29 November 2012

The Facebook Privacy Hoax or: Watch Your Friends Amply Demonstrate their Silliness®

I'm sketchy on the details, so don't press me on them, but it seems there's been this hoax connected with Facebook that has Facebookers scurrying to make explicit statements of copyright ownership over what they post to the social networking site. 

I don't know which underlying assumption has me laughing hardest: that Facebook would at all want to copyright the stuff that's on there, or that people feel that what they put up on there is so "theirs" in the first place that they, having already put their laundry out for all to see, should now pretend (in the old-fashioned sense of "pretend to the throne," for it's lordship at issue here) to reserve further exclusive ownership and distribution rights to it.

OK, I do know which, and it's the second of the two.

Look down at the bottom of this page.  See the copyright statement on what you have in front of you.  It's read like that ever since I started this, my own kind of silliness.  I might be a dolt, but I just don't see any other way of making sense of "copyright" in a context such as this, for here as in every other context, "this is not me, this is not mine, this is not what I am."(Maha-Rahulovada Sutta).

26 November 2012

Old Home Week

Seems my life these days is becoming repopulated by people I knew some time ago.  Former students have sent emails or commented on here, and a former fellow grad student also sent an email.  Someone I dated for a little bit months ago called me up to go to a movie this past week, and even my sister (I don't communicate with her often at all) was extensively texting me on Thanksgiving.

It's funny, really, since I tend to be the kind of guy who, once he's done with something or a situation or a relationship or whatever, just leaves it definitively behind.  "We're done here" is probably the phrase that most pops into my head in such situations.

But maybe one of the truths of conditioned existence is that we're never just "done here."  Seeds planted may come to fruition in their own season, even though we had thought them long dead.  Connections that simply lapsed can suddenly find new life again, almost on their own, as it were.

In my more "I am a rock. I am an island" days, I might well have dodged such overtures, ignoring them in the hopes they would just go away.  Not this time around, though.  Now, I'm curious to explore just what the staying power here is.  Now, I want to find out how the twists and turns of our very complicated lives have again led us to this point.  Now, I'm ready to see in all of this the gentle unfolding of one incomprehensibly wondrous reality.

21 November 2012

Bankei's Blistered Butt

I had occasion recently to be reminded of Bankei's blistered butt.  Seems Bankei, while wholeheartedly devoting himself to a particularly strenuous, long, uninterrupted period of zazen, literally sat his ass off, the skin becoming blistered and inflamed from all the butt-to-the-board contact.  And that was not all: he continued in his austerities, contracted tuberculosis, and found himself beyond the scope of anything a physician could offer to help.  It was at that point, near death, that he achieved deep realization, which he expressed as "All things are perfectly resolved in the Unborn."  From that point on, "return to the Unborn" was his constant homily.  To farmers he would say, "Just practice your farming and return to the Unborn."  He would not encourage them to do anything else.

Bankei's blistered butt is a mainstay of sesshin encouragement talks and teishos: "What puny efforts ours are by comparison!  Let us resolve to emulate the greats!  Sore ass?  Nothing!  Aching legs? Meh!  How will you drink from the deep well unless you dig?  Step it up!  Death is waiting!  Bankei was willing to die in pursuit of the Great Matter!" 

"But wait," the earnest but unclear practitioner says, "What happened to 'just do what you're doing and return to the Unborn'?"

Seems like a fair enough question to ask.

One thing I have always appreciated about Buddhism is its insistence, at every juncture, that the Dharma has to be met with in the place one finds oneself.  There is no underlying assumption that practice is a "one size fits all" sort of thing.

And why?  Because the particular mess of things I bring to my practice is not the mess of things you bring to yours.  John tends to be lazy, so taking his cue from Bankei may be good medicine.  You tend to be an overachieving workaholic, so learning to lighten up may be good advice.  I may be overly analytical and critical, so learning how to accept ambiguity may be a good thing to work at.  The karmic forces that brought me to this point are pretty singular.  The way I act out the defilements is as unique as my signature and fingerprint.  Only I can set the bar of my aspiration in this life.

