(from Embracing Each Moment: A Guide to the Awakened Life, by Anam Thubten)
There are many theories on how to achieve happiness. As you know, people are constantly developing techniques and theories about how to achieve it. The truth is the only way you can achieve unconditional happiness is by knowing how to tune in to this truth, this subtle and pervasive truth, the sacredness of everything. Then your relationship with people becomes alive and filled with reverence and love, and you no longer objectify people. Finally you know how to feel unconditional love. Then you may feel that this world is your home, even though it sometimes has a lot of imperfections. It is still your home. You may feel that this world is heaven. Not heaven as you thought, but heaven with lots of imperfections. Then you may feel this spirit everywhere in the world of nature, in the trees and animals. You may feel a deep reverence and heart connection with everything that exists. You’ll find that you are a modern mystic. You’ll be a mystic whose heart is drunk with love. In the end, the emptiness you felt as a terrifying condition and tried to get rid of by all kinds of creative means turned out to be sacred, a doorway to your aloneness that was always perfect and lacked nothing.
Everybody knows, or should know, that music is one of the most powerful ways of generating compassion, of remembering it. I’ve been singing to myself the song embedded below a lot lately, as I think of this unspeakably precious suffering world, as I think of the Buddhist community I used to be a part of — now imploding (deservedly) in scandal — and as I work with (or try to) my own pain.
Ordinary compassion in Tibetan (vajrayana) Buddhist circles seems to be too easily forgotten in the climbing of ladders, the hope of being seen as an “advanced” practitioner. It’s an endlessly sobering thought to me that virtually all of the most heartless people I have known have been Buddhists. Something so deeply wrong there.
Well, I’m still a Buddhist, at least at the core. But it’s clear that some major work needs to be done in reforming systems which were transplanted more or less wholesale from one culture to another, extremely different one. The extent and depth of the scandals we are witnessing are going to require a lot of wisdom and diligence to properly understand, and heal.
One thing always needed: the experience of ordinary old compassion. Nothing tricky there, no cleverness or “advanced” practices required. Just that automatic human ache in the face of suffering. That almost unbearable longing to remove something so intolerable. This is where we start, and it’s our middle, and it’s our end.
Sade’s “Pearls” is such a beautiful and pure expression of compassion. On a deeper level, it is about the truth that any of us could have been, could be, anyone else. “She lives a life she didn’t choose…”
there is a woman in Somalia
the sun gives her no mercy
the same sky we lay under
burns her to the bone
long as afternoon shadows
it’s gonna take her to get home
each grain carefully wrapped up
pearls for her little girl
For the past year or so I’ve been absorbing the scandals which have been rocking the worlds of Tibetan Buddhism and yoga. A great many people have had to rethink their allegiances to one organization or another. Many feel deeply betrayed. Too many have been harmed.
I’ve been thinking about our relationship to spiritual communities for a long time, but more recently I’ve been pondering the question: what, specifically, do we tend to bring to them of our own? If the teacher is mature, genuine, they will not encourage students to treat them as a spiritual dictator. Their purpose is to uplift the student, after all, not to dwell above them. But at the same time why should we expect — in the spiritual supermarket which extraordinary economic prosperity and the free flow of all the world’s information inevitably has brought us — that spiritual communities would not inhabit the same full spectrum of integrity as everything else? In other words, banally, power corrupts. Safeguards are always needed.
I think two areas of work must be engaged with. The first is to call out genuine abusiveness where it has been shown to exist, and help all who have been afflicted by it. The further educational need here is this: Asian religious traditions retain an aura of exoticism and unfathomable depth in the West, while at the same time very few people actually know anything about them. This means: a very human situation, in which insufficiently critical seekers long for meaningful spiritual community, and certain others come along to exploit them. The latter group seems to fall into two different categories: those who know what they’re doing all along, and those who become corrupted by power. But the point is that it’s an interdependent situation: without naivety/uncritical thinking, the exploitative teacher doesn’t succeed. So I think we need to focus on both sides.
The larger point is a truism which is nonetheless true: we’re all just human beings in the big human soup together. Our mistake lies in thinking that anyone teaching something “spiritual” dwells above or outside of that soup. Of course, some might profess some kind of enlightenment (personally, my own reaction whenever I hear this is the opposite of what might be intended), and straightforwardly build a power structure from the beginning. But more usually abusive communities hold together as a result of a number of other people silencing in good faith some nagging doubt in their minds — again out of the very human fear of losing their world, their friends, the warmth, the certainty.
Serendipitously, I just thought of a late poem of Allen Ginsberg’s called “Elephant in the Meditation Hall.” It begins by referencing all the religious scandals of his time, then continues:
… And New Left carried psychedelic pictures of Mao, Che Guevara &
Castro up and down Empire State’s stairways
A scandal of the sixties! …
What US president hasn’t sponsored war, Lumumba’s assassination, an
Scandal hundreds homeless under Brooklyn Bridge freezing Xmas &
New Year’s Eve! Millions homeless in America!
Who’ll gotta pay for 500,000 U.S. boys & girls visiting Arabian Deserts!
Who’ll cough up billions for Iraq War to save a President’s face?
Twelve Billion dollars mickeymouse the year’s drug wars?
El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala we paid death squads for decades
Nobody does anything right! Gods, Popes, Mullahs, Communists,
My own life, scandal! lazy bum! secondhand royal scarlet ties & Yves St.
Laurent Salvation Army blazers …
Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.
“Ten Thousand Flowers in Spring,” by Wu-Men (tr. Stephen Mitchell)
The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry
Harper Perennial, 1993
The Chronicle Project site, a tribute to the life and teachings of the extraordinary Tibetan Buddhist lama Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, has a “quote at random” feature, and the other day when I visited this one came up (from “One Stroke” in Dharma Art, page 100):
Genuine inspiration is not particularly dramatic. It’s very ordinary. It comes from settling down in your environment and accepting situations as natural. Out of that you begin to realize that you can dance with them. So inspiration comes from acceptance rather than from having a sudden flash of a good gimmick coming up in your mind….Inspiration has two parts: openness and clear vision, or in Sanskrit, shunyata and prajna. Both are based on the notion of original mind, traditionally known as buddha mind, which is blank, nonterritorial, noncompetitive, and open.
The books of Alan Watts – to whom several websites have been dedicated (here, here, and here) – were an early inspiration to me. It was nice to rediscover him recently through some of the large number of audio recordings of his talks that can be found at the linked websites and on YouTube.
