Wonder Woman Tights

I want a pair of tights like Tami
wore on Halloween;
To date, among the coolest things that
I have ever seen.
So garbed, I’d drop to Earth,
the only time I’d ever kneel;
then raise myself, my sword, then Hell,
to wage a just appeal
that honored those who’d had to raise their skirts
to make a deal.
I’d watch each piglet tuck his… tail
and listen to him squeal.

How easily, now, they’re turned
and led amass to their own slaughters.
May ours be the last laugh, yes,
They’re running from our daughters…
=================

Dedicated to Gal Gadot, Elizabeth Warren, and Sami, three of my favorite feminists…

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Let’s Talk About Sex: The Third Precept of Buddhism…

“I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct (unless you’re a monastic, in which case you don’t get any sex, at all) –The third precept of Buddhism

I’ve spent the bulk of the last three weeks conducting extensive research, as well as taking some math refresher courses, because I’d begun to question whether the number three does, indeed, follow the number two. The reason I’d begun to doubt my numerical literacy was because if the number three does follow the number two, then that would mean that after already addressing the first and second precepts, I’d have to discuss the third (sex!)… So, I embarked on a massive research process to determine if the number three in Sanskrit, or Pali (the language closest to what the Buddha probably spoke) didn’t mean something like “the number following 5,365, 482,001.” Oh, well… Finally, after unexpectedly posting a piece on Donald Trump earlier this week, I decided that if I can discuss him on my blog, I can discuss anything…

Many people are under the impression that the Buddha didn’t think too highly of sex. If this has been your impression, you are greatly misinformed. The Buddha’s father was a king named Suddhodana, and the Lord Buddha, (prior to becoming the Lord Buddha), was known as Prince Siddhartha. Soon after the birth Prince Siddartha, a holy man informed King Suddhodana that Siddhartha would either be a ‘Buddha’ or a great king; but like any king, Suddhodana wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, eventually taking his place. So, the king set out to make sure that Prince Siddhartha wanted for no material happiness and that he was always too distracted by pleasure to think about such annoying trivialities as Oneness with the Atman, or human suffering. These distractions eventually included not only an unbelievably beautiful wife, but a very large harem, i.e., other women with whom he could engage with sexually whenever he desired. In addition to wanting for nothing, the king also made sure that his son had no exposure to the external world and its truths: old age, sickness, death, impermanence, etc. So, it’s fair to say that for a good while, Prince Siddhartha was probably happier than most people.

Supposedly, it wasn’t until Prince Siddhartha was nearly 29 that he decided to leave the palace and go on a day trip, accompanied by his friend and personal charioteer, Channa. It was during this trip that he encountered for the first time in his entire life, what today are known as “The Four Sights,” i.e., (1) an old man; (2) a person suffering from a terminal illness; (3) a dead body; and (4) an ascetic whose quest was to find the cause of “human suffering” (refer to sights one through three). Shocked that people aged; sickened that they became ill and died in the middle of the street (quite literally); and just not ‘feeling’ that dead body, or the fact that such was his fate, Siddhartha saw great value in following the example of the ascetic (the fourth sight), as it appeared to him that he was the only person he’d encountered that day who, for some reason, was not suffering. Finally, to put the icing on the Gulab Jamun, upon returning to the palace, the king, just to be sure Siddhartha hadn’t discovered temperance earlier in the day, arranged for beautiful dancing girls to welcome him back… as only “dancing” girls can do. This might have worked to lift Siddhartha’s spirits except for the fact that after the after-party, as he was walking back to his digs, he observed the dancing girls, exhausted, perhaps intoxicated, sprawled on the floor in varying states of unconscious disarray and disrobement, snoring, drooling, and no longer sporting that Cover Girl look with their sweat-smeared makeup . Not so sexy. Not sexy at all…

So, how, wondered Prince Siddhartha, do we deal with the ruthless, never-ending, unrelenting forces of change, i.e., impermanence? How to deal with the fact that he, himself, would soon look like the sick old man on the side of the road? How to deal with the fact that his dancing girls, who could now “drop it like it’s hot,” would soon, simply be dropping dead? Clearly, it would take some alone time, not to mention very deep thought, to work this out… Soon enough, he began to see his wife, his newborn child, his father’s political ambitions for him, and his dancing girls for what they were: distractions. And all of a sudden, he realized that despite all he had, he wasn’t happy anymore, or more likely, had never truly been…

Fast forward a couple years and Siddhartha is now an ascetic, observing the practices of not only denying his body all pleasure, and just about all nourishment, but also observing such special meditation practices as sitting by corpses, at charnel grounds, or on the side of the road where these unfortunate people had died without hope of cremation, much less being laid out at a charnel ground. This type of meditation, known as “corpse contemplation,” is still practiced today by some, but now with photographs, or visits to morgues. The point of such meditations, in a pistachio nutshell, was to expose them to the truth, i.e., that sexy as we may be today, tomorrow we’ll be wrinkled, literally tripping over a fair number of our appendages, and much less able to hide the fact that we are little more than “skin sacs” of blood, feces, and urine, soon to be riddled with maggots. And did I mention pus? Well, the Buddha did; so, I really needn’t have bothered…

So, you’re probably wondering when we’re going to get to the “sex,” and what all this talk of pus and maggots has to do with sex? Well, let’s fast-forward, once more, and just say that the Buddha eventually had to lay down some hard law regarding sexual abstinence. This is why you will find, in the Buddhist Canon, some amazingly detailed and shocking examples of what NOT to do. You see, sex with women was a huge no-no, but sleeping with dead women, which had not previously been overtly stated, seemed to require some extra detail for some… Boys will be boys… And I truly don’t mean to be sexist, but it would be a bit difficult for a woman to perform the same type of act with a dead man, if you know what I mean…

Sex with farm animals was also a no-no. And interestingly enough, there was even a hierarchy of what was worse than what. Please keep in mind that these various sexual proclivities, sometimes activated by pure “horniness,” are not Buddhist practices, but simply the Buddha’s acknowledgement of what was happening around him. Truly, the Lord Buddha was the personification of “keeping it real.”It’s fairly surprising that the Buddha was as cool about sex as he was because others’ sex drives were somewhat problematic. One example is the case of Sudinna, one of the Buddha’s monks. Supposedly, fairly early in the Siddhartha’s career as The Buddha, Sudinna had yielded to his mother’s request that he “provide a seed,” by laying with his former wife, so that the family’s bloodline could be continued and the family’s wealth not be lost to the government. Apparently, the Buddha was not happy about this ‘entanglement,’ and soon after laid down the law on celibacy for monks known as the vinaya, i.e., monastic disciplinary code. In one part of the vinaya, it says:

“Whatever monk should indulge in sexual intercourse is one who is defeated [parajika], he is no longer in communion [with the monastic order].”

Fast forward several more years, and Prince Siddhartha is now The Enlightened One, The Buddha. Even after everything he’d been through, he never said that sex was “bad.” He just didn’t think it was good for… monastics. And he knew that not everyone wanted to be a monastic, and certainly didn’t expect that. Terms such as “lay person” and “householder” came to represent those who followed the “faith,” but still elected to live “in the world,” i.e., marrying, working, bearing and raising children, and having sex… The monastic’s goal, liberation/nirvana, could, arguably, not be achieved on a part-time basis, when children, spouses, career demands (or just plain eeking out a miserable subsistence) also competed for one’s time and attention. The holy life was about freeing oneself of attachments, not daily acquiring more of them.

