Monday, November 19, 2007

Mea Culpa

What a joy to be back in our little Laguna Beach sangha yesterday, after what seemed like weeks of absence. I guess it was probably no more than two weeks, but the mind does play tricks with time, doesn't it? The hour's sit, for example, seemed yesterday like an unusually long hour. But that's all it was. An hour... Such a pleasure, though, to be back with those good friends and fellow meditators. The post-sit discussion started off with a reading from a book I had received just the day before, Ken McLeod's "An Arrow to the Heart," a commentary on the (to me!) ever enigmatic Heart Sutra. More of this when I've had the opportunity to spend some time with the book...

In the meantime, I have been stewing some over Carly's response to my "Bumper Sticker" entry. He disapproved: "It's so out of the mainstream and unanswerable," he wrote, "it invites people to think Prius owners are a bit kooky. Sorry." In a subsequent, unposted communication, he was more detailed. I'm sure he won't mind my sharing some of it with you.

"As I said," he wrote, in part, "it is very far out of the mainstream of your intended audience, therefore unanswerable and has an obscure tone, which does not invite introspection, but rather rejection.

"It was not your intention, but says, 'I know something you don't.'

"Because a Prius is already a statement itself, it says, "I know, or care more than you do, driving a conventional car.

"Because it is a religious statement, it says, 'My god is better than what you believe.' Or, 'My god is better than your god.'

"Because it is an obscure religion, it bolsters any opinion of how snobby religious people are.

"It is a very Leo thing to do because Leos are well-known to be egocentric. And Buddha is a brand which is worn with pride. As is Prius. The pride of the Lion.

"And because it's divisive, it doesn't conform with Buddhist ideals. Nor is it worthy of a sage."

To all of which my first response is to get defensive. (He's right: I am a Leo!) I recognize that instinctive tightening of the gut, that flash of anger. I responded to his email to the effect that he was taking me too seriously, that I had intended it as something of a joke. In a word, I tried to shrug it off.

But then of course the next realization is that there is a deeper truth in what he says--otherwise, why should I be defensive? I do not aspire to sagehood, nor would I wish to be held up to that standard. But in some real sense it is quite un-Buddhist to declare, however subtly, the superiority of one's beliefs and practices.

I do not plan to remove that sticker from my rear end just yet. I will tote it around with me for a while, to see what else it has to teach me. Meantime, thanks to Carly for not buying into my comfortable bullshit. What would Buddha do? What he wouldn't do, I think, is put a bumper sticker on his car. Even if it was a Prius. Well, Carly's right again: especially if it was a Prius.


thailandchani said...

Actually, I had some of the same thoughts but didn't want to post them. Thanks for addressing this. It could be quite a discussion, taken to its logical extension. It's not so much about a bumper sticker... or a car... but about suffering and a real understanding of that.

Can someone from an obviously privileged background ever come to really understand suffering?

Buddha left privilege behind for enlightenment.

Just a few thoughts...

PeterAtLarge said...

... and good ones, too. Thank you, Chani. The extension you suggest is a challenging and a troubling one. One thing I believe, though is this: that one person's suffering in this life cannot easily be compared to--or diminished by--another's. The Buddha did leave privilege--a difficult challenge for those of us who enjoy a measure of it. This is a topic for a great deal of discussion...

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I would like to see a society in which we didn't automatically assess someone's position in the world based on how expensive his car is. Unrealistic, I know.

That said, I don't believe that adhering to a particular set of beliefs requires that we precisely emulate the lifestyles of Buddha, Jesus, or Whoever.

If we can assimilate their messages of compassion for others, we need not live in poverty to avoid hypocrisy.

The world continually changes technologically and we are people of our own time and place, but the important human values endure.

thailandchani said...

I don't think we have to wear sack cloth and ashes to understand compassion.. but an awareness of how most of the world lives is essential, in my opinion.

Peter, I agree. It would be a good topic of discussion.


Okay. No more messages from me today. I can't get past the word verification. It is obscuring the letters.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

i think that if there were more widespread awareness of how most of the world lives, as Chani suggests, there might also be more compassion.

It's too easy to remain blissfully unaware so that we are not called upon by our own standards of decency to DO anything.

Cardozo said...

I agree that awareness is key.

Lately I am finding Krishnamurti to be applicable to almost any ethical situation.

He wrote that "it is only when we inquire into the significance of the values which society and religion have placed about us that we begin to find out what is true."

What is it about our society that prevents our being aware of the disconnect between our values and our actions? What must be done to bring about a different result?

Illini Alum said...

I think that we are all aware, but we can't cope with the incredible responsibility of acknowledging the suffering that goes on in the world.

So we shut off our minds to that suffering and focus instead on our more immediate environment...the little tragedies that are going on all around us.