Case 14: Falling Leaves

A monk was wandering down a path and came upon the Master, who was poking at the earth with a stick.

The young monk spoke first. “Master, I don’t know if I should stay at the temple anymore. I just can’t bring myself to believe the rebirth is true.”

The Master continued to poke at the ground.

“If there is no self, what comes back? How could someone come back as a hell-being if there is no hell to be in? How could my mother come back as a worm? I just don’t believe it. I’m sorry.”

The Master poked at the ground some more, then looked up a the monk.

“Young monk, you ask some very interesting questions. Let me ask you one: what have I taught about birth and death?”

“That there is no birth and no death.”

“You are half right. I also teach there is birth and death, and we should spend our time wisely between them. Which is correct? Birth or no-birth?”

The young monk looked on quizzically.

“The Buddha said all beings are no-beings, and that anyone who refers to himself as a Bodhisattva is not a Bodhisattva. But what do we recite every day?”

“Er, the Bodhisattva Vows?”

“Yes. So are we fools and showing our ignorance by vowing to save all sentient beings? And if there are no bings, how may they be numberless?”

“I don’t know.”

“Good answer.”

“But Master, that still doesn’t convince me that rebirth is true!”

The Master regarded the young monk with a raised eyebrow.

“Young monk, do you see this maple leaf?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now do you see this pile next to it?”

“Yes.”

“What do you think it is?”

“Well, it looks like it’s bits of leaves that have dried up and crumbled.”

“Were those crumbled things leaves? Are they leaves now?”

“They were, but aren’t anymore.”

“When did the leaves cease to be leaves?”

The young monk thought for a minute, but couldn’t answer.

“Now the crumbled bits of former leaves, do they stay as crumbled leaves forever?”

“No, they become mulch and compost and part of soil, I suppose.”

“Very good young monk. Now, consider this maple tree. Is it alive?”

“Yes, as much as a tree is alive.”

“Does it grow in the air, all branches and no roots? Are the leaves on the tree alive, and when they fall off, are they dead? At what point does the fallen leaf go from alive to dead? What line divides leaf to crumbled leaf to compost to soil to tree root.”

The Master pulled a loose root from the ground.

“Young monk, do you see these tiny hairs on this root? Do you see the bits of dirt hanging from the hairs? Do you suppose that a live leaf turns into a dead leaf, then compost, then soil, and then only ever becomes a tree?”

“I can see where you’re headed, Master, none of this is still convincing me that I will be reborn as a Deva or a Hungry Ghost, or a woman or a worm.”

“Young monk, I have one final thing to say to you.”

The Master stood straight up and leaned close to the young monk, then shouted directly into the monk’s face:

“WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU ARE MORE SPECIAL THAN THAT LEAF?”

The young monk walked away hanging his head.

  1. Are you more special than a leaf?

  2. What is rebirth?

 

The Sutra to the Kalamericans

The Kalamericans Go to See the Teacher

Thus have I seen on YouTube

A great speaker, a great wise Teacher was to give a TED talk from the city of the many universities. Word spread of this, and tickets to the event were very difficult to obtain, such was the excitement generated by his appearance. He was known as a great Teacher of all from young to old, to all genders, able to heal political wounds, crosser of chasms beings had self-imposed. His wisdom was said to be all pervasive, his teachings good from start to finish, and able to be understood by all. With skillful means he could explain his teachings to all, regardless of his or her capacity, each able to understand as if it were only they who were being taught.

Many who came to see him waited outside the stage door, some taking selfies, some asking for autographs, some calling out their names, some silent with awe. They then all proceeded single-file through the metal detectors at the main entrance to the theater.


The Kalamericans ask for guidance from the Teacher

Before the formal talk was to begin, the audience members spoke of others who had come to offer talks, what they’d seen on other TED talks, either in person or on the internet, things that had been attributed to the Teacher others posted on social media, some genuine teachings, some not, and virtually all stripped of context, short sound bites shown on the various news sources the people had come to rely upon for their information, and what had been written about the Teacher on blogs of many types. Some felt compelled to explain their own beliefs and doctrines or the opinions of what they believed to be the doctrine of the Teacher, some thought it appropriate to complain about other Teachers, or about the doctrines that others followed, including those of their fellow audience members. Being unable to reach any consensus whatsoever, they asked the Teacher to give his answers as to what the correct teachings were, who the reliable sources of true teachings were, where to learn about the truth, and what sources to avoid, those sources they reviled as “fake.”

Before the audience descended into pure chaos, with each attempting to prove the validity of their own beliefs by speaking louder and louder, the Teacher quieted the crowd by offering calming gestures and with his seemingly irrepressible smile. He then spoke to the assembled listeners:

"It is proper for you to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what you find dubious. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; repeating something enough times does not make it true. Do not rely solely upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon soundbite; nor upon an axiom; nor upon conventional wisdom; nor upon a bias towards a notion that someone else has, nor upon another's apparent fame or talmt; not on what you read on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on Politico, not from Fox News, not from MSNBC or CNN, proclaiming, ‘This guy tells it like it is,’ because someone told you how to think it is, or that it validates what you’ve come to think from your exposure to all the media and from other who share your point of view, avoiding those who do not, eschewing the company of those with whom you presuppose you don’t agree. But yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are troubling; these things are censured by the wise, these things lead to harm and ill.’ So, abandon them. Abandon them!”