In the above quotation, the term “parajika” refers to an offense serious enough to require immediate expulsion from the monastic order. Examples of parajikas include:

“A monk commits parajika if he engages in consensual penetration of various orifices of a living female (human, animal or spirit), a person with non-conventional sexual characteristics, another monk, or even himself (cases of one monk’s supple back and another’s pliable penis are cited.”

–The Problem with Sex According to Buddha, Paul David Numrich

Yes, you heard me “right.”

Interestingly enough:

“Penetration of a decomposed corpse is also parajika, but penetration of an almost fully decomposed corpse is only thullaccaya, a third level offense…”

–The Problem with Sex According to Buddha, Paul David Numrich

Note: The term “third level” offense in the above quotation is an example of the “hierarchy” of offenses to which I referred priorly.

Obviously, there were a few folks who, though living the “holy life,” weren’t quite ready to give up the sexual aspects of the lay life (no pun intended)… I suppose it’s a little difficult to “rape” a corpse, or call it “consensual” sex, or even “non-consensual,” for that matter.. So, for numerous reasons, the Buddha was compelled to be detailed in his requirements for the comportment of his monastics. But as for the rest of us, not so much.

Now this is where it truly gets interesting. There was no condemnation of homosexual behavior in early Buddhism. This came later, way after the Buddha had died. As far as we can tell, for the Buddha, sex was sex, and if you wanted to be a monastic, you couldn’t partake in any type of it. As for “householders” (non-monastic/lay Buddhists), sex was fine. So, when lay Buddhists “take” the third precept, they say that they will abstain from “sexual misconduct”; whereas, the monastic version of this precept requires vowing to abstain from sexual activity of any type. Ever. The exception to this rule is when lay Buddhists visit monasteries for extended periods of time, which I did last year. While there, besides removing all my piercings (bodily decoration also being prohibited in one of the precepts), I also had to take the monastic version of the Third Precept (not to engage in any type of sexual activity, at all). Upon leaving the monastery, I was free to continue in that fashion, or not.

As a result, lay Buddhists can be homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or even automonosexual (those who are sexually attracted to themselves, alone). Additionally, “misconduct” for lay Buddhists is also quite different than it is for monastics. For example, if a married couple (gay or straight) decide that they want to have an “open” marriage, it’s fine so long as both partners agree that that is what they want to do. Of course, we know that this is easier said than done. Too often, one partner consents to such an arrangement out of fear of losing the other. Additionally, if two married couples decide to engage in “swinging” with each other, it must be with the full consent of all four individuals because the concepts of “cheating,” and “consensual” do exist. So, it is not enough that the sex be consensual between two people if other spouses, boos, or other committed individuals are involved with one of those two individuals.

Abstaining from all sexual activity has generally been considered to be necessary for those Buddhists whose sole goal in life is to achieve liberation. Nonetheless, there are a great many contemporary articles and discussions that claim that one need not be unmarried or celibate to “become enlightened.” And there are those say the same with a slight twist, i.e., that it will take those who are married, or sexually active, longer to become enlightened because they, quite literally, carry the weight of the world on their shoulders and in their responsibilities to family, employers, and others.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not, once again, address the topic of homosexuality during this especially difficult election season when States are suing President Obama for relief as a result of what are now known as the “bathroom laws,” among other things, with regard to restroom accommodations for transgender(ed) individuals. The Buddha, apparently unlike Jesus, or anybody else, did not have anything to say about this. There are some references to individuals who were rather “undecided,” sexually, or both undecided and prostituting, but one would have to have studied some Pali and probably be a monastic to even know where to start with that. These issues only became “hot topics” in Buddhism after the Buddha’s death — rather in the way that it often seems to be the most homophobic lawmakers, and even monastics of all faiths, who eventually get caught in the back seats of cars with under-aged boys.

So much for “brief commentary.”

Namaste.

Donald the Human Trump Card: One Buddhist’s Perspective…

With each passing day, I find it more difficult to get away from what appears to me to be the “truth” about Donald Trump – and it is this: the man is where he is today, practically in the White House, because not only are the conditions “right,” but also because they’re damned near perfect. Donald Trump was “made in America,” but we simply don’t want to admit it.

Is it not ironic that the man who claims he wants to make America “great again,” is only great because America made him so? Every time we laughed at the “reasoning” behind his exclaiming “You’re fired!”; every time we overlooked his sexism, racism, and xenophobia; every time we called his complete disregard for ethics and human beings in his business practices simple “wheeling and dealing” instead of the hate crimes they were; we contributed to the Frankensteinian creation of the monster Trump is today. It’s vipaka, baby — the “fruit” of our karma…

Everyone is acting as if Donald Trump is some sort of violent, freak accident that “happened” to us one sunny afternoon. Not true. Donald Trump didn’t “happen” to “us”; Donald Trump is “us,” whether “us” refers to you and me, or to the [U]nited [S]tates. He is the sum total of our situational ethic; our refusal to admit to the existence of white privilege; our worship of the failing dollar; and the misinterpretation of the freedom of America as the “free dumb” in America. He was everything that a lot of us wanted to be – and still is. This is why  many of us will still vote for him, despite all of our public protestations, once the curtain closes behind us in the voting booth.

And if you are possibly upset that I used the words “white privilege,” please understand that it was not with anger or “reverse racism.” Any type of unfair advantage, no matter what color the perpetrator, always backfires. So-called “white people” suffer the effects (vipaka) of “white privilege” as much as so-called “people of color.” We cannot judge the intent of all by some, or truly believe, if we know the Dharma/Dhamma, that “evil” ever wins. The Law of Karma is the strictest, most impersonal bookkeeper ever employed. It doesn’t care who you are or what you do. It simply ensures that everything is always perfectly balanced — even when it doesn’t appear to be so…

Just remember this: “The Donald” cares about no one but himself. He doesn’t need you. He doesn’t need anyone – especially now that he has managed to do “the impossible.” And I don’t mean to imply that he’s not a nice person. If he’s a psychopath, and I mean this in the nicest, most clinical sense of the word, he simply can’t help it. Nonetheless, the man can’t manage a business, but we choose to believe that he can guide a nation, and deftly navigate the politics of one of the most complex and critical eras the world has ever known. Good luck with that.

So, please, stop it with the pissing and moaning. You’re not fooling anyone. This “crisis” pales in comparison to the one from which we are only now just recovering: nearly eight long years of an eloquent, educated, articulate, brilliant, undeniably just, albeit “Negro,” man holding the office of president of the United States. Many folks’ biggest disappointment can only be that he did not, in fact, do as they feared: He didn’t take office and treat white people as if they did not exist, or might possibly not have voted for him. He didn’t turn white privilege into “everything-but-white privilege,” he didn’t ignore the pain of the Syrian refugees because he valued the lives of Africans more… If you’re confused by this statement, let me draw an analogy: He didn’t pretend the Rwandan Genocide wasn’t happening because, well, no one who was anyone really cared anyway…

If you are voting for Mr. Trump, I truly don’t think less of you. Our conditioned existence is much too complicated to simplify into categories of any one person’s idea of “right” and “wrong.” Politicians are a special breed, and if there’s one good thing I can say about Mr. Trump, he’s honest about not giving a damn. But if we believe what the Buddha taught about a “conditioned existence,” then we understand that what is happening in the world today is the only thing that can happen, given what occurred prior to now (possibly for immeasurable past eons) and what is happening in the ever-fleeting and ever-changing “now.”

