Saturday, January 31, 2004

Dream World

Winter on the northwest coast of America is a muted concept. Reading Dave's description of winter in much of America, much of the world outside the tropics, in fact, made me pause and think about it, think about how different winter is here. Figure and ground change places in winter, said Dave, with his usual insight and precision. A snow landscape in Connecticut is all reversed, the bones become the skin and the skin becomes the bone.

But not here. Here the sky draws down, a little darker, a little grayer. The rains set in harder; the lawns grow and no one can mow them, because they're wet for weeks at a time. The deciduous trees do drop their leaves eventually, but they're in the minority and don't really change the gestalt: the douglas firs still rule the skyline with their ragged-needled arms, in winter as in summer. Nothing changes. The gutters rush in torrents often. But they do that in the summertime too. Vivid wet brown and green, gray sky, sudden brief sun: all year round. In the middle of January there can be blue sky and shirtsleeve weather; in the middle of July it can be foggy and pouring cold rain.

Winter is dark, here. Not for us the dazzling white of new-fallen snow, the suddenly opened stark landscapes. Winter is dreamtime, quiet time, the shroud of the fog, the endless beat of the rain. The smell of wet cedar and the irridescent sheen of oil on sopping asphalt. The land never really falls asleep, and in the summer it never really wakes. This is the dream world.

Friday, January 30, 2004

This week, for the first time in months, if not years, I found myself enjoying work. Eager to solve problems, to learn new tools, to experiment with radical solutions. I've done more this week than in the last two months, I think. Is it because my boss is on vacation? Because I finally got a mediocre review, after deserving one for three years but still getting disorientingly good ones? Because I've been eaten by a dragon and crunched to little bits? All of the above, I'm sure, though If I had to pick one, it would be being chomped.

Last night Martha and I took turns camping on the floor by the dog bed, while Christmas whimpered. Not a big-deal surgery, just subcutaneous, but the tumor was already goose-egg size when we spotted it and the incision goes clear across her side, a good foot long, and it clearly hurts like hell. Dozed, from three to six, stroking her head when the volume went up, sometimes murmuring "om mani"s till I fell asleep. At least once I woke up still saying them. Thought of what a sap so many people would think me, spending half the night on the floor to comfort a dog. Holding a saucer for her to lap water from. Tracking how long since her last pain meds.

I wondered of course whether I was in fact affording any comfort, or just indulging in the anthropomorphic fantasy that scientists warn us so sternly about, until I left her to go upstairs. She howled, then, and didn't quit till I came back down.
Hey You --

You think you're going to live forever?

Turn off the damn computer and go meditate.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004


Look: this is where the ghosts live.

Step over the rusted iron rails and the creosoted ties. Cross the field of cracked cement; thread my way through corroded housings of forgotten machines. People worked here once. Now, under the stars, far from the streetlights, it is quiet.

Only the chittering of panicked ghosts, scrambling away from my footsteps.

Say: don't be afraid, ghosts. I have brought you something.

Sit down on the old split concrete. Open my pack. Take out my offering bowl. The ghosts come, trembling, sniffing, wary.

Pour out water, just a bowlful. More would be useless. The ghosts drink, lapping water with their tiny tongues. Such little ghosts. Even a bowlful is far too much: they can't finish it, though they crowd desperately to the brim, terrified, in death as in life, that there won't be enough.

The rumble of a diesel engine starting, though the sky is still living black, and the stars bright enough to cast shadows. No trace of dawn there. But the ghosts scatter. In moments they are gone.

Pour out the rest of the water, dark on the dusty, pale cement.

Say: I will come again. As long as you are here, I will come.

Can they listen? No one knows.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Batter my Heart

Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee, and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely I love you, and would be loved faine,
But am betroth'd unto your enemie:
Divorce mee, untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

John Donne

Friday, January 23, 2004

Where I Come From (part two: Bored in Paradise)

We were bored. Hellishly bored, sometimes. There were only some forty of us -- ten boarding students, twenty day students, and "the little kids," the elementary-school-age kids. There were one or two classes per day that we could go to, if we wanted. (The single requirement was that everyone show up for the weekly community meeting. Since it was the only rule we could find to break, Billy and I played hooky one week; we took off and wandered around downtown Spokane, reveling in transgression.)

