Sunday, June 27, 2010

I love a parade!

Today I am off to the Pride Parade here in Chicago where I will enjoy an old-fashioned parade filled with nearly-naked hunky go-go boys dancing to techno, flamboyant queens who over-use eye shadow, couples with children, leather men in assless chaps, dykes on bikes, gay nerds (oh god, I love gay nerds!) - hundreds, thousands of people collectively expressing themselves as individuals and having a wonderful time doing it.

I will also see the expected hate mongers who show up every year with their bullhorns and hateful words of delusion. But hey, we're all deluded to some degree. It's just that I find enjoyment with mine.

It's probably going to rain on the parade this year. Oh well. Life is, after all, unsatisfactory.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Gay nihilism and wrong view

In 1994, Bruce Bawer wrote a book that split the gay community like none other had before, nor has any done since. With “A Place at the Table,” Bawer not only took shots at the conservative wing of the Republican Party and conservatism in general for using gay stereotypes to foster and continue institutionalized oppression of homosexuals, he lambasted as well the more outspoken wing of the gay movement for its in-your-face and angry polemics. He targeted groups like ACTUP and Queer Nation and their vocal representatives, accusing them of continuing to give the conservative hate mongers the all the evidence they needed to continue their efforts to legislate homophobia.

Bawer’s primary failure of presentation was over tone rather than substance. As many critics of his book point out, Bawer attacked the very elements of the gay movement that allowed people like himself to live more openly and comfortably. While the more mainstream elements of the early gay rights movement during the 1950s and early 1960s had their hearts in the right place with their subdued requests for equal rights, these groups – perhaps best exemplified by the Mattachine Society – had for the most part utterly failed to accomplish any meaningful institutional and societal change.

It wasn’t these suit-and-tie homosexuals that finally brought change, that sparked what became known as the modern gay movement; rather, it was a bunch of drag queens and some poofy, Angora sweater-wearing queers who finally got tired of being pushed around by the New York City police and on June 28, 1969, shouted back “enough!” That resistance sparked three days of protests and rioting in the West Village, which the local media in all its insensitive omniscience headlined as “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Stinging Mad.”

At the risk of sounding like a Bawer apologist, I do believe that the “sex positive” message of a large portion of the gay community holds the potential to reap more harm than good. We gays do need to have a positive attitude toward the way we have sex and the reasons for having sex; but when the phrase “sex positive” becomes a proxy for promiscuity, we are following wrong view.

The Apannaka Sutta is relevant here. The Buddha explained to the householders in the Kosalan village of Sala how they could hedge their bets in determining which doctrine to follow. The Buddha knew that the householders of Sala were aware of the nihilist doctrine, which asserts:

'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no priests or contemplatives who, faring rightly and practicing rightly, proclaim this world and the next after having directly known and realized it for themselves.'

Or, as The Clash sang: “You can be true, you can be false, you’ll be given the same reward.”

The Buddha also knew that the householders of Sala were aware of other doctrines that taught the opposite of the nihilists, including the Buddha’s Dhamma, which asserts:

'There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions. There is this world & the next world. There is mother & father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are priests & contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.'

But rather than merely asserting that the latter doctrine is true and the nihilist doctrine is false, the Buddha instead gave these householders some tools by which they themselves could examine each doctrine and determine which is best to follow. He did this by setting aside the issue of whether there was a life after this one, a world after this one. Instead, he noted that those who follow a nihilist doctrine will engage in actions that are widely viewed as “unwholesome,” because they have the wrong view that there are no meaningful or lasting consequences to our actions. As a result, those who believe that there is a life after this one, a world after this one, will avoid them and not trust them. But perhaps even more significant, even among the nihilists they will find no real trust because they will always be viewed as likely to behave “unwholesomely” as they are “wholesomely.” So even if we set aside the notion that there is another life, another world, the nihilists will find only unhappiness and dissatisfaction in this life and when they die, they will die without ease.

By following the second doctrine, which recognizes that there are wholesome actions for us to take and which are rewarded, we live happier lives filled with greater satisfaction because we avoid activities that would lead others to mistrust us or wish to cause us harm or retaliate against us. Because we recognize that there are moral and virtuous ways to live, we are recognized by others as having integrity and our activities are supported by others. And even if there is no other world, no other life, when we die, it is with ease, a mind at rest because we know we lived the good life. And if there is another world, another life? We will be rewarded for our virtuous actions in this world, in this life.

As the Buddha points out, however, there is another world and there is another life, and by holding to this as a core value, one has Right View, and because one has Right View, all actions – verbal, mental, and bodily – will begin with Right Intention.

This logic can be easily adapted to gay culture. Those who believe that because he or she is gay (it’s usually the boys) it is in his or her nature to be sexually promiscuous and, therefore, ought to be allowed to indulge in that nature without consequence are ignoring the real consequences of having such a wrong view. It’s not that sex is wrong per se; the issue is thinking that anything goes and ought to go. Having this wrong view leads to many unhealthy consequences, not the least of which is sexually transmitted diseases. But there are other reasons: others may not trust you when you say you have no STDs, you will not be trusted when it comes to sexual fidelity to one person, you will not trust others nor be able to be emotionally close with them, and you will encounter others who will want to retaliate against you because your nihilistic attitude will lead you to harm them. If you believe there is no right or wrong and no meaningful consequences for doing wrong, you will do wrong.

By no means does this suggest that to be a moral homosexual you must abstain from sex altogether because the larger society will not let you marry a same-sex partner. And it does not mean that you may only have sex with one person and when that fails, your one time allowance is used up. What it does mean, for me, is that I develop a clear understanding that actions have consequences, not just for myself but for others; in other words, I strive to cultivate and develop Right View. And like Rahula, I seek to learn how to anticipate these consequences and learn how to discern whether the consequences – the results – are beneficial or harmful; not just for me and not just for whomever I sleep with as well. How much further will these consequences reach? Are there others not here that will experience consequences from my action? And what will those results be?

