Thursday, February 24, 2011

Buddhism: The Whole Bleeping Point!!! (today, at least)

I'm on a deep study of ACI Course: What the Buddha Meant. It's debated and talked about for 2,500 years. Some people say the main point of spirituality is to be in the moment, others say it's to be calm or learn how to cope. To find peace. The course quotes directly from Lord Buddha.

In the Sutra Requested by the Realized Being Rashtrapala the quote is pretty direct: 'beings must wander here because they have no knowledge of the ways of emptiness. Those of compassion use skillful means and millions of different reasonings to bring them into it."

Of course the course also said in his first teachings 'Don't believe what I teach; treat it like gold: melt it, cut it, rub it." So I'm trying to melt it (against my direct experience), cut it (against my own logical analysis), and rub it against other experts who I trust.

The basis of Lord Buddha's first teaching is the 4 Arya Truths. By definition of the word 'arya' (pakpa in Tibetan) means someone who has had a direct perception of emptiness.  He discovered these 4 truths after seeing emptiness directly and the truths were centered around dukkha or dissatisfaction of life in all its multitudes. He had these realizations -allegedly- in a deep state of meditation after training his mind and body for years. Therefore the very beginnings of historical Buddhism came from this moment, this direct perception of emptiness and toward the end of His historical life, Lord Buddha wrapped up his teachings in explaining their meaning in Commentary on the True Intent of the Sutras which concerns itself primarily with the concepts literal vs. figurative and how it all fits into emptiness.

It's not hard to deduce that if the very first teachings began after the direct perception of emptiness and concerned itself with helping people AND then the very last teachings concerned themselves with emptiness as a main summation of all the different teachings, that emptiness seems to be the beginning and end of it. Therefore emptiness seems to be the main purpose, where I start off in my studies and where I end. So why are there all these different teachings? Why is there all this talk of yoga, karma, chakras, angels, teachers, lineages?

Why do some Buddhist experts in the West not even mention emptiness? Why is there such a premium on 'being in the moment' when all that does is lead to death? I wonder this as I read article after article about learning to be calm, learning to cope with suffering. But the 4 Arya Truths weren't about how to 'cope' with the awful things of life (aging, sickness, death, hurt, pain, etc). The 4 Arya Truths are about stopping the awfulness. Crushing the ignorance and extinguishing the pains in the process.

I wonder this a lot until I remember the second part of the quote: skillful means. Some people respond to yoga more, others to debate, while still others love music, meditation techniques, other spiritualities and paths. All of these bring some sense of peace, which is needed to get one step closer to emptiness. I can't be upset at what I see when people comment on enlightenment as 'just being.' If this is a way of getting me one step closer or getting someone one step closer to having the concentration or wisdom necessary then I can't be annoyed. Quite the opposite, I should rejoice.

In Lord Buddha's time he taught 88,000 different teachings throughout his life. Yet toward the end, he admitted that whole point of it all was to skillfully bring people closer to ending their own pain through the direct perception of emptiness. To be more exact he said not bit of pain could ever be relieved unless mental afflictions are ended through the direct perception of emptiness. That is the very definition of nirvana: cessation of mental afflictions through the direct perception of emptiness. One is forced into seeing paradise by this method, just like I am forced into seeing my friends in pain because of all the deeds I've done in the past.

Nirvana is not a choice for Buddhas any more than 'dying' is a choice for me. Rather, both are illusions forced on the viewer based on what they've done. The illusion of life doesn't mean that nothing matters and to just be calm. On the contrary, EVERYTHING matter because they are shifting illusion based upon the deeds I've done. And I will continue 'doing' and reacting to these changing illusions until I understand emptiness. That is the point of studying karmic management and awareness, ethics, keeping vows: to clean up my illusions, to clean up my pain, to reacher higher to get to the ultimate goal when I can see myself the 4 Arya Truths in the only way really possible: by becoming an Arya.

That's the whole point of Buddhism as I see it today and according to the studies I've been doing. To become the Arya, to have the experience, to clean up the world that I'm seeing.

