Thursday, March 10, 2011

Greed, Anger, and Delusion Deserve More Credit

From one perspective, yesterday was a rather dramatic day in Wisconsin; something new. From another perspective, it was nothing new.

Last weekend I attended a dharma talk at Silver City Zen Center. The temple priest gave a talk and made passing mention of recent events around the world. During the discussion period following his talk, someone mentioned the intoxication of following media stories as they jerk us from one story to the next. Here's Arizona. Now we're in Tunisia. Cairo. Madison. Tripoli! She said the way the stories are selected and shaped for commercial purposes (and political purposes, too) might actually be leaving human beings less connected rather than more.

There were more wise reflections and someone asked what is behind all the stories -- the story of "I," the story of groups of people, the story of nations, all of that. And I'm the one who wondered out loud that there seems to be no place -- even in the opinionated media where people are paid to blurt out whatever is in their minds -- for naming greed, anger, and delusion as actors in human events. Why this taboo?

Greed, Anger, and Delusion. The Three Poisons named by the Buddha yet familiar to anyone who doesn't give a ding about Buddhism. We ignore these elemental forces in human behavior, and unwisely personalize them. Political rivals accuse each other of being greedy, but there is no frank talk about the nature of Greed. That's taboo. Greed is still socially okay if you are advancing your own interest -- and this is, after all, how the privileged classes perceive their own actions.

The crushing of the rights of one sector of organized workers in Wisconsin was accomplished by some novel maneuvers. It could make the cynical observer gasp, the way they got this done. How refreshing! We really can let go of the idea that our institutions are so good they virtually assure outcomes that are fair and just. No, these institutions are instruments and they are used by people who do not always aim for outcomes that are fair and just. Their objectives may be entirely indifferent to those beautiful ideas. We've known that but for some reason we feel we have to pretend -- for the kids, or something. Well, stop. This ain't about justice, any more than erasing labor rights had to do with balancing a budget.

There is also a lot of hot speech being directed at the person of the Governor of Wisconsin, as well as the members of his political party in that state. But Scott Walker is a soldier in a very old political struggle; so, even, are his wealthy supporters. There is a view of the world that holds the poor and the laborer in disdain; that revolts at the sight of such people banding together in their own interest; of organizing themselves and working together without the guidance of a beautiful aristocrat or landowner.

We're talking about conditioned points of view. We're talking about coalitions of personality "types" and shared dreams that coalesce into political factions. This is how it goes in a society mired in a samsara. Now there is even greater anger in the streets of Madison and people will have to make even harder choices to take care of themselves and also struggle for their necessary rights. Chants for everyone's safety and wise choices while demonstrating, may this social action lead to a stronger connection and to a peaceful campaign.

No union is perfect, and there is no reason to assume unions are always right or just (remember what we said above about institutions), but they are useful tools and there are very clear reasons why some folks want to take those tools away.

But before those people were doing it, there were others doing it to our ancestors, and generations before them. This is the long dream of human history, fired in Greed, Anger, and Delusion.

These three poisons also have positive counterparts. Aspiration, Determination, and Imagination might be their names.

It would be an exciting moment for us if we found ourselves neither (1) trusting our institutions too much or (2) dismissing them altogether. It parallels Buddha's warning (and Huang Po's and many others in the Zen tradition) not to attach ourselves to pieties and ritual forms. Indeed, those very things can become poisons if our mind's eye is not open. The very same can be said about legislatures, judiciaries, labor unions, financial institutions, and more.

Life is spoken of as a dream -- some argue about how literally that is true, but to some degree it is very dreamlike. Yet it is a lucid dream, one we are creating and taking part in. And thus I have dispassionate question for whoever has read this far:

How's the dream turning out? Do you like it? What's another choice? I'll dream with you.

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