As those of you who have read my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 MEtaphors for Mindfulness, already know, I am quite fond of Star Trek (Original Series and Next Generation) and have plumbed these episodes for metaphors. Star Trek episodes are morality plays and the writers, especially for STNG, demonstrated a familarity with and affinity for Buddhist wisdom. I was recently watching the two-part Chain of Command from Season Six of STNG. Captain Picard is captured by the Cardassians and tortured in interrogation by a Cardassian commander, Gul Madred. Madred allows his daughter into his office where he has been torturing Picard. She asks, “Do humans have mothers and fathers?” Her father responds, “Yes, but human mothers and fathers don’t love their children as we do.They’re not the same as we are.” Picard is surprised that the young girl has been exposed to the site of him beaten and nearly broken, “To expose her to someone who is suffering. To see that it is you who inflict that suffering.” Madred is nonplused. He points out that, “from the time Jelora could crawl she has been taught about the enemies of the Cardassians and enemies deserve their fate.” Picard reflects, “When children learn to devalue others they can devalue anyone, including their parents.” Madred, indignant, says, “What a blind, narrow view you have. What an arrogant man you are.” The dialogue proceeds as follows:
Madred: “What do you know about Cardassian history?”
Picard: “I know that once you were a peaceful people with a rich spiritual life.”
Madred: “What did peace and spirituality get us? People starved by the millions; bodies went unburied. “Disease was rampant; suffering was unimaginable.
Picard: “Since the military has taken over, hundreds of thousands more have died.”
Madred: “But we are feeding the people/ We acquired territories during the wars, we developed new resources, we initiated a rebuilding program, we have mandated agricultural programs. THAT is what the military has done for Cardassia. And because of that, my daughter will never worry about going hungry.”
Picard: “Her belly may be full, but her spirit will be empty.”
For that insight, Picard is struck.
This episode with its brilliant acting by Patrick Stewart and David Warner tells us much about the Buddha’s teachings. Picard instructs his captor that the ends can never justify the means and that torture has never been a reliable method for extracting information. But beyond this lesson on ethics (and one even more relevant today than it was in 1992), is the wisdom of interconnectedness. Everyone is interconnected, even our imaginary alien counterparts like the Cardassians. An approach that devalues others, that denies the connection we all have devalues yourself. This is an elucidation of karma. Actions, no matter how they are justified, have implications. In this case, the implication is that material needs may be met, but the spirit will be empty. The “poison” of hatred depicted here may have relieved one form of suffering — hunger — but leads to a pernicious, invidious form of suffering.
We, too, may want to be mindful of how we might justify hatred in whatever context this might be. Towards others, ourselves or situations. There are consequences to such hatred and the Buddha’s wisdom is that hatred is poison, for ourselves and others. The antidote to such hatred is lovingkindness or lovingfriendliness.
In Zen Women: Beyond Tea Ladies, Iron Maidens and Macho Masters Grace Schireson tells the untold story of women in Zen. The unfortunate truth is that the history of Buddhism is not one of gender equality. While the Buddha did finally relent after persistent pressure from his aunt Prajapati to admit women into the Sangha against the norms of the time, admittance has not translated to equivalence of opportunity. She tells the story of a male Zen master who responds to a female student’s question, “How many women teachers were at the conference (a North American Zen conference)? The Zen master replied, “We were all women.” Huh? His answer speaks to the unity of all things and the apparent lack of need to worry about gender discrepancies. We are all women; we are all men. As an aside, what did the Zen monk (male or female) say to the hot dog vendor? “Make me One with everything.” But this begs the question of why the male version of Oneness. Empowered by writing about the forgotten histories of women in Zen, Grace would now reply to this Zen master, “How many of you women used the ladies room at the Zen conference?”
