Many times in your writing I come across the idea, in one form or another, that “You’ll never be free of your problems, nor would you ever want to be.” — I have some questions about this approach. — What about the natural drive towards healing and solving our problems that we all have, for ourselves and others? Is this totally irrelevant to actually being happy? Should we just stay stuck in our problems and not try to heal them? Furthermore, what about compassion? Compassion means you see someone in pain, and you want to help them, you don’t just say, “This person’s problems will never really be solved, so what’s the point in helping?” It seems like a basic idea underlying compassion would be the notion that problems can be solved at least a little. Not that you’ll ever be done with challenges, but that you can overcome particular humps that are inhibiting your or someone else’s happiness. How does this gel with your/Zen philosophy?
Christ, what a question! OK. There’s nothing wrong with having a natural inclination towards solving your own and other people’s problems. That drive is compassion itself.
However the idea that someday you’ll solve all problems and be done with them forever and ever is an unrealizable fantasy. The reason I waste so much time pointing out this incredibly obvious fact is because I’ve seen a lot of Spiritual Master types make a damn good living promising their patented technique will achieve just that effect – Get Enlightened and all your problems are solved for all time! Ain’t gonna happen.
Compassion is a tremendous thing. This is why Buddhist teachers from Buddha to Dogen and on down the list have all stressed compassion. The problem is that there is a huge difference between true compassion and the thought of compassion. The thought “I must be compassionate” often smothers true compassion to the point where true compassion can’t even be expressed.
This is what I was trying to get at when I wrote on Suicide Girls about the whole Myanmar thing. Even if I say it a zillion times, nobody seems to get the point that I see nothing at all wrong with protesting against things like the stuff going on in Myanmar. Protest away! Yay, protesters! You go, girls (and boys)!
The problem is when your concern for expressing what thought has defined wrongly as “compassion” gets in the way of what really needs done. You’re so compassionate towards the monks in Myanmar. But then after the protest you stop by a bookstore, see a book you like on the shelf, leaf through it, decide you want it, look on the back at the price, decide it’s too much, then go home and order it for half that price through Amazon. Where is your compassion for the owners of that bookstore? Are monks in Myanmar more deserving of your compassion simply because everybody you know is talking about them? Maybe the bookstore people don’t deserve your compassion because they’re middle-class Americans and the Myanmar monks are poor and downtrodden. And we all know, middle-class Americans have no problems at all.
And where is your compassion towards the military junta of Myanmar? Without their actions would you even know about the plight of the monks? They were getting shat upon for years before you even heard there was a problem. Now you get to read all about it. You ought to thank those military assholes for their tireless work in exposing the problems of their country!
I’m just trying to give some common and easy examples of a more generalized attitude.
And, by the way, to the nut jobs in the comments section who equate putting a 17 year old blind sheep dog with bad kidneys whose back legs don’t work anymore to sleep with the atrocities of the Nazi regime… get a clue. OK?
Here’s another question from the Peanut Gallery:
I’ve got a couple of questions to which your answer would be appreciated if you’ve got the time.
1: are there any books on the subject of zen buddhism which you think are worth reading?
2: i myself am interested at becoming ordained at some point, though most of my knowledge is of the tibetan tradition, what was your monastic experience / ordination process like?
To Meet the Real Dragon by Gudo Nishijima
Shobogenzo by Master Dogen
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time by Dainin Katagiri
I don’t really have any monastic experience to speak of. I never lived in a monastery, as such. I don’t think my two years at the Kent Zendo really count. Though in many ways those were as much a true monastic experience as anything. My ordination was just like I described it in Hardcore Zen. Not very exciting. I did two ordinations, actually. After the one recounted in the book I did another one through the Soto Shu (Soto Sect) of Japan. More formal, but pretty much the same.
I never actually wanted to be ordained, though. I did it more because Nishijima Sensei wanted me to be ordained. It wasn’t a big dream of mine or anything. So it’s hard for me to give a lot of advice to people who dream of being monks. Mostly I’d just say it won’t be a damned thing like your dreams.
I’m in Ohio now. Here’s the gig list again:
November 7th at 7PM I’ll be at the Akron Public Library downtown.
November 10th 0DFx plays at the Spitfire Saloon in Cleveland.
*By the way, the title of this piece refers to a feature in MAD magazine.