Earlier in life an Anglican priest, he evolved into a teacher of a highly original mix of Zen, Hindu, and Taoist thought. And unlike so many freestyle teachers out there, he had no interest in becoming a guru and didn’t enrich himself at the expense of those who came to hear him. He was an especially powerful communicator and catalyst of a bigger way of seeing.
In a three-part talk called “The Nature of Consciousness,” of which Part 1 is embedded below, he describes our predicament as caught between two untenable models of reality, which he calls the “ceramic” model and the “fully automatic” model. The “ceramic” model posits that the universe and world and all living beings were and are literally made by a Potter/Artificer who somehow stands utterly apart and outside of His/Her/Its creation. The “fully automatic” model arose out of Science throwing out the “lawmaker” (as superfluous to the process of making and testing predictions), but keeping the “law.”
This has been the dominant paradigm of our culture for several decades, its foundational assumption being materialism:
1) only what we can perceive with our human physical senses and measure with our technologies really exists;
2) beings and things are autonomous, separable from one another and their world;
3) there is no such thing as mind or consciousness;
4) we are machines, directed by chemistry;
5) various combinations of genes produce not only everything physical about us but our unimaginably complex emotional and behavioral lives too;
6) they do this via neurochemistry.
The common use of the concept “scientism” is more recent than the 1960s, when this talk was given, but Watts well and characteristically insightfully describes this View – again, the default View of our culture – at the deeper psychological level. I’ve transcribed portions of the talk.
…because what we really believe is the fully automatic model. And that is our basic, plausible common sense: “You are a fluke, you are a separate event, and you run from the maternity ward to the crematorium and that’s it baby. That’s it.”
…the people who coined the fully automatic theory of the universe were playing a very funny game. What they wanted to say was this: “All you people who believe in religion are old ladies and wishful thinkers. You’ve got a big Daddy up there and you want comfort and things, but life is rough. Life is tough, and success goes to the most hard-headed people.” That was a very convenient theory when the European-American world was colonizing the natives everywhere else. They said: “We’re the end product of evolution, and we’re tough, see? I’m a big strong guy because I face facts, and life is just a bunch of junk, and I’m going to impose my will on it and turn it into something else, you see. And I’m real hard.” See that’s a way of flattering yourself.
And so, it has become academically plausible and fashionable that this is the way the world works. In academic circles, no other theory of the world than the fully automatic model is respectable. Because if you’re an academic person you’ve got to be an intellectually tough person. You’ve got to be prickly.
There are basically two kinds of philosophy. One’s called Prickles, the other’s called Goo. And prickly people are precise, rigorous, logical. They like everything chopped up and clear. Goo people like it vague. For example, in physics, prickly people believe that the ultimate constituents of matter are particles. Goo people believe it’s waves. And in philosophy, prickly people are logical positivists and goo people are idealists. And they’re always arguing with each other, but what they don’t realize is that neither one can take his position without the other person. Because you wouldn’t know you advocated prickles unless there was somebody else advocating goo. You wouldn’t know what a prickle was unless you knew what goo was. Because life is not either prickles or goo, it’s gooey prickles and prickly goo.
But however, you see, this whole idea that the universe is just nothing at all but unintelligent force playing around and not even enjoying it is a put-down theory of the world. People who had an advantage to make, a game to play by putting it down, and making out that because they put the world down they were a superior kind of people. So that just won’t do. We’ve had it. Because if you seriously go along with this idea of the world you’re what is technically called alienated. You feel hostile to the world. You feel that the world is a trap. It is a mechanism, it’s electronic and neurological mechanisms into which you somehow got caught.
So you see, all I’m trying to say is that the basic common sense about the nature of the world that is influencing most people in the United States today, the fully automatic model, is simply a myth. If you want to say that the idea of God the Father with his white beard on the golden throne is a myth, in the bad sense of the word “myth,” so is this other one. It’s just as phony and has just as little to support it as being the true state of affairs.
Why? Let’s get this clear. If there is any such thing at all as intelligence, and love, and beauty, well, you’ve found it in other people. In other words it exists in us as human beings. And as I said, if it is there, in us, it is symptomatic of the scheme of things.
We are as symptomatic of the scheme of things as the apples are symptomatic of the apple tree or the rose of the rose bush. The Earth is not a big rock infested with living organisms any more than your skeleton is bones infested with cells. The Earth is geological, yes, but this geological entity grows people, and our existence on the Earth is a symptom of the solar system, and its balances, as much as the solar system in turn is a symptom of our galaxy, and our galaxy in its turn is a symptom of the whole company of galaxies. Goodness only knows what that’s in.
But you see, when as a scientist you describe the behavior of a living organism, you try to say what a person does. It’s the only way in which you can describe what a person is: describe what they do. Then you find out that in making this description you cannot confine yourself to what happens inside the skin. In other words you can’t talk about a person walking unless you start describing the floor, because when I walk I don’t just dangle my legs in empty space. I move in relationship to a room. And so in order to describe what I’m doing when I’m walking I have to describe the room. I have to describe the territory. So in describing my talking at the moment, I can’t describe this just as a thing in itself, because I’m talking to you.
And so what I’m doing at the moment is not completely described unless your being here is described also. So if that is necessary, if in other words in order to describe my behavior I have to describe your behavior and the behavior of the environment, it means that we’ve really got one system of behavior. That what I am involves what you are. I don’t know who I am unless I know who you are. And you don’t know who you are unless you know who I am.
There was a wise Rabbi once said “If I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you.” In other words we are not separate. We define each other; we’re all backs and fronts to each other. You know, you can’t for example have two sticks. You lean two sticks against each other and they stand up, because they support each other. Take one away and the other falls. They interdepend. And so in exactly that way we and our environment and all of us and each other are interdependent systems. We know who we are in terms of other people; we all lock together. And this is, again and again, the serious scientific description of how things happen, and any good scientist knows, therefore, that what you call the external world is as much you as your own body. Your skin doesn’t separate you from the world. It’s a bridge through which the external world flows into you, and you flow into it.
