Tuesday, July 26, 2011


On public radio yesterday, there was yet another in the conversations about raising the U.S. debt ceiling. Two men who had some understanding of the situation were fielding questions from callers...answering as best they might.

In the last month or so, the airwaves have been filled with debt-ceiling discussions ... the implications, the projected disasters if the ceiling is not raised, the recriminations of politicians jockeying for favor, the media in a feeding frenzy about the situation. In a time when people don't have jobs and are unlikely to find them, when the American sell-offs of the past have come home to roost, and when the financial institutions responsible for the latest great depression go forward without any punishment or revision of their power to create and profit from such events ... well, the American public seems to be worn down and pissed off simultaneously.

And one caller to the radio show posed three questions. Two I forgot. One I remember. The one I remember and the one those answering failed to address was -- how realistic might it be to simply throw out the Rebublican and Democrat politicians currently posing too much and creating too little and form some sort of 'common sense' party, something with the national good in mind, something less endlessly contentious and do-nothing and egotistical?

There was a kind of bold relief inherent in the suggestion. There was also something obviously juvenile in it ... too simplistic and undefined and inviting of dictatorship. But the expression of reform, however dubious, was a reminder that sea changes often start with a simple, uncharted question. Perhaps the current self-centered cat fight could be wiped clean if those living in a so-called democracy started living up to the democratic standards they have effortlessly enjoyed.

Of course revolutions seldom live up to their bright promise. The revolutionaries sound good during the storming of the barricades, but once those barricades are breached and a victory assured, there are new manacles and bars to apply. Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Francisco Franco ... one-party systems that offered stability ... at a price. Socialism and Christianity held out bright promises ... until the fine print of practical application was written.

Once, during a sesshin, or extended Zen retreat, I can remember returning to my seat after meeting with Soen Nakagawa Roshi, a pretty well-known teacher. I was fired up after the meeting. The effort to resee and revise a lifetime full of habits that hemmed me in like tightly-woven chicken wire had been rekindled. Charge! And as I sat down on the cushion, a firm voice rose up in my mind: "I really do have to get rid of this body." I wasn't even entirely sure then what I meant, but I really meant it. How anyone would get rid of 'this body' I wasn't sure; the only thing I was sure of was that it was necessary. It was a time of revolution ... a revolution that relied entirely on the ascendancy of the ruling clique of habits and thoughts and beliefs.

Luckily for me, Zen practice doesn't sit still for dictatorships AND it doesn't sit still for revolutions. Getting rid of one thing and adding another is the pastime of a believer. Zen doesn't deny believers their cheering agreements. But neither does it take part in the torch-light parades that require the cheering of a reliable multitude.

Get rid of the scoundrels ... ha! Get rid of your body ... ha! A pox on both your houses ... ha! Acceptance of all things... ha! Peace and tranquility, war and horror ... ha!

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! -- that's Zen practice and I, for one, am grateful for it.


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