Stories Without Narrators

-a dispatch from the grief process

BillOfMortality1Final

How Londoners Died in One Plague-Ridden Week in 1665

To be a spiritual warrior, one must have a broken heart; without a broken heart and the sense of tenderness and vulnerability that is in one’s self and all others, your warriorship is untrustworthy.

-Chögyam Trungpa

I think that applies to more than spiritual warriorship, which is a term I’m not particularly fond of, but I’ll get over it for the moment. If one is not or has never been vulnerable they can’t recognize that in others. There is no chance for empathy to develop. To be empathetic one has to be fairly tender. Without empathy there can be no compassion.

Vulnerability carries with it a peculiar kind of strength. When one is broken hearted, for whatever reason, there is really nothing more that can be done that could make one feel any worse. It’s an interesting position to be in. There’s nothing left to lose there. When there’s nothing left to lose there is nothing left to fear. From vulnerability comes the recognition and development of fearlessness. It is the fearlessness to look at who and what we are, where we are, what we are doing—ourselves as specific and collectively, to question why we are doing it and to ask if we could be doing it, living this life some other way—some way that recognizes human vulnerability, that broadens our concern for the wellbeing of our species and others, that teaches fearlessness born of vulnerability, which is not something to fear, and removes us from the tautological notion, “the only thing to fear is fear itself”.

Fearlessness as willingness to be vulnerable and broken hearted is not a lack of strength or some kind of surrender to passivity. Maybe that warrior metaphor isn’t as bad as I tend to think it is from this perspective. But neither is it aggression as we know warriorship to be, a kind of ridiculous heroism in which our egos are valorized.

The aggression would be the stupid kind of pretense of fearlessness that is done to evoke an adrenalin rush or to get attention. That’s not even fearlessness but playing with fear that continues to be present. People in those adrenalin situations are not even trying to lose their fear. Some people get almost addicted to that process. They become reckless adrenalin junkies, or attention junkies or whatever and there’s reality TV programs about them until they die or are horribly maimed and then they are pretty much forgotten. [see The Dark Side of Reality TV: 26 Tragic Deaths for some examples—note how many are suicides.]

Looking into the abyss seems like some kind of dare on a frivolous level. We make jokes about that Nietschean phrase all the time. When you hold it’s gaze and it looks back there are things to be learned. You look at you, you look at everything, everything is there. And nothing, at least nothing in the sense of something separate. We spend a good part of our lives trying not to notice that. Maybe even take some drugs or get lost in all the kinds of things one can take to the extreme. Sometimes we just have to stop and decide “fight or flight”. Do we stay with the experience, essentially fighting with ourselves or do we try to escape? A pretty heavy existential question. Pretty uncomfortable.

He is no longer here to experience this existence so I, and others who are a part of him, and who he is and always will be a part of, will experience this life for him in a way. We stand in for each other. We remember and forget ourselves in each other. We are all a collective identity. We are part of the identity of others and others are a part of the identity of us. Always in movement. We are part of the make up of the universe and the universe certainly is what comprises us, a universe of billion year old carbon.

Billion year old carbon.

Yeah we are stardust, though maybe not so golden.

The notion of radical individualism, the self-created entity, completely independent from material or ideal circumstances, is one of the biggest illusions out there. It walls us off from feeling all this and experiencing life. It’s what’s going to destroy this planet and humanity.

How is your billion year old carbon so different from my billion year old carbon?

Really.

How we all come and go,

On this little speck of dust in the universe.

In a flash.

How we have this one chance to realize it.

“I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember, we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?

~film maker Chris Marker from his movie Sans Soleil (Without Sun)


Here’s a little Joni, singing it in a slow jazz-almost bluesy style. Nice.

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Precisely the problem?

 

On Speculative non-Buddhism the post On Being an Irrelevant Dick, has the following lines in response to some bruhaha going on somewhere between status quo capitalist Buddhists and some others:

We know that ideas such as “right speech,””right action,” “compassion,” “non-reactivity,” “non-judgmentalism,” and so forth, play a significant role in x-buddhist discourse. A committed x-buddhist is precisely a person who has internalized such values–made them his/her own, uses them as a guide to proper thought, emotion, and action. The x-buddhist has done so, moreover, in a way that renders such values “unconscious.”They engender real-world response that is reflexive, in the same way that a trained craftsmen reaches for the right tool without giving it any conscious thought. The thinking, the knowledge, of what constitutes “the right tool” has been internalized to the point of unconscious reflexivity.”