Greed, hate, and delusion

The Kalamericans Go to See the Teacher

Thus have I seen on YouTube:

 

A great speaker, a great wise Teacher was to give a TED talk from the city of the many universities. Word spread of this, and tickets to the event were very difficult to obtain, such was the excitement generated by his appearance. He was known as a great Teacher of all from young to old, to all genders, able to heal political wounds, crosser of chasms beings had self-imposed. His wisdom was said to be all pervasive, his teachings good from start to finish, and able to be understood by all. With skillful means he could explain his teachings to all, regardless of his or her capacity, each able to understand as if it were only they who were being taught.

 

Many who came to see him waited outside the stage door, some taking selfies, some asking for autographs, some calling out their names, some silent with awe. They then all proceeded single-file through the metal detectors at the main entrance to the theater.


The Kalamericans ask for guidance from the Teacher

Before the formal talk was to begin, the audience members spoke of others who had come to offer talks, what they’d seen on other TED talks, either in person or on the internet, things that had been attributed to the Teacher others posted on social media, some genuine teachings, some not, and virtually all stripped of context, short sound bites shown on the various news sources the people had come to rely upon for their information, and what had been written about the Teacher on blogs of many types. Some felt compelled to explain their own beliefs and doctrines or the opinions of what they believed to be the doctrine of the Teacher, some thought it appropriate to complain about other Teachers, or about the doctrines that others followed, including those of their fellow audience members. Being unable to reach any consensus whatsoever, they asked the Teacher to give his answers as to what the correct teachings were, who the reliable sources of true teachings were, where to learn about the truth, and what sources to avoid, those sources they reviled as “fake.”

 

Before the audience descended into pure chaos, with each attempting to prove the validity of their own beliefs by speaking louder and louder, the Teacher quieted the crowd by offering calming gestures and with his seemingly irrepressible smile. He then spoke to the assembled listeners:

"It is proper for you to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what you find dubious. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; repeating something enough times does not make it true. Do not rely solely upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon soundbite; nor upon an axiom; nor upon conventional wisdom; nor upon a bias towards a notion that someone else has, nor upon another's apparent fame or talmt; not on what you read on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on Politico, not from Fox News, not from MSNBC or CNN, proclaiming, ‘This guy tells it like it is,’ because someone told you how to think it is, or that it validates what you’ve come to think from your exposure to all the media and from other who share your point of view, avoiding those who do not, eschewing the company of those with whom you presuppose you don’t agree. But yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are troubling; these things are censured by the wise, these things lead to harm and ill.’ So, abandon them. Abandon them!”


Greed, hate, and delusion

“What do you think,my friends? Does greed appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"

The audience was divided on this point. The Teacher continued, somewhat perplexed, but not entirely surprised due to his talent to read a crowd as if he possessed an omniscient eye.

“Overtaken by his greediness, he may kill, may steal even from those who have less, tell lies, and commit adultery. Then he tries to get others to do the same. How do you think this will work out, to his benefit or not?”

“Well, maybe,” from one side of the room, and “Of course! You’d have to be stupid to think that isn’t true,” were the most unified responses the Teacher received. It seemed to the Teacher that the audience had separated, migrating to one side of the room or the other, depending on whom those opinions they agreed with most.

“And what do you think, mis amigos? Does hate appear in a man for his benefit or harm? "My friends,  by hating, he may kill, steal, lie, and commit adultery. How is this going to work out for him?

“Harm, unless he’s right about who he hates.” The audience was more united than previously, but still not totally in agreement.
“What do you think,friends? Does delusion appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"

"For his harm."

“Yeah, delusions are bad.”

“If a person is under the spell of his delusion, he may do all the things you’ve said are harmful, and what may be even worse, he believes his own lies, and doesn’t even see that anything he does is harmful. Is delusion going to help or harm?”

“Harm.”

The assembled seemed to agree on this.

Kalamericans, you yourselves know: "These things are bad; these things are harmful, and lead to problems,"Abandon them!”

The criterion for acceptance

“Kalamericans, do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon guesswork; nor upon an axiom; nor upon conventional wisdom; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been that’s been over by someone else; nor upon another's apparent fame or talent, nor on what you read on Twitter, nor Facebook, nor Politico, nor from Fox News, not from MSNBC or CNN or saying this politician is our Teacher. “Kalamericans when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not troubling; these things are praised by the wise; these things will not lead to arrest and prison, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' abide in them. Abide in them!

Absence of greed, hate, and delusion

“What do you think, my friends? Does absence of greed appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"

There was disagreement amongst the audience again.

"Kalamericans, not being greedy, and not killing, not stealing, not cheating on his wife, not telling lies; he prompts another to do likewise. Will that be for his benefit and happiness?"

"Yes, I guess benefit” came from one section of the audience.

“Of course” from the other.

