Tuesday, June 2, 2009

later is already now

The search has been fruitless, and yet I do wish I could get the Martin Luther King quote accurate in my head ... a remark whose thrust was: What upsets people is not so much what's wrong with the world; what really scares them is the fact that things are all right.

Without something wrong, there is no longer a need for "me." But since "I" am a largely-overrated commodity in the first place ... well, it just makes better sense to relax and stop fidgeting. But of course common sense is sometimes too spooky to enjoy.

Somehow this came to mind when reading words that concerned a Zen teacher I once studied with. Over and over again, the man has proved himself a twit -- unwilling or unable to set aside or investigate the rank he will tell you he doesn't care about. It is nitwit Zen -- sad-making and infuriating by turns. But with his long history of the same behavior, criticizing no longer makes any sense. It's like standing in front of a brick wall and wishing it were not there. Who's the dummy now?

I think there is an idealistic streak in Buddhist practice -- one that suggests all things are going to turn out (later) all right and "all right" means somehow nice and kind and clarified and compassionate... in short, smooth and soothing in my eyes. I may wish it for myself and, by extension, wish it for others.

But it's a tricky business because the implication is that there is something wrong with assholes, jerks, fools and other people like "me." Somehow, the mind suggests, things will get better because of Buddhism, because of my kindnesses, my efforts, my idealistic oomph. Yessiree, I'm going to change things, be helpful and kind and ... well, things are going to be all right(later).

Who will stop to consider the (perhaps scary) fact that things are already all right? "Later" is already now.

The more anyone tries to "make the world a better place," the more the world throws up evidence -- plain old facts -- that there are assholes, jerks and fools. I can be an altruist and an idealist until the cows come home; I can receive accolades galore for my mild and kindly disposition; I can convince myself seven days a week that this "Buddhism" I espouse is the right course, and yet, what kind of promise could this course possibly fulfill? Isn't this the course that simply inspires and relies on the course I would rather not take? Don't I end up chasing my virtuous tail like some silly dog? Am I not praising the light by cursing the darkness ... and thereby inspiring yet another asshole, jerk and fool?

Dogen commented that "one mistake after another is also true practice." This is important, but the notion that there is a mistake deserves care and consideration. Where does this mistake originate? Where does it go? What is a true practice? Seeing what is foolish is good. Seeing what may be better is good. Now ... what, exactly, is good? No chickening out ... what is honestly good? Anyone can be a fool. Anyone can be an idealistic nitwit. OK. But still, how does anyone really fulfill a meaningful promise? With goodness? With evil? With twits and saints? Anyone can play that game, but how successful has it been in the past?

Yes, what scares the pants off anyone is the possibility that things are already all right. But since that possibility is insistent and in-your-face from morning until night ... maybe it's worth a look. Emotional and intellectual convictions may be wonderfully or horribly convincing, but how convincing are they when the sun comes up in the East? Is it worth the effort -- hoping, praying or begging the sun to come up someplace else? Can your virtue or lack thereof outshine the sun? I doubt it.

Talk about a dog chasing its tail! Here I am back with the encouragement offered by Gautama ... an encouragement whose source matters not at all.

"It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do -- that is my concern."


  1. A well timed observation. As I was walking the dogs yesterday, I thought about the past seven years at my current place of employment and it occured to me..."Things are never going to get "better"!"...and I felt a sense of contentment

  2. Reality at least gives one something to work with. Idealism, delusion...If wishes were horses...Thanks.

  3. Dear Adam

    When you quote that phrase, I sometimes think you are referring to the following:

    "Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others." - Marianne Williamson, co-leader of the United States Department of Peace movement (quote often wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela).

    But I could be wrong :)

    Best wishes,

    PS I recognise the meaning is different.