Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Slaying Leviathan: how violence and not one religion is the problem.

This post is dedicated to all who have suffered pains due to violence.

Friends, readers, visitors, whom ever stumbles upon this blog, we have all something to talk about. We now, the entire world, can have a conversation together. And we are, but we are not soaking up the plethora of all that has been said, done, and has happened in recent months.

Why are we violent? It seems to be a part of human nature to desire competition and conflict-most species endeavor through violence with their instincts but we always claim we are above the beasts who kill for no good reason. What foolishness. The animal world is doing its part just fine; we have fallen into a global catastrophe that we haven't ever dealt with before. So do we have any way out? Is this violence just the pressure building and building inevitably with no end?


I hate conflict. I run from it sometimes in unhealthy ways but I'd rather not have to experience winning or losing, just running. I'm not going to make an argument for whatever personal cowardice I suffer from, but the point is that if we expand the view by taking a step back we will discover things that we may not have expected.

For example: the leader of ISIS' name is Abu Bakr something. Abu Bakr was a historical figure therefore the narrative and war they are fighting may not be one we understand (terrorist or non-terrorist, we do not understands Islam's narrative.) I won't give much of a lesson in Islamic theology or history here since I'm no authority besides state that the West is perceived as having strikingly different priorities. This is less true-to some extent in religious context as to materialistic tendencies. 

Islam isn't against having, it's against having in wrong way. When something attempts to be something it's not (as simple as a buildings art for example) then it must be altered. It's not wrong, it's different. Is the Hagia Sophia any less beautiful as a mosque? ISIS is taking thought through theology and response to the aesthetic world and bastardizing it. 

So am I saying we should compromise? Not necessarily, but if we fight we must know how. Think rejecting refugees helps the narrative change in the eyes of ISIS and any new recruits? No. Think bombing them will help? It'll settle some peoples' nerves knowing some people are dead but it'll just repeat.

 The Internet is amassed with propaganda and writing from variant terrorists groups attempting to manipulate the weak minds-those that have been hurt through war, put aside, or by a stroke of luck the logic and pathos work on the victim. ISIS seems a lot like a cult.

Killing these men solves nothing. We as a culture live online so we must create an amalgam of stories that prove ISIS wrong. 

Why should we have to prove anything to a terrorist group? And how do we prove a cult wrong? Isn't that a contradiction in terms?

Because people are dying, and they're going to keep dying. We don't have to prove that we are anything like them, but that we are better than they ever expected, we are not materialists, we are a generous world that shares knowledge, gives, cares, and works together. This obviously happens. Reason will not work against them so no stating the obvious will work, no pile of premises of the actual Islamic doctrine will work. The memories and the stories of a world so many hate without ever having seen will change minds. The influence of one good deed will be shared, perpetuated, with some intense effort, slowly, behind computer screens those on the edge will reconsider, and those on the inside will doubt. We cannot solve the problem entirely. Our pride says it can. It will take those living there to also do their part (peace, strength, and guidance be with them.)

Creative minorities tend to have a strong voice in history. Protesting the streets doesn't seem to work as much anymore (global protest day back in Feb early 2000s against the Iraq war that happened anyway. Also Occupy..) so we take to the mediums where people shed tears. 

Tell your sob stories online, share your goodness. In this day and age you never know who it may reach. 

My rant is done.

Be kind to each other. Sadly it's soon to be the only thing we may have left. 

To Muslim brothers and sisters: I honor and wish you only the best on your journies  (religious). I respect your faith and tradition and will support you as a Jew and Buddhist in whatever way I can (mostly by writing). Your beautiful voices and lives will never, ever be out shadowed by hate and violence. It is my prayer that we don't let that happen. Peace and friendship to you all. 

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Not-Special, Not-Unique

We live in an era where everyone thinks of themselves as unique, everyone thinks of themselves as special. And perhaps it's always been that way, and that's what the Buddha pointed to as the source of dukkha, the struggle we go through because we have such difficulty dealing with the nature of human life containing this struggle. We have to deal with sickness, old age and death, the impermanence of this physical body, what's sometimes referred to as this “meat-bag” by the sages. The sages have also said, “The cup is already broken.”

