Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dukkha and the First Amendment

Discomfort has been a recurring theme lately, both in the news and in my daily business around Deming.

At work, school has just completed our second week, and we are all adjusting to the schedule and the demands. For some of our Kindergarteners, the discomfort as they get used to a new life as schoolchildren is evident on their faces, in their behavior, in the occasional crying jags.

The discomfort of fighting off a headcold already, despite eating well, drinking herbs, taking echinacea, washing my hands constantly, treating them with sanitizer, and imposing the neti pot on my nose. None of it seems to matter. I'm getting sick again. There is the discomfort of frustration, getting something I don't want yet again.

Many of my students are uncomfortable with my beard and sideburns, as indeed are some of my colleagues. The reactions range from open curiosity to utter disdain. Even a groomed beard is looked on as "dirty" and unacceptable. They don't like it, yet they will be looking at it for another couple of weeks.

There are the discomforts of marriage, the little dissonances and incompatibilities that become familiar if not welcome.

And in the news, there is great discomfort in our republic. With the help of media personalities and politicians, the public has been led away from contemplation of the finance industry and the harm it has done to us; and instead, we've been put on to arguing about islamophobia and race, whether these things exist, whether it is possible to discuss them sensibly.

The building of a large Islamic community center, by a sufi community headed by an Imam who has been a leading American voice for a modern Islam that rejects terrorism and wah'habism, has troubled a great many of us because the project is located a couple of blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Despite themselves, even some with good intentions find that this does not sit well with them somehow.

And today, a rally is taking place at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. that makes many people uncomfortable indeed. It is a right-wing political rally organized and hosted by the political media showman Glenn Beck, and it just happens to take place today: the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. The date and the location has made a great many people uncomfortable.

The first noble truth of Buddhism is almost universally translated as the truth of suffering (dukkha). There is old age, sickness, death. There is the pain of getting what we don't want, and not getting what we do want. The "problem," to the extent there is one, has to do with wanting something other than what is true here and now. The tighter we hold on to what we desire, against what is, the greater our suffering.

In discussions of the Islamic center in New York and Glenn Beck's rally this week, on this day of days, we return to the implacable freedom granted by our First Amendment. The right to build a house of worship on your own property. The right to make a right-wing conservative speech on the anniversary and location of "I Have A Dream." These rights are not up for a popular vote; that's why they are fundamental rights. The sophisticated idea behind our first amendment is that we can disgree about big ideas and still be unified.

In Buddhist experience, this is going on moment to moment on a personal level: reconciling with discomfort. Living with the things that make us uneasy or sad or angry. Yet putting it down, and answering to what the next moment needs.

Discussions of race are hard because there is a stigma about feeling uncomfortable. If you admit that you feel uncomfortable with people who look, smell, or live differently than you do, someone might jump on you and equate you with the KKK. So people don't "go there." And it's a shame, because "going there" in an atmosphere of compassion and wisdom would really clear the air, benefit us as individuals and a society.

But admitting to discomfort and living with discomfort are, in themselves, troubling ideas. We are trained to believe that happiness is the elimination of discomfort. Impossible, kids. This idea of "happiness" itself arises from the noble truth of discomfort.

It is okay to be uncomfortable with the Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, even though they have a right to build it. It is okay to be uncomfortable with Glenn Beck's rally, too, but if you're feeling angry -- have a read of Dr. King's speech. The sad love for humanity in that speech, and its great purpose, extend to the Glenn Beck followers of the world, too.

The Buddha's Four Noble Truths and our First Amendment are very advanced human ideas -- small wonder that for the majority of us, they are hard to comprehend and and realize.

So when we come into conflict and argue with one another, let us work together from wherever we are and be kind.


Kyle said...

And feeling anger is ok too, as long as we know it is anger. Anger, sadness, discomfort..all great reminders of Dukkha.

That said, I have some pictures to go take! :-P

Kelly said...

Hmmmm. A lot of discomfort going on here!

I abandoned my neti pot earlier in the summer and need to start using it again. I think it was because I felt the need to use distilled water (we're on our own well and have good water, but...) which had to be warmed in the kitchen before toting to the bathroom to rinse. Health should prevail over laziness.

Still wondering why on earth anyone would glare at you over facial hair. Geez.

Mum said...

When you do shave and cut your hair, remember to tell your younger students in advance so they won't freak out when they see you change.

Algernon said...

Quite right: I've had to do this before and it's a big deal for the kids. It also helps when I show them photographs of whatever I'm working on (rehearsal pictures, photos from the set).

Debby said...

I understand the discomfort of the Islamic Center, but still, just because I'm uncomfortable with an idea does NOT mean that I can throw a tantrum and refuse to allow it based on that one standard. Where does it say, anywhere, that we must never be allowed to feel uncomfortable?

Algernon said...

Bullseye, Debby. Some of us have manufactured this right to be never offended. This right does not exist anywhere.