Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Monday, 14 October 2013

STRAWBERRY FIELDS, or Steak is Lentils

Probably one of John Lennon’s best and most iconic songs is the starting point of today’s post, a post in no small measure inspired by Silver Tiger’s recent blog, Out, Out, Damned Internet

Here is a link to a rather toe-curlingly embarrassing video of the Fab Four prancing and cavorting around pretentiously in what would now be classed as an early (excruciatingly wince-inducing) pop video of Strawberry Fields.  I wish I had never seen it.

And never have a song’s introductory lines been more topical. Here's a reminder (my italics):
“Let me take you down, ‘cos I’m going to Strawberry Fields,
Nothing is real.”

Although the song was released in the UK on February 13th 1967, the above lyrics reflect our contemporary society perfectly. Today we are living in a society where a large part of our daily lives is conducted with a virtual interface. Let me explain. If we buy a concrete article, or indeed a virtual service, we will probably pay with plastic, with our phones or with an electronic transfer. No real money changes hands. We can shop for real groceries in virtual supermarkets – we can even buy unreal books to download onto our e-books. This in fact is a rather nice circularity. The immaterial thoughts of an author, once exclusively recorded on physical media – paper – for transmission to the reader’s own mind can now be transmitted through virtual systems. A form of mediated telepathy, I would venture to call it.

Let me give a more personal example: mobile telephony. Here in Spain there is no such thing as a Movistar shop actually run by Movistar; they are all franchises, as I suppose is the case of all other mobile phone companies. I know someone who recently had her mobile stolen. Needless to say the SIM card was immediately cancelled, but to kill the phone she had to go to the police and report the theft. The police report was then sent by email to the phone company and the phone was duly killed. Most of the process was carried out remotely and at no point did she actually see any employee of the phone company face to face. And the phone? €400 down the drain. €400 that she neither saw in her hand nor in her pay packet as all of this money only ever existed virtually. It only existed because we are told and believe that it exists. All rather Buddhist I think. It is one of modern life’s great paradoxes that as we are all more interconnected, we all shrink more into our own little personal carapaces and pay less attention to the world around us, all rather Buddhist I think. 

And so to Buddhists. A question: have you ever seen a poor working class Buddhist? I haven’t. In my experience, Western Buddhists tend to be well-off middle-class people, usually retired, on some sort of pension or, as they used to say, with a private means of income. In other words people who in the past would have been flâneurs; people who have nothing better to do.

Those who do have things to do range from peddlers of their own type of Buddhism to peddlers of death-dealing weapons. I know one who teaches you (for a modest consideration) how to prepare for your physical death and transition to the next step in your existence by relating to a pebble sold to you at a rather extortionate price from the great collection with which Karma has blessed his rather large goat farm. He sells the goat’s milk. I never did find out what happened to the kids. Perhaps they were all loaded into a nice comfy cattle truck and taken to other, greener, pastures to live out their lives into a venerable old age in caprine contentment. More probably, they were shovelled, panic stricken, into an old van, trundled off to the abattoir and hung upside down to have their throats cut and bleed to death.

I know of yet another who spends half the year as an arms dealer and the other half eating lentils (no meat please, it involves the killing of sentient beings). Then again, as the ideologues of US National Rifle Association never tire of telling us guns don’t kill people; people kill people.  

And so to the subject of food. A Buddhist once told me that although the eating of dead flesh is a no-no, if that’s all there is to eat, you can eat it no problemo. How? Simple. You tell yourself that the mouth-wateringly delicious, juicy steak in front of you is in fact a bowl of lentils and hey
The biggest bag of lentils ever?
Photo from
presto!  Lentils it is. As everything is merely an hallucination that our perverse senses call into being, then logically if your upper consciousness tells your senses that steak is lentils, then steak is lentils. Pass the mustard, please. I wish it were a trick that worked in the other direction – good steak is hellishly expensive, or as they say here in Andalusia: mu, mu caro.

This rather surprising denial of reality has other benefits for Buddhists; they don’t really need to engage, for good or for ill, with what we poor benighted creatures call the real world. We do of course know that the Buddhist monks in Burma tend to make life more than a little uncomfortable for Burmese Moslems, yet as this is all a dream, does it really matter? Indeed, in the Buddhist mind, is this reality in Burma really real at all?

As reality does not exist, then neither do Buddhists have to help their fellow men. They prefer to help animals instead, animals that have survived for millions of years without the interference of Man – even dead ones. I have actually been witness to a dead pigeon (it was found expiring by a Buddhist of my acquaintance) being kept in the family freezer along with the peas, carrots veggie burgers &c. for months until it was finally laid to rest in a peaceful wood some miles outside Seville. Luckily it was a moribund pigeon she found and not and Alsatian as there would have been no room in the freezer. Unless it was chopped up.

"Instant Karma's gonna get you"
From Instant Karma, John Winston Lennon.
Karmic Brownie points can of course be accumulated by helping people. As long as it doesn’t cost too much money or effort. As the main aim of the Buddhist is to navel gaze and improve his or her own soul, little time is set aside for the improvement and well-being of those around them – unless of course there’s money to be made helping them along their route to Nirvana. Indeed, in the case of the arms dealer, maybe the unfortunate involved may not exactly wish to be helped out of this vale of tears, but hey ho.  Never in my life have I met such a smug, self-deluded bunch of people. Nice people in general, but very, very, very mistaken. They are definitely up there with the Moslems and Christians.

Finally, if there are any Buddhists reading this, don’t worry. It’s nothing more than a corrupt figment of your basest imaginings created by your oh-too fickle senses. After all, nothing is real. 

Since writing this, I have re-watched the Strawberry Fields video and have decided that although a bit naïf, it does in fact communicate the theme of mental disassociation that runs throughout the song. In other words it's rather confusing and confused

1 comment:

  1. I once fell for a believer and spent the ensuing 10 years studying religions. I even practised Zen for a while but not long enough to get it right. I discovered that what Buddhists (and Christians and Muslims and Zoroastrians etc) say about their religion is only very indirectly reflected in how Buddhists (and Christians and Muslims and Zoroastrians etc) actually behave. It is noticeable how, in religious arguments, each side contrasts the theory of their religion with the practice of the other side's religion. And for good reason.

    A decade of the study of religion taught me one thing: to despair of religion or, rather, of religious believers.

    I am a vegetarian, not because of a religion or a philosophy, but because of animals. You don't eat those you love, not unless you are some sort of crazy person.

    As for the virtual world, I fell in love with someone there. We eventually met in what some are pleased to call the "real world". We have known one another now for 13 years and have lived together for 8. Not everything virtual is immaterial; sometimes the virtual is a reflection of something very solid, enduring and lovely.