Saturday, 17 March 2018

You’re Soaking in It

Something we hear, see, even taste, touch, or a thought pops into our heads generates some interest. And, that interest piques our curiosity, and then we want to find out all we can about it.mAccumulating information about the Patriarchs and Sages, the Ancestors, their quotes their teachings, nothing wrong in it. And then...

Zen. One of the Great Teachings of Zen is there is no teacher, no teaching to be done, and no one to be taught. That's not just Zen teaching; it's in any number of Sutras. But even the Sutras say there's no teaching. And even though the word “teach” is used, that's not quite the gist of any of the Noble Truths, or Absolute Truth, or Relative Truth. It wasn't like the Buddha was inventing something new, nor did he ever say he was. All these things were already “Truths,” not theories. One could say that the “Four Noble Theories” would be an interesting twist, but the existence, cause, end, and means to end struggle and dissatisfaction are givens; they're there even if we don't notice it, even if we deny it. Believe the earth is flat all you want, but there's this evidence to the contrary, and then….

Ironically, “Teaching” is referred to all the time, sometimes within a Sutra or Kong’s-an that states there is no teaching. Rather than teaching, the Buddha and the Sages revealed, uncovered, clarified, reduced, and explained a methodology. Sometimes with all the lovingkindness, and sometimes less so, at least on the surface. The Shurangama Sutra could have been retitled “The Tathagata Reads Amanda the Riot Act Sutra.” The overall feel of it is, “Were you paying attention?!? After all these years, right by my side, and you think what?” Perhaps I'm projecting too much of myself into that, but there's a lot of refuting and clarifying in that Sutra. The Sutras tend to go along those lines--ask one of the bhikksus a “What do you think…” question, followed by a “Well said, well said,” and then a little more explanation. Somewhere between, “What do you think,” and “Well said,” the student answers with the Truth that had been there all along.  That's all any of the Sutras are: Skillful explanations of Truth.

Likewise, Zen teachings are no more than explanations. For some, the explanation lit that Great Cosmic Lightbulb over the listener’s head, sometimes it may have taken a touch more work on the part of both student and teacher. Sometimes that work involved a shout, the obligatory stick hit, maybe even some grandmotherly kindness, sometimes cutting a cat in half. In all cases these were a means to get to something: Truth. Be it Noble, or True Nature, just Truth. And what is Truth? It is reality, nothing more, nothing less. No exaggerations, no back stories, no embellishments, no falsehoods, no deception or denial, just reality as it is. Philosophers may debate whether Truth exists, or if it’s purely subjective, but what they’re debating isn’t Truth. It’s not not-Truth, the debating is Truth, the answer isn’t necessarily. Call it Truth, Facts, Reality, Bob, or “Just this,” Truth is. Or maybe more accurately, Truth is…”....”

Delusion, denial, destitution, dereliction, birth, no-birth, rebirth, no-rebirth, karma, no-karma, self, no-self, peace, war, and anything else that can be imagined is Truth too. The fact that we do, think, or say all kinds of really wacky things is Truth. It happens, we do it. Facts is facts, but fighting against facts is facts too, along with fighting ourselves over having fought the fact. All that may be less than noble, but it’s Truth. “True Nature,” at its heart wouldn’t include greed, anger, and delusion, but Truth does. Realization of One Mind is Truth, but so is clinging to a stubborn self-centered Self.

How do we get to the Truth? There’s no getting away from Truth. We needn't move anywhere, we needn't amass more information, and most of all, needn't have the false notion that we are lacking something. Does that mean we give up study, reading, and listening just because they use words? Using reasoning and reading won’t do it, even though we read and reason, and therefore that in itself is Truth. Rather than trying to accumulate more information and knowledge for anything other than to know more things, thinking that will deliver some ultimate Truth, maybe trying just to notice what’s right here, right now, right in front of, around, and behind us, all ten directions.

Rather than going on some eternal search, a quest to attain some Great Spiritual State only to arrive where we never left. It’s not thinking more, it’s not thinking less, it’s not not-thinking, it’s just paying attention. What was your original face before your parents were born? Don’t give it a second thought, or even a first thought. If you think thought is bad, think again, or not-think again, just pay attention. That’s all Truth, but it’s not a big deal. Just doing something that is helpful to someone else is True Nature, it’s Truth.

I’m soaking in Truth. We’re all soaking in Truth. Don’t bother with the towel, it won’t dry you off. Truth? You’re soaking in it.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Killer and Killed, Right Now

Ahimsa is the Sanskrit word that is typically translated as not-harm. It’s the ethos, a principle as reflected in the First Precept: Honor life, do not kill. That’s pretty straightforward. Complications from corollaries and conditions come into play, and then there’s confusion about what is fairly simple. Honor life, do not kill. Don’t harm. I must admit, there are causes and conditions that all Precepts are subject to, but for me, those causes and conditions have never arisen. Much to my consternation, those causes and conditions may turn out to be as impermanent as everything, but maybe cause and condition won’t cross, and cause a condition I’d rather not encounter.