This sums up many of the problems with x-Buddhism in the American convert sangha, maybe even points towards the precise and paramount one, though I think Glenn is being far too generous in using the craftsman analogy. A zombie analogy would be more appropriate often. The superficial ingesting of words and behavior, unquestioning, unthinking, playing the “good” Buddhist role by parroting words and acting behaviors without letting any of it sink in or really disrupt one’s comfort bubble.

Consider the discussion at Sex in the Sangha . . . Again or Misogyny and Sexual Assault are Still Missing Links in Conversations about Sangha Scandals or about a hundred others.

Systemic. Institutional. We can round up and crucify, or name and shame, or wring our hands in moral horror, or whatever regarding all the bad apples we want but it won’t make much difference if the rot is in the barrel itself.

Institutions and systems are made up of processes. These processes get codified—more in the unwritten rules, rituals, codes of behavior, habits and hidden agendas (include shadows in that) by the laziness of participants than in what is actually written down if anything is written down at all. Laziness in that once comfortably ensconced in an institution, it’s pretty easy to hand off control and thought and critique to that institution and simply become a piece of the machine.

Philosopher of social science, Daniel Little has a new post Culture change within an organization on his Understanding Society blog. It has to do with the workplace but much of what he writes can be equally applied to any institution. Here are a few directly relevant pieces of that though the entire post is worth a read.

The daily workings of an organization depend on the activities and behavior of the people who make it up (and those with whom it interacts). People have habits, expectations, ways of perceiving social situations, and behavioral dispositions in a range of stylized circumstances. Their habitual modes of behavior may conform better or worse to the official rules and expectations of behavior in the performance of their roles…

Within a Fordist understanding of organizations, these conflicts between habits of behavior and the official expectations of the organization can be resolved through supervision: non-conformist behavior can be identified and penalized…

Organizations involving the productive activities of well educated specialists need to rely on a high level of self-motivation and self-direction on the part of its workers. Therefore modern organizations need to encourage high level contributions to the organization’s goals through means other than close supervision and a code of penalties and rewards. This means finding ways of aligning the personal values of the worker with the goals and processes of the organization. The organization needs to create an environment of development and work in which the individual worker wants to achieve the key goals of the organization — rather than disregarding those goals to pursue his/her own agenda in the workplace…

Some of that persuasive environment in a sick institution can include undermining individuals, coercion, guilt, enforcing conformity at all costs, punishing outliers, etc. This leads an individual to self-doubt and unmoors moral anchors making them far more pliable parts of the machine. It’s cult like behavior that leads to insecurity and increases dependence on the institution by the individual. It’s co-dependence all the way down.

“Oh. Oh. Oh. Am I doing Buddhist right? Am I performing correctly? Am I policing others’ performances enough with my passive aggressive bullshit? Someone is freaking out—should I take that as a cue to froth up into a moral panic? Please please please someone tell me what to do because thinking about it on my own is too fucking hard. I might have to make an actual decision without the help of my television or pod cast or elite sangha membership or blessed guru-ji with the gilded smile.”

OK that’s hyperbole, but that’s the kind of underlying current engendered in toxic institutional scenarios. Plenty of woe to those who would stand against the stream. But is it any better to go with that kind of flow which just goes nowhere, round and round like a whirlpool? I’m using those metaphors deliberately. Round and round recreating the samsaric, sanctifying it, enforcing it not even recognizing what the effort is forming and re-forming. Same old same old.

It seems to me that if Buddhist practice in those kinds of places doesn’t even serve to help someone at least recognize such blatantly obvious suffering and pain and trauma inducing stuff, there’s not much hope of realizing anything more subtle.

