On Anger…

When you get angry, you need to ask yourself where anger comes from. Not just your anger right now, about whatever it is that might be pissing you off, but anger itself. What is it? Can you really say it’s caused by whatever it was that set you off? Did that idiot who cut you off on the freeway — or whatever — really produce your anger? Or is the real cause of anger something deeper? What is the need we so often feel to prove to everyone around us that we are right and they are wrong? Why is it important to us that others agree with what we believe? Where does that desire come from? Why do we do that? Does that help? Or does that just begin a chain reaction that will inevitably lead to more anger?


Watching the recent debates surrounding the war in Iraq — war being the ultimate expression of human anger — I began to notice that neither the warmongers nor the peaceniks had the slightest clue about what the real situation was. None of them has the courage to look deeply into themselves, to find the source of war itself — which is ultimately the same as the source of anger — and to rip it right out of their guts. Because that is more difficult than marching with picket signs or firing guns and dropping bombs. It’s far more repulsive to us to really face up to who and what we actually are than it is to face the prospect of fires and bombs and blood and misery. We would gladly choose war any day of the week over that. Quite literally. You can get all self-righteous and pretend that there’s a big difference between the anger you feel at some warmongering politician or general and the anger those guys feel toward whomever they’ve labeled as “the Enemy” this week. But is there? You need to find out. You really, really do.


On Sex….

Because while sex isn’t sinful as far as Buddhism is concerned, it is obvious to anyone who pays any attention to his or her life that improper sexual behavior can cause a mountain of trouble for oneself and others. One way to get around these problems is to do what Dogen did and simply refrain from sexual relations altogether. My own teacher gave up doing the dirty deed in his mid-fifties, but when asked if he could have done so earlier in his life, he replied, “Let me tell you clearly: that would have been absolutely impossible.” Most Zen teachers I know of caution against attempting to practice total abstinence from sex since such a practice often ends up making people even more sex crazed.


On God…

The idea that Buddhism is atheism with a happy face is very attractive to certain types of people. These are usually people who have been raised in very religious families or who for whatever reasons have come to reject religion and the idea of God. On the one hand, if God is defined as a big, huge white man with a long beard and magical powers who sits on a throne somewhere way up in the sky and sends people to hell for not kissing his ass well enough or in just the right way, then Buddhism does not accept the belief in that kind of God. Yet every decent Zen teacher I have ever encountered does believe in God. I believe in God too.

The problem with the usual religious view of God is that it is far too limiting. The God they believe in is much too small, a pitiful caricature of a jealous and mean-spirited dictator. The way most religions define God is an insult to God.


On Cause and Effect…

To me God is the same as what Buddhists call the Rule of the Universe. Or to put it another way, the law of cause and effect isn’t just something made by God that he stands apart from. The law of cause and effect is God. Though we use the words rule and law, it’s not like a law written in a book. It’s a living, ever-changing thing. The Rule of the Universe is intensely moral in that it includes all those things that ensure that you suffer the proper consequences should you attempt to do things you ought not to do. Someone asked me once what “Higher Power” a Buddhist could choose to believe in if he or she became a member of a 12-step program that required such a belief. I think that the fact that you can’t drink too much alcohol without becoming very ill — addiction being an illness, after all — is evidence enough that the Rule of the Universe is a benevolent Higher Power that wishes us not to become alcoholics. I would trust in the law of cause and effect as my Higher Power.


On Spiritual Teachers…

It’s not hard to understand why you need a teacher. You need to have a mirror to fix your hair or apply your lipstick properly. It’s certainly physically possible to do these things without a mirror, and there are no laws against it. But you’d have no real idea what you actually looked like until you walked outside and everyone started giggling at you because you’d smeared lipstick all over your nose. A good Buddhist teacher can be your mirror. The teacher, in turn, learns to use his or her students as a mirror in a similar way.

It’s not enough to depend on the distorted reflections provided by your friends, by society, by your peers, and so on. Face it. Are most of the folks you know honest enough with themselves to be perfectly honest with someone else? The criteria most people use to judge what’s acceptable and what’s not are pretty warped. That’s why our society as a whole is so plagued with problems. A decent Buddhist teacher has an entirely different set of criteria.

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