The only card game I ever learned to play was “Old Maid,” and that was in elementary school – many, many years ago. Nonetheless, I do know the meaning of the word “trump,” with regards to “grown-up” card playing. There are actually three definitions, in particular, that interest me, the last of which I only discovered today.

Trump:

  1. a playing card of the suit chosen to rank above the others, which can win a trick where a card of a different suit has been led;
  2. a sound of or as if of trumpeting (the trump of doom);
  3. a dependable and exemplary person.

“The Donald” is the personification of the eternal “trump card,” practically doing whatever he’s wanted, all his life, because he’s always been treated as if he’s of a higher suit or rank. You might call that a kind of “privilege,” with his being a white male being only incidental… And personally, I know people of all colors, ethnicities, income levels, social ranks, gender identities, religions, and political parties who do not think Mr. Trump is the best choice for this country.

We have ploughed, sown, and fertilized the crop we are about to harvest. And frankly, the only thing that truly surprises me about what is happening now is that we are surprised at all.That said, Mr. Trump is not the problem. He’s merely a symptom. Just as there is ‘personal’ karma, there is ‘national’ karma. Presidencies change just as everything else changes.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the last, legally-possible, four-term president, right?

Namaste.

 

 

 

 

P(r)etty Larceny: The Second Precept of Buddhism…

“I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking that which is not given.”
–The Second Precept
============================

In my last post on the first precept of Buddhism, I mentioned the “subtleties” of this precept. For example, the commandment in the Holy Bible admonishing against killing is widely understood to refer, specifically (and possibly, solely), to the killing of human beings; whereas, in the Buddhist canon, “not killing” refers to all sentient beings, i.e., birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and mammals, including human beings. Another significant difference is that in Buddhism, “not killing” (causing harm) is the first precept, but in the Holy Bible, it is the sixth commandment. Mind you, this is not necessarily because preserving life is not of primary value in Christian religions, but rather because the first commandment of the Holy Bible instructs believers that nothing is more important than loving God, an entity that is nonexistent in Buddhism.

Now, supposedly, if we love “God” with all of our hearts, minds, and souls, this should significantly influence how we feel about and treat our fellow human beings; but unfortunately, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. We come to believe, largely through family indoctrination and social engineering, that some humans are better than others; that animals are not as “good as” humans; and that some humans are not as “important” as animals. With the Christian “Holy Crusades” being among the best of the worst examples of this type of thinking, modern examples of dehumanization include the branch of the Lutheran Church known as the Missouri Synod, which at one time did not welcome Black people; and until only recently, the racial segregation that existed within the clergy of the Mormon Church. One of the most current and distressing examples is the late Reverend Fred Phelps (1929-2014) of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, and their website, God Hates Fags.com.

The second precept requires observant Buddhists to “refrain from taking that which is not given.” On the surface, it appears to equate with the Holy Bible’s eighth commandment, “You shall not steal,” and we should be so lucky – but we are not. The second Buddhist precept refers to much more than respecting another’s physical property, or their rights to that property. So, yes, outright stealing is never condoned, but there are other kinds of stealing, much more subtle than taking your neighbor’s ox or Maserati…

Let’s say that your workplace allows you to take paid time off to vote on Election Day, either during the first four hours of your work shift, or the last four hours. Even if you do vote during either of those times, you could still engage in behavior constituting the “taking of that which is not given.” It should go without saying that if you decide to vote in the morning, and your shift normally starts at 8 a.m., this does not mean that you should sleep for two extra hours, or go to the House of Pancakes first, and then hope that you can find time for voting. You have been given those four (paid) hours so that you have time to find parking, stand in line, and possibly, argue that despite their claiming that they have no record of your ever having voted in that precinct for the past 22 years, that you have done just that. Now, let’s say you accomplish all of this in two hours. What’s next? Immediately proceeding to your place of employment would be the right thing to do. Deciding to go to the salon and get your nails filled in during the remaining two hours would be “taking that which is not given.” You’re getting paid to vote, not to get your nails done.

Now for an example a little more outrageous: Let’s say you’re about to set out on your family vacation, and the only thing left to do is drop off the dog at your friend’s house. Though you couldn’t be happier that your Pookie will be safe with someone who loves her, you do wonder how he’ll feel when he discovers that she just popped out a litter of 17 puppies. Unfortunately, you’ve been too busy to tell him that you’ll be dropping them off, too… But he should understand how crazy things get when one is preparing to go on vacation, and you were just too busy to ask if he’d mind – and why should he? It’s now just going to be “Pookie love” times 17! What’s not to love? This, too, is a form of stealing, or “taking that which is not given.” You’ve stolen his time in that you’re now taking much more time than he had planned to give, even if he would have willingly given it had you asked – yet, you did not ask.

To “take that which is not given” is to take advantage of a person or situation by using them, or manipulating a situation to your benefit, without regard for their feelings, welfare, ownership, safety, graciousness, or kindness – and this is assuming that we know them. If we do this to someone we do not know, it’s just cold, calculated callousness on our parts. The second precept requires us to reevaluate our definitions and concepts of theft, or what it means to “steal,” and because of the way it’s worded, we can’t simply laugh it off and say, “Oh, it’s easy not to do that! I would never take another’s possessions! I’m not a thief!” The same is true of both the first precept and the Holy Bible’s sixth commandment, both of which refer to “not killing.” Extremely narrow interpretations of some of the broadest of evils serve only to “prettify” decidedly ugly intentions. When only human beings (or human beings of whom we approve) can be “murdered,” but everything else is fair game (literally and figuratively), it’s easy to think that we “value (all) life” or don’t engage in “theft.”

Early in my Buddhist education, I learned that following the steps on the Noble Eightfold Path is easier to comprehend if we, first, focus on one of the steps because they are all related. For example, if I focus on Right Speech, I cannot accomplish this to the extent I should unless I also, eventually, incorporate at least six of the other steps: Right View, Right Intention, Right Action, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. And in a certain sense, it would be difficult to not observe Right Livelihood and maintain Right Speech at the same time. So, in practicing one “step,” we are necessarily compelled to address the others. But that’s another post… It is the same with the Five Precepts. In “taking what is not given,” not only am I practicing a form of theft, I could also be “killing,” if not a person, then, a mood, an opportunity, someone’s happiness, or even future benefits (mine or another’s).

Namaste.

Lions and Tigers and… Ants, Oh My! The First Precept…

I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life (doing harm) –The First Precept of Buddhism

==================================

I was raised in a Christian home. Like many people, I understood that the Bible’s commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” applied to human beings. There was never any talk of not killing squirrels, deer, rats, mice, or insects. I’ll never forget the very first (and last) time my father, during my childhood, went squirrel hunting with a huntsman neighbor. My father brought home two squirrels that he’d shot, skinned, and cleaned all by himself. He was so proud! Nonetheless, my mother wasn’t having any of that! She refused to either accept, cook, or allow the squirrel carcasses to remain in “[her] home.” I, myself, was appalled that he could have expected us to eat anything “so cute,” but didn’t really think much more about it. We were not vegetarians, and as Guyanese people, we ate a great deal of rice with curried chicken, goat, and a beloved beef/goat dish known as pepper pot, among other things.