When people ask me what the best thing about my experience at the school was -- since it doesn't take long talking to me to see that I value the experience, and remain tremendously grateful and loyal to the place, thirty years after -- I say, "being bored." It was analogous, on a different time scale, to sitting zazen, facing a blank wall. We were bored, but without being able to blame it on teachers or parents or bosses. Our boredom was our own. Our failure. An incredible luxury, to be able to discover that.

My time at the New School -- that was the name of it, which makes it impossible to google for: I've never discovered a trace of it on the web -- my time at the New School was a failure. But the richest failure, maybe, of my life. The utopia failed. It was always a fake utopia, of course; we knew that. But even within its own circle, all the wickedness of the world reasserted itself. My family was flush of money at the time, and I received a handsome allowance. I sometimes actually -- I'm ashamed of it to this day, and it takes an effort to write it -- paid Annie, whose family was not flush, a couple times to wash the dishes when it was my turn. A trivial thing, I guess, it might seem -- but it represented a complete betrayal of my communal ideal. And somehow the universal love that I thought we should all be practicing never quite came into focus. There was jealousy, loneliness, misunderstanding. You'll laugh, I know, that I could have expected otherwise. But I did. All evil came from a culture and political structure of domination -- so I earnestly believed then. We had created a little enclave that was supposed to be free of that -- why, then, weren't we happy? Joyful? Ecstatic, even?

It was a loving, affectionate place, in a random, loose-jointed way. We hugged, snuggled, traded backrubs and footrubs. Nobody could be greatly distressed without waves of distress running through the whole little community. But there was no way for me to pretend to myself that this was what I had imagined, at thirteen, dreaming of a secular paradise. It should not be possible to be bored, in paradise. To feel out of place.

Ernie showed up the second year I was there. A heavily pockmarked face and weedy hair. He was thirty-something, with an air of permanent, embittered exile about him. His intensity was unsettling. He wasn't a teacher: a friend of Annie's, maybe, or a connection from the gay men's group that met in the evenings at the school. He chain-smoked, and tended to look away from me uneasily, when our eyes met. He made a proposal at a community meeting -- or was it just talked about? I don't remember for sure -- that we transform the place into a real, sustainable commune. Make our own money, and share what we had. I don't remember if the scheme made any financial sense. Probably not, almost none of those proposed communes did. But I didn't think about that. All I knew was that the idea filled me with dread. I didn't want to lose my room, lose my leisure. I didn't want to work; I didn't know how to work. In my cowardice I wouldn't own to any of that. I wouldn't argue for it or against it. Nor would anyone else. The proposal died in silence. But I knew that utopia had failed, right there, in that silence.

The failure, clearly, was in me (that the utopian project was flawed, I did not allow myself to doubt.) Not only was I not destined to be a great apostle of utopia, I didn't even belong in one. The first order of business, for any prudent utopia I might stumble into, would be to throw me out.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Where I Come From (part one)

It was an big gray three-story house in Spokane, smelling faintly, as old houses will, of damp paper and mold and mouse-droppings. A big wide staircase went up to the second floor, with a dark polished wood rail and balusters. Then a narrow staircase, a servants' staircase, leading up to the third floor, where there were five little bedrooms. The ten of us lived up there.

On the left was the room that Nannette painted deep, deep blue, so that you sank into it as if it were a sea-grotto. Moria shared the room with her at one point.

Second left was the room I shared with Don, smelling comfortably of the cigarettes he rolled. I liked watching him roll cigarettes -- something I had never seen before, growing up in a strictly nonsmoking household: I remember vividly the light blue can of tobacco, the quick sure movements of his fingers. Don had long straight dark hair that hung to the middle of his back, a languid habit of speech and movement, and a slight nasal problem. He would end a sentence, typically, with a long, deliberate sniff. The first openly gay person I knew. He was a couple years older than me -- was he seventeen? eighteen? Terribly old and sophisticated, anyway. Cynical, calm, kindly. A godsend to a wrought-up, self-absorbed, emotionally unstable fourteen year old on the run from his family. A still place in the turbulent world.

