Am I on the path less traveled?

In Buddhist practice we study the Dhamma or as it is pronounced in some lineages, Dharma. The teachings of the Buddha are said to lead to enlightenment, which  is liberation from suffering/happiness.

The Buddha asserted what we call, the 4 noble truths.

Buddhism’s four truths are called noble because they liberate us from suffering. They are the Buddha’s basic teaching.

1. Suffering

Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. Even when things seem good.

2. The Cause of Suffering

The cause of suffering is craving and fundamental ignorance. We attach to things and all things that exist are impermanent.

3. The End of Suffering

Suffering can end because our awakened mind is always available to us.

4. The Path

By living ethically, practicing meditation, and developing wisdom, we can take the same journey to enlightenment and freedom from suffering that the buddhas (awakened ones) do. We too can wake up. This path is the 8 Fold Path.

THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH

  1. Right understanding
  2. Right thought
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

Having put that out there, I want to make a point. My nature causes me to suffer. Human nature leads me to suffering. We will suffer. We will hurt. We will fall ill, lose loved ones, fail at love, harm others unintentionally, etc. If we practice an ethical and compassionate life we can often mitigate our suffering but if you are participating in this thing called life, things will happen.

Our untrained, unmindful thoughts are usually leading to disaster. But mindfulness does not end suffering. The 8 Fold Path is not the end of suffering.

Monks train constantly to think, speak and act mindfully. They practice mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. Monks eliminate most of the distractions and attachments which cause suffering or limit happiness. These same attachments for a lay person lead to great joy at times, great suffering at others.

I do not chase enlightenment but instead simply try to live in the moment. I can do many things Buddhist monks can do. I can chant in the Pali language, recite the blessings, study the scriptures and teachings, go without jewelry, and more. But I live in the world, seeking companionship, friendship, financial security and love. I enjoy pleasure, accept pain. I try to not resist a change of circumstances or fortune, especially one that is unwelcome or unpleasant. Rather, I have a dedication to the development mindfulness and skill, wisdom and compassion. I do not expect the elimination of difficulties or attachments. I have learned to moderate and mitigate suffering and to navigate the type of difficulties that can rob a person of peace.

The past few years have been littered with difficulties and blessings. I would have been crushed under the weight of my own insecurities, fears and low self-esteem. But now I recognize that I am not my thoughts and feelings. They are the story I generally tell myself but which I can alter and improve upon by acting in a skillful, wholesome and kind manner.

Monastic life has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that it is a simpler life generally without the complications and the challenge of paying rent, buying food and clothing and raising daughters. I would if I could but I cannot I know. I can live more simply but I will always be encumbered by the responsibilities and distractions of a non-monastic life. It beats the old way though by a significant margin. It is a life of service, free from intoxicants and a recognition that I can be in the moment when all my fears and insecurities are pulling me back to the pain of the past or anxiety of the future.

“If you just walk with me
And let me walk with you
I’m on a journey
I don’t wanna walk alone”    Pearl Jam.

 

Mindful contemplation of feelings.

I study my mind constantly (via Buddhist insight meditation) to see what it will bring up. Of particular interest to me is the presence of sadness. Sadness can hit the accelerator on emotions like nothing else except anger. Anger is easy to spot and relatively easy to manage now. Sadness is more insidious and does not have as strong of a physical component as anger.
I feel sadness but it vibrates at such a low-frequency it can get entrenched before I spot it. And while I see anger in many people, I see a semblance of sadness in almost all people. There are many ways I have to combat the sensation of overwhelming melancholy, the most effective is to stay in the present moment. But I am amazed at the resilience and power of sadness even when it is pushed back on by the most effective tools I know.
So much of living triggers various manifestations of sad. No matter what I have loved, who I have loved or how I loved, impermanence visits every time in one way or another. All the feels good is impermanent. But so is all that is unpleasant.
I discovered years ago that the path out of pain and sadness was through it. No over, under, around. Just through. And on the other side of the discomfort is the recognition of the blessings contained therein.
May all persons be liberated from suffering and free from discomfort, fear, sadness, anger and harm. May all beings be at ease, tranquil and peaceful. This is the blessing I send to all sentient beings and is my path out of my own pain and suffering.

“Trust God. Clean house. Help others.”

Dr. Bob’s famed summary of the A.A. program and way of life? “Trust God. Clean house. Help others.”
Another way Alcoholics Anonymous has had of stating its foundation is “unity, service and recovery”. I have expanded these to all parts of my life, in and out of AA.

