Saturday, October 27, 2012

How Sigala avoided a honey of a boo boo

Buddhism, in part, is about asking questions to determine how things really are. But to truly see the truth, you have to ask the right questions. And the question on my mind at the moment is whether Honey Boo Boo is foreshadowing the decline of civilization.

Homo say what? Honey Boo Boo?

A friend and former colleague examined this question in a recent column he wrote for The Morning Sun, a newspaper in Mount Pleasant, Mich., and one I worked for in the past. Please take the time to read it, as it is excellent. And don't feign ignorance with me; I know all you moes out there know about Honey Boo Boo, because she is exactly the archetype and stereotype of breeder culture that we love to throw so much shade over that it becomes a black hole. And I bet many of you watched this train wreck of humanity more than once.

Come to the light, children, there is still hope for you.

While I may sound a bit holier-than-though when I say this, it is true: I have not, nor will I, watch Honey Boo Boo. I did watch an online trailer for the show prior to its indecorous debut and that was enough. I wanted to cleanse my eyes with Comet after that. I saw enough, however, to know instantly that civilization was perched upon a perilous precipice, over which it could tumble into oblivion at any moment.

My friend clearly points out in his column that we, in a collective sense, have only ourselves to blame for this type of programming dreck. He writes:

"You can blame the network all you want, but the people who run the network have a very simple mission: Make money. They do that by reducing costs and maximizing viewers. Quality costs money and doesn’t bring the right number of viewers to make it the most profitable way to do business. So, we get Honey Boo Boo.”

And to add insult to injury, the folks in TV land have created elaborate methods to convince you that the programming available is, in fact, high quality backed by tons of creative minds. It's done through the annual awards show that lavishes praise on the most popular programs with idols of pseudo-excellence, which is why programs like "Glee" churn out episode after episode creating new nadirs for every conceivable sexual, racial, and ethnic stereotype out there and cleverly confuses you into thinking that it's really a ground-breaking and inclusive show portraying gays and others in a positive, albeit humorous, light.

It's all a diversion designed to lull you into a false sense of happiness so that you will more readily accept the commercial content that batters your psyche with often better production quality than the programs it sponsors. Its intent is to stupify you in a manner Bob Dylan eloquently described in his song, "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)".

Advertising signs they con
You into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you

This is precisely why the Buddha advised a young fellow named Sigala to avoid theatrical shows.


Patience my pretties. I think that a reason why many practitioners do not read Dhamma is quite similar why other folk do not read the Bible or whatever holy book guides their religion, and this is the language in these texts is archaic and not easily understood. For that reason, it can be easily viewed as irrelevant to today's culture.

For example, in the Sigalovada Sutta, the Buddha includes "watching theatrical shows" as an item in a list of activities that lead to the loss of wealth. And then he enumerates the reasons why and how watching theatrical shows result in this:

"There are, young householder, these six evil consequences in frequenting theatrical shows. He is ever thinking:

(i) where is there dancing?
(ii) where is there singing?
(iii) where is there music?
(iv) where is there recitation?
(v) where is there playing with cymbals?
(vi) where is there pot-blowing?

Pot-blowing? What the hell is that? And what's wrong with singing and dancing?

This is what I'm talking about. People look at this and think that Buddhism has no relevance for them. The problem, however, is not that Buddhism lacks relevance; the problem is the question - we aren't asking the right questions.

No, there is nothing wrong with singing, or dancing, or even pot-blowing, provided we don't get too carried away. Remember that the Buddha described his path as the middle way. He tried the extremes and found them lacking. The path to spiritual bliss is neither followed by extreme pleasure or by extreme deprivation. And while we follow the way in the middle, we must be honest in evaluating our emotions.

Remember what the First Noble Truth is? For many people, life is more than just unsatisfactory, it can really suck, and too many of us queer folk know this all too well. But for most people life is how Henry David Thoreau described it when he said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

Believe it or not, shows like Honey Boo Boo are tapping into a collective sense of dismay and dissatisfaction that permeates our lives. It presents an opportunity, albeit a false one, for us to watch someone else's life self-destruct and gives us a sense that things can't be all that bad, "thank god I'm not in Honey Boo Boo's family!"

But like the theatrical shows the Buddha warned Sigala about, this is a distraction that keeps us in our self-dug hole of dissatisfaction. Shows like Honey Boo Boo aren't designed to uplift us, to inspire us; they're designed to keep us in a rut of meaningless existence, to set us up for the next string of commercials that will entice us to spend money on goods and services we don't need and which, if we took just a few seconds to think about it, we don't want.

There are a lot of unhappy people in the world. We can't help them all. But are you at least trying to help a few of them?

I know that I am not. And that needs to change.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Homophobe say what?

Few things can get my Hugo Boss tighty-whities in a bunch, but when I read about some of the incredible things some religious leaders, let alone their minions, let flow out of their mouths or their pens,  I swear it makes me want to wear boxers and then run out and make a donation to the Churchof the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Admittedly, this is a problem of mine because I remain in the grips of greed, hatred, and delusion. But when compared with some of the lunacy that has appeared recently in the media (and let us not forget this is nothing new), I come off as absolutely brilliant when I say you should make a Manhattan with rye whiskey and not bourbon.

Well, that is absolutely brilliant. But I digress.

First event occurred last week while I was traveling in Texas. A small time Panhandle minister purchased some space in a rural weekly to enumerate his litany of reasons why folks should not vote for Obama, among them being the president's alleged support for the dreaded "gay agenda."

Seriously, if you have a copy of this, would you mind sending it to me? Because the bitches in the Gay HQ have been ignoring my missives as if I were Phyllis Schlafly.

