Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Fierce Urgency of Now

"...We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood-it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."..."

That is a very short excerpt from Rev. Martin Luther King's speech "Beyond Viet Nam". Recently Sen. Barack Obama borrowed the phrase, "the fierce urgency of now", in one of his own speeches.

These few words struck me on so many levels. First and foremost they snapped this wandering and undisciplined mind back to the importance - and urgency - of this practice. There is precious little time for meditation, even under the most fortunate circumstances in which I find myself. There are responsibilities and everyday duties and chores to be done, yes. But then what? Now comes and goes regardless of whether I choose to be aware or not, and to waste time with regret over missed opportunities would only insure further neglect.

I'm relatively certain that neither Dr. King nor Sen. Obama would have imagined that these words might serve as inspiration for a struggling Buddhist to regain her bearings on this path. I don't think either would mind.

As I was reflecting on this, I remembered something I had read in "Food for the Heart". Finishing a talk on the benefits of practice, Ajahn Chah encouraged his students not to let time roll by unused and without purpose. He ended with this Lao folk-saying:

Many rounds of merriment and pleasure have passed; soon it will be evening. Now, drunk with tears, rest and see. Before long it will be too late to finish the journey.

I know I have read this many times, but without really noticing it. When I opened the book to find this saying to share here, I went right to it.

(The entire text of Dr. King's speech can be found here.)


Dhamma81 said...

I guess it shows that with the right mindset, anything can be used for the Dhamma. I never realized it was a speech by Dr. King until I saw his name. It comes off like a hard hitting Ajahn Maha Boowa Dhamma talk. It goes to show that one can find gems of Dhamma in many different things throughtout life. Even though he was a Christian Minister his call to urgency and personal accountability for our actions was not much different then a forest Ajahn.

puthujjana said...

Ajahn Chah said that everything teaches us. I've found that to be true.