I was thinking today about an event in Kenneth Graham’s book ‘The Wind In The Willows’ concerning Toad of Toad Hall which is a wonderful example of the human behaviour of desire and attachment. A Toad can teach us many things. Toad is everyman and everywoman.
In the story Toad persuades Ratty and Mole to take to the open road in his Canary Coloured gypsy caravan.
----- “There you are cried the Toad… there’s the real life for you, the dusty highways, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs! Camps, villages, towns, cities, here today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow Travel, change, interest, excitement ….. “
Toad is besotted by his new interest and to humour him and because they have a lot of affection for their old friend they agree to go along. All goes reasonably well until the gypsy caravan is run off the road and wrecked by a large (beeping, poop - pooping) motor car. As Toads friends scream “road hog” and “villains” in the direction of the car and then tend to all the carnage and the bird in the birdcage sobbing pitifully and calling to be let out, Toad is nowhere to be seen. The friends search and he is finally found. Toad has had a road to Damascus experience of the motor vehicle kind. He has done a complete flip flop, a complete turnaround, an incredible conversion. They find Toad sitting in the middle of the road staring into the middle distance.
------“Glorious, stirring sight! Murmured Toad, never offering to move. The poetry of motion! The real way to travel! The only way to travel! Here today – in next week, tomorrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped – always somebody else’s horizon! O bliss! O poop – poop! O my! O my!.......”
Toads obsession with canary coloured caravans is now an obsession with motor cars of the big brash 'poop, poop' kind.
For those of you who don't know the story, the rest of the book deals with Toads escapades in motor cars, his imprisonment, the invading of Toad Hall by the Rats and Weasels, the escape of Toad from prison and the retaking of Toad Hall by Toad's long suffering friends. Toads behaviour is typical of Toad, it's vintage Toad. He is never satisfied for any length of time and if the book had been twice the length I am sure it would have involved more sudden conversions of Toad to all manner of interests and obsessions - Maybe the next thing would have been ice skating!!!?? Toads problem is the universal problem of desire and attachment and all the chaos that this delivers.
Attachment is one of the causes of life’s difficulties. Attachment causes suffering and it arises because of our never ending craving for the things of this world. Not only the material things of this world but cravings for people, thoughts, feeling, career, objectives etc, etc.
There are allusions to attachment in the New Testament when Jesus says not to store up treasure that will rust and decay, or that thieves will steal. Rather store up treasure in heaven i.e. spiritual treasure (love, forgiveness, reconciliation, sacrifice, faith, trust etc). Jesus is a wise man, he knows that only these spiritual things have ultimate value. There is a call in the New Testament to “be in the world, but not of it”, in other words, take part in the world but do not be driven by non spiritual values. I think there is also talk in the book of Acts of how the members of the early church eschewed materialistic values and held everything in common, focusing on the things of the spirit. The New Testament of the Bible is a good place to read about enduring spiritual values.
Buddhism perhaps details how to walk a spiritual path in a specific way. One aspect of the spiritual path it talks about is attachment when it defines the Second Noble Truth i.e. Life is difficult because of attachment, because we crave satisfaction in ways that are inherently dissatisfying. It is not the objects or people that we crave that are the problem, it is our attachment to and our identification with the objects that causes an inner clinging that entangles us.
Most of us know both intellectually and experientially that the shiny baubles don’t cut the mustard in terms of finding satisfaction, rest or peace. On a higher level are relationships of love, friendship and involvement with community. But ultimately these do not satisfy either because they are tied up with problems of craving and the problems of continuing change and flux. Nothing ever stays the same. A good introductory book that talks about these ideas is “Awakening The Buddha Within” by Lama Surya Das. Not forgetting the unforgettable read which is Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows"