Friday, February 28, 2014

Happy Buddhists really annoy me

No, really. They bug the shit out of me.

"What crawled up your culottes?"

Buddhist sophistry.

Seriously, Buddhists who talk-tweet-blog-chirp non-stop about how happy they have become are really just projecting how miserable they are. But rather than deal with their unhappiness in an honest and direct way, they figure if they just keep telling others they are happy that maybe they'll be able to conjure up Manjushri's sword to cleave their miserable heart, revealing the pulsing bliss of Kwan Yin.

There's not a lot to be happy about. I'm a 55-year-old gay man surrounded by men who think they are 10s (some of them seriously are) and they're all looking for an 11. They go to the gym to get these bodies that they've become enslaved to, because as soon as they stop working out, their body goes to hell.

Well, I shouldn't cast stones. I go to the gym. Not as often as I should, but I go. I want to stay ahead of this bulge I have. Seriously, I can't even see my penis anymore. Well, I can see it when I have an erection, or when I tilt my head down, or when I'm lying on my back and my belly flattens out because gravity pulls all the fat down toward the mattress. And I kid myself that, yeah, I'm going to return to that svelt 180-pound gorgeous man I was in my 30s, I just need to shed, you know, like 30 pounds. And I need to watch my health. After all, I've had a stroke and a heart attack, so I should take care of myself.

Wait. I was going to the gym before I had a stroke and a heart attack, and I still had a stroke and a heart attack. So there you go. A lot of good it's done me.

But I digress.

All too soon, this body
will lie on the ground
               cast off,
bereft of consciousness,
like a useless scrap
               of wood.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of happy Buddhists and I admire them, I want to be like them, and I pay attention to what they say and do. And you know what? The really, truly happy Buddhists never talk about how happy they are. They don't have to because you can see it for yourself.

Happiness is just like any other feeling, it comes and goes. Anyone who says they are happy are lying. Because to be aware of your happiness means to kill your happiness. Consider the basics of meditation: when thoughts or feelings arise, you pay attention to them and observe them rather than indulge them, and when you observe them, they go away, the mind settles. So as soon as you acknowledge your happiness, you just killed the buzz.

Real happiness, the "Buddhisty" type of happiness is a happiness you never think about. It's just there, like the shadow that never leaves.

Give me a miserable Buddhist over a self-professed happy one any time. He or she will be the better teacher and companion than the halcyon Buddhist with his or her deluded saccharine silliness.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Why I don't own a gun

The last time I fired a weapon was almost 40 years ago. My decision to not ever fire a weapon again since has been resolute. A blog post I wrote nearly four years ago explains why. But there's a more fundamental reason for me to not own a gun.

Owning a gun means I have formulated the intention to kill. I may never kill anyone or anything while owning a gun, but the intention would be there, for why else would anyone own a gun?

First, let me clarify something. I do not begrudge people who hunt, nor do I view them with any form of disdain, and nor will I attempt to take their opportunities to hunt away from them. Having said that, hunting involves killing, regardless of the purpose, or, more precisely, the intent. The Buddha teaches that nothing occurs without consequence - "when this is, that is ... when this isn't, that isn't" - and that all actions are preceded by an intention. This is the core of his teaching on kamma.

But while kamma has everything to do with cause and effect, it is not linear; rather, it's more like loops of feedback that occur in our lives because we always have the opportunity to eliminate our kamma with the creation of every new intention and subsequent action. The Buddha's teaching about The Salt Crystal is pertinent here. As the Buddha teaches, if you put a teaspoon of salt into a glass of water, the water will taste salty; but if you put a teaspoon of salt into the Ganges, the water will not taste salty. So a single act within the greater context of your lifetime - or multiple lifetimes - holds negligible consequence because of all the other actions you can take to "dilute" the salt's presence.

That's important to remember, that we can "dilute" our actions, but we can never eliminate what has already happened; the salt does not disappear, it just cannot be tasted.

Hunting, to me, is like the teaspoon of salt in a river, but even that depends on the reasons behind why a person hunts. A person who hunts to provide food for his or her family creates kamma different from the person who hunts for sport.

