Monday, February 28, 2011

Four Noble Truths for Lesbians

After crafting the Revised Four Noble Truths for gays, I thought I’d take a stab at a similar post for the grrls. It’s a tough crowd, one not afraid to express itself (did you notice how I capitalized 'Lebsian' but left 'gay' lower case for the boys?). But no matter who we are, if we take ourselves too seriously, nobody pays attention. So here it is ladies, unabashed and audience tested.

Now this – all you lipstick lesbians, diesel dykes, cat-women dominatrix, flip-flop wearing Peppermint Patties, matronly moms, stressed-out bodybuilders, long-legged beach queens, beehive homemakers, grease-pit goddesses, and thin-lipped librarian types – is the noble truth of stress:

Having a middle-aged man call you “honey” is stressful; having a gorgeous young girl call you ma’am is stressful; being repeatedly asked by straight people if you own a motorcycle is stressful; learning your girlfriend really does want a penis is stressful; running into a bi guy at a gay bar is stressful; having arm-flailing gay men in front of you at an Indigo Girls concert is stressful; meeting a really super nice straight girl who likes you a lot but isn’t going to sleep with you is stressful; broken carburetors are stressful; having to change a tire for a gay man is stressful; finding out your date hasn’t got a clue about what Scissor Sisters is a reference for is stressful; having someone ask you if you’re lipstick or diesel when if they’d just open their fucking eyes they’d know is stressful; getting a breast exam is stressful; getting a PAP smear by a gynecologist that sniffles is stressful; being constantly asked if you hate men is stressful; being mistaken for a boy is stressful; being mistaken for a girl is stressful; having to be asked yet again whether Annie Leibovitz is a lesbian is stressful; trying to figure out why Willa Cather mostly wrote about men is stressful; being asked about Chastity Bono when you don’t even like Cher is stressful; not having enough candles is stressful. In short, the entire glamorous life of a lesbian is stressful.

And this, my sensational sisters, is the origination of stress: Expecting male sexist pigs to treat you with respect; forgetting that you’re not 22 anymore; failing to understand that body art can at times give the wrong impression; wishing you had watched “Boys Don’t Cry”; under-appreciating gamblers; stubbornly sticking to the idea that there are some places you can still keep us out of; failing to appreciate that you are a likeable person; not buying a car with fuel injection; not realizing that changing the tire is the source of the stress rather than for whom you are changing it; thinking that Internet dating service profiles are truthful; expecting others to have the same level of awesome awareness that you have; failing to appreciate the real First Noble Truth; refusing to acknowledge it was your decision to accept the job with the lame-assed health plan; allowing yourself to continue to be shocked whenever you encounter ignorance; continuing to allow your self-worth to be determined by others; see previous; not taking it seriously how many people get their information from Fox News; yeah, that’s a tough one to figure out; forgetting that most people – including gays – just don’t get the transgendered thing; yeah, what is it with you grrls and candles? This is how you stress yourself.

And this, my sisters in saintliness, is the noble truth of the cessation of stress. That which is the letting go of the desire to control how others think, the freeing yourself of trying to be someone other than who you truly are, the embracing of the present moment in all its roughness and ambiguity, the understanding that the value of you as a person is not determined by external factors but rather by the generosity in your heart and your willingness to protect Nellie queens from gay-bashing morons, and the abandonment of the condescending mind that drives you to seek fulfillment at Home Depot.

And this, my sardonic scissor sisters, is the path leading to the ending of all that stress, the Noble Queerfold Path which leads to inner peace and multiple orgasms: Right Spending, Right Friends, Right Self-value, Right Sincerity, Right Honor, Right Compassion, Right Love, and Right Restraint.

Of course, the items in the Noble Queerfold Path, while laudable, are not the same as the Noble Eightfold Path. And certainly, anyone serious about following the Buddha’s path should pay more attention to the latter than the former. But whether you’re a pixyish boy with blue hair or a big-boned mamma laying roof shingles, there is value in the Queerfold Path. And peace as well.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

It’s official, The Last Airbender sucks

Last March in one of my posts about racism and white privilege, I wrote about how the then-upcoming film “The Last Airbender” was another example of a whitewashed version of a popular cartoon populated mostly by Asian characters. The movie release had white actors playing roles that in the cartoon were clearly Asian. Despite the cartoon being hugely popular with kids of all races, Hollywood in its infinite wisdom decided that a movie with white actors would be more palatable with the public.