Enlightenment/nirvana/liberation/realization/whatever is your own responsibility. Nobody’s going to give it to you or tell you how to do it. It’s not in learning to act like some ego-projection of how a Buddhist should be, or a groupthink version of mass hypnosis or in increasingly recreating the cycle on increasingly smaller scales or in increasingly infinite detail.

It’s your own burden. Dharma can and does support you in the struggle with it but the problem is wrestled within. While the problem is an individual one in this way, it is also a collective problem of humanity. Individualism, especially as it’s sold to us in the consumerist milieu is at the heart of this paradox. The individual, conditioned and embedded, in the world, in the organization, in various structures like families, relationships, etc is not what we think it is. The whole ox herding cycle is about this sort of thing. We’ve got to find it and find out what it is before we can deal with it. The thing one wants to escape is the thing that has to be found first. I’ll get too mired in these metaphysics if I continue writing out this line of thought right now because I’m really tired, but wanted to make a short post about some of this stuff anyways.

The thing that sticks out for me is:

If somebody doesn’t even want to confront blatant wrong doing, or question what they are being fed, or even take a look in the mirror (actually and metaphorically), how are they going to confront the great matter of life and death?

Not all Rolls Royce-driving tulkus…

An interesting piece by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, better known to some as a film director and writer than as a lama,  appeared on The Buddhist Channel today. He wrote:

We must aspire to galvanize myriad manifestations of the Buddha, not just throne-hopping, Rolls Royce-driving tulkus who are a product of nepotism."

~Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche in The Real Dark Age on The Buddhist Channel Jan. 30, 2012

He writes earlier in the piece:

Shakyamuni with his lotus feet may approach your doorstep for alms but if we keep on being obsessed with Patek Philipe watches, fame or friends, or six pack abs, then Buddha’s truth is an annoyance, an inconvenient truth.

I had to look up Patek Philipe watches because I’ve never encountered such things. They cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars for the best models from the descriptions I found and make the Rolex look like a Timex if one is to believe the hype.

Moving on.

This teacher’s approach is one that resonates with me a lot. I enjoyed the book What Makes You Not a Buddhist, which quite a few people have also read as far as I can tell.

Then I think of teachers like Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, who just walked away from what could have been great renown, with hundreds if not thousands of students. He left two letters, one of which was for the general public and the other for his students. In the latter he stated, in part:

I have made a firm decision, based on the advice of the great masters of times past and my own heart’s desire, to, as the example goes, take the reins into my own hands. Our lives are as fragile as a bubble and the activities of this life are as endless as the waves of the ocean. Yet whatever we do, we should rely upon and place our hopes in the Buddha’s sacred and divine teachings. It is the Dharma that will benefit both us and other sentient beings. For this and other reasons, I have become disillusioned with the experiences of this life.

With genuine conviction in the lineage and instructions I have received, along with a motivation to be of benefit to others, various causes and conditions have prompted me to make the decision to wander alone, without fixed location, in remote mountain ranges. Though I do not claim to be like the great masters of times past, I am now embarking on this journey as a mere reflection of these teachers, as a faithful imitation of the example they set. For a number of years, my training will consist of simply leaving behind my connections, so please do not be upset with my decision.

There’s an example being set with these teachers. I hope people are paying attention to it.

If being a famous Tulku or a film director or an author of books or a teacher of thousands or a name on many people’s lips isn’t enough, then what is?

re-Occupying the Cabaret-Long Version

This is the expanded version of my somewhat rambling thinking regarding re-opening this old blog. I’m not sure if the post is finished but I’m tired of writing it, so if there’s sentences left dangling or misspellings etc…just move on. I have.

I wanted to make a decision about this blog. Then I ran across a few things that reminded me of why I began it in the first place.

The first I’ll mention, as these are not chronological, was a long series of discussions on occupying on-line Buddhism. If you haven’t been comatose for the past 6 months you will have at least heard of the Occupy movement and the various protests around the world focused on the corporate takeover of …well…everything and the corruption that out of control consumerism–encouraged, abetted, seduced and coerced by crony capitalism has engendered.