A few weeks after this atavistic nonsense is published, a gay couple's home in that town was spray painted with the delightful words, "leave or die fags."

In and of itself, such an incident would not normally send me off, even when reading about politicians that espouse the death penalty for rebellious children and evolution deniers who sit on the congressional science advisory committee. But then I read something about an archbishop up in Minnesota that hit just a little too close to home.

Catholic Archbishop for the Twin Cities John Nienstedt has been on a tirade amping up the anti-gay rhetoric with his efforts to promote a state constitutional amendment in Minnesota to ban same-sex marriage, but it was his advice to a young mother with a gay son that stabbed me in the heart. The archbishop told this woman her "eternal salvation" was at stake if she did not toe the line on the church's anti-gay position and do something about her wicked child.

I've worked really hard to remove a particular memory from my mind, to disallow its ability to shape me, and for the most part I've been successful. But when I read about this archbishop, it recalled for me a day when I was in first grade at a Catholic school and the nun teaching the class called me up to her desk. I couldn't look at her as she spoke her vile words, and instead stared at her finger as she pounded it into the top of her desk enunciating her words: "Richard Harrold, you are an evil and wicked little boy, and God has forsaken you."

OK, so I was a victim of a hate crime at 6 years old. Whatever. It was 1964. Nonetheless, the experience left me an angry little boy who grew up to be an angry teenager who chased whatever mind altering substance he could find, and for many years, left me an angry and bitter man. And let me tell you, this was one set of Samsonite I wanted to drop the fuck off on some corner and set on fire. But would I let go of it? No, I had years of being an ox dragging my cart of woes before I finally did. And when I did, I took lots of Polaroids that I keep in my pocket to remind me of my bitterness whenever I feel really happy.

Unsurprisingly, it is at times like these that I retreat into the Buddha's teachings on anger to remind me of the need to develop a compassionate mind. There's no shortage of examples within the Tipitika that extol the virtues of letting anger go. But letting go is only part of the deal. We must also develop compassion, because without compassion, that seed of anger remains within us to be sparked to life at a moment's notice.

The story that puts it all in perspective for me is Kucchivikara-vatthu: The Monk with Dysentery. In this tale, the Buddha finds a monk suffering with dysentery who is being neglected by the other monks. When the Buddha asks why, the reply he gets from the other monks is this monk "doesn't do anything for the monks."

Now, an unskilled reader might view the Buddha's reaction to this information, as he flies into a flurry of activity cleaning and caring for the sick monk, as the Buddha becoming royally pissed at the other monks for being lazy and selfish sumbitches. But remember, the Buddha was an enlightened being; he wasn't angry, he was just throwing some shade. He nursed the sick monk back to health, then admonished the others for their failure to tend to the sick among them. But to be useful to others, one must know what to do, just as a skilled nurse knows how to tend to others.

As good as it might feel in the moment, getting angry is useless. It serves no purpose. And it certainly does nothing to remove the hatred that may prompt it. Anger and hatred are diseases, not just emotions. And there are people dying from these illnesses all over the place.

So when you're angry, may I suggest that you first nurse yourself into good health before you attempt to assist others? You cannot treat anger with more anger. You must first develop compassion. And even if you take a long-ass time developing that compassion and never get around to ministering to others, at least feel comfortable knowing by doing so you're creating one less angry person in this world filled with greed, hatred, and delusion.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Not by hating hatred

Fourteen years ago on Oct. 11, I was working a Sunday evening at The Morning Sun, a daily newspaper in Mount Pleasant, Mich. I was watching some posts on a thing called USENET. Remember that? I was following posts by a fellow who was updating a young man's condition out in Wyoming. This young man was severely beaten, tied to a fence and left there in the cold night on the Wyoming prairie.

His name was Matthew Shepard.

I don't know why, but as I was reading these posts, I felt like something momentous was happening. And as more details of this horrific crime became public, it was clear a fundamental change was about to occur within the American psyche.

Matthew was lured away by two men,  Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who promised to take him home. Instead, they drove Matthew into the middle of the prairie where they pistol whipped him and tortured him. They tied him to a fence where he remained unconscious until about 18 hours later when a cyclist passing by spotted him. Initially, the cyclist thought Shepard was a scarecrow.

McKinney and Henderson met Shepard on Oct. 6, 1998, and it was probably after midnight when they beat him into a coma on Oct. 7. Shepard remained in a coma until he died four days later on Oct. 12.

He was 21.

When all the details of this event became public, the anger and hatred rising inside left me confused and feeling helpless. I hadn't found Buddhism at that time and I struggled to find ways to make sense of such a senseless act. I recall speaking at a candlelight vigil on the Central Michigan University campus; nothing formal, just a hastily organized gathering where I could not remain silent. I don't remember what I said, but I do remember how my voice trembled as I spoke.

Today, however, I do have Buddhism, and I am reminded of the many passages that clearly teach how anger and hatred never achieves anything good.

"As a log from a pyre, burnt at both ends and fouled in the middle, serves neither for firewood in the village nor for timber in the forest, so is such a wrathful man." Anguttara Nikaya II, 95

And in the Dhammapada the Buddha teaches:

"He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me of my property. Whosoever harbor such thoughts will never be able to still their enmity.

"Never indeed is hatred stilled by hatred; it will only be stilled by non-hatred — this is an eternal law."

And also:

"Guard your mind against an outburst of wrong feelings. Keep your mind controlled. Renouncing evil thoughts, develop purity of mind."