Killing another person? That's a tablespoon of salt in a glass of water. Even with saying that, however, all homicides are not equal and the kamma created will be as varied as the intention behind the act. The point is, no one is immune from the consequences of killing, regardless of intent.

Which is why I will not own a firearm. Particularly a handgun. There is no other purpose for a handgun other than to kill another human. Even if self-defense, owning a handgun is done with full knowledge that it may be used to kill another person. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding him or herself.

And this is why I believe that Michael Dunn is guilty of murder, plain and simple. I have seen some comments on Twitter following the jury's verdict wondering how difficult it will become in the future to prove intent behind premeditated murder when it comes to self-defense. For me it's quite simple. Michael Dunn had formed the intention to kill someone long ago, and I suspect his intention was to specifically kill a black youth. All Dunn was waiting for was the right opportunity.

That is why I will not own a firearm of any kind.

A person unknowing:
the actions performed by him,
born of greed, born of aversion,
& born of delusion,
whether many or few,
are experienced right here:
               no other ground is found.

So a monk, knowing,
greed, aversion, & delusion;
giving rise to clear knowledge, he
all bad destinations.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

We're here, we're queer, we're here to help you

Duality in Buddhism is a common concept, one you can find references to regardless of vehicle. It's also one of those Buddhist concepts that gets misused, is misunderstood, and which can easily lead the unskilled into dangerous complacency.

I mean, seriously, I'm sorry that my eyes roll whenever I hear someone pontificate that, "Like, there's no wrong or right, you know? Those are just false concepts that are forced by a society that wants to, like, control you. You know?"

Gnarly, dude.

On the one hand, the idea that duality is a false concept in most of our experience is right on. Jim Wilson in his essay for the second volume of Queer Dharma provides a really nice explanation of duality and how it's a fabrication tenuously held together by a collective acceptance that it exists. Wilson, in his essay "Practicing Buddhism As A Gay Man," uses the former "border" between East and West Germany to illustrate his point. For year's, the world accepted the duality there was an East Germany and a West Germany. Then one day, there was one Germany. Where did the line go? Was it even there except in our minds? For one period of time, the world agreed there were two Germanies, then one day, the world agreed there was one Germany.

Just like that.

Something a little more difficult for many to grasp is the notion of race and precisely how fluid it really is. In her excellent recent article in Salon, "The History White People Need to Learn," Mary-Alice Daniel reveals that even the idea of "white people" hasn't always been clearly defined as a separate race. In fact, it wasn't until people with white skin started to encounter with greater frequency people with skin other than white did "whites" perceive a need to collectively identify themselves as "white." Prior to that, races were divided according to nationalities (another fabrication, I know): For example, the Germans were a race different from the Italians, who were different from the Celts, etc.

So, yes, race is a construct, a creation of mind. Having said that, there is a problem with being too ready to accept that as the way things are. Saying this is the way things are is not the same as seeing things as the way things are, and, frankly, I am skeptical when I hear Buddhists, in particular white Buddhists, say that. It makes one lazy, providing an excuse to be unmotivated to tackle the real issues surrounding such "theoretical constructs" like race, gender, and sexuality in our sanghas.

Wilson's essay is exceptional for another reason beyond the way he describes the concept of dualism, and that is the role lesbigay practitioners play in disrupting the dualism surrounding gender identity.

"Because gay men, and other sexual minorities, do not fall within the categories of how the mind has structured male and female, the presence of gay men, simply by that presence, calls into question the dualistic consciousness upon which that division rests. I believe this goes a long way towards explaining why the presence of gay men provokes strong hostility from many people."

Just by showing up we completely disrupt long-held notions of not just sexuality, but gender roles - we turn them on their head! And just when some people think they've figured out the idea of gay and straight, we turn things upside down again with transgendered people, asexual people, and whatever amorphous method of gender and sexual orientation we can come up with. It freaks people out because some folks obsess themselves with why there's an apparent obsession over gender identification. The amazing thing is that this is nothing new, there's always been those who do not conform to the duality of male and female and the roles thereby assigned. Only now are people willing to say something about it and demand acceptance of their existence.

