This weekend, the movie Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen will play in Boulder (Sat. Jan. 18 at 7:00pm at Muenziger Auditorium at the University of Colorado) and Denver (Sunday Jan. 19 at 1:00pm at Sie Film Center). We’re still several tickets short of our necessary minimum for the Denver screening. So please buy some tickets, Denver people!
My next event after that is a retreat with Kazuaki Tanahashi at Upaya Zen Center Feb 18-23. It’ll be a groovy time, for sure!
I spent a couple hours writing a blog post today that I realized halfway through was a piece of crap. So I deleted it. I still want to post something, but I’ve got stuff to do and have run out of time. So I dug up an article I wrote years ago and never (as far as I remember) put up on the blog. It’s not fantastic. But it’s OK. Here you go!
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A couple weeks ago, the place where I do my regular Zen talks had a fund raising event. Because of my background as a musician, the folks who organized the event asked me to do some kind of a performance there. So I put together a new version of my old band and got together a set. There was another group on the bill that night, a politically concerned all-female ethnic music ensemble. Being the more popular act, they went on first and we were the mop-up act. They didn’t have a P.A. system, so we let ‘em use ours. They didn’t have a set of drums with ‘em, so our drummer let ‘em use his. No biggie. In the old punk rock days we had no choice but to share equipment. It was part of the group ethic that you did not refuse to share.
Between songs, the other band kept talking about big important issues. Awareness was the key word. We all needed to be aware of social problems, aware of injustice, aware of war, aware of poverty, aware of discrimination because of race, gender and sexual orientation. If only we were aware of these things we could begin to make a difference!
Minutes after their set was finished, the members of the first band were nowhere to be found and neither were a single one of their fans. Where was their commitment to social awareness, I wondered, when they weren’t even aware they were breaching one of the cardinal rules of band etiquette? When you play with another group, whether you like them or not, you stay for at least part of their set – especially if you’ve borrowed some of their equipment.
I’m taking this band to task not because I want to hold myself up as an example of good in opposition to their evil. In fact, I know only too well exactly where they’re coming from because I spent so much time there myself. And I fear that much of American Buddhism is also following the same path.
I spoke at Clouds in Water Zen Center in St. Paul, Minnesota a little while ago and someone in the audience asked me about the Bodhisattva Vow – you know, that whole deal about, “Living beings are numberless, I vow to save them all.” Everyone loves that one, and everyone wants you to talk about it. But I wonder how we in America understand the Bodhisattva Vow.
It seems to me that a lot of folks worry that Buddhism is too selfish, it isn’t doing enough to deal with the major issues. How does sitting in one spot solve the problems of global warming and war? How does it end racism, starvation, suicide bombings? These are urgent problems that demand immediate action. I understand that feeling very well. I gave up on Buddhist practice more than once because I felt like it was taking time away that could be spent dealing with more important issues.
We feel guilty about sitting there, doing all this work on ourselves instead of going out in the world and alleviating the suffering of other living beings out there. But I wonder if we can really help anyone else effectively unless we help ourselves first. It’s like what they tell you when you’re on an airplane, put your own oxygen mask on before helping others with theirs. Cuz if you suffocate you won’t be able to do anyone any good.
Sitting in one spot, working on yourself is really the only way to deal with the big issues facing human kind. Remember that idea you always read in Buddhist books about how subject and object are one and the same, how there is no real difference between yourself and the outside world? This wasn’t invented as a clever metaphor. It’s actually a truer and better description of our real situation than the so-called common sense view.
When we, ourselves, become calmer, more rational, more centered, everything we do naturally becomes a fulfillment of the Bodhisattva Vow. When we make efforts to center ourselves, the rest of the world participates in that effort. It sounds weird, I know. But it happens to be true. The real fulfillment of the Bodhisattva Vow rarely manifests itself in big, sweeping acts of heroic service to all mankind. It’s usually something very small.
Smiling at your boss even though he is a smug, self-serving royal pain in the ass is the fulfillment of the Bodhisattva Vow. Shutting up when you spontaneously think of the perfect sarcastic come-back to a rude clerk at the DMV is the fulfillment of the Bodhisattva Vow. Putting the toilet seat down after you’re done so your sister won’t fall in is the fulfillment of the Bodhisattva Vow. Staying behind and watching some of the set by the band who lent you their stuff is the fulfillment of the Bodhisattva Vow.
Your real day-to-day, minute-to-minute activity right here and right now has immeasurable impact upon the entire Universe. Your real action right here and now creates the Universe.
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