Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Song Through the Window

'Liberation' is when you understood the mistake. 
-- H.E. IXth Ogyen Tulku

A few years ago, I was staying in a lovely house, on top of a hill the folks thereabouts were pleased to call a mountain. American orographers will reckon that "mountains" start at 1,000 feet, but I suppose that is another argument for another time.

I don't know what it was about the place. All summer long: on the hill that, in exaggerated thinking, pretended to be a mountain, the sparrows kept trying to fly through the windows. It was hot that summer, the aircon was running full blast, and the windows were tightly closed. 

This did not dissuade the sparrows.

I tried all sorts of remedies. I hung bells in front of the windows. I cut up tin foil into eccentric Shinto strips, and thumbtacked them to the eaves. I put up any number of prayer flags. It did not make any difference. You cannot, and most probably should not, waste a whole lot of earnestness trying to foolproof samsara.

Usually, when a bird strikes a window, it is knocked senseless. The bird recovers in a while. Not infrequently, they break their necks and die on the spot. These birds, which are so clever in most other matters, seem to learn nothing from experience. The ones who are knocked unconscious, and recover, seem not to pass knowledge of the experience on to their fellows. Indeed, you will often see the same bird repeatedly throwing itself at the same window. I am sure there is a scientific explanation, but I am too lazy to Google it out.

Maybe this is what becomes of kamikaze lovers.

The great guru inside of us, speaking to us through the dream of suicidal sparrows, loves with a continuous love that requires no self-sacrifice, because there is no self left to sacrifice. I would hesitate to call this love "immortal" because I am not deceived by clocks. So, I will call it a general, unfocused, self-replicating model: something like a river. What do we know about rivers? Well, we know one can never cross the same river twice. 

"Although one may meet a master and receive teachings, 
it is rare to recognize one's essence... ."
--Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche

Although the interior illustrator speaking to us through suicidal sparrows seemingly loves with a love like a river,  maybe it is not a love "like" anything at all. Maybe it is just the way things are, and does not need a whole lot of elaboration. What goes on inside, goes on inside. What we do to or for each other in the name of what goes on inside is not a river but a swamp. Trying to police others' experiences is like playing barefoot with the alligators in that swamp. 

A swamp is where a river dies. 

"General mental disorder has a cure, but religion madness has no cure."
-- H.E. IXth Ogyen Tulku

In our delusional, disordered thinking about the sublime dharma, in which we absolutely fetter ourselves with religion at the expense of spirituality, we expend all sorts of time and energy dreaming about who is teaching who. We have all these fabulous role models, like Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa; we have eighty-four really specific case studies; we have all sorts of advice about guru this and guru that.

Yet, one fine day, when it is right in front of us -- when it is right in front of us -- we miss the whole damn thing. We've read so many books, and listened to so many talks, that we've become intellectuals. Rather timid, cowardly pseudo-intellectuals, at that. If Tilopa shows up, we're locking the door. If Naropa starts any crap, we're calling the cops. Marpa? Call the lawyers. Trungpa Tulku? Carve him up and sell the pieces.

Intellectuals, like armchair generals, are rather bloodthirsty, aren't they? Always broadcasting their opinions hither and yon, contending with one another; chattering like simians, breaking off branches, and pounding them on the ground. They never really get anywhere, and they never really recognize anything. They just stay in suspension. They screech in imitation, like parrots, but the sound is meaningless. I was going to say they twitter like sparrows, but one does so wish to avoid assaulting the metaphor any more than is strictly required.

One also wishes to avoid assaulting the window, when it is ever so simple to turn around, fly away, count one's blessings, and mind one's own business.

If, having achieved your goals, you now take up the benefit of others without distinction, this is of course a rather different case. However, unless your recognition of the nature of mind is greater than that of a confused bird in blind flight, you might wish to avoid disturbing the magicians in the hills with the self-inflicted sickness of syllogistic thinking.

"If you think, 'I will have no karmic ripening even if I engage in the ten unvirtuous acts,' you should be able to accept the ten unvirtuous acts of others directed towards you -- even if it might result in your death. Can you do that?"
--Guru Shri Singha,
as quoted by
Guru Padma of Uddiyana
The Treasure of the Lotus Crystal Cave

I pitied the birds that summer, so I opened the window, and listened to whatever I might hear.

Maybe some sounds are no longer heard: maybe we have tampered the environment so thoroughly that some sounds have gone missing, or maybe it is simply that the times have changed.

Clip clop.

I remember a lazy morning in San Francisco, many years ago, the sun streaming in the windows of the house out in the Richmond District, and my friend asking me, "What in the world is that?"

It was only the mounted policemen, riding down Ba Muoi Sau Avenue, on their way to the stables over near the lake. The clip clop of horse hooves in the City That Knows How was once so common as to be unnoticed, but my friend ran to the window with her camera to take a photograph, thinking it a rare occasion.

These are little currencies that are often spent in the dharma lectures: these images employed to evoke other images -- to go past intellectualizing, into experience. Later, of course, we stop that nonsense: we stop trying to make something. Yet, for a time, it is useful.

Bow wow.

In the old days, it was not uncommon to hear dogs bark at night. This was quite distinctive. First one dog would start up, and then another. You would hear the barking progress through all the dogs in the neighborhood, and then fade away through distant dogs. Sometimes you might fancy that the dogs were tracking the progress of a stranger through the streets, but upon close examination, it seems they were just barking to hear themselves bark.

In the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the inference is made that the dogs do not know why they bark. The one hears the other one, so he just barks without knowing what the other one perceives. As between a pack of dogs and any other matter there may be this analogy, but that is really as far as it goes.
Actually, there is one more thing -- which is to say that if there is something wrong with the pups, there is something wrong with the bitch.

Heard that in a Harry Potter movie.
When one is accustomed to dog dharma, coming face to face with authenticity can be confusing,  intimidating, and actually terrifying. One tends to project all of one's negativity into the experience: to make a punching bag of the experience. One believes that punching bags do not punch back, so one strikes out before retreating back to the safety and comfort of more familiar surroundings. One then tries, often repeatedly, to explain away one's failure by cowardly intellectualizing that one has "asserted" one's self.

Sooner or later, this degrades into ugliness. One becomes entangled in a large, poisonous vine.

There is no happy ending.


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