This week throughout the world Buddhists commemorate the passing of Shakyamuni Buddha into Parinirvana—both death and final enlightenment, complete and perfect cessation.
In the story told of Shakyamuni’s passing there is a moment when a demonic Mara visits to tell him it’s time for him to die.
The Buddha replies that Mara should not worry, his life will end in three months’ time.
I recently watched a short, chilling, beautiful, often harsh, possibly demonic film called Obey—artfully assembled by British filmmaker Temujin Doran from images available on the web and based on the book Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges.
The Vimeo description says the film “charts the rise of the Corporate State, and examines the future of obedience in a world of unfettered capitalism, global-isation, staggering inequality and environmental change.”
More on the film can be found at the wonderful BrainPickings by Maria Popova.
The artistry used to raise these issues in many ways duplicates, on a very sophisticated level, the tendencies of propaganda it critiques, although clearly to different ends. In the words of one of the comments (posted by Tim Shaker) on the Vimeo page, “This film raises some issues that desperately need more public awareness, but uses the same emotional-programming scare tactics that it criticizes. Not to say preaching to the choir doesn’t play a part too though.”
As a Buddhist I don’t quite feel a perfect fit with the “choir” possibly being preached to, but at the same time the film’s radical reading of the global situation resonates with my own thinking—at its harshest, darkest, bleakest.
I believe—or think I believe—that if we wish to act beneficially in response to the suffering of this world, this world, we have to find in ourselves a response that includes and can move beyond the impasse this critique articulates.
It occurred to me this morning, as we prepare here in Brooklyn for our Parinirvana observance, that in some ways the truth visualized and spoken in the harshness and beauty of Obey is the voice of Mara—not the voice of a Mara who lies or hates or tempts or destroys but the voice of Mara as one’s own shadow, the Mara who is telling us it is time for us to die, and also the Mara who asks, when the young Shakyamuni is giving total effort to realizing awakening, “Who do you think you are to think you can do this?”
Shakyamuni’s response was to touch the earth—an expression of interconnec-tedness with all life, a request to the earth to bear witness to his effort—and in so doing he awoke and became the Buddha.
Ultimately this film, and my own many Maras, move me to ask, “Who do I think I am that I think I can do anything about this?”
The answer is I don’t, I can’t. But I would like to find a way to touch the earth in the face of this question, in the face of this chilling, beautiful, often harsh, possibly demonic thinking, which is not false, but incomplete. I would like to find a way to touch the earth that allows me to continue, moment by moment, to ask What is it? and What then must we do?
I would like to frame my answer, any answer I may receive, enact, let go of, over and over, in the practice of the bodhisattva vows.
I have been making an effort to study this question through careful study of Eihei Dogen’s verses for arousing the bodhisattva vows, the Eihei Koso Hotsuganmon, from the Shobogenzo fascicle “Keisei Sanshoku” (“Valley Streams, Mountain Colors”).
A talk I gave on the beginning of the Eihei Koso was recorded at Glastonbury, U.K., in November 2012. It lays out, I hope, some ways to frame the question and can be accessed with this link:
The talk gets nowhere near an answer. But I hope the frame helps us to begin.
A four-day writing workshop retreat at San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm …
Writing As A Wisdom Project, August 15-19, led by Catherine Gammon, combines a relaxed meditation schedule and teachings from the Zen tradition with the practice of imaginative writing.
Engaging playfully with language as an opportunity to receive, express, study, and reveal our own presently arising body and mind, we will write together from prompts, and read aloud, listen, and respond to one another’s words. Our writings and responses are explorations, and our conversations are based in imaginative and emotional insight rather than craft or editorial critique. Our time together will be intimate and playful, and will offer everyone opportunities for participation and discussion.
Our daily schedule will include meditation, dharma teaching, writing and group discussion, as well as free time for rest, reading, and walking in the farm and garden, to nearby Muir Beach, and in the surrounding hills.
Full registration details here.
Writing As A Wisdom Project will also be offered in Pittsburgh on June 30 at Stillpoint in Lawrenceville, at Marblehead Zen Center in Marblehead, MA on July 15, and at Brooklyn Zen Center, on July 22.
Does your local Occupy movement recognize the climate crisis that 100% of us face (or refuse to face)?
I’m thinking sensitivity to this issue varies locality by locality.
The Ventana Wilderness fire arrives at Tassajara, 2008
System Change Not Climate Change—I saw this great slogan and call coming out of Occupy Vancouver in response to the climate conference happening at present in Durban, South Africa. There is an Occupy Cop17 already in progress there, and Democracy Now will be broadcasting live from the conference all of next week. It’s time to draw the connections.
