Friday, April 24, 2009

the 'right' stuff

Perhaps because I read or hear so much language that skirts or makes-nice about its subject matter, I enjoyed this article that Frank passed along this morning. It's not an article for those who find offensive language offensive, but for my money, it has some zest ... and I like A-1 Sauce, whether or not the subject matter is cuss words. The article offers an approach to something I think is on-the-ground and true.

The article reminded me a bit of the old joke about the young sailor who enjoys a couple of days of shore leave, returns to the ship, and regales his buddies with his exploits. Every sentence he uses is laced with 'f'ing.' "I went to this f'ing bar, met this f'ing beautiful girl, bought her some f'ing drinks. Finally, she invited me back to her f'ing apartment." His buddies are all ears. "What happened next?" they want to know. "Why then," the sailor says simply, "we had sexual intercourse."

What is "right speech" if not getting through the notion of and attachment to "wrong speech?" In Buddhist practice -- which is to say in life -- "wrong speech" is what actually happens whereas "right speech" is what anyone might wish would happen.

Buddhists do their best to curb and revise gossip, cussing and other exercises that might be offensive or cruel. They seek out what is mild yet truthful, but at first "right speech" is little more than a reaction -- a cleverly revised version of "wrong speech." The harder they push "right speech," the harder "wrong speech" pushes back, longs for expression, and, in some instances, explodes from a fed-to-the-teeth-with-goodness mouth. It's about like any other precept, I imagine: A better approach may be sought, but a worse approach is what is.

When it comes to the 'right' stuff, I think it is better to begin with what is ... which is to say, often, the 'wrong' stuff. Human beings may have a wish list, but the realities of their lives cannot be denied. Buddhism is a reality-based show. It is full of pep and A-1 Sauce, or anyway I think so. The upshot, for anyone who can acknowledge and wish to revise the 'wrong' stuff, is to keep an eye on things. Just watch and watch and watch some more. There may be a desire to push the river with sutras and invocations and wise or holy encouragements, but there is no pushing the river: People are where they are in all honesty ... zesty, screwed-up, uncertain honesty -- honesty that doesn't recognize 'goodness' yardsticks but does recognize what is ineffective as regards its own happiness and peace.

Of course the recognition of what is ineffective is just the recognition that there must be something effective, some philosophy or religion or fortune cookie that will right the listing ship. So at first there is some effort, some period of sweat and strain, some exercise that will attempt to limit and constrain what cannot be limited and constrained. Try, try, try; push, push, push; work, work, work; learn, learn, learn; talk sweetly, talk sweetly, talk sweetly. And it's a good and understandable effort ... but in the end, not terribly effective. Deep within, there is a knowledge: You cannot push the river, and more, the river doesn't need pushing.

Limiting the unlimited is not possible, though lord knows we all may bust our britches trying.

Attention is enough.

Attention and enjoyment.

Separating wetness and water is not possible ... but you can certainly enjoy swimming. Things really are all right (delightful, refreshing) instead of just being all 'right.'

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