Monday, April 6, 2009

a lack of faith

Chewing my cud once more about my mother's observation that sins of commission were more informative in the long run than sins of omission, it occurred to me than sins of omission were in fact sins of commission.

Of course the word "sin" would probably be better translated as "acts" since "sin" tends to throw the matter into a Christian snarl of barbed wire ... a world of naughty and nice, a world that might somehow be improved by some god or other cosmic force, a world in which "Daddy will fix it" or worse, "Only Daddy knows how to fix it."

Still, "sins of omission" and "sins of commission" do have a certain ring to them. Since what is referred to doesn't always feel so good and since what doesn't feel good arouses the desire to feel better ... well, a little wishful thinking is pretty ordinary.

Yesterday, in the zendo, I caught myself wishing. My ignorance seemed to have come around, as ignorance always does, and bitten me on the ass. My omissions struck me as frustrating and sad.

Jeff said he had been reading the Heart Sutra and wondered who it was, if there was no one to experience it, who experienced understanding or enlightenment. It was a perfectly reasonable question, but its very reasonableness created the barrier to an answer. Nevertheless, because he asked, I found myself wishing I knew more about the Heart Sutra and other Buddhist texts and treatises. I wanted to be able to talk within the context of the Heart Sutra or Buddhism or something intellectually recognizable. I wanted some smarts -- not necessarily because those smarts were true, but rather in order to enter the place where Jeff had entered. But the fact was that I lacked those smarts. It felt like an act of omission and I was somehow sad about it. When speaking to a Frenchman, it is kinder to speak French.

Who wouldn't praise the recognition of a question like Jeff's? It really is a very good question. So I praised it. But when it came to giving a decent answer, I was thrown back on my own reserves and those reserves seemed devoid of "Buddhist" study. I felt like an auto mechanic who had somehow forgotten the names for things that made the car run even though he had some idea of how to make the car run.

I suppose all of this is pretty wispy stuff, and those who have studied hard and know the page numbers will whisper, "See -- I told you so," but the fact is that my ignorance, while saddening in one sense, was revelatory in another: I was content to be dumb, to be limited, to have committed a sin of omission. Even if I couldn't answer from within a "Buddhist" context, still I knew someone probably could. It was enough to be as dumb as I was... as dumb as anyone else might or might not be.

Who can be smart about a kiss or a laugh? The Heart Sutra? I doubt it, however good the pointers. I answered Jeff's question as best I could, but did that improve the kiss or laugh he was asking about? No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind. No help and no lack of help. No answer and no answer missing.



Sometimes my lack of faith comes around and bites me on the ass. "Help?" Piffle! But getting bitten on the ass is not so bad. I will wait for you to kiss me and, with luck, will laugh.

Omission? Commission?

Don't be ridiculous, Adam!

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