Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Drive-By Dharma, or Learning to Embrace the Antinomian Willies

[T]here is nothing that a yogin
is not allowed to do. 
I think I have told this story before, but I will tell it again anyway.

I was in New York, and it must have been the summer of 1970. In the summer of 1970, I was cultivating hard rice, and one of the places I stopped to take telephone calls was New York. People in New York were talking about cell phones that summer, wondering if they would prematurely set off the explosives rigged to demolish buildings, or if they would be used to deceive taxi dispatchers. But, nobody really had a cell phone yet.  Cell phones were still in the process of being invented. In those days, you actually had to be somewhere to take a call, so I took mine in New York, and one day my teacher called.

He said, "I hear your actions don't always agree with your view."

I freely admitted the obvious truth, more or less expecting the worst, but he was very gentle. "Don't think too much about it," he said. "The important thing is the understanding. Let the actions come naturally from the understanding."

That is the story I have told before, but this time I want to add a few details that I left out, being chickenshit.
If you perform perverted deeds
you will not only elicit scorn from the public,
but your delusion is sure to be cured
by the punishment of the king and others.
It is fruitless to beat yourself over the head for everything you think you have done "wrong," just as it is fruitless to pat yourself on the back for everything you think you have done "right." We've all heard this, correct? Or read it somewhere? Sounds nifty -- very Vajrayana -- very exotic, and convenient. So, we  believe we are big and ugly enough to fundamentally realize "wrong" and "right" are just mental imputations that keep us roiling around in samsara.

Well, we like to believe that way.

The truth is, if you want to operate as if there is no wrong or right,  chances are good you will go up in lights. This can become a courageously beautiful expression of the continuously sublime abiding of spontaneous compassion. It can also become a felony. If you do not mind going up in lights, and if you can do the time, then there is no problem.

Things that seem right at the time do not always seem right in hindsight. For example, we can be morally convinced that what we are doing is wholesome, noble, and good. We can be following all the rules. Later, it turns out that all we have done is construct a colossal rationalization for doing exactly as we please; being the biggest stinkers we know how to be. It is satanic in a way: we gorge ourselves with both hands, and with our mouths full, we say, "Oh, this is fine! I'm on a special diet you see?"

Some teachers teach that you come to know the character of an act only when you experience its result. That is a variation Oxford history professors employ to teach the craft of history. They tell you that while it is useful to examine what was intended, it is more useful to examine what actually happened. This is a very similar approach, you see? You can just fire away, and some distance down the road, you can see how it all turns out.

So, what some teachers propose is a karmic litmus test. If your action was purely motivated and flawlessly executed, then you will escape the experience of suffering. However, if your motivation was impure, you will go up in lights and get slapped down by the king. This is an almost Christian notion, so it appeals to people who were raised in Christian societies, and who now cleave to Buddhism because it "isn't Christian." Time heals all wounds and wounds all heels, or so the saying goes.

Innocent men are hung all the time, but nobody blames the hangman. 

If you subscribe to this notion of a karmic litmus test -- and mind you, I am not saying it is correct nor am I saying it is incorrect; rather, we are just ventilating ideas here -- the day will inevitably come when you look back and think, "Oh, wow... I am going straight to Hell." Because, things always look different in hindsight. You always have a good deal more information available to you: more than was available when the deeds in question were authored. So, this can lead one to quite an anxious state of mind, and all sorts of absolutely useless emotions that drag one to the depths of despair. Things that were in fact right at the time can be made to seem wrong in hindsight. This becomes a neurotic preoccupation -- a micro-management -- and it happens all the time.

Things do not work quite in this fashion. You can author some pretty horrible mischief, and never feel the result in this lifetime. Occasionally, the more horrible the mischief, the greater the delay. Time does not disconnect cause and effect -- time only compounds matters. To the point: you can blindly author incredibly horrible mischief, get away with it your entire life, and come to feel yourself wholly empowered in the process. You can become so automatic that you shoot people right between the eyes and feel vindicated when they die. It doesn't matter if you use a pistol or a helicopter. Maybe somebody will even give you a medal.

Here is a video for you to watch. This was taken through the gun camera of an Apache helicopter, in East Baghdad, back in 2007. The sound track is the radio traffic associated with the engagement being recorded. 

Watch the entire video. 

Try not to have an opinion about what you see.

Think of it as a meditation.

You will see and hear people no different from yourself, morally convinced they are doing the right thing. They are following the rules.

This rule-keeping can become a dangerous obstacle, you know? There is a difference between intellectual and experiential understanding. If your understanding is merely intellectual -- as for example, when you read a book or hear a lecture -- this becomes an obstacle. Sure, you can comprehend what you read or hear, but you cannot say that you understand. If you are keeping rules for the sake of keeping rules, or out of fear of the consequences,  or fear of making mistakes, then you are completely contrived. I once heard a person proclaim, "I am a karma-fearing Buddhist." That is avoidance, and just plain wrong.
Once, when I was around seventeen or so, I asked my teacher, "What is the point of all this activity?" I was referring to the whole Buddhist she-bang.

He was rummaging around in a Bhutanese basket he kept under his desk. He stored little packets of powdered herbal medicine in the basket. Without looking up, he answered, "There is no point."

"Well, if there is no point, then what am I supposed to be cultivating?"

He still didn't look up.

"Spontaneous correct action," he answered, and his voice sounded weary.

"That's all?"

"That's all."

"That's the ultimate?"

"If you want to put a name on it."