Fast forward to this weekend when “The Last Airbender” was recognized as the Worst Movie of 2010 by the Razzies. It was also honored as having the worst director and the worst screenplay.

In an Associated Press article, Razzies founder John Wilson said that many people who loved the television series “The Last Airbender,” including his own 14-year-old son, hated the movie.

What I wrote back in March – “The film industry has a long history – despite the diversity of those who work within that industry – of deliberately pandering to the prejudices and bigotry of its audiences” – remains true. “The Last Airbender” wasn’t a complete flop at the box office, which means the film’s creators won’t understand why the movie is being ridiculed.

That’s too bad. Because that means we will continue to be subjected to more films that pander to the ignorance of bigotry and racism. Particularly, it seems, when it comes to American films about Buddhism or Buddhists. There have been a few decent ones. But when Hollywood churns out crap like this, it gets a bit disheartening.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Silence = Death

Martin Niemöller was a German protestant pastor with balls. Niemöller is probably best remembered for the following quotation:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Over time, the quote was embellished to include Jehovah’s Witness, Catholics, Communists, and homosexuals. Niemöller was late finding his balls, because during the rise of Nazism in Germany, he remained silent and eventually spent 7 years in a concentration camp. But his quote is instructive nonetheless to show how ignorance and persecution gains strength and influence when good people remain silent.

Eighteenth century Irish writer and historian Edmund Burke famously made two very prescient observations: First, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” And second, “Among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist.”

Both Nathan at Dangerous Harvests and Kyle at The Reformed Buddhist have brought to light a bill under development in Arizona that seeks to ban the use of “foreign law” within the state under the penalty of impeachment. Among the usual suspects in the litany of “foreign law” is Sharia law. As if that wasn’t stupid enough, the bill also seeks to ban “karma.”

That’s right – they want to ban “karma” and anyone citing “karma” or allowing it to be introduced as a legal strategy could be impeached.

Who are these people? Do they really think that karma is a statute written on paper somewhere and that it has legal precedence in certain “foreign” courts? Karma is no more a statute than the “law” of gravity. The sheer ignorance of it all would be laughable if it wasn’t so fucking scary!

Then Arun at Angry Asian Buddhist, as well as John Pappas with an article at Elephant Journal, reveal how residents in Johnson County Kansas are seeking to block a Buddhist group from moving its temple because they fear animal sacrifices will go on there. I’m not kidding – animal sacrifices!

Again, the sheer ignorance of these people would be hilarious if it weren’t for the fact that they scare the shit out of me. That they believe or even think they can get away with lying that Buddhism includes animal sacrifices among its rituals is so astounding that I wonder if the end of the world really is coming soon. Because the tide is evident when you consider that the governor of Wisconsin is trying his damndest to gut the unions in that state and set back more than 100 years of labor law and advances that began in Wisconsin to the benefit of workers everywhere in the country.

I’m all ears. Someone guide me on what to do. Who do I need to send a letter to? Who do I email?

Silence = Death.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A revised Four Noble Truths for Gays

Adam over at Fly Like a Crow has an awesome post about the Four Noble Truths of Parenting. His post was so inspiring – and girls you better read it! – that I had to come up with a new Four Noble Truths for Gays. True I had written about such a litany in the past, but let’s update it a bit and get a bit cheeky, shall we?

And so here they are, the Four Noble Truths for circuit partying homos and other “sexual deviants .”

Now this – all you go-go boys, bears, twinks, muscle queens, leather daddies, angora queens, closet cases, dragalicious divas, nerds and straight-acting-total-bottoms – is the noble truth of stress: body waxing is stressful, pyramid workouts are stressful, cold sores are stressful, smegma stench is stressful, Christina Aguilera is stressful, a sold-old Scissor Sisters concert when you don’t have a ticket is stressful, a Cosmo with too much lime is stressful, new leather chaps are stressful, dance floors so crowded you can’t move are stressful, finding out the dude you just hit on is underage is stressful, having your credit card rejected is stressful, not being carded at the door is stressful, learning that you can’t buy “The Pool Boy” anymore because Brent Corrigan was only 16 when he made it is stressful, finding out it wasn’t just a cold sore is stressful, genital wart removal is stressful, returning home to find out that you already have the shirt you just bought is stressful, finding out your liaison doesn’t like to kiss is stressful, worrying that you perspire too much in light clothing is stressful, waiting for your HIV test results is stressful, pushing on a Marine's bellybutton and his legs don't go up in the air is stressful, seeing your date in pleated trousers is stressful. In short, the entire glamorous life of being gay is stressful.