It sounds like a lot of work, and initially, if you’ve been operating from the perspective of wrong view, it is a lot of work. But once you have moved yourself to a solid perspective of Right View, then it becomes much easier to begin your actions with Right Intention.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saigon suicide or supreme renunciation?

My unintended hiatus from blogging has been extraordinarily unsatisfactory. While I can certainly continue to write posts, I am hampered because I don’t have access to my image library until I purchase a new laptop and have my data from my old laptop transferred. My preference is to accompany my posts with images I made, photographs I took. I know I could get an external drive and just have the hard drive from my former unit removed, a route I may eventually take should I take much longer in determining what laptop to purchase. But today, I have a subject and I have an image (not my image, mind you).

As I have mentioned in the past, I have been reading the Lotus Sutra, the Leon Hurvitz translation. Along with this, chapter by chapter, I have been reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s, “Peaceful Action, Open Heart: Lessons from the Lotus Sutra.” Today I read the chapter “The Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King.”

Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentary on this chapter revealed something to me I had not known, and that is the Vietnamese monk who self immolated on a Saigon street in 1963 did so based on this particular chapter of the Lotus Sutra. For years this riveting image troubled me. Why would a Buddhist monk commit suicide? Because that is how I, and I imagine many others, viewed this act – suicide.

The monk’s name was Thich Quang Duc, with whom Thich Nhat Hanh had a personal relationship. Thay, a familiar name used to address Thich Nhat Hanh, had studied with Thich Quang Duc and had for a time stayed at the monk’s temple. But before detailing the background leading to this spectacular act, an image that spread throughout the world nearly as quickly as the flames spread about and consumed the monk’s body, let’s examine the root of this seemingly desperate action.

This chapter describes how the bodhisattva Seen with Joy by All Living Beings transforms into the Medicine King Bodhisattva. Thay’s description of Seen with Joy by All Living Beings as being someone who brings joy and happiness to others just by his presence includes the suggestion that we probably all know or have encountered such a person before. When I read that, I immediately thought of my late Uncle Alvin. As a child, I remember seeing him with others and regardless of whether it was an adult or a young child, everyone he met smiled and was happy.

This bodhisattva studied with the Buddha Pure and Bright Excellence of Sun and Moon and came to realize a state of deep concentration in which he understood clearly that his body was just one of many bodies he would have. Contemplation of the body as body is one of the key parts of the meditative practice with the goal of understanding that “I am not my body, my body is not me; body is just body.” While on one level I understand this idea, I have not “realized it.” Seen with Joy by All Living Beings did realize this ultimate truth and, using supernatural powers, he made many offerings to the Buddha Pure and Bright Excellence of Sun and Moon. But after this, Seen with Joy by All Living Beings decided he would make a final offering of his own body through self-immolation, before which he made this vow:

“Those buddhas who cough or who make a sound by snapping their fingers are informing all this world and this world sphere in all 10 quarters. These and other miraculous qualities do they show who have compassion for the world, thinking, ‘Now how shall they joyfully bear this scripture at that time, when the Well Gone One is at peace? For many thousands of millions of cosmic ages will I speak the praises of the sons of the Well Gone Ones, who shall bear the supreme scripture when the leader of the world is at peace.’”

As Seen with Joy by All Living Beings’ body slowly burned, it sent a light throughout the world. The gist of all this is that the Buddha Pure and Bright Excellence of Sun and Moon was so pleased that he said he would leave this world to enter Nibbana and that Seen with Joy by All Living Beings would take his place as the Medicine King Bodhisattva.

Fast forward to Vietnam circa 1963. Thich Nhat Hanh reports in his book, “Peaceful Action, Open Heart,” that Thich Quang Duc had been writing many letters to the government in Saigon to end its persecution of Buddhists. Despite Vietnam being overwhelmingly Buddhist, its president at that time, Dihn Diem, was a Catholic, a relic of the days when Vietnam was a French colony. President Dihn Diem had banned celebration of Vesak, the Buddha’s birthday. Christmas, instead, was declared a national holiday. Despite his many peaceful attempts to persuade the government to rescind its edict, Thich Quang Duc was rebuffed. On June 11, 1963, he sat down on a busy Saigon street, poured gasoline over his body, and in a serene meditative pose, he lit a match.

In a few months, Diem was ousted in a military coup. Of course, not all was well again in Vietnam as there were many bloody years still ahead. But reporting of Thich Quang Duc’s act was so quickly spread around the world others noticed, perhaps for the first time, that the people in a small country in Southeast Asia were suffering.

A person who commits suicide does so out of desperation; it is a selfish act to relieve oneself of his or her own personal suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh explains that Thich Quang Duc’s act was not selfish, but done for the benefit of others, out of compassion for the suffering of his countrymen. For most of us, this concept is probably difficult to grasp. I know it is difficult for me. But on some level, I get it.

And yet, when I think about Thich Quan Duc and what he did, and then think about my own practice and my own understanding of the Dhamma, I am acutely aware of how I am so like an infant; a whore for sensual pleasure, so easily distracted by the ephemeral enticements of this world.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Feeling laptop dukkha

I apologize to everyone for not posting anything recently. My laptop is in the shop, and it appears I may need to purchase a new one. While I am still able to write posts, all my artwork and other relevant data I use for these posts is in my personal laptop. Fortunately, my hard drive data remains. Maybe by next weekend I'll be posting again, but if I need to buy a new laptop, it could be longer.