By the time I graduated from high school, I’d left the church (I was raised Lutheran); returned to Jesus as an apostolic Pentecostal “holy roller” for a short time, and then, due to mine and my father’s involvement in the martial arts, become extremely interested in Eastern philosophies. By the time I graduated from my university undergraduate program, I’d come to terms with the meat-eating experience and transitioned from vegetarian to vocal-veganism, though that would later change after someone pointed out that my love of leather didn’t quite square with veganism. Additionally, I’ve had some very rough times, financially, when my only choice was not between various types of meals, but rather between being able to eat or not. It is not uncommon, when trapped in the social services system, to be ridiculed (and refused) for asking for an extra bag of potatoes instead of that hunk of mystery meat you’d rather not eat, anyway. It’s a real case of “beggars can’t be choosers”… Nevertheless, since one can choose, it is definitely worth taking the 1:19 that it takes to visit this hell documenting the “legitimate” slaughter of animals for the benefit of meat eaters. Warning: It makes Dante’s version look like a trip to Disney Land. When we eat meat, we are complicit in the unimaginable suffering it causes our fellow ‘travelers’ on this planet…

Fast-forwarding to 2015, last summer I flew from New York to California to spend two weeks as a guest in a Theravada Buddhist monastery with a group of Bhikkhunis (female monks). I should mention, here, that in the Theravada lineage, meat-eating, with certain restrictions, is allowed, but it is a subject of much contention with serious repercussions if not mindfully and compassionately approached… I’d had to fill out an application to arrange the visit, and part of that had been informing them of what service I could be while visiting. I volunteered to drive, clean, and cook (so long as I had a really-detailed cook book). Upon arriving and settling in, I learned that my duties would be, primarily in the kitchen. Much to my delight, I discovered a sink full of dishes upon entering the kitchen, as lunch had just been served. Without being asked, I walked to the sink, picked up the sponge and discovered, to my horror, a dense colony of ants streaming beneath it. The only reason I did not shriek in horror was because I am so polite. So, though it took me a few moments more to pick my jaw up off of the floor (I’m more polite than I am “smooth”), I quietly dropped the sponge back into place, took a deep breath, and tried to figure out how best to calmly ask for some “Ants-Be-The-Hell-Gone” spray. But before I could ask, my guide informed me that the ants were there because of the obligation to observe the first precept. Truly, that had never occurred to me. I’d simply thought the good Sisters, who don’t do kitchen work, just didn’t have any good “help.”

Of course, they had no bug spray, bleach, or any other of the many treasured and beloved toxic concoctions upon which so many of us rely. We had to make due with “natural” cleansers. So, I had no choice but to get with the program. One of the other visitors to the monastery had come up with a rather ingenious method of handling the ants. She would take a sheet of paper towel, dampen it, and then gently “drag” it over the ants. With the ants, uninjured, but sticking to the paper towel, she would carefully transport them to the lowest rung of a plastic rack on the patio which was also used to dry laundry. As the paper towel dried in the wind, the ants could easily disengage from it, make their way to the ground, and crawl away (i.e., back into the kitchen).

Again, much to my great discomfort, the thin, but comfortable air mattress on the floor of my bedroom (which was just off the kitchen) was, occasionally visited by ants, as well. I could literally feel them crawling across my body, but once I discovered they didn’t bite, I relaxed and simply learned to be especially gentle if I had an “itch.” I learned to think of the ants as my co-pilots in life… And truly, the only reason I did not lose my mind was because I had already begun to practice some consideration for insect forms of life several years prior to arriving at that California monastery. Many years of trapping and transporting spiders “back to where they belong” had not only cured me of my fear of spiders, but even brought me to be able to appreciate their beauty. So, now that I’ve become enlightened, instead of jumping on my tractor and driving through my home trying to mow them down, I simply exclaim, “Namaste!” and run like hell…

Learning to live with the ants at the monastery was a life-changing experience for me. Even though I’d learned to catch spiders in jars, without harming them, and take them back outside, and would never have willingly harmed a dog, cat, squirrel, or deer, on my first day at the monastery I would have thought nothing of drenching the counter with Raid or tightly scooping up all the ants in a piece of wet paper towel. Until then, I had not realized that the Buddha did not differentiate between human and animal lives when those “animals” were, well, “only ants,” or perhaps cockroaches, or other creatures not as cute as lady bugs… Ants were, to me, merely pests, and the products of an unclean environment, not sentient beings who could show up for any number of reasons. And of course, it’s so much easier to see that dogs or horses have feelings, and love their offspring than it is to see the same thing in ants… The point, here is that, we tend to sympathize, more, with those who either look like us, or act like us; so, there is some moral danger in thinking that “difference” justifies indifference…

All sentient beings fear being harmed, love life, and want to be happy. I also discovered that those who value and revere the life of an ant are probably much more likely to respect it in a human being. If all human life was viewed as sacred, we could not have had Black Americans lynched for sport; Jews gassed, incinerated, and subject to outrageous medical experimentation during WWII; the Imperial Japanese Army’s prostituting of Korean girls and women, also during World War II, or the Rwandan genocide. In each case, these people were considered less than human, if only for convenience’s sake. It is always necessary to, first, distance ourselves from those we seek to demean, i.e., relegate them to the level of “lower than an animal,” or insect…

Each of the five precepts (the ones that must be observed by all non-monastic Buddhists), are fraught with subtleties we may yet to have considered or acknowledged. It is also important to acknowledge that they are not “commandments.” For us, they are not non-negotiables dictated by a stern, or loving, God who will subject us to an eternity in hell for not following them. It is always our intent that determines the “right” or “wrong” of what we do, and we are accountable to an immutable law of nature that neither cares about us personally, nor hears our appeals for mercy or special dispensations when we’d rather not deal with the results our actions always ignite – karma.

Prior to my monastery visit and after getting up close and personal with more ants than I’d ever dealt with (in any merciful way), I’d occasionally wondered why it was even necessary to utter the first precept, because like many people, I have never taken a human life (though, unlike the Buddha, I am as yet unable to account for any of my actions in past lives). Thus, in former kitchen experiences, if “cleanliness (truly) is next to godliness,” then I’d felt justified in doing whatever I had to do to keep my kitchen pest-free. Consequently, in this regard, alone, I might formerly have been considered one of the greatest transgressors of insect repellent, mosquito squashing, and spider bombing. The fact that I truly believed that certain gradations of life (insect versus human) justified such killings certainly lessens my culpability in the past, but now that I’ve received and processed new information, in both the intellectual and experiential senses, my future actions are subject to that new knowledge.