Will our future as a country be one of expansion, tolerance and progress, or one of intolerance anger and fear. If I did not have AA I would probably be engaged in a battle for my soul because I enjoy Facebook but it is just not a place to keep up on the comings and goings of my friends and the world anymore. More and more it brings an onslaught of hate and intolerance. Righteous indignation!!

Then today this appeared on my Facebook timeline.
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” ― Isaac Asimov
The truth which runs through that quote frightens me. There have been mass purges of people based on their education. Historically, countries like Cambodia and Turkey, Russia and more have purged the educated, and of course many countries have purged Jews who were generally well-educated. I don’t know of any country which killed people based solely on their lack of education.
The present president has a large segment of our population that keeps trumpeting about purging elements of our society (including liberals). I am too old and too well armed to suffer the worst but the move towards a more tolerant, open and progressive society seems to have been halted at best and regressed significantly at worst.
How could this be in a nation which prides itself on its adherence to Judeo-Christian principles and the Golden Rule?
A large number of people are using Facebook to proclaim knowledge and understanding of important issues based on reading Internet articles which have no truth or even a semblance of truth contained therein. It is as if people are now proud to not have studied hard, read well and engaged in appropriate discourse with other knowledgeable persons. These folks seem to discard the notion that they need skillful teachers because these folks are either too lazy to resume their education or are entrenched in a false belief that these short articles found in cursory glances at the Internet equal knowledge. I confess, I did poorly in school and I dropped out at a young age. But from a very young age my father made me read books and more books. And I listened to everything the teachers said in class. But I didn’t do homework. Hated it. Short attention span. So, I got bad grades.
But being well read is the reason I could navigate law school when I lacked a standard high school or college education. What I mean is, I could read, understand and analyze what I read. If I were were to defend you in court the way some of you defend your political positions, you would fire me or sue me for incompetent representation, and rightfully so. You expect me to show up in court and present your case with skill based on knowledge and facts. You do not need to go to law school to choose a political candidate or choose your value system. But why do you feel free to publish memes that are lies and damnable lies? Why is the standard of choosing our politicians boil down to an adherence to anger and ignorance? It takes open-mindedness to navigate the Internet skillfully. We need a political revolution in this country. We need to loosen the strangle hold that moneyed interests have in our system. But a political revolution without genuine spiritual principles to guide it was called under Mao Zedong, the Cultural Revolution. China underwent a spasm of violence in support of said revolution.
To increase the likelihood of building a greater America and stronger society we may need to look to our adherence to spiritual principles. AA and Buddhism are paths to spiritual progress and liberation from self-will. There are others. I was ready when I arrived at these disciplines to do; the study, the homework and what the teachers who were knowledgeable told me to do. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. We hope.

Vietnam and the US patriot

I am of the age to have served in the military during the war in Vietnam. Instead, I joined the anti-war movement and avoided being drafted into the army. Now I see many young and old people being accused of being unpatriotic for protesting our armed forces being in Iraq and Afghanistan. Makes my blood boil to see them judged so. and here is why.

My older neighbors and friends went into the armed forces and fought in Vietnam. Most of them returned with regrets that serving their country meant blowing up someone else’s. They regretted calling in air strikes on entire villages. They regretted interrogation techniques which amounted to torture. They regretted seeing US GIs blown to bits, driven on to punji sticks,  and disemboweled.

They regretted participating in the use of napalm and Agent Orange to destroy in its entirety everyone and everything touched by chemicals. And like every GI, they regretted that they had left family and friends, jobs, and schools, to fight an enemy that was elusive and in fact often invisible.

So many of the men I knew returned home full of anger and regrets. Some had even been involved in attacks on military superiors in response to orders they would not obey. These were good men. Proud men who had grown up much like me, with every intention of serving their country admirably and honorably and unhesitatingly. When they returned and we sat to talk about their time in Nam, here is what they said. Don’t go. It is a wrong place where we are doing wrong things. This is  ot the war our fathers fought. This is not a just war. They told me to resist. They told me to forget everything I thought about war from John Wayne movies.

I began to question the notion that when I reached 18 I would serve in the military, with vim and vigor. I read more news accounts. I spoke to more vets. I watched the Vietnam Vets Against the War march in downtown Chicago.

Many of my generation will never trust the military/industrial complex. We have tried in earnest to motivate the next generations to listen with caution to the beat of war drums. I cannot say with certainty when we should militarily or politically intervene in foreign countries. I can say that I think it should be quite sparingly and reluctantly.

And opposing the war in generally associated with protests and demonstrations. Some are peaceful, some not. Some are well organized, some not. Often times they turn dramatic. Flags and effigies are burned and profanities hurled along with an occasional bottle or rock.

