Praise of May in prose and quotes
May is the month of Vesak and the onset of the SW Monsoon. To the Westerner, it is the month of spring proper. While I decide to observe sil and train myself in more mindfulness this month of the three major events of the Buddha’s life, a relative in the US has spent back-breaking hours getting her garden alive after the austerity of winter. What will I gain? Getting closer to Buddha’s exhortation to be an island unto myself and get on the path he showed us the way to. The spike in COVID-19 infection assists me with the decreed near lockdown which means greater solitude. My relative will have a brilliantly blossoming garden and outdoor lunches and barbecues with the greater freedom and downsizing of the pandemic due to Biden and the new government in power in her adopted country.
Great sayings on May
Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), writing in his own style of English about the annual pilgrimage to Canterbury Church, started his narrated tales of the pilgrims, praising the time of year:
“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour.”
Hundreds of poets writing in English have praised spring and the months of April, May and June and also flowers and trees from William Wordsworth’s famous Daffodils that danced in their multitude, to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ tall Binsey Poplars. Robert Herrick (1591-1674) praised thus:
“I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers
Of April, May, of June, and July flowers
I sing of Maypoles, Hock-carts, wassails, wakes
Of bridegrooms, brides, and of their bridal cakes.”
Yes, we too would sing of blossoms in their splendorous variety; of Vesak illuminations and kudoos, of white-clad sil observers; even of June brides and churches flooded with white lilies. But no more. We are near-drowned by the third rising wave of COVID-19. Instead of festivities, we have to self-isolate, otherwise we will have higher authorities locking us down. Weddings have been cancelled; parties are no more, even funerals are closed happenings. But we have to take it. How best? By listening, reading, dwelling on the teachings of the great religious teachers from long, long ago. Also, philosophers and psychiatrists of now.
The Buddha’s teaching is followed by the majority in Sri Lanka. He was an ardent admirer of nature. Didn’t he spend much of his time in the open? He was born, went into his first deep meditation as a boy, saw what life really was as he escaped from the palace with his faithful Channa to see the outside, attained enlightenment, preached and then died – all in the open. He chose to die between two sal trees.
Just one Buddhist quote, from the Ratanasutta or Discourse on the Jewels:
“Just as the forest is flowered at the top
In the first month of summer, during the summer season,
Similarly, He propounded the Noble Dhamma
Which takes you to Nibbana for the highest benefit.”
The Bible speaks of flowers in the Book according to Mathew 6:28:
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;
They toil not, neither do they spin.”
The Bible meant you trust in God to supply you with what you want. We followers of other religions can translate this to “admire nature, appreciate it.”
One unrestricted activity
So much is banned, it must be admitted, for our own good, to save us from infection and thus preserve life with normal breathing. We need to accept this with calmness and sensibleness. One great benefit not banned is going for walks, as we say. Yes, strolling around in neighbourhoods, or walking in a designated space or park, is allowed. And while walking we should not follow Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it.” That should not be, at all.
When we stroll around, we should look up and admire the trees with their blossoms, most when we walk on carpets of colour – purple, pink and yellow under the jacaranda, the jambu, and the mara with frangipani bearing blooms of white, yellow and crimson red.
I quote 16th century Robert Herrick again from his To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time:
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today. Tomorrow will be dying.”
The same wise lesson is to be learnt when offering flowers at the feet of Buddha statues.
It is a hard time for the entire world, but look at the USA. In his 100 days of government, Biden has done so much, mainly curbing the COVID-19 curse and pushing aside mad Trumpism.