Transition has been looking at the relationship of peak oil and climate change to economies, justice, and war and peace for some years before the economic meltdown. Transition saw it coming. Is there a conversation going on between Transition and your local Occupation? (Links at Transition Network, Transition Culture, Transition US.)
I ask these questions because I think I see sometimes a narrowness of focus, as if Occupy were a campaign, defining itself by just a handful of issues, not the movement it seemed to be from the start, a movement awakening hope and addressing our profound planetary interconnection and state of risk, and I wonder if this appearance of narrowness is happening everywhere, or is just the particular flavor I see, or the flavor concocted by the limitations of my own observing and impatient mind.
I’m about to leave for California for a month of residential Zen practice at San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm. Before I go I would like to share two short views of the planet relative to fracking, not here in the Marcellus Shale, but in South Africa and in France. These videos give image to what is being done to this radiant earth, the catastrophe taking place in our name, in the name of our being able to use our computers and refrigerate our food and drive our cars and watch a movie that comes in the mail from Netflix and get on an airplane and fly halfway around the world, or even just across the country. If we think we are not complicit in this we are not paying attention. These film images are to weep for, but they also show people making efforts to make a change.
We always ask how, and we don’t know how, and sometimes we leap into what and into action too soon. Before we ask how, maybe we have to open our eyes to the present situation, maybe we have to become willing to see.
First we have to weep, I think, for the beauty of what we are losing. And after that maybe we can laugh with the beauty of what we can do together to change.
Sitting for an hour today at Occupy Pittsburgh with a dozen people, a candle, a rose, a stick of incense, and a bell, hearing the silence and cacophony of birds, wind in the trees, cars passing at the other end of the camp, some with horns honking support, people from the occupation cheering in response (or that’s the story I imagined based on the sounds), and for a while some nearby guitar riffs and tunings, preparations maybe (another story) for a jam session developing later in the afternoon—it occurred to me that in our sitting, as we welcome and let go of our stories (like those I dreamed on hearing the honks and cheers and guitar), we give ourselves and others an opportunity to occupy reality—wind, birds, cars, honks, cheers, music, all equal in the resting mind, their separations and the mind that names them letting their separation and naming go, if even for a moment.
This was a bright, warmish day for fall in Pittsburgh, with sunshine and smiles filling the open spaces, and campers sweeping fallen leaves, a good day to feel encouraged about the people and the place and the city, the movement everywhere and everywhere possibility.
On the way home, I caught the photo of somebody’s brilliant sign.
Should the occupations come in from the cold?
What “should” in that question means is “would I like”:
Would I like the occupations to come in from the cold?
Yes, I think I would.
I would like the occupations to consider, or reconsider, what looks like needless heroics around toughing it out by camping through winter weather.
What were the dates of the occupations in Tunisia and Egypt? What were the coldest temperatures, the worst weather conditions? Can we wake up and look around and recognize the truth of the difference in where we live?
Maybe in Oakland and L.A. the winter’s not much of a threat. But New York has already seen snow. And it’s only October.
Even the Buddha went indoors for the season of rains.
Even armies retreat for weather. Or they do when they’re in contact with the land. Or they did, once upon a time.
I don’t write this as a camper. I’m only a marginal participant, a visitor, a sympathizer, an Internet follower and re-poster. And I imagine of the handful of people who may read this, not many, if any, will agree.
But this is what I’ve been thinking about as the temperature drops and the snow falls.
The occupation movement matters and letting the occupations wither away as the weather worsens seems like a big mistake and a lost opportunity.
Maybe the campers who will tough it out see that toughness, that witness, as their historic mission, their call. I don’t know. If they do, they may be right. Maybe the courage of their tenacity in holding the parks and greens is critical.
But part of the rationale for the police action in Denver was reported as two people having been hospitalized for hypothermia.
How can this serve the effort to rally people and cities and towns to get corporate money out of politics? How does it help in the effort to hold big corporations and their leaders accountable for their crimes? Doesn’t it just make it more difficult for marginal participants, visitors, sympathizers, Internet followers, and re-posters to find their own living connection to the occupations?
What if the encampments that are located in winter-affected regions were to work instead—or at least at the same time—to establish indoor sites, to sustain a daylight presence outdoors when weather permits and to move indoors for meetings, rallies and teach-ins in bad weather and at night?
I have seen it assumed that toughing the winter out will demonstrate the seriousness of the movement.
