I read a news story today that the mentally troubled son of a mega-church leader committed suicide this weekend. His dad is reported as admiring the bravery of his son who ten years ago asked his dad why he couldn't just die now and end his pain.
I like many aspects of Christianity, and I consider myself a christian, but in a very qualified sense. I think Christ was onto something very good that has been usurped and hideously twisted in many ways since his death. One of the most dangerous offerings I think the mainstream Christian Church offers is the idea of self-aware life after death.
I worry that too many people avoid taking steps in the here and now to alleviate their own suffering or the suffering of others because they believe they will have a blissful, self-aware eternity after death. "Kill them all and let God sort out the good from the bad" is an extreme example of this logic.
Self- aware life after death will not happen. With the collapse of brain function comes the collapse of self. The self as I experience it is the biological activity between my ears and throughout my body. When my body dies, so do "I".
People may remember me. My impression on the myriad things of the world will persist. But "I" will not "know" it.
I think the true message of Christ was to guide people to relieve suffering in the here and now. This was clear problem to oppressive rulers who would rather people put up with tyranny now and dream of freedom after they were dead. And so, twisted by manipulative revisionists, or simply by people ignorantly following the persistent tenets of other religions that existed a the time, a happy, self-aware life after death became a plank of the Christian platform.
Everything is connected in Indra's web. Suffering now, sends effects rippling into the chain of cause and effect, now. To ease suffering now is to "calm the web" and bring more peace to the world in all ten directions, immediately.
I think the sages erred in naming the three buddhist poisons, my friends greed anger/hatred and ignorance. The moment the bad is mentioned, it is my tendency to want to prove I have the good. I become obsessed with needing to show I am not poisoned; I don't get angry; I am studying to overcome ignorance; I am giving up my things to show I have no greed.
And, perhaps more importantly, I am quick to fault others for their anger; I tisk-tisk their offensive, or naive, or stupid statements as a symptom of their ignorance, I whisper in the zen do hallways that if their greed didn't bind them so much, they wouldn't mind sitting on the buckwheat zafu.
I was moaning to a friend the other day about how difficult zazen can be. He said he has come to embrace his imperfections. That got me wondering if that wasn't just one step too far. The first step, I think, is to embrace my anger, or sadness, or envy, or shame (whatever the heck was at work) in the first place, before I nicely nod and package the situation as an imperfection.
I need to carefully keep my pet poisons in a pen. Care for them.accept them. I get angry...that's okay. I am ignorant...that's okay. I want to have what I don't and keep what I do...that's cool.
I've heard Suzuki said I am exact where and who I need to be. These three guests I would often rather not be seen with, I better invite into my house for dinner. When I can sup with them, I will not be starring out the window afraid they will be seen lurking around my house.
It was a heart attack. Walking into the kitchen and briefly mis-reading the message on my iPhone. It was a heart attack. My wife's mother. Driving too fast to the hospital. We talk with father in law and get the story. Pain in the back and shoulders all week. bad indigestion. Major, uneasy, discomfort a couple times. Then Friday night in the wee hours confusion, pain, can't get up. Father in law had to piss her off to get her moving. He couldn't lift her. Not sure what this was. Maybe just some bad stomach problem. He drives her to the local hospital, not local for them, living out in the boonies. They can't keep her. She's had having a heart attack. She needs a hospital with the right equipment. Now she splits from him. She gets the flashing lights. He drives on his own. At hospital two he can't find her. The emergency room staff checks. She's already in. The procedure has begun. A stent to restore blood flow to her ventricle muscle. 90% blockage. We see her in ICU. A tube on every limb. Even ankle cuffs to keep circulation in her calves. She is tired, so dreadfully tired. More diagnosis. It's not just the heart, it's cholesterol. It's diabetes. It's kidney infection. By twos and threes, according to ICU policy, the local relatives stream in. The story is told and retold. Father in law can't quite make sense of the medical information. Mother in law, never trusting of physicians, is scared about her condition, scared about her care. Each visitor sets off a new wave of questions, and stories, and worries. The day passes. Mother in law gets no sleep. She's so uncomfortable. The bed is wrong. The tubes are wrong. The indigestion is torturous. Each sip of water launches a wave of gas that booms out of her frail body as a painful belch. She can't sit up. Has to stay flat as a board to make sure the wound at her femoral artery, where they went in with the stent heals up. Visitors trickle in and out. She still can't sleep. When will they give her something that works for her tummy? The nurses try med after med. Slowly, the way nurses do. It's not a rush. You are okay. It's now 2am the next day. My wife and I have had rest but not Mother in law. My wife has taken the night shift in ICU. To stay and help and comfort. I'm up with the cell phone charger and favorite pillow for my wife. Mother in law can sit up now. A small mercy. She is still so tired, and worried. The doctors and nurses gave voice, gave words, to so many suspicions she had about her body. Whispers guessed herself over the last year hinting at big changes. Important changes. Life defining changes. Maybe the latest med with stop the stomach pain. My wife leaves the room. I'm with mother in law. What can I say? With all the worry of the day hanging over her like the reaper, with all the pain she's in, what can I say? With all the hopeful, well-intentioned words and silly banter of the day's visitors hanging halfway in the air like tired helium ballons, what can I say? I decide to say nothing. I hear the sages exposing the impossibility of one true word in temples a thousand years ago. I relax into the now. Into the beeps. Into the chaos an fear hanging into the room. And in a moment those things seem gone. I'm standing by mother in law and I reach out to touch her arm. She's laying on her side half hugging a pillow. I touch her arm and collect myself. And breath deep. And relax. And we spend that moment together in silence. Hanging from a branch in the cliff. A tiger above, a tiger below. Mice nibbling through the brach. We will soon be falling again, but now the Strawberry is so sweet. A few more gentle breaths and she is asleep. Heart rate down. Half mumbling, but asleep. There are no true words. No true concepts. But even in the thick of the worst of it, even then, there can be peace.