Two years ago, while living in a different city, my building experienced a “rodent infestation.” According to the exterminator, there were mice living within the insulation in our walls. The building was situated near a large vacant lot that was overgrown with bushes and weeds – a haven for everything from mice to much larger “rodents.” In an effort to hasten this case of rodent resolution, I bought a set of “sticky” rodent traps. These flat, “wall-less” traps, garnished with a little peanut butter or some other delicacy, can incapacitate even the smartest of rodents, who, by being careless, can place a foot too close to the sticky surface. This happened one night, with a trap I’d placed just a few feet from the bed. I’d awakened to the sound of what sounded like “tiny shrieking.” As the window was open, I’d imagined the sound must have been outside, but then, I thought of the trap, got up, and turned on the light. A tiny mouse had wondered out into the open during the night, gotten stuck, and in its struggle to escape, had ended up with the left side of its face, and part of its body stuck to the trap. It was truly one of the most heart-wrenching sights I’d ever seen, even though I was supposed to be happy that the product worked.

I was, essentially, paralyzed by the sight and wondered if it were possible to free the mouse. Having experienced getting the skin of my own hand stuck to the trap while setting it up, I could tell, just by looking, that if I tried to free the mouse, I would end up with only one half of its body in my hand. The other half of its body, with its thin, delicate skin, was never, ever going anywhere else. Being too scared to touch the trap, as the mouse was struggling, mightily, and had continued to shriek, I went, miserably, back to bed. A couple hours later, as morning arrived, I ran next door to enlist a neighbor’s help in simply picking up and disposing of the trap. The mouse was still thrashing and screaming those two hours later… Deciding to leave extermination to the professionals, I disposed of the rest of my sticky traps.

We’re treading on very thin ground when we look at one living being and decide that its life is not as valuable, or sacred, as ours, or another’s. We unthinkingly do this with animals and insects, everyday; and some human beings even do it with other human beings. Thus, the first precept, to do no harm, is not as simple to observe as we might expect, nor as difficult to transgress. In the words of the Buddha:

All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill. —The Dhammapada

The Buddha never said, “But one caveat — this applies only to people, especially those who look like us, or act the way we do, but not to animals, insects, reptiles, or fish”…

Namaste.

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References:

Animals and the Buddha

Meet 10 Beautiful Spiders

I’ve named this, “Makes Dante’s Hell Look Like DisneyLand” because I don’t read Arabic…

These are the Most Exquisitely Weird Spiders You Will Ever See

 

Intention: The Filter of Karma…

Karma cannot be deceived. It keeps unfolding. It is painfully democratic…. We cannot opt out of it. There is no timeout in life. Whatever we do lays a seed in our deepest consciousness, and one day that seed will grow. Every thought that occurs, especially if we water it with intention, plants a seed… –Sakyong Mipham, “Ruling Your World,” p. 52

”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””’

I have discussed the difference between “karma” and “vipaka” several times in the past. Basically, the term karma, which means “action,” is what we do, not what happens to us; and vipaka, which means “ripening [effect]” is the result of our karma, i.e., our actions, good, bad, or indifferent. So, it is vipaka that happens to us, not karma. This is why it’s incorrect to say, when something bad happens to us, “Ah, well, I guess that’s just my karma.”

People who rob banks, get caught, and go to prison, don’t usually say, “Ah, well, I guess it’s just my karma,” as if they’d expected to be treated any differently after having been caught. Yet, interestingly enough, people who do say this are often implying that they have, somehow, been treated unfairly, or somehow, received treatment that they did not deserve in relation to what they did. And what they don’t realize is that karma, which is a far from linear process, has just handed them an opportunity to “act,” which could effect a completely different outcome — should they choose wisely. It is important to note, here, that it is not, as has so often been misstated, Buddhists who are fatalistic and morbid. Buddhists actually believe that it is possible to escape the web of karmic entanglement, if not the actual effects of the causes we ignite.

There is a man with whom I once regularly rode the bus. He is a Bible-believing, tract-distributing, testifying Christian. We are on very friendly terms, despite his unsuccessfully trying to bring me to Jesus, gently, several times. I’ve seen and heard him engage many people in repentant prayer as they’ve waited for the bus, as well as on the bus.Yet, what interests me most is his premise. He tells people that no matter what they’ve done in their pasts, immediate or otherwise, that simply by repeating the “Believers Prayer” with him, and giving their heart to Jesus, right there at the bus stop, that they will automatically be forgiven all their sins — completely — and no matter what they have done. He also tells them that should they backslide, they need only read the prayer, as spelled out on the tract he leaves with them, and repent, once again, sincerely, and they will once again be forgiven. Finally, in addition to that, he tells them that even if they completely return to a life of sin, and find themselves on their deathbeds, all they have to do is repent, and immediately after dying, they will go to be with Jesus in heaven — so great is His desire to forgive… And it is this “promise” upon which many professing “Christians” rely. Personally, I question this man’s interpretation of both the gospels and thus, Jesus Christ.

Buddhists believe that we keep coming back until we get it “right.” There’s no “final judgment” or end of days; in fact, we should be so lucky. Whereas a Christian commits murder, sincerely repents, dies and goes to be with God, a Buddhist commits murder, sincerely repents, dies, experiences rebirth, then because of wrongly taking a life, will “live a short life” or possibly be murdered him- or herself… Yet, because of the cycle of endless rebirths, part of the experience of samsara, and the intricately woven, multidimensional web of the karma of endless past lives, this “effect” might not come to fruition until many lifetimes later; or, it could manifest in other ways such as that person eventually also experiencing the loss of a loved one through violent means. The perfect and perennial example, here, is Maha Moggallona who, despite being one of the Buddha’s most accomplished monks, was murdered due to having murdered his own parents in a former life. He was assassinated, beaten to death — the method he had used to murder his own parents…

Additionally, if we kill someone, and it was because we were in a really bad mood that day, rather than in self defense (which would still be a “bad”), since we don’t believe in a personal deity, there’s no appeals process available. Karma is totally impersonal and completely unforgiving in that it requires the “cause” we’ve committed to play out to its inevitable effect; but for Christians, apparently, it is possible to spend one’s entire life stealing, lying, and murdering, but if they can just “go to Jesus” a few moments before they die — they’re forgiven. Now, to me, that sounds like a gross circumvention of justice, and it begs the question, “Is ‘forgiveness’ the same as not having to reap what one has sown?” Or to put it another way, can one willfully commit unconscionable acts, repeatedly, with no repercussions, simply by “going to Jesus?” Could Hitler have said, before he purportedly committed suicide, “Wow, Lord, maybe I overreacted,” and be standing at the Pearly Gates to greet “errant” Jews who finally saw the light and also became “Christians?” Or could he even be standing at the Pearly Gates with St. Peter to tell Jews who never came to Jesus that they’d best be set to spend eternity in another type of oven?

Karma is destiny, not fate; and many people don’t realize that there is a difference between the two. Fate implies that our experience is preordained and that no matter what we do, we’ll get the same result (particularly regarding unpleasant results). Conversely, destiny, also implies that certain events are bound to happen, but unlike fate, destiny can be shaped, i.e., there is the possibility of our influencing and thus, changing it. Therefore, in the language of karma, whenever we act, whether verbally, physically, or even thought-fully, we enter into an unerringly balanced mechanistic process of intricately interwoven cause-and-effect that favors no one person over another. And yes, this is a hard pill to swallow because such phenomena as racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia make this appear to be otherwise — but consider for a moment if this were true. Would it not call into question everything from the concept of babies being born “innocent” to the nature of “injustice,” itself?

