Archive | July 2014

Anti-Sermon of No Words

“In Mahayana Buddhism, emphasis is laid on what is called the Sermon of No Words. This is a sermon preached by mere behaviour, by demonstration of one pointed spiritual effort in calmness, by the absence of instinctive reactions to events, and by what is called a spiritual atmosphere generated by the presence. It is a sermon not by exhortation, reasoning or threats but by example.
There is also the reverse of The Sermon of No Words: one might call it the Anti-Sermon of No Words.
People become irritated when warned about the evils of drugs, of promiscuous sex or malicious gossip by those who have heavily indulged in them. Perhaps they are speaking of vices they’re tired of and often the words go unheeded. But in fact they are putting out something else as well: an Anti-Sermon of no Words. We can see that their behaviour, reactions, sometimes even the face, to say nothing of the atmosphere they create around them are telling the world, more forcefully than any words: “Don’t do what I have done”.”
© 2000 Trevor Leggett

I love the term “Anti-sermon.” The message is “Don’t do as I do. I am an idiot and do not learn from my mistakes.”
I still don’t know what I want to be “when I grow up” but, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become crystal clear as to some of the things I don’t want to be. It started in my teenage years, watching my brothers use drugs and alcohol. I’ve always considered them to be my anti-role-models. I never wanted to experience the consequences they mistakenly took as inevitable. They continually learned the wrong lessons. For example, my oldest brother’s daughter was run over by a drunk driver. Did it occur to my brother to stop drinking? Hardly. He just drank at home. You see, the problem with drunk driving isn’t the driving part; it’s the drunk part. It’s good that he didn’t put other people in harm’s way, but the most important lesson went unlearned.
I’ve had similar experiences at various churches. I’ve seen the most obvious financial corruption imaginable. I’ve seen young people driven away, which left older people scratching their heads as to where the youth vanished to. I’ve seen control freaks run the show and then they wonder why people don’t come back for seconds of that. I’ve been told by a priest that I am “frighteningly judgmental.” My translation: he disagrees with my opinion and has particularly poor judgment himself. He disagreed with my judgment, but seemed to have little of it himself. Being thrown out of his office was a badge of honor because the people I most respected had all had it done to them. Another anti-role-model.
I am now overly cynical. I look for role models, but they are hard to come by. To me, a role model is someone I look at and say to myself, “I want what they have. What do I need to do to get it? Where do I sign up?” That is also my definition of “evangelism.” I do not look for perfection. What I look for is integrity, compassion, and equanimity, not someone that will throw someone out of their office for saying something they choose not to hear. Everyone screws up and makes mistakes. It takes an adult to say, “Wow. I really blew it. I am very sorry. What can I do to make it right?” I’ve apologized before, but when it’s only the peons that apologize, the message received is, “When you have power, you won’t ever need to apologize, either.” Another wrong lesson learned.
There are no Zen centers in the Lansing area. I don’t know if I will ever look for, let alone find, a roshi.
I really try to live my values. That is tough enough. I try to be the change I look for in the world. I try to be a living example of what I believe in. I am not trying to be a Buddhist. I am trying to live as a Buddha. I try to preach the Sermon of No Words. I call it “integrity.”

The World Needs Adults

“A present-day person aspiring to find a true way of life will meet all the problems of modern society. Human progress is by no means the same as the advancement of natural science; nor does it follow the path of the development of material civilization. Human progress lies in each and every human being becoming an adult.” Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice by Kosho Uchiyama, p. 136
I have always striven to act as an adult. It started when I was treated like a little kid, even though I was in my twenties. I don’t want to give people an excuse to dismiss me or what I say due to bad behavior on my part.
Then I got married. Something bad would happen, such as needing a new engine. I would emotionally break down. Then Barry would react to my breakdown. I learned extremely quickly that I then had two problems: the original real problem and now having to deal with Barry’s reaction to my feelings. I learned instantly to keep my feelings to myself. I learned to lean on my friends somewhere away from Barry. It’s fine to have feelings; just do it somewhere else. This situation persists and is exacerbated by Barry’s Huntington’s Disease. I am always preventing him from encountering things he cannot handle, which now includes pretty much everything. I have to be vigilant to stay at least two steps ahead of him at all times. It is exhausting, but the alternative of him freaking out is so much worse.
I have seen over the years that life is not so much what happens to you as how you handle it. Look at Donald Trump. He is such an arrogant bastard, but he has gone broke at least once and overcome it. He always gets back on his feet. I respect that. I have seen people destroyed by stupid crap and seen other people overcome bizarre obstacles.
Being an adult does not mean having no feelings. To me, it means: having the feelings, processing the feelings in a safe environment, and then deciding what to do next.
I play the “Then what?” game. Say you do A. Okay. Then what? You do B. Okay. Then what? Whether A or B are good or bad decisions, the game continues for the rest of your life. There is no end, not even death, in my opinion. Our energy continues in some form or another. I once read a book called “Makes Me Wanna Holler.” The author shares his journey from making stupid choices to making better ones. When he was young, he shot someone. What did he do afterwards? He went home. It never occurred what he could or should do after shooting someone. The cops had no problem finding him, idiot he was at the time. The rest of the book was his story of how he started learning and making better choices.
I have no problems with making mistakes. The only way not to make any mistakes is to never do anything at all. My problem is with making mistakes and then proceeding to learn nothing. To not learn is to choose perpetual childhood, always seeking to be taken care of, always looking for someone else to absorb the consequences of one’s actions. Such a choice is completely understandable. Not respectable, but understandable. The world does not need any more overgrown children. We have a lot of problems and it’s going to take a whole lot of adults to come up with and implement the necessary solutions (and listen to the childish whinings of those who want to experience no consequences of their own making). Someone has to put their shoulder to the wheel and do the dirty work. I want to be part of the solutions, not pretending that the problems don’t exist.