But one of the most interesting Buddhist tales about anger is one about the Anger Eating Demon, which I reprint in its entirety from Access To Insight.

Once there lived a demon who had a peculiar diet: he fed on the anger of others. And as his feeding ground was the human world, there was no lack of food for him. He found it quite easy to provoke a family quarrel, or national and racial hatred. Even to stir up a war was not very difficult for him. And whenever he succeeded in causing a war, he could properly gorge himself without much further effort; because once a war starts, hate multiplies by its own momentum and affects even normally friendly people. So the demon's food supply became so rich that he sometimes had to restrain himself from over-eating, being content with nibbling just a small piece of resentment found close-by.

But as it often happens with successful people, he became rather overbearing and one day when feeling bored he thought: "Shouldn't I try it with the gods?" On reflection he chose the Heaven of the Thirty-three Deities, ruled by Sakka, Lord of Gods. He knew that only a few of these gods had entirely eliminated the fetters of ill-will and aversion, though they were far above petty and selfish quarrels. So by magic power he transferred himself to that heavenly realm and was lucky enough to come at a time when Sakka the Divine King was absent. There was none in the large audience hall and without much ado the demon seated himself on Sakka's empty throne, waiting quietly for things to happen, which he hoped would bring him a good feed. Soon some of the gods came to the hall and first they could hardly believe their own divine eyes when they saw that ugly demon sitting on the throne, squat and grinning. Having recovered from their shock, they started to shout and lament: "Oh you ugly demon, how can you dare to sit on the throne of our Lord? What utter cheekiness! What a crime! you should be thrown headlong into the hell and straight into a boiling cauldron! You should be quartered alive! Begone! Begone!"

But while the gods were growing more and more angry, the demon was quite pleased because from moment to moment he grew in size, in strength and in power. The anger he absorbed into his system started to ooze from his body as a smoky red-glowing mist. This evil aura kept the gods at a distance and their radiance was dimmed.

Suddenly a bright glow appeared at the other end of the hall and it grew into a dazzling light from which Sakka emerged, the King of Gods. He who had firmly entered the undeflectible Stream that leads Nibbana-wards, was unshaken by what he saw. The smoke-screen created by the gods' anger parted when he slowly and politely approached the usurper of his throne. "Welcome, friend! Please remain seated. I can take another chair. May I offer you the drink of hospitality? Our Amrita is not bad this year. Or do you prefer a stronger brew, the vedic Soma?"

While Sakka spoke these friendly words, the demon rapidly shrank to a diminutive size and finally disappeared, trailing behind a whiff of malodorous smoke which likewise soon dissolved.

— Based on Samyutta Nikaya, Sakka Samyutta, No. 22

Hmm, it just occurred to me, did the demon disappear in a fart?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Guilty of simply being

Amelia is a blogger at Huffington Post and under this pseudonym she has been writing about her 7-year-old son. The kicker here is that her son self-identifies as gay.

"Huh? What? That's nuts! How can a 7-year-old self-identify as gay? He hasn't even hit puberty!"


I know. It's really amazing some of the things people say. Because I find it completely plausible that Amelia's son identifies as gay despite his age. I knew I was gay when I was 4 years old. I just didn't have a word for it. Being gay is not about sex. Our being gay is about who we are as a human being, it's a fundamental trait about ourselves that we intuitively know. We don't need anyone to tell us who we are, we just know.

The words come later. I knew I was a boy even before people labeled me as "boy." And when people started using that word, I began to use it. But I was a boy before I learned that word. Learning the word did not make me a boy.

And I did not become gay once I knew the word. I knew already who I was. Had I known what "gay" meant when I was 4 years old, I would have readily accepted it as a label for who I am, just as Amelia's son accepts the word. By the time, however, I did learn about words like "gay" and "homosexual," I was also learning about words like "fag" and "sissy." So even though I intuitively knew those words were about me, I did not "identify" as such. Rather, I became a ghost.

But enough of that. I want to get to Amelia's most recent post in which she talks about the conversations she knows she'll have to have with her son even though she dreads the moment when they will occur. Nothing very surprising here, these are the conversations we all know about. That yes, there are people who hate us even though they never met us. That we can't give blood, even to a family member. That we cannot marry the person we love. We might not be able to visit that person in the hospital too, and when they die, we might not have any say about what happens to them.

That's not what caught my eye in Amelia's post, however. It was this line:

"My child is guilty of nothing but simply being."

This is such a beautiful statement and its sentiment is at the heart of why Buddhism has been a lifesaver for me. Because unlike other religious doctrines, at least in my experience, Buddhism allowed me to simply be. It showed me how to be a human "being" rather than a human "doing." And it showed me how to escape the pain I was fettering myself with.

Life is unsatisfactory and events seldom go the way I want them to.

The angst I feel day to day about this is self-created because it's my choices that have brought me to where I am right now.

If I can learn to make better choices and become less attached to things and feelings that are merely temporary, I will be happier.

By following the Buddha's path I will free myself of this self-induced drudgery by accepting things as they really are and understand better how my actions now influence what happens next.

So simple, but as Amelia and the world show us every day, not so easy to implement. Dealing with the world around us is no easy task. And for children who identify as gay, it can be brutal. That's because the world is ruled by delusion. Most people are either incapable or simply refuse to see things as they really are. But once you start doing that in even the smallest ways, the transformation is incredible. And what is more astounding is as we begin to see things as they really are, something begins to bubble up from deep inside us, something that was always there, but was blocked and smothered by our deluded egos.

Compassion. And once we have compassion, it doesn't matter what the world throws at us. We become unflappable.