And even though race has always been somewhat fluid, it's become even more fluid as people are no longer accepting limited categorizations based on skin color. No, we are Hispanic black or Asian brown or Latino mulatto or whatever. On one hand there are those who say, "stop all this nonsense! These are all just theoretical constructs!" But on the other hand, forcing the recognition of these differences pushes people out of their comfort zones, which had successfully insulated them from engaging other human beings as they are without first compartmentalizing them into easily recognized boxes of existence.

It can seem like alphabet soup out there when we talk about race, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexuality. And it's understandable that it can be frustrating. But so what? It becomes a problem only under two circumstances.

One is when others push back against this process of self-identification. The reason for pushing back is defensive and selfish because these "new" labels disrupt and challenge previously held sacred beliefs about who and what people are. Such self-identification also challenges the power structure that remains largely under the control of straight white males, both in and out of the various Buddhist communities.

The other is when people present a facade that they are beyond prejudice and privilege by retreating to the position that these are all fabrications that we just need to relinquish. Because such a position is not letting go; the fabrication is, in fact, retained and strengthened into an even more-secure delusion.

And besides, our Buddhist precepts demand that we do this. The Fourth Precept encourages us to refrain from lying. Ignoring our personal identities would be a violation of the precept. As everyone one of us now out of the closet knows, denying our sexual identity is to relegate ourselves to a personal hell. Coming out is freedom, it's liberation, and Buddhism is all about liberation.

So yeah, we're here, we're queer, and we're here to help you.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Tumbling over privilege

My re-imersion into the Buddhist blogosphere, I'm afraid, is going to make people uncomfortable. Particularly white people. And I hope it does. But I ask of you, even beg of you, to persist, to stay with me as I examine the topics I've been pondering the most of late. Whether it's about race or queer identity, I will always attempt to provide a Buddhist framework, or at least a framework based upon my own experience with Buddhism and from my own reading of Buddhist texts.

And when I say "Buddhist texts," I'm not talking about some book by some popular Rinpoche or a San Francisco Zen master. I mean the Tipitika. Because the bottom line is even what some popular Rinpoche or San Francisco Zen master writes must hold up when compared with the Tipitika.

It's not just other people that I expect to make uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable myself. And frankly, I think that's a good thing. Because when we become aware of our personal discomfort and we are willing to explore the source of that discomfort, real learning and understanding takes place.

You can't learn anything new if you think you already know everything. The polarization of American politics should be evidence enough of that (not that the polarization within American politics is anything new, really; American politics has been polarized since the Constitution was first ratified).

Recently I started a new Tumblr blog that I call "Arf, She Said." When you first examine it, you might think there's no fixed theme to the items, mostly photos and animated GIFs, I post there. But there is. And when I launched this new Tumblr, I began following some other Tumblrs that more specifically relate to race (others tangentially).

It was via one of these Tumblrs that I came to read this article. A particular line from the article jumped at me.

"In conversations about race, I’ve frequently tried and failed to express the idea that whiteness is a social construct."

And I was like, "Yes, yes!" And I know that many of you reading this are also saying, "Yes, yes!" But the trouble is the reason why I am saying "Yes, yes!" is very different from the reason why some of you are saying the same thing.

When I read those words, it was like a giant ball and chain swung with such momentum and striking me in the chest, obliterating my sense of being. But that's exactly what needs to happen. Sitting on a cushion while contemplating beguiling notions such as "race is just a fabrication" doesn't help anyone at all. Clinging to such a notion is, bluntly put, a form of mental masturbation designed to give you momentary pleasure at how awesome a person you are. All that does is distance yourself from confronting the fabrication you carry around with you every where you go and exude like a plume of noxious gas every time you take a breath: Your privilege.

"Well, you sanctimonious little shit."