Just for example as a whirlpool in water, you could say because you have a skin you have a definite shape, you have a definite form. Right? Here is a flow of water, and suddenly it does a whirlpool, and then it goes on. The whirlpool is a definite form, but no water stays put in it. The whirlpool is something the stream is doing, and exactly the same way, the whole universe is doing each one of us, and I see you today and I recognize you tomorrow, just as I would recognize a whirlpool in a stream. I’d say “Oh yes, I’ve seen that whirlpool before, it’s just near so-and-so’s house on the edge of the river, and it’s always there.” So in the same way when I meet you tomorrow, I recognize you. You’re the same whirlpool you were yesterday. But you’re moving. The whole world is moving through you: all the cosmic rays, all the food you’re eating, the stream of steaks and milk and eggs and everything is just flowing right through you. When you’re wiggling the same way, the world is wiggling, the stream is wiggling you.
But the problem is, you see, we haven’t been taught to feel that way. The myths underlying our culture and underlying our common sense have not taught us to feel identical with the universe, but only parts of it, only in it, only confronting it: aliens. And we are, I think, quite urgently in need of coming to feel that we are the eternal universe, each one of us. Otherwise we’re going to go out of our heads. We’re going to commit suicide, collectively, courtesy of H-bombs. And all right, supposing we do, well that will be that, and there will be life-making experiments on other galaxies. Maybe they’ll find a better game.
[Edit (1/22/15): embedded video removed as it is no longer online, alas. Hopefully it can be reuploaded at some future point. I will check periodically.]
This one took me by surprise. It’s a film documenting the relationship between the Dzogchen teacher Namkhai Norbu and his son, now known as Khyentse Yeshe (Dzogchen is a term indicating the pinnacle and most direct path within the ancient Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.) Filmed over the course of 20 years by Jennifer Fox, it surely must represent the most intimate visual portrait of a Tibetan lama to date. At times watching it, in fact, it’s hard to fathom how a family would put up with that degree of intrusion for so long: we see them at the dinner table, preparing for teaching events, and discussing all kinds of personal matters. It caused me to remember a comment in one of Trungpa Rinpoche’s books, to the effect that a bodhisattva has no room for privacy in their life at all, is completely open to the demands of the world.
Namkhai Norbu, like a number of eminent teachers but unlike so terribly many more, managed to escape over the mountains from Tibet in 1959, during the Chinese invasion. He ended up in Italy, where he still lives, and married an Italian woman. At the beginning of the film his son Yeshi – as he was then called – is about 17, deeply respectful of his father but not all that connected to the practice of buddhism. We hear him lament the relationship he has with his father, which lacks the kind of ordinary, Italian familial warmth he wishes for.
But that relationship contains an added wrinkle, because Yeshi, when still in his mother’s womb, was “recognized” as a tulku, the rebirth of a lama – in this case Namkhai Norbu’s own uncle, Khyentse Rinpoche (not the most famous such with this name, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, but a lama who died in Tibet at the hands of the Chinese). Without pressuring his son either to take up his vocation or even to practice, he nonetheless has made it clear how important a responsibility he feels is on Yeshi’s shoulders. And many others around him, too, have high expectations and await the time when he will begin to manifest as a teacher. Yeshi himself remembers many dreams he had at a young age of particular places in Tibet he had of course never seen. However, he chooses a job in the business world, marries, and begins raising a family.
The film moves leisurely through the years, giving us glimpses of Namkhai Norbu teaching and relating to his students.
We see him, very ill, in a hospital bed, and then well again and out in the world (having decided, he says, that he needed to stay alive and continue teaching). And we also see – a highlight of the film – wonderful and equally up-close footage of the Dalai Lama during a visit to Italy (in the stills below Yeshi at about 17 is in the foreground).
At a certain point I realized the film had crept up on me in a remarkable way. Yeshi begins involving himself more and more in Dzogchen practice and helping his father during teachings and empowerments. And then one day, without particular fanfare, he decides finally to visit Tibet, where he has been awaited by students of the previous Khyentse Rinpoche for over 40 years…
Those for whom the entire tulku system is alien and maybe even suspect might not know what to make of this portion of the film. I place myself somewhat in the middle between such a group and those who have strong faith in that system – though probably a little closer to the former – yet I found these scenes very moving.
The film ends with Yeshi beginning to teach as a lama himself – in a casual, 21st-century-style. He comes across as very genuine and open throughout the film, and in a scene between him and his father at the end there is a greater ease between them that is lovely to see. Here, Namkhai Norbu is playing the flute and joking that it would have been “much easier” if he’d chosen to be a musician instead of a teacher…
In fact, I liked this so much I ended up watching it again a couple of days later… All in all, quite a beautiful look into the life of a beloved Tibetan lama, the pressures and difficulties of being a son of whom very much is expected, and the journey which the latter takes to come fully into his own.
In an insightful reading by Don Adams (in Hyperion) of the James Purdy novel In a Shallow Grave, discussing the book as an allegory of the via negativa, I discovered this quotation from “Pseudo-Dionysius,” a theologian who wrote most likely around 500 CE:
The “Divine Cause of all,” says Dionysius:
…is not immovable, moving, or at rest. It has no power, it is not power, nor is it light. It does not live nor is it life. It is not a substance, nor is it eternity or time. It cannot be grasped by the understanding since it is neither knowledge nor truth. It is not kingship. It is not wisdom. It is neither one nor oneness, divinity nor goodness…. It falls neither within the predicate of nonbeing nor of being. There is no speaking of it, nor name nor knowledge of it.
This cannot help but remind me of the famous language of the buddhist Heart Sutra:
Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness. In the same way, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness are emptiness…. There are no characteristics. There is no birth and no cessation. There is no purity and no impurity. There is no decrease and no increase. Therefore, Shāriputra, in emptiness, there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no appearance, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no dharmas; no eye dhātu up to no mind dhātu, no dhātu of dharmas, no mind consciousness dhātu; no ignorance, no end of ignorance up to no old age and death, no end of old age and death; no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering; no path, no wisdom, no attainment, and no nonattainment. [translation by the Nalanda Translation Committee]
It has long struck me that genuine wisdom traditions tend to have – and need, in order to be in a healthy state – both a “positive” and “negative” View, in balance with one another. By these terms are meant, respectively, a View which aims through language to reach – as near as possible – to a description of the nature of reality itself, and one which frustrates, which leads the inquirer explicitly away from, such an attempt.
Christianity seems to me largely to have lost the latter, leading to certain long-standing imbalances. Without a via negativa, the basic View of a spiritual tradition has a tendency towards reification and indeed, potentially, ossification. The approach of negation continually opens perception up and out, aerates it, maintains freshness and clarity. It reminds the practitioner of the fundamental ungraspability of truth. Indeed the negative way might, it seems to me, even be thought of as the approach of spaciousness.