If you haven't read Amelia's blog on Huffington Post, you should. It's a delight.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

You dress so gay

Parents in Malaysia! Beware! If your son likes to wear V-neck shirts, it's because he's gay and wants to show off his body to other boys!

And your daughters, if they prefer the company of only some girls, but not all girls, look out - they're lesbian!

Seriously? o_O

Yes, the Malaysian government is at it again. It's all over the news in Asia, but also getting attention with some Western press and bloggers.

I wrote about efforts in Malaysia to revive reparative therapy techniques to turn ladyboys into real men, so I won't recover all of that. But it seems the Malaysian government is really paranoid about having gays within the populace and is soliciting the help of parents and teachers in spotting this scourge so something can be done about it.

As I've said before, it would all be laughable if it weren't so freaking real. The seminars being hosted in Penang, which has been known to have a lively gay scene, are the fourth conducted in the country. Despite that lively scene in Penang, a friend of mine who lives there is absolutely scared to death to have anyone find out he is gay.

Buddhism is about refuge and I have found the Buddha's teachings to be excellent support for gay practitioners. Yes, there are Buddhist commentators and teachers who adopt homophobia as part of their doctrine, but that's their doctrine, not the Buddha's. When I launched this blog a little more than three years ago, I wrote about how our coming out process was a liberating experience very much like the liberating feeling we experience when we encounter the Dhamma.

I hope our family in Malaysia remains strong throughout this, regardless of their religious point of view. Some meditative sessions on loving kindness are  probably in order. And the more musclely straight men who wear colorful V-necks and carry big satchels, the better.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bid adieu to your ennui

It has been months since I posted something, and even before that last post, my contributions to this blog have been sporadic. And to some extent, uninspired. There was something creeping into my life. It's called ennui.

I knew it was there, but last night as I walked through Boys Town feeling morose and unwanted (I was totally channeling Linda Ronstadt), I overheard a couple gay boys at least half my age chatting behind me: "We're celebrating our six-year anniversary," said one.


Then I read a message from someone I've been texting with and whom I was planning to meet in a couple weeks: "I hope you aren't expecting anything more than conversation when we meet."

Double bitch.

And this all leads me to recall a conversation I had earlier in the evening. I was dining at a vegan restaurant in Old Town with a colleague from work. She and I had a wonderful time: the food was excellent, I brought a fabulous wine to share, and our conversation was bright and happy and thrilling. Being the social media fanatics she and I are, we both checked in on FourSquare and we got a special - free desert.

When dinner was over and we examined the desert menu, I suggested the blueberry cheesecake because I thought the blueberries would go well with the remaining wine. My mind was totally in the realm of cheesecake and all that word means to me. So when the cheesecake was delivered to our table, its appearance immediately struck me as odd. And when I tasted it, the texture was not at all what I expected.

I was disappointed. I said as much, noting that it was good, but it was not what I expected at all. My friend gently reminded me that we were dining in a vegan restaurant, so traditional cheesecake would not be served. I said to her, "You know, it's funny how it is most often our expectations about something that create our disappointment, not the thing itself. This cheesecake is really quite fine, but because I had expected something creamy and smooth and decidedly not vegan, I was unhappy."

Yes, our expectations. Not the thing itself. This is so basic Four Noble Truths kind of stuff that I feel like I should cancel my subscription to the Dhamma and quickly find a bed of nails to lie on. It's just as my friend Curt recently said: "We've got to get you out of this rut you're in, Richard."

And that word "rut" was so apropos. I had been in both a mental and sexual rut, honing in on deliciously young men whom I was successfully converting into a series of trysts. It was making me feel adequate because look at me! I'm a 54-year-old man and see this cute 20-something with me? But the trouble has been most 20-somethings aren't ready to settle down into anything long-term; they want to play just as much as I do. And the ones that say they do want something long term, well, have you ever tried having a conversation with someone who is less than half your age? I often can't even find any musical interests that we share in common.

So there it is - ennui staring me in the face. And it's because I've been spending a lot of time on the outside of me. I've been kicking my ass in a good way at the gym, losing weight and toning up. I've started attending a yoga class that has really helped my flexibility and my overall sense of health. And while I have been chanting and meditating, it's not as regular as I feel it should be. And frankly, I haven't read any Dhamma since ...

My friend Curt is right. I need to find a way out of this rut of endlessly pursuing younger men with whom I have nothing in common other than an overactive libido. Because that day will come when I no longer got it going on. Maybe it's because of my stroke earlier in the year. You'd never know just by looking at me that I had one. But there may be a thought nugget inside my mind that is telling me to live it up as much as I can because I may not be so lucky with the next one. It's as though I'm Jack Nicholson in "Five Easy Pieces" when he attempts to reconcile his relationship with his father who's been incapacitated by a devastating stroke.

So there it is. There it is, really, for all of us. Because in some manner, we are all creating our own disappointment with everything, our own dissatisfaction, and we're doing it via our expectations.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

When will it end?

Bob Dylan had a million great lines within the lyrics to his songs and unfortunately, one of those lines is all too perfect for the moment.

“And how many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?”

That comes from “Blowing in the Wind,” and it came to mind when I learned yesterday that, again, another gay teen took his life.

Kenneth Weishuhn was a 14-year-old from northwest Iowa who dreamed of being married one day to another boy.

It seems that about two weeks ago, Kenneth, who was very well-liked at his school, decided to come out to his friends. They must not have been very good friends because after telling them he was gay, Kenneth became their target of ridicule and hurt.

Kenneth lasted one week and then he killed himself.

Once the news spread, complete strangers have been flocking to Kenneth’s Pinterest page to leave heart-felt words.

