Get Serious: Don’t Die in Character by Oxana Poberejnaia

oxanaRecently I had a few experiences that brought home to me the meaning of a saying by the Buddha:

What’s the laughter, why the joy,

When the world is ever burning?

Plunged into darkness,

Won’t you look for a lamp?

Dhammapada, 146, translated by Valerie J. Roebuck

dhammapada-logo-2This saying is one of those that sound a bit curious to a Western ear. It is almost as if the Buddha was against fun or humour. However, we all are familiar with the Buddha’s depictions where he smiles. The canonical texts also bear witness to the Buddha’s smiling.

It has become clear to me that the Buddha points here at the preciousness of the limited time we have in this human life. In short, he was saying that suffering is not a laughing matter, and life is not a joke.

Time is running out – the message that is even more relevant today, as it relates now not only to each of us individually, but to all of us as a species.

stilettos-pumps-high-heeled-shoe-stack-heel-shoe-154636A woman I knew passed away recently. I was told that she was put in the coffin wearing her high heel shoes, because she liked them when she was younger and because it was in her character.

Another woman I know is pregnant now, and depressed. She told me: “You know me, no one and nothing will bring me up from being down. It is all self-inflicted and only I can help myself.” She also told me: “I am such a weakling, I cannot quit smoking even for the sake of my baby.”

When we are young, it might seem like fun wasting a night or two being wasted. It might seem fresh to drop out of school. It might look adventurous to get into fights or unprotected sex. Tragedies ensue even then, with young rebels finding their final resting place in cemeteries. But these seem like exceptions.

wake-up-callWhen, on the other hand, we get to the point in life when death becomes more of a real possibility: due to age, or due to potentially life threatening situations such as chronic illness or complicated pregnancy – our attitudes change. Or they should.

Because in the case of these two women, they did not. Rodney Smith, a Founding Teacher of Seattle Insight Meditation Society (now retired), said many times: “You die in character.”

The picture of high heel shoes on the feet of an old woman’s body, the woman who had not been out of the house for years made me ask a question: “What is the point?”

What’s the point of liking high heel shoes if you choose to cut yourself off of the world, as that woman did, to break off old friendship ties, and to lead a strictly biological existence of eating, sleeping, and watching TV? What is the point of having an exuberant character in your younger years, when, once this youthful energy is spent, nothing is left to uphold the structure of your personality?

What is the point, turning to the second woman I know, of admitting that your suffering is self-inflicted, when you choose not to do anything about it? In her younger years, it was her own business what she was doing to her body, but when she got pregnant with her first child, and now her second, things have changed. But she is unwilling to. This woman is staying “in character” and continues to harm herself with smoking, while harming her children as well.

This is why “What’s the laughter?” by the Buddha has sounded to poignant to me in the recent days.

characterEnveloped in the darkness, women put their energies into causes that harm them and deny them of their true potential. The norms of capitalist society urge us to consume first and to think about anything else after that.

The worth of older women in capitalist society approaches nil: they cannot be sexual objects anymore. Money or status cannot be earned from exploiting them. The value of Motherhood is actually negative in capitalist society: a pregnant and a breastfeeding woman disrupts the production cycle.

Knowing all this, women give up. Even if they don’t realise it on the intellectual level, they see very clearly that they have no value in our capitalist world. So they fall back on the only thing they know: their character. Character in most cases simply means urges, likes and dislikes.

Societal norms, including the style of wake speeches, point us in the wrong direction of: “Oh, she was a character!” She was. So what?

suffragettes_england_1908There were a countless number of characters in history, but it is only the individuals who saw their goal clearly and took life seriously who changed our lives for the better. Suffragists could have been characters, but they were also visionaries, moral leaders, and fighters.

It is only those who consciously start “looking for a lamp,” who add true value to their character.


Oxana Poberejnaia is a frame drummer, writer and an artist at She was an Officer of the University of Manchester Buddhist Society while studying for a PhD in Government, and had been involved in organising the Manchester Buddhist Convention. Oxana is exploring the Sacred Feminine through frame drumming, working with her menstrual cycle, and shamanic journeying, while keeping the practice of Buddhist meditation. Her frame drum band can be found here.


Categories: Buddhism, Women's Spirituality

Tags: , , , , ,

4 replies

  1. “Suffragists could have been characters, but they were also visionaries, moral leaders, and fighters.”

    There is a Buddha nature in everyone of us, and in Buddhism, the idea is to realize that great wonder — that splendid true nature of our inner being. Happily it has nothing to do with gender.


  2. I’ll grant you, the second woman, who couldn’t give up something, even for the sake of her unborn child, exceeds my understanding.

    But did the first – the high-heeled one -really give up? And how is what she gave up (the ‘structure of personality’) a problem? I mean, what the outside world observed and the world going on inside of that woman might have differed – radically. At 63, I find myself more and more narrowing my social circle and have never felt so well on so many levels. I’ve always been sensitive, but overrode so much of that sensitivity to ‘fit in’ when I was younger. Now it feels so good to spend hours in the garden, in contemplation, helping others from a place of strength, not concession. It feels amazing to enjoy silence and my own company.

    When I was young, I knew I would live forever. Now I know differently, and am at peace with that. I measure out precious energy and focus on essentials. I don’t wish to die one day with regrets, and for sure I wouldn’t wish to be buried in heels, even if I wore them through my early 40’s. I love my life and am most able to love my fellows at a slight distance, save a few good friends. If I’ve given up personality, good for me. In the end, it’s only a shell. And life *Is* short. Great post. Aloha ;)


  3. It’s only in darkness that we need lights. The rest of the time the lamp sits on a shelf. It seems to me that the present darkness in our world is a “wake up call” to light our lamps and reveal our “character” – whether we will be loving or selfish, thoughtful or reckless, inclusive or exclusive, etc. I’m left with the question: “What kind of world do I want to live in?” and what do I contribute to help create that world.
    Thank you for your post Oxana. I find so many “lights” here at FAR!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Having lived with a couple of people with extremely poor self-discipline, I have some sympathy for the woman who can’t give up smoking, but also for her children, of course. I think some people really struggle with self-discipline and motivation; I don’t really know why. But I know they suffer because of it. I’m not sure it can really be classed as a choice.

    I agree with you, though, that there is too much focus these days on ‘having a laugh’ (and on pleasure-seeking in general), and far too little on reflecting on life and trying to make changes for the better (which is what my blog is about, by the way…).


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