January 1st, 2020
“To set up what you like against what you dislike, this is the disease of the mind.”
Happy New Year.
I went to the Zen Center this morning. Our sangha hosted the annual Buddhist Peace Fellowship celebration. I brought some food for the potluck. I made two vegetarian quiches. If you are going to feed Buddhists, it is necessary to bring vegetarian (or better yet, vegan) dishes. That’s just how it works. It’s kind of like providing food to people who need it to be kosher or halal. Personally, I don’t understand it. I’m omnivorous.
The Zen Center is a small space that usually only accommodates a small population. We are not used to having many guests. Today we did. People from a variety of local Buddhist groups showed up for the New Year’s celebration, and that filled us to capacity. Prior to the arrival of the others, there was a constant rearranging of chairs and cushions in order to seat everyone. Preparation for the event seemed to involve a lot of random motion. Maybe it’s like that everywhere. People need to busy doing something, anything. I eventually chose to get out of the way.
There were six chairs set up at one end of the room for a panel of representatives of the various Buddhist organizations. Each person was to give a short message to the assembled congregants. I have seen and heard most of these people before. In this sort of event, we always manage to “round up the usual suspects” (Claude Rains, from the movie Casablanca).
Each person gave a little speech. The first person in the queue quoted a few paragraphs from a book that she found to be appropriate. She spoke in a breathless sort of way. She chose to repeat certain phrases, just in case we had not fully understood the meaning of them. She spoke to us in that slow, rhythmic way that an adult would speak to a bunch of five-year-olds. I remember absolutely nothing of what she said.
The next guy spoke clearly and succinctly. He had that aging hippie look. Actually, a lot of people at the gathering had that look, including myself. He made his point, and then life moved on.
The priest from the Milwaukee Zen Center talked. She was good. She had that sort of self-confidence that is not self-conscious. She was relaxed and real and concise in her words.
The next guy insisted on singing a song and playing his guitar. I generally have no issues with songs or guitars. In the past I have played bass, and I have written lyrics for songs. This guy, a Thich Nhat Hanh devotee, chose to take a good Dylan song (“You Ain’t Going Nowhere”) and bastardize it with Buddhist lyrics. Of course, everybody on the group knew the song (because we’re old), and we sang along with him. It seemed sad in a way. Nobody under fifty years of age would have understood, much less appreciated, his work on the song. Overall, he did a nice job.
Pete, our abbot, spoke next. He did well, because that’s what he always does. He wasted no time getting to the heart of the matter. The beauty of Zen is that it is short and to the point. Pete said this: “If our practice is not about compassion, it doesn’t mean shit.”
I don’t remember the name of the next speaker, nor do I remember which community he represented. It is probably better so. I have heard this man speak in the past, and his delivery has not changed at all.
The man first made mention that he appreciated being the last to talk, because then he could incorporate all the wisdom of the previous speakers into his monologue.
The guy rambled. I guess that his speech was about peace and suffering, but it was hard for me to follow. He basically told us his life story (or at least part of it), and then tried, and failed, to incorporate that information into a coherent whole. At one point, he said, “Let me digress for a moment.”
Digress from what? His whole flow-of-consciousness talk was nothing but a digression. At times he liked to add in a few Buddhist buzz words: “dukkha” and “shanti”. I guess those terms provided some needed credibility. The fact is that he was mostly just talking shit, and getting away with it. He had a captive audience.
I found this to be almost physically painful. This guy just babbled endlessly.
Then he stopped. It was all of a sudden. I thought it odd that he would end his discourse so abruptly, but he did. There was blessed silence.
Then he started again. That was like getting a knife in the ear. He had some other truly profound truth to relate to us, and he was going to explain it in depth.
I had to go. Like immediately. I knew that if I stayed, I would have stood up and shouted,
“Just shut the fuck up!”
That would have been inappropriate, although, in a away, it would have been satisfying.
I walked out of the assembly. I sliced up my quiches. I threw on my coat. I fled.
Attachment and aversion. Those are two sides of the same coin. Both of them are problems for Buddhists, and for everyone else. A person can’t find freedom as long as they are hooked on attachments and aversions. I’m still hooked. Big time.
Why did the babbler freak me out? I really don’t know. He did not say anything that was offensive. Perhaps, he said something of value. I don’t know. I find it difficult to remember all that he said, because of the way he said it. I think that he was right about a lot of things. I think he was trying to do the right thing. He just couldn’t stop when he was ahead of the game.
I am still trying to understand my strong aversion to his speech. It’s not his problem. It’s mine.
The New Year’s event was worthwhile. I have learned more about myself than I learned about anyone else. My attachments flared up for me to see.
That’s a good thing.