Then opposite the stairhead was Marcel's room; later on, the room I shared with Billy. The nicest room, with three windows overlooking the city. We built the fire escape from that window, and we would go and sit on it on warm days, or climb up to the roof (though we weren't supposed to do that) and sunbathe, sometimes nude, on the little flat tar roof.

On the right was my sister's room, which she shared with Annie; later to be Monique's room. It had a lovely wallpaper pattern -- several of the rooms did, old Morris wallpapers. That was the room I stayed in one night, a couple of years later, when I came back for a visit in hopes of being old and sophisticated myself. New students were there. We smoked dope, and watched the smoke curl up through the rays of the late afternoon sun. But the magic was already going, inexorably, draining away. The school's days were numbered; the heyday of free schools had passed; and -- far from being the vanguard we had fondly imagined -- we were become the rearguard, haphazardly covering the retreat of the Sixties.

But in truth an elegiac nostalgia hung over the place from the moment I arrived there. The school had burnt down the year before: and on the first day I went to see the new building, we began our journey by visiting the old, burned-out buildings. People told stories of waking that night, the red wavering light, the tears as they stood outside, watching it burn. The real heart of the school, some hinted, had died that night. It could never be the same.

My heart was fierce and utopian, and I was determined it would be the real school still. We worked together, getting the new building ready. Building the fire escape, among other things. At some point we demolished the ancient garage out back, covering ourselves with black, oily dust. The first day we had the kitchen up and running I happily washed the dishes, and announced -- making it up on the spot -- that I really liked washing dishes. (Within weeks, I was notorious for wriggling out of my turn at the dishes, any way I could. The flush of utopian enthusiasm lasts only so long.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Footnotes to the post below

1. Weeping. For joy

2. "One word is too often profaned," the beginning of a lyric by Shelley, written to the wife (well, pseudo-wife) of a friend. He's anxious and distraught, sleep-deprived and nightmare-ridden; and as usual, he deals with it by having a crush on someone. But he's beginning to think about what erotic love could be if it weren't, well, erotic love. "The desire of the moth for the star, / of the night for the morrow." Written within weeks of his death.

3. Ramparts and mousetraps. The defenses are psychological defenses against committing adultery.

4. I will not name this thing. The author is probably (like Shelley) avoiding the 'L' word here.

5. Jamgon Kongtrul, the great Tibetan scholar and yogin. The chronology doesn't really work, unless we put Shelley wandering through India for thirty years first.

6. The good time. Shelley, always a utopian, had a ring made for him in Italy, which bore the inscription Il buon tempo verra. ("The good time will come.")

7. Shelley's first wife, Harriet, drowned herself. The suicide is reasonably attributable to his having eloped with Mary Shelley (yes, the author of Frankenstein). The theory was that none of them believed in marriage. Shelley was always a bit stronger on theory than on practice.

8. little graves dotted across Italy only one of Shelley's children lived to adulthood. Two (at least) died very young in Italy. Shelley was devoted to all his children, however irregularly come by, and the deaths haunted him.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

All the same, and all different. I am on the verge of weeping half a dozen times a day. It's been such a long exile. Day by day, painstakingly putting my words into a foreign language. And suddenly to find someone from home.

No, it's not safe. But what is? Boredom is more dangerous by far.

I have the dharma this time. And I am older. (I may not be wiser, but at least I move slower.)

I've started writing a couple times, and stopped, and only now have I realized what was wrong. I was starting at the wrong end. Starting with catchphrases, platitudes, explanations. All that is worse than useless.

So I walk through this transfigured world. I am unsafe, unwarded. And now, walking among the old, decayed fortifications, it's clear that they were never any use anyway. They never made me a whit the safer. Vast cement ramparts to hold back mice, and mousetraps to stop the tanks. It's only accident that held this line. Or grace.

I will not name this thing.