"So, how do I cultivate spontaneous correct action?"

He looked up sharply at that point. 

"You could recognize that you have sense enough not to aggravate me with questions when you already know the answer!"

"Rinpoche! If I already knew the answer, I wouldn't ask the question!"

"Boy! Every question supplies it own answer when it comes into being!"
I could be wrong, but I do not believe that bodhisattvas have to contrive what they do or don't do based on hopes or fears. Doing the compassionate thing in any given situation seems to be effortless. Small children are effortless. They do not walk up to you and say, "Hello, I am an innocent little child." They just are as they are. Similarly, eight great cemeteries, crammed chock-full of hair-trigger dakinis, are not necessarily confined to one particular geographical locale.

You can spend your whole life learning what you already know.

Coming to effortlessly exhibit some signs of authentic realization for the benefit of all sentient beings, in one lifetime, in one body, is not for the faint of heart. Access to the supporting corpus of instruction has, in my opinion, become too easy. Most Westerners are ill-suited to Vajrayana. Maybe we are better off chanting the sutras,  and staying out of trouble. Still, if you have the cash, you can buy damn near anything these days, and that includes direct access to the immediate side of Tibetan Buddhism. In consequence, we have a bunch of nuts running around thinking they are yogis, or yoginis, just because somebody sold off an empowerment and mumbled something in a foreign language.

And not just Tibetan Buddhism, either.  You see this with Zen Buddhism, whatever that is. People running around lecturing each other, giving each other titles, and digging up the backyard to make sand and rock gardens. Some spend all day and night arguing about what is and isn't, making up poems and things. You know, if you like that sort of stuff, you should just move out to the desert. Out in the desert, we don't have to make sand and rock gardens because they're already here. There isn't anybody here to argue with, and that leaves a lot of free time to make up poetry. Hell, I made up a poem myself just the other day:
Empty road. Blame Jack Kerouac.
Bulging box office. Blame Leonard Cohen.
You, too. Where the streets have no blame.
I do have a black robe that I keep for culturally non-specific first response, in case of philosophical emergencies. Sometimes I wear it when I visit museums. Wear it with a white shirt and the sky is the limit.

A drive-by is when people who don't really know how to properly use firearms all pile in a vehicle, go somewhere they feel they need to make some sort of record, and then start shooting as they drive through said locale -- usually killing innocent bystanders.

If you look closely at the photograph, above, you will see that some son of a bitch nailed it with a Nine.

Oh, well... like the man said... let the actions come naturally, from the understanding.

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8 reader comments:

Nemo said...

Ya, I was in the Army. Stories like the one you watched happen all the time. This is simply what war is. If you don't like it don't have one.

That chopper shot 96,000$ worth of 30mm ammo on that single mission. It costs 80$ per round. The factory is 24hrs and cannot make enough to keep the guns firing in all our wars. They are depleted uranium rounds. Making that neighborhood and everyone one in it mildly radioactive and prone to cancer. Many more will die there over the years to come. It took over a million bucks to train the pilot, 16 million is blue book for the Apache not including the billions for development, then a full crew to keep it flying, fuel, spare parts, barracks, etc.

This is what your tax dollars pay for. Payback will be a bitch, but the US really has it coming. Having a few hippies say give peace a chance absolves nothing. It makes you feel better about yourselves while in reality you are just hypocrites.

It boils down to this. Did you pay your taxes?

Jennifer said...

Your sense of humor is a national treasure.

Yeshe Dorje said...

Great article. I feel consoled and slapped in the face at the same time. And I think that's probably a good thing right now! Thanks!

And thanks to Nemo for sharing his perspective!

Stephen Ho said...

There is one simple way to PRETEND to be a profound yogi/yogini and be successful at it. Rely on this simple formula : repeat often the importance of practice, that people are not practicing enough, use cliches like "don't talk the talk, walk the talk", etc. Since such things are highly SUBJECTIVE, making others FEEL guilty, a fake yogi/yogini can get away with it easily often. All the highly subjective "you are not practicing" will create a vicious cycle of false accusations, gossips, exaggerations, witch hunts, etc etc which will create a MUCK or mud, and one cannot think clearly if one is in the MUCK or mud created. That way, the fake yogi/yogini can get away with it. Of course, practice if essential, but something like this can be abused for the wrong reasons.

O" said...

Old boy you may be controversial, but albeit to the point, but then again look at the roiling history and present totality of Tibetan Buddhist drama.

The mamos and maras are beating their feet on the heart drums of the world.

And yes I pay my taxes and buy my gas, and if I would just stop my Am. dream for an instant I might glimpse the tsermo's dancing in the hearts of this dream and calling to their consorts to return from the feast of war.

Saw an interesting bit today


Long live the King.

Anonymous said...

Do you consider yourself a genuine practitioner, while others are fake? Are you sure?

Zen does strike me as an aesthetic preoccupation. I realized sitting in the famous Zen gardens of Kyoto, one afternoon, "Where is the Bodhicitta?"

The rock garden at Ryongi I think it is called (most famoius one in Kyoto) looked very cold and harsh. Not that bodhicitta ish...

Anonymous said...

Here is a video for you to watch. This was taken in NY, September 11, 2001

Watch the entire video.

Try not to have an opinion about what you see.

Think of it as a meditation.

You will see and hear people no different from yourself, morally convinced they are doing the right thing. They are following the rules.

So here's the video:

TENPA said...

Dear Anonymous:

You got it.