Friday, September 20, 2013

Buddhist Killer

I've written about buddhism and violence in this blog. People are surprised that "Buddhist" commit violence.

To put it another way, is someone Christian if they go against so many of the core teachings? You can call yourself anything. And some of religion is culture. People can superficially identify themselves as something, but perhaps they are making an expression of culture, not so much religion. I don't mean to be elitist, but you know you can't be a Mets fan if you never watch a game, and you don't pay attention to them. There are rules to language use that we agree on. For me violence is not something you can do as a Buddhist, although out of ignorance greed and delusion we make mistakes. To be a Buddhist means you are on the path towards enlightenment, among other things, but that doesn't mean you have to be enlightened.

So I read an article today about the "signs" that Aaron Alexis was taking a turn for the worse. I skimmed an article about how hard it is to really predict human behavior and the potential for violence. I read the article from Wildmind. Bodhipoksa points out that even ill will was considered dangerous, let alone violence. He says "Alexis was not a Buddhist representative. He’s not a Buddhist teacher. He’s just another tragic figure with a mental illness and access to high-powered weaponry — and a person who, at times, practiced Buddhism. The time he took a gun and used it to kill people is not one of the times he was practicing Buddhism."

Danny Fisher is quoted in a Washington Post article that Buddhists are human beings too. I take that to mean that they are not perfect, can make mistakes. My friend told me the comments are interesting in this article, but I didn't get a chance to read many yet.

In general, in the spiritual life, we take ideals and work to move towards them. At times I have beaten myself up for not living up to those ideals. Of course that is unproductive, and doesn't help me move towards them. The correct utilization of ideals is something you hopefully learn on the path. So anyone can look at Mr. Alexis and say, wow you didn't live up to Buddhist ideals. Yea, of course. On the other hand, we don't need to let ourselves off the hook easily, to dismiss our mistakes as just being human and move on. We need to look deeply into ourselves and try and figure things out, if we're to progress at all along the path towards enlightenment.

It is important to "start where you are", be realistic, authentic. To create a false self that apes the ideals isn't true spirituality, but an act. "I am not enlightened" is something one of my friends used to always say. 

We can sometimes project our idealism onto others. It is important to see people as they really are, and not just what you want them to be. I think that is an important step along the spiritual path--to realize you are projecting idealistic expectations onto others, and that perhaps you can just work to see people clearly and work on your own progress, instead of positing ideals in other people. When you become disillusioned, and see people for who they really are, that can be a fairly liberating and self empowering thing. 

To become enlightened is not an easy thing. I don't know how rare or common it is. I know one teacher who claims to be enlightened, and I know people who think that's really funny because someone who was enlightened wouldn't brag about it. It is certain that others are ahead of me on the path and that I've got a lot of work to do. I can learn from people, and especially to look towards people who are ahead of you can be one way to learn what is possible. 

This incident will of course bring out a wide variety of opinions. We don't do mental health very well in America. For one, you can't see mental illness the way you can see a broken arm. If someone gets cancer, people pour out sympathy. When someone gets schizophrenia, we stay away like we're going to get mental germs. Our policies reflect our ignorances, and we spend a lot of money on ER visits instead of saving money with a good solid system. You don't hear the save money, don't expand government republicans ever talking about that one, because they have a preconception that government involvement is inherently bad. In my opinion our country has swung towards the far right, and we are in an era of callousness and greed. Greed, hatred, delusion and ignorance. You could say all eras are in a phase of that. I know a lot about mental health, and I can tell you, we don't really do it right in the good old USA. A lot of that has to do with our medical insurance system.

We get so afraid that if we give people benefits without working, even if it's in our own best interest, then people will become dependent on the government. Forget that some people don't have family to fall back on. Forget it that there are many structural inequalities that reinforce inequality. Why are guns and drugs so available in poor neighborhoods, and medical care, good schools and housing are not available. We like to blame the poor instead of work towards social justice, because of our fear of dependence. We don't like to talk about dependency issues in the golden parachutes of ineffective managers. We don't like to talk about dependency of the military welfare queens. Being greedy is good when you exploit others successfully, but not when you're just poor. We don't like to talk about personal responsibility as we bail out corporations. Then we can see the larger picture.

Second is the issue of gun control in the USA. I was in rural North Carolina and I saw a bumper sticker that said "Charlton Heston is my president". He was the president of the NRA, and an actor. We have a twisted gun culture that is very well organized around the investment of not impinging on our "freedom" to own a gun. 