Bill Schwarz, who started the Google+ discussion, wrote:

When we shut up online, as Buddhists, in the context of people talking about Buddhism on the internet, we do more harm than we do in speaking about our respective practices. In the dharma center, the norm of minding your own business in this regard is perhaps a good idea. I am of the opinion that it is a bad idea for Buddhism online. I believe that we need to occupy this space, instead of conceding it to those who are here for commercial interests.

He had a little more to say than that in numerous posts that he made public. But it sparked or re-sparked a few ideas.

On another front, someone asked me not long ago if they might use one of my posts here Manifesting Idiot Compassion as a resource in a Buddhist chaplaincy program. That post has received quite a wide readership. Many, for example, in the Well Spouse organization, which is a support group for care giving spouses of chronically ill people, found it quite useful. This is, to me, the best possible outcome for a blog post. It has also got me thinking of revising and expanding that post-it is a bit of a hard read as I put a lot of information into it in fairly condensed form- into a PDF booklet of some sort.

It is encouraging to me, in terms of continuing to write publicly, to have things like that occur. I have written, mainly for myself, sometimes for pay, for many years, had stuff published with and without my name attached to it and even attempted a fine arts degree in creative writing at one time. What happened in the last case is a long story but suffice it to say dealing with commercial oriented and ego driven writing professors who demand obeisance is not my forte.

Some of my better very casual non-fiction writing pieces, or at least a few somewhat original ideas, have appeared on this blog. And it has gotten something of a response for better or occasionally worse. The urge to keep putting it forward has not abated. I am still curious about exploring this kind of path.

image_thumb9

Speaking of response, a thing that has been kind of mystifying me is that people keep subscribing to this old blog even though there hasn’t been a post here in many months. As well the readership of it is currently higher than the new one and my political one combined, again even though I don’t write anything here. That’s kind of odd. The persistence of these readers is a phenomenon I had not anticipated.

Many people consider blog posts a bit of a temporary, if not a throw-away, piece of work. They are usually time bound, in the sense that they deal with passing issues and once dealt with everyone moves on. Rather like a diary or journal.

I happen to be a fan of autobiography, particularly in diary, journal or letter form. I enjoy reading these kind of things in great variety which can range from my grandmother’s old diaries [“We got the last of the crop off today. Weather sunny and clear. Ordered a new tire for the tractor.”] or Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail [“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. “] to travelogues to diaries and journals to opinion columns and personal essays. They each, in their own way chronicle a life. And they generally lack the formality that the essay or even fictional forms take. They are more casual in that way and that is one of the attractions. The audience is deemed limited which inspires a larger range of expression. The blogging form can do this too I’ve found much to my surprise, despite the potential for wide readership. It’s a bit of a hybrid in that way between a formal publication and a private correspondence. [That’s why I’m glad to see blogs being created such as the one covering the correspondence between the brothers William and Henry James]

Now I have other blogs, as I mentioned, but this one seems to have something of a groove of it’s own. It has a theme though I’m a little hard pressed to try to describe what that consists of. I know it when I read it however.

So this blog is just sitting here, rather derelict. Not even squatters have moved into the comments section. That’s a bit of a thorn. A image19perfectly usable space going to waste, passersby looking for something to happen here, the owner an absentee landlord just letting it fall to ruin. OK, it’s my social responsibility to do something with it. Otherwise I might get some protesters camping outside. I might have to start camping outside myself. Better to keep it inside in posts and in the comments section where I can keep an eye on it all.  {image:Salvador Dali-Cabaret Scene}

Then a third thing…or rather a bunch of third things have been going on and are still going on that seem rather worthy of the Cabaret treatment.

In no particular order:

BG 239: Consensus Buddhism and Mindful Mayonnaise is an interview with David Chapman that sums up some of the ideas he’s been writing about for a while on his blogs such as Meaningness. I’ve found some interesting ideas in his writing though not so much with the Buddhist Geeks end of things, on which I’ve made my opinion known from time to time. But you know anyone who writes stuff like this on Twitter is going to get my attention:

@Meaningness

"One Dharma. Whose?" Joseph Goldstein’s manifesto of Consensus #Buddhism is peculiarly incoherent.

Dec 31 2011

Incoherence is not difficult to achieve. I do it frequently. But I’m not at the head of any sort of spiritual organization, the author of numerous books, a teacher of many[or any]. The lack of critical examination of what passes for Buddhism in popular quarters is part of the problem that engenders incoherence and a whole lot of other things.