Interestingly, buddhism more often suffers from the opposite problem to Christianity…
In the buddhist tradition, broadly speaking two ancient philosophical approaches predominate, again one “positive,” the other “negative.” The positive approach can be seen in the Cittamatra or “mind-only” school, the latter in the Madhyamaka. Madhyamaka – “deconstruction” some 2000 years avant la lettre – makes no positive assertions whatsoever about the nature of reality. Rather, it is purely a technique for revealing the inescapably relative nature of all such statements – both positive and negative! We seem to need both perspectives. A purely “positive” philosophy has a tendency towards “eternalism,” the denial of thoroughgoing interdependence, while a purely “negative” approach might lead to nihilism, its counterpart. Or – as sometimes happens within buddhist communities – to a certain coldness or harshness, or worse.
More generally, in the ravings of fundamentalism we see most clearly what happens when (in the old Zen parable) the pointing finger is mistaken for the moon, when the inherent relativity of all language, all concept, is forgotten.
A bit more on James Purdy in the next post.
Continuing on from the preceding post, two more exhilarating moments from The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out:
As for myself, I am a Khampa, but I do not like to take an aggressive stance or oppose others at all. People who watch out for my interests sometimes advise me to be less earnest and to go on the offensive more. They caution me against being so open and trusting. They warn me that people can have all sorts of different motivations and ulterior motives, and may be out to deceive me or use my name for their own ends. Even though I have heard this advice clearly, I cannot change. Actually, I don’t want to.
In this era of global communication and weapons of mass destruction, rather than impose our will on others by force, we urgently need to find ways to accommodate divergent wills. It has been a long and gradual process, but I believe the world is slowly coming to realize that what we need now is not the ability to make assertions, but the ability to listen. Especially with the unthinkably destructive power of the weapons we have at our disposal, it seems clear that we need to sit down to dialogue, and not stand up to fight.
The times call on us to look at others with the attentive and loving eyes of a mother, rather than with the hostile eyes of a warrior in battle. If we are going to divide up qualities as masculine or feminine, I think we have to say that the qualities we need today are qualities more often described as feminine. We need communication and sensitive listening to others’ needs – qualities that are likelier to be identified as feminine than masculine in most societies.
It is time we truly recognize that the era of the hunter is past. This should be a more “feminine” era…
The previous post here talked a bit about the Karmapa’s new book The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out. The chapter I find the most remarkable of all has to be the one on gender – “Gender Identities: It’s All in the Mind.” This is so because Tibetan culture, as is true of traditional cultures in general all over the world, has maintained a strongly gendered view of psychology and society.
Nothing in this chapter hasn’t been said by various western teachers of buddhism, and stray remarks can be found – increasingly so in recent decades – coming from other Tibetans, but this chapter surely represents the most direct and sustained presentation of the emptiness of gender from within the Tibetan world. As such I feel it to be a genuinely epochal moment.
A couple of examples:
Gender identities permeate so much of our experience that it is easy to forget that they are just ideas – ideas created to categorize human beings. Nevertheless, the categories of masculine and feminine are often treated as if they were eternal truths. But they are not. They have no objective reality. Because gender is a concept, it is a product of our mind – and has no absolute existence that is separate from the mind that conceives of it.
(©bodhiimages — Tim Buckley)
Societies take the distinction between masculine and feminine qualities very seriously indeed. Whole industries reinforce gender ideals, such as, for example, boys should be brave and girls should be sensitive. Society promotes the idea that people with Y chromosomes should exhibit only “masculine qualities,” and people with X chromosomes should exhibit “feminine qualities.” This holds us back, limiting men and women to socially constructed boxes, and causing a great deal of suffering for everyone [my emphasis].
In my own personal case, I do not always feel clear about this distinction between masculine and feminine qualities. People have told me that I have more feminine qualities than masculine. I do not know quite what that means. I have a sense of what these qualities feel like, but I have no labels of “feminine” or “masculine” to go with the feelings. I simply experience them.
For me personally, knowing how to define and categorize such things is not important. What matters to me is being able to connect with others heart to heart, with real feeling. What I value is the ability to speak from my heart, and to be tender and caring. I hope I have some of these qualities. Certainly these are the qualities I aspire to have. It does not strike me as at all relevant whether they are categorized as feminine or masculine.
I’m very grateful for the new book by the 17th Karmapa, The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out.
I first became aware of him via his “Aspiration for the World“. Not long after, he issued an edict mandating vegetarianism in all centres within the Kagyu lineage – of which he is the head. (Many people assume buddhism to require vegetarianism of its practitioners, but this isn’t so, particularly within Tibetan buddhism.) These statements appeared when he was twenty or so, around 2006.
The Karmapa lineage is one of the oldest reincarnating lineages within Tibetan buddhism, older than the Dalai Lamas by a couple of centuries, and the current Karmapa’s immediate predecessor – the 16th – was one of the most revered buddhist teachers of modern times.
So, I began to take note of him. However, honestly it had been some time since I’d been able to feel hopeful about institutional Tibetan buddhism. Long story, but suffice it to say, for those lacking experience in this area, that power does seem to corrupt everywhere, and the greater the power, the greater the danger of this. So even a certain amount of despair had set in with me regarding the question. (Cf. even the Karmapa controversy itself, there being two rivals – though all of the lamas whose teachings I’m acquainted with, including the Dalai Lama, recognize this one, whose name is Ogyen Trinley Dorje.)
I must say, though, that this book truly heartens me. I feel that with the 17th Karmapa we have our first fully 21st-century lama. Have a look at some of the chapter titles: “Social Action: Caring for All”; “Environmental Protection: Cultivating New Feelings for the Earth”; “Food Justice: Healing the Cycles of Hunger and Harm”; and, most startlingly from a Tibetan teacher, “Gender Identities: It’s All in the Mind.”
Of course, it’s not a political book, reaching far deeper, but the point is that the Karmapa represents the first Tibetan lineage holder I’ve come across whose mind seems fully at home in the ecological View, who sees our predicament and understands that there is no room anymore for any kind of duality between personal practice and practice for our Earth and for the world.
The talks in this book in fact came out of meetings with American college students. It’s funny to remember too: back in 2006 I participated in a week-long program with the great Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and one of the things he said in one of the question-and-answer sessions was that powerful teachers manifest and develop in particular ways in the world in part due to our aspirations, so that if, for example, we yearn hard enough for “an ecology buddha” (his words), someone who will be of special benefit in this way, we might get one. And it was around this time, in fact, that the 17th Karmapa began to come into his own distinctive voice as it were.
