Thursday, April 5, 2012

the only koan

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Dancing like a couple of woodland elves into my mind....

-- The (isn't it nifty, the word 'the'?) pivotal, central and only disquiet in anyone's life -- the sole and singular koan or insoluble riddle -- is this: Intellect and emotion, the characteristics habitually accepted as defining what it is to be a human being, are utterly dependent on the past. Whatever their swelling harmonies and complexities, these two characteristics simply have no force or meaning without harking back to some earlier time. This is not an intellectual argument ... each (wo)man can check it out for him- or herself.

We rely on the past for what is commonly called humanity. A vast, vast, vast collection ... humanity with all its foibles and fierceness and kind ministrations.

We rely on the past and yet we live in a present that cannot be escaped or explained or loved. What is called the present is as obvious as reading this word, as plain and direct as a spider web on the lawn, as ordinary as sunrise, as unadorned as a bathroom towel.

When it comes to the present, everyone knows and only later talks about it or loves it or hates it or waxes wise about it. A car is not a "car" but it is a car. Love is not "love" but it is love. What is called the present is instantaneous ... all the time. It has the sex-appeal of wet cardboard because ... well, perhaps because it is so utterly d'oh. As intellectually close as anyone might get to the "present" -- spiritual feel-good books to the contrary notwithstanding -- is the U.S. Supreme Court justice's approximate observation about pornography: "I may not know what it is, but I know it when I see it." The reality, of course, is much more in your face, much closer ... see-ing, hear-ing, smell-ing, tast-ing, touch-ing, feel-ing, think-ing ... bang! that's it! ... until of course our humanity kicks in and we lay claim to a peace of mind through our thinking and feeling ... the stuff that relies on what is no longer see-ing, hear-ing, smell-ing, tast-ing, touch-ing, feel-ing, think-ing.

And it is in this separation between relying on the past but living in the present that forms the basis of uncertainty and unsatisfactoriness -- what Buddhists call "suffering" -- in a very human life. No one needs to be a Buddhist to recognize this chafing, nagging reality ... rely on the past with no means of making peace with what is right in front of our eyes ... the d'oh stuff, the present that can neither be named nor escaped. How is anyone supposed to close this all-too-human gap?

It's really pretty simple, this nagging question: How to make peace between relying on the past but living -- d'oh -- in the present. This nagging suspicion or certainty is so simple and so confounding ... but it is only confoundingly simple according to the willingness to address and investigate the problem honestly. Some will prefer to sink back into an intellectual and emotional compromise -- if everybody else is relying on the past for their peace and tranquility, why shouldn't I? "Lookit me, Ma! I'm happy and at peace!" Or, alternatively, "Lookit me Ma! I'm desperate and depressed ... and can claim a place at the table that is called "human!" To investigate and address that humanity, to question the reliability of the past ... well, that's not quite human, is it? Let's play a game of let's-pretend ... and pretend that relying on the past is the only game in town.

Relying on the past with my entirely-human intellect and emotion ... and yet faced, moment after moment, with the dog shit or delight that comes unbidden with something called "the present." The nag is so ordinary that, well, what the hell, that must be the nature of human existence, the nature of my existence. I guess I'm stuck with the farm. What else could there possibly be besides my utterly human characteristics of intellect and emotion? But the intellectual or emotional observation that I am stuck with the farm fails miserably in one regard: It doesn't put this nagging koan to bed: Living in the past/confronted by the present. Unsatisfactoriness. Suffering. Shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits!!!!!

It's such a simple koan, such a simple question: Living in the past/Living in the present. And the worst of it is probably the fact that no one -- no one ever -- can bring peace to this simple scenario for you. It's all on you. It's entirely your business. Another occasion to rail, shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits! Buddhism, Christianity, scientology, EST, yoga, new shoes ... it's all tits on a bull: This is your problem and mine, assuming we choose to address it: Relying on the past (and being utterly human) in inescapable tandem with a present which we cannot define and yet know without any doubt whatsoever (computer keyboard, sunshine, daffodils, bad breath, coffee ....) is so ... goddamned... d'oh.

Simple, simpler, simplest: Are you willing to make peace or is the war just too damned delightful and safe? There is no 'right' answer, but there is your answer. I don't know about you, but I hate getting nagged. I hate living a safety-net, 95% life in which I imagine something could be held back when clearly nothing is ever held back. How many lives can anyone actually live? Completeness is as plain as the nose on my face and here I sit, diddling with fractions. Bleah!

Simple, simpler, simplest. And yet ...

-- Here comes the follow-on thought...

Isn't it peculiar how anyone might demand a simple explanation and yet the minute that simple explanation is delivered, complexity is demanded with equal fervor? Yes-but rears up like some evil sister. "I see what you mean, but it's not quite 'me.' I am so full of intellect and emotion that is utterly unique and could not possibly fit under one, single, simple umbrella." Please make what is simple complex for me. Libraries and lecture halls are full of this spoken and unspoken desire. Tell me the answer in one syllable words and when the one-syllable words are delivered, well, it's off to the polysyllabic races.

It's all human and it's nothing to write home about. No point in chastising a blind man for being blind. No point in imagining that awake is better than asleep. That's just more of the same 95% lifestyle. Blind is blind. Asleep is asleep. Awake is awake. If you want to make peace, make peace. If you're enjoying the war, just enjoy it.

Since human beings all have their internal nags, their own ways of recognizing the disconnect between past and present, there really is no need to nag anyone else with words like "compassion" and "enlightenment" and "love" and "emptiness" and "suffering" and "before" and "after." It may be circle-jerk comforting to come together in one collective nag or another, but individuals really are quite capable of a completeness that knows no nags. Buddhists in their complexities may refer to the wondrousness of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Non-Buddhists may fill bookshelves with wondrous testaments to the "present moment," a wondrous something-or-other. It's all just another nag.

But the wondrousness, while plain as salt, is kind of nifty.

Nag all you like -- the wondrousness doesn't mind.
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