The Teacher raised one eyebrow quizzically and looked over at his assistant Andy, who could only reply with a shrug.


“What do you think, comrades? Does absence of hate appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"
One member of the audience coughed uncomfortably.

"Kalamaericans, being not given to hate, and not doing hateful things, is this beneficial?”

Once more, the Teacher was met with silence.


“What do you think, Kalamericans? Does absence of delusion appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"

"For his benefit!,” coming from all quarters.

The Teacher considered that he may have gotten the crowd back on the path.
“What do you think, Kalamericans? Are these things good or bad?"

“Good, great Teacher."

"Problematic or not problematic?"

"Not problematic,."

"Vilified or praised by the wise?"

"Praised, of course."

"When you think about it, do these things lead to benefit and happiness, or not? what do you think?"

"They lead to benefits and happiness. That's how we see it. In most circumstances.”

“Therefore, what was said is this, 'Come my fellow Kalamericans. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon assumption; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been said by someone else; nor upon another's apparent fame or talent; nor on what you read on Twitter, nor Facebook, from Politico, nor from Fox News, not from MSNBC or CNN or saying this politician is our Teacher.

“Let’s have a brief recap. Greed, good or bad?”asked the Teacher.

“Can we get back to you on that?”

“Hate, good or bad?”

In unison, the crowd roared back, “Bad. Except in certain circumstances!”

“Delusion, good or bad?”

“We’re confused, can you use it in a sentence.”

“Killing?”

Again in unison, “Depends!”

“Stealing?”

The crowd caucused amongst themselves, finally coming to the conclusion, “Bad!

The Teacher smiled again.

“Lying?”

"Bad. Mostly. Depends on whether you can get arrested for it?”

The smiled dropped from the Teacher’s lips.

“Okay, how about committing adultery?”

“Bad...but only if you get caught, and if you do, deny it, and then you can pay someone off to keep quiet about it, and if that doesn’t work, deny it again.”

The Teacher glanced at Andy again, and again Andy just shrugged.

“Kalamericans, when you yourselves know: "These things are bad; these things lead to prison; and upon careful consideration in your heart of hearts, these things lead down a dangerous road, you will abandon them!”

The Four Exalted Dwellings

“The righteous, who in this way is devoid of greediness and ill will, seeing the truth clearly, clearly comprehending and mindfully, dwells with the thought of friendship, with the great, exalted, boundless thought that is free of hate or malice for all of humanity throughout the wor

"He lives with the thought of compassion; he dwells in the world of compassion because it is good for all humanity, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, boundless thought of compassion that is free of hate or malice.”

“I don’t know about this ‘whole world’ stuff" someone yelled from the back of the room. “We come first!” Another chimed in with, “OK, I’ll be compassionate, but I’m not sharing any of my money to do it. And I don’t want anything going to a bunch of bums too lazy to work.”

The other side of the room tried to raise a rousing chorus of “Kumbaya,” but was unable to do so, having both the voices and the nature of a herd cats with a crying shepherd running in many directions.

The Teacher took on the delivery of an old-time country preacher.

“He lives with the thought of love for all people, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, exalted, boundless thought of gladness that is free of hate or malice. He lives with equanimity towards all living beings, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, exalted, boundless thought that is free of hate or malice.”

It was as if the entire audience rolled its collective eye.


The Four comforts

“The Great Student,  Kalamericans, the Great Student who has such a hate-free mind, such a malice-free mind, such an undefiled mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom comforts are found right here and now.

"'Suppose there is a hereafter and there is a fruit, result, of deeds done well or ill, a heaven or hell. Then it is possible that at the moment of death, I shall arise in the heavenly world, which is possessed of the state of bliss.”

He continued, “Suppose there is no heaven of hell, and there is no fruit, no result, of deeds done well or ill. Yet in this world, here and now, free from hatred, free from malice, safe and happy, can say, “At least I’m good in the here and now.’.

From the crowd came, “I swear to God there’s a heaven, and there’s sure as Hell a hell!”

"'Suppose evil befalls an evil-doer. I, however, think of doing evil to no one. Then, how can it affect me who doesn't do anything evil?' Suppose evil outcomes do not befall an evil-doer. Then I see myself purified in any case.'

“It’s win-win-win-win, no downside, so long as you are hate-free, don’t act with malice and do harmful things to one another. Heaven or hell, no-heaven, no-hell, no matter, you experience the knowledge of a great life right here & now.”

“Hmmmm. Yeah? Really?” murmured the audience. The Teacher with his his omniscient eye regarded them as coming around, albeit slowly. He saw that their desire for freedom from their day-to-day lives hadn’t provided them any freedom, let alone peace.

"The followers of the Great Ones, my Kalamerican friends, who have a generous mind, a  hate-free mind, an undefiled mind, and a purified mind, is one who experiences a wonderful life!” The Teacher saw that their desire for comfort, even from a place of greed and clinging could have a positive result. The crowd pondered momentarily, being presented with ideas that deep-down they knew were right, but were also seemed so far from what their day to day lives were like.

Then they responded surprisingly but with some reservation, “Okay!”

