Portrait of American Author Edgar Allan Poe

Buddhism might have helped Edgar Allan Poe

If you have had a long-term romantic partner, and you break up, friends and family will often try and console you by saying that it is ‘better to have loved, than never loved at all.’

And I actually think this is true — but only up to a certain point!

Edgar Allan Poe said something that was almost the complete opposite. He felt that, after his wife died, the space in his heart that was formerly occupied with his love for her, began to fill instead with such a great darkness as to make his life completely miserable — and that had he never felt that initial love for her, then he would not have found himself in such a dark place.

Poe might not be a good example of your normal, well-rounded person: having the soul of a poet does not often equate with being resilient, that much touted quality that helps you recover from the kind of change that is forced upon you, like losing a loved one.

But there is something to what he is saying. Had Buddhism been translated into English during his time, the early 1800s, then someone, a friend, might have been able to say to him: “Well, Edgar, you know what the Buddhists say? Life is suffering . . . so try not to worry about it.” 

But more importantly, they would have been able to explain to him that the root cause of suffering is attachment; the fact that he had loved someone in the first place was the reason why he was now suffering so much. Maybe this might have made him feel a bit better, to hear it said by someone else, other than himself, even more by a religion that accepted this fact as a universal truth.

But he was on his own, writing down these observations, working through his karmic slate of attachment by creating beautiful poems and stories.

And we are the ones who benefit.

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