One word is too often profaned,
For me to profane it;
One feeling too falsely disdain'd
For thee to disdain it.
One hope is too like despair
For prudence to smother,
And pity from thee more dear
Than that from another.

There is no need, and there is no way.

But Shelley was wrong, disastrously wrong. I wish he'd lived to make his expedition to the East. Finding his way at last to Kham, to sit at Jamgon Kongtrul's feet, and say, "Master, what was I doing wrong?"

And Kongtrul grins. "Just trying a little too hard to make it real, boy. Just trying too hard. It's already real, with no help from you."

Already real. The good time has already come.

No, not to ignore Harriet, drowned in the river, nor the little graves dotted across Italy. That would just be trying to make it real in another way.

It's never been real, and it's always been real. Now have some tea, and get some sleep, boy. You can sleep now.

Monday, January 19, 2004

You try to block thoughts and yet they are not blocked --
First one unblocked thought arises, then a second -- let them arise.
When they arise, send them wherever they go and stand guard.
Since there is no place for them to go, they have returned,
Like a crow who has taken off from a ship.
Rest like the movement of swells at sea.

-- Jamgon Kongtrul,
Creation and Completion

Friday, January 16, 2004

Mr Dale grinds to a halt. Or rather, contracts to a dizzying spin. Another exposure, and lost to do anything, think anything, be anything till the response comes in. Clickitey clickitey click.

Okay. Sit up straight, boy. (Straighter than that, come on!) Breathe deep. Say a little prayer. (Uh-uh! don't slump down again!) Luminous and unimpeded, remember? Thoughts only spin when they're tethered. Let these go.

Accept the gift. This momentary light. Not because you should, O lunkinhead peasant, but because it's riches beyond the dreams of ignorance. Eat because you're hungry, silly mawk -- not because I told you to. This is not an empty room. Not even an empty cubicle. And certainly not an empty heart.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004


We talked for two hours and I didn't say the only thing that mattered. You have given me my whole life. From the blood under my fingernails to the light entering my eyes.

I will not build high towers and golden stupas for you, I will not lay proud empires waste, or write down codes of law to stupefy the centuries. But I will lay one hand on the edge of a cafe table and pay attention as I do so.

No swaggering God of Hosts has ever received such tribute, or ever will.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Chris has written an extraordinary piece about Dillard's Cat. Truth and lies in writing.
this, quoted from William Stafford, on field notes:

If you begin to believe what others say about you, you become like a compass that listens to the hunches of the pilot. You may be good company, but you are useless as a compass--I mean a poet.
Dave, incidentally, apologized for "putting me on the spot." Thinking about that, being surprised by that, I realized how much I like being put on the spot. That is, I love trying to answer the fundamental questions, the questions that people are all too often too polite to ask, the questions that cast doubt on the validity of the whole organization of my life. Both because I know people will be interested in the answers to those questions, and because I am really a reactionary thinker, rather than a creative one. (And there's always the possibility with such questions, however remote, that I might actually learn something by trying to answer them.) So ask, please!
A piece of an email I sent to Dave yesterday, more on the challenge & comfort theme:

Actually I felt that I was probably unfairly jumping on the wording of the question. (I tried to emphasize that I didn't really know what Idries Shah had said, but that's a poor substitute for actually going and finding out before pontificating about it).

I read what you excerpted with interest. I guess I have the same double response to what he writes that I often have to Zen writings: simultaneously, gratitude for the insistence on immediate experience and immediate practice, and disgruntlement on behalf of myself and all weaker vessels. "Let them not challenge to themselves a strength they have not," wrote Richard Hooker, answering the Puritans, "lest they lose the comfortable support of that weakness which indeed they have." We're not all redoubtable yogins, ready to plunge into the wilderness. And nobody (except buddhas, if there are such things) is *always* a redoubtable yogin, not even, I imagine, the redoubtable yogins. A church should be a place of refuge, as well as a place of challenge.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Once upon a time a man of a certain age, who lived in a certain town, met a dragon.

"Dragon," he said, "May I take you home and keep you as a pet?"