Now, let us drill down even further. The term karma, refers to not only our actions, but also the intent that fuels those actions — and it is this line of reasoning that brings us to the always controversial Buddhist teachings that say there is truly no “good” or “bad” except in the relative sense. This view exists because karma is viewed through the filter of intention…I know of two situations where angry men have laid hands on other individuals with such force that they have broken those individuals’ ribs. I maintain that in the first case, they were “wrong,” and in the second case, they were “right.”

In the first situation of rib-breaking, the man used a baseball bat to break someone’s ribs in a fight predicated merely by drunkenness. In the second situation, a paramedic was administering CPR — and if you’ve ever been certified to administer CPR, you’ve most likely heard the shocking statement that if you administer CPR, and there are not any broken ribs, you’re probably not doing it right… So, my point, however simply supported, is that one could either be a person who gets into a bar fight every now and then, and only occasionally breaks a few ribs, or be a paramedic, and break ribs every day. In reference to rib-breaking, the vipaka for bar brawlers will be substantially different from that of the paramedics (unless it is their intention to break ribs)…

For a Buddhist, karma (his or her actions) is “God,” and consequently, this “God” determines whether our lives are pictures of peace, pandemonium, or a pairing of both. The pairing of both is often the result of past karma coming to fruition (ripening, or becoming vipaka), whether from earlier in our present lives, or from past lives. Unlike instant, repeated forgiveness that absolves us from any responsibility or culpability for our actions, the keyword for Buddhists is ‘intention.’ So, rather than repeatedly praying for forgiveness, we instead seek to refine our intentions (thoughts) — the source and fuel of our actions, so that our intentions, and thus, karma, will first be purified, and then, extinguished.

And interestingly enough, the term nirvana, which is popularly interpreted as meaning some kind of phenomenal liberation or bliss, literally means “blown out,” as in “extinguished,” with regard to the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion, the hallmarks of samsara (suffering)… This summons another interesting difference between Christian theology and Buddhist thought. Christians are first born again in hopes of living forever; but Buddhists seek to end suffering, once and for all, by quenching the flame of repeated rebirths, and never returning (unless they take the Bodhisattva vow)… Hence, the Buddha’s “parinirvana,” or final death…Buddhists believe, regarding the Buddha, unlike Christians believe, regarding Jesus Christ, that the Buddha was a man; he’s dead; and he’s not coming back. Finally, unlike Christians who worship Jesus Christ, we do not worship the Buddha, or pray to him. The Buddha was a man. A man. We rejoice that he achieved his supreme intention. And we rejoice that all men and women can be as he was.

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

And of course, Namaste.
=====================

References:

The Bodhisattva Vows from Buddhism.about.com

Mukpo, Mipham J. Ruling Your World. New York: Three Rivers Press. 2005. Print.

The Killing of Maha Moggalana. Wisdom Quarterly Blogspot (Monday, Dec. 28, 2009).

Life is Not a Rodeo (So, Let Go of the “Bull”)…

“Defense is the first act of war. Practice responding with love.” –Byron Katie
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I’ve always been fascinated by the sport of bull riding, but it wasn’t until I googled the “rules of bull riding” that I truly appreciated it as a very apt metaphor for life. According to the rules of the Professional Bull Riders (PBR), a successful bull ride lasts only eight seconds. That’s the goal. Eight seconds. I’d always thought that someone might hold on for say, a minute or two, and win; but it’s not as simple as that. During those eight seconds, the rider must keep one arm secured to the rope, and the other arm in the air at all times. If the free arm ever touches the rider or the ground, during that eight-second span, the clock stops and the rider is disqualified. Even more interesting, the bull, too, receives a performance score. So, a ride is a 100-point event, with each participant being scored from 0-50 points. What this means is that if the bull just stands there for eight seconds, or simply meanders from one end of the arena to the other, even if the rider maintains the required “posture” for eight seconds, for a total of 50 points, that rider is not going to win…

If I’d known this, and had the opportunity to think it through much earlier in life, I might have had an easier time than I’ve had. For Buddhists, the problem of “attachments” is of primary concern. We learn that because we become attached to results, outcomes, and maintaining things such as reputations or relationships that truly need to end, we only end up increasing our suffering. Believing that things and people should be and act only in ways that we approve is a function of our own egos and insecurities.

Giving the finger to the person who cuts us off on the road; making a snide comment to the man who walks through the door in front of us, but doesn’t hold it for us (not recognizing either that we are “ladies,” or that it’s just the polite thing to do); or perseverating on the person who seemingly dislikes us for no reason (even though we know that we are the nicest people in the world) causes us stress not because those people are jerks, but because we are invested in the only “right” version of how things should be – our version. Yet, believe it or not, most other people are just as invested in their versions of “reality,” and for some inexplicable reason, holding the door open for you has absolutely nothing to do with their happiness. Their happiness.

Throughout my life, I’ve had a repeated, unpleasant experience that I would guess it’s fair to say happens only to women. I even remember the first time it happened – back in 1995. I was walking home from a friend’s house through the downtown portion of our city. Even though I lived in Michigan at that time, I still walked like the New Yorker I am, now. I needed to cross a busy intersection and was rushing to get to the corner so I could cross with the light. I noticed a rough-looking man sitting in a doorstep smoking a cigarette, to my left. I didn’t know him, and it didn’t occur to me to greet him. After I’d passed him, and was about 30 feet away, he said, “Hello, sexy!” I decided to pretend that “sexy” wasn’t my name, and didn’t really feel like stopping to converse. The light changed, and I started to cross the street. The next thing I knew, he had run into the middle of the intersection after me, getting in my face and calling me an “uppity bitch,” for not acknowledging him. I was stunned motionless for a moment, but when he started to reach out for me, I screamed and swung my book bag at him. The light had changed back, but traffic remained stationary, and this must have given him a clue that if he was going to attack me, he’d have to do it in front of a whole lot of people…

Since then, I’ve noticed that though getting up and assaulting a woman for not returning a greeting is not common, waiting for her to walk several feet beyond, and then saying “hi” is. It would be just as quick and easy to say “hello” before the woman passes, but to wait until after she passes is a control issue. You see, some people can only get a feeling of being someone through other people. Bishop Desmond Tutu famously said, “A person is a person through other persons.” Somehow, I don’t think he meant it in this sense. So, if an “attractive” woman stops, turns around, and returns a stranger’s greeting, he thinks he must really be “something.” Never mind that she might be late for work, or that it’s late at night, the streets are empty, and he and she are the only two people on the street – and she’s scared; he expects an acknowledgement… There’s the expectation that he should be able to turn, “heel,” or pull you up short, as if you were on a leash. Yet, he doesn’t even know you… And if you were to stop and acknowledge him because you thought he was cute, or whatever, that is how he’d treat you as his wife…

The Buddhist path is about learning to “let go.” We need to let go of presumptions, expectations, the demands of ego, and the feeling that everything that happens to us is “personal.” It’s not all about “us.” We see ourselves as being one way; yet, others don’t see us that way, at all. If we really were the “nicest person in the world,” everyone in the world would like us… If we were “hot” as all that, we’d never be upset that that man or woman whose attention we desired didn’t even give us a second look because our “hotness,” an “indisputable fact,” would have protected us from that indignity… All of these wants, desires, expectations, and even, demands, spring from our need to be affirmed by external sources. This is what “attachment” does to us…

