Posted tagged ‘elephant meditating on subway pencil drawing’

Buddhist Talks, Vampire Books, The IRT

February 23, 2010

Possibly Vampire Elephant Meditating on IRT

Litstening in the mornings lately to Buddhist meditation talks instead of vampire books on tape.  Although the vampire books are a great diversion when you feel down, I keep thinking that the Buddhist talks must provide a better path to long-term contentment.  (Vampires are typically not big on enlightenment.)

Today, my tape focused on Buddha’s list of ten “unwholesome” actions, which, in a peanutshell, are (i) killing, (ii) stealing, (iii) sexual misconduct, (iv) lying, (v) slander (gossip), (vi) harsh speech, (vii) useless speech, (viii) covetousness or greed, (ix) anger, (x) delusion.

These seem to me both remarkably like, and unlike, the Bible’s Ten Commandments; like, in that they proscribe killing, stealing, lying and coveting; unlike, in that they do not emphasize particular deference to authority.   There are no specific rules about God, no prohibition against idolatry, no special honors reserved for parents.  (Though, presumably, if one avoids harsh, useless, or angry speech, one will also be nice to one’s parents.)   The “not killing” is not even limited to human beings.

This lack of emphasis on a personal authority also shows up in their characterization as  ten “unwholesome actions”  rather than “commandments.”

I realize, as I sit on the IRT, that this is one reason that I kind of like Buddhism, at least my Western dabbler’s form of Buddhism.

It’s not that I resent authority.  (And, btw, Karma is certainly its own kind of authoritative force.)

But there’s something appealing to the (self-centered) babyboomer mind about having no-no’s called “unwholesome” rather than “sins.”

The list of “unwholesome actions” warns against certain conduct not so much because it is offensive to a higher power (remember, there is Karma), but because it is harmful; unwholesome conduct keeps you from being your whole self, and from connecting to the larger self, which, in Buddhism, is the greater world, all beings, loving kindness.  Unwholesome actions will, in other words, inevitably make both you and the world unhappy.

It’s such an interesting juxtaposition to me, sitting here on one of those small bottle blue seats of the subway:  being whole vs. being holy.  Maybe a better way to put it is being whole in order to be holy.    Being whole so as not to be “hole-y” (as in having great big cigarette burns all over the soul/self/spirit).

But even as I write that (we are whizzing through the tunnel), I worry that everything I am thinking smacks of semantics, philosophy too (which I’ve never much liked)  It also sounds pretty PC.   Shallowly exotic.  (After years of doing yoga around many Westerners who eagerly adopted bindis, Indian dress, and Sanskrit chanting, I know that there is a great attraction in the exotic.)

And then I look up from my notebook, returning suddenly to the here and now.  (This is another thing Buddhism urges.)  There is a sign across from me which reads “This Poster Can Make You Happier Than Any Other On The Subway”.   Below that statement is a lot of small print in two columns; a woman stands between them, facing away, her ponytail down the center of her back.  It advertises “The School of Practical Philosophy.”

The next sign over reads “Single Incision Weight Loss Surgery,” and the next “Bed Bugs Are Back.”

So, the Practical Philosophy sign may be right, I think (despite my personal dislike for philosophy.)

Except that then I notice two signs just below the philosophical one.  They are mounted on the top half and lower half of the subway door.  “Do Not Hold Door.”  “Do Not Lean On Door.”   A whole bunch of metaphors jump to mind—doors, gateways, doctrine (as in over-dependence upon), personal experience (as in examining, learning from),  non-clinging, openness….

Like a typical New Yorker, I think: whatever works for you.  (Even, sometimes, maybe,vampire books.)