Thursday, August 27, 2009

Eel-like wriggling

I participate in a Yahoo! group called Heartland, which is a gay discussion group based in Singapore. The reason I joined Heartland is that I’ve found the Dhamma discussion there much more stimulating than at the other Yahoo! Buddhist groups, or Buddhist discussion groups elsewhere on the Internet. I find a lot of “eel-like wriggling” going on at so many of these groups that I feel sorry for someone who is new to Buddhism and thinks he or she can learn something about it by following these discussions.

But there’s some “eel-like wriggling” going on at Heartland as well as participants ponder what it means to be a “real Buddhist,” or whether concepts such as “right” and “wrong” are relative terms that vary based on individual perspective.

This recent discussion led me to find the Brahmajala Sutta (DN 1) because I knew it contained the Buddha’s description of a reaction presented by some folk who hear his principles: The Buddha identified this response as taking the form of four types of ambiguous evasion.

“Uh, gee, I don’t know if that’s true, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I can’t say it’s not true because I just don’t know.” Such slippery evasiveness recalls for me the title of a Ministry album, “The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste.”

Anyway, while reviewing the Brahmajala Sutta, I was surprised to see how comprehensive it was. And it was also interesting to note that this teaching was directed toward monks. It’s really important to be clear on what audience the Buddha was speaking to when reading the suttas. Sometimes I think people respond with “eel-like wriggling” because they think they’re expected to master everything that was said in the sutta in their mundane lives. When they hear of things like “dependant co-arising,” they blanch, not realizing that there’s plenty in the Buddha’s words that is much simpler and easier to follow, like how to live a life that does no harm, and how to avoid being a slut on the circuit.

But the recent discussion on Heartland had my mind ready for all the other things the Buddha covered in this sutta.

For example, the Buddha cautions against becoming angry toward those that may criticize him, the Sangha or the Dhamma; rather, the response should simply be to point out where the errors are and correct them.

At the same time, the Buddha cautions that if someone praises him, the Sangha or the Dhamma, the monks should not swell with pride.

For those of us in the gay community, this is a very difficult axiom to follow. Much of what we do is focused either on the loud proclamation of our presence – We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it – or shouting down those who conjure falsehoods about who we are – you’re a homophobe. We at times resort to these knee-jerk slogans with such rapidity that sometimes we fail to hear something that might actually benefit us. We’ve played the role of victim so well and for so long that it’s the only role we know. In fact, we know it so perfectly that we even play the part with each other.

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