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
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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.

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…

 

Muslim for a Month: It’s Not for Sissies…

This is my 9/11 post. Better late than never! And, it’s a little longer than my usual two pages. I’ll be especially brief, next time!
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In 2001, I merely read about a hate crime that changed my life, too. I’m referring to the Mesa, Arizona murder of a 52-year-old Sikh man named Balbir Singh Sodhi. He was a gas station owner from Punjab, India. By all reports, he was a kind man, and a pillar of his community. I was so moved and distressed by this incident that I actually made it the centerpiece of a PowerPoint presentation I gave before the search committee, and my soon-to-be colleagues, as part of my two-day, faculty interview at a university in New York State.

Four days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, now-convicted murderer, Frank Roque shot Sodhi five times, killing him instantly. Roque, claiming his was the act of a “patriot” avenging the American people, later admitted that he’d made a mistake. You see, he’d thought Sodhi was an “Arab” (which, of course, means “violent Muslim”) because of his turban, beard, and attire… In truth, Sodhi was Indian, not Arab; and despite Roque’s defense attorney’s claims of “diminished mental capacity,” the jury returned a verdict recommending the death penalty. In an appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court, Roque’s death sentence was overturned, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Over a decade later, though I’d never actually forgotten this incident, or the gross, abysmal ignorance it substantiated, I would once again be reminded, in a more personal way, of the tragedy of Balbir Singh Sodhi. I would have my own frightening experiences, in what remains one of the longest months of my life, of continually being mistaken for a Muslim.

In July 2012, I lost the man who’d become, after some difficult years, my best friend, and the love of my life: my father. Daddy died believing, at least until he was no longer mentally competent, that I was still teaching at the university, and deliriously happy. In reality, I was destitute; homeless, in fact. So, the only reason I was able to attend his funeral, in another state, and fly back home, was because his wife kindly purchased my round-trip ticket. And it was during this time of crisis that my almost life-long connection to Buddhism was finally forged.

In Buddhism, the traditional (if not always) color of mourning is white, not black. So, after Daddy’s traditional Christian funeral, presided over by both a Roman Catholic priest and a Presbyterian minister, I flew home to New York; shaved my head, and proceeded to dress in white, with a white scarf (closely resembling a hijab) covering my head. There is nothing particularly Buddhist about the scarf, itself, or, in this particular sense, a shaved head, as a Buddhist ritual of mourning. This was just my way of mindfully honoring, meditating on, and honoring the man whose funeral I could not have afforded to attend without assistance. And it mirrored to some extent, the Buddhist practice of laypersons ordaining as monastics, for the period of a few hours, or a day, in order to more meaningfully engage in the funereal remembrance and honoring of a deceased loved one.

As a Black woman of mixed race and culture, head coverings are not at all foreign or unusual for me. Black women who identify as “African-American,” African in general, West Indian, or otherwise, often wear scarves and other head coverings, such as wraps, turbans, and gele. But at this particular time, in July 2012, my head covering became a very serious problem. And I must mention, here, that less than a month later, Wade Michael Page, an American white supremacist and United States Army veteran, would open fire at a Sikh temple, injuring four people and killing six others. I don’t know if he thought they were Muslim.

From the first day I donned that white scarf, my perspective changed. Whether driving my car, riding the bus, or walking through the ‘hood, I found myself, somehow, at the center of the universe. Suddenly, nodding my head ‘hello’ and smiling became an act of bravery. The big white guy with the shaved head and swastika tattoo, who used to ignore me, suddenly seemed to be glaring, menacingly. One woman who lived in my apartment building walked up to me upon our meeting in the common area and whispered, “Have you changed, suddenly?” I said, “What do you mean, and how so, ‘suddenly’?” She said, “Did you become a… Muslim… over the weekend?”

