Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Happiness Project ...or How to Save the Human Race (IV)

When I first thought of the title "The Happiness Project ...or How to Save the Human Race," it was prompted by seeing a poster of a person covered in scars. It wasn't pretty. That's basically how each of us are on the inside to varying degrees though, as a result of conditioning and accumulated disappointments.

The trouble with those scars is they change how we react and respond to others. Our speech, behaviors and even goals change to compensate as we become more wary, less trusting and more defensive, changes that are caused by anger, hurt and fear. The process happens gradually. It seems like it's the only acceptable way to be, especially when surrounded by people behaving similarly.

So I started writing a science fiction-type story in which people were genetically engineered to scar on the outside as an indicator of internal emotional distress. The aim was to see if people's behavior could be modified to be more kind, the underlying assumption being that people don't actually want to hurt each other. Then I thought of all the instances in which that assumption might not hold true. In the second version, the person hurting others was the person who was externally scarred and the only way the scars could be healed was with compensatory positive behavior...

In ordinary daily interactions are hurtful speech and behavior ever justified? Are they justified in the name of truth or karmic retribution? In the name of teaching? In self-defense to get the attention of people who don't appear to get the message using kinder methods? And what about those instances when we react to something different than what the person intended due to our own conditioning? Or what about when individual perceptions of a situation or expectations are different?

In response to thoughts like these I've been feeling that even the first line of the Universal Precept of the Seven Buddhas "Not doing wrongs" is as impossible as saving all sentient beings. I can say for sure that I don't want to add scars to anyone and yet I'm sure I have. I'll be working on developing some compassion for myself to cope with that, compassion hopefully not too tainted by sentimentality or self-righteousness.

These are some of the questions and thoughts I'll be taking into sesshin this weekend. Last Sunday we celebrated the conclusion of the Winter Practice Intensive. We chanted the Prajña Paramita Hridaya and Emmei Jikku Kannon Gyo and one by one lit incense at the altar.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Serious Fun versus Having Fun Being Serious

A question that's been in the back of my mind in recent months concerns the difference between serious fun and having fun being serious. I think the difference between the two can help determine whether the way each of us lives life is via 'will power' (asceticism) or 'wisdom power' (the way that the Buddha taught).

By suggesting we have small desires I don't think Buddha meant that people shouldn't have fun. Rather I think he meant we should live in such a way that desires don't get so big that they're unattainable. Desires and goals never end up being what they're cracked up to be anyway, even if we attain them. It's better to do what we can to appreciate the present moment.

From what I've observed, when people approach life from an ascetic perspective, 'fun' runs the risk of being of the binge variety and risks causing headaches and other damage. In other words, it's not fun. Unless bragging rights, ego aggrandizement, and following in other people's footsteps is what qualifies as fun. For myself, I can say it's not.

Speaking for myself, even though I believe in wisdom power and would prefer to live my life that way, I think I've spent much of my life living from an ascetic perspective. It's what I was taught. Plus, since my intelligence is less of the classical variety and rather something else that is less readily measured I've had to work harder than most to get to where I was in life. When combined with the fact that I tend to drop off my own views and be overly patient with people, I think I've lost my sense of what 'fun' is, which is a strange feeling. These days I even have a difficult time determining whether people are kidding around or being serious.

Which approach is more beneficial and easier to learn from? Whether in the elementary school classroom or in college, teachers know that students learn more readily when having fun in the process. Comedians of today and court jesters of ancient times are and were able to point to partial, if exaggerated, truths that others could not. (As an aside, I wonder how many court jesters of ancient times lost their heads?)

What is fun? For myself, I can say that these days sitting and staring at a wall or going for a walk are as much fun as anything else. Although I will say that too much of anything is liable not to be fun -- which is another way of looking at what Buddha may have intended with 'small desire'.

One way or another, life goes on.