I Am A Rock by Simon & Garfunkel

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark
December

I am alone
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow

I am a rock
I am an island

I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate

I have no need of friendship,
Friendship causes pain
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain

I am a rock
I am an island

Don’t talk of love
But I’ve heard the words before
It’s sleeping in my memory

I won’t disturb the slumber
Of feelings that have died
If I never loved I never would have cried

I am a rock
I am an island

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor

Hiding in my room,
Safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me

I am a rock
I am an island

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

Commentary

This track is surprisingly Buddhist in certain ways—especially Pali Canon Buddhist which focused more on renunciation than integration.

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark
December

I am alone
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow

There’s nothing explicitly related to any Buddhist teachings here, but there’s something kinda Zen about the imagery isn’t there?

I am a rock
I am an island

One translation of the Attadiipaa Sutta says, “Be islands unto yourselves, be your own refuge, having no other; let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves should investigate to the very heart of things.”

Buddhism was originally focused on monastics, those who left behind their former lives and wandered in poverty. They’d hunker down together during the rainy season, but for the most of the year, they did their own thing or traveled in small groups.

The aim wasn’t to save the world, but to escape the world. That’s why some Mahayana Buddhists called such schools, “Hinayana,” a derogatory term meaning, “Small Vehicle.” History most likely over-emphasized the aloofness of early Buddhists. Theravada was an early school, and Theravadin monks are often very kind, amicable, and even gregarious when they’re not on a silent retreat.

The meditative schools have this rugged individualistic spirit as well—especially Chan Buddhism. Even if we’re meditating with others, our focus isn’t on them. It’s on our own minds, our own breath. We’re turning about and looking at ourselves.

Simon & Garfunkel put a kind of negative slant on the chorus when we look at it in the context of the whole song. The distinction between what they’re talking about, and what the Buddha’s talking about, is that self Buddha’s referring to is like a bright, boundless field without any sense of mineness attached to it.

It’s our innate wisdom, equanimity, compassion, and clarity. Or, as he called it in another sutta, the Luminous Mind.

We suffer because we look for reliable happiness in unreliable things. The island that Buddha’s talking about is something we can rely on. So whatever we find on that island, doesn’t disappear.

I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate

I have no need of friendship,
Friendship causes pain
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain

This fortress is our practice. Our patience, code of ethics, and diligence. If we master our method, then it helps to protect us from the vicious comings and goings of the world.

As to friendship, clinging to it and craving it will eventually cause pain. Friends change. Sometimes we lose them through death and estrangement; sometimes there’s an argument or betrayal that pulls us apart.

Buddha also encouraged us to be careful about who we call our friends. The Rhinoceros Sutta says. “If you gain a mature companion, a fellow traveler, right-living & wise, overcoming all dangers go with him, gratified, mindful.

“If you don’t gain a mature companion, a fellow traveler, right-living & wise, wander alone like a king renouncing his kingdom.

“We praise companionship — yes! Those on a par, or better, should be chosen as friends. If they’re not to be found, living faultlessly, wander alone like a rhinoceros.”

This is practical advice. If we surround ourselves with friends who harm others, steal, gossip all day, lie, etc. then they’re going to hurt us at some point—directly or indirectly. If nothing else, they’ll fill our days with drama that stresses us out and clouds our minds.

Friendship isn’t bad in itself; it’s wanting friendship to remain unchanged that causes suffering.

The same goes for love and laughter. Life isn’t always gonna be full of laughs, and we’re gonna have our hearts broken at times. Suffering comes from wanting things to be different, from wanting each day to be full of light, love, and laughter—or at least not full of darkness.

Don’t talk of love
But I’ve heard the words before
It’s sleeping in my memory

I won’t disturb the slumber
Of feelings that have died
If I never loved I never would have cried

True enough haha. I think most of us have felt that way at some point, I know I have. These verses point to cynicism and repressing negative emotions. But, we could easily flip it to reflect letting go and not living in the past.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor

Hiding in my room,
Safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me

Simon & Garfunkel likely thought of themselves as being, or at least having, bodies. But we can spin these lines in another direction. The room and the womb are our true nature, our own awareness and being. Our overlooked Buddhahood.

Early Buddhism involved using meditation to reel in our senses. The aim was to not only detach from the environment and our thoughts and feelings, but to no longer perceive them at all. It was compared to closing a door, our sense doors, so that there was no trace left of anything but our meditation method.

That’s not a great technique for laypeople. We’ve got shit to do. For us, it’s about changing the way we view things and relate to things rather than escaping them.

Mahayana teachers solved, “I’ve got shit to do,” problem by saying, “We take our room with us, this whole world is our room.” As to the not touching or being touched, our minds have never been touched by anything.

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

Our method is our rock; the mindset it points to is an island. We can walk through crowds of people but not feel crowded; we can sit alone but not feel lonely. Through sunny days and storms, the rock is still there. Solid. Supportive.

We’re not actually isolated on the island; we just we water on all sides. There’s plenty of food, and the weather is temperate. There’s nothing to fear, nothing to chase after, and no one to be but ourselves.

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