Tuesday, September 11, 2012
September 11, Still
This piece first appeared on this blog on 10 September 2006, and was reposted one year ago today. This is its third appearance on the blog. At this year's memorial, the eleventh anniversary of the attacks, there was talk of beginning to move on from our shock at this event. Meanwhile, drone attacks continue to kill people who cannot be verified as military or civilian targets in Pakistan, and President Obama has claimed unchecked discretion to target and destroy human beings at will, to a degree war criminals George W. Bush and Richard Cheney did not dare. Perhaps this is moving on. But moving on into what?
It is still September 11.
On a walk with her Zen Master, a woman was moved to ask, "Why is there so much evil in the world?"
Without missing a beat, her teacher said: "Because of you."
Earlier today, something very terrible took place in our republic. It had never happened here before, but it had been happening and has been happening ever since, around the world. The rage and violence penetrated our defenses and brought down our illusion of safety from the madness. No longer could anyone feel like they weren't involved.
This sense of security reminds me of the wall that once surrounded a prince named Siddhartha. He grew up and lived in a huge palace compound, a remote fortress within a land that knew much suffering and injustice. When this prince was born, there had been a prophecy suggesting the boy might become a spiritual seeker instead of a king. Papa wanted none of that and kept his son a virtual prisoner of luxury and wealth, for fear that seeing what life was like outside the palace would change his son's consciousness and drive him to religious life.
Indeed, seeing what was beyond the walls hit the prince's mind like a bolt of lightning. When he scaled the walls out of sheer curiosity, he saw a land where rich and poor lived separate existences, where humans languished in desperate conditions, a land of violence, disease, poverty, old age, sickness - and death, the appointment everyone has and no one misses. Death comes no matter how good you are, rich you are, righteous you are, or healthy you are.
The human suffering touched the prince as deeply as anything could: there was no separation, no sense of insulation from human life. Time, he saw, is limited. He was involved. Involved with all of it. All of it.
Getting past the walls and seeing life as it truly is, a prince's mind is transformed by an enormous question. What is this? And the great awakening begins.
This is NOT the story of a person who lived a long time ago and became known as the Buddha. Forget it.
This is our prophecy. Yours and mine. Yep, you and me. It's our story.
Another way to handle our question is to build taller walls, to instill a better sense of security. Walls look like they should do that for us, so we build lots of them. We build gates and fences around our houses, we take our religions literally, and we bask in the cold shade of nationalism. We try to build bigger and bigger walls keeping us uninvolved with the rest of the world - the enemy. We speak of "our way of life," we believe we are right, and we see no need to look critically at our lives or our history - and least of all, our consciousness itself. Oh no. As best we can, we must prevent our consciousness from being changed.
Just as many Americans have consented to believe that dissent is tantamount to treason, we also have come to feel there is no role for compassion or non-violence at all in confronting terrorism, fanaticism, violent crime, oppression and viciousness. We turn to familiar refuges - martial law, militarism, nationalism. Those who make decisions on our behalf promise bigger, better walls. They can be forgiven for this. Walls are their business and walls have uses. It is the walls we don't see clearly that need to be climbed.
Hammers do what we do with them. A hammer cannot wake up, only the person wielding it. I am convinced there is no sane response to September 11 except to wake up. Nothing will make sense from this point on until there is a shift in consciousness.
There is no "post-September 11" world, there is only this moment and our sanctuary has been compromised. The walls stand for us to scale. Our assumptions stand for us to look at in the light and question. What is a human being? What are desire, anger, and ignorance? The choice is to accept our utter involvement in the wholeness of all life.
It is as if the air we breathe is on fire and we are pissing gasoline, wondering why we feel so hot.
Generation after generation, we kill one another because we don't understand what we are. From the beginning, we have embraced the suffering that afflicts us and denied every opportunity to wake up and try a different way. Those who have argued for a different approach are ignored. Those who will not be ignored are dispensed with. The walls stand.
The best we could possibly make of September 11 is to treat it like a temple bell in the center of the earth that tolls so loudly we wake up. Then we climb the walls and explore the territory of good, evil, and everything else we have made.
We are all princes and it is time for the bad news: we made the walls, we made the country, and we made the suffering. We even made us. (And I am not your friend, because I am making things right and left.) We made the whole painful thing. If we don't understand our involvement, we don't understand anything.
There is good news, though.
This is not intended as poetry. It will remain September 11 until we climb the wall. Nothing else will work.
If you have made it this far, I thank you sincerely for reading. Let us practice together. Let us look into the sources of evil - we can begin with the greed, anger, and delusion and seriously consider "Who's asking?" We are involved. Let us wake up.
We best honor our dead by making a vow to wake up and, from wherever we stand, stop believing insane things. A small cup of water will extinguish a wall of fire, whereas no amount of fire ever will.
I am a youngster and cannot teach you anything; but I will gladly hold hands and walk with you. One step. One step at a time.
[Image: Traffic barriers near the U.S. consulate in Florence, Italy.]