Anicca Down the Rabbit Hole

The latest issue of “Shambala Sun” (September 2014) has an article about Gina Sharpe, an Afro-Euro-Asian Buddhist lady. She was talking about the concept of impermanence to a questioner and she said that you can tell yourself 150,000 times that everything is impermanent, yet that doesn’t mean that you understand it in your gut.
I wish I had that kind of emotional distance from the concept of impermanence. In the past month, Barry’s sponsor and therapist died. My garbage disposal was replaced. I had $3k work done on my car. My TV got replaced. I saw what pitiful health my oldest brother is in due to his drinking. (Happy Fourth of July!) Let’s not forget me watching my local economy die for the past few years. And, even today, I saw someone today for the first time in a long time. He had just had a triple by-pass and, without it, would have been dead by today.
Impermanence is kicking my butt. I can almost handle it, until…people start demanding that I live in their parallel universes and get offended when I refuse. For example, my brother’s wife is always telling me how bad diet pop is for you, with their chemicals, artificial sweeteners, etc. This is at her house, while her husband, my brother, is drinking beer! Diet pop=bad. Beer (a Class 1 carcinogen) =okay. Seriously? Taking away the alcohol might bring down the party is my only guess. She doesn’t want diet pop in her house, but can have a case of beer in the fridge. I am the exact opposite. I have had zero alcohol in my house ever, but Barry (a cancer survivor!, and eight years older than my brother) drinks a caffeine-free diet pop every day of his life. Perhaps my brother would be in better health if he had drank more pop and less beer.
What can I do? Part of me wants to be part of my family, but I would rather be sane. It takes too long to climb out of that rabbit hole. I go to their house once a year and can barely handle that.
Things change and I can deal with that fairly well most of the time. What I seem incapable of dealing with is the pretense of things never changing. Anicca I get…It’s the concept of permanence that utterly baffles me.

Resignation is Not Suchness

“When something unpleasant happens, or something bad, if we say, ‘Well, you know, that’s the way it is . . . !’ that’s not Suchness. That’s just a cynical statement. ‘Life is pretty horrible and that’s the way it is. Just got to put up with it.’ That’s like resignation to misery. It isn’t Suchness; unless, of course, you see the Suchness of that particular attitude….We are establishing this awareness in the present, with the dhamma, with the way things are, rather than letting all our mem¬ories of the past corrupt, disturb and influence the present moment….The world is like that. It is chock-a-block full of intimidations, urgent messages, very important, shattering, destroying, destructive things, terrible prophesies, all kinds of things from the past and all kinds of dreadful things that might happen in the future. When we think about those things, then, of course, we get caught in becoming anxious, frightened, and insecure; threatened by the things that we can produce in our own minds. So we can get a perspective on that; not by suppressing anything, not by pushing anything down and rejecting it, but by seeing things as they are. We can always start anew.”
This article is where I am: acceptance is one thing; resignation is something completely unrelated.
I have a brother that is drinking himself to death, one beer at a time. My family’s attitude has always been, “That’s just the way he is. There’s nothing anyone can do about it. Who knows why some people become alcoholics and others don’t? It’s a mystery.”
My response is, “Bullshit. The situation may be too far gone now, but it wasn’t twenty-something years ago. As far as who becomes an alcoholic, there is zero mystery involved. It takes three things to become addicted to something: 1) genetic predisposition, 2) availability of the substance, and 3) social acceptability of the substance’s use. For example, Mormons have almost no alcoholism. Their genetic predispositions are likely no different than anyone else’s, but the social acceptance is simply not there. Cut the crap and admit that no one in this family has done anything whatsoever to alter this road to death. I just won’t stand around and watch. There is no mystery here, only the basest ignorance.”
In actuality, I say nothing, even if that means avoiding most contact with my family. I don’t want to be seen as the problem or as creating a problem I have no control over. My family’s “acceptance” of the situation has greatly contributed to the lack of any potential solution. Alcoholism kills and I am uninterested in being blamed for that.
I believe that oftentimes we can start over, but that means focusing on what is within our control today. However, beware: if a situation is sufficiently ignored over a long enough period of time, it may truly be too late to reverse course. I am a Taoist in this sense.
“Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.” Verse 63, Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell Translation
Don’t wait until a situation is unfixable. Take responsibility. Now.