I remember hearing somewhere also that Thrangu Rinpoche, his personal tutor, said of him around this time that he’d thoroughly mastered everything he had to teach him. And within Tibetan buddhism this is an extraordinary thing to say of someone of that age, given the immensity and depth of philosophical learning on the one hand, and actual practices on the other.
My feeling, and that of many others, is that the 17th Karmapa may well become a world leader in the decades to come, comparable to the Dalai Lama today. Judging by this book, which I am about halfway through now, he has much to say that we desperately need to hear and work with.
A common thing is that, where we are in buddhism, when we talk about non-duality we have a roomful of people. You talk about something else, fantastic as, you know … oh “the dot” or something like that – you can just come up with anything [laughter]. If you want to really get many people you say “the blazing dot” [laughter] ….
But then if you say “ethics,” two people turn up [laughter]. But it reflects a lot about ourselves…. That usually is not because you don’t like ethics. Everyone likes it, everyone knows it’s important. But we don’t cultivate that. Because it talks about training yourself.
…All the great teachers from our generation, if you look into their lives and say “how come they were able to do it, how come they’re so enlightened, how come their bodhisattva activities are able to benefit so many sentient beings? What is it that we don’t do?” And the main thing is: there is no discrepancy between their view and action. In ourselves, it is there. View: there’s not much of a problem, everyone has quite profound views. But in terms of actions that would enrich your life, to be able to personify that view, that we don’t do. …
For example, living with these great teachers, their one instruction to us was: the door of the house should never be closed, to anyone. My father his Holiness’s principle in life has been: never to say no. To anyone. And so: a sense of opening up to anyone, any moment, whatever way you can be helpful. So when you say: my philosophy, my dharma teaches me to be kind, [then] … period, no more arguing about that.
…If this is dharma, then yes I need to practice genuine kindness, and whatever I can say or do that can be of best use at this moment, then I will do it. No strategy, no planning. Flexible, pliable, and very very much present, at every moment. So that it can evolve as best as it can be taken advantage of by the other person, so that it can benefit the other person.
Look at the way we have conversations with one another. I’ve joked about this so many times, I’m sure I’m repeating myself, but I’ve always said: I do not like to socialize with buddhists, that’s my personal thing [laughter] … I can come to a dharma center and I will always be there to give the talk that I’m required to give, but apart from that you’ll never find me – unless it’s a situation I cannot avoid [laughter] – and that’s because, that’s because you cannot talk normal [laughter].
Who I am, for example, the name that I carry and my teachers – whatever I’ve learned from my teachers. They come and they expect things to be … you cannot say something like “it’s a nice cup of coffee.” [laughter] They’ll immediately say: “but Rinpoche, you’re supposed to look at the non-dual nature of the coffee [laughter],” isn’t it? “But that coffee is relative.” You have to say something very profound, you cannot say something like, “this is a nice blue sky.” It has to be “dharmakaya’s profound blue pancake.” [laughter]
And so where the conversation itself becomes so fabricated, so very pretentious, then it comes to a point where it influences your life. And so you cannot be really true to the relativity because you’re forced to always look at the absolute nature. Absolute nature of impermanence, absolute nature of emptiness, absolute nature of non-duality, luminosity, dharmakaya, dharmadhatu and so on and so forth.
Then you shift onto becoming absolute and then you try to say: “yes, everything is my mind’s projection, this is not true, this is not real.” But someone hits you, someone insults you, someone takes your job away, you get inflicted with a disease: there is no absoluteness in that at that moment, isn’t it? We’re not capable of remaining with that. There’s that tinge of sadness, there’s that pang of jealousy and aggression within our own self, there’s that craving of desire, there’s that anger of competitiveness, of your own insecurities, your own hope, and if not yours, your children – your husband, your sons and daughters, your family, your responsibility.
So what happens is: relative and absolute, relative and absolute: we don’t know where to go.
I wrote below about something I’m calling “the buddhist syndrome.” Here’s the first excerpt from Khandro Rinpoche’s talk I’ve transcribed, not specifically about said syndrome yet, but a warning to buddhist teachers and in fact everyone of how extremely powerful words are. Teachers in particular bear a grave responsibility in this regard.
She has just told the story of growing up and having to choose between becoming a doctor (which her mother wanted her to be), or a monastic. Eventually she decided that becoming a doctor would be the harder path, but…
…today when I look back, I begin to see that it’s easier perhaps becoming a doctor [laughter]. You kill a person once, you know [laughter], say out of negligence of some kind you kill a person once … Today what I do: I can kill many, many times. Because you’re working with minds. You’re working with life. There is no actual cutting up of a person and the consciousness of the person leaving the body. But on the other hand, if you think about it from a Buddhist philosophical, teaching perspective of cause and effect, and the impact of words – what you say, what you teach … you can actually, sort of, always mess with people’s lives. So easy to do.
Such an immense responsibility … Again, if you look at it from karma’s perspective – cause and effect – or from the perspective of birth and rebirth, then you begin to realize the immense impact and influence, as well as responsibility, that you have when you relate to something that is just words, in appearance and in sound, but at the same time affects a person over lifetimes.
The goodness of the person can be influenced by that, the weakness of the person can be influenced by that. Discouragement can come from that, encouragement can come from that. Positivity can come from that, negativity can come from that. Schism and aversions and sadness and suffering, and a person never being able to overcome all the negativities. You can do that. You can influence that. You can influence a lot of goodness and we always hope that that is what is happening, but the impact of negativity that can occur is something that these days I’m beginning to really think [about], that really occurs to me more often.
There is one, indeed. And anyone who’s hung out for any length of time in buddhist circles knows what I’m talking about…
Tibetan teachers talk about it too. The other day I watched the first talk in a weekend program given by Khandro Rinpoche in 2007, and she spends a good deal of time on it there. I was pleased to hear her thoughts about it and am transcribing some of the relevant moments for another post.
The talk in general concerns the “four karmas,” ie the four kinds of enlightened action. Nearly always these are taught with regard to their outward manifestations, which is to say: how to work with them in helping others. But Khandro Rinpoche turns this around and treats them as aspects of self-work. “Pacifying” then becomes the cultivation of stillness, “enriching” the practice of virtue, “magnetizing” (or, as she also terms it, “empowering”) as the development of confidence (in the tremendous power of the mind) and courage, and “subjugating” as the process of taming the mind.