Life is not a rodeo. It’s not all about holding on as tightly as we can, for as long as we can. The reality, if I may be so bold as to use that term, is that it is much harder to let go for eight seconds than it is to hold on. Truly, in this crazy ride we call life, we can’t even begin to accrue points until after we let go, and those first eight seconds have passed. When a co-worker makes a smart remark, specially tailored to wreck our day, we can either latch on to that remark, thus escalating the situation, or we can “let go” and let peace begin to happen. And when we are no longer concerned with racking up that 50 points, the bull we’re riding won’t be doing it, either. This is not to say that life will become easier, or necessarily feel easier, but only that we’ll become something, and someone, more than “just along for the ride”…

A bull ride isn’t expected to last very long (though it probably seems like forever), and the expectation is that we will fall off, repeatedly, and keep getting back on until we no longer can. If bull riding is an apt metaphor for our lives, we need to let go of the bull…

 

The Three Poisons, Part I: Ignorance…

About a year ago, a young man in his early thirties who was having severe dental problems due to having no dental insurance said to me, “Well, I guess I’ll just get dentures sooner than later — it happens to us all!” Though he smokes, chews tobacco, and drinks only coffee and colas, I had to bite my lip to avoid exclaiming, “No, it does not!” By that time, I’d learned that arguing, stating “the facts,” or trying to persuade people whose minds are already made up is not only futile, it’s egotistical. Unless you’re a lobbyist, a member of a debating team, or an attorney arguing a death penalty case, it’s a useless, thankless endeavor, and the reward is small — being “right” for a minute, or forever, in nobody’s but your own fondest memories. Additionally, because everyone wants to be “right,” they resent it if you cause them to feel or look “wrong,” and the repercussions can be swift, or slow and insidious. And of course, issues of race, class, someone’s lack of self-esteem, or just plain accountability can define the difference between our being seen as intelligent or a trouble maker…

Nonetheless, much reading and discussion with dental professionals will lead one to the discovery that teeth were meant to last a lifetime, even if you live to be 100, but you need to know how to take care of them. Tooth loss is not an inevitable, unavoidable “fact” of life. This much, I knew. I also knew that if I’d disagreed with him, he would have discounted my views because I was a woman, and not “free, white, and over-21,” as he constantly reminded me and anyone else with whom he “conversated” no matter what they looked like. And this leads me to the discussion of one of the Three Poisons, ignorance, as identified by the Lord Buddha. The other two “poisons” are attachment and aversion. They are also interpreted, respectively, as delusion, desire, and hatred.

The word, ignorant, is actually a beautiful, compassion-based word that has, in the common usage, been bastardized into meaning “stupid.” Though I am not an expert in the language of the Theravada Buddhist scriptures, Pali (the language of Theravada Buddhism), I have learned that when Buddhists [properly] use the word “ignorant,” it does not necessarily imply stupidity, but rather “not knowing.” And that’s a significant, yet subtle difference. What this means is that it is possible to say people are ignorant not as an insult, but as a simple statement of fact coupled with the understanding that those persons are simply doing the best they can with the information they currently possess. Truly, even when it doesn’t look like it, most people are doing what they think is “best” — if only for them…

For example: Robbing a bank (however “justifiably” desperate one may be) is stupid; but telling a lie, however “white,” is ignorant. The Buddha famously said, to his young son, Rahula that a liar is capable of any evil, and thus, lying is never justified. Lying is bad karma — and here, it is important to remember that the term karma does not refer to what happens to us, but rather to what we actually do. Karma translates to “action.” So, karma is what we do, but vipaka is what happens to us as a result of that action. If someone falsely accuses a person of committing a crime, causing that person to be wrongly incarcerated, that’s bad karma (action). When the truth of their lie is finally revealed, and they, themselves go to prison for lying, that’s their vipaka, a term which translates as “the ripening or maturation” of [a] karma (action). So, vipaka is the consequence of [a] karma — whether it be good or bad.

One of the the beautiful, liberating things about understanding the difference between karma and vipaka is that we realize that we have much more control over what occurs in our lives than we might think. When something bad happens to us, it is not “right view” to say, “That’s just my karma.” Buddhists are not as fatalistic as they’re reputed to be. Then there’s the hard truth. It is more appropriate to throw up one’s hands and say, “Ah, well, I guess that’s just my… vipaka (i.e., the natural consequences of my past actions.) Nonetheless, at any given moment, we can choose what karma we wish to enact, and immediately influence our future vipaka, i.e., outcomes.

We do have some level of control over our vipaka until the moment we draw our last breath, but this does not necessarily mean that we will escape the vipaka (ripened effects) of our previous karma (actions/choices) in this life, or the next… Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who authored one of my favorite books, Man’s Search for Meaning, said:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

And God help you if someone knows you know this. They’ll often be happy to place you in a position to test your true adherence to this theory. Nonetheless, the ability to choose should be our greatest and most treasured freedom because our choices today are where we’ll live tomorrow — whether our role be that of punish-er or sufferer.

The story of the Maha-Moggallana, the arahant and beloved companion of the Lord Buddha aptly illustrates this. Despite living the holy life, he was murdered, according to the Buddha, because of murdering his own parents in a former life… This is why it is so vitally important to guard our actions and speech as if our lives depend on them — which they do… And just in case what I said didn’t register with you, Maha-Mogallana attained Liberation; yet, was beaten like a dog, dragged himself “home” through the streets to be in the presence of the Lord Buddha once more, and then died.

Buddhists believe that out of the many different types of sentient beings, of which humans are only one, the human rebirth is the most fortunate. This is because only human beings can attain enlightenment. There is a verse from the Holy Bible that I have always loved, and which is most appropriate here:

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. –Phillipians 2:12(b)

Unfortunately, not everyone can do this all of the time. What I perceive as “right” today, I could realize to be a colossal mistake tomorrow — and it’s all because of my “ignorance,” my “not knowing.” According to the Buddha, there is much that cannot be learned in books or by talking to other people. No one can make up our minds for us. ‘Truth’ is an experience, ultimately too subtle for words, and can sometimes be relative. “What God has joined together, let no man (or woman) put asunder”; yet, some marriages need to end. We need to be willing to meditate,think upon and rigorously examine our experiences, remembering that because they are our experiences, we were there, taking part in them… Putting up a nasty meme on Facebook, e.g., “Some women think they are everything; in reality, they are everything but..,” without questioning one’s own self or culpability is not a solution — neither is drinking, drugging, or sinking into silent, angry bitterness. We all pay, one way or another, for negative karma we’ve committed, but often, the people who inflict these punishments often incur their own negative karma for inflicting your vipaka. They think they’re lucky dogs for getting revenge, but don’t realize that through that very act of revenge, they are sealing their own vipaka. If they were not ignorant of this fact, they’d be merciful…

For in the same way you judge others, so will you be judged… Matthew 7:2

And this applies even when those being punished “deserve” to be punished. Mind you this discussion is taking place outside of a discussion of any established legal system or the prison industrial complex…

When someone simply doesn’t know, or realize, that the results (vipaka) of their karma (actions) can only be unhappiness and suffering, even though their ignorance is to blame, they will suffer the consequences. Just as drunk drivers can’t use their drunkenness as an excuse for murder, we don’t get to use our ignorance as an excuse for the mistakes, or missteps we take. This is why I am so grateful to the individuals who have been merciful to me, and why I am obligated to try to be as merciful as I can be. We all act under the influence of “not knowing,” and because of our not knowing, we cause problems by judging or retaliating against people whom we, ourselves, may have been responsible for inciting.

