Monday, February 26, 2007

Accidental Dharma

I'm trying to remember the exact phrase from yesterday's sangha, our Sunday sitting group. Than Geoff, our teacher, has this idea for an article, or possibly a book, about "accidental dharma"--the kind of dharma that occurs to all of us, if we're awake to it, at the most unlikely moments in our lives. I'm not sure that I have the right word--my short-term memory is unreliable these days--but, to use an art term, I understand it to be a kind of "found" dharma, even perhaps, more often than we would like, an "unwanted" dharma--the kind the jumps up and hits us in the face when we'd much rather have gone on with our otherwise comfortable lives. Anyway, we heard that Than Geoff is thinking of a collection of examples, and were encourged to help him out with our own experiences.

In my experience, when I think about it, it's all dharma. Take for example that moment a breakfast, a couple of days ago, at one of our local sidewalk cafes. I was sitting there with George while Ellie was inside putting in our order when I caught a glimpse of this sweet young couple... Later, at home, I wrote down this brief account. It's called, "So Young."

So Young

So I see this
sweet young pair
maybe twenty at
most, so reed
slim, so young, so
in love, they can

barely keep hands
from each other;
I watch them
quietly from where
I sit with my double
latte thinking there
was a once day
when some grey-
bearded seventy
something sat in
my place, with his
coffee, gazing
at me and my then
beloved thinking,
here is this sweet
young pair, maybe
twenty at most, so
reed slim, so very
young, so in love
they can barely
keep hands from
each other. And
thinking that man
who sat there at
that very moment,
watching, can now
no longer be with
us, at least not
in the form in
he then existed.

So what's a budding Buddhist to say about the Oscars? All that glitz and glamor? All that extravagance? All that wealth... those million-dollar, diamond-encrusted shoes? And all that flesh? I watched it. Did you? Betcha did.

First thought: it's easy to condemn such displays of material excess and self-congratulation, especially in the light of a world full of hunger, and violence, and abject poverty; and a world, of course, that we are in the process of destroying to support our common, exploitative greed. The Oscars represent conspicuous consumption at its worst. It's as easy to condemn, then, as the pomp and extravagance of the Catholic Church, say, in the Vatican--or indeed of those gold-encrusted Buddhist shrines. It does seem like a blatant contradiction, to be indulging in this kind of ostentation at the upper echelons, while at the same time extolling the virtues of simplicity and self-denial to the flock.

And yet... I watched. As did a billion other human beings, spellbound by the spectacle of celebrities celebrating each other's celebrity. So then it comes down to accidental dharma. What's the teaching? That it's all karma? That some of us are granted apparent privilege in life, for reasons we can never know, whilst others grovel? That we aspire to the privilege that we imagine others to enjoy? That behind the facade of glamor, likely, hides as much suffering as the rest of us experience in our lives? That everything, including privilege, is ephemeral? That privilege brings with it both responsibilities and dangers, if we are to believe that our actions bring inevitable consequences? Certainly, if we do subscribe to this belief, we must take special care that our actions carry the full weight of intention, that we act in consciousness of consequences...

Okay, I'll confess that I'm a bit bewildered by all this, my thoughts a bit scattered, as was my morning meditation. Perhaps there's just too much stuff here, too much mud in the water to find the clarity. Did you watch the Oscars? I'd love to hear what other thought the teaching was... if any.


David said...

The really good news at the Oscars this year, or at least my interpretation (tell me what you think), is that Gore is going to run for President. All that joking around about it seemed like a tease for an upcoming announcement. I'm hoping for a Gore/Obama ticket.

Anonymous said...

karma or dharma?
Collecting himself while fighting back tears, Forest reminisced about his childhood. “When I was a kid, the only way I saw movies was from the back seat of my family's car at the drive-in,” he began. “It wasn't my reality to think I would be acting in movies. So, receiving this honor tonight tells me it is possible for a kid from East Texas, raised in South Central L.A. and Carson, who believes in his dreams, commits himself to them with his heart, to touch them and to have them happen.”

carly said...

P: I can tell you a smidgen of what Lao Tzu said of the subject. He said the superior man, the sage, leaves fame to others. It is important to finish one's task and accomplish the work without seeking credit for it.

Actors are not sages. We should remember that an Oscar is worth twelve million dollars. From the beginning, the whole thing is a publicity event to increase sales, mostly in DVDs. It's a fitting spectacle for a materialist society.

On the documentary channel last night was a well known war and social photog, James Nachtwey. He said with the devotion to celebrity in our culture, he can't get pictures of world disasters into the media anymore. (But they will watch it in a theater where it has desensitized them.)

Some of it is love of story-telling. All of it is something for the masses to focus on besides their own lives. We must live with it, because you can't argue with that kind of success.

On the upside, films are getting better and deeper in social consciousness. Ever since Dustin Hoffman was The Graduate, my life has been increased by that genre of film. Examples: Little Miss Sunshine. and Forest Whittaker.

Fortunately, most great film actors are humbly working hard at making better films, Tom Cruise excluded. And writers and directors who make a deeper story are getting better reaction than the action boys, who are only getting rich. We can't do away with violence and pablum in a free world, unfortunately. That is our frustration to live with. It gives us the blues. The ostentatiousness of royalty is another symptom that we are only partly civilized.

But the blues and the passion they bring, give us character. Which might have something to do with dharma.

carly said...

correcion: that's 12 million automatic actor fee increase, and many many more in DVD sales.

Nigel said...

Hi Peter,

I think that a good Buddhist response to the Oscars would be a question that Ayya Khema asked on of her students: "Are you still trying to find happiness in Samsara?"


PeterAtLarge said...

David, sorry, I don't see Gore running for President. I wish he would. I wish we'd had him when we elected him. The world would look a whole lot different now.

Glad to have those other thoughts on the Oscars. Food for thought. Thanks, all. Cheers, PaL

David said...

Peter, you may be right, and I can certainly think of many reasons that he might not want the job. But I don't know, something about the tone of last night's kidding around has me hopeful. We'll see.

carly said...

Peter: Nigel's point brings up one of the sad things about Buddhism, exclusivity based on erudition - and it sends you running to Wikipedia about three times a sentence. You must have a good memory and there are so many variations it compounds and confounds the point.

In samsara, it appears that to be a Buddhist, one MUST believe in re-incarnation.

Wiki...Samsara-In most Indian philosophical traditions, including the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikhism and Jain systems, an ongoing cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is assumed as a fact of nature. These systems differ widely, however, in the terminology with which they describe the process and in the metaphysics they use in interpreting it. Most of these traditions, in their evolved forms, regard Saṃsāra negatively, as a fallen condition which is to be escaped. Some, such as Advaita Vedanta regard the world and Saṃsāric participation in it as fundamentally illusory.
Some later adaptations of these traditions identify Saṃsāra as a mere metaphor.

In some types of Hinduism, Saṃsāra is seen as ignorance of the True Self, Brahman, and thus the soul is led to believe in the reality of the temporal, phenomenal world.
In Hinduism, it is avidya, or ignorance, of one's true self, that leads to ego-consciousness of the body and the phenomenal world. This grounds one in desire and the perpetual chain of karma and reincarnation. The state of illusion is known as Maya.

PK said...

It's been many moons since I've watched the Oscars.. sorry not into it. There were too many good shows on PBS. I am happy for those who have thier names called, but the waste of time it takes to watch it... Just to hear the same thing over and over again. I saw that Helen, on the news, was the only one who was I'll bet the Queen loved that one...