Saturday, August 27, 2011

There’s a Little Wayman in all of us

What can a Jataka tale about a dullard novice whose brother attempts to expel him from the Buddha’s Sangha teach us about our own potential as gay practitioners? Quite a bit, it seems, as long as we persevere even when facing what seems to be the darkest of times and we allow ourselves to be guided by the calling that comes from within our own hearts rather than the admonitions and even shouts from the world around us.

This isn’t always easy, particularly when stories like this continue to occur.

The Buddha taught that how we live our present life will determine the condition and circumstances of our rebirth. The simplistic way of looking at this leads us to conclude that living a good, moral life will not only bring us happiness now, but also greater happiness in our next life. But kamma isn’t so simple, not so linear. And it’s easy for us as gay people to fall into a line of thinking that the fact we are born gay is a negative consequence for something we may have done in a previous life – that is if you accept the notion of rebirth. Not all Buddhists do.

In some instances within the Tipitika, the Buddha explicitly states that living a good life now will lead to a good or better next life, but these situations usually involve the laity and times when the Buddha crafted his teaching according to his audience. When one considers the entirety of the Tipitika, however, one sees that what the Buddha was more likely attempting to convey was that living a good moral life would bring one closer to Nibbana, to total release, with each successive rebirth, regardless of the specific circumstances one was born into each time.

Humans in general have many hang-ups regarding sex, so it stands to reason that many Buddhist teachers – even very well-respected teachers – have hang-ups not just about sex in general, but about homosexuals in particular. Many of these teachers suggest that being homosexual is a consequence of our previous lives, the results of kamma. I agree with this, but not the same way as these teachers suggest. This is because I don’t subscribe to a linear notion of kamma and rebirth, that not every successive existence is necessarily better than the last even when the prior existence was an exemplary life. And I offer the Cullaka-Setthi-Jātaka to explain this.

In this Jātaka tale, we have two brothers, Wayman and Little Wayman, who come from humble beginnings. The elder Wayman joins the Buddha’s Sangha and, finding the monastic life to be fulfilling, entices his younger brother to become a monk as well. But Little Wayman proves to be a dullard, unable to learn the teachings and fails to remember even the simplest of gathas. So Wayman takes it upon himself to expel his brother from the Sangha.

Being omniscient, the Buddha becomes aware of this and intercedes. There are some really wonderful passages in this story, but I don’t want to bog things down, so I will skip over many of the details. But the Buddha gives Little Wayman a clean cloth for the novice to wipe his face and head. When Little Wayman does this, he sees how the cloth becomes soiled and eventually comes to realize that it represents how he is removing the soil of his delusions and expelling them from his mind. This young novice was ready for this teaching and became an arahant. The Buddha explains to the others how this happened by revealing what he knows about Little Wayman’s previous lives.

In a previous life, Little Wayman was destitute and poor, but, as a young man then, he overheard a wealthy treasurer make a statement about taking an opportunity and profiting from it. That young man took that advice and within four months became extraordinarily wealthy. He returned to the wealthy treasurer (who was the Buddha in a previous life) who gave the young man a job and allowed him to marry his daughter. In this previous life, Little Wayman was no dullard, but a very apt pupil with the potential to realize great things as long as he persevered. But here’s an interesting twist.

Despite rising to be a wealthy merchant in that previous life, Little Wayman was re-born poor to parents of mixed parentage. His mother came from wealth, but she married a slave, bringing shame to her offspring. So Little Wayman was not reborn into steadily rising social circumstances; rather, he was reborn into circumstances that prepared him for his eventual enlightenment.

As homosexuals we aren’t reborn gay as a negative consequence for something that we did in a previous life. And heterosexuals aren’t reborn straight as a positive consequence. It just simply is. But the circumstance of our present life is the result of what has happened before and probably reflects our growing ability to “hear” the Dhamma with the right ears. We are where we are because of the path we took, regardless of whether we are conscious of how far we have traveled over the eons. Those who sit in a self-exalted state to proclaim they know why we were born gay are only revealing their stubborn clinging to delusion.

Little Wayman almost gave up because he believed his older brother who told him he failed. As a result, they both were about to fail by giving up not only on each other, but on themselves. The cycle of their rebirths, fortunately, brought the two of them to the Buddha who helped them see release despite their humble beginnings.

The photo with this post is not mine, and I want to express thanks for the permission to use it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chicago temple gets some unwelcomed attention

Well drat, I missed an opportunity this weekend to join a group of protesters rallying outside of a Chicago-area Theravada temple, bringing attention to allegations that a monk at the temple had sexually assault a girl there. I only found out about it via Barbara O’Brien’s blog the day after the demonstration. Had I known about this event, I would certainly have gone.

There was also a related demonstration in Long Beach, Calif. I love the quote from the Orange County Chapter of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which organized the two demonstrations: “It’s a different religion, but it’s the same story.”

I wrote about this situation not too long ago, and my conclusion then remains the same: There needs to be some type of oversight of these temples, regardless of whether they be Theravada, Zen, Tibetan – whatever. But the reality of the situation remains true as well, because these organizations do have members, and these members are the ones who should be raising hell about this.

As mentioned in my earlier post, I had contacted some monks I know for their thoughts. Two replied to my queries with the same message: While the monk’s action is deplorable, these “ethnically oriented” temples are not interested in outside pressure to police monks and we “outsiders” should just leave them alone and let them figure out how to deal with this on their own.

