Enlightenment: A Call To Action

I read an interesting Facebook post from screenwriter and author, David Gerrold today. He wrote about the Buddha and enlightenment. The article starts like this (quote): “The story of Buddha, the short version, is that he was a prince or a noble of some sort. When he saw the great poverty of the people, he abandoned his riches and became a stoic. After a while, he realized that was a mistake as well and then he sat under a Bodhi tree for a while and became enlightened.”

A very short version indeed. The Buddha discovered that life is full of suffering. With enlightenment came the ability to deal with the suffering in your mind and finally the ability to eliminate suffering from your life through changing the way you think about it. This, according to Buddhism, is enlightenment. He spent the rest of his life teaching these things to others. That’s all fine, writes Gerrold but:

“If he truly was a prince or a noble. If he truly was rich, then he was in a position to actually help the people living in great poverty. There were things he could have created — hospitals, schools, shelters for the homeless. He could have been more than some eccentric old guy sitting under a tree saying stuff that’s supposed to make people feel good about what’s going on inside their heads.”

It’s an interesting thought. In other words, it’s good to know about the troubles of individuals, and of the world, but knowing is not enough. Once you know, and if you are in a position to, you should be doing something about it. As an example, he say’s this: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

The author also left this comment: “I will add a note to that. I wash the dishes every morning. It’s a relaxing ritual while the coffee perks. This is how enlightenment turns a chore into a service — I am being in service to my son and daughter-in-law. I am making a difference by providing a cleaner space for all of us. I am still chopping wood and carrying water, but now I understand why I am chopping wood and carrying water. I do it as a service.”

These are some good things to think about. We know about the troubles of the world. We see it and read about it in the news everyday. But knowing is not enough. I’ve read books about Buddhism, about monks spending their lives in meditation. But I often wondered, what good does this do beyond the good of the monk doing the meditation. Enlightenment is awareness, Gerrold writes: “But awareness itself is useless — unless you roll up your f**king sleeves and do something. If you are not going to work and making a difference, your enlightenment is merely narcissism in drag.”

Do something. Anything. Even something as simple as writing about what’s happening to people, to bring awareness. And then people turn that awareness into action. Even, Gerrold says, doing the dishes in order to create a cleaner space. Being in service to others, even if it is something as simple as smiling and greeting the cashier at your grocery store. Even that is a service. It can help brighten someones day, and who knows what they might do with that. They might go home after work and be nicer to their neighbors. And do it without expecting anything in return. If we do things because they should be done, and not for some kind of reward, (like a “thank you”) we’re providing a service to others, and that in turn is enlightenment. Knowing you’re doing things that should and need to be done to make a better world without expecting or desiring a reward.

So let’s go out and do stuff. There is a lot of injustice in our country and right here in our towns. Let’s make things better. Be encouraging, smile, or open a door for someone. Or go out and build houses for Habitat for Humanity. A lot of us are busy people. Many don’t have time to build houses. But we have time to smile. We have time to help someone load their groceries into their car. This is enlightenment.


Life As It Comes

Pain is a constant companion. On November 24th, 1972, I was involved in a car accident. I was 16 years old, a Junior in high school and I fractured a few of my lower lumbar vertebra. The swelling was so bad that my spinal chord was squeezed to the point of my not being able to move or feel from the waist down. After about 3 weeks I slowly got the feeling back but standing and walking was extremely painful. I had to wear a brace with big steel bars up the back for support. I spent a month in the hospital and another month at home before I could return to school. I have suffered with back pain and sciatica ever since. Regaining the movement that I had until then taken for granted took many more months. I have learned to live with the pain.

Now in my 60’s, I find that I’m getting arthritis. My grandmother on my dad’s side had it so bad that she could barely move on her own. I often wondered if I could inherit that. I’ve had it in my lower back for some time but within the last few years it has developed in my hips and hands. I play hand percussion and fool around with bass guitar but as time goes on those things are becoming more painful. As I am well familiar with pain it is not a surprise or necessarily a burden. Because of my back I have always had to be innovative in how I do things. So the new pain just presents more challenges for how to get things done with the least amount of suffering. I don’t like taking medication so I find other ways of working around it. Some days are just too much however, So I take pain reliever like Ibuprofen.