She introduces this approach by discussing what I’m calling “the syndrome.” Another phrase I sometimes use for it is: “using the absolute to beat up on the relative.” She talks about this as a tendency for buddhists to feel they need to suppress intentions and motivations that are self-directed. So there is a lack of honesty operating, which is quite destructive.
Far better, she says, to be truthful about the fact that, yes, we do wish to become realized beings, free from all fear, living embodiments of wisdom-compassion powerfully able to help many many beings. And at the same time we don’t wish to suffer ourselves: we would like to live long and healthily, fulfill our potential, feel useful, and everything else.
But by suppressing our hopes for ourselves a kind of phoniness can creep into the way buddhists relate to each other. It’s long been pointed out – and is quite true! – that buddhists often treat non-buddhists far better than they treat each other. Conversation can become – in Khandro Rinpoche’s words – quite “fabricated,” “pretentious.” Tricky, ungenuine.
There is a constant underlying sense of something like guilt operating – because we tend to feel we ought to be more “advanced” than we actually are – so the relationship between relative reality and absolute reality is not understood properly, leading to much confusion. And then, worse still, that confusion gets projected out at others – generally at fellow buddhists – in the form of unkindness, lack of generosity, even cruelty.
So having said this, why is the collective title of this multi-part post “our culture of aversion“? Surely we can see all around us that desire indeed dominates the human realm, especially today in the era of The Consumer. Just about everywhere we can look we are being sold something, told we need something, want something, can’t live without something. (Although not at least, here in Vermont, while driving, as we are one of four states which ban billboards – the other three being Maine, Alaska, and Hawaii.)
There are currently over 700,000 apps available for the iPhone. (700,000! I had no idea there could be anything even vaguely close to that number of things you could, like, do with stuff.) A Netflix subscription gives access to around 50,000 movies. iTunes currently contains over 20 million items! That’s truly mindblowing to think about. And then, in terms of desire of another kind, pre-internet the only naked bodies the average person would see over the course of their lives were those they actually knew, touched, slept with, played rugby with etc. Today with a few clicks of a mouse, anyone can utterly shatter the lifetime record of everyone who lived pre-1990s – in the space of literally minutes!
There is no question that we live in a realm of desire, a realm organized around curiosity and appetite and hunger for novelty, around grasping for new experience, as well as – a different thing – clinging to possessions, situations, accomplishments. A realm in which communication and relationship to others, at all levels, is central. And much of this of course is good, more than good, stupendously wonderful. Eg, curiosity is a crucially necessary quality for all growth. A love for meaningful connection to others, a passion for excellence in work and creative expression, a yearning to diminish cruelty in the world and heal the pains of others, promote ecological health: this is humanness at its core and at its best.
And with regard to enjoyment itself, even the buddhist teachings say – contrary to what many assume – that there is nothing whatsoever problematic about it. One should enjoy, in fact in many respects much more than we actually do. The issue has to do with the clinging aspect, with our lack of practice in dancing with impermanence and interdependence.
But in any event, why do I speak of a “culture of aversion”? What I’m referring to is another quality that is strongly present in our culture, so much so that it could even be argued it often trumps everything else, crushes curiosity, relationship, growth. How does this manifest?
More to come…
The buddhist tradition speaks of a root cause to all our suffering – basic ignorance/confusion/delusion regarding the nature of reality – giving rise to two fundamental kinds of impulses and strategies for papering over that ignorance. One is a push and the other is a pull. The former aims to get rid of whatever feels too threatening to our current sense of self, the latter aims to strengthen that sense of self by bringing in elements from the seeming outside – greater security in the form of identities, possessions, credentials, pleasures etc. (These – the three “kleshas” – are represented in the very center of the traditional Wheel of Life above.)
The two strategies deriving from ignorance get translated in a number of different ways, and those translations matter. Consider some of the alternatives for the “pull” impulse: desire, greed, attachment, passion. The English terms come preloaded with entire cultural histories, and we can’t simply forget these. For us “greed” is entirely negative, but “passion” carries a number of very positive aspects. For that matter, “attachment” and “desire” have some good senses too.
“Aggression,” “hatred,” “anger,” and “aversion” are the terms most commonly used to translate the “push” quality mentioned above. Here too there can be confusion: “aggression” is more-or-less entirely negative for us, but sometimes the word “anger” is used positively, and even “hatred” too, as when people speak about a hatred for violence or brutality, for example, or a hatred of samsara (deluded existence).
My general experience within Tibetan buddhism has been that for us humans, practically speaking, pulling isn’t considered quite as problematic as pushing, at least in general. The poetry of Trungpa Rinpoche, for example, is full of “passion,” love of human beauty and creativity, love of the earth, the elements. He was famous/notorious for his numerous affairs and prodigious drinking. He celebrated heartbreak in love and more broadly “the genuine heart of sadness,” one description of the bodhisattvic impulse itself.
Another lama put it this way: he said that even though any desire/attachment etc will cause suffering sooner or later, as beings on the path attachment has more to be said for it than aversion, specifically because it involves relationship. There is acknowledgment of connectedness, a potential for openness. Of course, this is present too in aversion – in the Tibetan view, all confused emotional energies have a flip side that is nothing other than their pure wisdom quality.
But again very generally speaking, “householder” or non-monastic buddhism recognizes a positive need for “passion” in our more usual, ordinary sense of the word. We need to generate a lot of energy for the path, to cultivate confidence, strength, and a kind of burning desire to be free of conditioning, compulsion, ignorance. As the lama mentioned above continued: even if your passion is just for an old shoe, at least you’re relating to something! There’s something concrete to work with. Whereas aversion/hatred rejects relationship itself.
And perhaps this is also why, of the six traditional psychological realms of buddhism (represented in the third spoke of the Wheel of Life), that which is associated with “desire” is the human realm, considered the most fortunate of the six. Whereas the realm dominated by aggression and hatred is of course the hell realm – the least fortunate of all.
“Please accept my congratulations on your re-election to the presidency of the United States.
“When you were elected in 2008, you inspired the world with a call to take responsibility for the problems we face as global citizens. Since then, you have made earnest efforts to live up to that great hope and trust placed in you by the American public. I believe you have been re-elected now in recognition of that effort.
“When you first took office, I remember writing to you that the world places great hope in the democratic vision and leadership of the United States and that I hoped you would be able to shape a more peaceful world, bearing in mind the poverty, injustice and deprivation suffered by billions of people. The need to address these issues remains pressing today.
