by RIP RENSE
(Dec. 11, 2008)
day, Dec. 8, was Bodhi Day---the Buddhist holiday commemorating the
moment that Shakyamuni, or
attained enlightenment while sitting beneath a sacred fig tree (eventually
dubbed a bodhi---enlightenment---tree.)
Well, I’m a card-carrying
Buddhist (literally), and while I’ve never sat beneath a bodhi tree, I’ve
stood admiringly under a few, and the only enlightenment I’ve managed has
been, “What a lovely tree.”
This little beatific
epiphany, of course, is always quickly supplanted by thoughts of how trees are
butchered for paper towels, and Kleenex, and to make way for cornfields in
order to pump lots of girth-expanding syrup into everything from Ketchup to
Coke. Not to mention biofuel. Raindeforest.
So, my sliver, my little
twig of enlightenment. . .pfft. Disappears. Cut down by my own
uncompromising, egotistical view of the way things should be. And
that’s my problem, see---perhaps my whole problem in life. When my old man
first spied me in the newborn ward of Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, he
said that I seemed to be focusing on my surroundings, and that “you didn’t
seem to like what you saw.”
Yow! Talk about ego. "'Ere
sleep we rub from infant eyes/We are forever what we are. . ." ---Sadakichi
The way I look at it,
ego is like a float on a fishing line. You catch a piece of
enlightenment, and try to reel it in, but it puts up a fight and pulls the
float entirely underwater for a second or two or three. Then the damn thing
always---always---bobs right back to the surface, and enlightenment slips
off the hook. It’s the-one-that-got-away.
In other words, I’m a
seriously crappy Buddhist. I get the drift, intellectually---the gist, the
hoodoo, the crux. Well, at least I think I do. Well, sometimes I do. At
least on Tuesdays. Maybe some Friday mornings. Early.
But I can’t put it into
practice. At least not very well, and not for long. I’m really more of a
Dude-ist. I don’t transcend, I get trampled. I don’t rise above; everything
gets a rise out of me. I’m just an ordinary screwed-up ego-deranged
bipedal highly evolved monkey-minded doofus looking for an easy time.
Buddhism: Siddartha under bodhi tree.
Dude-ism: Tree of enlightenment, fuck yeah.
Consider my little sojourn the other day to run some errands that would be
charitably described as “mundane.” Just simple stuff, or should be---all
mucked up by my ego. At CVS Pharmacy (why isn’t it Sav-On anymore!), I
bought some hot plasters for my unenlightened back, and a large envelope. In
order to pay with a plastic card, I had to negotiate yet another vexing
touch-pad system of “please press the green button” and “do you want cash
back” and “please hit ‘enter’.”
I managed to get through
this without swearing out loud after having to “swipe” my card three
separate times in order for the store to swipe my money. Bravo to me.
(Buddhism.) But when I saw that I had been electronically swindled into
giving a buck to the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, I was miffed. I said to
the checker (or payment consultant, or whatever they call them now), “I
don’t like being tricked into giving a buck to a hospital.”
Humbug. Are there no
A few minutes later I
entered a pet store in order to buy a particular type of food that
Winky the Criminal Cat might not
regurgitate. Ten feet inside the door, a giant kid of perhaps eighteen confronted
me, shouting, “Can I help you FIND something, SIR?”
I mulled a Dude-ist
“You know, even if you
could, man, I wouldn’t ask you, dude, because you have almost blocked my
way, dude, and shouted in my face in the tone of a demand. I know they tell
you to do this, but I also know it’s not a courtesy. What you’re really
saying is, ‘I know you are in the store, dude, so don’t steal anything,
dude, because I’m watchin' your ass.’ Dude! This makes me sick.”
Or I could be more
“You could help me find
my lost youth.” (Eccentric Dude-ism.)
But I know the kid
doesn’t find anything wrong with his question. He’s just doing his dude-ist
job, and I should be big enough to play along and say, “No, thanks very
much.” (Buddhism.) But I can’t. My ego won’t allow it. So I merely stare at
him, wide-eyed, as if he is John Belushi risen from the dead, singing “Soul
Man.” He looks disconcerted.
Moments later, after the
third straight employee in this joint asks me if I “need help finding
something, sir,” I lose it: “Sure, you can help me find some goddamn money
to pay for this cat food.” I get no response.
I’m incorrigible, I
really am. Even Buddhist priests---senseis--- tick me off. Take, for
instance, a little inspiring talk that I heard recently at a local temple.
A monk was out for a
walk on a busy street in Japan. Wearing street clothes. Cars turned in
front of him, behind him, honked at him, yelled at him, etc. But when he
went out later that day on the same street, this time in his yellow saffron
monk’s robe, drivers stopped, smiled, bowed their heads, gave him the
right-of-way. The message here, the sensei said, was that the robes
signified the Buddha dharma (teaching), and this beautiful symbol elicited
humility and kindness from the drivers.
Balderdash, I thought. It
elicited hypocrisy. The drivers should always regard any pedestrian with
respect, whether they are holy, homeless or Rupert Murdoch. (Well, I take
that back. They are free to run down Murdoch. Dude-ism.) That they suddenly
behaved well because they perceived someone to be sacred is phoney, empty.
All this was, of course, more mental Dude-ist ranting. The ego raging over
things not being the way they should be.
But then I started
thinking. . .at least something was causing these people to behave
with a measure of civility and sanity. Something was enabling them to
momentarily abandon their lust, their territoriality, their snarling
get-out-of-my-wayness. Perhaps a few of them even understood a bit of the
Buddha dharma, and were not merely reacting superficially to the appearance
of a “holy man.” In other words, in some small way, for a minute or two,
these people had become “enlightened” in their behavior. So what if they
needed such a ham-handed reminder as a yellow robed monk to jar them out of
brutishness! Humans need all the good will they can find, whatever the
source of inspiration. (Buddhism.)
Then the float bobbed
back to the surface. But how pathetic, maddening, tragic, outrageous it is,
I thought, that people require such stupid, symbolic prodding in order to
comport themselves with a little mutual respect! It irritates the hell out
of me that most have such little regard for the well-being and safety of
others. The driver of the ubiquitous tailgating SUV, for instance, who cuts
around me in a blind rage, has no inkling that he/she is putting our lives
in danger. Which makes me wish to see the SUV driver and
his/her cell phone, cigarette, latte. . .well, I’ll leave the image to you.
Dude-ism, again! The ego
refusing to be dragged underwater by big, slippery enlightenment. But wait.
I had a sudden
realization---almost. . .a tiny. . .enlightenment! Prince Siddhartha also must have been a Dude-ist, if not one of
the greatest Dude-ists ever! I mean, he must have been deeply disgusted with
humanity after he left the palace at age 29 and saw beggars and sick people
for the first time in his life. He must have been seriously pissed at the
sight of such inequity and cruelty and ignorance. After all, it caused him
to renounce his splendid royalty, and spend the next few years wandering,
starving, begging(!)---before ultimately finding his way to that sacred fig
tree, where he sat for 49 straight days, trying to find sanity. Yes, ol' Sid
must have been big-time, righteously p.o.'d over the foibles, injustices,
cruelty, stupidity of his fellow beings, in order to devote years to trying to
emotionally and philosophically cope with it all.
And that, of course,
is the difference between Dude-ism and Buddhism. Siddartha dedicated his
life to overcoming his exasperation---transcending it---and teaching others
to cope. Buddhism.
Me, well, it’s all I can
do to dedicate minutes on end to coping, and teaching. . .myself. Dude-ism.
I wouldn’t last a day
under a bodhi tree.
But I’ll tell you, it’s a
© 2008 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.