As well the somewhat heated dialogues between the monk Sujato and the uber-philosophers at Speculative Non-Buddhism have been interesting as well as occasionally entertaining. Attempting to dismantle Buddhism via po-mo contortion may become a new spectator sport. Points have been scored by both sides however.

Then there’s the multiple on-going scandals, which are…well…on-going. So keeping the magnifying glass on those, as well as the heat, remains a priority.

Sociological issues, as they relate to conditioned behavior, identity, group formation and issues of exclusion also remain of interest.

Another thing that continues to crop up, often from publishers wishing to send me books for review, (a primary source for my holiday re-gifting BTW, and thanks mostly-though some I can’t even give away-or won’t) is the aspect of the psychological self-help movement’s co-option of Buddhism as just another feel good therapy within the miasmic sea of consumerist hedonism and abandon. It’s like a tsunami of a guilt trip “You should feel good, be happy, smile, be 100% positive 100% of the time and if you don’t then there’s something wrong with you”, the Brightsided Syndrome (non-stop forced positivity) that Barbara Ehrenreich has written about, that is far worse in terms of a pragmatic and realistic outlook than the alleged “illness” of discontent and the various facets of suffering, in both conventional and Buddhist senses. In other words the cure being pushed at every turn is exacerbating problems rather than relieving them. 100 % is unrealistic. There is no indication that this is abating at all but it seems to me to be just ramping up. To say that this irritates as much as a roll through a nettle field is not an overstatement. Both psychology and Buddhism have value, for different purposes and to convolute them does a disservice.

That is all aside from the “quick fix”  and enlightenment for dollars bullshit that is also proliferating.

A few more specific items:

Tricycle has brought back Michael Haederle of "Buddhist Bullies" fame to write in the Fall 2011 issue. But you’ve got to pay to read it, though it’s not an opinion piece but rather a safe portrait of a well-known calligrapher. I do admit a certain part of me is throwing a childish tantrum and screaming, “C’mon, let him write an opinion piece. Pulllleeeeezzzzze!” Just waiting for the issue guest edited by Mr. Former People Magazine that will delineate “The Ten Sexiest Buddhists”.  Rubbing my hands with absolute glee about such a possibility.

With that in mind here’s a dedication going out to the Tricycle crew.

 

So when Tammy rears her pretty little head, clenches her teeth, clutches the bannister and urges us to carry on who are we to disagree?

I mentioned the various ongoing sangha scandals. I wrote a piece on Madhushala that really should have appeared here. That was Sex and the Sangha: Out of Touch. As well the big hoopla over the big meeting was covered in The New Improved Buddhist Council [now with more enzymes, lather and added vitamins] . That too would have been better in this venue.

The Madhushala blog is, as I wrote, more personal, more like a journal or diary than a place for big production numbers with all the singers, dancers and other performers necessary to carry those kinds of things off. There’s a reason it’s a cabaret. It’s a bit of a performance with a bit of a larger than life mistress of ceremonies.

I enjoy the performative aspects of this blog. As actors might tell you, performance can be quite freeing. One can expand in directions that are unusual. There’s something to be learned in doing the unusual. One is required to let go of the habitual and strike out into unknown territory.

That is not to say that because something of a performance is involved that it isn’t real in terms of sentiment, opinion and intention. What is written here is sincere. It is not written to power trip at other’s expense nor is it written to demean others who are peers/comrades/regular folks/etc.  If it sometimes seems like certain institutions or even persons are targeted then those targets will have the upper hand in the differential power relationship vis-à-vis ordinary sangha members or the general public. I don’t need to bully or troll to feel good about myself. But I will not hesitate to speak of and to those who have significant spheres of influence. That includes teachers, public figures, institutions, authority figures and the like.

