Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day

With palms together,

Veterans Day.  What can I say?  Millions of American men and women have left the relative safety of home in order to serve in the Armed Forces. Sworn to protect the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, these citizen soldiers learn the skills necessary to close with, kill or capture the enemy. Its a scary thought on the one hand,  to turn a citizen into a human being that can, if need be, hunt fellow human beings. On the other hand, defense of our nation and way of life is crucial in a world gone mad with zealots, dictators, and insurgents willing to kill themselves in order to kill others.

This said, as a Zen Buddhist priest, I am ambivalent about this whole thing. We vow not to kill, but make exceptions for self defense.  We vow not to slander others, but easily refer to those who would harm us in dehumanizing ways, ways in which it makes it easier to kill. and if any of us believe we would not —-or could not—- kill, let me say this: you are deluding yourself.

For me, Veterans Day is a reminder to be grateful for those citizens willing to take up arms and move into harm’s way to defend us. These are people willing to offer their lives to defend us and, perhaps more importantly, they are willing to set aside their civilian and religious values in order to do so. But, at what cost?  

As a therapist I have treated a huge number of traumatized veterans: ordinary people like you and me, who have endured something extraordinarily dangerous and lived to tell about it.  Yet, here’s the rub: combat trauma changes us in unimaginable ways. No longer able to forget it and move on, these veterans suffer from intrusive thoughts, exaggerated startle response, feelings of anger, feelings of deep guilt, and a desire to be “normal.”  Yet, they are not able to do so, hence they see themselves trapped in nightmares that, for them, are as real as the sting of my kyosaku if I were to smack you with it.

Much of the hoopla around this national holiday is downright offensive to me and many veterans, veterans who see the use of the emotionally charged remembrances as methods to increase sales.  The sentiment is touching and embracing: we veterans are “heroes” simply because we put on a uniform.  Really?  For me, this sort of thing diminishes true heroism and true patriotism.  Moreover using patriotism, American flags, and so on to profit is a cheep trick done on the backs of those who have sacrificed so much. Its disgusting.

Many of us who survived combat do not feel as though we are heroes and are uncomfortable being referred to in that way.  There are true heroes in war, people who risked their lives to protect or care for their brothers and sisters under hostile fire.  True patriotism requires us to engage in serious dialogue about the nature of war, its use value in protecting us, and our nation’s motivations in entering into hostile relations with others.  

For me, I prefer a quiet period of Zazen, perhaps at our Veteran’s park, to honor my fellow veterans.  Or perhaps a visit to a Veteran’s home or VA hospital. To me, this is an engaged practice.  No words need be said, just a compassionate smile and hug will do.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Some Days

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Again it has been awhile since I posted any Zen-related musings. I'm not sure what's happening, but as I've said in earlier posts, I feel I have little to contribute that hasn't been said before. As it says in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun.  That being said, perhaps I might make a few comments on the state of Zen today.  

Frankly, I feel Zen is suffering from a sickness which is pervading our world.  It is a sickness that causes a perversion of Zen and assaults its very nature.  There is no name for this sickness, at least not yet, but its symptoms include: a desire for power and recognition by its priests, a desire for money to support bigger and "better" Temples and Zen Centers, an all too willing effort to kow-tow to those interested in "self-improvement," an unwillingness to take on politically dangerous or incorrect stances in a public way, and an interest in playing the part rather than being the part of a Zen practitioner.

I admit, this list exposes my own biases.  I am not interested in fancy robes, public recognition, recognition by other Zen teachers, or any of that ego-driven crap.  I am interested in piercing the veil, uncovering the truth of our reality, living an honest and morally upright life, and being in service to others (sometimes at a cost to myself and my relationships). 

When I look at the ads in Buddhist magazines I cringe.  They expose the sad truth that Zen as practiced in some centers is more about profit than anything else. The costs all but prohibit ordinary, blue collar people from participating and seem directed at the more "privileged" classes of our society.  Ads that promote self, as opposed to renunciation of self seem so common as to be the norm. 

I really don't know what the "cure" might be for this sickness, but I believe it is our responsibility as Zen practitioners to do a fearless moral inventory of our practice and our relationship to power, authority, and wealth. Zen, in my humble opinion is, at root, iconoclastic, yet I rarely see the shards of our society's icons on the floor. While money is necessary to operate a Center and/or Temple, it is important, it seems to me, that we examine our needs to see if they are actual needs or, rather, "wants."  I would be careful of any Zen Teacher who values his or her robes above his or her relationship to the Dharma which teaches renunciation.  Personally, I think those who dress in fancy robes, carry whisks and/or teaching sticks about with them, should be carefully scrutinized.  This includes those priests who seem to pride themselves in who they know or whether they are members of the newly forming organizations that hold themselves out to be gatekeepers.

A true Zen teacher in my opinion is one who renounces such things and simply goes about his or her business teaching the Dharma in everyday life in an everyday way: nothing special.