"They were able to construct something that we still cannot construct today..." is a line from a Face Book re-post by a friend about how the great pyramid in Egypt must have been done by aliens because of the undeniable alignment in the architecture with many very Earthly concepts such as Pi, and meridians of longitude and latitude.
The quoted observation seems to say modern things, modern constructions, are so understandable, so conceivable, that when one gets even slightly away from conceivable, one must leave the planet and look to aliens for the source.
This teases for me at the Buddhist concept of aggregation. Which I summarize as the fact that any thing is composed of bits that have come together, and which constantly, or suddenly, or a bit of both, will fall apart.
I sometimes imagine the physical world as a complex intertwining wave front of domino falls. This bumping that, bumping that, bumping this in ways so complex it quickly falls into mystery.
Some of you may remember the Apple Newton, one of the first personal data assistants (PDA) from 20 years or more ago. I have a drawer full of them. Could they be made today? I doubt it. At first glance some brave soul might hazard "yes", just get that circuit board, and those integrated circuits, and that case, and that firmware and put it all together. But when forced to think of even just the next layer, how would that case be made, how would the dies for the case plastic be shaped, when writing the code would that pixel transition in that way when the screen transitions from calendar to note taking? It all becomes impossibly complex to reproduce EXACTLY that old Newton on my desk.
Nothing but the very broadest strokes can be designed. The rest is loosely guided "accident".
Try to plan walking across a room with a moderate level of detail, and then walk it and see if it all goes exactly as planned. Any phone calls come in? Did you glance out the window exactly as planned? Can you sense the waves of changing aggregation sweep around you?
Try sitting still with no thought for a few minutes. An easy concept, but it will not happen. The biochemical storm between your ears represents an astounding amount of aggregation and dis-aggregation. It will not stop until you die and then the billions of bacteria in and on you will instantly win the "battle" and begin to dis-aggregate your body in the next millisecond.
That no one can convincingly explain how the great pyramid came to be is not evidence to me of aliens. I cannot convincingly explain how "I" came to be, or this sentence, or this period.
Reading back over my few last blogs I am afraid there is no escaping it. I am a hypocrite. Or is it Ignorant. I certainly do the things I espouse should not be done, or are harmful, or not beneficial when done.
From a BBC news story "Dozens of people died in the Middle East in protests over the film."
This seems to be a dangerous trend in messaging these days. Semantically it is innocent of fraud, nonetheless the message is clearly the deaths were the film's, and thereby the film maker's fault.
Actually the deaths were caused by ignorant people who think they should kill because they are upset about a story they heard. I doubt any of them actually saw the movie, or heard about it directly from someone who saw the movie.
How much crap goes down in this world because of people reacting to a story they heard? A key point of Buddhism in my cosmology is to be very careful about taking actions based on a story, rather than the facts in front you at the time.
I don't miss the irony that I have this philosophy because of stories I've heard, and that I'm currently angry because of a BBC story I heard.
With this blog I strive to share what I've learned and think about Buddhism. I'm a lay practitioner. Striving to do zazen everyday and pay attention to the 10 precepts (as put forward by Nishijima sensei) as guidelines. Buddhism seems to be 'helpful' to me in ineffable ways. I'm drawn to the Japanese Soto Zen tradition. I have not looked much at other Buddhist traditions.
I hope you find something useful or interesting for your own path.