Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Abandon Poisonous Food

I've been musing on how easily we sucker ourselves into believing impossible, ridiculous things. Take the people who have decided their mission in life is to expose U.S. President Obama as a non-citizen. The stories are wildly entertaining, and yet terrible distractions from the very real problems of this country, not to mention being tinged with racist undertones. Take the birth announcement issue. Two Honolulu, Hawaii newspapers reported Obama's birth in August 1961. There was nothing special about either announcement, nor really about Obama's birth for that matter. Neither of his parents had any celebrity importance in 1961, and the announcements were a mere few lines at most, tucked away in the back of the papers. And yet there are a not small number of people in the U.S. who believe those announcements were faked somehow, that someone "went back" and "forged" every copy of those newspapers that exists. It's so mindbogglingly stupid I can contain myself, and yet thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands of people believe it, and ideas like it.

Chogyam Trungpa wrote a book about Tibetan Lojong practice Training the Mind which is centered around the use of slogans, or pithy sayings, that help cut through the bullshit of the mind. The title of this post, Abandon Poisonous Food, is one of them. Specifically, this slogan is speaking about any and all thoughts we have about our spiritual practice that are related to self improvement or self aggrandizement. He says these are poisonous foods we love to eat. If I sit meditation for x number of years, I will be a better person. Because I am into Zen, I'm a better person than you. It's thoughts like this that this slogan was originally designed to address.

But I really believe that it can be applied to ideas like the conspiracy theories mentioned above. Think about it. Why do these people hold views like this? Sure, it's about politics, and not liking President Obama's particular brand of politics. However, it's more than that. It's about destroying the validity of the man. About believing that he is inherently not worthy of leading the U.S. And when it gets down to it, the people who hold these beliefs consider themselves and others like them to be superior than our current President. It's not simply a strong disagreement about his political choices (I have plenty of those myself). No, those who argue that President Obama is a foreigner who does not deserve to be the leader of this country are people who have abandoned their intelligence in favor of eating a big load of poisonous food.

Let's face it though. Even though you and I may see through conspiracy theories like this, we all have our own set of conspiracies we have decided are true, no matter what the evidence. From the tiny, every day personal story lines like so and so is an asshole because he cut me off on the freeway, to probably the biggest conspiracy theory of them all (I am a solid, fixed, unchanging, separate self.), these poisonous foods tempt us like chocolate ice cream on a hot summer day. Eat me. Eat me. Come on, you know you want to. And we do, over and over again.

So, even though I similtaneously laugh and cringe at the stories about Obama's birth, I know better than to think I'm above those kind of thought patterns. This doesn't mean I will stay quiet in the face of ridiculous political stunts, but it does mean that part of my job is to recognize the person behind the ridiculousness. That, too, is a way to abandon poisionous food.


Vagabonde said...

I just found your blog and read your post with interest. I think that a lot of the people called “birthers” are people who cannot acknowledge the fact that B. Obama is their president (and also many of them are bigots.) They are trying desperately to find something, anything, that could get him out. I also think that the hate radio show hosts push these people to believe anything they want. These people are a minorities but the media by showing them, makes it a bigger story than it is. The main media is for profit, so whatever is sensational, they will show it. I have been reading about the McCarthy area (since I was not in this country then) and I was surprised to see that many tactics of the people on the extreme right are very much like those of that earlier time.

ZenDotStudio said...

Your post reminds me of one by RM Jiyu Kennett from the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives: "Ask not why there is a Hitler but why there is evil inside yourself" I may be slightly off on the exact wording and perhaps evil is not a helpful word but it is as you point out. Everything that comes to our attention is an opportunity to reflect on our personal actions. I can't change your behaviour but I can certainly work with my own. Bows to you.