26 January 2013

About Some Other Somewheres

In the last few weeks I've spoken with a variety of people who, each in his or her own way, voiced a common concern: what does one do in the face of hurt, or harmful social structures and environments, or systematic injustice?  participate?  withdraw?  how does one practice in such a world?

Buddhism, near as I can tell, is rather unique in offering no alternative reality to the present one.  There is no heaven, no Walhalla, no paradise-on-earth.  Just this.  Nirvana is not an alternative reality, either.  It is, as Hakuin so aptly puts it, openly shown to our eyes. This earth is the Buddha-land, this body the body of Buddha.  There is no some other somewhere.

It probably doesn't help to hear that in the thick of one's questioning.  Words are cheap.  I also don't think one can just hear those words and understand.  This kind of understanding is hard-won, the fruit of concerted practice.

All I find myself saying in such circumstances, then, is, "Practice.  Practice harder, and harder yet.  Practice until the line between participation and withdrawal disappears." 

The Dharma is a healing salve.  It's not just a parlor game or pleasant pastime.  There is release, but it is not bought cheaply.  It costs you your very life as you have known it so far. 

11 January 2013

Picking and Choosing When to Pick and Choose

I don't know how many times I've encountered the profound opening lines of Affirming Faith in Mind:
     The Great Way is not difficult
     For those who do not pick and choose.

     When preferences are cast aside
     The Way stands clear and undisguised.
I also don't know how many times I've heard them invoked when it comes to making a distinction between A and B or inviting a choice between x and y, as if what is being warned against here is selecting.

Selecting from a presented range of options is not a problem. There is a deep truth in the point that not all options are equally good.  If I have a nail, and I'm presented with a hammer and a saw, I will pick the hammer.  If I have a problem to solve, and there is a dharmic and an a-dharmic way of tackling it, I will pick the dharmic. If I'm in a hurry to get to work, and I have the choice between I-90 or I-80/94, I will pick I-90.  Relativism is not a dharmic view, and, yes, there is such a thing as right view vs less-than-right view.  One leads to wisdom and release; the other leads to stupidity and bondage.

What is a dharmic view is dependent co-arising.  And here the injunction against picking and choosing finds its full field of application.  The "picking and choosing" in question can only refer to wanting to cherry pick aspects of our situation we want and leave behind those we don't.  The problem is that all aspects are part and parcel of our situation, we cannot have the wanted and not the unwanted ones, and if we think we can, well, then we have set Heaven and Earth very far apart indeed.

The Way is right there.  Right there.  Nowhere else.  Not otherwise than it is.  Warts and all.  Don't waste time imagining some other somewheres, some other versions of what's right there, for in that moment, you've already pulled back.  Life's too short for pipedreams.

04 January 2013

Practice, Governance, Dukkha

I happened to catch a video clip yesterday of a man being interviewed by a woman concerning raising restrictions on gun acquisition in light of the recent mass shootings.  He was quite insistent on the point that one can pass all the legislation one wants, but it won't keep guns out of the wrong hands.  His conclusion: gun legislation is a waste of time.

Now I'm guessing that most 21st century Zen folk would have wished he'd have said the opposite, namely that more gun control legislation is a good thing.  Most 21st century Zen folk tend to fall on the progressive side of the political line, tend to vote progressive issues, and gun control is a progressive issue.

Funny thing is that I caught a similar argument from 21st century Zen folk recently concerning stricter guidelines and a system of sanctions on the ethical conduct of Zen teachers.  Was there not language propounded to the effect that one can form all the guidelines and rules one wants, but teachers will still commit improprieties?  Were there not conclusions similar to that of our hapless interviewee, namely that guidelines, rules, and sanctions are a waste of time?

I'm not interested here in the effectiveness of legislation, rules, guidelines and the rest.  Those are empirical matters, and I'll leave it to more competent researchers to give us the scoop on them.

What interests me in both cases here is the pervasive, stubborn refusal to be governed.  Forget the empirical data for a second; what comes through loud and clear in both instances is a deep-seated contempt for anything that might rope one in.  "I certainly don't need such rules," says the self-possessed/enlightened one, "and as far as any other folks go, they're too far gone for the rules to have any effect on them."

I don't know about you, but I do know about me.  I am not so self-possessed or enlightened that I can't use some rules and regulations.  I can do – and have done – some incredibly stupid, self-centered, hurtful, and shameful things.  I also know that I might well have done even more stupid, self-centered, hurtful, and shameful things were it not for the rods, the staves, the fences and the guideposts worked out by my brother and sister human beings in moments of greater clarity than I might possess at a given point in time.

Yes, by my fellow human beings (so we can drop both the "who thinks they can tell me what to do?" and the "who's to say what's right and wrong?" evasions).  Yes, in moments of greater clarity than I might at a given time possess (so we can own up to our own fallibility and come to rely on the wisdom, example and never-failing help of others/sangha).

There is a myth out there that we are completely in control 24/7. That myth helps support the language of autonomy, of self-determination and the rest bequeathed to us by the European Enlightenment.  That myth also finds itelf invoked when talking about enlightened teachers, gurus, oshos and roshis.


Here I do know as well about you as about me.  We – every last one of us – is yanked to and fro by greed, anger and ignorance.  We – every last one of us – stands in need of correction and guidance.  For we – every last one of us – is still caught up in the mire of our personal and collective dukkha.

I just can't give a hearing to anyone who would claim otherwise.  Better: anyone who would claim otherwise scares the living shit out of me.

03 January 2013

Doesn't Get Much More Straightforward

I know it's making the rounds, but it might as well have a place here as well.  'Nuf (un)said!