A spokesperson rose from the crowd. “What you say makes sense. A person who has a hate-free mind, an undeluded mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom, here and now, can have a good life. But it’s not easy, Great Teacher. If we do it, and we’re back in with everyone else, who doesn’t live like this, we’re screwed!” The crowd now muttered in agreement to this statement.

The spokesperson continued, “But we’ll try it. We’ll try to pay attention to your teachings, and we will look to others who also follow them who can give us support when it looks as if we might backslide. Is that good enough? We’re just regular Joes, Joe the Plumber-types, not great spiritual beings, you know? But, what the hell, what have we got to lose? If it works out, that’s great. I think I can speak for all of us, and much to our surprise, your teachings do make sense. It’s like you point the way to someone who is lost or to carry a lamp in the darkness, thinking, 'Those who have eyes will see what there is that’s visible,'

The Teacher replied, “Excellent, excellent, my good friends. Well said, well said. But this teaching, as well as the others you may encounter from repeated hearing; tradition; rumor; what is in a scripture; guesswork; an axiom; conventional wisdom; a bias towards a notion that has been that’s been over by someone else; another's apparent fame or talent, on what you read on Twitter, Facebook, Politico, nor, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN or following politician who ‘tells it like it is, all these things, even what I’ve told you today can only be proven by putting them into action. Don’t take my word for it...but you’ll see it’s correct.”

The crowd gave the Great Teacher a rousing round of applause, even whistling their approval and yelling “Woot, woot.” The Teacher saw as if with an omniscient eye that some would follow the teachings faithfully, others would for a period of time, others would say they’re followers of the Way but their actions would prove otherwise, still others who will disregard the teachings altogether, even disparaging the Teachings. But the Teacher was also aware that these thoughts of the members of the crowd are as subject to change as much as everything else. One who agrees wholeheartedly today may backslide tomorrow, the denier of today may eventually lead a virtuous life. Even with the outcome of his teaching being any of these scenarios, he was still satisfied.

The Teacher and Andy packed their few belongings and prepared to leave the building through the stage door. As they did, they both heard a member of his audience say, “Now if only the other half of this crowd weren’t so stupid and agreed with this great teaching!”

The Teacher smiled at Andy, Andy smiled quizzically back. Andy said, “Teacher, they still don’t seem to get it.” The Teacher replied, “We’ll see how their actions speak, either because of or in spite of their words. They are Kalamericans, and their minds are changing, changing, changing.”

Andy nodded in agreement, despite his desire to smack some of the audience in the head. As a faithful follower of the Teacher, the Teachings, and who found support in followers of the Teachings, he refrained from shaking any of the audience members.

Thus have I seen on YouTube.

 

 

“What do you think,my friends? Does greed appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"

The audience was divided on this point. The Teacher continued, somewhat perplexed, but not entirely surprised due to his talent to read a crowd as if he possessed an omniscient eye.

 

“Overtaken by his greediness, he may kill, may steal even from those who have less, tell lies, and commit adultery. Then he tries to get others to do the same. How do you think this will work out, to his benefit or not?”

 

“Well, maybe,” from one side of the room, and “Of course! You’d have to be stupid to think that isn’t true,” were the most unified responses the Teacher received. It seemed to the Teacher that the audience had separated, migrating to one side of the room or the other, depending on whom those opinions they agreed with most.

 

“And what do you think, mis amigos? Does hate appear in a man for his benefit or harm? "My friends,  by hating, he may kill, steal, lie, and commit adultery. How is this going to work out for him?

“Harm, unless he’s right about who he hates.” The audience was more united than previously, but still not totally in agreement.


“What do you think,friends? Does delusion appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"

"For his harm."

“Yeah, delusions are bad.”

“If a person is under the spell of his delusion, he may do all the things you’ve said are harmful, and what may be even worse, he believes his own lies, and doesn’t even see that anything he does is harmful. Is delusion going to help or harm?”

“Harm.”

The assembled seemed to agree on this.

 

Kalamericans, you yourselves know: "These things are bad; these things are harmful, and lead to problems,"Abandon them!”

The criterion for acceptance

“Kalamericans, do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon guesswork; nor upon an axiom; nor upon conventional wisdom; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been that’s been over by someone else; nor upon another's apparent fame or talent, nor on what you read on Twitter, nor Facebook, nor Politico, nor from Fox News, not from MSNBC or CNN or saying this politician is our Teacher. “Kalamericans when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not troubling; these things are praised by the wise; these things will not lead to arrest and prison, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' abide in them. Abide in them!

Absence of greed, hate, and delusion

“What do you think, my friends? Does absence of greed appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"

There was disagreement amongst the audience again.

"Kalamericans, not being greedy, and not killing, not stealing, not cheating on his wife, not telling lies; he prompts another to do likewise. Will that be for his benefit and happiness?"

"Yes, I guess benefit” came from one section of the audience.

“Of course” from the other.

The Teacher raised one eyebrow quizzically and looked over at his assistant Andy, who could only reply with a shrug.


“What do you think, comrades? Does absence of hate appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"
One member of the audience coughed uncomfortably.

