Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Brief Meditation on an Increasingly Deranged Planet


Photo credit: snowbear from morguefile.com

This has been bubbling up for me today. Noticing how warm this January has been, after record cold last January. Thinking about our ancestors. How they looked to the patterns of the natural world for wisdom. And then a knowing that so few of us do this today, followed by a feeling that even if the majority of us return to these patterns, what if what we are picking up is at least partly deranged?

A few weeks ago, I was in Iowa. It was warm there too, and on one of the lakes outside of Des Moines, hundreds (maybe even a few thousand) geese had landed. Were squawking at each other. Circling. Waiting. Whatever they were doing there, it seemed off. Geese usually fly to the border states and Mexico in the winter. They don't winter in Iowa. But given the signals they've been getting, perhaps Iowa felt right the first week of January.

If this is the new normal, we might have to go beyond simply "going back to nature" so to speak. Aligning ourselves with a natural world that is deranged, in large part because of ignorant human activity, isn't going to bring about the healing that we seek. Our attention skills need to be honed to the point that they allow us to witness the deranged, and see through it to the dynamic "homeostasis" behind the curtain. If we seek to build/create in alignment with our ecosystems, we're going to have to learn how it organizes to thrive, rather than simply mimic what is currently present. Like riding the breath in meditation until it settles deep in the heart of the body/mind, so to is the practice of returning to true unity with/in our Earthly home.




Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The World Inevitably Exposes Our False Identities


Photo credit: Penywise from morguefile.com

There is no I and there is no other.
How can there be intimacy or estrangement?
I recommend giving up trying to get there by meditation,
But rather, directly seizing the reality at hand.
The message of the Diamond Sutra is:
Nothing is excluded from our experienced world.
From beginning to end,
It inevitably exposes our false identities.

Layman P'ang (740-808)

This is quite a jolt of a poem, don't you think? I have been reflecting on this whole "exposure" process lately. How every spring, the snow melts away and reveals both a round of casualties and, also, a round of new life. Body of a squirrel. Barren tree. Rotting couch cushion. Tulip blooming. Burst of bee balm. Newborn robin. Shiny bicycle.

I think there is a place for hiding in, for holding on to those identities, those parts of yourself that aren't completely right, integrated, alive.

And yet, at the same time, it's foolish to either stay there very long, or believe that you can stay there very long.

Winter comes to all of our identities, and everything that we do.
And spring brings in what's next.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Continued Exoticization of #Asians and #Buddhism in America: On Brad Warner's CNN Interview About #NYPD Officer Liu's Funeraln



The recent funeral of NYPD Officer Wenjian Liu offered, among other things, a clear window into race relations here in the United States. Occurring in the middle of the current police "slow down," the funeral also was used as another opportunity for members of the more conservative wing of the NYPD to protest NYC Mayor DeBlasio's fairly mild reform agenda. With plummeting arrest rates, and no real rise in public safety concerns in New York, the NYPD's actions demonstrate the highly bloated quality of the department. Indeed, some of the very issues being raised by the #BlackLivesMatter protests - the hyper-excessive arrest rates for black and brown folks, the Broken Windows policy, and the general state-sanctioned violence of police forces - are being shown for what they truly are: racist, classist oppression.

Meanwhile, this morning I saw the video above floating around my Facebook feed and I had a moment of "huh," followed by a sigh. The choice by CNN of Zen teacher Brad Warner as the face and voice for Buddhism in the US, and in particular, the one to speak about the rituals at Officer Liu's funeral, speaks volumes.

1. The Asian as perpetual outsider narrative is totally upheld here. Not only does the mainstream media choose a white male to represent Buddhism, but they also cast the funeral of a Chinese-American officer as "exotic" enough to require explaining to their audience.

2. The ignoring of, and/or deliberate suppression of, Asian-American Buddhism narrative is upheld. Numerous Asian-American Buddhist teachers and community leaders could have been selected to do this interview, but they weren't. Furthermore, the robust Chinese-American community as a whole is ignored here, not deemed worthy enough even after several generations on the continent of narrating the story of one of their own.

3. The narrative of celebrity worship. While Brad Warner is barely known outside of Buddhist circles, he's something of a celebrity amongst convert Buddhists. And while Brad's a sincere practitioner and serious student of the dharma, the public persona he's developed, and which his almost cult-like following has propped up, easily comes off as superficial and rebellious in a boyish, teenaged sort of manner.

4. Which serves to uphold the narrative that Buddhism is either trivial or not really something to be taken seriously by the rest of Americans. I have a feeling that Brad's choice to don the robes he rarely uses for this interview was in part coming from an understanding of this issue. He probably knew that the punk rocker turned rebel Zen priest image just wouldn't cut it for national TV news.

Here's the thing. I'm guessing Brad simply responded to the call from CNN and did his best to offer folks watching some insight into Buddhism. I think he did pretty good actually of giving some Buddhist basics in a forum that's horribly prone to superficial sound bytes. In fact, he sounded heartfelt and caring as well, something that often gets downplayed or erased in these interviews. So, understand that this post isn't about bashing Brad; it's about the complexities of systemic racism, and also the dynamics behind marginalizing minority religions and spiritual traditions in a still overwhelmingly Christian nation.

Your thoughts?