Saturday, February 11, 2017

What's Left?

Three symptoms of being unawakened are said to be greed, anger, and delusion. Concrete ways to replace them would be to act in accordance with the Four Immeasurables—lovingkindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. You could also practice the Paramitas—the Perfection generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom. These are often combined into “morality, intense concentration, and wisdom”—or "sila, samadhi, and prajna.” We can intellectualize them, and make up hypothetical scenarios about how we would do all these things, and invariably, we'll be comparing them to the opposites, which is fine—this is greedy, this is being generous. That's not being dualistic, that's a recognition of the reality in which we live. We might reflect that “I shouldn't have taken the last slice of pizza, that was greedy of me. Next time I'll make sure everyone else has had enough first.”

Unless we are deeply reflecting only on our own behavior, the comparison is with someone else will entail duality. “That (political party) (class of people) (race) (gender) (ethnicity) (religious practice) is really evil! Those greedy (fill in blank) are really ignorant! They don't pay attention to anybody other than themselves!” You might even call it a samadhi gap, if you're in a global conflagration frame of mind. You're not in a samadhi race, even moreso when the other party doesn't even know they're competing in the "Who's more meditative" contest. Nowhere in the perfections, Immeasurables, Precepts, Sutras, or what mom told you does it say that having a sense or superiority, morally or otherwise, is proper. “My” righteousness, is more righteous than "yours," isn't a mark of anything other than this sense of superiority. What it makes it even more interesting is that you spout about how the “other” side is trying to divide us into “us” and “them.”

It's as easy as taking candy from a baby to point out the greed in others. It may not even be an incorrect assessment of their actions. We probably don't know what led to this greed—it could be childhood poverty, it could just be because a neighbor or political candidate or even religious figure—said it was alright, that it's understandable and justified. If you're in the 99%, you may feel you're being treated unfairly by the 1%, and maybe you are. The 1% probably thinks they worked hard for their financial success, and the rest of you are just leeches, welfare queens, and maybe even genetically inferior. In some cases a sense of entitlement may trump an equal playing field.

Some may take to physical violence to show their anger over this sense of injustice. If for no other reason than "they're" not behaving as "we" think they should be, and we've got to “show them,” there will always be another “them” to anger us. It could be the result of the other guy “threw the first punch.” What caused this to seem like a good idea? It could be an childhood where beating or at least berating was hanging in the air. Maybe it was “falling in with the wrong crowd.” It could also be some plain old garden variety really misguided thinking.

Some may say things that are perceived as malicious—a form of verbal violence. In response, those who were being maligned may retaliate with malicious vitriol of their own. Sometimes one side of the words may try to prevent the other side of the words from even saying those words, or maybe just to prevent them from saying them to anybody else. There may even provocateurs who are really on one side, who join the other side while not really having forsaken their own side, to contribute some verbal vitriol and to elicit some perceived “intolerant” behavior from the side whom they haven't actually joined, but happen to be on the same side of the barricade, but whose side they really aren't actually on but appear to be. They're loud and obnoxious to the other side, while “telling it like it is” to the first side. Maybe they got yelled at a lot when they were kids, or have a spouse or boss that thinks that whomever yells loudest wins the battle. Just because someone says something you don't like doesn't mean they don't have the right to say it, much in the same way that you can say how you don't agree with them. The "freedom of speech" pendulum swings both ways. No one has a lock on it, regardless of how loudly you say it.

It seemed like a good idea at the time” isn't going to stand up to any scrutiny in the long run. “I know what's best” may be difficult to prove, especially when the other side says the same thing. “God is on our side” when said by both sides, presents another problem, especially when you can't really ask who is right about it. “It's God's will” is likewise going to be a bit tricky to prove. When clouded by verbal or physical violence, it's easy for thinking to fall into the “fog of war.” That's just what it is though—foggy thinking. That fog can really thicken the thinking when there's a crowd of equally foggy thinkers in our bubble, because when in our bubble, who's going to say anything to the contrary? What brought about the verbal violence or the violent actions? If you're in a Buddhist bubble, some may even confuse “Right View” with Right Opinion, which I'm pretty sure doesn't appear in any Sutra.

I'm also pretty sure you can pick out a number of the scriptures right from the first spin of the wheel onward that none of these actions, thoughts, and words really contribute to a sense of permanent satisfaction for any period of time, especially when based on the us/them divide. In the heat of the moment though, Right View may just not feel that right. It may even seem so unsatisfactory in the moment, that it can't possibly be Right, right? “Right View is No View” just is not going to cut it when it's all about the "My View". Deep down we really want to be able to justify the adrenaline rush of confrontation, and don't care about whether it's going to last. The “living in the moment” crowd might even use that rush as the justification itself, since it's happening in this moment, and this is the only moment there is, and it feels good, so ergo that's “thusness,” right?

Admittedly, it can be really tough to have those kumbaya, “We are the World,” “I'd like to teach the world to sing,” moments with everyone all the time, especially when they seem really disinterested in sharing that can of soda with you, unless “sharing” equals pouring it over your head. So, what do we do when all this decidedly un-Buddha-like behavior manifests itself in us? For me, the first step is to step back from the abyss and reflect on what is Buddha-like or not-Buddha-like. It may appear at that moment that the sword cutting through my perceived opponent's neck is less appropriate than Manjushri's sword cutting through my delusions. That reflection may even show me that my perception that there are “wrongs to be righted” and “foes to be fighted,” is not quite on the mark. My perception of the wrong and the foe may more accurately start with my perception being the problem, and then maybe everybody else has an opinion and perception that's a misguided as my own. And maybe at that moment, perceiving emptiness and mistaking that for equanimity may be as empty as my previous attachment to the form of fight that seemed appropriate. Half-way is better than no way, but it can just as easily be said not to be “The Way.”

Not having preferences” might seem like walking away from bombs exploding, but it may also be noticing that there are bombs exploding. The preference in this case that would be “not had” could very well be the preference to not get involved at all. Selfish reasons, lazy reasons, dualistic reasons masquerading as non-attachment would still be subject to Manjushri's slice of wisdom. Then not “having preferences” may first be transformed into “not having a clue” as to what is correct action in a situation. Then what? Chant at least silently, take refuge, until the thoughts of anger can no longer get a foothold. Chant a Sutra if I remember one, mentally bow to all beings, whatever it may take to get out of the cave of aversion and hatred.

Some clarity may come that makes it evident that just as my karma has created the moment I'm experiencing, just as the karma of all others has created the moment they are experiencing. The karma of this moment will create the karma of the next, and that rather than being doomed by my past choices, I can see it as an opportunity to create more wholesome karma. Maybe others will make that choice also, maybe not. But since my choice is as dependent on the causes and conditions of their choices, maybe even my momentary choice sets in motion a cascade of karma that is of benefit to all beings. I can't really be all that concerned with their action.
The tenth of the Oxherding pictures is of the Bodhisattva going into the marketplace with outstretched arms. Outstretched arms in the context of engagement in social change does not necessarily mean taking up arms. Arms outstretched to hurl a Molotov cocktail, is probably not a way to avoid doing any harm. Peaceful engagement may not feel saving all beings, it may not even seem like helping all beings, it may not even be being nice to all beings, but at least I can try to ask if I can help.

When you subtract the greed, the anger, and the delusion, what's left?  I'll leave that answer up to you, Buddha.
Buddha bows to Buddha.