When performance is mentioned some consider that fakery or adopting a persona. That is not the case here. It is quite a real expression of elements of my personality which rarely get exercised, or exorcised, depending upon the circumstance. Being something of an introvert, if not an outright hermit at times–need I say silent retreat is my normal mode of being?–it is quite a challenge to bring forth the ebullient extrovert who has my own voice. That is simpler in poetry or prose as those are character voices which can be somewhat disowned as fake when necessary, but the personal voice is something else. It takes a certain force of will and a consistent state of awareness to maintain that level of presence, in the theatrical sense, and effort to project at the required volume for the room. Consider public speaking as an example. It’s similar to that. The public speaker is no different than the private speaker, only the presentation is altered to suit the circumstances.

Another aspect of writing as NellaLou on this blog breaks through certain sensations of security that one might like to rely upon, despite their illusory nature. It is very tempting to hide silently in many aspects of life rather than be the nail that sticks out. All too often silence equals, if not complete assent, then a wishy-washy “go-along-to-get-along” cowardice that allows all sorts of nonsense if not outright injustice and in the extreme, atrocity, to prevail. It feels uncomfortable to live with too many “Shoulda, woulda, coulda” thoughts that run through the bystander mind. I can’t numb myself that much and I’ve tried in the past so it’s no supposition but experience informing the decisions that are involved with what is written here.

A question that kept appearing during those numbing experiments was, “Where is your line in the sand?” It’s kind of important to know that if one is professing Buddhism which includes ethical principles. Buddhism without ethical principles is something else…self-help, New Age psychobabble bullshit, a costume, another escape to try to hide within. Developing an ethical viewpoint is an individual exercise but it’s context is very much social. Viewing one’s self as an isolated individual does not require ethics. One is then similar to a rock or a chair or some other object rather than a dynamic system in continuous interaction with other dynamic systems. A noun rather than a verb. Understanding inter-dependence or interbeing requires a great deal of ethical examination.

Returning to the subject of autobiography, I’ve been a volunteer for the Dickens Journal Online project at the University of Buckingham in the UK, since early this year.  This has kept me a little busy as have a few other personal situations. The main task of this volunteer project is bringing a lot of works put out by Dickens and many of his cohorts which were published in several newspaper formats and mainly edited by Dickens himself, into electronic format suitable for text-to-speech applications as well as indexing. Many of these writings are in the form of journals such as travelogues, reports of political, social and religious events, personal opinions and the serialization of novels, including many of Dickens own novels. Volunteers are being used to scrutinized the OCR images and correct text. It’s rather tedious at times, something like intense proofreading, but the material is so interesting that it’s not hard to get lost in the narratives and forget the proofing task at other times. The material is being prepared for Dickens bicentennial celebrations which commence in March 2012.  Here’s a little more about it.

So that’s in my thinking when I borrow and bastardize a few lines from that publication:

These developments were, we are told, enough to re-awaken the appetite of the satiated, to see the author with her lace cuffs turned up, fire in her eye, and eloquence on her lips, arranging with her own hands the sauces sarcastique, in which she so skillfully combined her magic mushrooms and spicy words. Thither, too, she was in the habit of sending from her own house in the Rue des Petits Champs the posts blogue and volatile-vents which had been elaborated under her own eyes, and were eaten hot by herself and friends from the ovens of La Cabaret.

It just so happens I also have a bunch of piping hot bonbons in the queue that seem to fit better here than anywhere else and I really do want to put the icing on them. And since I’ve renewed my interest in performance and slam poetry, mainly from doing this blog,  I just might put some of that on YouTube and stick it here as well. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that though. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any actual performance of anything.

image_thumbSo tighten up your corset and put your fishnet stockings back on because the Smiling Buddha Cabaret is

NOW OPEN FOR BUSINESS.

 

 

 

 

Tonight’s playlist.

Try playing them all at the same time…makes for an interesting mix.

This basically encompasses the past, current and future direction of this little corner of the Internet. I could have put some Johnny Cash and a few others in here as well but………………..these wimmins sing good.

Choose your version.

Rose Garden…Lynn Anderson or Suicide Machine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These Boots Are Made For Walking…Nancy Sinatra or Siouxie Sioux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man…Loretta Lynn or Courtney Love

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Believe…Kitty Wells or Social Distortion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be advised that before writing every post on here in the future I’ll be styling my hair in the following fashion and singing the following song for inspiration…