Saturday, January 26, 2013

Look Ma! No self!

The "subject" is not something given, 
it is something added and invented and projected behind what there is.
~ Nietzsche; 
The Will to Power

I am beginning to think that anatta (no self) is an invention of the narcissistic mind; and that sesshins, retreats, caves and monasteries are all unnecessary prisons in which to figure out, in a breathtaking breakthrough moment (arguably deserving of the title “kensho”, awakening or enlightenment) that it’s not about me.  

The saying goes “great doubt great awakening”.  But maybe that's only if you've got a great ego to begin with.  There is a story about a peasant woman making a long trek to see Huineng (I think) so she can ask him one very simple question.  When he answers her, she is awakened, says thank you, and walks away.  Small ego, small awakening.  Nothing to write home about.  

Those who are the most blown away by what they discover at the heart of themselves (Look Ma!  No self!) are the very ones who covet the mantle of "teacher" and then go on to preach ad nauseum to others about what they have found, paradoxically reinforcing with every word the very “self” they invite others to transcend when it's really a no-brainer.

Take "creo", the Spanish word for “I believe” or "I think".  It illustrates how a verb needs a subject appended to it in order for an experience to be hung somewhere, otherwise it would just sort of hang in the air like the smile of a Cheshire cat and that would be rather odd.   So we create an “I” to hang it on, like a painting, or like the moon in the sky, as a referent for something that is intangible.  Believing springs from nowhere, that same nowhere from which we came and to which we all return.  That is the nature of experience.  Of thinking.  Of being.  Anatta.  It’s really as simple as that.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

lost and found

Any object you have in your mind, however good, will be a barrier between you and the inmost Truth
~Meister Eckhart
My faith had been unwavering for over three years.  It was a faith without object, purpose or design that had erupted laughing at its own undisclosed secret, a word that finally sprang to my lips with nothing whatsoever to say.  

Still it oriented to the mystery of my own existence, a gentle “yes”, clear and present down to the depths of unknowing, from which it presumably came.

At first I celebrated it like a newborn baby, marveling at this wonder of wonders that had alit with such grace into my world.  But over time I learned that it did not depend on me for survival, and would just casually touch into it from time to time with a furtive glance from my heart’s eye.  

Then, one day, I lost it.  I panicked like a mother waking up in the middle of the night searching madly for her baby under the covers.  But it was gone.  I entered that space between two breaths where you momentarily cease knowing how to breathe.  And there I was, holding my faith as limp as a corpse in my arms.  I felt dizzy and confused.
Suddenly I saw myself.  And I looked every bit as silly as someone who'd been searching all over the room for the proverbial nose on her face and asking herself, perplexed, “Now where was it that I put it?” when it had never been apart from her in the first place.   

I started to laugh.   

I hadn’t lost my faith at all.  I’d lost my certainty in a brief disconnect with the object I’d mistaken it for.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

right speech

True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,

Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind
~ Mercutio (from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet)

There are several internet conversations going on right now on the subject of Buddhist morality, specifically on the subject of “right speech”.  These conversations have been sparked by an apparently growing divisiveness over the behaviour of certain Buddhist teachers, their ethics and/or misconduct, and how this relates to “the dharma”.

The details of various instances of misconduct are unimportant (and so apparently are the facts, which seem to hold little sway over personal allegiance to our teachers or institutions of choice). That is because the current debate is not over the truth, whatever that turns out to be, but about being right and especially about speaking right.

While the offender is almost always accused of having spoken too loudly, too soon, too much, in the wrong place or at the wrong time, the right speaker, gagging on such a liberal passing of wind, calls prudishly for sila, trumping the bodhisattva vow to speak truth, sacca, with saccharine verbal continence. 

The irony of course is that, in telling others what to say and how to say it, right speakers elevate themselves above their wrong-speaking interlocutors yet fail to see how their moral condescension is itself an exercise of power in basic violation of the parity between two human beings just talking.  

What gets me most, however, is when the moralist’s plug for “right speech” is additionally sweetened with the salutation gassho or metta, a pledge of kindness toward the person they’ve just hushed that is as effective at hiding their hostility as a spritz of perfume is at covering up a fart.