The list is getting too damn long. And that’s just the list of those who make the news. The It Gets Better Project is a great response to help these teens wrestling with hatred and despair – there’s even a new one produced by gay Mormon students who attend BYU – but I can’t help but notice the irony that at least two videos in the project were made by teens who later killed themselves. That has to be a huge weight on these teens. And I thought I was carrying an unbearable burden when I was a teen. Or maybe I just found a way to carry it.

Buddhism tells us we are the owner of our feelings, but that’s really difficult to understand and accept when the bad feeling you have is connected directly to others who relentlessly and gleefully taunt you, then hunt you down to taunt you some more. What can make it easier is having others around you that can support you, even protect you. And yet, Kenneth thought he had friends like that. That’s why he came out to them.

I’m kind of rambling right now.

How many deaths does it take? I bet at least one more.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Debating a monk is dukkha

Have you ever tried to point out to a monk that he just might be full of shit? It’s not an easy thing to do, because let me tell you, some monks are very adept at turning the tables and making you out to be the problem, that it’s your delusion operating here, not theirs.

I stumbled into such a debate after seeing a post on the Heartland Singapore Facebook page. It was referring to a post at, which appears to be a message board. There are other, blog-like pages on this site, but it doesn’t appear to be very active. Anyway, you can read my heresy by following the link I provided.

The gist of this began with a question emailed to the monk administering the page: “Can a gay person be ordained as a monk/nun?”

Bhante Shi Chuanguan replied with this: “Heterosexual men and women have to transcend their heterosexual desires if they are going to be ordained. Similarly, gay person can be ordained as a monk/nun, as long as this person can transcend this inclination.”

Me thinks I detect a double standard here.

As an aside, the Venerable Ashin Sopaka had a very pithy comment on the Heartland Facebook page, to which I will return later. But my response on the forum was to say I thought the answer provided, as well as an answer provided by another presumed monastic, was drawing a distinction between straight people seeking ordination and gays seeking ordination, that each was to be treated differently.

The Bhante said that straights had to “transcend their heterosexual desires,” while a gay person had to “transcend this inclination.”

This inclination? So the straight person need only renounce his or her sexual desires, while the gay has to renounce being gay? In other words, renounce his or her sexuality. What’s up with that?

You can read my entire reply on the message board, as I waxed very eloquent and pontificated like a true queen in heat. Perhaps that was a bit rash, because Bhante replied and suggested that, “Your inference that there is such a prejudicial idea is what is prejudicial.”

Moi? OK, OK, you can read my reply to that bit of obfuscation, because clearly this Bhante wanted to paint me the ignorant dualistic thinking bitter fag and a poor victim of all that nasty hate in the world, which, I would point out, often begins with narrow-minded and atavistic interpretations of religious doctrine by Paleolithic thinkers such as him. But I digress.

What I want to do is now return to Ashin Sopaka’s comment on the Heartland Facebook page. Ashin Sopaka succinctly points out that apparently the requirement to enter the monastery and seek ordination is to already be an enlightened being. Doesn’t the requirement that a gay first “transcend this inclination” mean that one must have renounced all notion of self, which can only be achieved upon enlightenment?

Seems to me that all the monastic code requires is that the monk or nun abstains from any form of sexual activity. That living in a monastery is the venue through which a monk or nun practices the doctrine to eventually transcend all fabricated notions of identity, whether they are sexual or otherwise. What “inclinations” remain in the unenlightened mind is irrelevant to anyone else in the monastery, as it is the duty of the monk or nun to peel back the layers of delusion and clinging within his or her own mind to ultimately attain freedom.

I’m sure Bhante Shi Chuanguan is a very wise man and knows his Dhamma pretty well. But his understanding of gay people, in my opinion, is no better than your average homophobe.

Update: I am pleased to say that Shi Chuanguan replied to my comments in a manner suggesting that we are coming together to a closer understanding.

Friday, March 23, 2012

It’s not always about me

Next time something you would label as “bad” happens to you, take a look around. You’re in that situation for a reason. And that reason might be an opportunity to be helpful to someone else.

When I was hospitalized following my stroke, I was placed in a room with another man who was really sick. Not that I wasn’t really sick – people are usually not admitted to a hospital unless they are really sick – but my roommate was pretty miserable.

His name was Tom, and I guess he was probably in his 30s. Shortly after I arrived in the room, he received some visitors. I quickly discerned that Tom’s visitors were his fellow residents from a group home for developmentally disabled adults. Over the next 24 hours I also picked up that Tom had a severe lung infection. He had a tube in his chest to drain fluid, but each time a nurse came in to check him, he or she would comment that there wasn’t much drainage.

Tom and I gradually got to know each other. I explained to him my situation and he explained his. Tom wasn’t stupid, but it was evident to me why he lived in a group home.

Eventually, the doctors began talking about getting Tom into surgery because not only was the fluid not draining from his lungs, it was solidifying. Tom was miserable, in pain, and frightened by the idea of surgery. “I don’t want to die,” he said.

The surgeon did a fantastic job of explaining to Tom why he was recommending surgery, doing so using imagery that Tom could understand. The liquid in his lungs at first was like liquid Jello, but like Jello, it was beginning to solidify into a wriggly mess in the lining of his lungs. If nothing was done, that Jello-like stuff in his lungs would eventually become like Jello left out in the air – it becomes hard and stiff. What the surgeon wanted to do was open a small hole in Tom, stick something into his lungs and scrape this gunk out of his lungs.

