28 September 2012

Chicken Little Dharma

I think my father has started to lose his marbles.  He has listened to right-wing AM talk radio in his car for the last 25 years, but beyond that he's kept the expression of his social and political views limited to the occasional offhand comment and his vote on election day.  Now, he's joined the ranks of those who send out those alarmist emails that take a quote from a candidate or a candidate's spouse and blow it up into a portent of world transformation of the most negative kind.  How do I know this?  He's added me to his distribution list.

Everyone's got a hobby, and if he's now discovered the fun of using the internet after all these many years, that's fine with me; it keeps him busy in his retirement.  Both right- and left-leaning groups have their set of alarmists who bear more resemblance to Chicken Little than to Jeremiah or Isaiah; Chicken Little was frantic, but essentially harmless, and a right-leaning Chicken Little is no less harmless than a left-leaning one.  It's funny that he's got me on the distribution list, though.  I'm not at all sure what the point of that is.  Surely – surely – he knows I'm not going to read an email like that, change my political colors, and pound the pavement for his side with the zeal of a convert.  (At least I think he knows that....)

So what gives?

I have to wonder if the newfound shrillness isn't tied up with him getting older.  I know of a couple of other septuagenarians who also became alarmist email distributors, too, and as the son of one of them put it, "My dad is discovering that he no longer recognizes the world he raised his kids in, had his career in, etc.  Time has passed, things have changed, and he realizes he's powerless to stop it.  And he's fearful, since he can no longer find his bearings."

It's an interesting idea, and it has implications that reach far beyond the Medicare Plan B crowd.  Don't we all get frantic and shrill when we don't know our way clear?  Isn't one of the fruits of knowing the way clear, or prajña, the Brahmavihara, equanimity?

Fact is we are always bouncing along an ever-flowing stream.  Fact is there is no refuge to be found in the world of birth-and-death.  When we can't see that, we freeze, panic, reach for whatever we think we can hold fast to, and clutch for dear life.  For a while.  Then the bough breaks, and we reach for the next thing to grasp.  And on and on.

Until we finally stop grasping, and all is as it should be.

My dad's new hobby is a warning to me: do what you can before it's too late.  Age sneaks up on us all.  Death and illness, too.  Wake up!  Wake up!

24 September 2012


I'm in the middle of grading the first run of exams of the semester, and in two days' time I've discovered no fewer than three cheaters.  Whole passages were simply cut and pasted from online sources and passed off as the students' own work.

I always feel hurt when I find this out.  Do they think I'm really that stupid that I won't notice that the prose they are using is several orders of magnitude better than anything they could have ever come up with?  Don't they think I'll notice that they're dropping names and terms they simply would never have encountered otherwise?

Of course, it's not really about me, and when I calm down, I can see that clearly enough.  It's their own demons driving them to do this, their own falling victim to one or two or all of the three poisons.  I'm not sure what led them to this point, and I'm not sure how long they'll stay in this position, but it's not my problem to solve. 

I would love to tell them, though, that they don't have to do this.  It's not the end of the world if they fail at their Philosophy class, and it would serve them a lot better were they to fail it honestly (or at least withdraw) rather than cheat their way to a fake success.  It would speak more to their character were they to say they didn't pay attention, or didn't study, or simply didn't care (I can accept that!) rather than pretend they are better students than they really are.

But even that is not mine to do, and so I print out the pages they lifted from, staple them to their work, and write a nice big F at the top. 

May they be at ease.  May they find release.  May they, and all of us, attain Buddhahood!

13 September 2012

Une Sorte de Folie

I sometimes wonder at the patience of the Buddha, how it must have been to be entirely awake in a world of sleepers and semi-sleepers.  The canon recounts that he smiled a lot, and I have to believe that all those smiles were just so many expressions of patient bemusement.  He knew – he certainly knew – that all those sleepers and semi-sleepers were already fully awake.  In time (kalpas, maybe, but still...), they too would realize it for themselves.  He could smile knowing there was nothing to fix, nothing to change, and he had all the time in the universe to watch it unfold.

In his summary of the Abbé de St-Pierre's "Plan for Perpetual Peace" Jean-Jacques Rousseau pointed out that if the plan hadn't met with widespread acclaim and resolve to put it into action, it was not because the plan itself wasn't noble or praiseworthy; rather, it was because the political leaders responsible for putting it into action were themselves neither noble nor praiseworthy.  Still, even though the Abbé was above reproach, Rousseau went on to note that "it's a kind of craziness to be wise in the midst of fools" (c'est une sorte de folie d'être sage au milieu des fous), thereby suggesting that the good Abbé should have spared himself the trouble all the same.

We know the Buddha had similar reservations, since he was not at all inclined to speak of what he had come to know with his Awakening.  "How could they possibly understand?" he asked himself.  As the story goes, it took the heavyweights, Indra and Brahma, to get him off his keister and to start turning the Wheel, so understandably strong is the reluctance to roll up ones sleeves and say and do what needs saying and doing among those who don't understand, couldn't care less – or worse.  Buddha lived to a ripe old age; other persons of fortitude and resolve weren't quite so fortunate.

It certainly is a kind of craziness to enter the fray, all right, but it's a needed kind of craziness.  Without that craziness, the world remains in darkness longer than it might, longer than it has to.

In truth, however, it is really only a kind of craziness from the perspective of the small self: "They won't like me" or "I'll look like the bad guy" or "Someone's feelings might get hurt, and I don't want to be responsible for that."  I'd be tempted to say that even the Buddha's Enlightenment was not a done deal until he got up and sought out his former companions, for only then could he show he was not afraid of what might happen.  Shy of that, he may have had true and certain insight, but it was legless and therefore fruitless.

And who needs any of that?

12 September 2012

Don't Know Shit

I don't know shit about the Dharma.  I really don't.  I'd probably lose in one of those "Dharma Combat" sessions.  I have no doubt others could out-Zen me with Vegas-like odds.  I have a hard time remembering the names of the five skandhas; I get lost in the twelve nidānas.  I understand Nakagawa Soen Roshi's line, "If I had to take an examination in Buddhism, I would flunk," all too well.

I don't care, though, and the longer I'm at all this, the more I become convinced of one thing more than anything else: getting to know oneself, this fathom-high body-mind, in all of its wonder and worry, is the highest of all practices.  And the second highest of all practices stems from it: making sure that this fathom-high body-mind, in all of its wonder and worry, is not a burden to others or gets in their way.

If there's more to Buddhism than this, I'm not even sure I would want it.

08 September 2012

The Commentator Has Been Quieter of Late

When I think of the fact that I've not been posting much on here, it dawns on me that I haven't been running the commentary in my head as much these days, either.  Seems each day just moves right along, things to attend to just follow upon one another, and, as I attend to them, I'm not really making as much ado about them as I seem to have before.

I sometimes wonder if I've crossed the line from equanimity to apathy, from even-keeledness to utter indifference.  When the rubber hits the road, there really isn't much difference between the two, is there?   Letting matters lie is letting matters lie, no matter what one construes the reason for that letting to be.

I do know that there are some matters I've become sick to the death of, even as they themselves refuse to die.  Center politics heads that list, and on that score I will say with utmost certainty that I have moved beyond equanimity to simply not giving a rat's ass any more.  National politics is up there, too.  Workplace politics isn't far behind.

Mostly, though, I think I'm keeping myself just busy and active enough to not have as much stew time, and that's probably a good thing all around.