I suggest that whatever dishonor and disrespect you interpret in these actions, many of us believe that not resisting unjust wars are dishonorable and disrespectful.

Phil Ochs, a folk singer sang this lyric  “It’s always the old to lead us to the war
It’s always the young to fall
Now look at all we’ve won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all”

Read more: Phil Ochs – I Ain’t Marching Anymore Lyrics | MetroLyrics

He also sang this lyric

One-legged veterans will greet the dawn
And they’re whistling marches as they mow the lawn
And the gargoyles only sit and grieve
The gypsy fortune teller told me that we’d been deceived
You only are what you believe

I believe the war is over
It’s over, it’s over

Read more: Phil Ochs – The War Is Over Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Be slow to judge who seem unpatriotic. They may perceive themselves to be super patriots. They/We risk being beaten by cops, going to jail or prison, losing jobs and being despised by neighbors in order to follow their conscience. Even if they are wrong does not mean they are unpatriotic. I fought my war during Vietnam. When riot police surrounded us I was scared. I was afraid of being gassed or beat.I knew if I left quickly I could avoid the ugliness to follow. But I stayed the course and chanted anti-war slogans. Because I loved my country.

Kill or be killed?

I grew up strange. I despised violence and I reveled in it. I was beaten regularly but not severely by my father. My middle-class neighborhood turned less middle class at some point in my grade school days. Along came bullies meting out violence to the small and defenseless.

Why was I bullied. I was small, for my age and for my grade. I was 12 when I graduated grade school. I was a mouthy kid. I couldn’t fight physically, at all. But I never went down without a verbal barrage. I learned to manipulate the streets to accommodate my desire to live free or die. Others chose to get off the streets when it became unsafe. Go do homework.

Not me. With almost no friends or protection I sauntered to the local playground and watched from outside the fence. The tough kids and the athletes moving freely. I stood apart, locked in fear.

Maturity or something resembling that put my skills to work making pals. On every side of the fences. Gang kids, high school fraternity pals, Jews, Black, Ricans, but not Irish or Italian. The Catholics were bad news for me. Christ killer they said.

I learned to act tough. I learned to adapt. I learned to thrive on violence. I hung with criminals. I became a criminal. A burglar, a thief, a dealer. I threatened people and I was threatened. I was arrested. Repeatedly. And I prepped for prison. Simultaneously, I joined in the love, peace and drugs movement. I dropped LSD and grooved to Jefferson Airplane. I marched against the Vietnam War. I was called up to serve and I dodged the immoral war and refused to kill in the name of peace. The sergeant at the draft board took a look at me and said “we need tough guys like you in Nam”. The cop on the beat said I looked like a felon. Subsequently I was convicted of unlawfully carrying a handgun in Chicago.

Then I became a social worker specializing in street gangs. I buried about 13 kids in 3 years who were homicide victims and perpetrators.  Social worker to the very emotionally disturbed and I preached peace. I denied violence as a credible response to conditions. Then, I worked the next 2 years with kids enmeshed in a race war on the far south side of Chicago. I was attacked by both sides and took some physical licks to the head in the process. And I preached peace and preached against violence as a solution.

I became a drug counselor in Woodlawn. A hard-core inner-city community. I made home visits and prayed I wouldn’t get beaten or killed….again. A community infested with various black street gangs whose reputation for violence was well earned.

Then I became a criminal defense lawyer. Always in the streets with my clients. Always aware of the threat of violence being all around.

Eventually, I became a gun range owner and seller of firearms. I became real good with a gun. I taught the proper and legal use of deadly force. I taught the application of violence to certain conditions. And I preached peace and denied violence as a proper rsponse to conditions.

I am lost. I have violence and aggression permeating my thoughts. I have lived in acceptance of violence for years, even when I preached against it. I defended the users of violence when I was their social worker, lawyer and friend. I made friends with violence even as I chastized its application.

Now I am too old to protect myself physically. I have injuries. I have lost strength and muscle tone. I could not prevail against threats to my well-being. But with a gun, I can dominate situations that a weaker man would lose. I have the mind-set and the skill set to apply deadly force when I think it prudent. All the while unconvinced that it should ever be prudent if I were to mind my manners, stay out of conflicts, avoid making eye contact with aggressors and practice my Buddhist precepts and meditation.

Kill or be killed? I don’t know exactly how I got here nor how this will turn out. I accept that exposure to violence has left me damaged. I recognize I am eager to live by peaceful principles. I know I have to work at it. But soon I will be teaching and selling guns again. I do so without much reservation. I know I am a good teacher and a good pistolero. This battle has not been decided yet.