As all doctors must say, the surgeon said there were risks involved. But with someone like Tom, enumerating these risks, while legally required, just frightened him more. His sister, whom I also got to know, did her best to explain to her brother that while these risks were real, the surgery could make him feel better.

Tom was lost in a thicket of views. He didn’t know what to do. He would agree to the surgery, but it was evident he was simply agreeing with what the adults around him were suggesting. So he was saying what they wanted to hear. It was clear, however, that Tom was scared shitless.

After he and his sister talked some more about the surgery, she got up to go to the cafeteria. When she was gone, Tom said, “Richard, what do you think I should do?”

Me: “Tom, do you like the way you feel right now?”

Tom: “No.”

Me: “You’re in a lot of pain right now, aren’t you?”

Tom: “Yes, and it’s not getting better.”

Me. “Right, it’s not getting better. And I know you are in pain, because having a chest tube stuck inside of you like you have is one of the most painful things to go through. And I must say you have been really strong dealing with that, you know that?”

Tom: “Yes. But I don’t want to be like this.”

Me: “Well, if you don’t have the surgery done, what will happen?"

Tom: “I won’t get better.”

Me: “That’s right, you won’t. And what did the surgeon say if nothing was done?”

Tom: “The stuff in my lungs will get hard and I will get worse.”

Me: “Yes, that stuff will get hard and you will get worse. And what else did he say?”

Tom: “I will die.”

Me: “So you know that, you know you do not like how you feel right now, and you know if you don’t do anything about it, it will get worse and you will die. But if you have the surgery, what can happen?”

Tom: “I can get better.”

Me: “You will get better."

Tom: “But I could die in the surgery.”

Me: “Yes you could. But that’s a maybe. You know you will die if you do nothing. You know you won’t get better if you do nothing, right? So let me ask you this. Are you willing to go through some more pain for a short time after the surgery, but knowing the pain will go away and you will feel better?”

Tom thought about it for about 10 seconds and then said, “I’m going to do the surgery.”

The day Tom was wheeled into surgery was also the day I was sent home. I gave his sister one of my email addresses to let me know how things turned out. A couple days later I got her missive explaining that the surgery went well and that Tom was rapidly recovering. She thanked me for being a calming presence for Tom and helping him sort through this frightening experience.

Did karma put me in that room? I can’t say. But I can say this. I was there and I had a choice. I could either dwell in my own world of woes – and I might even have had a legitimate reason to do that – or I could recognize an opportunity to alleviate someone else’s suffering.

We face these choices every day. They may not be as grand as my situation, but we face them nonetheless. All it took was a small step outside of my inner world and be aware that it’s not always about me.

Photo courtesy of my friend Jimmy Huang.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A new meaning of mindfulness

There’s nothing like having a stroke to change the way you think about mindfulness. Sure, I had a conception of what it meant, what being mindful was all about. And in that notion was a root connected to raw awareness. But it seems I've been looking beyond that raw awareness and seeking something else that I thought was mindfulness.

That is, until I had a stroke.

It was a minor stroke, one cause by a clot in the vision center of my brain. It’s affected my peripheral vision on my left side in both eyes. Everything else – motor skills, speech, cognitive abilities, taste, smell – remain unaffected. To give you an idea, when I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a car, I can see just fine straight ahead. And I have normal peripheral vision to the right. But my vision ends at the center console. I can’t see the driver at all unless I turn my head.

Needless to say, I bump into doorways on the left side frequently because I can’t see the left side of the door jam. People or other moving objects coming up from behind me and passing on the left startle me because I don’t see them until they’ve already past and are almost in front of me. And unless I look directly at what I am reaching for, I may misjudge and fail to grasp it if it’s on my left.

There is a possibility that my field of vision may return to normal. Since my stroke, which was this past Friday, the blind spot has shrunk a bit. But it’s still there. It’s still significant.

In the meantime, I am learning some rather harsh and immediate lessons about mindfulness. And it’s changing the way I think about mindfulness. It’s not this overall gestalt that I used to think it as; rather it’s very specific. Mindfulness doesn’t just mean being aware of the world around me any longer. It means being aware of what I am doing right now in this world around me, and that means just a small part of this world around me, not this big expansive world that I had been thinking about.

My moment of realization was when I was being discharged from the hospital. I was elated I was finally getting out. I’d spent four days there waiting for tests to be completed. As I was gathering my belongings, I reached to my left for a Styrofoam cup of ice water I knew was there. But instead of grasping the cup, I closed my hand too soon, puncturing my thumb through the side of the Styrofoam and spilling water onto the table.

It was then I realized what being mindful really meant, what was really required of me. And it also made me aware of how I had taken for granted my awareness and my ‘mindfulness.’ No longer could I be casual about even the simplest thing like reaching for a cup of water. No longer could I be automatic while doing something as simple as walking through a doorway. When dining out, I must be extra sensitive to a server coming in from my left, or a glass or utensil on my left. And when I cross the street from now on, my life depends on my mindfulness more than it ever has before.

I’m actually finding all this quite thrilling. Believe me, if given a choice I would not want to reach such understanding by having a stroke. But I did have one. That can’t be changed. And now I’m ready for a new day.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Capture Kony in 2012

Not necessarily a Buddhist topic per se, but watch the video and do what you can. No matter how small your effort, whatever you do will help. Sometimes the video doesn't show up, just click the reload link if you see it below and the video should appear.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What’s all the Rush about?

You don’t have to be an enlightened being to know that Rush Limbaugh is very skilled at Wrong Speech. His most recent epithet regarding a Georgetown University law student really should come as no surprise even when measured by Limbaugh’s standards. Neither should his non-apology apology. And of course, none of us would ever do or say anything like what Rush Limbaugh said or did, right?