Recovering and Purging

I’m baaaaaaack. June was one trauma after another: car problems, deaths, appliance problems, etc. So I spent the first half of July recovering from June. I needed rest.
Now I am rested and have started purging again. I am running out of things to purge. I have run into a wall. Now the stuff I purge has sentimental value; it just doesn’t meet the criteria of being transport-to-Virginia worthy. I am letting go of parts of myself, phases of my life that were not all bad. I just don’t want to take them with me. I want a fresh start and am willing to do what it takes to give myself that.
My friend in Maryland just got a fabulous job working as an administrative assistant at a national law firm. They have a positive attitude toward her taking the bar where they are: Washington, DC! She has made it. It seriously inspires me.
I’ve been praying for her and now feel like some barrier has been overcome. Change can come painfully slowly, but once that invisible fence has been hurdled or slid around, change can occur very, very quickly. I no longer sense any sort of sticking point for myself, either.
My goal/point in life is to solve problems: organizational, personal, spiritual, whatever. I can use my MBA towards that end. Purging my stuff eliminates potential problems, such as lack of space. I go around looking for problems to solve. I know there is a place in this world for the likes of me. I am not sure what it is precisely, but I am going to try to enjoy the remainder of my Michigan life because, once I move, I may never retire. I am sure of having more to do than I know I can handle. The world has many problems and I can be part of many, many solutions.

Too Much Responsibility

“A mad scientist friend offers you a chip that would allow you to know what the people you’re talking to are thinking. The catch: you can’t turn it off. Do you accept the chip?”

That was a “Daily Prompt.” What sane person would respond, “Oh, definitely. I would just love to know what everyone I talk to is thinking all the time“?
It’s not just about someone thinking my butt looks big on a particular day. It’s about moral responsibility.
I heard somewhere that 4% of people are psychopaths. On the one hand, that means that 96% of people aren’t. But think about it: 1 out of 25 people you encounter has zero conscience. Some of these folks could easily be planning on stalking someone, hurting someone, sabotaging someone’s career, etc. They may be talking to me, but I am not the primary focus of their attention. I would feel an obligation to let the potential victim know. And then I would have to deal with their inevitable question of how the bleep do I know?
I believe we are all responsible for what we do with what we know. I can barely handle the problems/issues that life randomly throws in my face right now.
Sometimes the safest road is to not know what others are planning. This is not about denial. It’s about a manageable level of responsibility.

Topics of Conversation

“There are these ten topics of [proper] conversation. Which ten? Talk on modesty, on contentment, on seclusion, on non-entanglement, on arousing persistence, on virtue, on concentration, on discernment, on release, and on the knowledge and vision of release. These are the ten topics of conversation. If you were to engage repeatedly in these ten topics of conversation, you would outshine even the sun and moon, so mighty, so powerful — to say nothing of the wanderers of other sects.” Kathavatthu Sutta, Topics of Conversation, Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
People are listening to what you say. You may not believe it, but it’s probably true.
Many years ago, I went to a really conservative Protestant church. They were obsessed with politics and abortion. So much so that I did a test. I was at the regular Bible study. I looked at the clock to check the time. I sparked a conversation, either about lemon meringue pie or the weather. It was one of those topics because I deliberately chose something ridiculously neutral. How long would it take for the conversation to come back around to politics and abortion? The answer? Less than five minutes!
People may be testing you right now. I’m sure the ladies at the Bible study had no idea just how laughable they seemed. I harbor no ill will towards those women. They were living the most righteous life they knew how. However, I also have no admiration or real respect for them, either. They are the embodiment of what I do not want to become. If someone listened to you, really listened, would you feel good about the positive impact you are trying to make, or horrified at your own pettiness?
Let us outshine the stars.