So it's a given that this body will at one time or another cease to function as it has, sometimes well, sometimes not so well. But while that's the nature of the physical body, it is not the True Nature Bodhidharma refers to, it's not the “One Mind” of Huangbo Xiyun. It's not Mazu's “that which asks the question is Buddha.” Our True Nature is our Buddha Nature, and that's something we all share; even the ones we don't particularly like. The bodhisattva saves all beings, not just the ones who look like us, or even act like we do.

The Four Immeasurables are Lovingkindness (for all beings), Compassion (for all beings), Sympathetic Joy (in the joy of all beings--even when we play no part in it), and Equanimity (imperturbability in the face of all circumstances, good and bad). We save all beings because we are all beings. We save ourselves in doing so.

All beings believing in their “uniqueness,” the separation between themselves and all other beings (the Universe + 1 syndrome), that each being thinks of him/herself as special imposes boundaries where there are, in reality, none. If everyone is special and unique, doesn't that negate the specialness and uniqueness? Doesn't that provide a level playing field, where no one is actually special if everyone is special? Is the supposed uniqueness any different from the water molecules that comprise the ocean or the river? Are beings somehow so egotistical that we can see the unity of all things...except among ourselves?

In the Metta Sutta, the Lovingkindness Sutra, the Buddha says “May all beings be happy, safe and secure.” That doesn't mean that just the people who believe like us or look like us should be happy, safe, and secure. It means all beings. Lovingkindness is not manifested by lopping of an arm because we don't like it. Compassion doesn't include harming others. When an unacceptable act is performed, that is harming all beings, not just the ones who are physically harmed.

It's difficult enough being human, having to deal with the dissatisfaction of this space between life and death. There is no Lovingkindness shown in hastening that journey to death along; it will happen just fine on its own. There is only Love, there is only Mind, there is only Buddha. The violence perpetrated upon the people of Paris today is the height of greed, anger, and delusion. There is no understanding such violence; if we feel pain, it is because a part of us has also been injured and killed. It is difficult, maybe damn near impossible to have any compassion for the killers in Paris.

But there is only Love, there is only Mind, there is only Buddha. It might do well for us to think of that before we sink to the level of the greedy, the angry, the delusional. It may take some time to realize how to act, think, and speak. It will mostly take quite some time to figure out the skillful means needed to show Lovingkindness and Compassion. But our shared humanity requires us to do so, even to those whom we don't like, don't look like us, and don't act like us. It is not our Buddha Nature to take revenge against ourselves.

Admittedly, it is not easy to write this, and I'm not sure that even though I wrote it, that I feel like it's possible to believe it and act accordingly. But I must try, we all must try, at least to do no harm. May all beings be happy. May All beings be happy. May ALL beings be happy.

Peace and compassion for those who are suffering in Paris tonight, and to all beings who suffer everywhere, all the time. That is us, in our shared humanity.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Harvest time: how we eat

Greetings friends!

We Buddhists, in ritual and depending on our  home practice, have a strange eating etiquette and manner: and how we eat reflects a lot of what we believe; we are what we and how we eat.

So. Let's do a compassion between Orthodox Christian feast calendar, Jewish feast days, and Zen eating practice.

Orthodox Christian feast days occur commonly but always in reverence to an occasion or a person. These feasts, depending on what their patrons also patronized, would become more or less elaborate. For example, Basil's feast in Egypt and Russia is going to be a great gathering. Feasts consist of traditional food of the culture (generally) and also abide by church dogma (which includes fasting on Wed and Fri for Orthodox Christian) and reflect a feasting in thanks and victory. Orthodox saints and usually depicted in gold on the Icons, the space around them is holy, the spirit they have and portray is divine; therefore we must feast in victory.

The Jewish feasts are in celebration. Being thankful is a very important part of Jewish identity: privilege is shared among the community as much as possible; when we remember the days in which we struggle and see where we have come and that we are, we stop, light candles, cry and thank God, then feast on the riches of the world.