And this, my fellow moes, is the origination of stress: desiring a hairless body when your genes come from a gorilla, wanting a chiseled body that that will turn to flab when you retire, needing to look flawless before you go out, not paying attention to body odor before you decide to sniff the swarthy saber, not having better taste in music, waiting too long to buy your ticket, knowing the bartender doesn’t know how to make a fucking Cosmo but you order it anyway because you want to be seen with it, not knowing about Bick leather conditioner, wanting to flail about like an unhinged dancing queen, forgetting that interest in you is not always genuine, because you’re unwilling to live within your means, forgetting that yes we do get old, you should have bought “The Pool Boy” while it was still available, having a sexual appetite that overrides reason and prudence, see previous clause, you’re getting old, expecting a casual sex encounter to be the same as doing someone you really care about, failing to know how to dress, failing to accept the fact that multiple partners means multiple risks, reading too much into the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, thinking you can find happiness in an online dating service. This is how you stress yourself.

And this, my brethren moes, is the noble truth of the cessation of stress: The letting go of the compulsion to be someone other than who you are, understanding that your worth as a person is not defined by how much you spend, nor is it defined by how others view you, and realizing a craving for sex is connected with your self-perceived value as a person (you are attempting to reproduce the affection you missed as a child), and a failure to pay attention to common fashion magazines like Details.

And this, my fellow queens and moes, is the path leading to the ending of all that stress, the Noble Queerfold Path which leads to inner peace and an intense orgasm: Right Spending, Right Friends, Right Self-value, Right Sincerity, Right Honor, Right Compassion, Right Love, and Right Restraint.

Oh shit, I just realized that now I will have to blog about each of these in the true Noble Queerfold Path. But you know what, I think I will have fun doing that.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Gradients of kamma

The other night at dinner a friend of mine was asking me about kamma, which led to me explaining that kamma was often misrepresented even by those who call him or herself Buddhist. People tend to think of kamma as the result of an action. For example, “Don’t do that, it will bring you bad karma.”

I tend to use the Pali term kamma rather than the Sanskrit term karma because my Buddhist education is grounded in the Thai Forest Tradition. Either term will work, however.

Anyway, I told my friend that kamma isn’t created by the action, but rather the intention behind the action. One creates kamma via his or her intentions. He then asked me about light and dark kamma, and that’s when I had to admit ignorance. I had an idea of how to explain bright and dark kamma, but I didn’t want to misstate something. So I told my friend I would study the matter first.

The best expression of what bright and dark kamma is can be found in the Anguttara Nikaya. The particular passage can be found in Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s Beyond Coping in the section on Heedfulness. And while not dealing specifically with the concepts of bright and dark kamma, the story of Angulimala also provides some excellent insights into the workings of kamma.

In the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha lays out four types of kamma: “There is kamma that is dark with dark result; kamma that is bright with bright result; kamma that is dark & bright with dark & bright result; and kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma.”

As the Buddha explains each of these four types of kamma, it’s important to note the language used. “And what is kamma that is dark with dark result? There is the case where a certain person fabricates an injurious bodily fabrication...” The Buddha uses the phrase, “a certain person fabricates…” The concept of fabrications is pretty important in Buddhism; trouble is most people have the wrong idea of what it means.

Many people think that when something is a “fabrication,” it means that object or construct is not real, that it doesn’t exist at all. In my view, that’s not at all what the Buddha means when he talks about fabrications. On one level, fabrications are not real in and of themselves, but the object or event to which we attach the fabrication is real. In the Buddhist sense, a fabrication is merely a mental construct created by our mind to give some object or event a characteristic that we wrongly view as permanent. Think of it like the line Juliet speaks when thinking of Romeo's family name: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

A rose is a rose no matter what we call it. As a collection of matter, a rose simply is. The name “rose” is the mental fabrication we create to ascribe to a plant that has certain physical characteristics. Go to a different country where a different language is spoken and the mental construct has a different pronunciation, but the rose is still a rose.

