Sunday, November 25, 2012

How to Love My Poison and Have it Too?

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 [statement about it being an imperfection] 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 is 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 exactly 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.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Not One True Word

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.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Meaning of Pyramids in Aggregate

"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.

Friday, November 9, 2012

There's No Escaping Hypocrasy

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.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Story You Heard

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.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Trimming The Garden, Killing Racoons

A few months ago I saw a notice of Zen center calling for volunteers to come in on Saturday to remove weeds from the lawn. I had trouble with the apparent picking and choosing in that, and asked the author if he also saw trouble in his invitation.

I received the response that he was celebrating the life that the weather has brought us, and he was looking for help to extinguish some forms of the life he was celebrating. He explained he was holding two opposing views at the same time, and that's OK. Also, he did not consider the plants that are in certain places to be "bad" plants, nor did he consider certain types of plants "bad" plants. He just had a preference for both the location and types of plants in the landscape, and so he was planning to take out some plants to enjoy others. He felt preferences are not bad per se. It's his relationship to his preferences that can cause suffering, not the preferences themselves.

I felt a bit like he was not seriously addressing the question of whether this weeding was really right action. But I also thought I was possibly being a bit immature in my concepts of picking and choosing and the related Buddhist sin.

Time passes and I am watching a PBS documentary called "Raccoon Nation". I learn that in Japan, an anime inspired the import of thousands of baby Raccoons, that, once, grown, fell from favor with their owners who released them in the woods to fend for themselves. Having no natural predators in Japan, their range and numbers have increased to large populations in and around very old Buddhist temples. They climb and scrape and ravage the temple wood looking for shelter and food and just being raccoony.

Then the really disturbing factoid came. Temples have adopted a "zero tolerance" for raccoons. They are trapped and killed at a rate of about 10,000 each year. I think this is behavior contrary to right action. How can a temple even call itself Buddhist if it has a policy to actively destroy such a higher, or any, life form.

I'm all for relative judgement, and I understand that precepts are guidelines and not rules, but still. Where is the graceful acceptance that temples are aggregates that will break down and fall away? Where is the graceful acceptance of the life of the raccoons. I'd wager there is a greater irony occurring, in that the Monks will not even eat the meat of the raccoons they have killed because of their, now hypocritical, stance on vegetarian meals.

Removing weeds because they are inconvenient, justified away with some Buddhist babble. Removing raccoons because they are inconvenient, and no doubt this is justified away with more Buddhist babble. There are times when even people have been removed by Buddhists because they are inconvenient, and this is, no doubt, justified away with even more Buddhist babble.

The point of this rant is that I need to constantly allow myself to wrestle with the precepts and watch out for the sins I may commit and strive to justify with Buddhist babble.