Saturday, July 31, 2010

I could die today

[C]ontemplation of the horror of our death is, paradoxically, the tincture of the sweetness of our mortality. . . . Since the terror of death is so overwhelming, we conspire to keep it unconscious." 
—Sam Keen in Foreword of 1997 edition of Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, 1973.

"The prospect of death . . . wonderfully concentrates the mind"—from Preface of Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, 1973

After 10 1/2 years of immersing my life in Tibetan Buddhism here in Cincinnati, Ohio, I have decided to start all over, wipe the slate clean, go back to Buddhism 101. One of the first ideas we are encouraged to contemplate is the preciousness of human existence, the realm where one suffers and one experiences pleasure. Because we have a little taste of each experience, we have the maximum possibility of attaining the purity of our already-existent Buddha nature . . . the Enlightened One, the Awakened One. 

Animals and insects and hungry ghosts (starving people) and all the other realms of existence do not have this opportunity. How can one study and seek truth when you could be eaten by a bigger animal or squashed because your nibbling at dinner could make a person itch? The desperation of seeking food and shelter is a constant among these beings—who are increasing with the massive foreclosures on people's homes as the jobless wander the streets begging for money and being harassed by policeman.

This human realm contains, for some of us, Leisure and Fortune. For some, it is much greater than for others. For myself, having received Social Security Disability since 2001, I have been living just below the poverty level for these years. Yet, I feel that I live better than 99.999% of the world's population. Of course, anything can change in a second, and Leisure and Fortune would no longer be mine.

Years ago, I read Ernest Becker's book, Denial of Death. It was one of those writings that deeply imprinted on my mindstream: that in these United States, we deny the natural process of death, pretend it is not there, try in many cosmetic ways to look younger, to stay immortally young. We are drenched in the cultural media of youth as godly. I, myself, have participated in this.

Becker's gist, if I remember correctly, is that we all want to be "heroes." From my more aged perspective, I would not deny his theory, but would add that it is a function of ego, ego, ego. And that all relational disputes to the many wars and depravities being committed in the world . . . and  all that is between the microcosm and macrocosm are a result of billions of egos ignoring the certainty of death.

So this is one tiny reason that I am nourished by Buddhism. To begin by contemplating one's death, its certainty, the possibility that my next breath could be my last certainly makes life exquisite, because it could be cut short so easily. As Sam Keen (above) writes, "[C]ontemplation of the horror of our death is, paradoxically, the tincture of the sweetness of our mortality." I have the Leisure to contemplate this, and to experience the slow quiet beauty of a mourning dove pacing through green grass for breakfast.

Buddha Shakyamuni's first teaching after his Great Awakening, was the Four Noble Truths. The first is the Truth of Suffering. If we wish to attain the bliss of Great Compassion for all other conscious beings, and the mysterious Wisdom of a direct experience of Emptiness . . . to Awaken as Buddha Shakyamuni did, we must first look into the face of the great suffering around us, the death, the horror, the wars, the broken families. No more sweeping it under the rug. Wow . . . what an irony! (If you want to know more about the Four Noble Truths, you will find a methodical path to true happiness.)

Becker pointed this out more than 37 years ago. Judith Lief proposes something similar in her Making Friends With Death. What an opportunity we have for bliss in the increasing chaos of a dying planet!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

An American Epidemic

Confusion is . . . confusing—a time of limbo. Too many options, too many desperate people, too many corrections to be tended to. Which way to go? Where to start? Maybe to escape, run, run, run from it all? Or go mad contemplating why, why, why? What to do? Who is your friend? Who is your enemy? Even they change every day. Even they are as confused. 
Watch movies. Watch TV. As Larry McMurtry writes in his Books (of which he has 400,000), the interrupted narrative abounds, most extremely as seen in commercials on TV. Our minds flick like fruit flies from one sweet to another, unable to be still, to follow one story from beginning to uninterrupted end. Internet clicks tangle behind us as we forget why we began a single search. 
What can we name this unexposed epidemic of mental disease? Does it matter? (I know I always feel better when my doctor gives me a name for my ailment, and sends me off with a pile of pills to distract me from the insight of which he or she has none.)
But let's go further, and for convenience's sake, call it Mental Distraction. Is there any American, rich or poor, who does not have this disease? Some even applaud themselves that they can Multi-task. Listen to the commercials while remembering the developing TV narrative while making dinner while making a quick call on one's cell phone so you don't miss the show. 
It took me 48 years to learn that I had this disease. Another 10 has revealed to me the cure: Do one thing at a time with the whole of my breath, body, mind.
The cacophony does not stop. But I get stronger and more able to do One Thing amidst the hurricane of American society.
What would happen if all of us began a revolution against this disease? All of us boycotted Mental Distraction? What would we lose? What would we gain? What treasure is hidden in the silence?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

For Bruce

Breathing Sea

I am nothing
But a breathing sea
Washing in to samsara’s shores
Washing out to the dark and deep
Inhaling a draft of air
Exhaling what turned around
And came back.
What intelligence is this life?
The waves of my inspiration
Move like the sea through this world,
This body,
This suffering shell
That lingers till I wake

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence?

Happy Independence from America!
Today I celebrate my independence from the ugliness
of America’s past
declare my disconnection from its rigid spirit,
my independence from its caustic politics,
and claim my ancestry among those who reveled in the woods,
the mountains,
the lakes,
the stones,
the trees
of this magnificent continent.
I am an American.
Among the Chippewa, the Sioux, the Lakota . . . the Micks
from Ireland.
We are of them.
We honor what they honor,
and so,
we are Americans.