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Vimalakirti and Google

A conversation started about Google and the Wisdom 2.0 conference and the protest that popped up. I’ve been reading along, commenting here and there, and otherwise feeling at a loss because I sense something is still missing from the contributions that have informed my personal response. It’s dirt. Rich soil and water. And sunshine. Maybe snow, too. I'm feeling the pain of having a conversation that addresses all the causes and conditions. You might see what I have to offer as macro solution, but actually I see it as the most simple, micro solution, the easiest solution (you don't need a degree or money or to be enlightened!). It starts with what was under all that concrete anyway?

I met with my big dharma brother who is very different from me. His wife actually teaches mindfulness training for Google, so I went to him with the spirit of receiving a view that wasn’t easy for me access within myself.

I did my bows and told him my woes- how I felt that mindfulness, or meditation, or anything stripped away from traditions that include ethics and practice, faith and accountability, seemed wrong. I said that Samadhi divorced from ethics and practice was as dangerous as uranium. I referring to the 1,000 stitch belts of Kamakazi pilots of the Imperial Japanese. I was referring to the order to “Shoot bullets from the heart of emptiness.”

And my big dharma brother brought fourth Licchavi Vimalakirti, the business men of business men, who said:

“I’m sick because sentient beings are sick.”

And that’s how I feel about this conversation about mindfulness, Google, and Wisdom 2.0. I’d like to address some of the premises that some of the identified factions of this conversation operate on.

First, the evicted working class and all the people who work to support the infrastructure of San Francisco but can’t afford to live there or resort to living in areas of violence and depression.

Let’s free the scapegoat (Google) and say “Techie” for one faction. When I say techie, I mean someone who works in the industry of all things digital and makes at least 80,000 a year.

Let’s identify the teachers of mindfulness who also pull a profit for teaching for these tech companies.

Let’s identify the City of San Francisco and how it’s pandering to tech dollars.

Let’s identify the protesters of Wisdom 2.0 who are endowed with white privilege and ask the hard question what are the causes and conditions that support you to protest? (support me to protest.)

And let’s not forget my mother who would appreciate if I got a “good” job or my 18 year old brother who lives in rural north eastern Pennsylvania who told me that Google would be the best company ever to work for, who’s off to Penn State next year.

Let’s identify me, a well taken care of religious type by everyone other faction I mentioned. Everyone I listed above in some way takes care of me at Green Gulch. I am deeply grateful and may I practice hard while you all face the traffic and pollution of the world. May you come visit, may you move in!

And let's just bow to the myriad causes and conditions that we can't name, to the perception as deception that allows us to deal in names.

When I read the various blogs (Dangerous Harvests, BuddhistPeace Fellowship, and American Buddhist Perspective) I could see fingers pointing at patriarchy, racism, and capitalism, but I couldn’t find any dirt; there was no mention of ecocide, no mention that one major component of this machine that drives rent up, that births inequality is a city itself, civilization itself. I’ve heard many reasonable suggestions to solve the gentrification problem, but I want to argue that because we sentient beings are so divorced from dirt, rich soil, we can’t see that a city in and of itself is a source of gentrification on a massive level for newts, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, and salmon, and, and, and. I don't mean to swing the spotlight and turn an eye from the suffering of the people, but I mean to reify that biodiversity is like this; once the little newts were out of the way, who did we think were next? Every species is an indicator species. 

I mean to dig at the roots and pause from hacking at the branches; I'll still hack at the branches because that's just my DNA, but every once and a while I want to talk about the roots some more. 

What could I suggest?

It’s like when Sariputra entered Vimalakirti’s house and said:

 “ There’s not a chair in here, where will all the bodhisattvas sit?”

And Vimalakirti said, “Did you come here for a chair or to hear the true dharma?”

 How do we address gentrification? What do I want to add to this conversation? I felt a lump in my throat. It was the same lump that came up when our community brought up water conservation for this summer and talked about short showers and double stacking our dishes.

The lump in my throat is: Did you come here to de-gentrify a city, or are you open to the idea of no more cites? No more trucked in food, no more food deserts, no more cell phone towers killing birds, giving human rare and strange conditions, no more carpooling, no more cars, no more solar panels, no more showers, no more funding for your non-profit, no more jobs. 

I can already hear my friends, “But your sacrificing the good for the perfect!” and I might say I’m thankful we still have an earth to gentrify, because we might not have it for much longer.

I can hear my acquaintances (cus my friends already know) “Well, YOU don’t live that way.” But I did, for a short 6 months, in negative 30 degree weather, on ten gallons of water a week- and that was actually more than I needed.

Why aren’t I doing it now? I was so damn lonely! But in a way, when I sit in on conversations like this, I still feel lonely. And how long can a human survive loneliness? The coldness of loneliness puts frostbite on the heart.

Maybe when you hear me talk about no more this and no more that you imagine some bleak existence. I’ll try and express what’s there instead when life is stripped down; there’s us! Practice continues. The pleasure of planting and digging potatoes is amazing. Sleeping so tired is amazing. Seeing stars free from light pollution is amazing. That me and you can do it is amazing. That we’ll be born, suffer, live, and die, is amazing.
We don’t need an app to be human, it’s so built in. Even if you’re sitting there saying, “Hell no!” I’m not digging potatoes, I double dog dare you not smile as you find a plump purple majesty under the earth, buried in all shapes and sizes like dinosaur eggs of maximum calories. And we'll listen to the salmon splashing in the creek.

So, I hope you check out the other blogs, and I’m not offering what I wrote here as better or in confrontation to. Obviously, people are more likely to try what they suggested. 

I sign of with something Vimalakirti taught and I aspire to embody:

Vimalakirti continued, "Reverend Shariputra, he who is interested in the Dharma
is not interested even in his own body, much less in a chair. Reverend
Shariputra, he who is interested in the Dharma has no interest in matter,
sensation, intellect, motivation, or consciousness. He has no interest in these
aggregates, or in the elements, or in the sense-media. Interested in the Dharma,
he has no interest in the realm of desire, the realm of matter, or the immaterial
realm. Interested in the Dharma, he is not interested in attachment to the
Buddha, attachment to the Dharma, or attachment to the Sangha."


  1. The human brain doubled in the blink of an evolutionary eye, which is extraordinary growth for any organ.

    True, there's a hard rain beginning to fall. Breadlines in Venezuela, rice stocks southeast Asia. I can feel it catching up to me, us.

    The notion that we could control and tinker with the environment inline with a paradigm that promised exponentially limitless growth without end on a finite planet. This was the grandest delusion of all, and now the tall fall.

    But consider the massive evolutionary jump in empathy that the unsustainable population boom has enabled. We are all rabbits, and a more limited/deluded perspective on the matter.

  2. Deep bows, dharma brother! I would say that in light of non-discrimination, accepting that the status quo is the status quo without necessarily settling for it. Given that going "back to the land" is a utopian ideal, what can we do to make the lives of the gentrified as free of struggle as the gentry? (And that's not just a rhetorical question, it's a sincere one). For me, there are some companies I don't patronize. There are some foods I don't consume. And I belong to a local sangha so that I can help spread the dharma, and if I can't personally save _all_ sentient beings in one shot, then perhaps one of the folks that I introduce to the practice will take up the slack.


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