Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"The Office" (workstation series) 098 (samsara edition)

To conflate two aphorisms: some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear shits in the woods. Some days the world is at pains to confirm the wisdom of the First Noble Truth: that life is, inescapably, filled with suffering (dukka). To be born, to live, is to commit to suffering. For me, one of the greatest sanities in Buddhism is the unblinking recognition of this: suffering is not, at its fundamental root, due to "sin" (Original or otherwise), but rather to the ignorant attempt to deny this Noble Truth. If we try to avoid suffering--if, even worse, we mistake the causes of suffering, attributing it to guilt, or sin, or "ungodliness", then we increase suffering .

You visit cities in China in which, as buddy Coop points out, "there's not a square meter that's not either under construction or under cultivation," cities where 'most everyone subsists on a tenth of the material possessions and a quarter of the living space of the "average" American, and, by anecdotal observation, works about twice as hard and has about 1/3 the body fat. Places where you literally can't see more than 5 blocks because of the air pollution. Because "environmentalism," in the modern world, is a luxury for First-Worlders--poor people around the world are still just trying to find enough to eat and clean water to drink. And this is the nation that, due to the and incompetence of the American presidency, now owns (and will continue to own) most of our credit: we're not going to get to dictate environmental policy to the Chinese. Or the Russians. Or the Saudis. No matter how much cartoonish sabre-rattling the war criminal in the White House engages in: they own our fat asses.

There's a spot in the South Pacific which consists of a giant, swirling island of accumulating plastic, the final, deadly detritus of our addiction to fossil fuels. There will be no polar ice cap within fifty years. Polar bears, running out of living space, are drowning. Or swimming to Ireland, where the fucking gardai shoot them for fun. T. Boone Pickens is quickly developing a monopoly on clean water in the American West, because, as he admits himself, the way to get ahead in America is to figure out whatever non-renewable resource is next to run out--and to buy that. The Bush Mafia family bought hundreds of thousands of acres in Paraguay for the same reason, because, until a leftist government just got in, Paraguay had no extradition--which is why Nazis fled (and flee) there.

Reading today about the emigration of potato Famine refugees from the Lansdown estates in Kerry to Five Points in New York, and the scope of suffering that they both left, and traveled with, because the factor Trench who was charged with managing their emigration cut corners everywhere he could in order to pocket the difference. Was re-reading yesterday Thomas Berger's great Little Big Man, about the only white man who survived Greasy Grass because having being raised by Cheyenne--and about the greed, suffering, and stupidity which caused the '76 Sioux Rebellion. Last night talking with buddy Coop about Lubbock's burgeoning homeless problem, and the Town Fathers' typical reaction (confiscate their shopping carts and sleeping bags and tell them they have to "get off the street"). And then caught a fragment of Fernando Meirelles's great version of John le Carre's The Constant Gardener, a quasi-documentary thriller about the complicity of international governments and pharmaceuticals in the continued genocide and exploitation of Africa; as le Carre says "By comparison with the reality, my story [is] as tame as a holiday postcard." Even filming the story was so harrowing for the cast and crew (Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz leading) that they created an NGO to at least address the suffering of those they met. The wheel of fortune turns and turns again and the poor and powerless are always, again and again and again, ground into dust by the wealthy and powerful.

Suffering is real. No-one escapes suffering and suffering will never end. Refusing to accept that First Noble Truth is precisely the cause of suffering's continuation (the Second Truth says "the cause of suffering is desire"; I would add "the cause of suffering is the desire to avoid suffering"). We have to accept that suffering is real. That we are probably environmentally doomed. That children and animals will be tortured, starved, neglected, and exploited for the gratification, adornment, or luxury of the rich. The wheel of samsara will never end.

But, as Sokei-an said about Buddhism in America, "you must hold the lotus to the rock, until such time as it should take root." As one of our own great teachers said, "You have to show up for the impossible."

More: in this generation, we have to show up for the apocalypse. As the world crumbles and suffering logarithmically increases, through greed, ignorance, and delusion, you have to take one positive action.

Because the only alternative is surrender.
Now playing: Chumbawamba - Song on the Times
via FoxyTunes

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