Wednesday, September 26, 2012

trust your bullshit meter

I guess, but don't know, that everyone comes up with a rule book for spiritual endeavor -- lines in the sand that deserve, somehow, not to be crossed. Spoken or unspoken, still they exist and nudge or bully the scene within.

When it comes to "honesty," I can display a pretty righteous stick up my ass. I can wave the word around like a flag from the battlement and woe betide the transgressor in the bathroom mirror or elsewhere! But when I slow down long enough to ask what "honesty" means when I strip away my righteousness ... well, it's not so easy or assured or smug.

Is an honest dishonesty honest or not? Is someone who is convinced by their own dishonesties honest or dishonest? And there are a series of other questions as well ... all of which fall back exhausted when I realize that A. I think honesty, whatever it is, is really important in spiritual endeavor and B. my bullshit meter is just my bullshit meter and however much I may dislike bullshit, still, the best I can do is try to hold my own bullshit in check or shovel it out ... or whatever you're supposed to do with bullshit.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I went to a Zen center where the honcho was a Japanese fellow who wore robes and lectured others. He was proud of his Japanese heritage and could be quite arrogant about the superiority of that heritage.

Like others around me, I too was sucked into the picture he painted of a Japanese culture and history that was superior in quantity and quality to any understanding of Zen that we poor, benighted Americans might have. How could a dumb bunny like me hope to compare to such a wondrous heritage? Like some Hindu untouchable, I saw myself as shit out of luck and there was no avoiding the fact.

Two of the aspects of his heritage this fellow liked to tout, both explicitly and implicitly, were the code of bushido and the way of the samurai. These were noble ways of life that far exceeded any American code of honor ... they were codes that included honesty and courage and decency and a willingness to die in their service. Strong and unbending and chivalrous and marvelous from the point of view of everyday schnooks like me.

And one day, this fellow who dressed so well told a story to illustrate his sense of and belonging-to a world of bushido and the samurai.

It was just a snippet of a tale ... the story of a samurai warrior who, after not having eaten for three days, was walking down the street, picking his teeth as if he had just finished a fine meal.

The tale sent my bullshit meter into the red zone.

What man of honor would have to display his 'courage' to others in this way? Doesn't it take more courage to beg for food, if necessary, than to pretend food is unnecessary? Doesn't it require more fortitude to be honest and not rely on the perceptions of others?

At the time I heard the story, I was somewhat ashamed of my doubts. How could I question a man who had worked so hard -- and often successfully -- to be unquestioned. He was Japanese and I was American ... what could I know of the subtle wonders?

And still my bullshit meter refused to back off. I could see the 'kool' elements of the story, but the bedrock was, despite my best efforts, bullshit... dishonest and corrupt.

Today I agree with the bullshit meter that jumped into the red zone when I heard the story. I am no longer wowed by cultural arrogance except to the extent I try to steer clear of it.

But steering clear of the bullshit observed in others does not mean that bullshit somehow disappears. Everyone is possessed of a desire to look good or the camouflage their weak or manipulative ways in the eyes of others. OK. But then there is the question of my own bullshit, the ways in which I may forgive or anoint my own sayings and doings... like having a stick up my ass about honesty in spiritual endeavor. I would like my ways to be seen as pristine and true and not dishonest ... but is it so?

In the end, I guess it boils down to this for me: Like what you like and dislike what you dislike. Act as best you may. Correct mistakes as they appear. But dishonesty takes too much effort and is, in the end, more exhausting than fulfilling. If you want to be thought well of, go down to the ASPCA and line up with the dogs begging for a pat on the head. Move to Japan or Great Britain and learn the wiles of speaking in indirections.

Trust your bullshit meter ... it won't let you down. Right and wrong, honest and dishonest, are not so important, but this does not mean anyone can expect to find peace by lounging around in moral relativity. That would be bullshit... more strutting of your bushido or samurai or self-serving stuff. Observe the social niceties, if necessary, and 'forgive' others their bullshit... but trust in your bullshit meter: If it looks like bullshit and smells like bullshit then, with or without the socially-acceptable restraints, it is bullshit.

Bullshit, like dishonesty, is inescapable, but that doesn't mean beautiful flowers can't grow.

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