Right now, at this very moment, I have no intention to do any harm. I’m not doing any harm. I’m assuming that is the case for you as well, that as you are reading this, you are simultaneously not doing any harm. I’ll go out on a limb here, and say that even the most evil, vile, and violent person you can think of (I’ll wait, it’s a long list), that even they were not doing harm twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. They may have incited violent behavior in others, they may even bear responsibility for creating a climate where violence is encouraged and acceptable. But at least while they were asleep, on a micro level, they weren’t intentionally personally doing any harm or acting in a violent manner.

We can see things conceptually, abstractly, macroscopically, even jingoistically, and say that humans, or omnivores, or North Koreans, or Muslims, or Israelis, or Americans, or Evil Empires, are by nature violent. And we can also pontificate about banning guns, deporting immigrants, quarantining the “others” from the rest of us “good” people, but really, that’s nonsense. Even at our collective worst, not everyone is participating in violent actions constantly, no matter what we’ve been told. And past violent acts don’t necessarily mean future acts. Even Angulimala was converted from his serial-killing ways by the Buddha.

Regarding ahimsa, there’s a subtle difference between not doing harm, and not being violent. Violence is a subset of harm. Standing by and watching harm being done is de jure participation in the perpetuation of harm, if not de facto harming. The intention is to stand back, look the other way, talk about the weather a bit, and come up with some excuse cloaked in the costume of reason not to step in. In this case, Inaction is not-Right Action.

You’ve probably all seen some image of a Buddhist monk or layman self-immolating. Some say it’s a totally selfless act, a self-less act, a sacrifice for the greater good. I have to wonder how effective those acts are. Is it the act of a Bodhisattva, or an act of despair? We can’t really ask what the intention was after the fact, the only evaluation is its effectiveness in changing the situation that caused the immolation. Did the monk on fire do anything to change the Vietnam War of the Chinese occupation of Tibet? As of this moment, no...and yes. No, in that those situations are how they are as of this moment, and they can’t be another way than how they are. And yes, because the effects of the immolation have not necessarily be fully borne out, so change may yet come.

Ahimsa doesn’t just apply to those we like, or those close to home, or those with whom we feel some commonality. “Like,” “home,” and “commonality” are nothing more than empty concepts (as if a concept couldn’t be). As Buddhists, we may think we like other Buddhists, because of that commonality. We may at least feel some affinity toward our Buddhist brothers and sisters. Then again, maybe that affinity only applies to those whom we see as “good” Buddhists...not like those 969 guys in Burma who are massacring the Rohynga. For them, we have contempt, feel the righteous indignation that entitles us to criticize those other Buddhists, who must not be actual Buddhists anyway, because they sure aren’t practicing the First Precept particularly well, and besides that, haven’t they even heard of ahimsa? Were they absent that day in Buddhism 101?

And yes, what’s going on in Burma certainly seems horrific, although we’re really only seeing part of whatever story the media would like us to see, as the shock value of a violent Buddhist defies the stereotype. There are somewhere in the vicinity of twenty armed conflicts involving death at this moment. Odds are, someone is dying at the hands of another in armed struggle right now. Throw in acts of violence in non-war situations, the numbers climb. Odds are you’re probably only aware of two or three of these conflicts if that, maybe none of the other violent acts if they didn’t happen nearby, or involve multiple casualties in a school or a parking . Someone is killing someone else right now. Not as an abstract statistical concept, someone is killing someone right at this moment, and at least in twenty geographical instances, because of a nationalistic, jingoistic sense of threat and perceived superiority or perceived weakness. Mao said that one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic. Right now, tragedy. Now. And now. All deaths are one death.

A Bodhisattva doesn’t check what flag someone waving before s/he decides whether the save that particular being. To lean into the Absolute if I may, nations, religions, weakness, strength, and all the rest are just empty stories we convince ourselves to believe. “All beings” doesn’t discriminate between one being and another. There are no Kurds and Turks, or Kurds and Iraqis, or Kurds and any number of Syrian combatants. There are no “sides” in Syria, or Burma, or Burundi. There is a person with a weapon killing another person (who may also have a weapon) right now. One on one, one on many, face to face or anonymously, somebody is seeing the “other,” and thinking that it is correct action to kill them.

I can’t decide what correct action is for anyone other than myself. I practice ahimsa as best I can, from moment to moment. I can only hope that you as an individual will also see the wisdom the Buddha pointed to in his teachings of not doing harm. Perhaps if enough people start practicing ahimsa individually, then the stories about self/other, same/different, will be seen as nothing more than stories, as empty as everything else. Compassion fatigue may set in because of the sheer number of violent situations. But only if you look at concepts like flags and countries and religions and everything else that creates the story that separates one from another. But right now, someone believes the story, and is pulling the trigger. Right now...