Monday, April 11, 2016

Samsara vs. Tank Man

     It seems like samsara is even more messed up than usual right now.  The GOP front-runner is a man who thinks Muslims should be banned from entering the country, and his closest rival attends conferences where people advocate executing homosexuals.  At last count, there were 270,000 tons of garbage floating in the world's oceans, and 97% of the meat that gets consumed in this country comes from factory farms where the animals are tortured and eventually killed in the name of corporate profits.  I'm not sure what is so special about today that is causing me to feel overwhelmed by all of this.  Maybe the cloudy grey skies are starting to get to me.  Maybe I watched too much political news coverage this morning.  Maybe I just didn't sleep well last night, and now I'm cranky.  I don't know what's causing me to feel this way on today of all days.  But I do know that I'm frustrated, and angry, and disappointed that in the year 2016 things like, "Don't throw garbage in the ocean," still need to be said. What's really interesting, however, is that I know how to deal with these feelings, and I'm choosing not too. 

     I know that all I need to do is kneel in front of my altar, sit silently in meditation, and bathe in the absolute.  Afterwards, the problems that I listed above wouldn't be fixed, but the voice inside of me that keeps screaming, "WHAT THE FUCK", and asking why people aren't breaking things in protest would get quieter.  In short, it would make me feel better.  But what if I don't want to feel better?  What if on today of all days... just for a second... I want the world to BE better.  What if I want humanity to live up to the basic goodness that lies within each of us; the same goodness that put a man on the moon, and helped Janis Joplin moan and growl through songs in a way that gives me chills 40 years after her death.  Could someone please make that happen?  If not, I'd settle for someone telling me when Zen practice stops being a useful tool for engagement with the world, and instead becomes a way to hide when things gets scary?  Because right now it feels like the latter.

     I don't know the answer to that last question.  That's why I've spent the last two hours surfing the internet instead of taking refuge in the three jewels like a good Zen student.  That's also why I stumbled upon the story of Tank Man .  The short version is that on June 5, 1989, a day after the Chinese government violently cracked down on protesters in Tienanmen square,  a column of T59 tanks were sent in to crush what remained of the protests.  The only resistance they encountered was a single man standing still in the middle of the road.  He didn't hold a sign or shout slogans.  He just stood there.  The only time he moved was when they tried to go around him, then he moved in order to continue blocking their path.  You can watch video of the incident here.  It's pretty incredible.  But what's really interesting is that no one knows exactly who he was or why he did what he did.  Was Tank Man a manifestation of Guanyin sent to teach us about nonviolent direct action?  Or was he just an angry young person who had finally had enough? Is it possible to be both?

     Sadly, the story doesn't have a happy ending.  After a standoff that lasted several minutes, two unidentified men came out of the crowd and dragged Tank Man away.  He was never seen again, and most people think he was executed.  When he was gone, the column of tanks fired up their engines and continued into the square as if nothing had happened.  I feel like there is a lesson somewhere in his story.  But I don't know what it is.  I just know that on June 5, 1989 samsara was even more messed up than usual.  And in the face of impossible odds, one man didn't back down.  I like to think that his actions made the world a better place... even if it was just for a second. 

     With this in mind, I'm going to take a walk in the woods.  I'm going to listen for a few hours as the birds sing sutras in the trees, and I'm going to pay attention to the lessons of the river.  After that, I'm going to drag myself kicking and screaming to my cushion.  I'm going to kneel in front of my altar,  sit silently in meditation, and I'm going to bathe in the absolute.  Because on today of all days, when it feels like the suffering of the world is charging at me like a column of T59 tanks, the only thing I can do is be still like Tank Man; and hope that it makes a difference.

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