OK sweeties, let’s take a step back for a moment and seriously contemplate this thing called speech, because as many commentators have said and written, most of our “bad karma” is created by speech, by what we say and not by what we do (although our actions create plenty of bad karma as well). And it may come as a surprise to some of you that the rationalizations Limbaugh went through in his non-apology apology are often the same rationalizations we employ when confronted with foot-in-mouth syndrome.

“What? Me as boorish as Rush Limbaugh? That’s simply not possible!” I know, some of you are shocked. But rather than look at the specifics of what Limbaugh said and how he “apologized,” let’s look at their elements and characteristics.

As mentioned in the Abhayarajakumara Sutta (MN 58) and explained in this post, there are three elements to Right Speech: (1) Whether the speech is true; (2) Whether the speech is beneficial; and (3) Whether the speech is pleasing to others.

It’s easy to see how Rush Limbaugh utterly failed on all three of these, but how easy is it for us to look at our own speech to see how it may fail as well? Granted, determining whether what we say is true is probably simple enough – or is it?

This brings to mind a mother of one of the students killed in a recent school shooting in an Ohio suburb. This mother forgives the alleged shooter despite the fact she lost her son. But she admits that she doesn’t know everything about the situation, particularly what drove a young man to take such desperate action and shoot inside a cafeteria filled with other students.

Like her, we often only know part of the truth, and that part is often what’s inside our head, colored and distorted by our mind. It’s also why the Buddha warned us that just because something is true doesn’t mean we ought to say it. There remain two other factors, whether the speech is beneficial and pleasing.

Limbaugh gave a rather pathetic excuse in his non-apology apology that he was attempting to be funny. We’ll just ignore that. Yet, his comment is very telling. How often do we find ourselves saying something that we know might be offensive, but quickly follow up with the comment, “just kidding”? And when our quip comes off lame, how often do we blame the listener for not “getting it,” and chide them for being unable to “take a joke”? I’ll be the first to admit that at times I can be thin-skinned, which is ironic given my career in editing. I have plenty of experience listening to irate people on the phone lambasting me and the publication I was working for over something that was printed. But when someone reacts to something I say in a manner that reveals that they were offended despite my intention to be playful, clever or whatever, who failed “to get it”? I suggest that it’s me, the speaker, that didn’t get it, not the listener. Which, despite this being about point 3 (is the speech pleasing to others), brings us back to point 2, whether the speech beneficial.

Determining benefit may not only be a bit onerous, but it may also be a bit unrealistic. Can’t we have a little fun? Must everything bring benefit? Well, yes, it should and it can because if we look at who benefits, as opposed to whether there is any benefit, things become more clear. Because most, if not all, of the bad karma we create is the result of actions or speech that were motivated by selfish ends.

If all I’m concerned about is how funny or sharp I appear to others, then I’m not thinking about the person I am teasing or making my comment about. I’m thinking about me. So it's perfectly acceptable to come with some quips that get people laughing or smiling at the least, provided that is my intent. But as soon as my intent is about how I will appear clever and be admired for what I say, my words will fail. I’ll be like the pretty boats in the photo with this post: nice to look at but the tide will have disappeared leaving me stranded.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What about only on Tuesdays?

So I laid it out in my previous post, I made the assertion that monogamy was more skillful than polygamy or polyandry. And I asked if anyone disagreed to challenge my assertion.

And someone did. And it was successful. At least I cannot see any legitimate retort.

The counter argument came from Shane Hennesey, who authors Zenfant’s Home for Dirty Dharma. If you haven’t read his blog, you ought to. The brother is a righteous writer. But Shane’s rebuttal wasn’t on his blog. He’s still working out the details for that. Rather, his retort was posted as a comment on this blog’s Facebook page. And here’s what he said in part:

“first off, i disagree that a monogamous situation is better than a multiple partner situation. they are both just situations, neither good or bad. they both have their stories we give them and they are just that…stories. Both situations can be done with skillful means on in unskillful ways. People can thrive in these situations or crater or something in between. One is not better than the other. Why be limited by these two situations? What about celibacy by choice? What about only sex with toys and only on Tuesdays?”

Shane is very persuasive here. Because if I’m honest in my self-evaluation – and what does Buddhism teach if not to evaluate what is self? – I must recognize that my preference for monogamy may be a form of rejection of my own behavior of going through multiple partners to “find the one.” By stating that monogamy is better, am I not merely trying to prettify my own life, to rationalize how I go through other guys ostensibly to find the perfect partner? And what if it is? What’s wrong with that? And if I feel uncomfortable with that, isn’t that discomfort coming from within me rather than from the rubric of multiple partners in and of itself?

However, I also acknowledge this line of thinking does lend itself to a slippery slope. There must be legitimate consent involved here. But by and large, where consent is involved and all those participating are granting informed consent, sex is sex, whether with one or many, all at once or one at a time. After all, I have to admit that I met a couple one time involved in a happily monogamous and committed relationship that had gone on for years, and you know where they met? In a bathhouse. At least that's what they told me, and I have no reason to disbelieve them.

I do want monogamy for myself. But that doesn’t make it superior to anyone else’s situation or preferences. And for me to assert that was pretty damned arrogant.

Regardless of what you do, it’s about skillfulness. It’s about not doing harm. And I’d be a liar if I were to say I’ve never harmed someone through living a “superior” lifestyle.

Thanks Shane for setting me “straight.” Now would you get on with writing your freaking blog?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Is one too many and a hundred not enough?

