Monday, November 26, 2012

Lincoln (2012) by Steven Spielberg

Seeing and doing what is called for right now - right now in the midst of this moment
circumstances and conditions - is the life task of being who we are.

To do this, we have to see what is so AND to see what beliefs and habits we are
holding that are inaccurate and inappropriate;
to see what considerations and attachments are clouding our vision and understanding,
to see what hinders our ability to respond skillfully to these circumstances.
Seeing what hinders allows releasing this clinging. Right here is being who we are.

When we do not see and release attachments and held beliefs,
are not present in the midst of not-knowing, then clouded vision results in actions
which perpetuate harm and suffering. This in turn perpetuates cause and
effect reactions which continue to blind us and others,
continues the cycles of attachment, harming and delusions.

These clouding considerations, attachments and habits might be psychological,
political and ideological positions; they can be beliefs, hopes and theories, or might be
any number of other body-mind habits. They might be our understanding of the
past and a need to maintain this perspective as the only valid one.

To the extent we can treat these beliefs, feeling and positions as they are in the midst of
this moment and not be blinded or taken over by them, to that extent we can see what is
skillful and appropriate right now. Doing so, we can act in ways that support the
manifestation of the wisdom and compassion that we are right now - in personal relations,
in familial, social and group functioning and in broader political and economic actions,
to list just a few areas.

A recent film, Lincoln (2012) by Steven Spielberg, is a wonderful example of
how some of these issues play out in American history. I do not want to say too much
about the film so as not to detract for those who have not seen the it. The film is an
intersection of  the political, the ethical and the life of practice -
even though no one in the film is formally involved in Zen practice - though all
humans are involved in the daily functioning and manifesting of life which is
exactly Zen practice, whether we and they know it or not.

A number of the historical characters (the film is based on solid
historical research and "facts"), including Abraham Lincoln, his wife
Mary Todd Lincoln, Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, and other
Republican and Democratic leaders, have to face major issues
involving their moral, ethical and political predilictions and past positions
in the face of the ongoing Civil War, the killing and injuries involved, and
the opportunity to pass the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution,
which would end slavery in the US.

In the film we see how even in the midst of good intentions and efforts to
relieve suffering and end war, the seeds of ongoing conflicts, harm and suffering,
are evident and perpetuated if and when there is clinging to positions and beliefs.

We also see aspects of cause-and-effect of various forces - including slavery in
the south and the abolitionist actions which led up to the Civil War,
the ways the war was fought, the negotiations and attempts to end the war,
and other factors leading to the assassination of Lincoln, Reconstruction
and the Jim Crow period which follows the war (and continues to the present).

There are similar circumstances in ongoing conflicts between and within
states throughout the world - whether in Eastern Europe, the Baltic and Russia,
in the issues between China, Japan and Korea, as well as between the Chinese
and Tibet, in the various Sunni - Shiite conflicts among Muslims, as well as the
many conflicts in the Middle East, to name just a few.

If you are going to see a film, I recommend Lincoln (2012)!

Below is a short Dharma discussion that just begins exploring some practice issues
related to this :

Our life practice is in the midst of circumstances, and especially when
upset, angry, or judging others. Do we notice holding to conceptions and
attachments to beliefs, and habitual reactions, that might cloud
our ability to see what is so and to do what is called for? These are our ongoing
practice life opportunities - being just this moment.

We also can look at major issues which need political action. Are the Democratic and Republican leaders attempting to find skillful and appropriate joint actions and policies to address the national problems, whether in terms of the current "fiscal cliff" and national debt, or in terms of immigration and those in the US illegally, to name just two areas - or are they holding on to and blinded by their own party positions, posturing and narrow self interest as opposed to the public interest? Certainly this is a good question to ask over and over on all levels of governmental functioning; I know it is relevant to Illinois, which faces major debt and potential bankruptcy unless something is done soon.

(c) 2012 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"A day without working is a day without eating."

"A day without working is a day without eating" is attributed to Chan Master Baizhang Huaihai (Hyakujo), 720 - 814 CE.

In a simplified form, this is often taken as a guideline for personal effort and responsibility in this interconnected life.