“As you know, it is over a year since I handed over all my political authority to the elected Tibetan leadership, but as just one among the six million Tibetans I want to thank you for your steady encouragement of our efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the problems in Tibet. I am very appreciative of your support for our Middle Way Approach, which I continue to believe is the best way for us to ensure a solution that is beneficial for both Tibetans and Chinese. Given the recently deteriorating situation in Tibet, of which the tragic series of self-immolations is a stark symptom, I hope your Administration will be able to take further steps to encourage a mutually acceptable solution.
“I am presently on a visit to Japan, and am pleased to send my prayers and good wishes for every success in your second term.”
Ultra-clever apes as we can be, we “developed” Westerners have seen fit to banish all elemental/energetic understanding from our universe. All “ordinary magic,” all sacredness.
We “know” that earth, water, fire, and air are not “real” elements but rather incoherent, primitive categories of “developing,” pre-scientific cultures. We know that there is only one possible way of understanding the elemental: conceptually, via thoroughgoing analysis. In fact, really, we can’t any longer conceive that there could be an alternative mode of seeing.
We know that the universe is really made up of Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium and so on, all the way up to … Flerovium and Livermorium now, it looks like. It never occurs to us that these too are actually human creations, abstractions. Except we also know that at the sub-atomic level all that solidity breaks down in very peculiar ways difficult to conceptualize. In fact at that point it all looks rather like what the buddhists call space – their fifth element, the non-material one of accommodation/complete openness which makes all form and phenomena possible. Which makes all combinations of the other four possible.
And yet, how interesting it is that for example we also give our hurricanes names. Human, mortal names, as befits a would-be democratic age, but names all the same. How is this so very different from the practice of cultures all over the world in naming deities of Ocean, Thunder, Fire, particular territories of the earth, the animating spirits of individual animals or plants? We no longer say Briareos but rather Sandy or Irene, but the impulse is the same, isn’t it?
The objection of course will be: ah but we don’t actually believe there’s a sentient being in there somewhere, animating that storm with purpose. This is true, but also not quite the point.
An energetic or sacred understanding of reality is not at all antagonistic to a scientific one as such. The two modes of perception simply operate in different registers, different realms in a sense. Side by side with all the explanations of why this storm was so unprecedented and powerful, with the hourly projections concerning trajectories, timing, wind speeds, rainfall, surge heights, another form of experience could yet be sensed within the discourse, dimly but unmistakeably. Underpinning the assumption of pure rationality lay, in fact, an attitude of awe, and fundamental incomprehension. Something like the “beginner’s mind” of Zen.
With all of our knowledges, we will never capture a storm in the pure abstraction of concept. We know, too, that we cannot master a storm. We may split atoms in a kind of ultimate display of techno-analysis, but even the terrifyingly murderous weapons that can be produced from such cleverness are still no match for an “entity,” that is to say a process, like Sandy. So we may only sit, and watch, and wait, as something far bigger than what our comprehension can encompass … unfolds. In its own sweet time.
(to be continued)
I’ve never liked the word “buddhism.” “Isms” tend to be belief systems; “buddhism” is not concerned with beliefs, even understands them as, ultimately, obstacles. Worse still, the word tends to perpetuate the false idea that buddhist practice has something to do with the worship of a man, the historical figure of Siddhartha Gautama.
The alternative approach, which many buddhists adopt, is simply to speak of “the dharma,” an inherently non-sectarian word. “Dharma” simply means something like “the way it is” or “the nature of reality.” It is a much bigger and deeper term than “buddhism,” which is historically and culturally bound. Perhaps we could say that buddhist teachings expound upon and embody dharma in an exceptionally comprehensive way, but dharma is everywhere and ultimately quite independent of buddhism as a concept. Within buddhism, one isn’t trying to become a buddhist but rather a buddha, a fully realized, fully awake being, having completely perfected both wisdom and compassionate skillful means.
So the benefit of using the word is that we can speak of dharmic qualities in people, practices, art, understanding, institutions, businesses etc. that have nothing to do with the narrower entity of buddhism.
The downside is that if the person reading that word is not aware of what it means or how it is being used, it may come across in a manner diametrically opposed to what is intended. I occasionally have used it and then immediately realized that the person I was speaking to must’ve understood it in the same kind of sense I hear phrases like “the Gospel” or “the Word of the Lord” or “the Truth.” In another words, as a sectarian word bound to a particular tradition.
So it’s a dilemma I haven’t worked my way through yet. At the moment I suppose I feel that, as a term for general use, “dharma” doesn’t tend to work so well, unfortunately. So I use “buddhism” (faithful to its Sanskrit and Pali origin, languages with no upper-case letters), and hope that its lower-casedness conveys some kind of distinction at least. (“The tao” versus “taoism” involves exactly the same issue.)
…to a glimpse of some work of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s (who goes by the name Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel when he paints). His day job is a Tibetan lama in the Dzogchen tradition with thousands of students all over the world. And then he just happened to take up painting one day… Here are a few more that he’s done. Also here.
Meeting reality directly requires confidence in the fundamentally positive nature of our being. The more we trust what arises in our mind to come from this creative source, the more we can let the mind be as it is, rather than approach it with judgment, fear or manipulation based on our likes and dislikes. My hope is that my paintings communicate the beauty of this unhindered practice of free expression.
I attended a weekend program with him some time ago in Brighton, England but haven’t connected with him since, although he has a center within the state and usually visits each year. I appreciated his distinctively spacious style of teaching. And his ever-astonishing paintings, I find, one after another, stop the conceptual mind cold, startling it into really seeing. Reminding it of how to see, of the big view beyond any manipulation and rejection.
In each moment of awareness we encounter impressions of the outer world through our sense perceptions as well as our inner world of thoughts, feelings and emotions. When we are able to let this incredible array of experience be, without trying to reject what we fear or pull in what we are attracted to—when we relax into experience without trying to manipulate it in any way—we have a complete experience of mind, naked and unaltered. Painting, when it is free of such notions as beauty and ugliness or should and shouldn’t, can be used to express this complete experience of mind. When art evolves from this understanding it provides the possibility for those who see it to also experience the unfabricated nature of their own mind.