Now this is where my reaction could easily be taken out of context to portray me as a reactionary anti-immigration xenophobe, because to that notion of just “let them deal with it themselves” I say a loud and forceful, “Fuck that!”

We are in America, not Thailand or Cambodia, or anywhere else where the locals might sheepishly avoid confrontation with their religious leaders. And while I have no problem with immigrants bringing with them their homeland culture to add richness and diversity to our American culture, when that culture is one of silence and fear, then fuck that. You can send that attitude back on the boat.

Regardless of what this monk told his Sangha, regardless of what the Vinaya says about this, there is the Third Precept, which in numerous places throughout the Tipitika identifies inappropriate sexual contact with a child as constituting sexual misconduct.

This monk doesn’t need to go back to Thailand. He needs to go to jail.

BTW, the photo with this post is from Bali and has nothing to do with the temple in Chicago. It's just a nice photo of some cute boys with slingshots. Yes, they had slingshots. Hunting for rats maybe?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Whittling away at anger

Recently while on my commute to work, a taxi driver in the lane to the right of me decided he wanted to make a left turn at the intersection I was about to proceed through. He waved at me for letting him go through while I cursed loudly at him. I had no choice but let him through as he cut me off.

Immediately I chastised myself for losing my temper like that. I practice what the Buddha taught his son Rahula, and that was to immediately cultivate a sense of shame at my own behavior.

Alas, I do that often, because anger remains a major issue for me. And as evidenced by some recent bloggers, it is an issue for others as well.

I am ashamed to admit that words like “moron!” and the f-bomb frequently flow effortlessly from my lips while I am driving. Unlike with other activities, the anger button is easily pushed while driving. I can be doing a lot of other things and never reach that fast flare of anger that seems to instantly arise when I’m behind the wheel. And the reason is very simple, despite my apparent inability to sufficiently deal with it: it’s ego.

You see, when I’m driving, all the rest of you are in my way. I’m quite perfect. I leave well-enough ahead of time so I don’t have to be in a rush, so it’s not that I’m in your way, it’s you haven’t planned enough time for your drive. And when you do get in my way, it’s because you’re a rude and pathetic self-centered bee-atch!

Well, maybe it’s not everyone else on the road.

The Buddha was consistently clear on how poisonous anger is for us. When he describes the Big Three – I’m not talking automakers – of greed, hatred and delusion, anger is right in there tied up with hatred. Anger is a form of hatred, it is an expression of hatred, and it sullies our kamma every time we allow its expression. Contrary to many pop psychologists, venting anger does not make us feel better; it does not relieve us of our anger. Rather, venting anger gives our mind fodder for justifying future anger so it is sure to reappear again.

Remember the Bhaddekaratta Sutta and the lesson it has for us? We must pay attention to what we are doing right now because what we do right now shapes what is yet to be.

An entire chapter of the Dhammapada is devoted to anger and our need to rid ourselves of this. Anger is described as wretched, causing one to appear ugly and drive away his friends. The Samyukta Agama simply guides us with, “Not being angry is always better than being angry.” And if that wasn’t enough for you, anger is identified as one of the Five Hindrances to one’s practice, more commonly labeled as ill will.

Face it, anger’s got to go.

Granted, the examples of what gets me angry are rather petty. Many of you may believe that what gets you angry is so much more important, so much more meaningful. But I think it’s safe to say that the allegedly “important” things we get angry about are generally infrequent. Most of us get pissed off by really stupid things.

I hope that I am less angry today than I was yesterday, and last month, and last year, etc. But it requires effort, something I don’t always remember and even when I do sometimes remember, it’s effort I want to avoid. I like being angry. I must, because there are so many things I do to nurture it. And if you have issues with anger, I suggest that you must like it as well. If you didn’t like being angry, you would rid yourself of this venomous emotion like you would dispose of a Ted Nugent recording.

When I do cultivate the necessary awareness of my anger, there are a couple tricks I employ. One I mentioned earlier, and that is to immediately create a sense of shame within myself for reacting with anger. I remind myself that the object of my anger, usually another person, is suffering like I do but I have no idea of what they are dealing with. Rather than react with a knee-jerk response that my woes are so much more important and overwhelming than anyone else’s, I attempt to develop a bit of compassion and empathy for my fellow human – even if he or she is an asshole. Whoops, did I say that?

Another trick I use when this option is available is to quickly find a mirror and look at my face. Have you ever really looked at your face while you are angry? Believe me, it’s not as pretty as David Oldham’s maniacal face in Harry Potter. And this really works, because even if you really try, you can’t stay angry while looking at your face in a mirror. It wouldn’t surprise me if you started laughing.

And a final trick, also quite simple, is to immediately be aware of your anger and ask yourself, “what is this? Where does this come from?” By immediately focusing on the origin of your anger, you quickly and cleverly shift your mind’s attention from self-indulgence into healthy investigation.

Granted, this takes effort and practice. But let’s look at the three types of anger as expressed in a simile I once read. There is anger like a line scratched into stone: this line can take years to be erased. There is anger like a line drawn in sand: the line remains for a while, but is eventually removed by the wind. And there is anger like a line drawn in water: so brief and fleeting, no trace of it is left behind.

While I remain quick to anger over the silliest things, my anger is much more like the line drawn in water. Before I found the Buddha, I had a lot of scratched rocks in my mind.

Speaking of anger, the photo with this post is from the memorial in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, that now resides on the location of the former Paddy's Pub where a bomb exploded on Oct. 12, 2002, killing 202 people and injuring 240 more.