"Kalamaericans, being not given to hate, and not doing hateful things, is this beneficial?”

Once more, the Teacher was met with silence.


“What do you think, Kalamericans? Does absence of delusion appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"

"For his benefit!,” coming from all quarters.

The Teacher considered that he may have gotten the crowd back on the path.


“What do you think, Kalamericans? Are these things good or bad?"

“Good, great Teacher."

"Problematic or not problematic?"

"Not problematic,."

"Vilified or praised by the wise?"

"Praised, of course."

"When you think about it, do these things lead to benefit and happiness, or not? what do you think?"

"They lead to benefits and happiness. That's how we see it. In most circumstances.”

 

“Therefore, what was said is this, 'Come my fellow Kalamericans. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon assumption; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been said by someone else; nor upon another's apparent fame or talent; nor on what you read on Twitter, nor Facebook, from Politico, nor from Fox News, not from MSNBC or CNN or saying this politician is our Teacher.

 

“Let’s have a brief recap. Greed, good or bad?”asked the Teacher.

“Can we get back to you on that?”

“Hate, good or bad?”

In unison, the crowd roared back, “Bad. Except in certain circumstances!”

“Delusion, good or bad?”

“We’re confused, can you use it in a sentence.”

“Killing?”

Again in unison, “Depends!”

“Stealing?”

The crowd caucused amongst themselves, finally coming to the conclusion, “Bad!

The Teacher smiled again.

“Lying?”

"Bad. Mostly. Depends on whether you can get arrested for it?”

The smiled dropped from the Teacher’s lips.

“Okay, how about committing adultery?”

“Bad...but only if you get caught, and if you do, deny it, and then you can pay someone off to keep quiet about it, and if that doesn’t work, deny it again.”

The Teacher glanced at Andy again, and again Andy just shrugged.

 

“Kalamericans, when you yourselves know: "These things are bad; these things lead to prison; and upon careful consideration in your heart of hearts, these things lead down a dangerous road, you will abandon them!”

 

The Four Exalted Dwellings

“The righteous, who in this way is devoid of greediness and ill will, seeing the truth clearly, clearly comprehending and mindfully, dwells with the thought of friendship, with the great, exalted, boundless thought that is free of hate or malice for all of humanity throughout the world.”

 

"He lives with the thought of compassion; he dwells in the world of compassion because it is good for all humanity, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, boundless thought of compassion that is free of hate or malice.”

 

“I don’t know about this ‘whole world’ stuff" someone yelled from the back of the room. “We come first!” Another chimed in with, “OK, I’ll be compassionate, but I’m not sharing any of my money to do it. And I don’t want anything going to a bunch of bums too lazy to work.”

 

The other side of the room tried to raise a rousing chorus of “Kumbaya,” but was unable to do so, having both the voices and the nature of a herd cats with a crying shepherd running in many directions.

 

The Teacher took on the delivery of an old-time country preacher.

 

“He lives with the thought of love for all people, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, exalted, boundless thought of gladness that is free of hate or malice. He lives with equanimity towards all living beings, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, exalted, boundless thought that is free of hate or malice.”

 

It was as if the entire audience rolled its collective eye.


The Four comforts

“The Great Student,  Kalamericans, the Great Student who has such a hate-free mind, such a malice-free mind, such an undefiled mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom comforts are found right here and now.

"'Suppose there is a hereafter and there is a fruit, result, of deeds done well or ill, a heaven or hell. Then it is possible that at the moment of death, I shall arise in the heavenly world, which is possessed of the state of bliss.”

He continued, “Suppose there is no heaven of hell, and there is no fruit, no result, of deeds done well or ill. Yet in this world, here and now, free from hatred, free from malice, safe and happy, can say, “At least I’m good in the here and now.’.

From the crowd came, “I swear to God there’s a heaven, and there’s sure as Hell a hell!”

 

"'Suppose evil befalls an evil-doer. I, however, think of doing evil to no one. Then, how can it affect me who doesn't do anything evil?' Suppose evil outcomes do not befall an evil-doer. Then I see myself purified in any case.'

“It’s win-win-win-win, no downside, so long as you are hate-free, don’t act with malice and do harmful things to one another. Heaven or hell, no-heaven, no-hell, no matter, you experience the knowledge of a great life right here & now.”

 

“Hmmmm. Yeah? Really?” murmured the audience. The Teacher with his his omniscient eye regarded them as coming around, albeit slowly. He saw that their desire for freedom from their day-to-day lives hadn’t provided them any freedom, let alone peace.

 

"The followers of the Great Ones, my Kalamerican friends, who have a generous mind, a  hate-free mind, an undefiled mind, and a purified mind, is one who experiences a wonderful life!” The Teacher saw that their desire for comfort, even from a place of greed and clinging could have a positive result. The crowd pondered momentarily, being presented with ideas that deep-down they knew were right, but were also seemed so far from what their day to day lives were like.

 

Then they responded surprisingly but with some reservation, “Okay!”