The joints in the fingers on my left hand make a crunching noise when I make a fist. Some days they hurt so bad I can’t make that fist. I know I’ll have to go to the Doctor soon and probably will take meds to alleviate some of that. I’m not so much worried about the pain as I am worried about the loss of movement. I really like my hands. And I like using them. Who doesn’t, right? And the pain in my hips may not be arthritis but a deteriorating joint. Yay, that sounds better! It is said that age and experience brings wisdom which is great but they leave out the part about your body falling apart. And of course, with the wonderful state of our health care system and insurance, it’ll cost more money than some countries GDP. Can’t wait for that.

Physical pain is a natural part of life. So of course, is emotional pain. All of us have to deal with pain of one kind or another. How we deal with it is important to our overall physical and emotional well being. I think of pain, physical and emotional as a natural part of existence. I don’t think of it as something to be avoided, but something to be dealt with. I, like most people, want less pain so I do things or don’t do things accordingly. Or I change how I do things. Sometimes the change is drastic, like not playing bass anymore. I only started playing bass about a year and a half ago but pushing down on the strings is really getting painful and to continue doing it will only make things worse. I like playing bass, but it’s not something I’m going to be able to continue with. Sometimes changes are not as drastic as that. Like changing how I pick things up. Using my middle finger as opposed to my pointer. I don’t mind change. It keeps the mind sharp.

All this I guess is to say that change happens. Looking at something not necessarily as bad, but different, can contribute to a more stable emotional well being. Pain is not bad, it’s just different than not having pain. Good and bad are just concepts that you agree with. If you can view something as different instead of bad, it helps you think about it in a more constructive way. Now I know that the pain I’ve suffered has not been debilitating. That’s not what I’m talking about. If I ever reach that point I believe I’ll figure out how to deal with that as well. Dealing with pain for me is like dealing with anything else. Whatever comes my way, I look at it, study it and figure out what to do or not do about it. If I can get the pain to go away, that’s great. If not, I’ll figure out how to live with it. What else can you do?

A Footnote Of History

Israeli wall 2
The wall and razor wire keeps them in
as it keeps the others out.
As kings of old, they trap
themselves inside,
their world becomes smaller.
Destruction they reign,
suffering they pledge.
1948, their rallying cry: We are!
Their death has been slow
they do not see.
Their determination to be, at
the expense of others
will choke them on their own blood.
Time. Time is the enemy.
As they slowly wither
the world watches. And waits.
The words are whispered, shouted.
Those who wish to destroy
will be destroyed.
Not by others,
but by their own hand.
Hate seeps into your veins
and becomes you.
They will not withstand it.
A footnote of history:
They were.

The Sword Of Freedom

bloody sword
As hands are brushed together, dead bodies fall like dust
and a girl in a dress called freedom whirls and twirls
but makes no sound but the sound of a mothers cry.

With the constitution in one hand and a bible in the other,
flames suddenly leap and turn them to ash and
they blow away on the wind called justice.

Crowds leave the synagogue, cathedral and mosque and file
into the furnace while factories make more furnaces
and governments send more children to burn.

The minds eye is blind and feeling it’s way to find
emptiness and sorrow where love once lived.
Time turns backward to other wars with the same stench.

Liberty’s crack grows wider and the clapper has
disappeared to be replaced by the
sword of freedom, and a mother cries again.

And do we watch with hands folded in laps and on
our knees pray to a god who doesn’t listen? And do
we tell our children that this is righteousness?

As our world disappears in flame and ash do
we wish we had done the right thing? Do we say the
words that will set all to right, or collect our pay?

As the wars rage on and refugees muliply we go to our
jobs with blinders in place and plugs in our ears and
pretend we do not see the girl dancing. And bleeding.

And as she falls to the ground her wounds ooze into
the sand and she reaches out to be picked up but
we turn away, not wanting to get our clothes dirty.

With clean hands and clothes some walk away, but
some stoop to carry away the hurt and their
voices are being heard. Quietly now, but getting louder.