Saturday, March 24, 2012


-- In his interview with the website Sweeping Zen, Harvey Daiho Hilbert (roshi) observes that one of the assumptions infuses the American (and who knows how many others) culture is that the world is fair, safe and predictable. How else would anyone complain so volubly if his observation were not largely true?

But having an alcoholic father, having served in Vietnam, having been shot in the head, and having shot one of his comrades to a lingering death in the heat of a firefight ... Hilbert's assumption compass was radically altered and suddenly the world was not fair, safe and predictable but unfair, dangerous and unpredictable.

I don't know Hilbert -- though I enjoyed the interview -- but I wouldn't be surprised if his Zen practice had also taught him that assuming the world was unfair, dangerous and unpredictable was every bit as dubious as assuming it was fair, safe and predictable.

Fair, safe and predictable. Unfair, dangerous and unpredictable. Whether anyone suffers a highly-traumatic set of experiences or not, still, I think it is important to investigate and clarify the assumption ground on which anyone might stand. Both the Pollyanna and the vast cynic do not fare well when closely observed and if they don't fare well, what does fare well? You don't have to be a Buddhist to find the issue staring you in the face.

-- In hard economic times, how many people are tweaking their resumes as they search for work? I don't know. And even if they have got a job, how many people are constantly tweaking their resumes, refining and buffing the images that are presented to friends, family, enemies and the world at large? Again I don't know. But however many it is, one of the cornerstones of the literal or metaphorical resume is how many things I got right -- how I succeeded and achieved and proved I wasn't an abject fuck-up.

It's a quizzical business, I think -- strange in one sense. True, the bosses doing the hiring don't sit around nodding their approval at a resume that lists the mistakes and failures anyone might have chalked up. And yet, when viewing a personal terrain, which events and efforts taught anyone more -- the one's that they got 'right' or the ones they got 'wrong?' You can get a job by having done things right, by chalking up successes, but if you want riches, I think the willingness to be wrong, to fall flat on your face after a pedal-to-the-metal effort is a very good -- perhaps even the best -- teacher.

As with fairness and safety and predictability that pushes unfairness, danger and unpredictability onto the stage, it won't do over the long haul to elevate failure over well-tweaked success. But if getting it right and being a success don't hold up very well and being a failure doesn't really hold up either ... well, again, what does hold up, what does fare well?

-- In the American legal system, there a premise that goes approximately, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." You can't run around killing people and then hide behind the fact that you didn't realize homicide was a crime. Thievery, assault and the rest of the illegal laundry list is also guided by the principle that ignorance is no excuse.

And yet, and yet ... how many are prone to offer up their sincerity and good intention as an excuse? I know I've done it: I thought one action or another would create a nourishing, peaceful result and, well, it didn't work. I thought Zen Buddhism was a pure and noble course and followed its guidance only to find that pure and noble aspirations don't always produce a pure and noble result. And I imagine others can find a host of other situations in which to yowl, "but I didn't know" or "I wanted nothing but the best." Anyone can quote the wry and apt, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions," but that doesn't mitigate the sting.

So if sincerity is required in accomplishing anything serious and yet sincerity is no excuse ... what does work? Is there a better basis, a more clear-headed one, on which to ground our activities? A willingness to find out is worth cultivating, I think.

On the obvious side of things, I think its fair to say that everyone has assumptions are what anyone might use when setting off in this direction or that. Assumptions cannot be escaped as anyone might escape a rattlesnake lying on the path. Assumptions are par for the course. No need to run and hide in some ivory tower.

But the willingness to greet and examine those assumptions is part and parcel of the happy life anyone might hope for. Just look. Just examine. Where do they come from? Where do they go? Who is their author and what kind of fairy tale is s/he writing?

Just something to think about.


  1. I'd think fair speaks to grasping, and unfair speaks to aversion.

  2. We get that this is an old post but is this the same Daiho that's now a racist and a fascist apologist?