 

A spokesperson rose from the crowd. “What you say makes sense. A person who has a hate-free mind, an undeluded mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom, here and now, can have a good life. But it’s not easy, Great Teacher. If we do it, and we’re back in with everyone else, who doesn’t live like this, we’re screwed!” The crowd now muttered in agreement to this statement.

 

The spokesperson continued, “But we’ll try it. We’ll try to pay attention to your teachings, and we will look to others who also follow them who can give us support when it looks as if we might backslide. Is that good enough? We’re just regular Joes, Joe the Plumber-types, not great spiritual beings, you know? But, what the hell, what have we got to lose? If it works out, that’s great. I think I can speak for all of us, and much to our surprise, your teachings do make sense. It’s like you point the way to someone who is lost or to carry a lamp in the darkness, thinking, 'Those who have eyes will see what there is that’s visible,'

 

The Teacher replied, “Excellent, excellent, my good friends. Well said, well said. But this teaching, as well as the others you may encounter from repeated hearing; tradition; rumor; what is in a scripture; guesswork; an axiom; conventional wisdom; a bias towards a notion that has been that’s been over by someone else; another's apparent fame or talent, on what you read on Twitter, Facebook, Politico, nor, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN or following politician who ‘tells it like it is, all these things, even what I’ve told you today can only be proven by putting them into action. Don’t take my word for it...but you’ll see it’s correct.”

 

The crowd gave the Great Teacher a rousing round of applause, even whistling their approval and yelling “Woot, woot.” The Teacher saw as if with an omniscient eye that some would follow the teachings faithfully, others would for a period of time, others would say they’re followers of the Way but their actions would prove otherwise, still others who will disregard the teachings altogether, even disparaging the Teachings. But the Teacher was also aware that these thoughts of the members of the crowd are as subject to change as much as everything else. One who agrees wholeheartedly today may backslide tomorrow, the denier of today may eventually lead a virtuous life. Even with the outcome of his teaching being any of these scenarios, he was still satisfied.

 

The Teacher and Andy packed their few belongings and prepared to leave the building through the stage door. As they did, they both heard a member of his audience say, “Now if only the other half of this crowd weren’t so stupid and agreed with this great teaching!”

The Teacher smiled at Andy, Andy smiled quizzically back. Andy said, “Teacher, they still don’t seem to get it.” The Teacher replied, “We’ll see how their actions speak, either because of or in spite of their words. They are Kalamericans, and their minds are changing, changing, changing.”

 

Andy nodded in agreement, despite his desire to smack some of the audience in the head. As a faithful follower of the Teacher, the Teachings, and who found support in followers of the Teachings, he refrained from shaking any of the audience members.

 

Thus have I seen on YouTube.

 

 

Killer & Killed, Right Now

Ahimsa is the Sanskrit word that is typically translated as not-harm. It’s the ethos, a principle as reflected in the First Precept: Honor life, do not kill. That’s pretty straightforward. Complications from corollaries and conditions come into play, and then there’s confusion about what is fairly simple. Honor life, do not kill. Don’t harm. I must admit, there are causes and conditions that all Precepts are subject to, but for me, those causes and conditions have never arisen. Much to my consternation, those causes and conditions may turn out to be as impermanent as everything, but maybe cause and condition won’t cross, and cause a condition I’d rather not encounter.

Right now, at this very moment, I have no intention to do any harm. I’m not doing any harm. I’m assuming that is the case for you as well, that as you are reading this, you are simultaneously not doing any harm. I’ll go out on a limb here, and say that even the most evil, vile, and violent person you can think of (I’ll wait, it’s a long list), that even they were not doing harm twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. They may have incited violent behavior in others, they may even bear responsibility for creating a climate where violence is encouraged and acceptable. But at least while they were asleep, on a micro level, they weren’t intentionally personally doing any harm or acting in a violent manner.

We can see things conceptually, abstractly, macroscopically, even jingoistically, and say that humans, or omnivores, or North Koreans, or Muslims, or Israelis, or Americans, or Evil Empires, are by nature violent. And we can also pontificate about banning guns, deporting immigrants, quarantining the “others” from the rest of us “good” people, but really, that’s nonsense. Even at our collective worst, not everyone is participating in violent actions constantly, no matter what we’ve been told. And past violent acts don’t necessarily mean future acts. Even Angulimala was converted from his serial-killing ways by the Buddha.

Regarding ahimsa, there’s a subtle difference between not doing harm, and not being violent. Violence is a subset of harm. Standing by and watching harm being done is de jure participation in the perpetuation of harm, if not de facto harming. The intention is to stand back, look the other way, talk about the weather a bit, and come up with some excuse cloaked in the costume of reason not to step in. In this case, Inaction is not-Right Action.

You’ve probably all seen some image of a Buddhist monk or layman self-immolating. Some say it’s a totally selfless act, a self-less act, a sacrifice for the greater good. I have to wonder how effective those acts are. Is it the act of a Bodhisattva, or an act of despair? We can’t really ask what the intention was after the fact, the only evaluation is its effectiveness in changing the situation that caused the immolation. Did the monk on fire do anything to change the Vietnam War of the Chinese occupation of Tibet? As of this moment, no...and yes. No, in that those situations are how they are as of this moment, and they can’t be another way than how they are. And yes, because the effects of the immolation have not necessarily be fully borne out, so change may yet come.

