Saturday, August 2, 2014

Just Verbs

Words: Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs. A few other parts of speech (I'm being fonding of gerunds). Grammar, syntax, predicates, subjects, clauses, (I'm really fond of parenthetical statements). Bodhidharma, First Patriarch of Ch'an (Zen) that Awakening is beyond words...among other things. But of course, he said something—maybe that, somebody remembered what he said, someone else wrote it down. And it was communicated with those damn words. So given the inevitable game of telephone (if you're too young to know what that refers to, look it up!), and throw in a few centuries and languages worth of translation, Bodhidharma may have said “The Great Way is a bowl of rice, maybe a little cumin thrown in,” somebody else says, “Yeah, that doesn't have the same ring as 'Vast emptiness, nothing holy,' so I'll just massage it a little bit,” and thus begin the paradoxical statements associated with Zen. Or not, I wasn't there, so I'm only going by hearsay when you get down to it.

The Buddhist Sutras speak of the “Third Dharma-Ending Age,” during which people will be morally corrupt, unable to actually receive the Dharma, Shakyamuni's words will lose all ability to save people from their struggles. In some texts, Ksitigarbha (Jijang Bosal in Korea, Jizo in Japan, Dayuan Dizang Pusa in Mandarin) vows to take on the task of keeping things going until Maitreya comes along. (And also to empty hell, but that's another story). Now I'm sure there are some Buddhist “end-of-the-worlders” out there saying, “Yep, that's where we are now, degenerate age, corrupt people, 'why can't they just get it?,” the end times when you just want to go out on the corner of 47th Street and Park Ave, and join the guy who screams at the Pan Am building about the “End Being Nigh” (he's been there a while).

These days Israelis are shelling Palestinian schools and hospitals, Palestinians are lobbing rockets into anywhere they'll reach in Israel, Sri Lankan and Burmese Buddhists are conducting pogroms against Muslims, Russia is either doing or not doing something in Ukraine, and there are any number of other conflicts and outright wars going on elsewhere in the world, so yep, this must be the Dharma Ending Age. Or not. Depending on your time-line frame of reference, there are those who might point out to the Crusades, the Feudal Warlord period of Japanese history, Stalin, British colonization, Hitler, the anti-Buddhist pogroms in China in either the 800's or the Cultural Revolution, and many other periods that could possibly fall into the “corrupt” and downright ignorant ages. 

Personally I don't put too much stock in any of that as signifying the End, as that's just a mental construct based in perceptions of what good and bad are supposed to be, more perceptions of what right and wrong are. After all, whoever was on the winning side of any of those events thought it was fine...until they lost, in which case the other side could say that they were right all along and were suffering at the hands of their oppressors and have since liberated “their” people. All these conversations going on in everybody's heads, each thinking the other knows exactly what they're talking about, and even than that, that the meaning of what they're talking about is coming through loud and clear.

Upon examining all this, Awakening being beyond words is looking pretty promising. Our innate Buddha-nature (a verbal description that is totally inaccurate and incapable of describing it) would say that we are already awakened, but maybe just a few layers of delusion need to be scraped off, some of the habits need to be broken. The point is, except in some rare cases, we all “know” how to behave—not an intellectual knowing, but the internal gyroscope of balanced behavior knowing—that sometimes gets buried by our preference for greed, anger, aversion, delusion and all those other things we do that we think will make us happy, but never quite get there, and if they do, not for long. If you look at any number of Buddhist forums, invariably there will be a point at which discussion goes way off the expedient means rails and heads into the ravine of, “I'M right! That's not what the Dharmakaya is, it's this! How can I save you, sentient being, if you're so stupid!?!”(The problems with the preceding being the dualism of right vs. wrong, the reification of Dharmakaya, the duality of that being different from any other -kaya, and “I'M” probably being the biggest mistake of all. And there will be those who quibble about “problems” and “mistake” being dualistic as well).
It's all fine just as it is, how could it be any other way that it is right now, including that type of interchange? Accepting the status quo as reality as it happens to be presenting itself in this moment, but without settling for the status quo, figuring out how, when present moves into the past and there's a new present presenting itself, what are the Buddha-things I can think and do that will lessen the struggle in the world in this moment. But what can I say....

Better come up with something. We're stuck with words. More often than not, there's a narrator inside my head, who if he isn't talking to me about what's going on at the moment, is doing a running commentary on what the other narrator is saying, and second-guessing half of it. That “thinking about thinking” issue, which more likely might be talking about thoughts in conversation with other voices describing the thoughts, but being the description of the thought rather than the thought itself. But every now and then there are those moments of what I assume to be clarity, when there are no nouns, no adjectives or adverbs. The sentence has no subject, there are definitely no pronouns, the only conjunction is “and” with no “or” or “but.” In those moments when all there are is verbs (and maybe gerunds if not descriptive), it doesn't feel so much like the Dharma-Ending Age, in fact it doesn't feel like any age in particular at all. It's just tasting, just seeing, just typing, just trying to figure out a way to use the correct words where words are totally inadequate. It's all “IS” with no “it's.” And that's all fine.