A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Driven Snow

At least I have felt like a snowflake lately, drifty and floaty, and I have certainly been driven. Whether I'm as "pure as the driven snow," however, is an open question. As is the question of why driven snow is purer than the ordinary kind.

Or maybe the question is irrelevant. One thing my teachers say about Buddhist "insight" is that it leads to what they call Great Equanimity of mind, totally beyond any stain of attachment or aversion to anything. Under such conditions, "purity" is beside the point, for all things have "one taste".

They still tell stories of the great Buddhist yogis of India in the final golden flowering of Buddhism in that country between 600 and 1200 CE. In particular they tell them of the Eighty-Four Mahasiddhas, who had the most spectacular and noteworthy experiences on their path to Enlightenment. One of these was named Luipa. This freely translates as Old Fish Guts.

Luipa was a Brahmin by birth, the highest and "purest" of the Indian castes, who were the caste of the hereditary Hindu scholars and priests. In order to achieve Great Equanimity as a Buddhist, Luipa had to dissolve the obsessive/compulsive hold that "purity" had on him because of birth, inclination, and early training. This was a sophisticated form of "aversion", or sublimated anger and rootless fear.

After a profound and life changing experience where Luipa realized that his subtle pride in being "pure", and the aversion it implied, was his major obstacle to Enlightenment, Luipa went down to the Ganges and proceeded to live exclusively on the fish entrails that the fishermen discarded. He did this for twelve years and completely merged his mind with the one taste of all experience as pure, radiant bliss.

How, then, can you survive, behave morally, or even act at all if you do not recoil from impurity or rest in purity? What of our animal "fight or flight" response that has helped us overcome danger for thousands of years? Or what of proper conduct, whether "justified in the eyes of the Lord," or "Right Action to end our suffering"? How can we even decide to go or stay if all things have "one taste"?

Actually, we really don't act because of things in themselves. We act and react because of our opinions about things. If we think about it for a moment, such opinions are the cause of virtually every mistake we make, particularly the repeated mistake that anything needs to be done at all, when what something actually requires is a good letting alone.

Our opinions are also largely an emotional burden to us. What is the point of the frantic way we get when someone merely mentions spinach or liver or sushi? We spit out the imaginary, horrible food like babies in the high chair, without even having the collateral fun of playing in the mess we made.


It feels as bad as if we were actually forced eat the stuff, and it is all a mere emotional fantasy, exclusively a product of our own minds, about literally nothing. So what are we avoiding by it? What are we protecting ourselves from? Really.

With Great Equanimity you react to things as they are rather than to your opinions about them. It is surprisingly easy to get a brief little taste of what this is like by merely doing simple Buddhist sitting meditation. The plain act of just sitting and constantly bringing the mind back to a single point of focus [counting your breaths, let's say] slowly but surely dissolves gross opinions about both the object of concentration and the process you are going through by meditating with it. Numbers are just numbers. Few of us have any real hatred for 25 or fantastic craving for 36. The breath is just the breath. It goes on all the time and who, really, has a strong opinion about it one way or the other?

So once the process of meditation itself becomes a habit, and your constantly recycled opinions about "how well you're doing it" finally exhaust themselves, you can actually get tiny glimpses of your breath just as it is, without any emotional nonsense attached to it. Then, somehow, you get up from the meditation cushion with more emotional space, with all your opinions weakened a little, and less inclined to keep you spinning like a Ferris Wheel.

After months or years of such meditation, opinions hold you with a much lighter emotional grip, even if they do not release you completely, and you get glimpses of many things as they are, even when you are not on the cushion.

In myself, such glimpses have built into an ever more intense personal yearning for that Great Equanimity, and an understanding that the seed of it is inherent in the very process of meditating itself. This is why, in Buddhism, the journey is far more important than the goal, because, in the deepest sense, the journey and the goal are one. The world really isn't the same thing as our opinions about it, there is no other place to journey to than the place where you already are, and the journey starts from the place where we lie in bondage to our own beliefs.

This place, too, is the place where you already are.

So what drives me like the pure snow? The process of Buddhist practice itself. After 30 years of it, this process will occasionally pick you up and carry you along like the winning players of a football team, hoisting the coach up on their shoulders to the locker room, after drenching him with a barrel of Gatorade.

I wrote, a few posts back, about how the waxing moon cycle immediately after the turn of the Tibetan New Year is an especially auspicious time for practice. I have a strong suspicion that this is so because the detachment from opinions that you cultivate in meditation becomes stronger then. This is what has been driving me for the past two weeks to do more practice. I have thus neglected this blog, despite the franticness of the "cartoon war", the intellectual disingenuousness of the Bush Administration's attitude toward illegal eavesdropping and torture, and the appalling new onslaught in the War Against The Poor of the new Federal Budget.

It's good to have some let up of wearying opinions, even if, regrettably, the inconsistency of my posts is disappointing to those who regularly stop by here. I apologize for this and hope that, somehow, these past two weeks have given you some emotional release from the burden of your opinions, too. I also pray, daily, that we may all, sooner or later, reach the unwearied state of Great Equanimity.

Sushi, anyone?


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