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.

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