"O honored sir," said the dragon (for dragons are very polite), "I think, rather, I will tear your flesh, splinter your bones, and scatter your limbs across the valley floor."

This gave the man some occasion for thought. "Dragon," he said, "Perhaps we could be friends, like, instead."

The dragon answered, "Perhaps we could, honored sir. But I am rather hungry and it might be thought that your respected self was not altogether polite. So I think on the balance it would be better for me to eat you."

"Honored Dragon," said the man, "Maybe I have not understood things very well. I am an ignorant man and one does not meet many dragons, in my trade. Maybe you could take me home as a pet, instead?"

"I am infinitely obliged to you for the offer, sir, but my circumstances are not such as conduce to the care of pets. You would pine, I think, honored sir, without proper feeding and exercise; and I should hate to see you grow thin and stringy." The dragon licked its lips.

"Most Reverend Dragon," said the man, "I think I have been mistaken about a great many things."

"That may well be so," said the dragon. Then he tore the man to pieces and ate him.

"Not a clever man," he mused, as he cracked the last bones to suck the marrow. "But at the end there he was learning to be polite."

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Read These Instead

Susurra de Luz (in her new & wonderful blog) found the documents and wrote a thoughtful commentary on the Dalai Lama's take on homosexuality.

At Via Negativa Dave has been meditating on the connections (necessary? contingent?) between violence and religion.

If you've done the literary academic thing, you might be as delighted as I by John Emerson's essay, Why I don't read Critical Theory" (not a blog, this, but a grand read.)
Challenge and Comfort

Dave wrote:

Dale, you write very persuasively and engagingly about your life in the sangha. I wonder if you have read any of Idries Shah's writings on the evils of social conditioning, and if so, how you would answer his charge that most of what people seek in religion is the opposite of true seeking: to be comforted rather than to be challenged?

No, I'm afraid I haven't read Idries Shah, but I do have a glib answer to the charge as I understand it here. I can't imagine a relationship to a church that wasn't made of both -- both the desire to be comforted and the desire to be challenged.

I would have to be a person with a vast experience of churches, rather than a person with very little, to hope to answer whether most of what people seek is comfort. And I view such quantifications with suspicion. "Most," measured how? I can make a wild guess as to the proportions in my own case -- maybe 20% comfort, 80% challenge? But I could easily be off by 40 points. And my guesses about other people in my sangha would be even wilder, and if I were to guess about people in the Pentecostal church down the street my guesses would be completely worthless. I don't have a clue.

There are a couple assumptions that may be implicit in the charge (always bear in mind here that I haven't read Idries Shah, so I'm just answering what I imagine he said, which is probably considerably less intelligent than what he actually said).

1) That the desire for comfort is usually a bad thing. It can be a bad thing, certainly. There are times when I go the sangha hoping to cash in on previous meditation and experiences of the numinous. Hoping to trade them for worldly respect and ease: to sit down and have a nice session of mutual congratulation, and hold the terrors of real introspection and real openness at bay. But there is also a desire for comfort that is humble and open. The sort of thing I imagine Jesus had in mind when he spoke of "the poor in spirit" -- the recognition of my spiritual poverty, and the recognition that I need the help of people wiser and braver than I. "Nobody can walk the path for you," is profoundly true. But it's also true that it would be absurd to rely on my ego -- which got me into this mess in the first place -- to get me out of it.

2) There may be an assumption -- certainly is in the suspicion of churches that I commonly encounter -- that the proportions of challenge and comfort are a characteristic of the institution, rather than of the individual's relationship with the institution. I have no doubt that some institutions are more skillful than others in challenging people. There may be some (though frankly I doubt it) that have no interest at all in challenging people to real introspection, and real openness to spiritual experience. And I think my own sangha is especially skillful this way. We never have a "service" that doesn't include some fifty minutes of silent meditation. It's pretty damn hard to sit silently for fifty minutes without some challenge coming along, no matter how hell-bent on comfort (in the bad sense) I may be.

But really what matters is what I bring -- my own motivation, my own daily practice. It helps to have a skillful tradition and a skillful teacher. It helps a lot. But it's my own motivation that determines whether what I'm doing at the sangha is practice, or the avoidance of it.