There are so many methods, so many religions, so many teachers saying different things. If these are Buddhas or people with compassion they are leading others closer to the end of their pain. That is something I can rejoice and feel peace in at all times. We are getting closer every day.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How to Be Alone (privacy)

I've been reading and re-reading Jonathan Franzen's riveting collection of essays "How to Be Alone" for the past few weeks. One of the ideas that I've been taken with is his analysis of faux-privacy that our culture seems to crave. Yet with so many profiles on facebook, blogs, gossip columns, and twitter followers, privacy seems to be a silly idea: something we nod our heads to like 'education' and 'freedom' but that's also as gray fuzzy thing. When I can hear the results of some one's pap smear on the subway because the passengers is blabbing into her cell phone, it's hard for me to take privacy seriously in general culture.

Franzen points out that what people want isn't privacy, it's acknowledgment in public space. In some ways this intrudes upon the Garbo-esque 'I Vant to Be Ah-lone" put-on many pretend to crave. As public spaces shrink and Americans are further isolated and removed from each other, we're trying to re-adjust, find new ways of connecting, even at risk of exposure. It's primal and it trumps all arguments for privacy because those are mostly abstract while the need to connect is visceral and self-evident.

There is one other thing that destroy privacy: security. More accurately, it's the appearance of security. But most people are perfectly willing to sacrifice their most intimate secrets if it's couched under the 'security' argument. There are 3,700 cameras in the NY subway. I know this because the MTA has posters up advertising this fact proudly, saying that they're taking OUR safety (i.e. my safety) seriously. This is supposed to make me feel comfortable. When they do a full-body scan and can see me naked at the airport, this is supposed to soothe my fears that the plane will be blown to bits in mid-air. When every card statement is being poured over and analyzed by random strangers on the other side of the world, I'm supposed to feel assured when they call me up to verify my purchases to make sure it's me using the account. I don't think I've ever asked in that moment -which is a clear invasion of privacy- who are you? Who am I talking to, and why are you looking at my records? Why are you scanning my body, do I know you? I don't ask the question because a little part of me -the consumer- feels like I'm secure. I'm safe and the simple fact is this stranger doesn't know me, has no information that is immediately damaging to my reputation.

Franzen argues that what most people mistake for privacy is something else: data protection. We want data protection so people don't get social security numbers, medical records, and other things which can be used to commit theft. This is simple and easy to do, but doesn't have the same 'sexiness' as saying privacy. But data protection is the actual thing we want. This is achieved through simple encryption and codes that can be broken by a hacker with enough skill and time. I am betting -however- that my circumstances- don't warrant extra attention and the robbers, hackers, and diamond heist criminals will over look me in favor of bigger prey.

But how marvelous the invention and re-invention of privacy is to the general public. It's sacred and yet absolutely absurd. It doesn't exist and we're constantly trying to defend it. For the most part, we are left utterly alone throughout our lives. We are free to urinate on the streets (and just as free to be fined), but odds are it's the onlookers who feel more violated that the street pisser.

The question is what do we do with that time alone? In between work and family/friends, there are these huge gaps of solitude in the car or subway, at night before bed, right before waking up, meditating, eating meals, when sick, and definitely in the final hours. Dying and death is an act of solitude. And made all the more bitter and painful if comfort is sought, because the attempt is futile. There is no comfort, there is no one who can relate in those moments. Death and birth is unique and separate from anyone else's experience. There are common motifs that may repeat themselves, voluntary and involuntary muscle lapses, agonal breaths taken, and stillness. The only comparable thing that happens to it is sleep. And every night -no mater how many partners one has- when the lights go out and stillness settles into the body there are 6 billion people falling into sleep every night completely alone.

Franzen has made me think about my life and my love of reading and writing: two of the most solitary things to do with free time. As I search for new friends and lovers every year, I always try to balance it with a regime of 'aloneness.' I can't think without having that aloneness every day. I become irritable, pessimistic, and depressed. And I feel guilty because society/media/culture keeps telling me that I should be 'wired in' from womb to tomb. But for now Franzen's essays are keeping me comfort with as much pleasure as my friends and family.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dating in 2011

I said this year I was going to try to date. I've been on the shelf for a while and hopefully my 'preserves' are still good (have no idea what that means, but I like referring to myself in the jelly/jam sense). It's come to my attention that I'm a 30+ man who has lived in big cities all my life and I have no idea how to date, pursue, ask out, engage and be a boyfriend or partner.

