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Remembrance Rock

Carl Sandburg

This book can only be seen to relate to Buddhist Studies as a matter of putting into perspective the mental state of this time and country [U.S.A.: Sunday, August 31, 2014 5:23 AM] and with that perspective clearly seen and empathized with, contrasting it with the view of the same time and country from the perspective of the Buddha's Dhamma.

First off it is written in a monotone which is deadening. It is the same monotone with which many 'great' books are written, and it is intended to instill a somber mood fertile for the acceptance of deep ideas. After slugging through the beginning, and before the epilogue which requires an enormous patience to get through one can ignore this monotone and it is an interesting history of the U.S. from just before the Mayflower to the dropping of the atomic bomb told in story form through characters living in the various times, all decendants of the first ones, and quoting original documentation liberally. Sandburg has done his research, and his ability to relate the moods, language and attitudes of the times makes his characters come alive beyond his monotone.

The book is, I believe historically accurate and is also remarkably fair in that it does not paint a one-sided picture but gives a multi-faceted view. Among many other devices, characters read contemporary documents to each other and express the various points of view current. He does not neglect the current slang, the song or the joke or the food and dress. There are descriptions of the economy, politics, justice and great personalities of each period and in every case the view of the various positions taken on the current issues is given in a sympathetic light. Sandburg paints harsh judgments only of the irresponsible, cowardly, and insincere individual and even there the view is given with understanding.

As a whole, that is in the view from the conclusion, I believe the story is a fair picture of the mental state of the entire country around 1945 or a little thereafter.

That should be interesting to almost everyone today as it was the mental state of those still living, the parents of the baby-boomers, and the grandparents of the rest of the population, and further, just sufficient time has elapsed, and change has occurred, to provide an objective view of that mental state. And this is the thing: the remarkable fairness and the vast hope and equally vast despair of that generation that was contemporary with the dropping of the atomic bomb comes out, from the perspective of Buddhism, as completely meaningless — comic, ridiculous even — in their high hopes against all reason.

One can easily see this book as being inspirational to anyone not a Buddhist. It paints 'The American Dream' urging responsibility and brotherly love against a background that acknowledged the weakness and corruption of the leaders and the majority. In other words it offers no hope whatever as it has painted an endless picture of individuals fighting for freedom only to have what they have gained ripped out from under them by the backward, the weak, the bigoted and the corrupt, always with the promise of a better future with no basis for such a thing given and never any real hope of lasting escape because there was none in any of the doctrines familiar to the people at the time.

This work was very influential when it came out [1948]. Carl Sandburg was one of the beloved of this country in the same way as Mark Twain was and something like my generation's making a hero of Bob Dylan — a voice of the time. He too was a folk singer, and actually better known for that than for his writings.

I saw my parent's generation (the generation for whom Sandburg wrote this book, the generation that fought World War II) as having given up seeking. The entire generation seemed to have just completely abandoned the highly moral attitude towards life of all the preceeding generations in this country (so clearly pictured in Rememberance Rock, and almost totally lost and incomprehensible today) and simply devoted themselves to 'keeping up with the Joneses'. And further, they also seemed to have abandoned any interest in instructing the following generation in anything but the arts of material success. The materialistic attitude of this generation, of course, provolked the '60s spiritual revival which now looks very much like the last upflair of a dying fire. The inspiration was a corrupted version of Buddhism or a superficial view of Hinduism, neither of which put their finger on the idea of utter freedom and consequently was eventually correctly perceived by the infallable instinct of the common man when it comes to the shallowness of it's fads as being the same old same old. Sandburg's warning message and that of history is that when a nation has given up the struggle to keep it's freedom and is lead by the hypocritical and self-serving, it has lost hope and has reached the end of its glory — the bonds holding it together as a nation, likened by Sandburg to the forces sustaining an arch, have been broken.

This history, like all history from the earliest times in China and the events described in the Old Testiment to the Greek and Roman Empires, to the British Empire to the present empire of the U.S.A. is an endless picture of selfishness, slaughter, deceit and corruption. A great inspiration for a Buddhist to bear down and secure his escape, Remberance Rock, while trying to be an inspiration, ends as a picture of a waterless desert, and that view, for a Buddhist, is liberating.

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