Finally, the question is not simply, "do I find more spiritual challenge or more avoidance of it at my sangha?" The important question is, "will I find more spiritual challenge at my sangha than I would have found staying home tonight?" Milarepa was quite right to stay in his cave rather than going to practice at a monastery. He wasn't going to spend the evening rereading Patrick O'Brian and eating ice cream. For me, however, the answer's usually not far to seek. There's going to be more challenge at the sangha.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

So happy, so grateful. Thank you.

New stars are burning in my sky. No prayers are crossing now. This beautiful, beautiful silver snow, and drops trembling at the ends of icicles. "Costing not less than everything." And cheap at the price.

Good night.
Tonio remarked on the word "unchurched":

"unchurched" sounds like such a derogatory term. Where did it come from, such a strange word? The implication of making this particular noun into an intransitive verb, back into a noun, as though "church" were something that happened to a person. Like having a large and ornate cathedral drop on you in the middle of the street one day. Mind you, perhaps it is. Would explain ALL of my religious doubts. I just haven't been "churched" yet.

Dave (welcome, by the way!) explained:

I read Christian Century magazine regularly and they use the term a lot. It's meant to be neutral, not derogatory - that's why liberals like it.

But I don't believe I've ever used it before, and it struck me as odd as I used it. If I knew that liberals used it, I didn't know it consciously. Really I did intend it -- as I recognize belatedly -- in a sort of pejorative way. "Unsexed" is probably the model here. It does imply -- and was meant to imply -- that belonging to a church is normal, and that to not belong to a church is to be lacking something. To be bereft.

I guess I allow myself the latitude to be pejorative because I was born and raised unchurched. I have only been churched for... what? Seven years, maybe? It was much like having a cathedral dropped on me -- utterly unexpected and unwelcome and disorienting at first. I have always hated being associated with people -- the few organizations I belong to I usually regard with distaste. When I was first going to KCC I was belligerantly unconformist. Damned if I was going to bow to the altar. I stalked past the people making their three prostrations and sat down in the shrine room defiantly, waiting (oh, just waiting!) for someone to tell me I should do them. (No one ever did. No one, I eventually realized, gave a hoot whether I did the prostrations or not: that was my business). I argued with Lama Michael: if there's really no self, then what the hell transmigrates, and why does it matter? How does your karma know your address? What reason to we have to believe anyone ever achieves enlightenment?

It is, precisely, something that happened to me. Now I do my three prostrations happily -- I love the motions, I love the moment of my forehead touching the cool floor: it savors not of abasement but of a touchstone, of making contact with my foundations. And now I belong to committees. I "omze," lighting the candles, filling the offering-bowls, ringing the bell to begin and end the meditations. I am thoroughly churched.

It means that I am associated with some people that I don't like at all. There are stupid people, pompous people, hypocritical people there. There are people whose mindless devotion to Michael drives me up a wall. But there are also people there I've come to love dearly, and admire deeply, whom I would never have even noticed in my unchurched days, when all my associations were by preference. The farmer with a game leg, an ex-alcoholic, who has the most open face and beatific smile I have ever seen, the most utterly unpretending person I have ever met. The inarticulate, completely unintellectual young woman who gave me a bundle of incense on the day I took refuge -- we've hugged more often than we've ever spoken. The middle-aged dental technician whose bulldog determination to understand dharma texts and get the practices right puts me repeatedly to shame.

We're not a sociable sangha. I almost never see these people, apart from Sunday nights. But I wonder now how I lived without them. Without a community of people who share the aspiration to "quickly realize Mahamudra, and establish all beings without exception in this state."

I did not know I was so empty, that I could be so full.

So let me back up. I don't think I really was using "unchurched" as a pejorative. But certainly as a negative. To be unchurched seems to me, now, to be a calamity. One that can be completely undeserved. Michael could die tonight, to be replaced by some bigot, and I'd be unchurched in a twinkling. But historically it's weird to be unchurched, for good or ill. (For good and ill, I should say.) Most people, most of the time, have held their spiritual aspirations in a community.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Someone in comments over at Cassandra referred to the Dalai Lama condemning homosexuality. I followed the link, but found (as so often on the net) no reference, but only a repetition of the assertion. So I don't know exactly what the Dalai Lama said, in what context.

