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My Bowl Can't Hold A 401k

The urge to participate in capitalism arose one day; I think it was fall, dying leaves falling to the ground and all of us monks trying to corral them onto muddy paths. They make a nice mud stifling mat for our paths at Tassajara.

My inlaws have an aging parent who lives in a retirement facility and needs support from many of the kids. I thought of how hard that might be, and how it’s unlikely I’ll be able to help my parents in that way.

It brought two questions to the foreground: Who do I think will take care of me when I’m 90 and what will I offer my parents when they’re 90?

Cue up this image: Me in a dentist chair getting a twice root canaled tooth with a yearlong abscess finally extracted. The dentist worked up a sweat, as the tooth broke into 4 pieces. What could I do in that moment to help him? Well, I tried to be as still and “cool” as possible. I silently recited the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo for protecting life. And I tried to talk my tooth into letting go while it felt like he was hammering my skull. I also said goodbye to my tooth and expressed gratitude for how helpful it’s been, chomping up almonds and picking up the slack for the other side of the mouth which is also missing a molar.

I think, what I can do for my parents is lean in to their suffering. And what I can do for myself is lean in to my suffering. When my tooth was being pulled it wasn’t so bad. But when I went back to my life, back to the Zendo, back to fixing sinks, all of a sudden I had a different story. I thought the pain was over and wasn’t reciting some ancient chant for the sake of my life, just ready to move on. But pain was the flavor of the moment.

Maybe it really is a magic chant, or maybe chanting was just a way for me to engage the experience, who can say?

I think there’s all kinds of relevant premises here, like, who asks us to rake up the leaves anyway? I see piles of leaves and start raking but that’s me asking me. I don’t think I need to let the leaves go unraked, but I do need to acknowledge I’m projecting a story onto their “death.” I enter that story as the one who will take care of them. And it’s not really for the leaves sake.

So far, I’m pretty sure capitalism is a thing not to do, and am happy that I divested five years ago. I just can’t square pushing the cost of production down, the cost of the product up, while the producer can barely afford what they’re producing, and global “opportunities” turn the rust belt of America even rustier, while deforesting, de-culturing, and indebting a hopeful emerging “middle-class.” Why, so I can count on a check for the rest of my life?

Instead I aspire to rely on Buddha’s bowl and a thrifty sense of just enough. Also, I want to make the vow to trust the sangha, that they take good care of me now, and that’s where I really live. And despite being handy with my hands, I do know how to teach middle school and high school, and could probably do that until 85 if the sangha can't support me. Depends, I guess.


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