Some of the issues that have been raised in various political debates, as well as utilized to attack opponents in the recent election campaigns, and which continue to be explored and debated in the various discussions of economic and tax policies, are themes which also touch on personal responsibility in this interconnected life:

1. What are appropriate rates of taxation, who should be taxed and how much, and what is the meaning of sharing burdens for public needs?

2. How do we distinguish between policies which serve the public, especially those that compassionately serve those in need, and entitlements which result in increased dependence and self-centeredness, with the resulting harm? 

3.What are our attitudes about entitlements to benefits and services, as well as towards distribution of benefits to those to whom we apply categories and judgments such as "deserving" and "undeserving" - and the various abuses of the benefits and entitlement systems? 

4. What encourages economic and national growth and what hinders this while enriching unfairly certain individuals, identifiable groups or sectors of society?

Clarifying  "a day without working is a day without eating"  on an ongoing basis is a nice practice support and useful in our public discussions and responses.

In exploring and clarifying  these matters, what do you find? 

How do these concerns come up in your life, in the life of those with whom you are connected? 

What is helpful and supportive - and what leads to conflict, stress and harm, even fear, anger and worse? 

What is manifesting this awakened life in the midst of this? 

(c) 2012 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bodhisattvas in an Election Year - Case Eleven

Post - Election

Someone told me that they particularly enjoyed reading smart columnists
and pundits with zingy and even at times nasty statements in support of
causes and candidates that they had supported, especially if they had won.

For them, and the rest of us who at times feel similarly, I offer the following:

Elihu Genmyo Smith

Intimacy is our life, being intimacy is our functioning, is ongoing practice. Being this life is ordinary, nothing special. We can naturally respond skillfully to this arising passing moment circumstances. Intolerance is dualistic delusion in the midst of this awakened life, is self-centeredness manifesting. Intolerance is holding to self-centeredness, refusing to forget self, rejecting this moment as is. Therefore, when intolerance arises and is believed, facing intolerance, facing what hinders our life, is our practice; working with intolerance when this arises is a core focus of Buddha Dharma. We have a tendency, a habit of body-mind, of evaluating how “things” are moment-to-moment, how things are alike or different - whether alike with a remembered past or similar to how it “should be,” how I expect things to be, physically, mentally, emotionally, how I should feel – and then reacting based on this, sometimes with anger, greed, fear or confusion. Intolerance is the unwillingness to be this intimacy right here as is, not appreciating this moment, not responding to this moment as is – which results is stress, dissatisfaction and suffering. Intolerance is negating who and what we are.

One aspect of efforts to foster inter-communal relations, of interfaith efforts and practice, is a focus on how we, in the midst our particular tradition, background and in the midst of many differences, are similar and alike with others in different traditions and backgrounds. And this focus is intended to lead to empathy, fraternity/sorority and sharing among individuals and communities, lead to connectedness and interrelations. We may hope that it will reduce and even eliminate frictions, hostilities and conflicts between people that might otherwise arise with differences. We focus on similarities with the intention and hope that this will foster connectedness and compassion. And it may; compassion and wisdom may manifest as a result of sensing similarity, unity. When we sense how things are similar, then we may more easily tolerate differences and failed expectations. Nevertheless, these do not take care of intolerance when that arises, whether it is intolerance of others or our self. Therefore, facing intolerance is also a core of interfaith work.

Ceasing harming is necessary before and while we do good and do good for others – otherwise good is built on a foundation that contains and perpetuates harming. If we treat intolerance as an aberration or outlier – whether in regards to our self, our faith community and tradition, our political group or any human grouping (whether “ours” or that of “others”) – then we miss a cause that feeds greed, anger, fear and harmful behavior (or worse). We relegate intolerance to only “extremists” and extreme situations, and fail to see where and how it arises in everyday activities - not intolerance by others, but our intolerance, in attitudes, behaviors, beliefs and traditions. And we miss how this intolerance, and the pernicious effects it has, needs to be noticed and clarified in the light of ongoing practice, in order to go beyond it, go beyond the self-centeredness - so as to not be trapped by self-centeredness and react from it......

(c) 2012 Elihu Genmyo Smith

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