People may wonder why this doesn't particularly disturb me. Gay rights concern me closely. Many of the people dearest to me are gay or lesbian. I drive around with a rainbow sticker on my car. So what am I doing with a "pope" who "condemns homosexuality"? (Not just any "pope," but one I intensely admire.) Am I a hypocrite?

I hope not. Anyway I want to take this apart a little bit, and it will take awhile, because there's a fair amount to unpack.

1) The unchurched often have extravagant ideas about the uniformity of opinion in churches, and the authority that the heads of churches carry. Probably I simply disagree with the Dalai Lama on this one. Part of belonging to a communion is being willing to be associated with people who disagree with you. A communion that harbored no disagreement would be a pretty scary thing. Less like a communion than like a totalitarian state. The corollary to me having to belong to communion that contains people who are intolerant of homosexuality is that *they* have to belong to a communion that contains me. Which seems, to me, all to the good.

2) There are distinctions here that are going to be invisible to the outsider. Chief among them in this case is, were we talking a monastic context? The Dalai Lama, after all, is a monk, and the head of a monastic order. A monastery is supposed to insulate people from sensual indulgence, for a variety of reasons. You can insulate people from heterosexual attachments just by separating the sexes. Homosexual attachments are more difficult to prevent. I can picture the Dalai Lama "condemning" homosexuality in this context, and having it mean nothing more than -- monastic vows are monastic vows: we're commited to renouncing these attachments.

3) The Dalai Lama grew up in the context of unscientific Tibetan medicine. I don't dismiss Tibetan medicine altogether, but some of it looks clearly bogus to me, and none of it has stood experimental test. Traditional Tibetan lore says that some kinds of sex mess up the various "winds" of the body in ways I don't understand. I view this in exactly the same way I view Chaucer's "humors." It's obsolete science, the best they knew at the time. There may be something to it, and there may not be. I don't expect people from other cultures to drop them wholesale as soon as they come into contact with my own, any more than I drop mine.

4) There's the meaning of "condemn." I strongly suspect that the Dalai Lama didn't "condemn" this behavior at all. When the Pope "condemns" something, he means that it's displeasing to God. When the Dalai Lama "condemns" something, he means it's a bad idea. Or possibly that it won't fit with a monastic life. The difference is immense. (Here again is where I wish I had the actual words to work with). Ethics in Buddhism are fundamentally different from ethics in revealed religions: Buddhist ethics are essentially advice, accumulated over centuries, about how best to lead a life that's calm enough so that a person can cultivate mindfulness. In revealed religions ethics are the pronunciamentos of God, and following them is *in itself* a way of approaching God. (And breaking them is *in itself* a way of turning away from Him.)

--(New post below this one)--

Swollen eyes, streaming nose, temples pulsing, racked with so many explosive sneezes that a series of muscles I didn't even know I had, somewhere around my lower ribs, are desperately sore. So grateful that I have a job I can call in sick to. All over the world there are people sicker than I am doing dangerous difficult work. Not a chance of calling into work and whining about their colds and the state of the roads. You want the job, you go to work. I have been so uncannily fortunate, all my life. It makes me uneasy, from time to time. I think: I must have been awfully good in my last lives, to accumulate so much good karma, and I don't think I can be keeping up the pace in this one.

The snow Tonio sent down here from Canada is iced over and dusted with another coat of powder. (Nothing like having a nasty cold to make a snowy landscape look uninviting.) If I were one of the photoblooggers I'd have taken a picture of our back porch: the stark skeleton of last year's clematis making a black net against the white snow, and the old dark iron of a shovel half-covered by a drift. We almost never get snow here. Not like this. Once every seven years, maybe.

Monday, January 05, 2004

... I am that way going to temptation
Where prayers cross.

Time to get up, go for a walk, despite the cold, and gather my wits. What a muddle I'm in.