Casting About

“While I was casting about for something to do for the rest of my life, I hit on a scheme. I’d seen how common it was for an otherwise respectable yard to be surrendered over to the wilderness for the lack of a spade. And the worse it got, the worse it gets. I suggested to my husband that I start an enterprise – not for landscape design or decoration, for which I was unsuited, but just for weeding. I would call it “Just Weeds.” I would go over to people’s houses every week and just pull weeds – probably weeds they didn’t even know they had! I thought it was inspired, but he thought it was lame. So instead I do it every day for no pay.” This is taken from Karen Maezen Miller’s book: Paradise in Plain Sight published by New World Library, May 2014

I feel like Miller, casting about for a direction for the long haul. I do know a few things:
• I want to solve problems,
• I do not want my solutions to create problems for others, later, and
• I can’t pretend not to see problems when they stare me in the face.

This all sounds so obvious. Who wants to create problems? What I have found is not so much that people want to create problems for others, but that they just don’t care if they do. That is the way of the world we have created.
I have started an approach similar to Miller’s: I look for problems to be solved. What can I do to make things work better, more simply, etc.?
I can’t make Barry well. I can’t stop my brother from killing himself one beer at a time. But I can make my life better one choice at a time.

Zen and Seeing

“The foolish reject what they see, not what they think; the wise reject what they think, not what they see.” Huang Po
Zen has taught me to notice even more than my naturally inquisitive mind would otherwise notice. Bosses love me, but my family finds me irritating. Sometimes, so do I.
The fourth of July was rough. I have a brother that has drank way too much, consistently, over the years, but don’t call him an alcoholic. That conversation ended badly over twenty years ago. Now he looks like crap. It has all caught up to him. I’m pretty sure he avoided me. I could see why. I am not comfortable just watching him kill himself with beer. When I heard him say he planned on retiring in eight years, I had to leave. I don’t want to be the problem. I don’t want to be the one to say, “Yeah, right. Like you’re going to live another eight years.”
Practicing Zen makes living in a fantasy world impossible. Being around dying people has made pretense seem stupid. Why pretend you’re healthy when the present moment is all you have to spend with your children and prepare them for the real world? I’ve seen too much loss lately. I was never great at pretending, but Zen has made me so much worse. I will do everything in my power to help others not to suffer, but don’t expect pretense. I will “hospice” someone, but I won’t pretend they are not terminal.
It has to be difficult to protect the kids from observing anyone or anything that might contradict the artificial pseudo-reality so carefully crafted. If he felt free to try to tell me (his little sister) whom I could have as friends twenty years ago, he would clearly feel fully entitled to determine his children’s friends today. It didn’t work with me then, in the late eighties; I would love to observe the attempt in today’s internet-savvy, hyper-connected world.
Buddhism is about preventing and alleviating suffering. That’s tough to do when someone is pretending not to suffer.
Zen will destroy your fantasy world (or prevent altogether your development of one). It will prevent the development of “faith” in anything hoped for but unseen. Zen is reality-based. And reality is not always pretty.

Set Apart

“According to Bodhidharma (and to Zen), if we make enlightenment—or enlightened people—into something special and set them apart from others and from ourselves, we abuse them. In the process, we also abuse ourselves. Thus enlightenment becomes remote, otherworldly, mysterious, and (seemingly) virtually impossible to realize.” Page 53. Buddhism Is Not What You Think by Steve Hagen
This paragraph gave me Aha! Moments.
Learning about Buddhism, especially Zen, has given me an appreciation of intimacy with the immediate moment and situation. The more space there is between me and what is going on, the more opportunities there are for delusion. Life is just smoother going from one immediately obvious task to the next.
Another epiphany comes from the wording comes from “set apart.” “Set apart” is one definition of “holiness” in the Christian world. The problem is practical: How do you set something (or someone, as in the self-important clergy) apart without setting it aside? Setting something aside involves looking at it and saying, “I’ll pick you up later when the time is right.” If your life is like mine, it does not take long for that item to get buried and totally forgotten. Its purity is maintained at the expense of its usefulness and reason for existence. That’s the challenge: maintaining purity and usefulness simultaneously.
Something that is set on a shelf gets no exercise, fresh air, or exposure to the real world. It is easy and comfortable to live in one’s own little world, surrounded by people exactly like oneself. It’s just not real. No use and no circulation amount to mold-covered obsolescence. It really is a form of abuse. Living in social isolation can be a very comfortable form of self-abuse.