You're going to need a lot of guns to enforce the inequalities of our system. Like prisons, guns are big business, and they pay lobbyists to keep things the same. Our alienated and disaffected population is too apathetic to rise up and conquer with common sense. You can manufacture all the statistics you want, and say guns don't kill people, people kill people, but taking guns out of people's hands causes less violence. I don't think the solution is that everyone else has a gun and they shoot Mr. Alexis before he gets too far. That just doesn't work for me.

So, as I say, the murder of 13 people, including Mr. Alexis, is going to bring out a lot of opinions. I am among the people with opinions.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

Quote from Living Wisely

"We fear fearlessness in the same way that we fear nonviolence. To act non-violently certainly appears to make one more vulnerable. You are dropping your defensiveness, leaving yourself more open, more exposed. However, this very vulnerability can be disarming, and even when it doesn't succeed in disarming aggression, the lack of desire for retaliation and security renders you much less vulnerable at a mental and emotional level. You do not feed the escalating verbal aggression out of which most physical violence issues. At its most developed, non-violence is equivalent to non-ego, there is no fixed identification with the threatened self, and therefore no fear for it, and no violence in defense of it." (p. 37-38)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Translating ancient wisdom

One thing that strikes me in Sangharakshita's recent book is how he is translating Nagarjuna into modern times. Reading his books on texts really brings them alive for me. I'm enjoying Living Wisely: Further Advice from Nagarjuna's Precious Garland.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

relationship mantras

1. Dear one, I am really here for you.
2. Dear one, I know that you are here, and I am very glad about it.

This is from the first essay in Right Here with You: Bringing Mindful Awareness into Our Relationships.

Monday, September 02, 2013

"I'll tell you one thing, Franny. One thing I know. And don't get upset. It isn't anything bad. But if it's the religious life you want, you ought to know right now that you're missing out on every single goddam religious action that's going on around this house. You don't even have sense enough to drinkwhen somebody brings you a cup of consecrated chicken soup- which is the only kind of chicken soup Bessie ever brings to anybody around this madhouse. So you just tell me, just tell me, buddy. Even if you went out and searched the whole world for a master- some guru, some boly man- to tell you how to say your Jesus Prayer properly, what good would it do you? How in hell are you going to recognize a legitimate holy man when you see one if you don't even know a cup of consecrated chicken soup when it's right in front of your nose? Can you tell me that?"

Sunday, September 01, 2013

I was showing my boys all the different rupas and tankas. "This one is manjushri, this one is avalokateshevra....

"That one is the funny one?"
I tried to understand for a second. He heard hysterical instead of historical.

That's great--the hysterical Buddha. Of course I don't like the negative connotation in hysterical, which is part of the history of mistreatment of women by the medical profession, but still.

I'm reading Franny and Zooey because when I was on a date at the movies, I saw there's a Salinger movie coming out. I'd read Catcher In The Rye recent enough to move to it. I think the movie is going to be stupid, because the guy just wanted his art to speak for himself, and people kept doing crazy things in the name of his book. To be so colossally misunderstood, is quite tragic. 

I was reading Franny and Zooey, and I was thinking about how Franny was being Holden Caulfield like, in that everyone was a phony. And you could see how someone who was alienated, would really identify with the character. But I think he's doing it for a reason. I don't really know how deeply Salinger got into Buddhism, but he obviously knows a little about Buddhism. DT Suzuki was big in NYC at the time. Salinger later moved towards Advaita Vedanta

Franny is experiencing the first noble truth, that life is suffering. And she's reaching for more and she talks about The Way Of A Pilgrim, which I've yet to read. 

Franny keeps talking about how everyone is ego ego ego. Now, I think that can be a pretty superficial understanding of Buddhism, though in the beginning of the journey you can notice how colossally self involved everyone is, but then you just can't look at that sun too long because it hurts, and you turn away.

I read a lovely post by Danny Fisher about how your practice isn't even really about you.

I know you don't have to read every book mentioned by an author to understand a book, but there are clues into which traditions the book is placing himself. And I think Salinger is pointing to a kind of transcendence, the path to lead from suffering.

Unfortunately, the internal dialogue of alienation, does not necessarily point to a solution.  We all find out own solutions, if it's drugs, or art, or family, science or religion. I think he captures a visceral disgust for the world amongst adolescents. To have adolescents read him and not have the keys to transcending alienation, hopefully challenges them to find a key to transcending alienation. I have a book on alienation on my shelf that I haven't read, a cast off from a friend's philosophy past.

As I've said before appropriating culture to your own purposes is part shady and part business as usual.