Thursday, January 17, 2013

the wheels on the bus

I wrote this last night. This morning I don't much care for it, but here it is, waiting for me this morning in "draft" format. I could just delete it, but feeding the blog god and copping to my distasteful stuff ... oh well....

Over the last several years, I have been involved in the sturm und drang that is sometimes referred to as the various "scandals" in Zen Buddhism -- sexual predation, manipulation, financial skullduggery, and the wounding of students in a variety of ways. To a lesser extent, I have also involved myself in the Vatican-sanctioned pedophilia uproar because I find the idea of preying on children heinous. In both cases, what did its best to put itself forward as pristine and worthy and holy was and continues to be shown as sometimes painfully flawed.

"Painfully flawed" is one of those oh-so-even-tempered, I-am-above-the-fray ways that many use and have used to disguise what for others is a gut-wrenching scream. "Painfully-flawed" is kool and grown-up and unattached and wise and compassionate and ... and frequently a line of bullshit used by those who want to ease or claim mastery over a realm of pain without really feeling or honestly acknowledging it. OK ... so it goes.

But today, I was emailing with a friend who is hated by several "roshis" for his unmasking of, among other things, the historical inaccuracies of so-called lineage in Zen Buddhism. My friend is not some Facebook featherweight: He knows history.

The two of us were, between the lines, agreeing that the furor over various Buddhist scandals had subsided in many ways and that those hoping to maintain their own status and the nifty status of their Buddhist realms without acknowledging painful failures and flaws were regaining their footing. What they wished would be swept under the rug was, in some sense, being swept under the rug ... and they could pat themselves on the back for it.

In essence, what had been the fiery realm of "scandal" was likely to be forgotten in much the same way that a politician's extra-marital affair or his pilfering of the cash drawer might be forgotten. True, there would be occasional hiccups of outrage and "scandal," but basically, things were getting back to "normal" -- the same normal that had produced the scandals in the first place.

And I wrote to my friend saying, "I also agree that things go dormant ... sorta like 17-year locusts or transcendentalists or Nazis ... they recede or implode only to be reborn or rediscovered with delight at a later time ... and the wheels on the bus go round and round."

Perhaps it is a function of my age or perhaps it's just laziness, but I no longer care so much whether I was on the winning or losing side of the "scandal" discussion. I am content to have lived through and with it and unashamed of the role I played ... or anyway mostly unashamed. I don't think dishonesty serves spiritual life very well, but dishonesty is in the eye of the beholder ... just ask those who manipulate phrases like "painfully flawed."

Looking back, I am grateful to all those who pointed out the fact that the emperor -- the wondrous and wonderful realm of formatted spiritual endeavor -- wasn't wearing any clothes. But I can afford to be grateful ... I no longer need spiritual stuff to be "good" or "bad." I no longer need anyone to convince or inspire me, but I can't pretend there wasn't a time when I needed and wanted it pretty badly. I needed inspiration and hope and a sense that I was making improvements that had some deep meaning.

I do not feel jaundiced or smugly cynical about it all. I regret a little bit that there is no way of passing along what has been learned ... no way of saying and conveying the fact that, far from degrading or upending the world of spiritual endeavor, recognitions of painful events or enthusiastic myth-weaving really do lighten the load.

Somehow, faith (whatever that means) is stronger because there is less need for faith. I steer clear of the saccharine soothsayers of spiritual endeavor, but I can understand how their sweetness -- even when it comes from the "painfully flawed" holy rollers -- might inspire and console and, yes, bamboozle yet another generation under the camouflage of unimaginable kindness or clarity.

Just think, the volcanoes of bliss and horror explode, extruding white-hot rivulets of wonder and pain. The mountain is decimated with blessings and curses. And then, bit by bit, the unremarkable reclaims the day ... back to an unremarkable normal that forms the basis of an extraordinary future... or present ... or past.

Farmers return to their fields.
Spiritual aspirants seek earnestly for what will bank their fires.
Charlatans and wise men ply their trade.
Excellence and mediocrity entwine like lovers.

And every day is a discovery. "Hey, have you ever heard of the Nazis?" "The simplicity of the transcendentalists is purely awesome!" "Wow! Here come the locusts I read about." "The bliss of spirituality is ... oh-my-god!"

Pick a birthday present.

Open it.

The wheels on the bus go round and round.

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