Poet, too

225px-Bertolt-BrechtI think of Bertolt Brecht as a playwright, mostly his collaboration with Kurt Weill and the often performed Threepenny Opera. But he was also a poet, and this poem of his made me laugh as well as think:

The Buddha’s Parable of the Burning House

Gautama the Buddha taught
The doctrine of greed’s wheel to which we are bound, and advised
That we should shed all craving and thus
Undesiring enter the nothingness that he called Nirvana.
Then one day his pupils asked him:
What is it like, this nothingness, Master? Every one of us would
Shed all craving as you advise, but tell us
Whether this nothingness which the we shall enter
Is perhaps like being one with all creation
When you lie in water, your body weightless, at noon,
Unthinking almost, lazily lie in water, or drowse,
Hardly knowing now that you straighten the blanket,
Going down fast–whether this nothingness, then,
Is a happy one of this kind, a pleasant nothingness, or
Whether this nothingness of yours is mere nothing, cold, senseless and void.
Long the Buddha was silent, then said nonchalantly:
There is no answer to your question.
But in the evening, when they had gone,
The Buddha still sat under the bread-fruit tree, and to the others,
Those who had not asked, addressed this parable:
Lately I saw a house. It was burning. The flame
Licked at its roof. I went up close and observed
That there were people still inside. I opened the door and called
Out to them that the roof was ablaze, so exhorting them
To leave at once. But those people
Seemed in no hurry. One of them,
When the heat was already scorching his eyebrows,
Asked me what it was like outside, whether it wasn’t raining,
Whether the wind wasn’t blowing perhaps, whether there was
Another house for them, and more of this kind. Without answering
I went out again. These people here, I thought,
Need to burn to death before they stop asking questions.

Bertoldt Brecht

I’m sorry that this came to me without mention of who translated it. Actually there are a few more lines, which weren’t included in the version I received, and I like it better this way. If you want, you can find it on the web and make your own judgement.

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