Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Monday, October 2, 2017

What Happened In Vegas

Well, I had a really good blog post all set to go here, with lots of links and subreferences and even a few nice photos, but now I can't run it because after yesterday in Las Vegas it's totally and completely lost its immediacy.  That, and Joan said there were too many things that linked it to the Real Story,  and somebody out there might recognize it, which is a problem because confidentiality and stuff. so I just scrapped the whole deal.  (Yes, Joan vets my blog posts. Well, most of the time.)  Alas, blog post, you are not to be. Also, I walked into the office this morning and one of my cow orkers immediately said to me, "Do you think the world's getting worse all the time, or was it always this bad?" which is, you know, slang for hello, I guess.  

And I told him the truth.  I told him I didn't think the world was any worse today than yesterday, or yesterday than it was the day before, but the interconnectedness of everything (by which I meant primarily the Internet, but I'll come back to this) means we hear about everything that happens regardless of where or why or who's involved.  Plus, there are more of us now than there ever were, so by definition more stuff is going to happen.  You just have to figure in a population of X number of humans, X / Y equals the number of violent events that could feasibly happen, so an increase in X will proportionally increase Y.  Or something like that.  

(Incidentally, did you know that we use X as an unknown because in Spanish, there's no sound like "sssh"?  The character that the Arabs use to denote the unknown was pronounced "sssh," but when they were translating the first algebra texts from Arabic to Spanish, the scholars didn't have any equivalent sound.  So they borrowed the X, which is pronounced "ch," which was close, from the Greek alphabet.  And that's why the unknown is X.  Just fyi.)  

Anyway, to be honest, I don't know if the world is getting worse all the time, but I don't think it's really getting any more violent.  I think up until the 1960s and maybe even a little later, the majority of violence in this country went on behind closed doors, and was inflicted primarily on women and children.  In the 1960s, with divorce being more acceptable, women starting to figure out they were human beings too and just a general refusal to subject kids to this kind of thing, men who would ordinarily beat their wives and kids, found themselves with fewer wives and kids around to beat.  So they moved out of their homes and, I dunno, started fights with other people in the harsh light of the rest of the world.  Well, that's one of my theories, anyway. I have a lot of em.

One thing I don't have, though, is a theory that explains mass shootings of innocent people.  I doubt very many of us do.  My understanding is that this guy killed himself, like a lot of mass shooters do, before the police got there, so we're not going to know what made him tick, at least from his ownself.  I'm sure there'll be forensic examination of this guy's diaries, bank account, family members, political views, religious beliefs, the manifesto he left behind (if any) and half a dozen other things, which will ultimately tie into somebody's pronouncement that "This guy experienced X (see the unknown again?), and so he did Y."  Which will make us feel safe again, because obviously X is a very rare occurrence and we don't experience X in our own lives, so there won't be another Y anywhere we might happen to be.

Which is all great, right?  We all need explanations for This Sort of Thing.  Even more so, I think we need to believe that somebody somewhere is taking care of all the Xs.  But here's the Buddhist theory, and I promise you're not going to like it:  This event happened not because of one crazy guy and his experience with X, but because we all, as a group, have forgotten our true nature--that is to say, our interconnectedness with other beings.  And in the process, we evidently failed this guy in about the worst way you can possibly imagine.

Told you you weren't going to like it.  

See, if you listen to Thich Nhat Hanh (and I do, though I argue with him a lot, at least in my head) you can't possibly miss how dependent we all are on each other for basically everything we need to get through life, not to mention being happy and healthy.  I can't phrase this as well as Thay* can, but let's take a piece of paper, for example.  If you look at a piece of paper, you can start to see that it contains the entire universe.  Don't believe me?  Think about it.  The sun is contained in that piece of paper.  If there were no sun, then the tree that eventually became the paper would never have existed.  There's also a tree in the piece of paper, obviously.  There's rain, there's rich soil and loam, and the farther you get into this, the bigger it becomes.  The logger who cut down the tree is contained in that piece of paper. No logger, no cut tree; no cut tree, no paper.  The mother and father of the logger are contained in that piece of paper.  And I mean, when you start doing this (and you should try it, it's really neat) you will eventually realize that there isn't anything in the universe that isn't also in that piece of paper.  Including you.  Because if you didn't need paper to write on, the sheet of paper wouldn't exist, or it would exist in some other form, or some other person would be holding it. 

The same holds true for us as human beings.  We contain and are connected to and are part of every other being that has ever existed, that exists now and will ever exist.  (This is why I think the Buddhist theory of reincarnation is just very slightly wrong, but we'll do that one another time).  You can do nothing for yourself. Nothing, do you get that?  Everything you do and will do is completely dependent upon the existence of other beings.  You can't, for example, buy a house by yourself, because someone had to build the house, and someone had to pave the road to where the house stands, and someone had to install air conditioning and electricity and so on, and--yeah. Keep going.  You'll have the whole universe in your house in no time.  

(Remember when Obama said, "You didn't build that" and everybody freaked out?  He was right, people.  He wasn't as articulate as Thich Nhat Hanh, but then, few people are.)  

Back to our shooter, though.  The only way you can possibly want to do harm to other people is if you forget your interconnectedness to them.  Otherwise, shooting them would be like shooting yourself.  If you forget your interconnectedness, then you're drowning in delusion, as Thay would say.  When you become enlightened, you realize the complete and absolute reality of interconnection.  (Or so they tell me; I was only there for a second, not really long enough to get a good look at the landscape or the trees or even all of the rocks.)  And then your heart will always belong to others and you will want nothing but the best for them, because what benefits them will ultimately benefit you. 

So how do we get there, you ask.  How do we get people to understand they're fundamentally interconnected to everyone else.  Well, we're working on it, one heart at a time, but what you can do right now is take a look at the barriers you use to keep other people out.  Do you really need them?  Maybe it's time for some of them to come down.  Maybe it's time to be more honest about what you're thinking and feeling with the people you're close to.  Maybe it's time, in other words, to be more yourself.  To be more compassionate, with yourself and everyone else. And to be willing to love other people, no matter how obnoxious they are. 

It's risky.

But consider the alternative.  

*Thich Nhat Hanh is often referred to as Thay, an honorific.

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