Ahimsa doesn’t just apply to those we like, or those close to home, or those with whom we feel some commonality. “Like,” “home,” and “commonality” are nothing more than empty concepts (as if a concept couldn’t be). As Buddhists, we may think we like other Buddhists, because of that commonality. We may at least feel some affinity toward our Buddhist brothers and sisters. Then again, maybe that affinity only applies to those whom we see as “good” Buddhists...not like those 969 guys in Burma who are massacring the Rohynga. For them, we have contempt, feel the righteous indignation that entitles us to criticize those other Buddhists, who must not be actual Buddhists anyway, because they sure aren’t practicing the First Precept particularly well, and besides that, haven’t they even heard of ahimsa? Were they absent that day in Buddhism 101?

And yes, what’s going on in Burma certainly seems horrific, although we’re really only seeing part of whatever story the media would like us to see, as the shock value of a violent Buddhist defies the stereotype. There are somewhere in the vicinity of twenty armed conflicts involving death at this moment. Odds are, someone is dying at the hands of another in armed struggle right now. Throw in acts of violence in non-war situations, the numbers climb. Odds are you’re probably only aware of two or three of these conflicts if that, maybe none of the other violent acts if they didn’t happen nearby, or involve multiple casualties in a school or a parking . Someone is killing someone else right now. Not as an abstract statistical concept, someone is killing someone right at this moment, and at least in twenty geographical instances, because of a nationalistic, jingoistic sense of threat and perceived superiority or perceived weakness. Mao said that one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic. Right now, tragedy. Now. And now. All deaths are one death.

A Bodhisattva doesn’t check what flag someone waving before s/he decides whether the save that particular being. To lean into the Absolute if I may, nations, religions, weakness, strength, and all the rest are just empty stories we convince ourselves to believe. “All beings” doesn’t discriminate between one being and another. There are no Kurds and Turks, or Kurds and Iraqis, or Kurds and any number of Syrian combatants. There are no “sides” in Syria, or Burma, or Burundi. There is a person with a weapon killing another person (who may also have a weapon) right now. One on one, one on many, face to face or anonymously, somebody is seeing the “other,” and thinking that it is correct action to kill them.

I can’t decide what correct action is for anyone other than myself. I practice ahimsa as best I can, from moment to moment. I can only hope that you as an individual will also see the wisdom the Buddha pointed to in his teachings of not doing harm. Perhaps if enough people start practicing ahimsa individually, then the stories about self/other, same/different, will be seen as nothing more than stories, as empty as everything else. Compassion fatigue may set in because of the sheer number of violent situations. But only if you look at concepts like flags and countries and religions and everything else that creates the story that separates one from another. But right now, someone believes the story, and is pulling the trigger. Right now...
 

Thunderous Silence

n the Vimalakirti Sutra, Manjushri asks the assembled Bodhisattvas to define non-duality. They all come up with answers, but none of them really nail it. Their explanations speak of entering into non-duality, but all of the 31 explanations descend into duality. Manjushri then poses the question to the layman Vimalakirti, who is silent. Then more silence. And then a little bit more. Manjushri then praises Vimalakirti, as having been the only one who correctly answered.

Sometimes silence is appropriate, sometimes not. Not-silence can often turn into polemics, proselytizing, and preaching. The thoughts behind the words may themselves be as accurate as Vimalakirti silence, but their delivery is less than skillful. The listener’s (or reader’s) ears may glaze over, or maybe they elicit praise, maybe they elicit anger. Same words, different responses, how so, great a Bodhisattva? The listener or reader determines how they feel about what the other person said. I could say to someone, “You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny,” and similar feelings can result. Friends who know me and my tongue firmly implanted in cheek delivery might laugh, ones that don’t might just look at me a little funny and back slowly out of the room, and the remaining may become extremely hurt by my evaluation of their physical characteristics and fashion sense, the others may get very angry to the point of thinking about being violent, and the last few might actually scream and throw a punch. All from seven little words strung together in a particular order. (Or are you too stupid to see that?) What just happened then? 

I teach a class that involves the Eightfold Path, and that’s one of my questions for the students regarding Right Speech—can your words make someone feel a certain way. Almost always their answers involve negatives, how words can hurt someone. I use the above answer about their responses being made by thinking. What’s really at the heart is the state of the speaker or writer’s mind. What are my intentions behind the words? Do I intend harm, do I hope to bring laughter, am I just blathering on to hear myself talk? Both of speaker’s and reader’s sides both involve a large amount of “I.” To use Zen grammar-speak, subject and object. Mighty dualistic, wouldn’t you say? (What just happened there.)

In the state of Florida, there was just another mass shooting at a school, with 17 fatalities. There are plenty of people who’ll pontificate about banning guns, others that contend that if there were a “good guy with a gun” that lives would have been saved. Others will offer “thoughts and prayers.” What do all these words exhibit? So far as I can tell, there’s a large amount of “I.” “I know better, the Second Amendment must be preserved at all costs,” or, “I know more better, Right to Bear Arms be damned!” These statements will result in any of the possible reactions I showed above, may some I hadn’t even considered.