There's room in our collective practice for advice of all kinds, but teishos and references to the great masters can only hit the most common points of our collective humanity.  For the fine tuning, there's dokusan, the place were the teacher can say, if need be, "I know I said that in teisho, but in your case...."  It's this one-on-one, custom-tailored approach to spiritual work that is probably one of the very best treasures Zen has to offer, and it is what keeps me suspicious of the practice of anyone who only attends public talks or listens to materials intended for mass distribution.  Without that personal, open, honest appraisal of where I am and where I need to go, I run the risk of entertaining just another constructed story line about an ego that is nowhere to be found.

And that, if nothing else, is precisely not what it means to return to the Unborn!

15 November 2012

The Minority Opinion

Currently we're reading David Abram's Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology in the Environmental Philosophy class.  This is my first pass through his work, and I have to say, I am taken with his ability consistently to get to the heart of things.

At one juncture he describes
the discovery that I was palpably immersed in a field of unfoldings so much wider than myself and my intentions.  It was not just the resonant metaphors offered by stones and grasses and muscled creatures, but also the rightness, somehow, of recognizing mind as a broad landscape within which I was wandering, a deep field with its near aspects and its distances, its moods shifting like the weather. (122)
Further he continues:
[M]y encounters with other styles of sentience were loosening the conception of my own mind as a closed zone of reflection….  As though the leap and vanish of a deer into the forest or these other movements of shadows and grass and rain were not merely metaphors but part of the very constitution of the mind, of its real structure and architecture. (123)
Of course, this is no news to anyone hanging around Zen for any length of time.  "The oak tree," "the storehouse, the gate," and "three pounds of flax" are the gestures Zenfolk have made in the very same direction.  "So many moments of mind," as Dōgen so aptly put it, referring to walls, stones, and tiles.

I get it to some degree.  I know others get it, too, most no doubt better than I.  But what to do with a classroom of students who aren't at all convinced there's even an "it" to get here?  How do I begin, cold, to bring someone to see what Abram and Joshu and Tozen and countless other men and women have seen?  How can I speak of this, knowing that my words are being filtered through an upbringing and schooling in dualisms of every possible kind?

And the answer is "I can't."  Not in the least.  Because what it takes to see into it is a lot of time and stillness and patience and awareness.  Some find it in the zendo; some find it in the fields and trees and barren landscapes and mountains and shores.  Wherever one finds it, the strategy is the same: put the ego in park and shut off the engine.  Let whatever comes up and whatever is there kill you.  And not just once, but again and again.

It's the work of a lifetime, this inexhaustible field of practice, and there's just no room for that in a 3 credit semester course.  And so it is, and will remain, the treasure of only a few.

05 November 2012

Of a Nature to (Be) Disappoint(ed)

In a recent teisho on the Three Treasures, the comment was made that taking refuge in Buddha should not be construed as taking refuge in the teacher.  Teachers, as was pointed out, are human beings, and human beings are of a nature to disappoint.  Friends and acquaintances, lovers and spouses, bosses and co-workers and employees, students and teachers, neighbors and kin, have in the past and will in the future disappoint.  If it's refuge we're seeking, our fellow humans are not the place to find it.

I think there's truth enough in that, and I would certainly concur that Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are not of a nature to disappoint.  But I have to wonder if there isn't something else to be said coming at it from the other side.  It's one thing to say, "So-and-so disappointed me;" it's another to say, "I was disappointed in so-and-so."  In the first case, the issue is the other person and their failure to live up to standards; in the second, the issue is my standards, which may or may not be fair, attainable, etc.

Over the course of the last few months I have found myself confronting disappointment in connection with others in my life.  Students who don't participate in class, co-workers who don't pull their share of the load,  partners in relationships who don't dance to the tune I should like to play, etc.  Maybe there's room for disappointment in the case of the students, where the name of the game is that I evaluate their performance, but in the other cases?  The universe isn't broken because it fails to live up to expectations.  People aren't deficient because they fail to pass my standards. 

02 November 2012

Wanted: One Bodhisattva

There's a song getting a lot of play these days on the alternative radio station in town: "Kill Your Heroes" by AWOLNATION.  A frequently recurring line in the song runs "Never let your fear decide your fate."

I like that line.  I think it's right.  I also think it's hard to follow.

I've read that what makes a bodhisattva a bodhisattva is precisely the quality of fearlessness he or she possesses.  Bodhisattvas are fearless because they have realized the emptiness of anything fear would seek to protect.  For what do we have fear for, if not for ego-preservation?  And what is realization if not waking up to the essential nullity of the ego?

Which may explain why I'm not much of a bodhisattva most days!