When the Buddha describes kamma, it is associated with the mental fabrication associated with the intent to commit an act of either speech, body, or mind. So in the case of dark kamma, that fabrication begins with wrong intent, with an intent to cause harm. The consequences that manifest after an intention of dark kamma are the results of kamma, the fruits of kamma, not the kamma itself. Bright kamma, hence, begins with a fabrication that causes no harm. Hence, the fruits of bright kamma are pleasant.

We often get confused when we seem to get mixed results from our actions because we think we have a good intention. This is what the Buddha refers to as kamma that is both bright and dark. As Thanissaro Bhikkhu explains here, we may think we have good intentions, but if we really examine our intentions, they are often unclear and confused; hence the outcomes of our actions bring us confusing or mixed results. This happens a lot in interpersonal relationships, particularly among we moes.

Remember the film “The Broken Hearts Club” and how Dennis befriended the cute newby Kevin (oh god, Kevin was such a darling!)? Dennis clearly had the hots for Kevin, but he wanted to appear more virtuous than the callous Cole, so Dennis concocts this idea that Kevin needs a true friend when Dennis’ real intention is to get Kevin in bed. All of Dennis’ friends see this for how it really is, but Dennis chooses to believe in his false intention. While the outcome is not completely messed up, the results definitely are mixed.

Most of our lives are filled with this combination of bright and dark kamma because for most of us, we really don’t understand our real intentions, either intentionally or because we just never really took a close look at our actions and the motivations behind them.

This is why we meditate. To stop the chatter in our minds so that we can see the truth behind all our thoughts, words and deeds.

Angulimala ran into this problem even after the Buddha accepted him into the sangha. At first, Angulimala couldn’t get anyone to offer him food during his alms rounds because he remained feared and despised for all of his past murderous actions. Even after the Buddha set up an act of truth to show others Angulimala’s new noble birth and he became accepted by more villagers, there remained a group who refused to believe that Angulimala was nothing more than a murderous monster. Whenever he went for alms, these holdouts threw rocks and sticks at him. One time he comes to the Buddha, his head bleeding, to show the Buddha what had happened. The Buddha tells Angulimala to buck up and endure this because he is lucky to be suffering this torment now as the continuing fruits of his past actions rather than to suffer those consequences by spending eons in a hell realm.

The final type of kamma is what the Buddha describes as being neither dark nor bright. This is when we abandon all kamma and we are free of any other intention other than to liberate ourselves from the cycle of birth and death. I haven’t a clue as to what that must be like. My days are still mixed with brightness and darkness, a muddle of intentions that I am barely able to discern.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Why couldn’t I help you Lance?

I would not normally write about and identify any of the children I used to work with, but in Lance’s case I’m going to make an exception, because, you see, Lance is dead.

The details are hazy as it happened many years ago, but as I recall, Lance took a pistol and shot himself in the head. I think he was 15 at the time. The specifics are immaterial, and when one doesn’t know all the facts, the facts become mixed with rumor until truth can no longer be separated from fiction.

All that matters for now is Lance is dead. And while it remains speculation, I have a pretty good idea as to why.

Lance was a handsome, energetic, athletic and mischievous boy from Texas. His smile was infectious. He honestly tried to please others, but like many boys his age diagnosed with ADD, his mouth and actions often got ahead of his brain, leading him to say and do things he quickly regretted.

He was a student at the private boarding school where I worked as a cabin counselor. The school, up in the mountains of Northern New Mexico, was for teens diagnosed with learning disabilities. It was a beautiful natural setting that offered tremendous opportunities for outdoor activities in the surrounding national forest. I took students on many hikes and backpack trips into the mountains there and not just for recreation. I’ve always believed that the wilderness is an effective teacher of many things; it will humble the most arrogant teen and in the flash of a moment, will show you death for what it really is.

I liked Lance. I remember on a hike one day up the steep slope of a ridge by the school, we encountered a rock outcropping that was about 12 feet high. You could walk around it, but it was an excellent opportunity to do a little free climbing without any serious risk. I was amazed at Lance’s agility as he easily climbed up the rock face, finding the right handholds and swinging his body up to another tiny ledge where he paused briefly horizontal to the ground before using his wiry strength to pull himself to the top of the outcropping.

It really was a beautiful and awe-inspiring site.

