Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Buddhist Ethics


I recently began reading "For a Future to be Possible: Buddhist Ethics for Everyday Life" by Thich Nhat Hahn. Contained within is what the author calls The Five Mindfulness Trainings. These five things are kind of like a Buddhist version of the Ten Commandments, with the premise being that, put into practice, one can endeavour to work toward a good life that helps our planet holistically. It is a well worthwhile read and I will personally commit time in my daily meditation practice to think through these things and try to adjust my life accordingly. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are also serving as the cornerstone in the sangha that is being formed by me and a few of my dear friends.

Being a teacher affords me a wonderful opportunity to put forth the teachings that I am reading. There is nothing subversive in any of the lessons. My purpose is to teach my students to love and show compassion to all things while drawing an awareness to their being. I teach special needs children at the junior high school level, but must stress that these students possess insight and are capable of profound pronouncements.

In this morning's Language Arts classes I posed the following question to my students: "Why do you think society sometimes uses violence as entertainment? Explain your answer." After having the kids write a response, I opened the floor up to discussion. I was amazed by some of the statements that these students made. For example, they differentiated between instinctive violence in the context of "fight or flight" and "learned" violence. They also made the observation that "violence" is "violence" regardless of whether it is in the context of a movie, mixed martial arts bout, school yard brawl or car bomb in Iraq, and therefore violence can never be a good thing. Perhaps we are stretching things when we associate violence in movies or rap music to violence on the streets. One might argue that a normal person can distinguish between real violence and the controlled violence of the cinema or WWE Wrestling. My point is that "normal" is a myth and therefore we ca not let the status quo rule our morality simply because more people prefer Coke over Pepsi.

Can we live a life with no violence? I don't know. I do know that violence has been a part of my life throughout, whether in the abuse dealt to me by my Mother growing up, the bullies who beat me up as a kid, my career in Rugby and as a Correctional Officer, my enjoyment of contact sports in general, years of Martial Arts and my love of films. Part of me is haunted by the remains of PTSD spawning from the physical and psychological abuse I suffered as a child, augmented by five years in a maximum security prison, while the other part of me enjoys films such as "Pulp Fiction" and "The Godfather". We are complex beings. Perhaps we can live and still enjoy these things, but I wonder if that enjoyment is in the spirit of a smoker who really enjoys sitting in the sunshine, smoking with a nice cup of coffee – we know that our actions are causing damage, yet there is a perceived pleasure in our dependence on such things. I suppose that this remains up to the individual to decipher for themselves.

With that I will close. The rest remains up to the reader to make their own way and to question…

Namaste.

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5 Comments:

  • At 9:41 AM , Blogger auntiegrav said...

    Violence is a type of encounter among living things. It is not inherently bad or good, unless undertaken through Blind Faith in Gods, governments, or gurus. In that sense, ANY act taken through Blind Faith is Evil, and it is probably the only evil there is.
    When society is insane, conformity is wrong. ..
    At what point does one choose to step away from insanity. Trying to change insanity from the inside requires one to be insane.

     
  • At 7:30 AM , Blogger Andrew Louis said...

    Violence is every bit a part of life as love; without the one, where would be the other? That’s not to suggest that we don’t have in excess in our society today….

    Regarding morals and Buddhism:
    Form my study of Buddhism, I’ve never known it to have any real set of moral tenants. That is, understanding and/or “living the Zen life” does not require a given moral behavior per se.

    Consider the following from Goso:

    If people ask me what Zen is like I will say that it is like learning the art of burglary. The son of a burglar saw his father growing older and thought: “if he is unable to carry out his profession, who will be the bread winner of this family, except myself? I must learn the trade.” He intimated the idea to his father, who approved it. One night the father took the son to a big house, broke through the fence, entered the house, and opening one of the large chests, told the son to go in and pick out the clothings. As soon as he got into it the lid was dropped and the lock was securely applied. The father now came out to the courtyard, and loudly knocking at the door woke up the family, whereas he himself quietly slipped away by the former hole in the fence. The residents got exited and lighted the candles, but found that the burglars had already gone. The son, who remained all the time in the chest securely confined, thought of his cruel father. He was greatly mortified, when a fine idea flashed upon him. He made a noise which sounded like the gnawing of a rat. The family told the maid to take a candle and examine the chest. When the lid was unlocked, out came the prisoner, who blew out the light, pushed away the maid, and fled. The people ran after him. Noticing a well by the road, he picked up a large stone and threw it into the water. The pursuers all gathered around the well trying to find the burglar drowning himself in the dark hole. In the meantime he was safely back in his fathers house. He blamed that latter very much for his narrow escape. Said the father, “Be not offended, my son. Just tell me how you got off.” When the son told him about all his adventures the father remarked, “There you are, you have learned the art!”

    In a childish way I’ve always considered Zen a bit like “The Force” (from Star Wars), a morality isn’t required to wield it. This isn’t to say that Buddhism condones violence, but that, in many case, it accepts it as simply being a part of life.

     
  • At 8:26 PM , Blogger Minister of the Masochistic Truth said...

    There is no dismissal of our propensity to use violence, and, just like love, anger, sorrow, etc. it is part of our elaborate make-up. The point in Buddhism (and most other religions/ethics) is to nurture the good things inside us, while acknowledging the negative parts of our selves and keeping them in check. During my time as a Corrections Officer and in the Military I have employed voilence to its fullest extent. There is also no denial that there are times when one needs to protect themselves or their families. That being said, if everyone practised non-violence, then there would be no need to act violently. That is course naive idealism on the one hand, but, ultimately, it also let's us know that we are responsible for our actions. Violence begets violence. Just read a newspaper and that is clear.

    As for moral tenants, Buddhism does have the 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold path. These do not tell you what is right and wrong, but rather offers a rationale as to why you might choose to act one way or another. Being a person who detests dogma, what drew my to Buddhism is that the Buddha himself to his followers to find their own way and to challenge all that he taught because he could be wrong. Ultimately, Buddhism offers a rationale to thinking.

    I agree that much of Zen is full of "The Force" like crap full of masters. Sounds pretty pompous to be truly Buddhist in my mind. Check out Brent Warner's "Hardcore Zen" or "Sit Down and Shut Up" for something a little less spacey.

     
  • At 3:06 PM , Blogger Andrew Louis said...

    I guess what I'd suggest is (and I'm preaching to the choir here I know) if one places morality and tenents before Zen, you'll end up following the same dogmatic path many Christians do and never have a clear understanding of anything (you've become a meat puppet). Once one has the understanding (first) morality (whatever that is) comes natural.

    Again,
    I'm preaching to choir, I haven't read through much of your stuff here, so I don't know your overall philosophy. That always makes it difficult to shotgun comments.

    I'll have to take some time and do some reading....

     
  • At 7:32 PM , Blogger Minister of the Masochistic Truth said...

    You've nailed it, Andrew. The problem is that we try to make our world fit religion as opposed to the other way around. The basis of all religions seem to have similar values and ends. One needs to find one that you can identify with, and, ultimately, creates meaning and understanding in one's life. I could never be a Christian, though I find Exodous 20 to be very inspiring in regards to the way I see the world, and definitley the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament is of great inspiration. Likewise, there are many values in Hinduism that resonate for me and support my values as they have developed in my personal experience. Buddhism is what I find is the most logical religion in terms of my own reasoning, but again, I would not begin to suggest that it is the only and perfect way. To each their own.

    Anyway, I hope that you do read on as I enjoy our discussions and value the perspective of others.

    Be well!

     

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