All this subject/object is just duality, opening the door to potentially vehement agreement or disagreement. It could be that how the words are expressed more skillfully than they had been, and the result might have resulted in something more than involving at least one of the Three Poisons of “Greed, Anger, and Delusion.” I can’t really tell you how you should feel, let alone what you should do. Maybe at best I’ll give you something to think about you hadn’t considered before, but most likely that depends on how skillfully I present it. I can consider my intentions, and how much I consider your potential response. 

My action of responding to the shooting at the Florida High School is that I took a personal vow to be nonviolent. Ahimsa, it’s called, to do no harm. I may not always exhibit metta, or lovingkindness; hopefully I’ll at least avoid doing harm. I haven’t been in the situation that the students and teachers were, so I can’t even say for sure how I’d really react. I only can hope that as I develop everyday my wish for doing no harm, that it becomes more habitual think and act that way than a knee-jerk hard left/right, right/wrong descent into duality. At times like this, my own thoughts, intentions, and speech are all I can control. At times like this, I’d hope that even Vimalakirti wouldn’t be thunderously silent.

May all beings be happy, safe, and secure, and have the causes of happiness, safety, and security.

 

It’s All Happy, Merry, and Bright

It’s potentially an odd time of year for a Zen Buddhist, at least it has been for this Zennist. I didn’t grow up Buddhist, and my childhood was more than a couple years ago, so “Merry Christmas” was a pretty standard greeting at the end of December. It was ubiquitous, and subliminally assumed that everyone celebrated Christmas, and if you didn’t, it didn’t matter much anyway. Little thought was put into the notion that anyone wouldn’t celebrate it. After all, everyone was off work, so ergo, everyone must celebrate it. Well, except for the Chinese restaurants and movie theaters, and a couple other businesses. But, they didn’t celebrate anyway, being non-Christian and all, so no big deal.

Then, eventually people began to understand that Chanukah wasn’t the Hebrew word for Christmas, it wasn’t marked at the same time, and noted for something really different. So, “Happy holidays” was rolled out, there was even a song by some crooner, and hey, New Year day is just around the corner, so there were two holidays to be happy about, so that was fine. It was even acknowledged that other people celebrated something different, and wishing them any kind of Christmas made a lot of assumptions that demonstrated a lack of understanding about how others might feel about what was essentially not “their” holiday. Santa Claus was for everybody, he was an equal opportunity chimney slider, so slipping into “ Merry Christmas” every now and then wasn’t terrible, just an autopilot statement, much like “Have a nice day.”.

There came a time after I started practicing Zen fully that “Merry Christmas” was right out, and even “happy holidays” seemed somehow dualistic. There were even a couple years where I didn’t celebrate at all. I was living alone, and it was really just another day. In a way, it was very liberating, not having all the demands of family and present buying and all the other baggage that comes along with it. It showed my total non-attachment to a holiday that on so many levels was definitely not Buddhist, at least so I thought. And that was fine for that time, I suppose it was something I needed to do to further my practice. Eventually I did get invited to some dinners, but the words Merry and Christmas were never uttered by me, not next to each other in that sequence anyway. I wasn’t declaring “war on Christmas” any more than I was the winter solstice; it just didn’t feel like “mine” to celebrate.

Eventually I saw that feeling had nothing to do whatsoever whether I thought of it, or anything else, as “mine.” Whenever I did that, it was setting me in opposition to “yours,” which rarely works out well. Sure, it’s a good thing that I climb into my bed instead of yours, so I’m not getting all “We Are the World,” “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” attached to the Absolute here. But neither am I attaching to the Relative where “this” doesn’t intertwine inextricably with “that.” It should probably be written as thisandthat, but it’s the spaces between words and thought that help make sense of any of it.

Likewise, when I start thinking of “this” day as holy, that I start appending any meaning onto something that is totally arbitrary, that the potential for problems come. Woody Guthrie didn’t write “This Land is My Land, That Land is Your Land, so Get the Hell Out of My Land.” There are all those people throughout the world to whom December 25 means nothing more than that it’s not the 24th anymore. That some people are now virtually demanding that everyone wish everyone else a “Merry Christmas,” and that anyone who doesn’t is a subversive and should “Get the Hell Out of My Land” strikes me as a textbook example of greed anger and delusion, and not just in a Buddhist sense.

There’s really no reason to think of Monday as worse than Saturday, or December 25th is superior to the 26th. Zen practice has taught me that it’s not one, and not two. So if someone will be happier when wished a Merry This, I’ll wish them one. If they will appreciate a Happy, Wonderful, have a Happy. If they’re a little down on one day or the day after, wish them a whatever will make them feel better that day. If I’m paying attention, I’ll notice when someone leans to heavily on the “not one” side, and who is a little too “not two.” If in some skillful way I can help them think of any day being a good day, I should do that.

May all beings be happy every day, not on just an arbitrarily chosen one.

‘‘Tis the season to be jolly,” right? When ‘tisn’t it?