Feasting in the Jewish calendar is complicated. Every Shabbat, depending on the certain tradition of Judaism, is going to be quite elaborate. Shabbat dinner is to stop from all things worldly and to honor God and rest with (not against, not for) creation.

Buddhism stops the chatter: the thanks is in the silence to every bite. The crunch on leaves and not meat is the only sound that penetrates a home, a person at work, a Zen hall. Eating is eating and is done when one is hungry, or obliged to. The ritual is taken away almost entirely and is done in the mind as it focuses on eating, experiencing, and embracing the food. This is to think of both "ourselves" and that of what we eat; we know we shall become grass one day, we know we need the bees that brought about the plants, and the animals and so on and so forth. We are a part of a complicated, creative wave of existence that is involved in our quietly eating our meals.

None of these ways are wrong. They reflect different responses to the world and seem to honor the fact that each bite comes with a cost. Let's think about the way we eat individually and see what we may discover about ourselves.

Best Wishes,

Monday, 2 November 2015

What the Tao Tells Us About Enlightened People

What the Tao Tells Us About Enlightened People:
An examination of the 15th Chapter of the Tao te Ching

I am interested in what an Enlightened person is like; how we can identify one.  How if we bump into one at Walmart we could tell there is One Mind behind those twinkling eyes.  By legend, there are thirty-two marks of a Buddha, which include a lower body like an antelope, an upper body like a lion, golden-hued skin, saliva that improves the taste of all foods (but contains no MSG), eyelashes like a thickly mascera'ed supermodel's [well, the text says like a that of an ox], and a penis shaped like a tall maraschino-cherry jar.

Except for Michael Fassbender, there are none of us who could meet all these physical requirements.  And I don't care if Michael's mouth water is better than tupelo honey, I still don't want his spittle in my tea. I guess I dismiss the thirty-two marks as tommyrot, perhaps because it strikes me as slathered with the ugly brush of racism, sexism and thirty other varieties of prejudice.  But, also, happily, the legend of the marks predates the life of Siddhartha Gautama and is at odds with what else Buddhism tells us, as interpreted in this our post-postmodern age.

prefer to think that anybody out there is a potential  Buddha -- that genetic circumstances of birth are not determinant for who might grow up to be Enlightened.  We are told that each of us has a Buddha-seed; I would hope that that means that within each of us it can sprout and grow into a mighty redwood -- whether we are male or female, golden-hued or the color of cocoa beans.

And, it is nice to know that Siddhartha Gautama agrees with me. In the Diamond Sutra there is a dialogue between Buddha and Subhudi, discussing the thirty-two marks and the Tathagata:

"Subhuti, what do you think, can the Tathagata be seen by his physical marks?" 
"No, World Honored One, the Tathagata cannot be seen by his physical marks. And why? It is because the physical marks are spoken of by the Tathagata as no physical marks." 
The Buddha said to Subhuti, "All with marks is empty and false. If you can see all marks as no marks then you see the Tathagata."
It would be nice if there were a test you could give to find a Buddha.  [I.e., one less inscrutible than seeing "all marks as no marks."]  In the movie "To Have and Have Not" -- a title a lot like "All Marks and No Marks" I notice -- Humphrey Bogart's rummy sidekick, played by Walter Brennen, asks everyone if they have ever been bit by a dead bee. The reaction of people asked this silly question tells the audience what the person is like. It's certainly not a Buddha test, but it is sort of a bodhicitta test, telling us if the person Brennen questions is compassionate.

We know that the Lauren Bacall character is a wonderful person (even though she is caught stealing a wallet) because she engages in "the dead bee" conversation with Brennen, giving responses very similar to those given earlier by the protagonist, Bogie.  In the movie, passing the test merely requires patience and interest that comes from recognizing that the old deadbeat drunk is a precious person, as much so as any of us.

[Note the interesting conundrum of being "bit by a dead bee": Typically we get stung by a bee, and then it dies. But if you could be bit by a dead one, it would leave no mark since you couldn't have really been bit (or stung).]

