Thursday, July 19, 2012

overlooking the obvious

Interesting how willing anyone might be to overlook the obvious ... I mean the clearly obvious... and in so doing to set themselves up for a fall. This is hardly an observation I make from some august and unaffected height. I too have screwed that pooch.

Is there a spiritual persuasion in the world that does not intone, in one form or another, the threadbare, "where the least of us is most affected, so too are the most touched?" Biblically, the shepherd leaves his 99 sheep behind in order to seek out the one who is lost. And there are hundreds of tales in hundreds of languages that tell that story and thus encourage the wider flock to abjure arrogance and smugness in pursuit of peace.

But organizations do overlook the least among them and spiritual organizations are not exempt. They do it in pursuit of whatever the organizational goal is ... or whatever the organizational goal morphs into. Suddenly, what was a much-mouthed cautionary encouragement is replaced by some version of, "you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs" and if a few eggs get cracked, well, that's the price of progress.

The Vatican's cover-up of priest sexual abuse is one example. Zen Studies Society's machinations as it strives to salvage something from the wreckage left behind by Eido Shimano's lies and depredations is another.

But the failures of organizations simply reflect the failures of individuals and Gautama's admonition comes to mind: "It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do -- that is my concern."

Anyone can exalt the precepts or commandments of his or her personal persuasion -- don't lie, cheat, steal, etc. -- but with that exaltation, there is often a smugness of certainty that arises with it: This is the best, the most virtuous, the most healthy way and those who deviate are lost. In this, the smugness and arrogance that was once an object of despair is reiterated in new -- good-er -- trappings.

Stop and think: The precepts and commandments describe what not to do, how not to be tricked, and how to get on the straight and narrow path to satisfaction. But by asserting what not to do, the capacity to do precisely those things is itself underscored. Waving the banners of virtue is an indicator that a lack of virtue is a reality that cannot be escaped. Don't kill ... but I do kill. Don't lie ... but I do lie. Don't steal ... but I do steal.

What a delicate, delicate balance. No matter how perfect the perfections attained, still the imperfections accompany them like shadows of a bright light. It's obvious, no matter how hard anyone might seek to sweep it under the carpet.

And the upshot? The best I can figure is this: Pay attention and take responsibility. Attention and responsibility when it comes to "the least." Attention and responsibility when it comes to the "most." Attention and responsibility when making an omelet. Attention and responsibility when exercising or failing to exercise the precepts or commandments.

Just attention and responsibility ... and I have a feeling the obvious will take care of itself.

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