Wednesday, February 26, 2014

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."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Studying, Way Seeking Mind, and The Path

There are maps and there is your compass. My dad taught me never to go into the woods without a compass, even if you think you know the trail. These maps and this compass will help me navigate, but they are not the mountain or the path, not the deep red manzanita trees growing on Mt. Tam. I think dharma and practice are like this.

For instance, we sell maps of Mt. Tam:

Mt. Tam overlooking Green Gulch

These maps are made with the best intention and updated regularly by the park service. However, how many times have I been out there to find that this trail is grown over, this trail is closed, this trail cannot be found? So mapping the path and walking the path are two entirely different things. And it's only with my compass that I can sort of feel the ground beneath me. Sutras and way seeking mind are like this. 

When I open a sutra my heart floats above the spacious pages, the concepts, the poetry. The excitement for exploration meeting the promise for what lay beyond the pages can be down right intoxicating. I have to admit, I spend more time looking at maps than I do hiking. I have to admit that sometimes the sutra obscures what's really alive for me. But the compass is true! 

If you have a compass, or way seeking mind, you're in good shape. You can't get lost in a compass the way you can in a map. The compass lives in a footstep, the way seeking mind lives in a footstep or the page turning. Despite what the map says, you have to check in to make sure you're due north.

Maps can seem like they conflict and same is for sutras. Some people say that The Lankavatara is harder to study than The Lotus Sutra, but I say no! No comparison, really. While The Lankavatara is going to test your patience with the salt of emptiness, The Lotus Sutra is going to gorge you on the rice of parables, skillful means, and faith based practice.

The Lankavatara tested everything that I thought I knew about dharma. For example, how long did I spend studying the twelve fold chain of caustion, trying to let events, people, ideas be free from their attributes while acknowledging, if not trying to examine, the arising of causes and conditions? Then you turn the page of The Lankavatara to read about The Forbearance of Arising. There is no causation, there is no arising outside of the projection of mind. What a leap! I still can't believe it. So people say The Lankavatara is hard in this conceptual respect. They say the Three Modes of Reality and the Eight Levels of Conciousness are hard to unpack. It was difficult. But is it more difficult than The Lotus Sutra? 

When I read Chapter 15 Emerging From The Earth, this verse struck me:

Be diligent and of single mind
For the Buddha wishes to explain this affair
Have no doubts of regrets
The Buddha's wisdom is hard to fathom
Now you must put forth the power of faith
Abiding in patience and goodness
A dharma which has never been heard you all now be able to hear
Now the Buddha will bring you ease and consolation
Do not harbor doubts or fears
The Buddha has nothing but truthful words
His wisdom cannot be measured
This foremost Dharma which he has gained
is very profound
incapable of analysis
He will now expound it
Listen with a single mind.

What's hard about this is the way it flies in the face of the Zen teaching of no abode. Put forth the power of faith? Abide in patience and goodness? What would Chao-chou say about this? 

I don't know. I think he'd say keep your compass ready and remember it lives in the footstep. I take my compass and step forward into this promising sutra, wondering what Hakuin and Dogen loved so much about it. That Huangbo also liked it is encouraging. You know, it seems hard to avoid abiding a little in each footstep but what I think is important is that the foot is ready to lift making way for the next footstep. Abiding in non-abiding is some kind of abiding, I think. 

So maps and compasses aside, the path is what it is. Some days The Lanka, some days The Lotus, most days just these muddy fields while the ground ironically screams for water.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sick Face Buddha.

I spent over 24 hours with a fever of 102. The days leading up to sweat rolling through the ridges of my ribcage we feverish also, just I didn't know it. So I went to work, cut the grass in the kitchen garden, went home, and passed out in a sleeping bag. Not one dharmic thought came to mind. I tried to count my breaths, and what I heard was a sort of disgusting rattle. The rattle became easier and easier to make, shallower and shallower, until my breathing was just panting. 

After spending a hundred or so dollars on whatever Whole Foods could throw at my illness, I finally dumped 120 dollars on a prescription to tamaflu. 12 hours later, fever broke. I should mention that actually I did nothing, my partner Lauren did all of this, just asking me here in there if I concurred, and I'd grunt or nod or ask for another cold damp cloth. 

I came to about a day ago, although yesterday I woke up and went to Zazen and almost threw up during the 9 bows. A recurring urge to run kept me distracted as I tried to pay attention to the new role of Jisha I'll be taking up soon. 

I was so enthusiastic about being Jisha, about priest training, zen training, and this-Jisha- is one of the training roles, and where's my heart? Clouded. 

Lauren and I are feeling the crunch. For two years we've been attending to the schedule and the community. Green Gulch is about undergo a vast renovation and housing is crunched, so we are crammed into what would be reserved for one person. It's cute, except sometimes when you move your pillow you hit the lamp and break the light bulb. 

I don't know, I just don't know. Married monastics? Am I supposed to be sexy in this black robe? Am I supposed to change out of it into something smart and take my partner for a night on the town? 

What happened during that fever that made me feel crushed, so crushed I wanted out? I guess it started a while back. As I walked down our dark tree covered road I had two thoughts: what is it to be human and am I studying the self right now, this cranky self. 

To be honest, what I want today is some space. I want a room with a desk in it. I want my partner nearby, and I want her to have some space, too. And she can have a little car to go where she wants and I want a motorcycle, black and fast. How's that for practice?