Years of internet browsing has made me a consummate consumer: of products, of people, of exchanges and relationships. And with consumers the premium is on the 'ease and please' of what's being taken. Being a consumer is a lot different from being a lover. A lover of the arts, a lover of film, a lover of people. A lover engages on a different level from a consumer. A lover takes risks, has their hopes dashed, experiences anguish. Most of all, a lover gives back. Consumers ingest, while lovers play.

I have never experienced anguish in my relationships. When they are difficult, confused, tangled, then I stop consuming. I move down the aisle. I am trying to change myself. And the best way I know how to do that is to 'BE' the change as the oft-quoted Gandhism says. If I'm seeking, then I must be what is sought. This is a fundamental shift. As a shopper, I buy with the expectation that the external is going to change me internally. Even though I know that's impossible, on some level when I'm buying and consuming like a good little American, I expect alchemy. Voila! Six-pac abs, sleeved blanket-warmth, and a lover.  As a partner, I first enact the change in myself and slowly start to see the change out there. In dating, I guess there is a play between like-hearted  people to share. In what is shared, there is some growth. The colors, flavors, excitements increase.

So what should I be like? It sounds too needy. An awkward teenager question, but what and how can I be in the world to make myself a lover?

I guess I would need acts that are

The easiest way I know how to do that is to give to others. Give hugs, give actual things, give time, listen, smile, and enjoy my friends and family. It sounds easy. I'm guessing there are some people who do this on a daily basis as second-nature. For me, I have to acquire this in my heart. I'm going to be willing and more open to being enthralled and disappointed.

So far 2011 has been a series of 'nos' and 'not reallys.' And surprisingly, the 'no's didn't kill me. I'm still here, still seeking. If I can take a New York 'no' in romance then I can take anything. The 'yes' will come soon from the right one. For now, I keep saying yes and trying to invite the world into my heart.


I saw my friend's play last night and was floored. "disOriented" is a Korean family drama and my friend is Kyoung Park. The writing was painterly, evocative, and precise. The twists in the plot played beautifully with a great cast of actors. The sets, costumes, directing, it all flowed together. It's taken 5 years for 'disOriented" to be developed, rewritten, tweaked, redrafted, recast, re-everything but it appears to have paid off splendidly.

Now, one waits for the reviews and who knows how that goes. I'm hoping it gets NYTimes recommend and extended or remounted at a bigger space. I remember seeing "Bach at Leipizig" a few years ago at New York Theatre Workshop. Stunned. Enormously pleased, fluid, and ornate like the legendary fugues of Bach's time. I walked out of there beaming and assuring my friend 'this is a homerun.' The next week the reviews came out and they were savage. Apparently Tom Stoppard isn't in fashion, so anything resembling the wordsmith gets hacked to pieces. Yet, I bet if I were to read or remount "Bach" years later it would play as brilliantly as it did that night. I was looking it at in a vacuum of the work itself, and not in comparison to others or in regard to the status of the writer. It still remains one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had in the theatre.

'disOriented,' I'm pretty sure will be heralded (but I was sure last time). It really is terrible to have to pour one's heart into something for years and then leave it up to a small committee of 4-5 reviews in New York to decide if it worthy. As a former reviewer I am conflicted. I understand the importance of critique and analysis, and yet I'm disappointed in how dependent theatre is on not just good reviews, but amazing reviews.

The actors, director, writer all deserve their day in the sun. I hope for the best.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Escaping Winter

The past month I was in Miami being lazy. I avoided most of the NYC snow storms, went to the gym, meditated, and helped out around my parent's house. On the writing end, it didn't feel like I accomplished that much, but when I look back I finished a full-length play, 2 completed outlines, and a story for Brooklyn Rail, so maybe I underestimate myself.

Now that I'm back in NYC, the city feels beat up and haggard. People are wearing the winter on their gray faces. But in some ways I'm glad to be back for a while. I might have missed the majority of blizzard.

I'm been thinking about 2011 and how to be of benefit to others. I guess this is something to meditate on and consider. Hopefully more will be revealed.