Later in the year there was hushed talk about an incident between Lance and another boy in his cabin. Lance’s normally bright demeanor was subdued and gloomy. The once loquacious boy had become taciturn and morose. I was just 24 years old at the time, struggling with my own sexuality. Intuitively, I sensed a similar struggle within Lance. So I took a risk.

Lance’s cabin counselor agreed to let Lance come over to my cabin after lights out to chat. Talk about an uncomfortable meeting. I let Lance know I knew what occurred between him and the other boy. I also let him know I wasn’t going to tell him that there was something wrong with him. Rather, I wanted to find out what he thought about the situation. How was he going to deal with it? What happened, I said, didn’t mean he was gay. But the incident wasn’t going to go away.

There was one other time I approached another boy, also from another cabin and at the request of his counselor. (Was it that obvious to others? “Send the kid to Rich, he knows how to deal with that kind of thing.”) In that situation, I made an obvious mistake. The boy’s reaction to my inquiries, despite how oblique they were, clearly let me know I was making a mistake.

With Lance, however, I believed I was right. He gave me the non-denial denial, never clearly denying what others were saying had happened, nor clearly denying that he had sexual feelings for other boys. But he remained closed up. Never had I seen someone suppress their tears so effectively. He wanted to tell me something, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it. I told him that anytime he needed to talk about anything, I would be there.

That was late in the school year. Lance brightened up a bit and finished the year on a good note. He opted to return to public school the following fall, so he did not come back to our school.

About six weeks into the next school year, I was doing something in the office when someone grabbed me and said, “Hey, Lance is on the phone, he just called and asked if you were there.” At the time, I thought it was odd for Lance to call like that. But I shrugged it off. I took the phone and asked Lance how things were going at his new school. Not so well, he said. He was calling from home, he had just been suspended. His parents weren’t home yet. He was worried how they might react.

I think I asked Lance what had happened at school to get him suspended, but I can’t remember whether he again evaded my question or gave me an answer. I remember telling him he would get through this. And I remember telling him thanks for calling and asking for me. I told him I liked him, he was a good kid.

A week later I heard the news. Lance had shot himself dead. He did it on the same day that he called the school. He must have shot himself shortly after the phone call.

Long pause because I’m crying right now.

I don’t blame myself for what happened to Lance. But goddamnit, what a fucked up situation that was. It was the 1980s when everything said about gays had AIDS connected to it. I was in my 20s, confused about my own sexuality trying to talk to a 14-year-old who was just as confused. I was deathly afraid of anyone finding out. My position at the school would be ruined. Even though I had never done anything in the least inappropriate with any of the boys at that school – and while I worked there I had personal knowledge of at least three other counselors who had sex with students, two involving male counselors with female students and the third a male counselor with a male student (and there are a couple other instances that while I didn’t have personal knowledge, I have strong evidence, a lot can happen in five years) – I knew that if someone were even suspicious of me being gay my life would be ruined. Or at least, that’s how I thought.

Lance must have been thinking the same way.

So much suffering, and what the fuck for?

Much of this came to me during my morning meditation today. Normally when I finish meditating, I always recite the Loving Kindness chant. But today, I just couldn’t get through it. Not only couldn’t I remember the verses in the right order, I was weeping as I tried to say them. And when I went through the Five Remembrances, I was struck by the last line.

“I am the owner of my Kamma, made of my Kamma, born of my Kamma, related to my Kamma, abide supported in my Kamma. Whatever Kamma I create, wholesome or unwholesome, light or dark, skillful or unskillful, to that I fall heir.”

It’s the part “… related to my Kamma, abide supported in my Kamma …” I asked my original teacher long ago what that meant. He said that being related to your Kamma literally means my relatives are manifestations of my Kamma, and the last part had to do with all my personal relationships. My friends, the jobs I had and the co-workers I have, that also is my Kamma. And as we continue to create more Kamma with our present actions, we constantly create for ourselves situations and relationships that allow us opportunity to undo past Kamma.

When you look at Kamma this way, you see how we are all in our own personal version of Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day.” This endless cycle of rebirth plays on and on until we get it right, until we stop making Kamma and find release.

There are a lot of us in this world who behave like oxen, dragging a wagon full of woes behind us. And instead of unhitching ourselves from these carts, we spend our time throwing more shit onto someone else’s wagon. We protect our own wagons, having become fond of our woes, rather than abandoning them. I do the same thing. I want to stop. I want to help others stop.

I don’t know how to finish this post, so I’m just going to stop.