandias,’ the sheer power the eponymous Pharaoh once had is portrayed pathetically as his mighty statue stands alone in the middle of wasteland.

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains…

The West has always contemplated on the impermanence of things in a pessimistic, almost despairing tone. From Neruda’s still smarting breakup poem ‘Tonight I can write the saddest lines

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same…

Another’s. She will be another’s. Like my kisses before.
Her voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

To the (self-consciously) anticlimactic ending of Eliot’s Hollow Men:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

The Western attitude towards ‘Walang Forever’ is perhaps best encapsulated by the Latin maxim ‘sic transit gloria mundi,’ ‘thus ends the glory of the world.’

To the East however, particularly in Buddhist circles, contemplation of the impermanence of things is seen as a way towards enlightenment. The Three Marks of Existence for Buddhists are Suffering, Impermanence and Non-selfhood.

There are no such things as selves, only momentary existences that are results of the past and themselves causes for future fleeting existences. Where, the Buddhist ask, is the river, when the river you step on now will not be the same as the one you step on tomorrow? Existence is the constant fluctuation of existences, every ‘change’ is actually a change in identity. Likewise, if you love someone today, she will be a different person tomorrow, the world has altered her in the span of a day.

And so there is likewise no Forever, not even for the beauty of LizQuen. As the classic Japanese Iroha poem puts it:

Colours, though fragrant
will only scatter away.
Who in this world is unchanging?

But the East has never lamented this impermanence. Forever has always been a poisonous lie. It is blindness to the reality that there is no Forever that causes suffering. So long as we continue worrying about lasting Forever we will never be free to live the now. The Dhammapada puts it beautifully with the metaphor of house building:

Looking for the builder of the house, I shall be reborn ceaselessly until I find him
And painful is the endlessness of rebirth.
But oh house builder, you are found,
you shall build no more houses!

There is an almost jubilant liberation in the declaration that no ‘houses’ (sense of Forever) will be built again. No, there is no forever, we don’t need to worry about that anymore.

And we can think of better things, like enjoying the now. In Japanese aesthetics, there is the concept of ichi-go, ichi-e, literally ‘one time, one meeting.’ It means experiences will happen only once, and they are different each time. As such we must enjoy each moment, being fully aware that we will never enjoy it as it is again, but be open to enjoy the next fleeting experience that comes.

This of course does not mean relationships should be short lived. Rather, it means everything is short lived – life itself is short lived – and those in relationships must always live the moment as it lasts. If you think about lasting Forever all the time you forget about enjoying the relationship now, and that is a recipe for disaster.

Love like enlightenment is a journey, and the point is the journey and not the destination. ‘When you see the Buddha on the road, kill him,’ as the Buddhists would put it.

And when you see Forever on the road of love, you’re not doing it right.

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