I wish to urge students of the dharma who may have forsaken their creative impulse in favor of practice to realize there is no conflict between creativity and meditation. Creativity can be understood, in essence, to be the practice of our own nature and that nature’s expression. You may find your way in to the nature through creativity; or you may come out from the nature to express creativity. Both have to be appreciated as the best of our mind’s potential.
This reminds me of something I was told Trungpa Rinpoche once said: that his teachings on “dharma art,” properly understood, were the highest teachings he had to offer.
The role of the artist is to stop creating and allow experience to unfold in a natural way – creative energy is innate and spontaneously present.
More generally, Žižek does seem quite taken with possibilities for a redemptive use of violence (see for example this essay by Adam Kirsch – I’m aware that his supporters find this piece a hatchet job, but haven’t (yet) seen anything that convinces me it is not at least on the right track).
Simon Critchley’s thoughts on the same subject – Žižek and violence – are also worth reading.
The title of Žižek’s talk this time is “Buddhism Naturalized,” which makes me even more hesitant to attend. For some years now he has been attacking buddhism in ways that suggest he has little understanding of it. Many have demonstrated this already. Here’s an example of where he’s coming from, in the same interview just quoted from:
Buddhism is the predominant ideology in the west now. It plays a very conformist function. It makes you feel good in global capitalism. I read an analysis why all the top managers in the US like to practice Zen and all. Because things are so confusing now with one speculation you can lose billions of dollars in a minute. The only thing that can explain this is Buddhism which says that everything is an appearance and be aware of the inner reality and all that. You are dealing with just fake appearance. The tradition[al] European thinking doesn’t help in explaining the world in a flux. This new age Buddhism gives authenticity to global capitalism. That’s why Dalai Lama is popular in Hollywood. I hope he is aware of what kind of game he is playing there, maybe he is not aware. He is providing them a cheap spiritual path so that you can basically go on with your life — seducing, sex orgies, drugs, earn money — but it gives you a feeling that I am aware I am not really that. It helps you to normalize and neutralize the schizophrenia we live in.
There are soooo many things wrong and even bizarre about his understanding here that it would take something probably essay-length to do justice to it. So I have to decide whether or not I want to listen to two hours along those lines, maybe in the end asking a question which … probably wouldn’t be engaged with. Basically – grinding my teeth!
He’s coming to my university with great fanfare but…
Here’s the thing. Though it gives me philistine, unhip status amongst a lot of people, I have yet to understand what is so special about the guy. Admittedly, I don’t know his work well. Have not read The Parallax View, in fact have read only one book of his (the slim Welcome to the Desert of the Real), which did not impress me. Beyond this I’ve read a number of shorter pieces of his and interviews with him, watched a bunch of videos, and eventually … gave up. Not permanently, but I don’t leap to read anything from him at this point.
What I find is that his style tires me, especially the obvious glee he takes in inverting language to create provocation and shock. (And I’m guessing he also relishes the moniker that now follows him wherever he goes: “the most dangerous philosopher in the West.”) Here is a now-well-known example from an India Times interview with Shobhan Saxena (but he does this kind of thing constantly):
Žižek: …what people perceive as violence is the direct subjective violence. It’s crucial to see violence which has to be done repeatedly to keep the things the way they are. I am not just talking about structural violence, symbolic violence, violence in language, etc. In that sense Gandhi was more violent than Hitler. Hitler killed millions of people. It was more reactive killing. Hitler was active all the time not to change things but to prevent change.
Saxena: A lot of people will find it ridiculous to even imagine that Gandhi was more violent than Hitler? Are you serious when you say that…
Žižek: Yes he was, although Gandhi didn’t support killing. With his actions — boycott and all that — he helped the British imperialists to stay in India longer. This is something Hitler never wanted. Gandhi didn’t do anything to stop the functioning of the British empire or the way it functioned here. You have to think why was India called the jewel of the empire? That for me is a problem. Let us locate violence properly.
I hardly know where to begin to respond to something like this. And the trouble is that he engages in this tactic all the time. Here’s another example, from the film Zizek!. The first minute or so of this clip I follow what he is saying but then here is how he ends:
I was always disgusted with this notion of “I love the world,” “universal love.” I don’t like the world. I don’t know how I — basically I’m somewhere in-between “I hate the world” or “I’m indifferent towards it.” But the whole of reality: it’s just it, it’s stupid. It’s out there, I don’t care about it. Love for me is an extremely violent act. Love is not “I love you all.” Love means: I pick out something and I, and it’s, you know it’s again this structure of imbalance. Even if this something is just a small detail, a fragile individual person, I say “I love you more than anything else.” In this quite formal sense, love is evil.
So, I look at this and begin to respond but end up just kind of internally spluttering… I’m not even sure it’s worth it. What I sense in him, perhaps unfairly (and I remain open to seeing it in a different way), is someone really in love with the play of conceptualization for its own sake, so in love that I’m not sure he knows when to stop. And doesn’t seem to understand that now more than ever, when the entire world can read your thoughts via a mere tap on a screen, the philosopher bears even greater responsibility for how they express things, in addition to what is being expressed.
“…and others, the canvas we’re dealt.” (XTC – “Wrapped in Grey”)
Earlier today overheard the tail end of a sentence: “… they’re just so uncomfortable with shades of gray.” But, really, this isn’t right. Shades of gray are still only combinations of black and white. The third category merely buttresses the overarching sovereignty of the Two. Of “This or That.” So now we have “sort of This, or sort of That.”
But I think what we really fear is the profundity and brilliance of living colour. Irreducible to anything else, to any grid or agenda, any … This or That. The redness of red, the blueness of blue, the greenness of green. As the Buddhists say, “suchness” beyond concept. That which is, in itself.
I guess this is why I’ve always liked the term “person of colour.” And, in part, it’s why I’ve always disliked the term “bisexuality,” for instance. Because the latter keeps us imprisoned in one-dimensional calculus: there’s a dot over here, and a dot over there, and you can have one dot, or you can have two dots, but that’s “who you are,” that’s what your longing is, your full exquisitely sensitive aesthetic. It’s a dot — or two.
But our “sexuality” or libidinal universe, the realm of all that we find beautiful as a body among bodies, down to the last unmappable particular — this remains unique to us, vast and uncontainable. Not black, not white, not black-and-white, but our own personal world of brilliant colours.
And so with our pure longings, in our natural radiance, we go out into the worlds which are given to us, and we create our communities of love.
“your heart is the big box of paints
and others, the canvas we’re dealt
your heart is the big box of paints
just think how the old masters felt, they call:
awaken you dreamers…”