In The Method ofZen, Eugen Herrigel writes in the introduction that, while having tea in a Tokyo restaurant with Japanese colleagues, there was a mild earthquake.  One colleague, unlike everyone else, was neither astonished nor frightened.  The person was Zen Buddhist, unperturbed by the swaying chandeliers and crashing dishes.  Here we might have a Buddha test, or something just short of it!  Shake the ground underneath that candidate Buddha!  See if she flinches!!

The Tao te Ching tells us about Enlightened folks.  [Remember the Tao te Ching?  This is an essay about the Tao.  'Bout time I mentioned it.]

The fifteenth chapter, specifically, tells us how to spot those shy Enlightened people!  The GNL Tao, a loose modern composite translation, calls this chapter "Enlightenment" and unlike other translations uses "The Enlightened" to refer to the people spoken about, rather than "Master" that is used in other volumes.

The first four of the 18 or so lines of the chapter are little different between translations.  The GNL Tao reads as follows:
The enlightened possess understanding So profound they can not be understood. Because they cannot be understood I can only describe their appearance.
There is then a list of seven qualities common to the enlightened.  The translations vary, but the next lines, each conveying a quality, flow like this:

1.     Cautious, watchful or careful - like crossing an iced-over river on foot in the winter
2.     Hesitating, Undecided or Alert {depending on the translation!!} --like someone with enemies all around.
3.     Modest, reverent or courteous {depending on the translation!!} --like someone who is a guest
4.     Dissolving, unbounded, yielding or fluid {depending on the translation!!} --like melting ice
5.     Like uncarved wood, but translations vary.  Is it "genuine" like wood; "thick" like wood; or "shapable" or "simple."
6.     Open, broad or receptive  {depending on the translation!!} -- like a valley.  Another translation says "Hollow, like caves."
7.     This line is truly confusing:  One translation says "Opaque, like muddy pools," another says its seeming opposite, "Clear as a glass of water."  Others say "Seamless as muddy water" and  "Chaotic like murky water."

A hell of a thing!  It is difficult enough to recognize a person by the degree that he/she resembles ice -- but what quality of ice am I looking for?  In what manner, exactly, can I recognize the dissolving, or unboundedness or fluidity that makes a person like melting ice?

And supposing I come upon a person who has a quality like a raw chunk of wood.  HOW would I recognize such a quality, this woody aspect of a person: genuine but not yet carved up.

Happily, centuries of scholarship have tackled trying to understand the Tao te Ching, and from this effort things are now a little less "opaque like muddy pools."

Ellen Chen's Tao te Ching:  A New Translation with Commentary  [It is no longer very "new," by the way.  But I am happy to see that it is back in print.]  seems to do the most to unravel the knots.

The first three of the seven qualities all refer to respect The Enlightened has for the world, "(s)ince the world is a spirit vessel with a sacred life not to be tampered with by humans, the Taoist's attitude is one of reverence and circumspection."

In the fourth line, there is a transition:  the ice is melting, as compared to the thin, but frozen, ice of the first line.  I suppose that the quality ["Dissolving, like ice beginning to melt" in Chen's translation.] suggests that The Enlightened "blend in," much like the man at the end of The 10 Oxherding Pictures vanishes or, in other versions, reenters the marketplace.

The fifth through seventh qualities are feminine symbols, Chen tells us: unformed, yielding and receptive.  In the last quality the symbol of water is used, in contrast to the ice of the first quality and the melting ice of the fourth.  The season is one of spring -- with new life.  Chen writes "The Taoist maintains himself in this psychic state, still anchored in the source which is chaos or non-being, yet emerging into new being by virtue of the power of self-transformation."

I have not been much aided in my quest to identify the Enlightened people "out there."  I want them all to wear some unmistakable sign -- like a red carnation in their lapel.  But the works of Buddhism, and the 15th chapter of the Tao te Ching, aren't talking about Enlightened people "out there," of course.  They are talking about active qualities we are to find within ourself.

Some of these things seem at odds.  We are to be actively rooted in reverence and circumspection.  When we are Enlightened, we will be open and yielding when our habit has been to lie under the seemingly warm blanket of our ego-protecting inner world.  And all of this must be accomplished and maintained without pushing and forcing ourself.  It's quite a trick! Like trying not to try.