A few days later, I attended an outdoor music event. The band performed Motown, Ska, Reggae, and many beloved ‘oldies.’ I was the only one there with a head covering, save for ball caps turned backwards. It was early evening; I’d walked there by myself; the beer was flowing; and people were, literally, dancing in the streets. Despite everything else that had happened, I hadn’t thought twice about walking there alone, at night, in such a venue. By the time I left, let’s just say I’d had my first ‘second thought.’ When I’d entered the concert venue, I was still my old sociable, however be it, less-than-happy self, but my world had become, increasingly, and even menacingly, different.

There was one warm, fuzzy moment when I ran into a friend: 30-ish, white, male, shaved head, tattooed, muscular, alternative-looking, could-be-mistaken-for-a-skinhead, kind, gentle, and born-again-Christian… At first, he didn’t recognize me with my headgear, but as soon as he did he gave me a giant, warm, bone-crunching bear hug. It would have made a great cover for the now defunct Life magazine. Nothing violent happened that evening, but I knew from that experience that I was “now suspect.” I knew that no one would have been surprised in the least if I had whipped out a detonator and blown myself up. I knew that few were capable of discerning that I was not wearing a ‘proper’ hijab, and that it might have occurred to fewer, still, that I might not be a Muslim.

Much to my amazement, doing things I’d previously not thought twice about, like riding the bus, or walking down a street alone, became increasingly difficult and fraught with with dare I say, danger? I knew that though I was suffering, that I dared not call it that because though I could do nothing about how I then felt about the loss of my father, I truly did not have to dress the way I did. I became increasingly disgusted with myself because I knew that unlike a conventional Muslim woman, I could simply remove my head scarf anytime I wanted. I could wear it only when it was “safe,” and “convenient.” And so, every single time I left my home, I’d think, “I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone to walk around feeling as if the only thing people see when they walk into a room, or onto a bus, is a human grenade wearing a hijab, burqa, or turban.” I also had plenty of time to think about people who weren’t Muslim, but “looked Muslim,” and people too ignorant to even care, much realize, that there is a difference between Sikhs and Muslims, as well as between suicide bombers and Muslims.

When my period of [external] mourning ended – and I almost marveled that I lived through it, myself, I went back to wearing my usual, traditional, and sometimes unusual, African-inspired head wraps, or gele, not to mention the occasional hoodie, the piece of clothing used to vilify the young black man, Trayvon Williams (and so many Black men), who was murdered by George Zimmerman. My experience of mourning, colored white, had been tinged with the deep darkness of not only the death of my Father, but a wound reopened by remembrance of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the Sikh man killed for being a Muslim, and the personal irony of my own situation: being afraid that the same thing might happen to me. And it didn’t help matters any that more than once, I was asked, “Are you Muslim?” I’d decided, after “reassuring” my neighbor that I had not “become Muslim over the weekend,” that I would not answer that question, in any way, ever again. My reasoning at the time was that to say “yes,” would have been a lie, but to say “no” would have, somehow, been a type of dishonor, or betrayal, to anyone who was Muslim. But admittedly, and mostly, I was just plain scared.

My “month as a Muslim” taught me a great deal about myself and other people. In Detroit, Michigan, many years ago, I’d lived down the street from a mosque. There was one entrance for men, and one for women. Though, I’d never been inside, I knew I was welcome. The members of the mosque often congregated outside, and were very friendly, and it was a diverse, vital, and congenial neighborhood, in general. Upon returning home to visit my family after 9/11, I was shocked by the broken windows and the sidewalk, then abandoned. Obviously, some folks had forgotten who our neighbors really were…

Many people don’t realize that the Muslim religion is practically singular in the peacefulness of its true practitioners, and their warm, almost unheard-of way of welcoming people of all races and ethnicity. It was this love that transformed the former militant and separatist, Malcolm X, to el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, a proponent of integration, rather than segregation. In fact, there is a theory that the former Malcolm X was assassinated not by “the White man,” but by the so-called Black separatist faction of Islam known as NOI (Nation of Islam), then run by The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, or perhaps, even in mutual cooperation with “the White man.” Malcolm X, in an act of faith, went on The Hajj and came back a very different man. White people were no longer just “blue-eyed devils,” they were his brothers and sisters. In fact, everybody became his brother and sister. So, whoever, or whatever, finally killed him, Malcolm’s perceptual shift couldn’t have been good news for Black separatism, or the America of that time…

