Ashes To Ashes, Funk To Funky
Ashes To Ashes, Funk To Funky
The title Ashes To Ashes, Funk To Funky is from David Bowie’s song Ashes To Ashes. I believe the title is Bowie’s peculiar pun on a Christian (Anglican) burial service phrase, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” As with many cool words of 20th century pop culture, the term ‘funky’ has many meanings and uses. In this cerebral (i.e., intellectual rather than emotional) context, ‘funky’ is taken to mean ‘earthy’ (‘down to earth’ or ‘of earth.’)
There is an old Seon (Zen) story which tells a story of a family of great wealth having a family celebration to which a Seon master was invited to write a few words on behalf of the family’s success and the grandson’s coming of age (i.e., becoming a young adult). (Chinese calligraphy works decorate many traditional homes in Far East Asian countries. It is supposed to reflect the family’s refinement, e.g., spiritual, intellectual, literary, aesthetic, cultural, etc.) The Seon master retreated to a private area and came back with a scroll that read: The grandfather dies; then the father dies; then the grandson dies. The family was shocked, to say the least. The following is a fictional account of what could have transpired.
The father: Master, is this some kind of a joke?
The Master: I just wrote what is natural and the truth that applies to all. Would you like me to write that in reverse: The grandson dies; then the father dies; then the grandfather dies? That would be unnatural and tragic, wouldn’t it?
The father: We were expecting something that celebrated the success and greatness of this family.
The Master: The enlightened don’t equate material success with spiritual success.
The father: That we are materially successful doesn’t imply that we are not successful spiritually, does it?
The Master: No it doesn’t. However, I agree with what Jesus Christ said on the matter that one cannot serve two masters. As is generally the case, once one comes into money (i.e., acquires a considerable sum of money), one becomes driven to have more.
The father: What is the problem with wanting to have more?
The Master: Wanting never ends: To give in to the desire to have more is to be a slave to one’s own desire, not a master of one’s own desire. It is better for one to know when enough is enough and act accordingly on one’s own accord. Secondly, given that there are finite material resources available in the world, by necessity, the more one hoards, the less is available for others.
The father: This family works hard to maintain the wealth we have now and we deserve it.
The Master: Many are poor due to causes that are beyond their control. They weren’t lucky enough to born into a wealthy family like you, have a good upbringing, receive a first-rate education and have influential friends with a nice well paying job waiting for you. Imagine a child born in a war-torn and famine stricken region. The poor who try to obtain enough food to keep from dying of starvation work hard to stay alive. Given that this world has enough resources to go around, the poor do not deserve to live on the edge of starvation and preventable death. I don’t think the wealthy necessarily work any harder than the poor who really struggle.
The father: But isn’t that because the work they do isn’t worth much?
The Master: Who decide what one’s labor is worth? How should we go about dividing up our resources? Who decides?
The father: The market decides.
The Master: What is the market? Is it something as natural as life itself or a game human beings created and maintain?
The father: Ah, ah… I’m not sure.
The Master: If it is a game as some people assert, then wouldn’t it be foolish to celebrate winning such a game? Since opposites arise mutually, winning brings forth losing: Don’t losers of this game suffer the negative consequences of this game?
The father: That’s their own fault! That’s how the world works! There are those who prevail and there are those who perish.
The Master: Even if that is true, is that how the world should work? Is that how human beings should conduct themselves?
What I wrote is a spiritual reflection and a reminder of the inevitable truth of this material world that we neglect as we struggle to gain and stay in a position of dominance and ever so strongly cling to the ways of this material world. As the Old One (i.e., Lao-Tzu/老子) said: When a spiritually inferior hears of Tao, he or she laughs loudly at it; when a spiritual mediocre hears of Tao, he or she stays quiet and thinks about it; when the enlightened hears of Tao, he or she puts it to practice right away.
The father: But, but …
The grandfather: Silence, my son! Thank you for the profound insight, Master. You have shown us that we, like most other people, were so thoroughly immersed in the workings of this material world and mistakenly believed that the affairs of this material world were something real. This family now realizes that the affairs of this material world are actually of our own making. It’s as though we are all playing a game of Monopoly but with real material-world consequences that result in life and death, a boastful ego and crushing despair, material comfort and agonizing deprivation, security and misery, etc. Your comments have made this family realize that our material success is in a way an accident of space and time. It is a happenstance: It is conceivable that I could have been born to a destitute family and never had the opportunity to learn and grow. It is also conceivable that this game we play could have been played by a very different set of rules with very different consequences. Moreover, as your writing makes succinct, wealth offers no transcendence from this material world. Despite what the wealthy wish to believe, wealth offers no special super-human status: the inevitable truth of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” applies to the wealthy just the same. Our material success should be understood with all this in mind. We need to understand our material success as a means for this family to live and grow as persons and nothing more. This family will cherish your writing and display it for generations to come. Thank you.
The Master: I’ve walked half a day to get here and all this talk of living in the material world is making me hungry.
The grandfather: Ha, ha, ha!! I, too, am getting hungry. Please honor this family with your presence.