First, let’s get the abject apology out of the way. Seriously, I haven’t been blogging lately. And maybe you’ve been wondering, “What’s that My Buddha is Pink dude been up to? He hasn’t posted anything in, like, for-ever!” And you’d be right to wonder that. But I have to admit, I’ve been stymied.

I ran into a discussion on my Facebook page (and if you haven’t visited, please do and help me get some discussions going, I mean seriously, all day I’m talking to people about successful use of social media and my Facebook page is a black hole for silence) that positively left me clueless as to a response. And it was about sex for goodness sake! Me clueless and unable to give a response about sex? I may have to give my toaster back! (you may only get that last reference if you were a diligent viewer of Ellen DeGeneres’ ill-fated TV series, you know, before she became the talk-show goddess that she is today)

Ellen, can you hear me? Can you feel me near you? Ellen, can you feel me? Can I help to cheer you? Ooo-oo-oo, Ellen, Ellen, Ellen.

OK, enough references to 1960s rock operas (but seriously, don’t you think Tommy was just a tad gay?)

Someone had posited that having multiple sex partners was fine and within the intention of the Third Precept as long as everything was consensual. Why would there be a preference inferred within the Third Precept for monogamy over polygamy or polyamory? And I have to say when this question was asked, I had no easy response. Instead, I asked more questions. And one of the questions I asked was whether this individual (who I know will read this because it will be posted to my Facebook page) had read any of the Buddhist literature, such as the Pali canon.

His reply was he had not.

His position that as long as one was behaving through proper social norms, having multiple sex partners would be within the intent of the Third Precept; just don’t be possessive of another and make sure that it’s consensual. I have to admit it’s a very beguiling argument, but my gut told me it was specious nonetheless. But what to say?

Look, I’ve never presented myself as an “expert” on Buddhism. I’ve “studied” a lot of the literature, and while my grounding is in the Thai Forest tradition, I’ve read a great deal of other publications in the Mahayana sphere. But I’m no academic, and I’m certainly no monk. Although, I have to admit that I’ve met some monks that my initial reaction was to think, “How can I get this monk to disrobe?” And I mean that both metaphorically and literally.

But I digress.

I had to agree that if one remained uncommitted, multiple sexual partners under the rubric of everything being consensual was probably not necessarily a violation of the Third Precept. But was such activity skillful? That was what was troubling me. Because my gut said no, it is not skillful, and it holds tremendous potential for future pain, suffering, anguish, misunderstanding, mistrust, and – not to forget – some nasty little diseases that may crop up.

Having said that, I needed something to back me up, to support my conclusion. Because sometimes the trouble with Buddhism is there are a lot of people who will identify as Buddhist who really don’t know much about what the Buddha taught. And it just seemed prudent to me that if you are going to identify as Buddhist, it would be wise to know something about the subject before deciding what is considered skillful Buddhist behavior.

I’m just sayin’.

And finally, I found my response. All it took was me picking up my copy of the Majjhima Nikāya and start reading it again. You see, I had stopped reading it regularly. In fact, I had stopped reading any Buddhist doctrine or literature on a regular basis. My practice had become irrelevant. It was time to make it relevant.

And what I found was the Ratthapala Sutta! Oh yeah, this guy Ratthapala had it goin’ on! While I’m sure there are other suttas that will address this question more specifically, I found Ratthapala’s discussion on the four teachings of the Buddha that attracted him to Buddhism very, how shall we say? – Enlightening.

The first: The world is swept away. It does not endure.

The second: The world is without shelter, without protector.

The third: The world is without ownership. One has to pass on, leaving everything behind.

The fourth: The world is insufficient, insatiable, a slave to craving.

When I read these, I was like, whoa! And the fourth item is what really clicked with me regarding my dilemma over multiple sexual partners.

When asked what he meant when he said, “The world is insufficient, insatiable, a slave to craving,” Ratthapala asked King Koravya if he was informed of another rich country that he could conquer and add to his own kingdom, what would he do? The king replied he would attack and conquer that country. And if another? He would conquer that too. On and on and to what end?

So, for someone who believes it’s OK to have multiple sexual partners as a regular lifestyle, someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, I know this hot dude who’d love to meet you.” Would you want to meet him? And if so, what if someone else comes along and says, “Hey this hot dude wants to get with you?’ Hey, why the heck not? And then maybe even this hot dude says, “Hey, I know this really hot guy who’d love a threesome.” Are you gonna go for it?

It’s all well and good except for one thing: you remain a slave to sensuality. You remain a slave to sensual indulgences. You think you’re free, but in reality, you’re a slave.

The other issue is the lack of intimacy in these relationships. I know someone who fits this, who told me he thinks he found someone he could “make a relationship with,” although it was clear to me there was no love. It was a matter of convenience. And even after saying he was interested in this guy, he was still sleeping with other men.

Now, lest you think that I am some holier-than-thou puritan of gay sex, let me make clear I am not. But I am seeking someone who can be a true partner. I don’t want multiple sex partners as much fun as it is. I’m like Hedwig. I seek my other half. And even as I say that, I realize that the fact that I am searching for that, for that man, means I still cling to sensuality.

But I accept that. I am fully aware that my desire to be with someone – one man – to share what’s left of my life means that I remain bound to the cycle of birth, life, and death. Despite that, this is how I believe a skillful lay person should live, even if you’re not getting laid much.

As I said earlier, I’m not a monk. Don’t even want to be one. And maybe my sentiment is condescending to those who accept a polyamorous lifestyle. But don’t you think there is more skill in wanting to make up your mind than in refusing to make up your mind?

Challenge me. I like it.