And it cannot be denied that it is not at all unusual to find vestiges of segregation in our American Protestant ranks. I, myself, was raised Lutheran until I left the Christian Church at the age of 17. And even in my family’s faith there were two ‘factions’: The ‘Missouri Synod,’ where Blacks were not welcome; and the ‘Lutheran Churches of America’ where we were welcome, most of the time… As a Buddhist, I have been to many Buddhist gatherings where I have been the only brown person. I recall one, right here in New York State, where I couldn’t have gotten any of those people to talk to me even if I had spray-painted a fluorescent orange mustache on the Buddha at their altar. But they were probably just having a bad day…

Nonetheless, whatever the day; whatever the mood; whatever the place; whatever the religion; whatever the race; whatever the ethnicity; we are all ‘buddhas,’ beings of worth. And if you were to ask me what the most important lesson I learned from being “Muslim for a month” was, it was this:

I think it vital, for those of us who know, to let others know that though there are some hate-filled extremists out there,  it takes something much stronger than hate to leave one’s home every day, knowing that to an ignorant number of individuals, they resemble nothing more than a potential ‘human detonation device’ and the reason for 9/11.

The aforementioned murders took place in the summers of 2001 and 2012, respectively. It is only now, over a decade later, that I can even begin to comprehend the pain of those targeted. And let me repeat that I know that “a month of being Muslim” is as nothing, I repeat nothing, compared to actually being Muslim. Please understand that in no way have I meant to trivialize anyone. My own father died, painfully, though much more peacefully than Balbir Singh Sodhi, or the victims of the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple in the summer of 2012, the year I wore white on his behalf. So, for me there was, and will always be a strange connection because I knew that for a while, I looked like “the enemy,” and only persisted in expressing my grief in the way I did because my love for my father was greater than my fear of the seemingly reigning idiocy. Perhaps, that is why Muslims persist in dressing as they do, despite becoming potential targets of hatred and ignorance? Yes, I think it must be love, as well…

I wonder what would happen if we ALL wore hijabs and turbans for a ‘reckless’ day, week, or month?

Assalamu Alaikum.

And as always,

Namaste.

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Suggested Readings:

Please, just read — widely and with discriminating intelligence! Besides getting out and learning what people are really ‘about,’ it’s the only way!

If Buddhists are So Pessimistic, Why Do We Persist in This Futile Quest to Convince You Otherwise?

A not uncommon view of Buddhists is that we are exceedingly pessimistic and macabre. It’s difficult to argue with this because we read, everywhere, that the Buddha taught that “life is suffering.” Period. And of course, it’s difficult for people to accept this view because many of us are happy, at least part of the time, in between our sufferings. Thankfully, though, the Buddha said, “I teach one thing, and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering” (which, admittedly sounds like two things). His point was not that life is solely about suffering, but rather that suffering is our main problem, and the one that we all share — whether we admit it, or not. Additionally, as our critics well know, the Buddha actually suggested corpse meditation as a fine way of ‘getting real,’ though modern technology has allowed us to somewhat modify this practice and use photographs, instead… And even today, many monastics attend autopsies as a type of meditation on the impermanence of the body, and all things… Not surprisingly, it is not recommended that one undertake such types of meditation except under the supervision of a skilled, experienced practitioner. Nevertheless, there are instructions, from the Buddha, in the Satipatthana Sutta (I wouldn’t click that link if I were you…).

Have I ever meditated beside a corpse? No. Would I ever meditate beside a corpse? Probably not. I’m still trying to recover from exposure to the dead cat, in full rigor, placed on our table in biology class back in 1978. I had to be helped out of the room by two classmates. And at the end of the semester, my kind, but disgusted instructor offered to give me a passing grade if I promised to never, again, take another biological sciences course. Yes, really.