But maybe it also demonstrates folly and an idle and wasted heroics. Maybe seriousness can better be demonstrated by what best communicates with and involves the vast number of people who support the occupations more for what they express and stand for and create as self-organized assemblies than for the act of sleeping in a tent in a park.
I would like to see occupiers everywhere, especially those in climates getting colder by the hour, creatively contemplate the value and uses of mobility, the possibility of finding heroism in regrouping, and the opportunities a brave decision to let go of the land if need be could open up.
I’ve just come back to Pittsburgh from a couple of weeks in New York, including some days upstate, here again just in time to attend a General Assembly before starting retreat tonight with Rev. Shohaku Okumura. Somehow these weeks seem to have packed everything in together.
In Brooklyn most of the time I was with my family (daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter) but we did visit Occupy Wall Street twice and I had a wonderful day of sitting at Brooklyn Zen Center with Rev. Teah Strozer and the sangha there.
Occupy. Zazen. Grandma. All seamless.
Heather and I took a walk in Zucotti Park one afternoon shortly after I arrived. Not much was happening at that time: campers and visitors mingling in small conversations, the food station, the media station, some Raging Grannies, some people with signs standing along the street with the police, the handmade posters and signs spread out on the ground for reading, sort of a horizontal art gallery, a few people starting to make new signs, and important work getting mobilized—a young man with dreads and tie-dyed balloon pants at the center of many concentric circles (the first rings seated, the next rings standing) giving instruction in the method for facilitating small group discussions.
Even though I visited and appreciated what I saw, I watched most of this develop on the internet. I was a little bit wary of the rhetoric of occupation – wary of name-calling, blaming, rage. Until last night the last time I had been bodily present for an organized protest event (my visits to OWS in New York were during non-organized times) was an execution vigil at San Quentin in 2002, where I sat in meditation, part of a group of Zen students from Green Gulch. The rage from the speakers platform that night was sometimes palpable, aimed from above toward the demonstrators below, as if those who had come to protest the execution were the perpetrators of it and at the same time needed to be whipped up into a similar rage. That prisoner was executed that night and that rage is understandable. But rage begets more rage, and rage doesn’t speak for me.
Happily, Occupy Wall Street seemed to be different, consciously working against the rageful model of political action, consciously working to be the change, to create the change in the movement itself. My second visit was to Washington Square Park on a Saturday afternoon. The whole family went this time, and we planned to meet some friends from San Francisco Zen Center. We were hoping to arrive in time to hear Bill McKibben’s soapbox speech (which had been announced on Facebook as a teach-in), but we were late and missed it.
We missed that speech, but by cell phone we did find my Zen Center friends in the milling crowd, and my granddaughter got to enjoy the playground. When we left the park we walked through the Village before returning to Brooklyn. Life was, is, going on everywhere as usual, including our own lives. It’s a peculiar juxtaposition, life as usual and radical transformation. The next day I sat a day of zazen at the Brooklyn Zen Center and heard a wonderful simple dharma talk by Teah Strozer. Maybe ordinary life as usual and radical transformation are not so strangely juxtaposed after all.
What I have seen so far of OccupyTogether tells me we are seeing, we are part of, a new political style, a way of action in which ends and means are not separated. People have compared the style of these occupations to the movements of the sixties, and there is reason for that. But there is more that is completely of this time, this generation. I got some feel for this newness watching the New York general assembly being live-streamed, but what really brought it to life for me was attending the assembly in Pittsburgh last night, listening and looking around the room (this meeting was in a church sanctuary, filled with about 300 people, but it could just as well or even better have been in a park or a parking lot). Feeling your body with the other bodies, your hands raised to express agreement with the other hands, your voice if something moves you individually to join in the speaking—all this says, this is really happening, this is not a mediated event, this is this life, right now. Everyone is invited. Everyone is encouraged. Dissent is possible. What is not invited, not encouraged, is any form of violent speech, hate speech, rage speech. Nonviolence is the practice—for some a tactic, for others a way of life, but for all a commitment—and this nonviolence does not just mean being polite to police and respectful of property.
(A post from Eve Ensler at Huffington Post and on the V-Day website captures the joy and the implications of how this is working, and I recommend it, along with attendance at a local General Assembly, to anyone who may be baffled, doubtful, curious, hesitant, and most especially indifferent to what might be happening “out there,” which everywhere really is just right here.)
The meeting style and practices of the Pittsburgh General Assembly I attended last night (which seem to be common to most assemblies throughout the movement) were familiar to me, thanks to trainings offered at Green Gulch, but this is the first time I have seen them applied in such a large group. As Cordelia, my not-quite-two-year-old granddaughter, would say, Wow!