Today, I will remember that as much as I care, and as hard as I try, I am still a “hot mess.” If that can be true for me, it can be true for another. Today, and always, I will strive to meet “in the middle,” as much as I can, and as much as others are willing, so that I do not hasten the end…

Namaste.

 

 

When “Friendships” Are Merely Factions…

Nobody knows you when you’re down and out
In your pocket not one penny,
And your friends, well you haven’t any
Soon as you get on your feet again,
Then you’ll meet your long lost friend
It’s mighty strange, without a doubt
Nobody knows you when you’re down and out
I mean when you’re down and out.

-Lyrics by Jimmy Cox
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I’ve made no secret of the fact that I consider friendship to be a rarity. I have “Facebook Friends” with whom I’ve never spoken, and others with whom I have spoken, but except for an occasional [like] or comment, that’s as far as our “relationships” go. I consider most people to be acquaintances. This does not mean that I do not aim to value and respect everyone. I just understand that friendship goes much deeper than mere acquaintance. The result is that I have come to know the value and beauty of people who play a demonstrative and interactive part in my day-to-day existence, and I in theirs, even if we do not physically interact every day. In just the past few days, I can honestly say that without two of my closest friends, I would not have been able to achieve a recent, life-changing goal. And for that, and them, I am so grateful! The Buddha said that a good spiritual friend is “all of the holy life”; yet, if we cannot find a true friend, it is better to walk alone…

Some time ago, I  relocated to a new city where I knew no one. I soon became involved in a volunteer project in my apartment building and found myself working consistently with “Donna.” We discovered that we had much in common and could discuss almost anything. Her best friend, “Beth,” lived nearby, and she and I got along swimmingly, as well. Then, one day, I noticed that Donna and Beth would pass each other in the hallway of our building without so much as glancing at each other. Donna told me that Beth had stopped speaking to her for “no reason at all.” She showed me a “snippy little text” that Beth had sent her, went on for several minutes about all Beth’s negative qualities, then said, “F**k her! Who needs her!”

The next day I saw Beth in the hallway, I wished her good morning and asked how she was doing. She seemed shocked that I had spoken, but then smiled and we engaged in a few minutes of pleasant chit-chat. Later that day, Donna, Beth and I converged in the foyer of our building, and again, to the obvious surprise of Donna, I said “hey!” to Beth. It had not occurred to me that based on what Donna had told me about Beth, that I, too, should stop speaking to Beth. It’s not that I’m such a great person, but rather that I considered it their fight, not mine. Additionally, if you add our ages together, the sum is just a bit over 175. So, I’d gotten over the whole junior-high-schoolyard-faction thing years ago, baby…

This situation went on for three weeks until Donna got angry at me for dropping out of the volunteer project and we stopped speaking to each other. Immediately, Beth started speaking to Donna, and they were, once again, best friends. Then, the next time I saw Beth, with whom I had never stopped speaking, I said, “Good morning!” and she did not respond. Giving her the benefit of a doubt, I assumed she had not heard me and again spoke to her later in the day. Again, she did not respond. Another woman told me that I should keep speaking to Beth and “force” her to say hello. Instead, I chose to stop speaking, as well, because I do not believe in trying to force anyone to do anything. I also understood that I was dealing with people who consider friendships to be “factions.”

The primary definition of “faction” is “a group of people in an organization working in a common cause against the main body.” For Donna and Beth, I had become the “main body.” Also, due to my prior experience with Donna, I knew that she was probably now referring to me as a “b**ch,” and complaining about all my little annoying habits, imperfections, and fatal flaws. I’m thinking about this as I read the book, Divergent. If you don’t know the story, it’s a fascinating and disturbing piece of fiction about a society comprised of factions much more pronounced than we have yet to experience.

Remember Denzel Washington’s role as the attorney in the movie, Philadelphia? Whenever he wanted to understand something, well, he’d say, “Explain this to me like I’m a two-year-old.” Well, dear reader, I’ve got some bad news for you. Explaining this to you like you’re a two-year-old is not what I’m about to do because I don’t quite get it myself. I do understand how a man might stop speaking to his wife’s friend after she stops speaking to her. He doesn’t want to find himself “cut off” for several weeks or months… But in general, why would all, or most, of this woman’s grown-ass friends stop speaking to the object of her disaffection, as well? And mind you, I’m talking about adult women, not junior high girls. That, I get.

If I have a choice, I don’t let others make up my mind for me. If a conversation takes place between two people, and I was not anywhere in the vicinity, or one of those two people conversing with each other, the only thing I can “assume” is that I don’t know what happened, or what was said. Also, if I have an ounce of intelligence, I know that when someone is angry with someone else, they will often try to make the object of their anger look wrong, stupid, or unworthy, and expect their “friends” to support them. And with reference to the Noble Eightfold Path, this violates Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Effort, and Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration i.e., like, all but one step on the Path…

Obviously, there are exceptions. The object of someone’s anger could be a former abuser; a well-known busybody; or someone who has established him- or herself to be insane, a criminal, or dangerous in some other way. I “get” that. What I don’t get is why people shun others for no other reason than that of being told that they should do so… Even in our courts of law, which often fail miserably, a person is supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Perhaps besides criminal and civil courts, we need “friendship” courts…

Though we may not all believe in karma, we do all believe in “seed technology,” the theory that if one plants a certain type of seed, given the right conditions, a certain type of plant will grow. If we plant a seed of hate or discord, and the tree thrives, we might find ourselves freezing to death in its shade. And even if we, ourselves, do not plant that seed, we share responsibility for “watering” it. Forming factions is divisive, dangerous, and just plain childish; and any friendship based on faction-forming is a fatally-flawed encounter, not a friendship. The wise understand that everyone comes into their lives to teach them something. Some of those people will stay; others are just passing through. In Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, by Jack Kornfield, he says (in a quotation often erroneously attributed to The Buddha):

Imagine that every person in the world is enlightened but you. They are all your teachers, each doing just the right things to help you learn perfect patience, perfect wisdom, perfect compassion.

If we can remember this, we have less of the feeling that our lives are constantly under siege. We can even feel thankful for the opportunity to progress in our practices.We will be less likely to say, “S/he makes me so angry,” and more likely to realize that we, instead, often allow ourselves to become angry. Personally, it is the people who have “hurt” me most that have shown me my own large-scale weaknesses and foibles. Additionally, people who already know this “secret” have an option for dealing with their so-called “enemies.” They  can choose to take a close look at themselves before running out and seeking to recruit all their “friends” into committing a “hate crime” in support of their own overblown egos and hurt feelings.

Today, I will remember that just as “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” friends do not require each other to take on the added burden of another’s hate or insecurity…

Namaste.