But this was a type of meditation (and medication) that the Buddha prescribed to his followers so they could learn to get real about suffering, decay, and termination from everything to our hopes and dreams, our children, our social status, the means of our talents, and of course, our very own bodies. And this provides the perfect segue into The Four Noble Truths, the Buddha’s prescription for the disease of “suffering,” also interpreted as ‘dissatisfaction.’ The Buddha’s given name was Siddhartha, not Buddha. Buddha is an honorific title meaning “Enlightened One.” Notably, the Buddha was also known as the “Peerless Physician,” precisely because he was a brilliant healer. Thus, when, in his first sermon, he revealed his Four Noble Truths, the foundation of Buddhism, he presented them in the same model as physicians of his time, in India, presented their own medical cases:

The Four Noble Truths

  1. There is suffering;
  2. Suffering has a specific cause;
  3. The ’cause’ of suffering can be ended while one is still alive (as opposed to in the Great By-and-By);
  4. The way to end suffering is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Medical Model

  1. Identify the illness;
  2. Explain the cause of the illness;
  3. Reveal the cure for that illness;
  4. Demonstrate the treatment.

The Four Noble Truthes Contextualized Within a Medical Model

1. Identify illness and symptoms (The Buddha’s ‘patients,’ the human race, have ‘presented’ with with a number of symptoms indicative of a grave, terminal disease that he has identified as ‘suffering’).

2. Present diagnosis (The Buddha as determined the causes of the disease as clinging/craving/desire, i.e., we literally make ourselves “sick with (or by) ‘want'”).

3. Reveal cure (The Buddha explains how this disease can be cured, i.e., how we can stop victimizing ourselves with our own unhealthy, unreasonable clinging to unrealistic expectations and desires).

4. Demonstrate treatment (The Buddha prescribes following the Noble Eightfold Path as the cure).

I have highlighted the second noble truth, the cause or diagnosis of suffering, because it is precisely here that we learn the cause of the common, all-pervasive disease of suffering. Here, ‘clinging’ or ‘craving’ or desire, means our tendencies to want everything and everyone to be or act certain ways – ways that make sense to us, or seem right… to us. For example, there’s someone at our workplace who is driving us insane. We hate them with a passion. If only they’d transfer, or just die… But it appears that neither of those things will occur anytime soon. So, we seethe and suffer, inside, or sometimes engage in non-productive displays of temper, fueled by our suffering or dissatisfaction with their behavior. If enough time passes and nothing changes, we can either leave, or wait until they, or we, get fired. Or, we can change our perception of the situation through a specific process of “letting go,” and finding that we are not, as we feared, then un-moored or humiliated or weak…

Another example of how clinging/craving trips us up, and much more helpful to me, though much more general, is this: We consistently suffer because people and situations are not as we expect or want them to be. Then, when we finally get what we want, we suffer because we’re afraid that those situations and people won’t stay that way. And guess what? They won’t! Damned if we have, damned if we don’t! And the reason for this is the Law of Nature that the Buddha discovered and revealed (not created and implemented like some god). Impermanence. Everything is constantly changing.

Birth, joyous occasion it may be, is but the start of the journey towards death. Your beautiful child’s first tooth means that they are “gwoing” up; but it also means that they are getting older, and are, as every day, one day closer to dying. And as many parents know, children don’t always outlive their parents… Don’t like that? Whatcha’ gonna do about it? Flowers wilt; houses burn down; companies downsize; dancers get arthritis, and boobs (and other sets of things) sag. You might call that morose or pessimistic, I call it practical. It is only by acknowledging reality that one can expect to master it – or just deal with it…

Change can be one of the worst and scariest things in the world; yet, it’s also one of the best. Without change, those of us in impoverished states would never have the opportunity to improve our lots. Those of us suffering from terminal diseases would simply linger forever, instead of dying. And those of us doing well, could have no hope of doing better. Change is not only a terminator; it’s an equalizer, and sometimes even our champion. But it moves at its own pace, and plays out to its own satisfaction, first, and ours only secondly. So, if we don’t saddle up and ride hard, we’ll just get trampled underfoot. This is the underlying toughness in the so often inappropriately passive depiction of true grace.