For many of you the initial reaction you'll have is I'm labeling you an awful person, and you'll likely retort that you're a very sympathetic white person who reads the right articles and votes for the right people and policies and thinks the right thoughts. In fact, you'll probably get angry with me, feel like I've just personally attacked you. That's not what I'm saying at all. Frankly, if the Buddha has taught us anything, you're just not that special to have such a self-centered reaction.
This thing is I am very sympathetic to your reaction. You still need to get over it. Just like I do. Everyday I discover how I act under the cloak of privilege and repeatedly vow to avoid it next time, but there I am, doing it again. As Ministry sings, the mind is a terrible thing to taste, and this is all about the mind.

The Buddha's words to the young and bright Brahman Assalayana show how resistant the mind can be to the privilege it creates. I wrote about this in a previous post, but you can read the entire sutta here. When the Buddha contradicted the Brahman premise, as presented by Assalayana, that it is the superior caste and all other castes are "dark", the teenaged Brahman does not disagree with the Buddha's answer, but repeats every time that this is a difficult concept for the Brahmans to grasp. There are other links within that post that are applicable to race and racism.

I don't expect all my posts to be about white privilege and race, but a good many will. This is where I am, and this is how I'm using my practice to investigate.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Buddhist privilege

"A bhikkhu who has left behind all action,
Shaking off the dust of former deeds.
The stable one, unselfish, steady,
Has no need to address people."

I used the "find a random sutta" function at Access to Insight, and this is where I landed. It's ironic because for a while I have been frustrated with self-professed Buddhists who far too frequently share what I view to be a rather elitist attitude.

Particularly when it comes to issues such as race and sexuality. And recognizing the risk in me saying this, I find that it's most often white people who express unconsciously (and I do believe that for the most part it is unconscious) this elitism in their Buddhist practice.

But the danger within this elitism is indifference. The above passage, the Kamma Sutta from The Udana, I believe feeds this notion of indifference.

"Are you saying the Buddha was wrong?" "Are you saying Buddhism is elitist?" "Are you suggesting I lack compassion?"

These are often the responses I get whenever I bring such matters up. It's a defensive reflex because most of us don't want to think of ourselves as being, well, wrong.

But if you're a lay practitioner and you think the above passage represents what Buddhism is all about, then I say, yes, you are wrong.

The Buddha had a wide variety of audiences. He was also extraordinarily skilled at speaking to his various audiences in ways that allowed his listeners to hear what they needed to hear.

In the Kamma Sutta, we are reading about a monk deep in meditation confronting the physical pain he's experiencing while sustaining his meditative state - undisturbed and persistent. It is something this monk faces on his own, there can be no others to lead him on this journey. The very nature of this journey requires one to remove oneself from the distractions of lay society. A monk in these circumstances does not need anyone else, has no need to address other people.

But that's a monk. And I doubt I have more than just a few monks among my readers. The majority of you are like me - lay people struggling to do our best to be as harmless as possible.

The Buddha was not speaking to us in the Kamma Sutta. We can listen to what he is saying here, but it must be with skillful ears. Because I am not a monk, have no intention of becoming a monk, I must live in this world. I cannot become withdrawn from this world because that would make me indifferent to the suffering of others.

I need to feel the world.

And this is why I become frustrated with people who say things with intellectual import such as, "Race is a fabrication, a construct that is empty." They say this with a conviction that this is how we become a non-racial society, how we go beyond racism - just keep repeating that it's only a construct of the mind and all we need to do is realize that and it goes away.

It doesn't work like that. Because racism and homophobia and sexism and patriarchy and white privilege are all real. They are real because not enough people are willing (or don't know how) to dismantle the institutions that sustain them, because not enough people recognize how they benefit from the continuing existence of these institutions, because too many Buddhists view the practice as an academic exercise rather than a way of living and thinking.

And breathing.

It's been a long time since I've written anything in this blog. There are many reasons why, some of which remain hidden from me. But I am going to ease myself back into this. I hope I can regain some of my irreverent wit that made my blog enjoyable for others to read. I know I enjoyed it.

The reason I started this blog was I wanted an open venue to process my journey with Buddhism, to share my thoughts and experiences from a somewhat different perspective that I thought might not just benefit me, but others also. I wanted it to be fun and not pedantic.

I'll get there. It's time I come back. So look out bitches.