Grace is the a Dharma teacher in the lineage of Suzuki ROshi and received her empowerment from Sojun Mel Weitsman Roshi, abbot of Berkeley Zen Center. She has also been empowered to teach koans by Keido Fukushima Roshi, chief abbot of Tofukuji Monastery in Kyoto Japan. Grace is the head teacher of Central Valley Zen Foundation and has founded and leads three Zen Groups, including Empty Nest Zendo. In Zen Women, she has “moved beyond the question of why and how female Zen acestors had been erased from Zen history. I have soght to identify these erased women and put them back in the Zen practice I loved.” She continues, “I hope that this collection of teaching will inspire women to express their lives more fully, inspire Buddhist practitioner to engage in their practice more authentically, and provide Western Dharma teachers with women’s teaching stories and examples of adaptations and variety in Zen practice.” I’ll leave you with one precious example:
One morning an old lady experienced kensho (Zen awakening) while cleaning up after breakfast. She rushed over and announced to Hakuin (the famous 18th century Zen master) “Amida has engulfed my body!” The universe radiates! How truly marvelous! “Nonsense!” Hakuin retorted. “Does it shine up your asshole?” The tiny lady gave Hakuin a shove and shouted, “What do you know about enlightenment?” They both roared with laughter.
You will find the poet Rainer Maria Rilke showing up on mindfulness teaching poetry lists. Here is his poem, “Buddha in Glory”
Center of all centers, core of cores,
almond self-enclosed and growing sweet –
all this universe, to the furthest stars
and beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.
Now you feel how nothing clings to you;
your vast shell reaches into endless space,
and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.
Illuminated in your infinite peace,
a billion stars go spinning through the night, blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead
Rilke suggests that the Buddha, the “awakened one”; the thathagata, “the one who has gone thus” has accessed something cosmic, universal, and transcendent. What Rilke neglects to say is that the Buddha was nothing special. Of course, on the one hand, he was special. He was willing to forsake everything he had and had known in pursuit of the truth. He was a spiritual revolutionary and taught a radical new way of seeing the world. On the other hand, he was an ordinary man who practiced a methodology that he taught to others. Following the path the Buddha taught, anyone can make the same discoveries. That includes you and me. What is this awakening? Again, here, it’s something that is simultaneously commonplace and extraordinary. When we think of the Buddha’s accomplishment as “enlightenment” rather than the more accurate “awakening” it takes on more of this special sense–enlightenment as something that happens to you or a place that you get to. In Zen, the teaching is that we are already enlightened and if we are enlightened then there is nothing to do to get enlightened. We experience this enlightened nature when we get out of our own way as might happen during zazen. The term enlightenment has a different connotation as reflected in this quote from Larry Darrel in the W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge:
Only my overwhelming sense of its reality. After all it was an experience of the same order as the mystics have had all over the world through all the centuries. It’s impossible to deny the fact of its occurrence; the only difficulty is to explain it. If I was for a moment one with the Absolute or if it was an inrush from the subconscious of an affinity with the universal spirit which is latent in all of us, I wouldn’t know”
This sounds like enlightenment as turning on a switch and suddenly seeing clearly what was obscured before. This sense of enlightenment sounds like it should be accompanied by fireworks or a parade. In the more ordinary sense of awakening, we move in and out of enlightenment all the time. Any time the stories stop, we have a taste of the absolute. And this can happen anywhere. I am reminded of Dr. Suess’s beloved story, Green Eggs and Ham.
I could not, would not, in a house. I would not, could not, with a mouse. I would not eat them with a fox. I would not eat them in a box. I would not eat them here or there. I would not eat them anywhere. I would not eat green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
Just substitute in reverse fashion:
I could awaken in a house.
I could awaken with a mouse.
I could awaken with a fox.
I could awaken in a box.
I could awaken here or there.
I could awaken anywhere!
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Dr. Arnie Kozak
Arnie Kozak, Ph.D., Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapist, Author, and Speaker; Clinical Instructor Departments of Psychiatry and Medicine, University of Vermont College of Medicine. » Posts by Dr. Arnie Kozak