Admittedly, change is a bitch. Nonetheless, no amount of crying, railing, hoping, praying, bribing, cursing or pretending can stop change from occurring. Buddhism asks us to stop expecting the impermanent to act as if it is permanent, and to recognize the un-reality of our synthetic “realities.” Buddhism asks us to stop trying to control the uncontrollable, and to stop expecting some “just” God to step in and act unjustly by not punishing us even when we know we deserve to have our asses whooped (though, of course, everybody else should get theirs whooped, particularly if they’ve wronged us…).

Buddhists don’t believe that one can spend one’s life screwing everyone over; then, at some beneficially and luckily timed deathbed conversion, be forgiven for everything and go to heaven. And Buddhists don’t believe that should one not convert in time, say, due to an untimely decapitation or stray bullet, that one will be raised from the dead, sentenced to a second death, and then spend eternity in a state of execution-but-not-dying, by frying like a gasoline-soaked flat of bacon on a rotisserie fueled by The Eternal Flame. Buddhists believe that if one’s negative consequences don’t find one in this life, they’ll find one in another, or another, or another… And this is why we are thankful that change is the only constant because what this means is that there will never be a “final judgment,” just seemingly endless suffering until we decide to follow a more fruitful… path.

Doesn’t sound so pessimistic to me…

Namaste.

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Suggested Readings:

Years of ‘Corpse Meditation’ Now Serving Monks Well from The Washington Times

Life Isn’t Just Suffering by Thanissaro Bhikkhu from Access to Insight.org

Four Nobel Truths (Part I) from Buddhanet.net

All of Us, Beset by Birth, Decay, and Death by Sister Ayya Khema

In Memoriam: Daddy…

Caine: Master, what is the best way to meet the loss of one we love?
Master Kan: By knowing that when we truly love it is never lost. It is only after death that the depth of the bond is truly felt and our loved one becomes more a part of us than was possible in life. — from the TV series, Kung Fu (1972 – 1975)
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My daddy could whistle like nuthin’ you ever heard. And because I was a ‘daddy’s girl,’ one of my most ardent desires was to be able to whistle just like my daddy — but my mother strongly objected, citing the eternal law: It is unlady-like to whistle. So, being who I was, this inspired me to practice whistling approximately 29 hours a day. And daddy never said or did anything to discourage me. In fact, on many a long car trip together during the 1960s (if mom wasn’t present), we’d listen to the radio, whistling along together. ‘Cuz that’s what people did in the days before iPods and tablets. And we, like, talked to each other, too… I think we called that… analog conversation… Yeah, that’s right…

Never once did daddy laugh, seem irritated, or even appear to notice that in my efforts to “whistle,” I was only able to produce one tone, repeatedly, and somehow managed to spit all over myself and anything within a two-foot radius. So, true to my disobedient, unlady-like disposition, I continued to practice until I became so good that one day, while whistling in the stall of a public restroom in a shopping mall, a woman reported to a security guard that “some man” was in one of the stalls “just whistling away like it was nobody’s business!” I never saw that woman, but I suspect it was my mother…

Decades later, I still whistle all the time, to the amazement of both women and men, as only a hardened harlot of harmony could. Recently, a work colleague commented on the perfection of my pitch and said I sound like a bird. Yeah, mama, I can whistle… But that’s not why I whistle…It’s no longer a matter of pride.

Now, every time I whistle, I “feel” my daddy, who passed in 2012. Sometimes, I whistle intentionally, as a tribute to him, or to invoke his presence. Other times, I just find myself whistling along to a song, and because I can ‘jam’ in that fashion, I think of him. And much to my surprise, I feel my daddy’s presence today, almost three years after his death, as strongly as I ever have — perhaps, moreso than ever…

I do not believe, as do Christians, that there is a heaven, or that I will ever see my daddy again. He is gone. Nonetheless, as long as I am here, he is with me; and I love him more every day…

Namaste.